The celebrations continued well into the night. The research institute was filled with the happy barking of the Zephoid Zez, a people freed from the oppression of Mandalore. The small, timid creatures had been given a new strength from their ordeal and they would never again be exploited.
Ayo and Yarua stood on the east landing platform beneath the golden hull of the Millennium Falcon. They were trying to pacify an angry Thraurrallgisc, incensed at the loss of his beloved Red Planet. He exhaled his cigarette smoke and roared, kicking the landing gear of the ship with rage.
“But you’ll like the Falcon!” protested Ayo. “She might not be fast, but she’s got class!” Thriatizedd glided out of the hatch. “Got her own droid as well.”
Thraurrallgisc flicked his ash and growled dourly. He missed the Planet, but at least a fancy gold ship was better than nothing.
Sarolyn and Neema joined Ayo and the two Wookiees. The Chancellor had left for Coruscant with the Council, and the rest of the Jedi were mopping up inside under the watchful eye of Dessk. Now a full Jedi Knight, Sarolyn no longer sported the style of the Padawan Learner, and her hair hung around her shoulders in gentle waves. Neema, however had tied hers back, and a braid now hung from behind her right ear. Her apprenticeship was official.
Ayo smiled at Sarolyn as Yarua suddenly grabbed both girls and hugged them tightly, one in each arm. Startled, Neema yelped.
“Guvnor,” said Ayo, “meet Sarolyn and Neema, the two girls who saved our lives.” Thraurrallgisc barked happily at the girls as he ruffled their hair.
Ayo had suddenly become quiet. He stole away from the group as Thraurrallgisc, Thriatizedd and Yarua boarded the Falcon.
“You’d better talk to Ayo, Saz,” said Neema gently. “They’ve got to go back to Sorensia and I think he wants to say goodbye.”
Sarolyn sighed. She cared deeply for Ayo, but the warning from the Council was still fresh in her mind.
“I don’t know, Neema. It’s too complicated.”
“Saz,” pleaded Neema, “he’s nuts about you. You can’t just let him go off without so much as a goodbye. He’ll be gutted. You might never see him again.”
“Oh, all right,” conceded Sarolyn. “I won’t be long.”
In the faint light behind the ship, Sarolyn could just about make out the tall figure of Ayo as he gazed up at the sky. She tiptoed up to him and stood close, listening to his breathing amid the faint drumming and singing of the Zephoid Zez as they danced to their exotic music. The stars shone down, the sky bisected by the faint band of light from the galaxy.
A new star dominated the heavens, glowing far brighter than the others. A cosmic searchlight deep within the Unknown Regions had exploded as a supernova, a beacon giving as much light as the rest of the galaxy combined. Ayo was mesmerised by the spectacle.
“Ayo?” said Sarolyn as she held his hand.
“We’ve got to go back home,” said Ayo quietly. “The Guvnor needs to sort everything out there, now that Mandalore’s gone.” He gazed into her eyes. “I’m going to miss you.”
Sarolyn smiled. She looked up at the sky.
“The stars are beautiful,” said Sarolyn as she squeezed Ayo’s hand. ‘”Each one giving life to a civilisation and adding to the Music of the Force. Every time I see them, Ayo, I will think of you as you travel among them.”
Ayo stroked Sarolyn’s hand. He felt light-headed, as if the beautiful girl beside him was part of a dream. He gazed at her.
“The Zez believe that the stars are the souls of the dead,” he whispered, feeling a peace that he had never before felt as Sarolyn edged closer to him. He turned and stared at the supernova that hung in the black sky.
“See that?” he said, pointing to the bright new star. Sarolyn followed his gaze, her face pressed close to his as they studied the heavens. Ayo could smell the pleasant fragrance of perfume in her hair as it wafted across his face.
“Yes,” whispered Sarolyn as she entwined her fingers with those of Ayo.
“That’s Zibeon. He’s at peace.”
Ayo’s gaze met Sarolyn’s and he felt a surge of tenderness engulf him in a tidal wave of love as they kissed, a kiss he never wanted to end. Sarolyn held Ayo tightly as she gently stroked the back of his head. She had come a long way since her apprenticeship under Bil-Kit Jinn, and it seemed that her whole life lay ahead of her. She had so many unanswered questions: Who, or what, was that beast that saved her life? Could it have been some kind of spirit, like the image of her Master that had appeared to her in the lab? If so, why did it help her? There was so much she needed to know but she could feel that she would have to be patient. Sarolyn leant her head on Ayo’s shoulder and they stood close, gently rocking from side to side as the distant sounds of revelry continued. She knew she was breaking the Jedi Code by succumbing to her feelings, but she did not care.
Sarolyn was at peace with the Force.
* * *Back to Chapter 46