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Book 1 - Chapter 16


The next couple of weeks gave Kor and Prauf some time to rest and digest the aftermath of their battle with Sanarrn and his army of mercenaries. They also spent some time with Jhemon, showing him and his family how to cut up the Claw for scrap. Aubreta was a colony world for the Dhiketh and still only sparsely settled after several centuries of occupation. The Dhiketh were mostly miners, which led to their preference for underground dwellings, but Aubreta’s mineral resources were scarce. Jhemon’s father, Jein, had made some bad investments, which led to them losing their stake in one of the few productive mines on Aubreta. They lost everything and had to move topside to the surface. Their poverty had been the driving force behind Prauf’s decision to go off-world to become a bounty hunter and the reason he’d sent so much of his money home to them over the years.

The huge hulking remnant of the Claw, with its tens of thousands of tons of metal, was a gift beyond price. Even the twisted, smoking ruins of the aft engine section could be cut up and sold for more money than they’d seen in years. Instead of eking out a bare subsistence living as part-time workers in other people’s mining operations, they could go into business for themselves selling the metal from the Claw. There was enough there to last for decades.

They were ecstatic.

They just didn’t know how to salvage ships. All their experience was in mining operations. Working with finished metal, cutting it up, removing it from a ship, and packaging it for shipment was foreign to them, so Kor and Prauf, with their years of experience in the shipyards at Bracca, had been training them.

“Bring the sled over.”

Prauf nodded and worked the controls. Kor extended a hand toward the heavy blast door laying on the deck where it had fallen when they cut the hinges. It trembled then rose slowly off the deck. He lifted it higher so Prauf could steer the power sled under, then set it down gently. The sled sank for a moment under the weight then increased power to return to its former elevation.

Prauf read the weight meter on the controls and let out a whistle. “That’s your heaviest one yet.” They’d been taking turns using the Force to lift increasingly heavy loads, testing themselves to learn how much they could lift.

Kor trotted over to peer at the meter and grinned. “I beat your last one by 20 kilos.”

“Ah! We’ll see about that.” Prauf steered the power sled out the door, walking along behind it. “The next one is mine and I already know what I want it to be.”

A cool breeze blew in through the hole they’d cut in the side of the Claw. Kor peered out at the ground far below and shouted, “Heads up!” Tiny figures backed away from the ship and waved an all-clear. He nodded at Prauf. “Dump it.”

Prauf flipped a switch and the power sled abruptly tilted over. The blast door slid off with a screech of metal on metal then fell silently through the air for several seconds. It hit with a massive thud and an explosion of dust. Kor waved at the people below then turned back into the ship.

They moved aside as more Dhiketh maneuvered a loaded power sled over to the opening to dump a similar load. “Your family learns quickly,” Kor observed.

Prauf agreed. “They’re motivated to learn. We’ve given them hope for the first time in years.” He steered the power sled back to their work area. “Last night, my father actually smiled for the first time in . . .” Prauf paused to think, “. . . you know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile before.”

Kor’s communicator beeped before he could respond. “Yes?”

“It’s Aquila ne Abermiaci d’Aubreta.” It was the voice of one of Prauf’s younger cousins. She was Kor’s age but seemed younger due to her playful attitude and manner of speaking. “Your new threads have arrived, Master Jedi.”

Kor rolled his eyes at the title. Her syrupy sweet tone made the title sound more teasing than respectful. Still, her call was welcome news. He and Prauf had finally found somewhere to spend their money, at an underground city called UC2. It had a shopping district where they’d been able to buy new clothes, bedding, food, and general supplies, as well as some furniture for their quarters on Zosma. Since Kor didn’t have the bulky build of a Dhiketh, his clothes had to be tailor-made.

“Thanks, Aquila. It’s about time they got here. Put them on the Whimsy.”

“Oooh,” she said in a breathy voice. “Should I put them in your bedroom?”

Prauf grinned at him. Kor scowled back but kept his voice level. “No thanks. Just put them in mess. I’ll get them.”

She pretended to be disappointed. “Spoilsport.”

Kor turned off his comlink. “Your cousin is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.”

Prauf shrugged. “Don’t worry, she’s just kidding.” He paused. “I think she’s kidding.” He waved it away. “Anyway, she’s got a good heart.”

“Well, I’m so glad you cleared that up.” Kor’s sarcasm was evident. “Now that that blast door is out of the way, maybe we can focus on those engine parts?”

Prauf nodded. “Sure thing.”

As part of their price for training Prauf’s family, they got the first pick of the salvage. Prauf insisted on salvaging the engines from one of the shuttlecraft that had a hyperdrive. The engines on the Whimsy were good but they could always be better, especially the sub-light engines. After examining the smaller ships in the Claw’s landing bays, Prauf had declared he could cannibalize them to make the Whimsy faster and more maneuverable, with better acceleration. It wouldn’t be as good as a TIE fighter if it came to a dogfight but it would be a substantial improvement over what it was now. Kor was all in favor of the idea, even adding a few of his own. He’d learned enough from Morg’s training manual that he thought he could add some Force technology to improve the Whimsy even more.

