Despayre’s coppery sun hugged the horizon like a huge coin as the Chancellorial Shuttle settled upon the central landing platform. The noise from the engines sent a flock of birds flapping up into the evening sky.
Surrounded by her Senate Guards, Supreme Chancellor Rhoufheigh tiptoed down the ramp, closely followed by the Jedi Council and a group of detectives. Yoda sniffed the air and harrumphed to himself as he hobbled across the platform.
“Attention,” buzzed the voice of Thriatizedd stationed up in the control tower. “Spacecraft bearing Government insignia has landed.”
“It’s the Chancellor and her team,’ said Dessk to his companions. ‘They’ve come to see things for themselves.”
An Aqualish Jedi Knight entered the laboratory as Fitje sipped a cup of ardees. The walrus-creature, one of the Jedi taskforce, bowed before Dessk.
Dessk nodded and flicked his tongue at the Aqualish. “What is it, Omanda?” he gargled pleasantly.
Omanda growled and grunted at length.
“Good work,” said Dessk. The Trandoshan turned to Fitje as Omanda turned and left. “The Jedi are holding the institute staff and troops in the kennels until they can be extradited for trial. In the meantime, we’d better welcome our visitors.”
Ayo and Yarua bowed before the Chancellor as she swept into the lobby. The Senate Guards stood silently behind her, forever alert.
“I must congratulate you for bringing this incident to our attention,” twittered Rhoufheigh with a soft, toothless smile. “May we see the labs for ourselves?”
‘Of course, Your Honour,’ said Ayo as they gestured towards the corridor. Yarua held open the door as the entourage filed through.
The laboratory seemed to shrink as the Chancellor and her team filed in. Sarolyn and Chastacyrrhi bowed to the Council as they slowly entered. Ayo cast Sarolyn a smile. The bacta treatment in the sickbay had healed her of her injuries sustained during her battle with Japhta Fett, and now she seemed to shine with beauty. The young Padawan returned his smile.
Vima-Da-Boda was locked into conversation with her daughter. The two if them had so much to say and so little time in which to say it. Neema was worried.
“What will happen to us now, Mum?” she asked, concerned for their future now that the entire Jedi Council were present. Vima out her arm around her daughter in a gesture of reassurance.
“They know that I’ve been training you,” sighed Vima. “We couldn’t hide it forever.”
Neema stared at the floor, her expression bleak. “Will they throw you out?”
Vima did not know what to say. She simply hugged her daughter before joining the Council as they shuffled into the Director’s former office.
“I’m sure everything will be okay for you, Neema,” said Sarolyn as she put her arm around her friend. The two of them had grown close since they had first met, posing as maids in the hot, sweltering kitchens of Fort Myreion. Sarolyn recalled all the others who had worked there: the rest of the girls; the chefs, Adoum and Li, and not forgetting, the “Bubo” Housekeeper. She wondered what would become of them, now that Mandalore’s days in business were numbered.
The office door was closed, and Sarolyn had not the faintest idea of what the Council were saying. She could sense that she was the topic of discussion. Sarolyn attempted to probe their minds, but found them to be safely protected from nosey young Padawans. Ayo and Yarua had left the room with Senator Thraurrallgisc, and Neema had gone for a walk. Sarolyn was alone in the silent lab.
The voice was familiar: the voice of a kindly old man. Sarolyn shook her head to make sure that her ears were not playing tricks, and as she looked up, her soft, doe eyes widened in astonishment at the sight before her.
Framed in the doorway was the shimmering image of Bil-Kit Jinn.
“Master!” cried Sarolyn in disbelief. “I thought…”
The spirit of Bil-Kit smiled at his protégé. Over a happy period of seven years, with patience and training, Sarolyn had evolved from a girl in a wise and powerful Jedi, one who may have saved the Republic. He straightened his posture and looked severely at Sarolyn. She still had a tendency towards over-assumption.
“You know what Thought did, young Sarolyn,” said Bil-Kit with a smile.
“Yes, Master,” said Sarolyn, barely able to contain her joy at being reunited with her Master. She looked into his watery, blue eyes.
“I know what you’re thinking, my young apprentice,” said the old man gently. “You’re surprised to see me, aren’t you?”
“But Japhta Fett killed you, Master! I saw it happen!”
Bil-Kit placed his hand upon Sarolyn’s shoulder and together they walked across to the window. The last segment of the setting sun was disappearing beneath the hills.
“I was getting old, Sarolyn,” said Bil-Kit, “and I knew that we could not escape together. Japhta Fett had become twisted by her own hate, and I knew you would have to face her. Fett was your Trial, not mine.”
“But Master…” began Sarolyn before trailing off. Bil-Kit had planned this chain of events all along, and he had kept those plans to himself. This news had come as a surprise, almost a shock, and she did not know what to say.
‘Sarolyn,’ said Bil-Kit gently. “There are times when must give way to those younger and fresher than ourselves. It’s the only way that we can evolve.”
The spirit of Bil-Kit Jinn began to fade. “Remember,” he said quietly, “the Force will always be with you.”
