The trip to Castilon should have only been a three-day journey from Bracca, but the Empire had once put an exclusion zone around the planet Geonosis when they were building the Death Star there, requiring everyone to make a wide detour around it. The automated Imperial defenses had never been taken down and were still in place, still active, and still dangerous. It forced everyone in the area to give it a wide berth if they didn’t want to be destroyed.
Kor didn’t mind though, it gave him time to practice.
Looking back with the perspective of hindsight, he realized his parent’s fear had trapped him long enough. His Force powers were going to reveal themselves no matter how much he tried to hide them, and now that they had, the only way he could defend himself was to embrace them.
During their first full day in hyperspace, he told Prauf what he was going to do, then put on the learning bands in the old box and activated them. The resulting pulse was so weak he’d have been surprised if anyone more than a hundred feet away could have felt it.
The other result though was overwhelming.
Suddenly he found himself standing in a training room, facing the ancient Jedi Master who’d created it, Morg Shippa. He was a dapper man with dancing brown eyes and a lively tone.
“Welcome, my young student, welcome!” the recorded avatar said. “I’m glad you chose this method of learning the true path of the Jedi. Obviously, I don’t know who you are or how long it’s been since I recorded these lessons but the powers of the Jedi don’t change with the years. What I do know is that the Jedi are slowly turning away from what I believe is the true path, becoming more centralized and hidebound than they should be. It’s not healthy and I fear we’re losing much of the old knowledge because they think it’s dangerous. Therefore, you need the skills this learning band can teach you, the real skills and ways of a Jedi. The key to the future is in the past.”
There was more along the same lines. Morg’s disapproval of the Jedi of his day mirrored what he’d written in his note. Aside from that though, it felt utterly real, a completely immersive experience that was indistinguishable from the real thing. After a while though, Kor began to notice the giveaways that meant it wasn’t real.
First, each lesson was discreet and self-contained but they had to be learned in a linear fashion, one building on top of the other.
Second, once he mastered a lesson, he couldn’t go back to it later. It was gone.
Third, while Morg’s disapproval of the Jedi of his day came through in every lesson, there was nothing about what he thought the true philosophy of the Jedi should be. The training was all skill-based, like learning to field strip a blaster.
He spent hours each day, learning everything he could. The simulation included a training hall where he could practice what he learned. This was a tremendous advantage because an hour of real time seemed like a full day inside the simulation. By the time they came out of hyperspace at Castilon, he’d had the equivalent of four weeks of intense Jedi training and practice. He still wasn’t a Jedi by any means, but he felt more confident of himself than he had in a long time.
Morg’s comment that the past was key to the future unaccountably stuck in his memory. The ancient Master’s complaints about the Jedi hadn’t been specific enough to tell him exactly what went wrong with them, but the fact they could be overthrown in a single day, and never saw it coming, argued that Morg was right on some level. The past is the future, he thought, or my future anyway. He resolved to look into the Jedi’s history whenever he got the chance, in hopes of unlocking more secrets.
During the trip, while he had been taking lessons, Prauf had discovered that the Whimsy came with a fully stocked armory hidden behind a sliding panel. He now wore a blaster on his hip, a knife in each boot and had a stunner built into his left sleeve. He carried a heavy blaster rifle slung across his back.
Kor washed and cleaned his clothes then added a leather holster on his right thigh for his lightsaber. They had decided to play the Captain and bodyguard routine when they landed. Prauf’s size made him look like the quintessential bodyguard so it was an act that should be believable. If an actual fight broke out, things would be slightly different. It depended on just how well Kor had learned his lessons.
Prauf brought the Whimsy into a smooth landing, following the instructions from ground control. Kor took the comm to ask Oleander to meet them to collect his cargo and render the second half of the payment. After a few minutes, Oleander appeared on their screen.
“You have something for me?” he asked.
Kor nodded. “Drafa hired me to deliver a special order skimmer and collect the second half of the payment you owe him.”
