Of the two gas giants, P2 was closer to Mizar than P3, so they stopped there first. The listening post was a single dome. The entrance was barely big enough for the Whimsy to fit through. Inside was a two-story building topped by an elaborate antennae array. The lower floors doubled as the living quarters for the small group of technicians.
The outpost commander, a red-faced Zabrak, came out to meet them and introduced himself as Kaa’nas. After they’d established their identities, he relaxed. “I’ve seen your videos of course – congratulations on beating the snot out of that battleship by the way, I can’t stand those snooty New Republic types – but I never thought I’d get a chance to meet you. It’s an honor. What can we do for you?” His lazy accent was a marked contrast to his demonic appearance.
“We need to know what you’ve been picking up from the asteroids,” Kor said.
Kaa’nas shrugged. “Same thing we’ve been reporting for weeks now. The pirates are definitely getting help from the miners and they have their base somewhere in Ring One, Sector A287.”
Each ring was divided into 360 sectors, which in turn were divided into three layers, A on top, B in the middle, and C on the bottom. If the pirates were in Sector 287, it meant they were between the two gas giants, but closer to P3 than P2, on the upper layer of the belt.
Kor had to make a conscious effort not to look at Prauf. Sessra is keeping secrets from Jien.
Prauf kept his face impassive as well. He may be plotting a palace coup or something.
“Are they communicating in the clear?”
“Standard Galactic,” Kaa’nas said, “but they’re using code names for each other, just like in our reports.”
Kor smiled in what he hoped was a disarming manner. “We like to start with an open mind, so we haven’t actually read those reports yet. What code names are they using?”
Prauf laughed in his mind. Smooth as butter, kid.
Kaa’nas settled back comfortably, apparently ready to talk as long as they wanted to listen. “The pirate base is called Wolf Den and they’ve got two ships, Wolf One and Wolf Two.”
“Very creative of them,” Prauf said sarcastically.
Kaa’nas chuckled. “If you like that, wait until you hear what they call their contacts.” He paused expectantly, obviously waiting to be prompted.
Kor played along. “What are they calling their contacts?”
“Miner One, Miner Two, and Insider.” Kaa’nas grinned from ear-to-ear. “Aren’t those the stupidest names you ever heard?”
Kor felt a jolt, confirmed a moment later when Prauf whispered to him in mind-talk. I wonder if Insider is spelled S-e-s-s-r-a? Out loud, he answered, “Yes,” to both questions. Addressing just Kaa’nas he asked, “I wonder if you’d be kind enough to give us the frequency the pirates are using?”
“Sure,” Kaa’nas said agreeably. “I was just getting ready to send in our daily report, but I can give it to you instead.” He pulled out a data disk and gave it to Kor. “Saves me the trouble of uploading it to Mizar. The equipment they gave us is old and kind of balky sometimes. This is easier.”
Kor couldn’t help shooting a sideways glance at Prauf. He could feel Prauf’s emotions mirroring his. “Why would they give you old equipment on a mission as important as tracking the pirates?”
Kaa’nas grimaced. “I’ve been asking the same thing but no one will give me an answer.”
A door on the building opened and a technician stuck his head out. “Hey, Commander Kaa’nas! You’ve got a call on the line.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder.
Kaa’nas waved at him then turned back to them. “Well, duty calls. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know.”
Kor shook his head. “No, thanks. You’ve been very helpful. We’ll go see if the listening posts around P2 have anything extra they can tell us.”
Kaa’nas nodded. “Tell them I said ‘hi’.” He headed for the waiting technician.
Kor could sense Prauf bursting to say something but the big man waited until they were safe aboard the Whimsy and buttoned up before opening his mouth. “If the insider is Sessra, that might have been him calling the commander, and you just told him where we’re going.”
“Yep.” Kor looked pleased with himself.
Prauf eyed him suspiciously. “Alright, kid. Give. What have you got up your sleeve?”
“Well, if we get to those other listening posts and they clam up or mistakenly attack us, that’ll confirm it’s Sessra.”
Prauf pursed his lips. “You’re getting pretty devious for a Jedi. Are you sure you’re not a Sith after all?” He put his fists on his hips in mock outrage.
“Shush!” Kor put a finger over his lips. “You’re not supposed to tell anyone. It’s a secret!” He grinned.
Prauf laughed and headed for the cockpit. They took their seats and lifted off. By the time Kor had the Whimsy in orbit, Prauf had the course laid in for the listening post around P2. The hyperspace jump was as quick as their first one to Mizar then to P3. It happened so fast they barely saw it.
Kor followed the course on the navigation computer down to the outpost. Like the one at P2, it was just a dome containing a single building and two enclosed skimmers. As they trotted down the ramp to the ground though, they could feel a definite difference. Danger was screaming at them in the Force.
Prauf shook his head. “Looks like it’s Sessra, alright.”
Armed men were pouring out of the building. “Yeah, and these men are being played. Let’s try not to kill them,” Kor said.
“I hear you, kid.”
A gray-haired man who leaned heavily on a cane strode forward a few steps as the rest took aim. “Kill those murderers!”
Kor’s lightsaber leapt into his hand as blaster bolts filled the air. He put it into a whirling spin, deflecting them into the ground. Beside him, Prauf was doing the same thing. Together they created an overlapping defense. Nothing got through.
For several long seconds, the standoff continued, then first one, then others lowered their weapons as it dawned on them they were facing real Jedi. Finally, the shooting stopped and Kor and Prauf lowered their lightsabers but didn’t turn them off just yet.
