Sarolyn Lordan lay meditating on her narrow, hard bed in the servants’ attic dormitory. It was now the small hours of the morning and the room was quiet. The other girls were fast asleep, exhausted after their hard day’s grind for the benefit of Lady Japhta Fett.
Sarolyn had no time for sleep. She had to get into the Library, and the only time she had to herself was the night. She lay with her eyes closed, and her pale, slender hands clasped upon her chest as she drew energy from the Force. Sleep would have to wait until her task was complete and she was safely off this world.
Her strength renewed, Sarolyn rose and silently dressed. With her cloak slung over her shoulder and her lightsabre clipped to her belt, she stole out from the dormitory like a dark shadow, flitting down the stairs without a sound. The Force was with her.
The corridors of the Mansion were littered with microscopic cameras that allowed the security forces to constantly and covertly monitor the activities of the Household Staff. Mandalore’s love of hidden surveillance was justified by his public belief that if one had nothing to hide, one had nothing to fear.
Sarolyn could sense the devices as she moved briskly along the corridor towards the green baize door that marked the boundary between the Servants’ Wing and the rest of the House. She could feel the position of each camera, and she concentrated on them, manipulating their circuitry with the Force so that the omnipresent eyes did not register her bat like form, cloak fluttering behind her.
Moonlight streamed into the Great Hall as Sarolyn glided down the polished marble steps of the Grand Staircase that swept down from the Balcony before spreading out before the Main Entrance like a wide, stone tongue. As she reached the bottom, Sarolyn noticed a pair of guardtroopers standing motionless in one corner. Aiming to distract them, the young Jedi pointed towards a side corridor and a distant door slammed. The guards snapped into action, rushing off to investigate the source of the noise. Sarolyn was once again alone.
Guided by the Force, Sarolyn moved stealthily along the corridor that led to the Library. As she approached the door to the fortified room, Sarolyn was challenged by two more guardtroopers and their nek battle dog. The guards thrust their blasters into her chest and rammed her into the wall. The nek bared its teeth and growled in anticipation of the taste of the Sarolyn’s blood.
Calmly, Sarolyn gazed into the troops’ masks and raised her hand. The guardtroopers, unprepared, slumped choking to the ground, clutching their throats as their weapons fell to the floor with a clatter. The nek, also under Sarolyn’s spell, suddenly lost its aggression and lay down, its tail wagging happily as the young Jedi erased the guardtroopers’ memories with a wave of her hand. They’ll have some explaining to do in the morning thought Sarolyn as she searched for the door controls and found none.
Sarolyn concentrated upon the door, focusing her thoughts, willing it to open. She touched its metal surface and guided it, moving it quietly up to its recess above the doorway. A short corridor appeared beyond.
Sarolyn moved cautiously forward. She could sense that she was surrounded by booby-traps set to catch the uninvited. She could not take anything for granted. A row of gas nozzles protruded from the ceiling as the outer door sealed shut. Sarolyn was trapped.
"This is a Sensitive Zone," said a soft, digital voice as if from nowhere. "Please prepare for body form scanning." A laser scanner extended from the wall.
Sarolyn concentrated. She knew that the automated security measures would only admit Mandalore or Fett, and that anybody else would be fortunate to leave this enclosure alive. Crouching slightly in order to approximate Japhta’s height, Sarolyn reached out with the Force and willed the scanner to believe that she was Fett. Emitting a thin beam, the scanner oscillated as it tracked to the ground before returning to its socket. An uncomfortable pause followed before the voice spoke again:
"Welcome, Lady Fett."
The far door slid open, revealing a dark, spacious room behind. A crystalline monolith set upon some kind of altar dominated the centre.
Sarolyn looked around the Library, with its subdued lighting and tall bookshelves set above sober, hardwood cabinets. Out of curiosity, she opened one of the cabinets to find a rack of shallow trays, each filled with rare and beautiful coins, all in perfect mint condition and neatly arranged in their individual compartments.
"The Republic Mint Archives," whispered Sarolyn to herself. The Archives, the most comprehensive coin collection in the Republic, had been under the care of the Mint for millennia, and she had seen items from its collection on display in museums many times before, and she knew that numismatists from all corners of the galaxy held the Archives in high regard. Sarolyn recalled the outcry from the academics when Mandalore had purchased the Archives for his own retentive enjoyment.
Sarolyn returned the tray to its cabinet and carefully closed the exquisite, inlaid doors. Although she loved fine art and antiques, she was not here to admire them. She turned her attention to the strange monolith in the centre.
Tall, and crystalline, its smooth surfaces and sharp corners reflecting ambient light of the Library, the central monolith seemed to radiate some kind of power as Sarolyn approached. She touched it.