Oleander’s face split in a pleased smile. “Good, good. You’re even a couple of days early. We’ll meet you at the landing pad.”
Prauf continued the landing cycle until they were down. He powered the engines down but didn’t shut them off. They headed back to the rear of the lower deck to open the port side cargo door. Several ground vehicles were waiting for them, including a hauler and a forklift. Kor waved at them while Prauf went to open the cargo hold.
Oleander and his men were all business when they arrived. Kor stood back to let them work, while Prauf hovered menacingly over his shoulder, glowering at anyone who came too close. The wind coming in from the ocean was cold and biting, with the tang of salt in it. Oleander insisted on opening the crate to make sure his skimmer was what he’d ordered and to check for damage. Once he was satisfied, he ordered his men to bring out the cash box.
It was a solid, heavy box with an electronic lock on it. Oleander assured them that even an Imperial cruiser wouldn’t have enough firepower to blast open a box like that. All they could do was knock it around.
Kor had Prauf take charge of the box. The big alien, for all his massive strength, grunted under its weight when he hefted it onto his shoulder. He staggered up the ramp with it then disappeared into the cargo hold.
Kor asked Oleander if all the money was in the box, watching carefully to see if he was being truthful when he answered. The tall, painfully thin alien seemed hurt by the question but answered that yes, all the money was there. Drafa’s skimmers were some of the best in the galaxy and he’d probably want to buy more in the future.
Kor’s abilities revealed that Oleander was telling the truth.
“Captain Sheen, would you like to stay a few days and see the races? My hotel can give you quite a discounted rate on the rooms if you do,” Oleander offered in his oily voice.
Kor sensed a strange disturbance in the Force around Oleander when he said that. He didn’t have enough experience to know what it meant but he didn’t trust it. He shook his head sadly. “I don’t get paid until I get that back to Drafa,” he replied, inclining his head at the cash box Prauf had taken aboard the Whimsy, “so I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. Thank you, though. Perhaps next time.”
Oleander seemed slightly disappointed, which confirmed Kor’s feeling that something wasn’t quite right with his offer. “Until next time then,” he agreed reluctantly. “Good day, Captain, it’s been a pleasure.” He disappeared into his vehicle and all of them drove away.
Kor let out a sigh of relief, unaware of how tense he’d been until then. He headed back inside and then hit the button to close the hatch. After it clanged closed he turned to find Prauf climbing down from the manual control position of one of the ship’s guns. He raised an eyebrow at him.
“I didn’t trust him,” Prauf said by way of explanation.
“For what it’s worth, neither did I,” Kor agreed. “There was definitely something wrong with his offer to let us stay in his hotel.”
“Like what?” Prauf asked as they made their way back the cockpit.
“I don’t know,” Kor admitted. “But there was something in the Force that didn’t feel right when he said it. I didn’t feel like sticking around to find out what it was.”
Prauf grinned. “Jedi or padawan, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders.”
“Well then, why don’t we find someplace where I can do some practice takeoffs and landing?” Kor suggested.
“Sure, why not,” Prauf laughed in his deep voice.
They found a small island halfway around the planet that had a wide beach, perfect for their needs. Prauf let Kor practice landing the Whimsy and taking her off again half a dozen times before suggesting he try it on Castilon’s moon. Vacuum landings were different than atmospheric ones and Kor needed to be checked out on both.
Soon, Prauf pronounced him proficient and walked him through setting their course back to Bracca.
During the return journey, Kor again spent almost all his time in the simulation, learning new Jedi skills and practicing them over and over again until he was nearly sick and tired of them.
The starship traffic around Bracca was always heavy but with Prauf riding herd on him, Kor successfully landed the Whimsy right back in the vacant spot in Drafa’s shipyard where the Whimsy had been when they bought it.
“Right back where we started,” Kor remarked sourly to Prauf.
