“Aaagh! Please! I’ve told you everything I know! Please! Stop! Aaagh!”
Kor jerked awake, covered in sweat. The dream of Jhemon being tortured by someone named Sanarrn Serrakk was so real he could almost swear it was real.
He sat up in his bunk. “Lights,” he said. The lights in his cabin came on and he got up to wash himself off. Beside the sink were the training wrist bands. They’d come off after his final lesson with them the night before.
The cool water on his face helped calm him down but now he wasn’t sleepy. He glanced at the chronometer and groaned. It was the middle of the night. He sighed and headed for the mess to scrounge a midnight snack.
He rummaged around and found the fixings for a sandwich. He was nearly finished making it when Prauf shuffled in, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
“Why are you making all this racket?”
“Sorry,” Kor said. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
Prauf plopped in a chair and yawned again. “That’s fine. So, what woke you up in the middle of the night?”
“I had a bad dream about your father.”
Prauf’s drowsiness disappeared. “What happened?”
Kor shrugged and told him.
“Sanarrn Serrakk?” Prauf exploded to his feet. “That’s the punk I told you about who nearly killed me.”
Kor bobbled his sandwich and had to move fast to catch it before it fell on the deck. He put it on the counter. “Wait a minute. Sanarrn Serrakk is a real person? I thought I was just dreaming about someone with that name.”
Prauf shook his head emphatically. “I guarantee he’s real and he’s a real slimebag too. He’d sell his own mother if he could.”
Kor bit his lip. His parents had once mentioned in passing that sometimes Jedi could sense when other people were in danger or pain. Was that what was happening now? He told Prauf about it.
The big man clenched his fists. “If there’s even a chance it was real, we have to get back to Aubreta before Sanarrn kills my father or anyone else.”
Kor wasn’t hungry anymore. He tossed his sandwich in the chiller. “Then let’s get dressed and get this heap in the air.”
“Ha! Are you afraid someone’s going to see you in your underwear?” Prauf headed for the cockpit. “We’ll get underway then get dressed once we’re in hyperspace.”
Kor let his hands flop at his sides as he followed him. “Hey! Who’s the Captain around here anyway?”
Prauf ignored him and within minutes they were in space, jumping into hyperspace. It was a four day trip to Aubreta so Kor went back to his cabin for some more sleep. When he woke up, he’d do some more training, this time with the book Morg had created.
It was Kor’s second time to Aubreta and as soon as they hit the atmosphere he was able to tell something was different, courtesy of new lessons learned from Morg’s training book. “There’s a ship down,” he said, staring off into space. He blinked and focused on Prauf. “A big one.”
A sensor dinged just as he said it, reporting a large metallic object on the ground just outside the village. Prauf touched some controls. “It looks like an old Imperial troop carrier,” he said. “And you’re right, it’s big. The cargo bay on that thing could probably hold five or six ships the size of the Whimsy.” An outline of the ship appeared on the screen between them.
Kor felt a surge of worry. “We should get out of sight before they . . .”
Another sensor dinged, cutting him off.
Prauf nodded at Kor’s expression. “Too late.” He looked at his instruments. “We’re being scanned.”
Kor frowned. “You said Sanarrn was a bounty hunter. How’d he get a ship that big?” He waved at the screen.
Prauf shook his head. He opened his mouth to answer but a voice on the comm channel cut him off.
“Unidentified ship. This is the SAF Claw. We have jurisdiction here. Identify yourself, leave, or be shot down, you have 10 seconds.”
Prauf flipped the switch. “This is the private vessel, Whimsy. We’re here on family business.”
There was a moment of silence, then a new voice came on. “Prauf? Is that you?”
Prauf mouthed the name ‘Sanarrn’ to Kor. “This is Prauf ne Jhemon d’Aubreta,” he said. “Who are you?”
The voice chuckled. “Hey, old buddy, this is Sanarrn Serrakk. How’s it going?”
Kor cupped a hand over the microphone. “Their guns are tracking us.”
Prauf nodded. “Buddy? You almost killed me the last time we met.”
“Almost,” Sanarrn stressed. “You survived. I survived. You’re not really going to hold that against me are you?” His voice was syrupy sweet.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Prauf said. “But your guns are tracking us and I am going to hold that against you.”
They were close enough to make out individual figures on the ground. Only one or two people were moving around, a minuscule number for such a large ship. Kor cupped his hand over the microphone. “Something’s wrong,” he whispered.
“It doesn’t take a Jedi to figure that out,” Prauf returned in the same voice.
“Hey, you’re almost down now anyway. Go ahead and land and we’ll sort it all out, alright?” Sanarrn said in a fake jovial voice.
Kor glanced at the fast approaching ground. “It’s your family, your call,” he said in a guarded voice.
Prauf’s voice matched the grim set of his face. “If Sanarrn is here it can’t be good.” His voice changed for the microphone. “Sure thing, old buddy. See ya in a few.”
Kor sighed and landed carefully on the far side of the village from the Claw. He hit a button and blast shields slid closed over the cockpit windows. They powered the ship down but left it in standby mode for a quick getaway if it became necessary.
Prauf strapped on weapons and armor. “You know, we’re probably walking into a trap no matter how many precautions we take,” Kor said, as he watched him.
Prauf slid a dagger into each boot. “Yeah, but Sanarrn will be suspicious if we don’t come out ready for war. You should armor up too.” Kor shrugged and did as he suggested.
