After the impromptu press conference was finally over, Kor decided he’d rather endure a ship blowing up in his face again than go through another question-and-answer session with a bunch of reporters. He thought the questions would never end, many of them repetitions of previous questions, just worded slightly differently.
The next morning, he and Prauf went shopping, buying furniture, dishes, clothes, and food by the truckload, then hiring a Caragon cargo ship to haul it all back to Aubreta. The last thing they bought was a top-of-the-line ground vehicle. When General Samlon came to say goodbye, they gave him the keys.
He stared at them in puzzlement. “What’s this for?”
Prauf patted him on the shoulder. “The military never pays as well as it should and you took a chance on us even when you had your doubts. This is our way of saying, thank you.”
Samlon’s eyebrows went up. “Were you in the military?”
Prauf nodded. “That’s where I learned the skills that made me such a good bounty hunter. It’s also where I learned that military pay stinks.”
Samlon chuckled. “Some things are universal, aren’t they?”
“They sure are.”
Kor felt a momentary stab of envy at the camaraderie between Prauf and Samlon, based on their shared background in the military.
Prauf felt his emotions in the Force. Don’t be jealous. The Jedi are a kind of military too. He continued comforting Kor after they were aboard the Whimsy and headed to Aubreta. “Remember, we’re called Jedi Knights, as in knights in shining armor and all that. Hey, we even have swords.” He lit his lightsaber with a dramatic Pssshhew-Schvrmmmmmmm!, and waved it through the air with the standard vrãu, vrãu sound. He brought it up before his face in a sword salute. “It doesn’t get much more military than that.”
Kor nodded slowly. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I never thought of it that way before.”
Prauf put his lightsaber away and clapped him on the back. “It takes some getting used to. Hey! Let’s see what the news has to say about us,” he said, changing the subject. “I’ll bet they love us now that we kicked butt on the bad guys.”
Kor felt a grin steal across his face. “That would be nice for a change, wouldn’t it? Okay, turn it on, and let’s see what they say.”
Two hours later he was grim-faced and trembling with rage. Prauf was on the verge of putting his fist through the wall. The news companies had managed to get everything backward and make them look like the bad guys in the process.
ISN (InterStellar News), did the least amount of embellishing, straightforwardly telling the story with very little editorial comment. They did, however, question whether the Jedi were justified in using such brutal tactics. They also went out of their way to note that anyone with a reasonable amount of military training and hardware could have accomplished the same results, so there wasn’t really any proof Kor and Prauf were actual Jedi.
From there, it went downhill in a hurry. GBS (Galaxy Broadcasting System), CORE, PAN (Pan-galatic Action News), and ORA (Old Republic Ascendant), were openly skeptical about the whole thing, questioning if it might be a false flag operation designed to make the Jedi seem like heroes for some reason. In this regard, FOR (First Order Reporting), the propaganda arm of the rising First Order, was an unlikely accomplice, siding with news broadcasters they normally despised. They showed close-ups of the warehouse fires from multiple angles, making it appear the whole city was in flames.
The rest of the major channels fell somewhere between those two extremes, except for the libertarian-minded LITE-G network (Liberty In The Entire Galaxy). They treated the whole thing as a joke, laughing about it as if it were a comedy show.
Kor slapped the switch angrily, cutting off one of the commentators in mid-sentence. “How can he sit there and lie like that? He was there last night!”
Prauf was grinding his teeth. “Several of them were. But why couldn’t we feel that when we were talking to them?”
Kor was pacing back and forth in the tiny kitchen/mess area. “It was like they were shielded or something, wasn’t it? I couldn’t feel anything from them either. And they lied to us! They sat right there and lied to us!” He slammed a fist down on the counter.
“We just want to tell your side of the story,” Prauf said, mocking the reporters. “How could we be so blind? How could we miss it?”
Kor shook his head. “As soon as we get back, I’m talking to Morg’s avatar to see if he has any information on this kind of thing. If they could lie to us and get away with it, someone else might be able to do it too.”
Prauf bared his teeth. “You’re right!” His fists clenched. “We got taken, kid. We got taken, big time!”
The two of them stewed in silence the rest of the way to Aubreta. When they came out of hyperspace, the cargo ship that had brought in their stuff was getting ready to leave. The captain called to inform them all their property had been off-loaded and was waiting for them in a warehouse at the Anscaster Spaceport near Prauf’s family village.
Kor glanced sideways at Prauf. “Anscaster Spaceport?”
Prauf waved it away. “My grandfather had delusions of grandeur when he built it and wanted to give it a big fancy name. Most of the time though, it was the way it was when you first saw it.”
