Sarolyn rushed to the dormitory window. The screaming from outside had woken her and she was worried. Stefné, Vanda and Jen joined her as she gazed out into the night.

“What’s going on?” asked Vanda.

“The guards have caught some intruders,” said Sarolyn as she turned from the window. She knew that Senator Thraurrallgisc had sent his starship crew here as spies, and she could sense that they were being held somewhere in the Mansion.

Sarolyn felt cold. There was death in the Force. The crew were in pain and she felt compelled to help them. It was as if their arrival on Naboo was the Will of the Force, a Will that was telling her to find these prisoners and help them escape. They were all in this together, gathering intelligence on Mandalore for the sake of every being in the galaxy. The sooner they were out of here, the sooner they could stop the Black Rot from being used.

Sarolyn quickly donned her Jedi robes and clipped her lightsabre to her belt. She checked her scrying-glass and was relieved to find that the data core that contained her stolen information was still safely stored within. She slipped the glass into her utility pouch. Neema slept soundly, oblivious to the events around her.

“Neema!” whispered Sarolyn urgently, shaking the slumbering form of her friend.

Neema stirred and groaned. She had drunk far too much and her head pounded. She just wanted to sleep.

“Oh, sod off!” she murmured as she turned away.

Sarolyn had no time for argument. She was annoyed that Neema, a Jedi apprentice, albeit a secret one, was irresponsible enough to get drunk. She leant over and touched Neema’s forehead, draining her hangover and clearing her mind.

Neema sat up, fully awake. “What did you do to me?” she asked, puzzled.

“Sobered you up,” said Sarolyn hurriedly. “It’s time to go.”

Neema rose and threw on her maid’s uniform.

“Do you have a lightsabre?” asked Sarolyn as they headed for the door.

“No,” said Neema, causing Sarolyn to huff in disappointment as they raced down the stairs. “Mum thinks it’s too soon for me to learn.”

“Patience,” said Sarolyn.

Neema ignored her. All she wanted to be was a Jedi Knight like her mother and the Sunriders before her. She was strong with the Force, so why was she being held back? The slowness of Vima’s training angered Neema. She was not young any more. Another two years and she would be thirty.

Neema gave Sarolyn a look of jealousy as the younger girl took the lead. There was Sarolyn, barely out of her teens, taking the final Trial before becoming a full Jedi Knight while she, a descendant of the legendary Nomi Sunrider, was still a useless Padawan. Resentment began to well up, and she had to fight in order to keep it in check.

“Where are we going?” asked Neema as she ran to keep up with Sarolyn’s stride.

“The cellar, Neema,” said Sarolyn as they rushed along the corridor. “Thraurrallgisc’s crew are being held in the cellar.”



* * *


General Crouze stood before Japhta Fett with a smug expression behind his mask. Japhta lounged on her huge bed, a cigarette between her lips. She blew a smoke ring.

“Good work, General,” cooed Japhta in her soft, husky voice. “Lordan’s already walking into our trap.” She peered at a video monitor on the bed before her. “Looks like she’s got a friend.” Japhta puffed on her cigarette and beamed at Crouze. “Very well, General,” she said with pride. “You know what you have to do.”

Crouze’s helmet radio began to crackle with garbled speech. Japhta frowned. Something unexpected was happening.

“What is it, General?”

“My Lady,” said Crouze, “Comscan has detected an army of swamp creatures approaching the estate.”

“Gungans!” snorted Japhta in disgust. She had no time for the strange people who lived in the swamps. They were a nuisance. “How big’s the army?”

“Six fambaas, two of which are carrying some kind of heavy weapon, plus hundreds of smaller mounts.”

“Heavy weapons?” repeated Japhta in disbelief. The Gungans seemed to be more advanced than she had thought. Something crossed her mind, “When you and your patrol went out to destroy the spies’ ship, did the Gungans attack you?”

“Yes,” lied Crouze, knowing full well that it was he who had started the trouble.

Japhta sat up on the bed and extinguished her cigarette. “Send the flight-troopers to their fighters and activate the shield. I want your men to fry every last Gungan out on the plain. In the meantime, catch that Jedi and her little friend, and bring them to me.”

“What about the human and the Wookiee we caught in the grounds?” Crouze asked eagerly.

“Do what you like with them,” smiled Japhta, proud of the work the general had achieved in exposing Sarolyn.

