The Whimsy came out of hyperspace “above” the orbital plane of the planets so they could get a bird’s eye view of the system. What they saw was almost identical to the hologram Sessra had shown them. The difference now was that everything was to scale and the smallest planet near the sun was nearly invisible from the distance and the glare of the star. There were several moons around the gas giants though.
The comm-link lit up as soon as they appeared. It was Sessra. “There you are! I saw on the news that you attacked that Republic battleship.”
Prauf growled. “They threatened to board us. Of course, we attacked them. What did you think we’d do? Give up?”
Sessra shook his head quickly. “No, no, nothing like that. But when I saw it I thought we were done. It’s hard to believe you actually beat them.”
“Well we did,” Kor responded. He changed the subject. “Now then, those moons around the gas giants; are there any outposts or settlements on them?”
After a moment, Sessra answered, “No. Why?”
Kor glanced at Prauf. Both of them could feel the presence of life forms on one of the moons around the bigger gas giant, P3, and on a moon of the smaller gas giant, P2. The feeling was faint due to distance and the scarcity of life forms on the moons, but it was definitely there. Given that all the moons were airless, it had to mean there were artificial habitats or domes on those moons.
“They just seemed like good places for factories or something, given how close they are to the asteroid belts.”
“The Council has discussed it more than once but somehow we never seem to get around to doing anything about it,” Sessra said. His ship was floating only a few hundred meters from theirs. They could easily feel his lies.
“Alright, just wondering. Give us a few more minutes to look things over then we’ll head to Mizar.” Kor kept his voice light and unconcerned.
“Fine. I’ll meet you there.” A moment later, Sessra’s ship vanished into a split second hyperspace journey to the planet.
“I told you he was a slimebag,” Prauf said. “I looked up Mizar in the star charts again and dug a little deeper. It says Mizar is a corruption of an Old Republic word for misery. It was named that because it’s so cold and miserable. The people who live here are probably the same way. Are you sure we want to do this?”
Kor swiveled his chair around to face Prauf. “We agreed on three rules, three principles. We even engraved them on a big slab of granite. The second one says we enforce honesty instead of laws. Sessra may be a slime, but he was telling the truth about the pirates so we stick to our principles and do the right thing. Whether or not he likes the results is his problem.”
Prauf snorted. “You’re gonna get us in trouble one of these days.” He turned back to the controls.
“Yeah, well, at least I hate you.”
Prauf smiled. “Course laid in.”
Kor waved at him. “I’ll let you do the honors.”
Prauf touched a button. The stars flickered and suddenly they were over Mizar. The hyperspace jump was so short they barely saw it.
The comm-link came to life. “Jedi ship, Whimsy, this is ground control. Stand by to receive incoming flight path data.”
“Ground control, this is Whimsy,” Kor answered. “Standing by.”
The computer chattered briefly then the nav screen lit up with a flight path terminating in the landing field on the planet below. “Whimsy, this is control. Follow the flight path to landing pad E31. Obey all speed limits and remember, cargo ships always have priority. Control, out.”
“Whimsy acknowledges,” Kor said, then took the controls. “I guess it stands to reason they want cargo ships to have priority.”
Prauf agreed. “Yeah. The ore they’re carrying is what pays for all this.”
The traffic up and down was scarce though. They didn’t have to pause or get out of the way of any cargo ships. Prauf mentioned it to Sessra as he escorted them off the landing platform to go meet Zark Jien, the Viceroy of Mizar.
Sessra’s body movements betrayed his inner turmoil. “It’s normally a dozen times this.” He waved an angry hand at the ships landing and taking off. “The pirates have nearly put us out of business!”
Whatever else Sessra might be, he was telling the truth about the pirates. His anger was a solid wave coming off him. Kor could feel it in the Force. “As soon as we meet Viceroy Jien, we’ll be on our way to the asteroids.”
Mizar was as cold and miserable as its name suggested. Kor’s breath frosted as he followed Sessra through the winding streets. A chill wind cut through his Jedi robes and he put another one of Morg’s lessons to the test, using the Force to create a microscopically thin layer of warmth on top of his skin. Outwardly, nothing seemed any different, but suddenly he felt warm and comfortable as long as he maintained his concentration on it. Beside him, he could feel Prauf using the Force to do the same thing for himself.
Comfortable now, he turned his attention outward to the people they passed on the street. Nearly half of them were Bothans, which made sense. Their thick fur coats made them quite at home on the chilly planet. They were a furry, humanoid species from the planet Bothawui, and depending on what clan they were from, they resembled dogs, cats, horses, or other animals. The dog Bothans were a nearly picture-perfect representation of the human legends of werewolves.
Aside from the Bothans, striding down the streets in short sleeve shirts, there was a scattering of other races, from Twi’leks with their dual head tentacles to a few red-skinned Zabraks with their head horns. Kor’s father had once mentioned a famous Sith Lord named Darth Maul who was one of the Zabrak.
Sessra turned abruptly into a large terminal building and took them aboard a tram. It was a no-frills ride, with hard plastic seats and grimy windows looking out over a city tinged mainly in shades of gray. The tram pulled into the side of a large, featureless building. Kor estimated it was about 100 stories high.
“Our government building,” Sessra said. Guards in dark brown uniforms looked them over then immediately glanced away when they saw Sessra. Kor could feel the guard’s fear at the sight of the slender snake-like alien.
Prauf saw it too. Told ya he’s a slime ball.
I’m not arguing.
Sessra ushered them into a lift and pushed the button for the top floor. They rode in silence then exited into a hall that was distinctly different from the rest of the city. It was bright and warm. The decorations were rich and opulent to the point of being ostentatious. There was even a gold-trimmed drinking fountain.
