After several uneventful days on Zosma, Kor and Prauf headed for Aubreta, arriving the day before the New Republic emissary was due. They’d decided they wanted somewhere other than Jhemon’s living room to meet people and growing a new one should only take a few hours if they worked together.
They exchanged some pleasantries with Melron when they landed at the spaceport. There were several cargo ships in various stages of being loaded, almost giving it the air of a full-time, working spaceport. The weeds were completely gone and several buildings boasted new coats of paint. Everywhere they looked they saw signs of recent improvements and repairs. Construction was underway on what looked like a massive warehouse. Melron confirmed when it was finished it would be the central staging area for the scrap metal they pulled out of the Claw.
The village where Prauf’s family lived showed more signs of improvement. As new houses were dug underground, the above-ground structures were torn down, replaced by official buildings, walking paths, and parks. Nearby were work sheds and garages for their salvage equipment.
Kor and Prauf headed into the heavy forest to scout out a location for their new meeting place. Two minutes on foot brought them to a grove of hardwood trees that were perfect for their needs. They set to work at once.
By the end of the day, they’d grown the trees into a dome-shaped building about three stories high. A living door on one side would open like drapes being pulled back as people approached, then close behind them after they went in, leaving no trace or outline to mark its location. A path paved with stones leading to it was the only indication of the door’s location.
Inside, it was bright and warm. Hardwood floors were covered with soft moss carpeting. A huge table occupied the center of the room. The living table grew out from a central stump so thick Kor and Prauf couldn’t put their arms around it together, then it spread and flattened out into a round polished wooden tabletop many times wider than the stump. Living chairs that would adjust to the preferences of whoever sat in them were spaced around the table.
Bioluminescent lights in every color of the rainbow decorated the ceiling. The smell of fresh grass and flowers filled the air.
Jhemon was impressed. “This definitely lets people know they’re entering Jedi territory,” he said. He sat down in one of the living chairs and was startled when it pulled back from the table just enough for his size. It automatically adjusted its height too. He tried to turn to look at them and it swiveled, the fibers beneath it twisting to turn it. His eyes widen. “Now this is a chair!” He got up and moved back to examine it. “I wish I had some of these in my house.”
Prauf smiled. “Then I’ll grow some for you.”
Kor examined the chairs. “You know, we should have put these in the Lodge too.”
“We’re learning as we go, kid. We’ll put ‘em in when we get back.” He turned to his father. “Come on, I’ll get those chairs for you right now.”
Kor waved them off then set out for a stroll in the woods. He wandered along for a short distance and came to a cliff about 20 meters high. A stream plunged over it in a waterfall to a deep pool. The outlet for the pool ran off into a shallow creek bed.
What a great place for an apartment, he thought.
He examined the cliff face behind the waterfall, moving from one side to another. He unlimbered his lightsaber and got to work. In short order, he had a series of steps cut into the cliff. Directly behind the waterfall he cut a small cavern, carpeted it with moss, and installed a living bed similar to the chairs in the meeting house. He put in some bioluminescent lights and a living door of vines. He ordered the vines to pull back like a curtain then sat down in his chair to look at the outside world through the falling sheets of water. The sound of the water splashing in the pool below nearly lulled him to sleep in a matter of minutes.
He shook himself awake and got up.
Yep, this will do nicely, he grinned.
He took the excess rock he’d cut out of the cliff and arranged it around the pool like a stone deck, with steps going down into the water. Some hedges around the outside of the deck created a semi-private area for relaxation. He was just sitting down in another living chair when Prauf called him.
Where’d you take off to?
Follow my presence. Each person’s life force emitted a signal that was specific to them and easily identifiable to the Jedi.
Minutes later Prauf joined him. He looked around approvingly. Kor pointed at the steps and Prauf took them two at a time. He quickly re-emerged. “Quite the place you’ve got here.”
“I know you’re staying with Jhemon and I didn’t figure anyone would mind if I made myself a little place out here.”
“Not at all,” Prauf agreed. He sat down in a second living chair and leaned back. “So, what’s the plan for our meeting tomorrow with the New Republic emissary?”
Kor spread his hands. “Listen to him then tell him to get lost, I suppose.”
Prauf chortled with delight. “Works for me. I don’t want to listen to him anyway.”
The New Republic emissary, Earl Treeak Malnu, was surprisingly easy to like. The fox-like Amaran was a little over half human height, friendly, and easy-going. He had four digits on each limb and walked digitigrade upon his toes. He had short reddish-orange fur over most of his body, except on his tail and the tufts around his jaws. His large pointed ears stood erect on his head, twitching along with the whiskers on his pointed snout whenever he saw something interesting. He wore tan trousers, a bleached white formal shirt, and a formal vest with gold trim on it. A pocket watch with a gold chain on it crossed from one side of the vest to the other. A short cape fell from his shoulders to just above his tail. He stood on a floating platform to make up for his short stature.
“Hello, hello,” he said cheerfully when Jhemon tried to formally introduce them. He patted Jhemon on the shoulder. “Stand aside, dear fellow. We’re all friends here. You know the saying, strangers are just friends who haven’t met yet.”
