Kor was inordinately pleased with himself as he and Prauf boarded the Whimsy to head back to Zosma. Getting the two factions to agree to let the Settlers farm all the land while the Rovers let their cattle feed on the stubble left behind by the combines had been an ingenious solution to their centuries-old feud. When he first proposed it to Zhathe Tavers, the leader of the Settlers, the big man’s mouth had dropped open like a trapdoor. He’d had a hard time holding back laughter at his stunned reaction. His self-satisfaction received another boost when he presented the solution to Kendas Zligend, the leader of the Rovers, and got the same reaction.
Prauf was amused. “Kid, if your head gets any bigger, we’re gonna have to make you use the cargo hatch to get on and off the Whimsy.”
Kor grinned. “I hate you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Back at ya.”
He slapped switches and the engines powered up. The lowing of cattle from the aft starboard cargo bay was music to his ears. Prauf had gotten his wish of a gift of cattle from the Rovers; two bulls and six cows. The Settlers had also pressed a gift on them, ten barrels of flour. Prauf nearly caused Kor to double over with laughter when he muttered in his mind, We can have pancakes from now until the end of time.
Prauf made the calculations for the jump to hyperspace as Kor took them out of the atmosphere. “What do you think they’re going to do about Rusko and Shandra?”
Kor accepted Prauf’s calculations and hit the control for light speed. The stars elongated as the Whimsy took off like a scalded cat. “I don’t know and I don’t care. We took care of the main problem for them, they’ll have to figure that out for themselves.” The unacceptable romance between Rusko Nord, from the Rovers, and Shandra Tavers, from the Settlers, had precipitated their mercy mission to Remduba II, but the ongoing feud between the two groups was the real problem on the planet. “But I’m betting that with the feud taken care of, their marriage will become a side issue.”
Prauf had to concede the point. “Probably.” He leaned back in the co-pilot’s chair. “Wanna go see what the news is saying about us?”
Kor rolled his eyes. The galactic news services were quickly becoming a royal pain in the neck. They seemed bent on twisting everything he and Prauf did, always trying to paint them in an unflattering light. “I guess,” he said reluctantly. “But I don’t understand why they’re so against us. What did we ever do to them?”
He started to get up but Prauf pushed him back down. “Are you serious? You don’t know?”
Prauf sighed. “I guess you were so busy hiding your ability with the Force you never got out enough to see what people thought about the Jedi.”
Kor tilted his head. It was true he’d focused on hiding his abilities all his life, but he hadn’t exactly been a recluse. “Hey, I had a life. I went to work, I had friends. I got out and did things,” he objected.
Kor was hurt. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Kid, you lived with an alcoholic old man who was scared of his own shadow. You went to work but you sure as blazes didn’t have a life outside it and you didn’t have any friends except me and we were barely acquaintances. The only thing you knew about the galaxy came from books.”
Kor opened his mouth to argue, then closed it. He sighed. Prauf was right. “Alright, then, what did people think about the Jedi? Or do think. Or whatever.”
Prauf laced his fingers together over his stomach. “Not much, to be honest with you. During the Old Republic, the Jedi were seen as the ultimate cops who’d as soon cut you in half with a lightsaber as look at you. During the Empire, there was just the Emperor and Vader, and they were the bad cops, so to speak, who’d do pretty much the same thing as the good ones. Plus, the Jedi were always involved with the military and fighting wars. If a Jedi was around, it always meant trouble.” He shrugged. “With a history like that, it stands to reason the common folks didn’t think too much of them.”
Kor took his time answering. “So, people are scared of us?”
“Yep. And that first video we put out, trying to scare off Ballador Shipwrights and Sanarrn Serrakk, reinforced the way they see us.” Sanarrn Serrakk was the leader of a mercenary army for hire, paid by Ballador Shipwrights to capture Kor when he first became a Jedi.
Kor steepled his fingers. “I guess we need to figure out how to change our image.”
“Or update it anyway,” Prauf agreed.
Kor got up. “Our mission on Remduba didn’t involve any fighting. Let’s see what they’re saying about it.”
An hour later, Kor had to admit they’d been unusually fair about it this time. None of them tried to twist or distort what happened, the way they’d done before. And their opinion pieces on it were mostly congratulatory. There were a few standouts, of course.
LITE-G was apoplectic about them interfering in other people’s freedom, although exactly how arranging a truce in an 800-year-old feud was interfering with anyone’s freedom was something they didn’t bother explaining. Some of the other channels, foremost among them ORA and CORE, applauded them for their work then suggested the best place for their skills was helping reestablish the Old Republic. FOR did the same thing but wanted them to join the First Order.
Prauf flipped it off and took another sip of his horrible Dhiketh wine. “Not bad,” he mused. “The channels that want us to take sides haven’t changed their overall view of us but at least this time no one painted us as the bad guys.”
“LITE-G did,” Kor pointed out.
Prauf dismissed them with a wave. “Buncha pantie waists. Who cares what they think?”
