Ayo Verna, Yarua and Zibeon Munt sat in a circle outside the tent. The weather was mild and the sun shone upon the three of then as they played sabacc with a worn-out old deck of card-chips that Yarua had been carrying in his rucksack. They used matches as betting chips, and the laptop computer had been programmed as a gaming table. Yarua was winning.
Despite the sunshine, the atmosphere around the three travellers was subdued. They played their friendly game in silence as they mourned the loss of Peetoo and their ship.
Ayo and Yarua had flown the Red Planet for the past four years, and the red triangle of a courier ship had become home to the pair of them. Ayo thought about the Planet as he studied his card-chips. He had known every square inch of the Guvnor’s Sienar GS, every switch, every circuit and every sound. The ship even had its own smell, which Ayo had always found comfortingly familiar. He also missed Peetoo. The droid had possessed its own special quirks and eccentricities. It had character.
Ayo placed a couple of matchsticks on the pile in front of his companions. "I’ll see your three, Yarua," he said quietly as a flock of birds chattered overhead. Deep down, he was worried about the success of the overall mission. If they had been identified and traced, then the subsequent investigation could have dire repercussions back on Coruscant. As Ayo watched his Wookiee companion add yet another pile of matches to his own greedy collection, he had serious concerns for the safety of the Guvnor.
* * *
In another part of the galaxy, the small, ant-like form of a Republic cruiser snapped out of hyperspace above the cold, industrial planet of Sorensia. Aboard the cruiser, Chastacyrrhi accompanied Jedi Master Dessk and Vima-Da-Boda, for the three of them had been sent to the planet to negotiate with the police for the release of Senator Thraurrallgisc. The Jedi were seated in the cockpit behind the crew as they watched the planet growing before them. Dessk studied his two companions. He had chosen two of the best Jedi Knights in the Order for this mission, and he knew that they would succeed.
Dessk leant forward and tapped the captain’s shoulder. "Captain," he hissed to the peaked-capped officer in front. The captain turned around with a smile.
‘"Try to put us down as close to the centre of Sheofe as possible."
"Yes, sir," said the Captain efficiently. He turned to the pilot beside him, who was busy flipping switches as he prepared to take the ship into an orbit that would enter the atmosphere at exactly the right place for a landing near the capital. "Number One, put her on course for the spaceport."
"Already done, sir," said the pilot. "She's on her way to Doran Totli."
The Captain nodded and smiled. "Good work, Number One. Carry on."
Sorensia’s bright, thin crescent filled the sky as the cruiser coasted towards the night side of the planet. Sunlight diffracted from its distant source, bisecting the crescent and forming a cosmic bow-and-arrow that banished the stars from view.
Chastacyrrhi stared out through the viewport at the planet as it loomed ever closer. The light faded as the sun slipped behind Sorensia’s huge disk, causing the planet’s atmosphere to refract a ring of colour against the sky. He relaxed his gaze as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The albino Wookiee used to dislike bright light for it hurt his eyes. However, years of training under Master Dessk had made him strong, and he could easily overcome his discomfort.
As the stars returned to the sky, Chastacyrrhi felt uneasy. He leant over to his companions and purred a soft note of concern.
"Yes, Chasta," said Dessk. "There’s tension in the Force, the same tension sensed by the late Master Bil-Kit and his Padawan when they were here."
Chastacyrrhi thought about Bil-Kit Jinn. The elderly human had accompanied his Master to Tatooine where they had rescued him from slavers. The crystal-furred Wookiee was a tiny baby when he had been saved, and he felt that he owed Dessk a life debt. The two of them, even though the Wookiee had qualified as a Knight decades ago, worked together as a loyal team.
As the cruiser continued its approach, the sun once again filled the cockpit with light, and Chastacyrrhi allowed the Force to protect his sensitive, pink eyes. The Captain, silhouetted against the bright skyline, turned to his passengers.
"I’m afraid that the ATC have refused us permission to land," he said as the radio crackled and instruments bleeped.
"The police have declared martial law," said Vima ominously. Chastacyrrhi barked quietly. He could sense that the authorities knew of their arrival.
The radio crackled with the voice of the ATC official: "Any attempt to land will result in your immediate arrest."