Neema re-entered the lab. She could sense a change in Sarolyn, as if she had received some important news and had not quite taken it in.
“Are you all right, Saz?” she asked with concern. “What’s up?”
Sarolyn looked down at Neema and smiled. “My Master’s at peace.”
The office door opened and Parlio Venstromence shuffled out. He smiled genially at the two girls through his scruffy beard.
“Neema?” he stuttered, waggling his finger in a summoning gesture. “Sarolyn?”
“Come on, Saz,” said Neema with resignation as she ushered her friend towards the door. “Let’s hear what they’ve got to say.”
“Confer on you the level of Jedi Knight, the Council does,” said Yoda to the kneeling Sarolyn as he sat cross-legged upon the Director’s former desk. The lack of abundant furniture in the plush office meant that the majority of the Council were seated upon the floor. Parlio and Dessk, as senior members, shared the table with Yoda, flanking him at either side.
“Much initiative and resourcefulness we have seen in you,” continued Yoda as he wrinkled his face at the girls before him, “but still too much emotion there is in you. Told you I have,” he berated, waggling his cane at Sarolyn. “You listen to nothing what I say?”
Sarolyn knew exactly what Yoda meant. He was talking about Ayo.
“Yes, Master,” she said, bowing her head. She knew that Ayo loved her, and this reaction from Master Yoda was what she had expected.
“Be mindful of your feelings, Sarolyn,” said Dessk. “Love can be all-consuming and could jeopardise your work.”
“I understand, Master.”
Yoda turned to Neema who was kneeling beside Sarolyn. “Young Neema, what have you to say?”
Neema looked back at the wizened old Master and swallowed nervously. She was afraid for her mother for she knew that she had been trained against the instructions of the Council. Vima could be punished.
“I don’t know, Master,” she said quietly.
“Much apprehension we sense in you, young Neema,” said Yoda, his eyes half-closed in meditative contemplation. “Shed light on this could you?”
Neema glanced at Sarolyn for moral support. She had to come clean. Neema turned to her mother, whose face bore a similar expression of worry. Yoda and the rest of the Council were watching her, their attentions boring into her like laser beams.
“Mum’s been training me, Master.”
Heads turned, and Vima looked away in shame. Whispered mutterings fluttered around the office, words of shock that a respected Jedi Knight should disobey an official edict.
“Hmmm,” purred Yoda as his gaze shifted from Neema to Vima. Sarolyn watched him, hoping that the ancient little Jedi Master would find in favour of Neema and her mother. The two women were almost family to her.
“Strong with the Force you are, young Neema,” said Yoda as he scratched his moustache. “just like your mother.”
Sarolyn looked up at Yoda with anticipation. “She will be allowed to train, Master?”
“So certain are you, young Sarolyn? What know you of our decision? Our own counsel we will keep on what is allowed.”
Sarolyn sighed. she felt that the Council were treating Neema unfairly. She mustered the courage to speak up for her friend.
“Master Yoda, if it wasn’t for Neema, I’d be dead, and the Republic would have no idea what Mandalore was up to. It’s not me who should be commended, Master: it’s Neema.” Sarolyn gestured to Yoda with her hands outstretched. “Please be lenient to Vima, for her daughter’s sake.”
Yoda turned to Dessk and then to Parlio as they conferred amongst themselves. Agonised seconds passed a Neema and Vima awaited their fate.
“Er, we’ve reached our decision,” stammered Parlio Venstromence as he scratched himself. He turned to his colleague. “Yoda?”
“Decided the Council has,” confirmed Yoda as he fidgeted upon the hard tabletop. “Reckless it was for Vima to disregard our edict, but, in spite of recent developments, overlook this transgression we will.’ Vima breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Trained, Neema is to be.”
Neema was almost overcome with happiness. She turned to Sarolyn and hugged her tightly.
“But,” added Yoda, his tone darkening with warning, “carefully Vima must tread. Old is Neema,” Neema bristled at being described as old, “and set in her ways she is.”
Yoda clambered down from the desk with a stiff groan and hobbled up to the kneeling girls. He leant forward on his stick and stared straight into Neema’s intense, grey eyes.
“You are impatient,” he said. emphasising each word. Neema returned Yoda’s stare, her expression dark. She felt insulted.
“And you are reckless!” added Yoda. Neema opened her mouth to protest, only to be cut short by this formidable Jedi Master.
“All this time, watched you I have. All your life have you ignored yourself, never your mind on what you are doing, where you are going!” Yoda poked Neema with his cane and grunted to stress his point.
“Smoking...Huh! Parties...Huh! Profit...Huh! A Jedi craves not these things!” Yoda looked up at Vima. “Will she finish what she begins?”
“Yes, Master Yoda,” said Vima gently. “I promise I will train her to the best of my ability.”
“I will not fail you,” said Neema to the Council. “You have my word.”
The two girls stood up and bowed to their superiors. Yoda cast Neema a hard stare.
“Watching you closely we shall be, young Neema. On probation you are. May the Force be with you.”Forward to the epilogue Back to Chapter 45