During the trip to Lothal, the next planet to call for their help, Kor and Prauf discussed the restricted information given to them by Morg Shippa’s avatar. It was every bit as dangerous as he’d warned. It involved grinding kyber crystals into microscopic particles then injecting them into a Jedi’s bloodstream. Theoretically, the microscopic crystals could then be directed by the Jedi to take up positions in their central nervous system, tissues, and bones according to a precise mathematical formula. There were dozens of variables in the formula, variables that corresponded to DNA differences in each individual. Unless every variable was correct, the Jedi would die an excruciatingly painful death.
The grinding process couldn’t be achieved with actual physical grinding, not unless you wanted to die in a spectacular explosion. It had to be done using the Force, slowly splitting off microscopic crystals one at a time. It was almost as dangerous as using a physical grinder.
Assuming you could collect the over 2 million microscopic particles needed – Morg said that was the minimum the theory required, the optimal number was 6 million – injecting them into a Jedi was fraught with danger as well. If anything went wrong, the best you could hope for was permanent insanity. At worst, the Jedi’s body could detonate in yet another spectacular explosion.
Even if everything went according to plan, there was no guarantee the process would achieve the goal of allowing a Jedi to detect someone hiding behind a Force shield. In theory, it would, but there was no way to know for sure until someone volunteered to try it. If it didn’t, what would it do? The frightening possibilities were endless.
“Of course, this helps explain why the Jedi were wiped out by the Emperor,” Kor said as they came out of hyperspace over Lothal. “He was hiding behind a natural shield. They had no way of knowing he was a Sith.”
“It doesn’t explain why they were dumb enough to believe all the drivel he was feeding them,” Prauf countered gently.
Kor couldn’t argue with that. “I guess they depended on the Force so much for everything that when there was an area where it didn’t work, they were blind to it.”
The comm-link beeped at them.
“This is Capital City. We’ve got you on our screens. What are your cargo and destination?”
Kor hit the button. “Private ship, the Whimsy, no cargo. We’re going to Three Pines on private business.”
The voice was puzzled. “What are you going to that dust bowl for?”
Kor repeated himself. “Private business.”
They heard a sigh. “Fine, have it your way. You’re cleared. Have a nice day.”
During the years right before the Rebel Alliance took their war against the Empire public, a small band of rebels had fought a long-running series of small battles against an Imperial installation on Lothal. In the end, they’d managed to drive the Empire off Lothal. Some of the local leaders went on to join the Rebel Alliance but the general population, scarred from the Imperial occupation of their planet, stayed out of the war as much as possible. After the Battle of Endor, they’d gone back to farming as their main way of life, maintaining their status as an independent planet.
Now, a small town in the southern hemisphere, called Three Pines, was having problems with their local elections. A group of citizens, led by a farmer named Jude Rangel, were accusing another farmer, Vendar Molon, of rigging the vote in his favor. No one was willing to concede so they’d called for outside help to straighten it out. When the stuffy bureaucrats in Capital City refused to get involved, they called the Jedi. Jhemon said they were nervous after seeing the news about what happened on Caragon-Viner but enough of them were so mad about what was happening in their town, they were willing to give the Jedi a chance.
Kor spiraled down over Three Pines. It was a small collection of buildings and dusty streets with a population of about 3000, surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of farmland. Silos dotted the landscape, along with several large ones grouped near the landing field. From what they could see, corn and wheat seemed to be the primary crops.
“This is going to be fun.” Prauf didn’t bother hiding his sarcasm.
Kor started the landing cycle. “Come on. It’s just a local election. How bad could it be?”
Prauf snorted disdainfully. “Famous last words.”
As they walked down the passenger ramp to the ground, Kor looked around. The three pines the city had been named after must have died long ago because there wasn’t a tree in sight. Consequently, everyone in town had a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. All of them must have been watching because it looked like all of them were at the landing field or headed that way.
Kor stretched out with the Force, scanning the crowd. Nervous excitement seemed to be the predominant emotion. There were a few exceptions though. One in particular stood out like a sore thumb. A middle-aged man, solid and rugged looking, was a complete blank. Kor couldn’t feel anything from him.
Prauf noticed him too. See that guy in the middle?
Yep. I’ll bet anything he’s one of those natural-shield types, Morg told us about.
Prauf nodded slightly as they strode toward the crowd. And I’ll bet he’s the one they’re accusing of rigging the vote.
Kor had a sinking feeling in his stomach Prauf was right.
A tall man with sky-blue eyes met them. “Hello. I’m Jude Rangel. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“We don’t need any sword-swinging interlopers setting our city on fire!” It was the middle-aged ‘blank’ man.
Jude glanced at him. “And that is Vendar Molon, the man we told you about.”
Kor and Prauf locked eyes for a moment.