"Land anyway," said Dessk. "They could try and arrest us, but," Dessk pointed to his companions, "they wouldn’t get very far."
The Republic cruiser swooped defiantly towards the rooftops as a murky dawn broke over Sheofe, the ship charging out beyond the chimneys of the durasteel works and on to the spaceport beyond. The grim, duracrete towers of Doran Totli grew ever larger beneath the clouds as the cruiser descended towards a vacant docking bay.
MHG shocktroopers lined the bay as the cruiser settled to a halt. They stood in rigid formation, surrounding the ship with their blasters drawn as Detective Superintendent Fitje emerged from a nearby skyhopper.
"This is Detective Superintendent Fitje of MHG Police services, Sorensia Division," announced a pompous Fitje into a small, handheld microphone. His moustache fluttered like a pair of furry wings as he spoke. "You’ve landed on a sovereign system without clearance from the Approach Traffic Control, and you’re in direct violation of the Planetary Landings Act 8943764." Fitje smiled smugly to himself as he finished his sentence. He was an insignificant man who possessed a deep inferiority complex. As a result of his personal shortfalls, he took great pleasure in dictating the law.
Aboard the cruiser, the three Jedi were well aware of the law regarding landing clearance. They had never before been refused permission to land, and all three of them could sense that something was wrong. Vima gazed out of the cockpit window. She could still feel the disturbance in the Force following Master Bil-Kit’s death in this spaceport, and the sensation made her shiver. Dessk turned to Vima and blinked his large, red eyes at her.
"I sense your loss, Vima," hissed Dessk. "Master Bil-Kit was a dear friend to everybody in the Republic."
Vima nodded. Dessk was a Jedi Master as wise as Bil-Kit himself, and she knew that he would not encourage a Jedi to dwell on that loss. Besides, she knew that Bil-Kit was watching her and Sarolyn, wherever she was.
Other things troubled Vima: Why would the police show such hostility to the Jedi? After all, they were supposed to share a common duty, a duty to serve and protect the citizens of the Republic. Vima was sure that Mandalore wanted to crush the rioting workers with brutal force, and that they wanted the Jedi out of the way as quickly as possible.
"We have your vessel surrounded," crackled Fitje through the ship’s radio. "You’ve got thirty seconds to leave the ship with your hands on your head, otherwise we will board you and fetch you ourselves. Any tricks will result in your destruction. You’ve been warned."
The Captain and his crew listened calmly to the message. Although this was highly unusual in the ancient and democratic Republic, they had been well trained in aggressive situations. In addition, they had the extra security offered by the three Jedi seated behind.
Dessk turned to the captain. "Open the hatch. It’s Chasta, Vima and I they’re after, so it’s time we faced the music. You stay here and wait for us."
"With all due respect, Master," said the Captain, fearful for the safety of his crew, "but we might be arrested as well."
Dessk flicked his tongue. "They will not touch you. I’ll make sure of that. Sit tight and be patient, Captain. We’ll be back with the Senator before you know it."
Reassured, the Captain smiled at Dessk as he and the other Jedi started towards the open hatch. "Good luck, sir."
Dessk blinked at the captain, and once again flicked his tongue. The Jedi did not believe in luck.
Fitje watched as the three Jedi strode confidently down the steps. He sniffed and scratched his nose with his upper lip. Dessk thought that Fitje’s moustache was about to take off and flutter away.
"I’m arresting you," said Fitje, "for breach of Planetary Security. You do not have to—"
"We’ve come for Senator Thraurrallgisc," said Dessk as he strode past the detective, ignoring him.
Fitje blinked in astonishment and swallowed. He tried to form words, only to gibber speechlessly. A prisoner had never so openly defied him, and he felt rooted to the spot, unable to apprehend his suspects.
Fitje’s mouth eventually decided to co-operate. "You have no authority!" He motioned to the nearby shocktroopers. "Officers."
As the shocktroopers moved to surround the Jedi, Dessk stepped forward, causing the troops to raise their blasters.
"As a representative of the Galactic Republic," gargled Dessk deliberately, "you will find that I have the authority to do precisely as I please." The circle of shocktroopers tightened around him, anticipating action. Fitje smiled with sarcasm.