“Somebody watches them or they wouldn’t still be in business.”
Prauf didn’t care. “They’re still a bunch of pantie waists, cowards, and wannabe’s.”
Kor chuckled at Prauf’s obstinate tone. “The Truth According to Prauf,” he said pompously, making quote marks in the air.
Prauf shook his head. “I hate you.”
“You’re going to hate me, even more, when we get home. We have to start growing a new Temple.”
“Headquarters,” Prauf corrected him. “Temple sounds too stuffy and self-righteous.”
Kor thought about it for a minute. “You know,” he began slowly, “Morg was upset about the Jedi going the wrong way; moving to Coruscant, switching to half-and-half lightsabers, and so on but he never went into detail about why the Jedi were going the wrong way. Maybe it was an attitude that led them astray.”
Prauf leaned forward. “That’s an interesting idea. He couldn’t go into detail about why they were off course because he had the same attitude as well.”
Kor nodded, feeling a surge of excitement. “Yeah. He knew what they were doing was wrong but he couldn’t articulate why because he had the same stuffed shirt, holier-than-thou blinders on they did.”
“He probably didn’t know why himself.” Prauf shook his head. “Can you imagine what that must have been like? He knew there was a problem but his own mental,” he waved a hand in the air, searching for the right word, “straight jacket, kept him from seeing where it came from.”
Kor nodded in agreement. “Poor guy. The only thing he could do was leave behind those training bands and the book in hopes that some day, someone would figure it out.”
Prauf refilled his glass. “I think we figured it out the day we carved our three principles on that slab.”
“I don’t think we figured it out until just now,” Kor returned, “but we may have kept ourselves from making the same mistake they did.”
“Taking ourselves too seriously.”
Prauf blinked owlishly at him then burst into laughter.
Upon their return to Zosma, they built a pen for the cattle and managed to impress on Midnight that they weren’t for eating. The big cat practically drooled at the sight of all that fresh meat standing just meters away, ripe for the taking. Prauf finally convinced Midnight not to jump the fence and attack them. Midnight gave him a sorrowful look then bounded off into the jungle to sulk.
Once the cattle were situated, they began scouting for a suitable location for their new headquarters. About 10 kilometers away they found a long ridge with one end slightly elevated above the rest.
Kor slewed the Whimsy sideways as they examined it.
“Yeah, that’s the ticket.” Prauf was all smiles. “It’s long enough for us to cut five landing bays into it on each side, then grow our headquarters on that high part at the end.”
Kor nodded, half-standing to get a better view. “Yep. We can cut a corridor down the middle of the ridge connecting all the landing bays then use the elevators we salvaged to go up and down to the building on top.” He sat back down. “We ought to call it something other than ‘headquarters’ though. That still sounds a bit too stuffy for my taste.”
“Hilltop something,” Prauf offered absently, still examining the ridge below. “There’s an underground stream below the ridge.”
Kor turned his senses to probe underground. Morg had taught them how Jedi could use the Force to find water. “More like a river, but yeah. There’s enough there to supply a place bigger than the Temple.” He looked at Prauf. “How about Hilltop Lodge?”
“Or treetop,” the big man countered.
Kor mulled it over. “Treetop Lodge. Hmph. Yeah, I like it. Treetop Lodge. How ‘bout it?”
Prauf gave him a thumbs up. “Sounds good to me, even though at least half of it will be underground.” He’d insisted on that part due to his species’ preference for living below ground. He stuck out his hand. They shook on it and got to work.
Their lightsabers cut through rock like a hot knife through butter, so the only limit on how fast they could work was dictated by the amount of weight they could lift with the Force. That aspect of their use of the Force had been getting a lot of workouts lately and as they cut deeper into the ridge, they found themselves able to lift progressively greater and greater weights.
Prauf compared it to a weight lifter at the gym. The more he worked out and lifted, the more he could lift. The analogy certainly seemed true in their case. By the time they’d finished cutting the last of the 10 landing bays and their connecting corridors, they each were lifting giant blocks of stone that weighed a dozen times what the school buildings on Ordnandell had weighed.
They implanted Force-activated lights in the high ceilings of the landing bays and corridors. The bays were huge, easily able to handle ships 20 times the size of the Whimsy. When they parked it in one of the bays, it was overwhelmed by the size of the landing bay.
“Almost looks like a toy in here, doesn’t it?” Prauf chuckled at the sight.
Kor had to agree. It was a bit comical.
He turned and walked outside onto the platform they’d constructed with the stone blocks they’d removed from the interior of the ridge. A long, wide platform lined each side of the ridge, providing an outdoor landing platform or an area for an exercise field if they felt so inclined.
They’d used some of the smaller blocks to outline the entrance to the landing bays and provide a barrier to the jungle growth that would soon try to take over. They were practicing Morg’s lessons about directing plant growth, including teaching plants to avoid certain areas and to cease growing at limits they appointed. After several days of practice in and around the landing bays, they were ready to put their lessons to work creating the new Treetop Lodge.
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