The surface was cold, and she immediately recognised the material from which it was made. Set before Sarolyn, upon its ornate altar, was the largest Adegan crystal she had ever seen.
Sarolyn was shocked at this discovery. Adegan crystals, gems that were cut and polished for scrying-glass and lightsabre use, were virtually unobtainable outside of the Jedi Temple, and even the smallest crystals had been known to fetch billions of credits on the black market.
Sarolyn studied the ancient-looking symbols etched into buttons around the base of the crystal. She had never before seen patterns such as these, and was intrigued. It looked as though the altar and crystal had been made by a long-extinct civilisation. She pressed one of the buttons.
The crystal began to glow, and the MHG emblem appeared within, the display shining upon Sarolyn’s features and reflecting in her eyes. The soft voice she had heard in the vestibule spoke again:
‘You are now before the MHG Holocron. My databanks contain information that can be displayed through the Crystal. However, this data is confidential and can only be accessed by authorised persons. Do you agree, or do you cancel?’
"I agree," said Sarolyn.
The MHG logo vanished from the crystal, to be replaced with a horizontal, yellow line upon a red background. Sarolyn sighed, causing the line to wrinkle into peaks and troughs.
"Please recite the password and wait for clearance. Any mismatch will result in security measures."
Sarolyn knew what an Adegan crystal could do. Her lightsabre contained one as its energy source, and the magnitude of a crystal this size, if enough power was channelled through it, was colossal. At low currents, a large crystal could transmit pre-recorded images, but at full power, the radiation would be lethal.
Sarolyn closed her eyes and concentrated, allowing the Force to surge through the circuits of the holocron. The line disappeared from the screen and the crystal glowed green.
"Clearance granted," said the voice. "I will now download a menu of topics for you to choose."
A list of headings appeared within the crystal:
●Forward Business Plan
●MHG Police Records
"Corporate Development," said Sarolyn, her voice barely above a whisper.
The display changed, the first menu replaced by a second:
Estate Management and Property Services
Sarolyn remembered Gertran and Maré arguing about the flu epidemic reaching Naboo, and she remembered something about MHG being involved in research towards a vaccine. "Pharmaceutical services," she whispered.
Again, the display changed. Reams of text appeared before Sarolyn, but there was nothing that even casually mentioned the epidemic back on Coruscant.
"Tell me about the flu research," said Sarolyn as she peered into the crystal.
"There is no data under that heading," said the voice.
Sarolyn continued to sift through the almost incomprehensible mountain of statistics and figures before her. There seemed to be nothing here but jargon. Just as she was about to give up this particular vein of investigation, two words seemed to jump out at her:
Sarolyn gasped, recalling the conversation she had had with Master Bil-Kit and Chastacyrrhi shortly before she and her Master left the Temple for Sorensia.
Something, they had said, about MHG enslaving the native Zephoid Zez people. She asked the holocron for more information.
The text was replaced with an anatomical diagram of a bipedal, canine creature with a large head, bulbous body and flippers. More text appeared alongside.
According to these records, the Zephoid Zez were the sole intelligent species native to the planet of Despayre. Zez society was matriarchal, and they lived in fortified nests on high ground in the polar regions. They possessed some degree of engineering technology, as their nests were large, in some cases over a mile in diameter. These colonies dominated the local landscape.
Sarolyn’s face fell when she read the final paragraph about these small, benign creatures:
The dryvoices, so named because of their
high-pitched, hoarse call, are insignificant,
weak animals whose low level of technology is
worthless to MHG. However, they are useful for training exercises and for testing the effectiveness of the Black Rot as a viable weapon.
Sarolyn leant forward and rested her head on her hand. The proof so sought-after by the Council was before her. Not only was Mandalore exploiting a defenceless alien race, but he was also testing some kind of bio-weapon against them. Sarolyn’s heart began to pound as she requested further information. She was thoroughly sickened by what she read.
Financed by Health Minister Cip Whyteleafe, MHG was genetically engineering a fungobacterium native to the deep jungles of tropical Despayre. They were aiming to cultivate a strain of the Rot that could survive anywhere, and could be carried by the atmospheric winds of the infected planet in order to engulf the whole ecosystem. Nothing would be able to survive.
Sarolyn bit her nails. The Council had no idea of what was happening. Mandalore was aiming for complete control of the Republic by holding the galaxy to ransom. Using the flu epidemic as cover, he was testing his and Whyteleafe’s unspeakable weapon against a sentient race that he regarded as mere livestock. It was as if the Council had been blinded. Nothing had registered with them in the Temple. It seemed that something was controlling the Jedi Order, some outside agency that wanted their noses kept out of their business.