Prauf had already made one return trip to Zosma with a load of supplies and salvage. Tomorrow, Kor would make the trip while Prauf stayed on Aubreta with his family. After he got back, they’d load up the Whimsy one more time then say good-bye to Jhemon, Aquila, and the rest.

They spent the rest of the day tearing apart the engines on one of the shuttlecraft and storing the parts on the Whimsy. There were more pieces than the Whimsy’s cargo holds could carry so they’d had to stack them in the passageways, cabins, mess, and anywhere else they could find room. By the time they were finished, the Whimsy looked like a flying junkyard inside. There was barely room to move around all the spare parts.

Kor stepped high over a stack of inducer components to get out of his cabin. “That’s the last of it.”

Prauf was squeezing out of his cabin. “Yeah.” Since he wouldn’t be making the trip to Zosma this time, they’d stuffed his cabin to the ceiling. “We couldn’t get anything more in here if we tried.” He gave Kor a serious look. “You know, kid, this will be your first time flying her alone and with all this extra weight, she’s going to be sluggish. Are you sure you don’t want me to come along with you?”

“Prauf! We’ve already talked about this. You need to spend some time with your family when we’re not in the middle of a fight.” Kor shook his head. “You stay. I’ll be fine.”

“Prauf!” Someone outside was calling his name.

Kor looked at him. “That sounds like your dad.”

He nodded. “It is.” He brushed the dirt off his hands. “Let’s go see what he wants.”

Jhemon met them at the bottom of the starboard cargo ramp. He was excited. “I just got off the comlink with Drafa. He wanted me to pass on a message to you two.”

They exchanged a glance. “Go on.”

Jhemon was standing straight instead of stooped and bent over the way he was the first time Kor saw him. Now he straightened even more. “Well, it seems that little video you put together has been making the rounds on Bracca. Between that and the stories Sanarrn and his men are telling, people are starting to remember why the Jedi were so respected – and feared.”

Kor couldn’t keep a huge smile off his face. “Really?”

Prauf elbowed him in the side. “Alright, kid, don’t go getting a swelled head.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He stared at him. “Hey! Who’s the Master and who’s the padawan around here anyway?”

Prauf shrugged massively. “That’s a matter of opinion.”

Jhemon was staring disapprovingly at them. “It’s a good thing those people can’t see you right now or they’d lose all their fear and respect, that fast.” He snapped his fingers.

“We may be Jedi but we’re still people too,” Kor said in protest. “We can still have some fun, you know.”

Jhemon frowned at him. “I understand that, but you don’t understand the symbolism of being a Jedi. People look up to the Jedi. They’re supposed to be legendary heroes, larger than life, and so on. But if people see you acting like ordinary folks, you’re going to destroy the legend and lose the respect and awe they still hold for the Jedi.” He shook his head. “And once it’s gone, you might never get it back.”

Kor glanced at Prauf, all joking gone. His father had once told him being a Jedi was both a blessing and a curse. It was toward the end when his father’s drinking was at it’s worst so he’d discounted it as the drunken ramblings of a broken old man, but becoming a Jedi had forced him out of the only home and job he’d ever known, nearly killed him, extended his life, shown him a side of life he’d never imagined possible, and heaped responsibilities on his shoulders he’d never wanted. The truth was, he and Prauf should have stayed on Aubreta last time to finish their fight with Sanarrn and his army. If they hadn’t left, they could have solved the problem then instead of letting it fester and grow.

He turned away angrily. “I didn’t ask to be a Jedi.”

“Well, neither did I,” Prauf said forcefully.

He compressed his lips.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not either of you asked for it,” Jhemon said. “You’ve got it and now you have to decide, really decide, what you’re going to do with it.”

Kor nodded without meaning to. As much as he hated to admit it, Jhemon was right. “We’ll get to work on that as soon as we can.”

Jhemon gave him a hard look. “Don’t take too long about it. I don’t think the galaxy is going to leave you alone.” He turned and walked away.

Prauf finally broke the long silence Jhemon left behind. He stuck out his hand. “Get going, kid. Dump that stuff on Zosma and get back here for me. I don’t usually agree with my father very often, but this time I do. We can’t just blunder around the galaxy.”

Kor shook hands solemnly. “Yeah.”

He turned abruptly and headed up the ramp. Minutes later he lifted off, waving through the cockpit window at Prauf. He turned the nose up to the sky and accelerated. The Whimsy was as sluggish as Prauf had foreseen, but it was manageable. As soon as he was in space he fed the coordinates for Zosma into the navigation computer and punched it.

The stars elongated and the Whimsy vanished into the night.

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