Crouze stood to attention and saluted his Mistress. Her Ladyship, he promised to himself, would soon have a new fur coat in her wardrobe.


* * *


Sarolyn and Neema arrived at the cellar door. Two guardtroopers blocked their way, drawing their blasters as the girls approached.

“Halt,” barked one of the troops as they surrounded the girls. “Do not move.”

Sarolyn glanced at Neema as the other guard spoke into a wrist communicator. He never finished his sentence, for a wand of blue light slashed through the air with a loud, humming buzz as Sarolyn cut down the two guards with one deft twirl of her lightsabre. Sensing the tough, durasteel door to be locked, the young Jedi thrust her weapon into the metal and proceeded to cut her way through. She would have to work quickly, for she could sense reinforcements moving to surround them.

The lightsabre carved through the cellar door much more easily than Sarolyn had anticipated, melting the metal and causing it to drop like toffee. Smoke rose from the parquetry as the floor began to burn, and within minutes, a sizeable hole had formed. A ragged lump of metal clanged down the steps into the darkness.

“Get in, quickly,” ordered Sarolyn as she beckoned for Neema to climb through the smouldering opening. Neema, the shorter of the two, climbed through with ease, whilst Sarolyn had to bend over to avoid burning herself on the red-hot door. Once inside, Sarolyn groped for a light-switch, found one, and activated it. The dim lighting revealed the downward steps.

“Along here,” said Sarolyn as they reached the bottom of the steps and entered a side corridor. “The Force will guide us.”

The two girls rushed along the low passageway, a corridor cluttered with scraps of discarded machinery and furniture, before turning the corner, where a row of heavy, barred gates were set into the wall. Sarolyn peered through one of the gates into the dark cell behind.

“The dungeons,” said Neema. “The crew must be along here, somewhere.”

Sarolyn surveyed another cell and caught sight of the faint outline of a man sitting on the floor. He was chained to the wall. “Here’s one of them, Neema,” she whispered. “Go and find his companion.”

Neema checked the neighbouring cell before returning to Sarolyn. “There’s a Wookiee next door,” she confirmed.

“Right,” said Sarolyn as she raised her hand at the gate. The lock clicked open, the noise causing the chained man within to look painfully up at the young Jedi as she entered the cell.

“Who are you?” gasped the dark-skinned human with astonishment as Sarolyn released him from his chains.

“My name’s Sarolyn. Master Yoda sent me here to get information on Mandalore.”

“I’m Ayo Verna, Senator Thraurrallgisc’s pilot,” said the man as Sarolyn helped him to his feet. The stun blast had left Ayo weakened and he felt dizzy “Where’s Yarua and Zibeon?”

“There’s a Wookiee next door,” said Sarolyn as they left the cell. “Is he with you?”

“Yeah,” said Ayo, breathing a sigh of relief. “That’s Yarua, my co-pilot.”

Neema emerged from the neighbouring cell with a look of concern on her face. “The Wookiee’s in a bad way, Saz. He’s been beaten up pretty badly and he’s having trouble breathing.” Neema sighed. “It doesn’t look good.”

Ayo’s face fell at that news. He took Sarolyn by the arm. “Please help him,” he said, desperately hoping that his friend and companion would be okay.

Sarolyn took Ayo’s hand in hers. “He’ll be fine, Ayo,” she said softly. “Trust me.”

The young Jedi rushed into Yarua’s cell and found him curled up on the floor, chained to the wall in much the same way Ayo had been. The young Wookiee’s breathing was slow and laboured, gasping as he fought to bring oxygen into his lungs. Sarolyn crouched down and stroked him. He was bleeding.

“It’s all right, Yarua,” soothed Sarolyn as she continue to stroke the injured Wookiee. Sarolyn concentrated on the Force, willing Yarua’s injuries to mend and augmenting his dwindling life-force with her own. Ayo and Neema watched from the doorway as Yarua painfully sat up. He groaned.

Yarua could not see. Everything seemed to be a blur. He groped blindly, flailing his huge paws until he felt something soft and gentle, soothing the pain from his body. Where were Ayo and Zibeon? Yarua was worried. He could recall Ayo being shot, then shocktroopers... Who was this mystery person comforting him? There were so many questions Yarua wanted to ask. He let out a plaintive howl.