“That’s Mayor Molon to you, you young troublemaker!” Molon planted his feet and put his fists on his hips. “And as Mayor of Three Pines, I’m ordering these so-called Jedi to get out of town or be arrested.” He looked around. “Sheriff! Get over here!”
A slightly pudgy man dressed like the rest of them and bald on top shook his head. “Breaking up bar fights is one thing, but tangling with a couple of Jedi is more than I signed on for.” He dug something shiny out of his shirt pocket and threw it on the ground. It bounced a couple of times before coming to rest Molon’s feet. It was a badge. “I quit!”
Molon scooped it up. “Fine! Judson! Get over here. You’re the Sheriff now!”
The crowd immediately broke into catcalls and protests. Half of them were screaming he couldn’t do that until the vote was verified and the other half was yelling that it had been verified several times. Judson, a whipcord thin man with hard black eyes moved forward and took the badge from Molon. He pinned it on.
As soon as he did, the arguments in the crowd escalated into shoving and pushing.
Kor saw a weapon being pulled. Danger flared in his mind and he leaped through the air over the crowd. His lightsaber flashed and he deflected a blaster bolt aimed at Rangel. Screams echoed around him. Before the man could fire a second shot, Prauf was there, ripping it from his grasp. Kor used the Force to amplify his voice.
People winced away from the volume of his blast, then silence fell over the crowd.
“See?” It was Rangel. “They are Jedi. And they just stopped Ron from killing me!”
“They attacked him,” Molon countered. “It was self-defense, pure and simple.”
Kor was getting irritated. “SHUT UP!”
The crowd flinched from the sound. This time Rangel and Molon reluctantly fell silent as well. Molon glared at them as he rubbed his ears to stop the ringing.
Kor glanced around and found some shipping crates stacked nearby. He vaulted across the crowd to land on a large one where he could address the whole crowd. Prauf, you bring Molon over here, and I’ll get Rangel.
Stretching out his hand, Kor lofted Rangel into the air and floated him up to the top of the crate while Prauf did the same with Molon. Both men let out startled cries of surprise at their unexpected flight through the air. When they regained their feet beside him, Molon’s natural shield had weakened, leaking his fear and terror all over the place.
Prauf quickly joined them, looking questioningly at Kor.
Kor turned to address the crowd. “The Jedi can’t read people’s minds.” Technically, that was true but it left a lot of gray areas the people didn’t need to know about. “So, we can’t tell you what either of them is thinking.” Molon allowed himself a tight little smile. “But in some cases, we can compel people to tell the truth.” It took two Jedi working in tandem to accomplish it but the crowd didn’t need to know that either. Molon’s self-satisfied look vanished like ice in the desert sun.
“You can’t force me to say anything,” he shouted. “I have rights!”
Prauf grabbed him by the back of the neck to keep him from running. “We don’t enforce the laws, we enforce honesty!”
Half the crowd erupted into cheers and applause. The other half shifted uneasily, trading questioning looks.
Kor was still talking. “But in the interest of fairness, we’re going to force both men to tell the truth.” He paused. “We can’t force them to say what we want or what you want, so whatever they say is coming from them. If you don’t like it, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Prauf added for emphasis, “In other words, it is what it is.”
“Correct. So, with that in mind, we’ll start with Rangel, then Molon.” Kor looked at Rangel.
“Fine by me,” he said confidently. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”
Molon’s face was pasty white. The difference in the demeanor of the two men was starkly obvious to everyone watching.
Kor held out his hand toward Rangel, feeling Prauf using the Force too, but without the theatrical gestures, people seemed to expect from the Jedi. “Tell us what happened in the voting. Did you cheat or try to rig the outcome?”
“No. I never tried to rig anything.” Rangel’s voice and features became blank and monotone under the pressure of the Jedi power.
“And now, Molon,” Kor said to the crowd.
The man made a desperate lunge for freedom but Prauf was too strong for him. He held him in place with one hand and reached out with the other. This time it was Kor who kept his hands at his side, preserving the illusion it was Prauf alone who was using the Force on Molon. He asked Molon the same question Kor had asked Rangel.
Molon’s face and voice went blank and monotone. “Yes. I added extra votes to the machine so I can be Mayor and get rich from it.”
The crowd let out gasps of outrage.
Kor and Prauf released Molon from their power and he instantly swelled up with anger. “That’s a lie! They made me say that!” He yanked angrily away from them and jumped off the crate. He landed awkwardly and staggered into a man standing near the crate. Before the surprised man could react, Molon grabbed the blaster off his hip and spun around to fire point-blank at Rangel. “Die!” he shouted.
The crowd gasped in horror.
Kor lit his lightsaber and reflected the blaster bolt all in one blindingly fast motion. It ricocheted straight back into Molon’s chest.
He staggered backward, looking blankly at the sudden hole in his chest. He tried to say something, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped lifelessly to the ground.
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