I think I know where the money is going, Prauf noted with disgust.
Sessra led them through a set of gold double doors into a large office.
A wolf Bothan was sitting at a huge wooden desk. It was a magnificent work of art, with intricate carvings on the legs and around the edges. There was gold trim on it to match the gold flecks in the white marble floor. Plush wing back chairs and overstuffed couches dotted the massive room. Priceless paintings hung on the walls, each with a lamp to cast it in the best light.
The Bothan stood up ponderously as they came in. He was old, with gray around his mane and muzzle, but still fit. He was only slightly thick around the middle. Sessra stopped short of the desk and bowed. “Viceroy Jien, may I present Jedi Kor Sheen and Jedi Prauf ne Jhemon d’Aubreta. Gentlemen, Zark Jien, Viceroy of Mizar.”
They all bowed formally to each other and Jien gestured them toward a group of seats in a semicircle around a low table. “Have a seat, Jedi.” His voice was somewhat gravelly. As soon as they were seated he began. “Sessra sent me a message that he has filled you in on all the pertinent details of our situation. What you do need from me?” He appeared to be ignoring their exploits regarding the Republic battleship.
Kor was examining Jien with the Force. Surprisingly, he found equal parts light and dark in the old Bothan, mixed with a genuine concern about the pirates. Taking a chance on antagonizing Sessra, he decided to address the life forms he and Prauf had detected on the moons of the two gas giants. “Our power comes from the Force, an energy created by all living things, which in turn makes it easy for us to detect life signs on planets and moons.” Sessra gave a guilty start at his words. He favored him with a thin smile, then continued. “There are definite life signs on one of the moons around the big gas giant and one moon around the smaller gas giant. Sessra denied there was any life on them but we could tell, through the Force he was lying.”
Sessra bared his teeth. “How dare you!” He sprang to his feet, his body undulating with anger.
“Oh, sit down, Sessra,” Jien said wearily. He waved him back to his seat. “Everyone knows the Jedi have all kinds of strange powers.” He turned bloodshot eyes on them. “Although I heard they were more tactful than this.”
“We’re the new Jedi,” Prauf said. “Tact isn’t on our to-do list.”
“Not on your to-do list?” Jien burst into startled laughter. “Not on your to-do list?” He shook his head. His laughter finally ran down into a coughing fit. When he recovered, he straightened himself up. “After the first few pirate attacks, it became obvious they had inside help, whether from someone on Mizar or among the miners, we couldn’t tell. We’ve got plenty of . . . intelligence here on the ground but nothing out there.” He waved a hand to indicate the asteroid belts. “So we established some listening posts to see if we could pick up anything.”
“Sensible,” Kor said. “But since you called us, I take it you didn’t learn anything useful from them?”
Sessra, still seething with barely restrained anger, hissed. “It was a complete waste of money, just like I said it would be.”
“Enough!” For a moment, Jien didn’t look or sound like a tired old man. It made Sessra recoil in fear. Jien shrugged at them. “You’ll have to forgive Sessra. His people aren’t adapted to cold weather and it makes him cranky. He’s right though, it was a waste. However the pirates are getting their information on our shipping schedules, it’s nothing we can pick up.” He steepled his clawed fingers. “So, what do you need from me?”
“A list of the dates, times, and locations of each pirate attack would be a good place to start,” Kor said.
Sessra silently picked up a data disk laying on the table and gave it to him.
“Do you have any idea who they’re selling their stolen ore to?” Prauf asked.
Jien seesawed a hand in the air. “It might be the First Order. They’re building some kind of monstrous installation on an ice planet called Ilum and they’re buying up metal everywhere they can find it.”
“Do you sell to the First Order?”
Jien and Sessra shook their heads firmly in tandem. “No,” Jien said flatly. “They’re trying to resurrect the Empire. I’ll never help anyone do that.”
How many pirate groups are there? Prauf asked Kor.
Kor repeated the question aloud to Jien.
Jien was surprised, then worried by the question. “As far as we know there is only one group of pirates. I’d hate to think there’s more.”
Kor nodded. “We’ll get to the bottom of it. One last thing though.”
Jien cocked his head cautiously. “Yes?”
“Did you watch the videos we made?”
“That’s why we contacted you.” Jien frowned.
“Yes, but did you pay attention to the three principles we’ve dedicated ourselves to live by?”
Now Jien was openly confused. “Not as close as I should have apparently. Perhaps you’ll refresh my memory.”
Kor repeated them for him. “The Jedi go only where invited. The Jedi enforce honesty instead of laws. The Jedi are neutral toward all governments.”
Jien nodded uncertainly. “Alright.”
“Honesty is a two-edged sword.” Kor glanced at Sessra. “It cuts both ways. We’ll find the pirates, but if you don’t like what we find, that’s your problem.”
“Ah.” Jien saw where Kor was going. A business-like expression settled over his face. “Agreed. Find the pirates. If there are any repercussions among our people, we’ll handle it.” He stood up, giving Kor a data disk. “This is your authorization to go wherever you like. Sessra will see you out.”
Kor and Prauf bowed slightly “We’ll call when we have something to report.” They followed Sessra outside and into the elevator. He escorted them back to the Whimsy in silence. Kor could feel his anger just beneath the surface.
He stopped them just as they were boarding. “I do not appreciate being made a fool of. Do not try it again, or it will go badly for you.” He turned away without waiting for an answer.
“I’m still new to the Force,” Prauf said, watching him leave, “but even without it, I can tell he’s dangerous and unpredictable. That’s a bad combination.”
“We’ll have to watch our backs,” Kor agreed. He headed up the ramp. “Come on, I want to see those listening posts.”