“Yeah, and the one place we don’t want to be,” he returned. “Let’s get this over with and get out of here. It’s been over a week since you pulled your little stunt and both of us disappeared later that same day. There are bound to be people asking questions.”
Kor glanced out the cockpit window. Drafa and one of his men were approaching, waving at them. He waved back and hit the button to open the aft port cargo ramp. He unbuckled himself and got up to go meet them. He got to the port just as they were reaching the top of the ramp.
“Hi, yourself,” Drafa returned seriously. “You made good time.” He glanced around at the ship. “How did she do?”
Prauf patted the bulkhead. “Like a trooper.”
“Good,” Drafa nodded. “And Oleander? Was he happy with the skimmer I built for him?”
“He sure seemed like it,” Kor told him, explaining their little ‘Captain and bodyguard’ routine they’d used.
“That was probably a good idea,” Drafa agreed when Kor told how him they’d turned down Oleander’s offer to stay at his hotel. “He always pays on time and he’s never stiffed me, but there’s something about that guy that gives me the willies.”
“Speaking of payment, did you bring a forklift? That cash box is heavy!” Kor told him.
Drafa hooked a thumb over his shoulder. A forklift was trundling toward the ramp.
“Way ahead of you.” He glanced around. “Can we talk in private?” he asked quietly.
Kor felt a disturbance in the Force. Uh oh, he thought. Out loud, he said, “Sure, this way.” He led them toward the bow of the ship until they reached the end of the passage. “What’s up?”
Drafa looked worried. “A couple of days after you left, some heavy muscle types showed up, all in black, asking a bunch of questions about you guys. I told ‘em you wanted to buy a starship but didn’t have enough money.”
“What kind of questions?” Prauf asked, nearly snarling.
“They wanted to know if I ever seen either of you do anything strange or unusual or if you’d been luckier than normal.” Drafa shook his head. “I don’t know how they tracked you here and I told ‘em that that day was the first time I’d seen either of you in months.”
“Either of us,” Kor mused. “That means they’re not sure which of us is the one they’re after.” He gave Prauf a worried glance. “I may have put you in danger.”
“After saving my life,” he reminded him. “Which sounds like it was the final straw putting your life in danger. Maybe I should be the one apologizing.”
Drafa was irritated. “Alright, fine. You’re both sorry. Great. Everyone’s happy.” He waved them to shut up. “Listen, you guys can’t get off this ship. Someone might see you. As soon as my men get the box off the ship I’ll open it, get your money for you, then you guys get out of here and never come back!”
Kor nodded then asked, “What about your men? Do you trust them?”
“With my life,” Drafa said shortly.
One of them called to him and Drafa waved. “Wait here,” he told them. “I’ll be right back.” He hurried back to the ramp and out the ship.
They waited nervously for several minutes that felt like several hours then he came back with a heavy sack. He tossed it to Kor. It clinked noisily and heavily when he caught it. “Alright, close the hatch and get out of here!” He hurried away.
Kor called to him just as he started down the ramp. “Drafa!”
He paused. “What?”
“Thank you, and may the Force be with you.”
Drafa was startled for a moment then he grinned. “Never thought I’d hear a Jedi say that to me!” He waved then disappeared from view.
Prauf waited a moment then slapped the button to raise the ramp and close the hatch. As soon as it clanged shut they sprinted for the cockpit. Kor tossed the bag of money on the floor behind his chair.
“Liftoff while I get us ready for hyperspace,” Prauf ordered him.
Kor nodded without worrying about who was in charge of who. He lifted off, retracting the landing gear as he slowly applied speed. The moment the landing gear was fully retracted and the bay doors were closed, he piled on the speed, bringing the nose up as high as he could without attracting attention. The rules were lax around Bracca but there was no sense in taking chances.
He cleared the atmosphere in no time.
“I’ve got your course for you,” Prauf told him.
Kor nodded without answering and turned the ship until it was directly on course then hit the lock button. “Course laid in and locked,” he reported tersely.