"Really, sir?" said Fitje with more than a subtle hint of humour. His voice suddenly took on a darker tone. "And I’m a Jedi Master!" Fitje nodded towards his troops. "Sergeant, nick ‘em!"
A shocktrooper with sergeant’s insignia produced a pair of heavy-duty handcuffs as his subordinates reached to seize Dessk and his companions. Almost instantly, Dessk raised his claw and pointed at the troops, causing them and their sergeant to topple to the ground; blown away like leaves in a gale. They slammed into the far wall where they remained motionless.
The remaining shocktroopers drew their blasters and fired as Dessk, Chasta and Vima ignited their lightsabres, Dessk’s green blade set against the blue blades of his companions. They deflected the blaster bolts, which screamed angrily as they bounced aside.
The battle was short-lived, as the Jedi, aided by the Force, quickly and methodically cut down the troops, their bodies littering the floor. A single, junior soldier survived.
Thinking better of taking on the Jedi, this lone constable ran for his life. Fitje, without a word, turned and shot the escaping shocktrooper in the back. The soldier fell down hard.
"Coward!" whispered Fitje, unaware of his own hypocrisy.
Vima raised her hand and Fitje’s blaster flew out from his grasp and into her palm.
"There have been enough unnecessary deaths on this planet already," she said quietly as she pocketed the weapon. Vima looked Fitje hard in the eyes. "You will take us to Thraurrallgisc now."
"I will take you to Thraurrallgisc now," repeated Fitje in a weak voice. Beads of sweat had formed on his brow and he was shaking with fear. He straightened himself and blew his nose into a dirty tissue from his trouser pocket. Fitje glanced at the Jedi from the corner of his eye as he led them to the police skyhopper parked near the ship. As he caught Dessk’s strong, calm gaze, Fitje vowed that from now on, he would do as he was told. He would never again mess with forces he did not understand.
It was a short hop across the rain-soaked rooftops of Sheofe to the Police HQ. Fitje sat silently in the skyhopper, with the Jedi beside him, as he stared out at the factory sprawls and the chimneys that belched their soot into the leaden sky. Fitje felt utterly useless following the Jedi’s demonstration of their supernatural power, and he simply sat there, shoulders slumped in humiliated defeat, while the Jedi rode roughshod over his authority.
Sorensia’s sun poked out from behind the clouds as the skyhopper landed on the roof of the HQ, bringing a brightness that seemed to lift the gloom from the industrial city. Something about Sheofe seemed wrong to Chastacyrrhi as he sniffed the smoky air. The Wookiee Jedi and his former Master had been to Sorensia many times before during their long companionship, and each time, the city of Sheofe had lifted their spirits with its friendliness. Today, the city seemed subdued, as if a veil of darkness had enveloped the now sunlit rooftops. As Dessk and Vima stepped out from the skyhopper and onto the windy landing platform, Chastacyrrhi leant over to his companions and grunted softly. The albino Wookiee could smell the fear on Sorensia and it disturbed him. The human and Wookiee settlers were supposed to be fearless and able to withstand bullying from overzealous police.
Dessk nodded his acknowledgement before turning to Fitje. ‘Can you explain to me,’ he gargled in a slow, serious voice, ‘why we can sense fear in this city?’
Fitje knew exactly why the people were frightened, but he did not want the Jedi to know. If they had found out that Lady Fett had ordered the execution of known troublemakers under the Emergency Powers Act, he would be finished. He sniffed and picked his nose as he turned to face the three Jedi.
Dessk flicked his tongue. He was waiting for an answer and he knew that Fitje was hiding something. He could wait for ever if he had to. He scowled at Fitje.
"Your habits disgust me," hissed Dessk as Fitje sucked his finger. In reality, Dessk had seen habits far worse than a human male picking his nose and eating the produce, but he was not one to judge. He simply wanted to make the detective feel uneasy so that he would answer his question.
"Now," said Dessk, continuing his line of questioning. "Speak."
The rooftop entrance to the HQ slid open with a hiss and Fitje passed through to the turbolift within, closely followed by the Jedi.