It had been abandoned and empty then, with weeds growing up through the concrete on the landing apron. Now, there were scorch marks where they’d burned off the vegetation and two warehouse buildings were being renovated even as two cargo ships parked by them were being loaded with scrap metal stored in them. A third cargo hauler was in the process of lifting off. Off to one side was a sleek, modern ship on a parking pad.
Melron ne Nayvold d’Aubreta, Prauf’s cousin, was manning the one-room control tower. He hailed them as they were approaching the platform. “Hey, guys! A freighter just dropped off a bunch of stuff for you in the warehouse. Did you steal it?”
Prauf was outraged. “What??”
They could almost see Melron flinch. “Hey, I was just asking. According to the news, you guys really ran roughshod over those poor folks on Caragon-Viner.”
“Don’t believe everything you see on the news,” Prauf said.
Kor set the Whimsy down in front of the warehouse and hit the controls to drop the cargo ramp. “Let’s load as much as we can. We’ll come back for the rest of it later.”
Prauf followed him down the ramp. “Yeah, I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone right now.”
Melron must have passed the word along that they were in a bad mood. No one tried to call them or come see them. Jhemon was the only one to brave their anger and even he nearly got his head bitten off by Prauf. He signed off as quickly as he called, leaving them alone to stew in their anger.
They left Aubreta the moment the Whimsy was full. As soon as they were back on Zosma and had everything unloaded, they headed for the library to talk to Morg’s avatar. It frowned the moment it flickered into existence.
“I feel a great deal of anger in you. This isn’t healthy for a Jedi.”
Kor had long since realized the computer that ran the avatar program contained one or more kyber crystals in it. Using them, it could detect tremors and changes in the Force, feeding that information to Morg’s avatar so it could react in a life-like way. “No, I know, but we ran into something we don’t understand. Some people were able to lie to us without our being able to detect their lies.”
The avatar’s expression cleared. “Ah. Lies are enough to make anyone angry. I fully understand.”
Prauf was impatient. “Fine. You understand our feelings. Great. But how can someone lie to us without us being able to detect it?”
Morg’s avatar lapsed into what they called ‘lecture mode’. “That’s an excellent question, young Jedi. There are several types of people who can successfully lie to a Jedi.
“The first is an evil Jedi. Evil people are secretive by nature and if they have the Force, it helps them create a natural shield that blocks good Jedi from being able to read them or detect their presence. Unless an evil Jedi actively uses the Force in the presence of a good one, the good Jedi would never realize the evil Jedi has the Force.”
“Evil Jedi? You mean the Sith?” Kor said.
Morg pursed his lips like a prune. “The Sith – Separate Independently Thinking Humanoids – aren’t necessarily evil, although if the Jedi succeed in getting the Senate to pass the Force Users Registration Act, which will mandate that every Force-sensitive person in the galaxy has to join the Jedi, the Sith may rebel and start a civil war. Many of them are quite stubborn and proud. Too proud to my way of thinking.” He waved it away. “Regardless, if any Jedi turns to evil, very soon they develop a natural shield to hide behind. It makes it impossible for good Jedi to detect them.”
Kor paced back and forth, his anger draining away as he considered Morg’s words. It almost sounded like the Jedi and Sith were political parties more than anything. Too bad it wasn’t like that anymore. “You said there were several types of people who could successfully lie to a Jedi.”
Morg smiled. “It’s always a pleasure to find a true student who remembers my comments. Yes, the other type of person who can successfully lie to a Jedi is anyone who makes a career of dissembling; people such as actors, politicians, con men, and reporters. They constantly have to appear one way while hiding their true intentions from the people they’re dealing with. If they keep it up long enough, eventually they’ll develop the same sort of shield as an evil Jedi.”
Kor was startled. “Without having the Force?”
Morg nodded at him. “It’s a bit of a contradiction, isn’t it? But remember, the Force is created by all life and influenced by all life. That’s why an area filled with evil people soon begins to be permeated with evil, whether there’s anyone there or not. It becomes ‘haunted’, in other words.”
Kor frowned. He could tell Prauf was having the same reaction he was; surprise and revelation. “Is there any way for a good Jedi to develop the power to detect evil Jedi or people who have a natural shield?”
Morg nodded slowly. “There is one theory about a way it might be done, but it’s never been tested because it’s so dangerous.”
“What is it?”
Morg’s avatar hesitated. “Be advised, the restricted information you’re requesting is extremely dangerous. It has never been tested or validated and there is an unknown but very high probability it could kill you if you attempt to use it. Do you understand this warning?”
Kor and Prauf answered together. “Yes.”
“Do you still wish to access the restricted information?”
Morg nodded slowly. “Very well. Access granted.”
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