The gray-haired man who’d given the order to kill them was pale and shaking. From his clothes, it was clear he was a technician rather than a soldier. He backed up a pace or two. “You’re the Jedi! The same ones who captured that battleship! But, but, we were told you’d been ambushed and killed.” His voice quivered in fear and confusion.
“Who told you that?” Kor said, as gently as he could.
“The port commander on Mizar.”
Kor used mind-talk. Sessra covered his tracks. He turned off his lightsaber.
Prauf followed his lead. Looks like it. He addressed the man. “Well, somebody gave the port commander bad information.”
The man nodded quickly. “I’m so sorry. Please, believe me. We’d never have fired on Jedi if we’d known it was you.” The men behind him looked as scared as he did.
The man’s distress moved Kor to pity. “It’s alright, we believe you.” The man’s sincerity stood out like a beacon in the Force. The only experience anyone in the galaxy had with Jedi were Sith like Darth Vader and the Emperor. The hero of the Rebel Alliance had been with them such a short time before dying in a kamikaze attack after the destruction of the Second Death Star, that they hadn’t had a chance to see a different breed of Jedi, to find out what they were really like. Their fear was understandable. “I’m Kor Sheen and this is Prauf ne Jhemon d’Aubreta. Who are you?”
“Delza Lucky,” the man said, visibly relieved at their lack of hostility.
Delza smiled with faint embarrassment. “My grandfather was a gambler. Everyone said he was too lucky for his own good. After a while, the name stuck.”
“I see.” Changing the subject, Kor explained what they were after.
“Kaa’nas was right,” Delza said. “We’ve been monitoring the pirate transmissions for weeks now. They’re based somewhere in Ring One, Sector A287. We keep reporting back to Mizar and we keep getting instructions to wait and keep listening.” He shrugged. “It’s almost like they don’t want to catch the pirates.”
“I think you’re right and I think Insider is someone very high up,” Kor replied.
Delza winced. “Not so loud. I think you’re right and I think at least one of my men may be a spy sent here to keep an eye on me.” He echoed Kor’s style and cadence.
Delza chewed his lip. He guided them over to their ship as if they were getting ready to leave. “I’d rather not say. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble if I’m wrong.”
Kaa’nas was too lackadaisical and Delza was too fearful, Kor thought. There had to be some way to get him to talk, but what? He sent a mental query to Prauf.
You healed me. Why not heal his leg so he can walk without a cane?
Kor smiled. That was the kind of gift that should put some steel in his spine. “I have something for you, Delza.”
He glanced around cautiously. “How much?”
Kor nearly laughed. He held out a hand toward Delza’s leg. “This much.” The Force flowed out of him into Delza’s shattered bones and sinews. The badly knit bones suddenly melted together as if they’d never been broken. The muscles and sinews rearranged themselves accordingly. Because he wasn’t trying to heal cellular damage from old age, it took only seconds.
Delza’s jaw dropped in shock. He threw his cane away and walked back and forth with a disbelieving expression on his face. Cries of surprise echoed around the small enclosure as his men saw him walking without his cane.
He finally stopped and turned to them. “How did you do that?”
Kor tried not to smile. “When it’s needed, we’re warriors. When it’s needed, we’re healers.” He gestured at Delza’s leg. “It was needed.”
The men had all gathered around exclaiming in astonishment. In the Force, Kor and Prauf could feel excitement, awe, and fear coming off them in waves. Kor gave Prauf a quick mental nudge. Prauf nodded and addressed the men crowding around them.
“So, who was sent here to spy on Delza?”
A spike of fear in the Force led straight to an average-looking man in the back of the crowd. Prauf and Kor leaped over the crowd to grab him.
Kor had filled Prauf in about Morg’s newfound update ability and his comments about creating new Jedi possibly being a matter of strength rather than skill. The same possibility seemed to hold in other areas as well. When Prauf and Kor joined together to force the captured man to tell the truth, they could feel their strength multiplying just as it had on Ordnandell with the school buildings.
Prauf shook the man by the neck. “Talk! Who sent you to spy on Delza?”
The gathered men started to protest but were cut off when the spy answered in a dull monotone. “Sessra wants to overthrow Zark. If he can make him look bad, he can replace him. But now the pirates have gotten out of hand and Sessra doesn’t know what to do.”
Delza pushed his way through the crowd. “Derek? You’re the one who’s been spying on me? Why?”
Kor and Prauf were still exerting the Force to make him answer truthfully. “Money.”
Delza’s mouth tightened in anger. “Arrest him!”
Kor and Prauf released Derek, physically and from the Force. He immediately started protesting. “You can’t do this! I’ve got rights!”
Kor cut him off. “The Jedi enforce honesty instead of laws.” He glanced around. “We told Viceroy Jien the same thing and he didn’t have any problem with it, so if you don’t like it, tough.”
Rough laughter made the rounds.
“No more barracks lawyers,” one man called derisively.
There was more laughter.
Delza nodded at two of his men and they hustled Derek away, still protesting. He turned back to the Jedi. “I owe you,” he glanced down at his healed leg, “for everything really. What can I do for you?”
“Tell Kaa’nas what happened here,” Prauf said promptly. “We didn’t check to see if there were any spies on his station. He might want to be careful until we can get this mess sorted out.” He glanced at Kor. “Right now, we’re making a detour back to Mizar to tell Jien what Sessra is up to. We can’t do our job if he’s trying to stab us in the back.”
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