Kor was slightly taken back by the furry emissary’s larger-than-life personality. Behind his hail-fellow-well-met front were friendly emotions that went no deeper than the thickness of a fingernail. Below was a murky swirl that was difficult to penetrate. He nodded cautiously. “Earl Malnu, it’s a pleasure.”
He waved it aside. “No need for formalities. Treeak is fine. Or Tree. My friends call me that. We’re going to be friends, aren’t we?”
Kor could sense boiling emotions coming from Prauf. “This way, please. We have a meeting house where we can discuss things.” He led Treeak to the new building.
Treeak was suitably impressed. “My, my, my! Isn’t this something?” He turned around and around, examining everything. Then he was fascinated again by the living seats. “I had no idea the Jedi could do such things.” Behind his pleasant exterior, sudden avarice rose, then was quickly squelched.
Kor kept his eyes away from Prauf. Did you see that?
Sure did. This little weasel is about as greedy as they come.
And good at covering it too.
Kor leaned back casually. “Earl Treeak Malnu of the New Republic, I’m Kor Sheen and this is Prauf ne Jhemon d’Aubreta of the Jedi. What can we do for you?” He wanted the hidden cameras to catch their names and titles.
Treeak smiled broadly. “Now, now. I told you, there’s no need for formality, Treeak is fine, and no need to rush into things. We can take our time, swap a few stories over some drinks, get to know each other–”
Prauf cut him off. “Our time is short. Get to the point.”
Treeak’s easy smile faltered but he recovered quickly. “Business first, eh? I can appreciate that attitude. Much to be said for it, in fact. Much.” He opened an official-looking folder and placed some sheets on the table. “These are your citizenship entry forms for joining the New Republic, one for each of you.” Kor and Prauf used the Force to sweep the pages across the wide table to their hands. If Treeak was surprised, he hid it well. He continued without missing a beat. “Citizenship carries innumerable benefits and protections. Since you’re Jedi, it also means the government will take care of all your financial needs in return for your services. That way you’re not dependent on the charity of whoever calls on you for help. You’ll also enjoy full diplomatic immuni–”
Kor’s short answer caught Treeak off guard.
“What?” He summoned a nervous smile. “I don’t think you fully appreciate the full extent of what’s being offered to you.”
Prauf interrupted him. “We understand alright. These,” he waved the forms, “are chains tying us down to the New Republic, making us into virtual slaves.”
“Slavery is outlawed in the Republic!” Treeak retorted hotly.
“Oh yeah? What about this?” Prauf searched the form then read out loud, “The Jedi shall be required to enforce and be subject to, all such laws, rules, and regulations as shall be passed by the Senate and implemented by the bureaucracy and/or adjudicated by the Courts, including by not limited to . . .” He threw it down with disgust. “I ain’t signing this! Now or ever!”
Kor tossed his copy in the air and reduced it to confetti with the Force. “Me either.”
Treeak stood up in his chair, drawing himself up to his full height. The effect was spoiled when the living chair automatically adjusted itself to keep his head at the same height above the table. He grimaced and stepped onto his floating platform instead. He rose until he was higher than Prauf. “I don’t think you understand the consequences of refusing the Republic. You’ll be declared outlaws. You’ll be hunted across the galaxy by every bounty hunter and hired gun there is.”
Prauf launched himself through the air. He grabbed Treeak by the throat and shoved him against the wall, his feet dangling and kicking in the air. “I used to be a bounty hunter, you moron!” His lightsaber lit with a Schvrmmmmmmm!
Treeak gasped in fear. “Help! Help me,” he begged Kor.
Kor leaned back and put his feet on the table. He clasped his hands behind his head. “Help yourself, furball. You’re the one who insulted him.”
Treeak’s floating platform tried to get under his feet to support him but Prauf sliced it in half with his lightsaber and the smoking pieces fell to the floor in a smoldering heap. Prauf pulled Treeak up to his face. “You go back to the Republic and tell them the Jedi don’t like being threatened!” He tossed the emissary sprawling on the floor by the door. It sensed his presence and opened.
Treeak scrambled to his feet, backing out the door. “You’ll pay for this insult! The New Republic is trying to bring law and order to the whole galaxy and you’re standing in the way of that goal. You’ll be hearing from us, believe me!” He turned and stalked away.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Kor and Prauf sprang into action. They opened the hidden equipment closet and began piecing together their short video showing the inside of the meeting house then segueing to them and Treeak entering the building. They filmed a short introductory video to lead into the rest of it, then another short snippet to wrap it up.
“This is what happens when you threaten the Jedi,” Prauf told the camera. “We don’t enforce the law for anyone, we’re not cops.”
“And we won’t join any government,” Kor added, “regardless of how noble their motives may or may not be.”
They faded to a still of the slab in the Lodge with their three rules on it then faded to black. They rendered it into one video and Prauf took it to Jhemon for distribution. Within minutes it was all over the media.
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