"Following the near-anarchy of the last few weeks," said Fitje brusquely as he marched out from the lift and into a stark lobby, "we’ve been obliged, under the Republic’s Emergency Powers Act, to restore order. As a result, martial law’s in effect and the public are subject to curfew."
Dessk did not like the sound of this, nor did he care for people evading him. He reached out with the Force and pulled Fitje backwards as if he were a yo-yo.
"Don’t walk away from me, Fitje," warned Dessk, now that he had the man’s undivided attention. The Jedi Master could sense no evil in the man, only misplaced morals. "And the rest," he prompted, staring at Fitje with his large, red eyes.
"I...I don’t know what you mean, sir," squeaked Fitje as Dessk stared straight through him. Dessk was determined to learn the full story of the recent events here on Sorensia, and Fitje was well aware that the information he knew, and the data stored within police records, could ruin him. Dessk knew this as well, but to the Jedi, the freedom and well-being of a Republic star system was far more important than the career of one miserable police officer. Fitje wanted to get away, but Dessk’s grip on him ensured otherwise.
"I will find out the full story," said Dessk as he relaxed his mental hold on Fitje, "whether you co-operate or not." Dessk gazed upward. "I sense misjustice and abuse of authority within this organisation," continued the Jedi Master as he stared at Fitje.
Dessk leant down and peered into the detective’s eyes. "I also smell death, Fitje, and I sincerely hope, for your sake, that I am wrong. Now. Please could you show us to the Senator?"
Fitje, his tunic soaked with sweat, led the three Jedi to a second turbo-lift at the end of the corridor. They waited in silence for a few seconds before the doors hissed open, allowing a small contingent of regular police to file out. They turned and stared as the Jedi strode past.
Dessk, taking charge of the situation, glided purposefully into the lift, beckoning the others to follow. The doors snapped shut, sealing Fitje and the Jedi within as the lift began to descend. Chastacyrrhi twitched his nostrils as he stood sandwiched between his companions. Fitje smelt unwashed and foul in this confined space.
The doors opened to reveal a force field, behind which lay a stark, clinical corridor. They were now in the basement of the Police HQ, a level untouched by natural daylight. The lighting was bright and relentless, the fluorescent tubes remaining lit around the clock. Mandalore did not intend for his police cells to be comfortable in any way.
Fitje punched an access code into the force field generator, and the energy that blocked the way dispersed, allowing the visitors to pass through. Heavy, durasteel doors lined both sides of the corridor that echoed with the shouts and roars of the prisoners within.
"Sounds like you’re busy, Detective Superintendent," said Vima-Da-Boda as she listened to the obscenities that bounced around the walls.
Fitje cast a weary gaze towards the Jedi. "They’re being held on suspicion of affray with intent to endanger life."
"Is that why your superiors killed a Jedi observer?" asked Dessk, squeezing Fitje’s shoulder with a sharp claw. "The prisoners should have been charged or released by now."
Fitje ignored the Jedi Master, for he knew that Lady Fett herself had assigned the capture of that elderly Jedi and his accomplice to him, but he consoled himself that it was she who had killed the old man.
Fitje stopped outside one of the many cell doors and entered a string of numbers into the wall-mounted keypad nearby. "Here you are," he announced as he swung open the door. "Senator Thraurrallgisc."
The three Jedi entered the tiny cell and their faces fell when confronted by what they could see. Huddled in the corner, trussed up in a straitjacket, was Thraurrallgisc. He was thin, he had lost patches of his fur, and a huge, scabby bruise covered his forehead. Thraurrallgisc, a shadow of his former self, was silent. He seemed to be asleep, but as the Jedi drew closer, they could see that the old Wookiee’s eyes were open. The poor creature was simply staring into space, as if he had lost the will to live.
Chastacyrrhi turned to Fitje, who hovered guiltily in the open doorway, and roared, demanding to know what had happened to the senator. Fitje recoiled at the Wookiee Jedi’s outburst.
"Er..." began Fitje with unease as he leant against the doorframe, "we had to restrain the senator for his own protection. Um...he, er, tends to, er, harm himself. He’s under sedation at the moment."
Chasta glared at the detective and bared his teeth. Fitje, intimidated by this aggressive behaviour, turned away.
Chasta knelt beside the drugged senator and purred gently as Vima stroked the old Wookiee’s bruised head.