Sarolyn smiled tenderly and stroked the fluffy fur between his eyes. “Don’t worry, Yarua. You’re safe.” Sarolyn released him from his chains. “Ayo’s with me. We’ve got to get out of here.”

Yarua rushed forward, trying to find the source of the soft, gentle voice beside him. As his eyes began to focus again, he wrapped his huge, shaggy arms around Sarolyn and hugged her tightly. Surprised and startled, Sarolyn yelped. Emulating Sarolyn’s gentle touch with not-so-gentle paws, Yarua stroked her head, ruffling her hair in the process. Neema giggled.

“Come on, Yarua,” said Ayo as his dizziness began to ease. “Sarolyn’s right. We’ve got to get away.” He winked. “We’ll find Zib, don’t worry.”

As Yarua was led out from his cell, he began to feel indebted to Sarolyn. He would protect her with his life.


* * *


Dawn had broken out on the Theeland Links as the Gungan army thundered its way towards Fort Myreion. General Neano was wondering how his ootlander friends were getting on, and whether they had managed to destroy the deflector shield that they had said protected the palace from outside attack.

A low roar erupted from the horizon before them, causing Brigda Nass’s kaadu to rear up in fright. The brigadier hoisted a pair of binoculars to his bulging eyes and was startled by what he could see. A squadron of MHG fighters were fast approaching. He blew his mountain horn and the army stopped its advance.

“Whassa probbalim, Brigda?” asked General Neano as he steered his kaadu alongside that of the brigadier.

“Da Mandalorey’s sendin hissa skeebeetles to attackin ussen.” Nass handed the binoculars to the general. “Havin a look through da farseein.”

Neano peered through the binoculars. “Activate the shield,” he ordered.

At Brigda Nass rode off to organise the shield fambaas, the general swallowed grimly as the fighters appeared to the naked eye. “Ouch time,” he muttered as he braced himself for the expected onslaught.

The two shield fambaas lowed and chewed their cud as they lumbered into position at each end of the formation. The lead beast carried a massive beam emitter on its back, which let out a channel of energy towards the receptor drum atop the trailing fambaa. The energy spewed over the heads of the army like a fountain before descending, enveloping the Gungans within a protective dome.

The shield barely operational, the MHG F-wings screamed low over the plain, tearing the air with the combined roar of their engines as they receded. The less experienced soldiers were startled by the sudden, ear-pounding noise, and many of them had to fight to control their kaadus.

“Steady...steady,” said General Neano as the fighters turned and regrouped over the mountains behind them. The roar of their engines dissipated into a high, barely-audible whistle as they once again bore down.

The fighters began to fire. Laser bolts sprayed from their wingtips and impacted into the Gungan shield with flashes of purple light as it absorbed the attack.

General Neano was thrown to the ground as the squadron raced overhead with a sonic boom that pounded his head like a hammer blow. His kaadu, along with many of the other mounts, had been scared witless by the assault and had bolted. Neano watched as the fighters again regrouped with a distant boom. He sincerely hoped that the shield would hold, otherwise they could all be wiped out. The soldiers who had been thrown by their kaadus painfully began to pick themselves up.

“What wesen doin, Genneral?” asked Brigda Nass as he ran over to his superior. The attack had taken them almost completely by surprise, and the MHG fighters were faster than anything they had ever encountered.

General Neano feared for the safety of the aliens who had broken onto the palace. This air strike had made it clear to Neano that Mandalore had been alerted to their presence. He suddenly felt betrayed. He would never trust “outlanders” again.

“Deysen faster what wesa used to, Brigda,” yelled Neano as the attackers fired again. “At least da shield’s okeday. It should be holdin dem.”

The two officers covered their ears as the fighters roared overhead.

A militiagung sprinted up to the two officers. “Deysen goin too fast for dem boomers, sir. Wesen no hittin dem atta dat speed.”

Neano nodded at the soldier. “Wesen bein wise to sittin tight till deysen go.” If there was no chance of downing any of these sky-bongoes, thought Neano, then it would be a waste of ammunition to even try. The soldier saluted his superiors before running away.

Neano cast a glance at the shield fambaas. He was worried that the generator and drum could overheat if used for lengthy periods. Furthermore, the beasts were showing signs of distress at the relentless strikes. As the fighters blasted the shield yet again, Neano prayed to himself, hoping that the placid fambaas would stay placid, for if they stampeded, they would all be dead.

Forward to Chapter 35

Back to Chapter 33