He felt like a knight in shining armor as he strode and clanked down the ramp to the ground. The door closed and the ramp retracted as soon as they were off it, locking it down on the highest security level where it could only be opened again with biometric authentications.
A slender athletic man with a dash of gray in his beard was coming toward them from the giant ship on the other side of the village. He was dressed in a tasteful suit and cape fit for an evening at the opera. Four guards, flanked him, two on either side. He paused a few feet away and surveyed them.
“You’re looking good, Prauf.” His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he looked him over more closely. “Surprisingly good, actually. What’s your secret?”
“Clean living.” Prauf sidestepped slowly, putting distance between him and Kor.
Sanarrn smiled briefly. “Are you sure it doesn’t have anything to do with your Jedi friend there?”
Kor already had his lightsaber in his hand, waiting to be ignited. “What makes you think I’m a Jedi?”
“Ballador threatened to put Drafa out of business if he didn’t tell them the truth, so he did and your father –“ he looked at Prauf, “– was good enough to confirm it for us.” He looked Kor up and down. “There haven’t been any Jedi in the galaxy for 20 years. Some people would pay billions to get their hands on someone like you.” He smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. “So Ballador hired us to bring you in.”
Prauf raised the barrel of his blaster. “So you’ve graduated from bounty hunting to kidnapping?”
Sanarrn shook his head. “It’s not kidnapping if you’ve got the law on your side, and on Bracca, Ballador is the law.”
“This isn’t Bracca,” Kor said. He ignited his lightsaber.
Sanarrn snapped his fingers and hundreds of armored soldiers poured out of every building, running quickly to surround them. More erupted from trapdoors in the ground. Within seconds there were over 2000 heavily armed soldiers pointing their weapons at them.
Kor turned quickly back and forth, taking in their situation. He’d told Prauf they were walking into a trap but he’d never imagined anything like this.
Prauf was thinking the same thing. “Ballador sent their army after us?”
Sanarrn laughed. “Of course not. They hired my army to come after you.”
“The Strike Army First,” Sanarrn answered smugly. “An army for hire pays a lot better than being a bounty hunter.” He snapped his fingers at his soldiers. “Take them!”
Kor saw the uselessness of fighting. He switched off his lightsaber and surrendered. Prauf did the same. After being cuffed, they were patted down, professionally and thoroughly. When it was over, all their weapons had been found and confiscated.
Beyond the soldiers, Jhemon and the rest of Prauf’s family were being herded from one of the castle-like buildings to another. Prauf tried to surge forward angrily against the soldiers holding him. “What do you need them for? Let them go!”
“We need a handle on the Jedi, which seems to be you and that means we need a handle on you. Some of my men will be staying here to keep an eye on them. As long as everyone behaves, no one will get hurt.” One of his soldiers handed him Kor’s lightsaber. He twirled it in the air. “Ah yes, the weapon of a Jedi.” He tried to ignite it but nothing happened. He flipped the switch off and on several times. His face twisted in sudden fury. “What happened? It worked a minute ago!”
Kor shrugged while using the Force to keep the lightsaber from igniting. “Like you said, it’s the weapon of a Jedi.” He paused. “And you’re not a Jedi.” His words caused a stir in the ranks of watching soldiers.
Sanarrn visibly struggled to contain his anger. “Get them on board!” He slapped the lightsaber in a soldier’s hand and stalked away.
Kor smiled inside. It was a minor victory but right now he’d take whatever he could get. It was also short-lived. The soldiers yanked him unceremoniously across the village to the Claw and hustled him inside. Prauf was receiving the same rough treatment.
They were taken deep into the ship then shoved into a round chamber. Their handcuffs were fastened together then the guards dashed out of the cell, slamming the door behind them. Round holes opened around them. Sanarrn addressed them over a loudspeaker. “There are three hundred blasters aimed at you, Jedi. I doubt you could survive, but just in case you do, rest assured, Prauf can’t. He’ll be cut to pieces and it’ll be your fault for not protecting him.” The speakers went dead.
“Don’t worry about me,” Prauf said quickly. “You’ve got to get out of here before we reach Bracca. If Ballador gets their hands on you, you’ll be a slave for the rest of your life.”
Kor shook his head. “What about your family?”
Prauf turned to face him. “This was always a long shot, kid. Ballador ain’t bad as companies go, but money is the bottom line for them. If they think they can make a killing selling you on the open market, they’ll do it. Afterward,” he shrugged, “my family is a loose end that needs to be taken care of, you know?” He grimaced. “I hate to say it but they’re dead already.”
Kor pulled hopelessly on the cuffs. “No! I won’t accept that!” All his life he’d been hemmed in by rules and limitations that made no sense, first from his parents because of their fear of the Empire, then later because of his need to earn a living. The taste of freedom he’d gotten in the last few days had opened a door inside him he hadn’t known was there. Now it was opened, he found he couldn’t abide the idea of closing it again, of going back into pointless servitude for someone else’s purposes.
Fear, anger, and a desperate desire for freedom welled up in him. Aubreta was full of the Force and he reached for it to tear the ship apart but he knew the moment he did the blasters around them would open fire, killing Prauf.
There had to be some way to protect him, some way to help him, some way to strengthen him.
He was so caught up in the tidal wave of emotion he didn’t realize what he was doing until he heard Prauf exclaim in pain and wonder. An eruption of the Force beside him brought him back to himself. His jaw dropped in surprise.
Prauf was glowing with the power of the Force just like he did.
Somehow, impossibly, he’d made Prauf into a Force-sensitive – a fledgling Jedi!