"Senator Thraurrallgisc?" said Vima, shaking the old Wookiee. Thraurrallgisc’s head wobbled loosely as he was shaken. She turned to Dessk. "He’s totally passive, Master, and it looks like he’s been banging his head."
Dessk crouched next to Vima and gently shook the senator. "Thraurrallgisc," he hissed, "it’s Dessk. Chasta’s with me, and we’re getting you out of here."
Thraurrallgisc looked up at the three Jedi. His eyes could not focus and a headache throbbed in his temples. The old senator recognised the voices of his Jedi friends, and had decided to forgive them for landing him in here. He had thought long and hard whilst in confinement, and he now realised that the Jedi had nothing to do with his arrest.
Dessk put a claw on Thraurrallgisc’s battered head and concentrated, transferring energy from himself to the semi-conscious senator, ridding him of the drugs that had doped him. Thraurrallgisc came to his senses and realised his whereabouts. Struggling to escape from his bonds, he roared with rage as he caught sight of Fitje skulking in the doorway.
Dessk released the old senator from the straitjacket, which fell to the floor with a jangle of chains. Before anybody could stop him, Senator Thraurrallgisc rushed over to Fitje and gripped the detective’s throat. Fitje fell to he knees as the breath was crushed from him. Thraurrallgisc roared, his teeth bared with anger, spittle dripping from his chin as the three Jedi rushed across, desperate to stop him from killing the detective.
"H...h...elp!" gasped Fitje. He was beginning to feel faint. Wide-eyed with fear, his face turned purple as the veins bulged on his forehead.
Chastacyrrhi roared urgently at Thraurrallgisc as he placed his paws on the senator’s hackles. He drained the anger from him.
"Thraurrallgisc," soothed Vima as the senator released his grip. Fitje slumped to the ground, clutching his throat as he gasped for air. The detective flexed his neck. He felt that he had come within an inch of having his neck broken by the hairy brute.
"Pull yourself together, senator," said Vima as she and Chasta helped Thraurrallgisc out from the cell. "Save your energy. It’s Mandalore who’s to blame for this."
Dessk looked at Fitje and studied him. "You’re not an evil man, Detective Superintendent, but you’re a misguided one." Fitje swallowed nervously. He was certain that the Jedi were going to turn him in to the authorities.
"If you want to save your reputation," continued Dessk, "I suggest you come back to Coruscant with us. Mandalore has manipulated his staff, including you, and I can sense that your morals have been compromised."
Dessk pierced the detective’s subconscious with all of the suffering that he and the other Jedi had witnessed since MHG had grown in influence. Fitje shuddered, and his expression began to crumble. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed, his conscience racked with guilt over having ordered the summary execution of all those rioters at the request of Japhta Fett herself.
The three Jedi, along with the freed Senator Thraurrallgisc, led Fitje back to the turbolift that would return them to street level. As they stopped at the force field that guarded the lift doors, Dessk placed a claw on Fitje’s shoulder.
"When you’re at your weakest," said Dessk, "you can only get stronger." Fitje nodded silently.
Vima smiled at the detective. "We will expose Mandalore’s activities," she promised, "but we can only do it with your help. You’re a born investigator, Elaison Fitje, so use your talent for a good cause, for the sake of every being who has suffered under Mandalore’s corporate might."
Fitje wiped his eyes. He could at last see light at the end of the tunnel. He had worked for MHG Police Services, and the Sorensian Co-operative Constabulary before it, for all of his working life. Since the SCC had been taken over by Mandalore, Fitje had been in charge of investigating suspects considered by Intelligence to be subversive to MHG. He had ruined many lives in the process, convicting innocent people and twisting the law for the benefit of his employers. He had no choice but to comply. In the early days of MHG, Fitje had no doubts about what he was doing, but he was constantly reminded as to what could happen to him if he lost his job. The policeman was also the prisoner.
Fitje sniffed and smiled at those around him. The tears had dried on his face, making his skin feel sticky.
‘I will help you all I can,’ said Fitje sincerely. Although he had initially denied it, Thraurrallgisc had just saved him. The prisoner had escaped.Forward to Chapter 30 Back to Chapter 28 Home