Sarolyn felt cold. Surely, Japhta Fett was not so strong with the Force that she could manipulate the feelings and perceptions of thousands of highly trained Jedi?
Sarolyn shivered, as if some spirit was watching her. Somebody or something was trying to warn her. The Jedi were running out of time.
Sarolyn reached into her utility pouch and located a computer-standard data-core, a small, metal cylinder carried as an essential part of a Jedi’s equipment.
Plugging it into an output port on the altar beneath the crystal, she instructed the holocron to save all of this information into the core. She would then contact Yoda and warn him. Her success here was vital not only to her Jedi Knighthood but to the survival of the Republic itself. The Council were blind to Mandalore and Japhta, and it was down to her, and her alone, to give them new sight.
As the holocron transferred the data, Sarolyn considered the flu epidemic, and how it might have fitted in with this Black Rot. It seemed to be too much of a coincidence. Sarolyn suddenly became aware that she was being watched. Startled, she turned to see a petite girl standing in the open doorway.
"All seeing a Jedi must be," said the girl. "Blindness you need not."
The girl wore the uniform of a housemaid, and Sarolyn quickly recognised the calm, serious voice, and was more than startled to find that it was quoting Yoda.
"Jacqué!" said Sarolyn with disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
"My real name’s Neema," said Jacqué quietly. "My mother sent me here to monitor you during your Trial."
Sarolyn frowned. She had been right all along. The Force was with this girl, and there was something familiar about her.
"Who’s your mother?" asked Sarolyn, wishing to know more about her watcher.
"I’m Neema-Da-Boda, daughter of Vima," said the girl whom Sarolyn had previously known as Jacqué. "Jacqué is an alias, just as your name’s a bit more than just Sara."
Of course, thought Sarolyn as the picture suddenly snapped into clarity. Vima!
Vima-Da-Boda had been Bil-Kit’s first Padawan, but for decades, they had lost contact with each other whilst they were away on missions. He had been overjoyed when Vima had returned, and she often visited him at the Temple, having become like a daughter to Bil-Kit and an aunt to Sarolyn. Although Sarolyn knew of Neema, she had never met her, until now.
"It’s all rather complicated," said Neema as she leant against the altar. "Mum’s been training me as a Jedi against the wishes of the Council. When I first arrived on Coruscant, she brought me before them and they tested me. I was twelve at the time, and despite all mum taught me, they said I was too old and that I hadn’t got any patience. The Council banned mum from training me any more.
"Mum was devastated. Generations of our family had been Jedi Knights, and she was desperate to continue the tradition. Mum’s a Sunrider, the latest in a long line of Jedi equal to the Plo Koons in lineage and honour, and she refused to believe that I wasn’t going to be a Jedi.
"After a while, things settled down and I went to university, reading Law at the Royal House of Learning over at Theed. I stayed here on Naboo and I’m now working as a solicitor with Barucho, my boyfriend. We live in a village just north of Theed."
Sarolyn had obviously underestimated Neema’s age. The pretty, brown-haired girl looked so young.
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-eight," said Neema.
"When did Vima start training you again?" asked Sarolyn, unable to believe that the gentle, honourable Vima-Da-Boda would openly defy the Council.
"A few years ago," said Neema. "Mum started having these visions. She kept going on about someone called 'Thon'."
"She’s had them too?" asked Sarolyn with alarm, recalling the dream she had had the previous night when staying in Theed.
"Yes, but she’d never tell me anything, and it made her determined that I become a Jedi. She visited me and Barucho regularly, gradually teaching me the ways of the Force, even though she risks being thrown out. Because of this, I can never go to the Temple. Mum tries to teach me whenever she can, but it’s risky."
"I had this dream last night," said Sarolyn, adding her side of the story. "Master Bil-Kit and I were on this strange desert planet. We were by a huge, murky lake, when these...tentacles...grabbed Bil-Kit and dragged him under. He fought bravely, but the tentacles were too much for him. I was helpless, like I’d been pinned to the ground. I was carried away by the wind and this booming voice said Thon."
"What’s Thon supposed to mean?"
"I don’t know," said Sarolyn, "but whatever it is, it sounds like some kind of warning."
Sarolyn could sense something moving painfully outside the security corridor. She glanced at the door.
"We’d better go," said Sarolyn urgently. "The guards are beginning to come round."
"Mum told me about Master Bil-Kit," said Neema sadly as Sarolyn removed the data core from the holocron altar and stashed it within her utility pouch. "I’m really sorry."
"He’s one with the Force now, Neema," said Sarolyn as they left the Library. "We must let go."
As the two girls left the ancient and priceless holocron behind them, they failed to notice a pair of baleful, black eyes watching them from the depths of the crystal.Forward to Chapter 26 Back to Chapter 24 Home