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Book 2 - Chapter 23

The captured pirates spilled their guts without any prompting. They told Kor, Prauf, and Mia where their hideout was located, where the fuel tanker was hidden, who their contact was in the First Order, when Sessra had first contacted them, how they’d double-crossed him – everything.

The pirates had been smart about one thing at least. Someone in their ranks hadn’t totally trusted the First Order, so they’d arranged to rendezvous with the Tie fighters at a prearranged location rather than letting them come to their hideout. They’d had enough intelligence to keep the tanker well away from their hideout too. It was safely tucked away in Ring Two.

They escorted the pirates back to the Terminal then left quickly to avoid hearing the screams as the angry miners took revenge on their former compatriots. They headed to the miner’s hideout but when they arrived they discovered it was little more than a few tunnels hollowed out in an asteroid. Life support was minimal; the air was thin due to constant leaks, the temperature was cold, the lights flickered from low power, and there wasn’t any artificial gravity.

Mia shivered, her breath frosting as she spoke. “These had to be about the worst pirates I’ve ever heard of.”

Kor and Prauf used their Jedi abilities to stay warm, a trait Mir envied. “They weren’t really pirates at all,” Prauf said. “They were dupes, first for Sessra then for the First Order.”

“Pretty much,” Kor agreed. “I’m not sure they deserve what the miners are probably doing to them.”

Mia shook her head resolutely. “I knew them. They were some of the greediest idiots you ever met. They may have been stupid but they knew what they were doing, and walked into this with their eyes wide open. I guarantee, they deserve whatever happens to them.”

Kor felt a bright core of righteous anger burning in Mia’s heart, mingled with sadness over all the pain and lost lives the pirates had caused. He glanced at Prauf but he knew before he asked, the big guy felt it too.

Alright, she’d make a good Jedi, Prauf conceded.

Kor smiled, then changed the subject. “What should we do with the fuel tanker?”

“I think we should tow it back to the Terminal and let the miners fill their tanks so they can sell their ore anywhere they want to,” Mia offered.

“Except the First Order,” Prauf objected.

“Obviously,” she agreed.

They both looked to Kor. He nodded. “Then, we head to Mizar and see what Jien thinks of all this.”

Prauf snorted. Another sucker bet!

“Yeah, probably.”

Mia was confused. “‘Yeah, probably’ what?”

“Oh, that’s right, you couldn’t hear what Prauf said. He said it was another sucker bet and I was agreeing.”

She smiled. “Do you guys do that all the time?”

They shook their heads together. “No,” Kor answered. “But it comes in handy sometimes. Come on, let’s go get that tanker.”

Finding the tanker was easy. All they had to do was follow the coordinates the pirates supplied. Towing the heavy ship to the Terminal, weaving in and out through the asteroids, was another matter. It took them two days before they made it back. Prauf took the Whimsy while Kor and Mia rode together in the Fair Lady. Compared to the tiny Whimsy, it felt massive and empty with only the two of them in it. Most miners took their families with them when they were working. With plenty of time to talk, by the time they reached the Terminal station she had agreed to become a Jedi.

Prauf though, with no one to keep him company, had passed his time dissecting the message they’d received from Ahsoka Tano. As a bounty hunter, he’d been forced to become something of an expert on hacking into the header and trailer data stream of intercepted messages. Most people didn’t understand all the revealing information that was packed into those small segments of code; place of origin, the date and time the message was composed, the date and time it was sent, relay stations that had received and re-transmitted the message on its journey from origin to destination, and more. In this case, he was able to trace the message to a hotel room in Capital City on Lothal, registered to one Jen Teel. He had to chuckle over the obviously fake name.

On a hunch, he called the hotel and asked if Jen Teel was still a registered guest. Upon receiving word that she was, he composed a Jedi-coded message inviting her to Zosma. The desk informed him that Ms Teel had paid for her room for a year in advance but she was often away for days at a time. Nonetheless, they promised to forward the message to her room account. It would be there the next time she returned.

Afterward, he sat back watching the asteroids go by, wondering if Ahsoka had been on Lothal when they were there sorting out the election in Three Pines. So close, yet so far.

* * * * *

The miners were ecstatic when they received news about the fuel tanker. Word spread quickly around the Rings and ships began appearing from everywhere to get a full tank of fuel for the first time in years. Kor, Prauf, and Mia topped off the Whimsy and Fair Lady before heading to Mizar to confront Jien.

Kor was interested to watch how Mia’s ship landed when they reached the planet. The long projection on the bottom of most Y-8’s, similar to the keel on a sailboat, had been removed on hers. She’d spent liberally from her separation check to fold all the equipment in the keel into an extra floor under the ship, giving it a thicker but flat bottom equipped with standard landing gear similar to that on another Corellian ship, the YT-1300f light freighter. Long, thin landing legs extended from under the cargo carrier section at the rear of the ship, mainly for balance.

Once they were on the ground, Kor turned his attention outward and was shocked at the turmoil he felt in the Force. What in the world?

Hey, kid. Finally, got your head out of the clouds?, Prauf sent from the Whimsy. I don’t think Jien liked us giving the miners that fuel tanker. He’s sprung Sessra from the pokey and put him back in charge of security.

No way! Kor scanned the troops gathering around their ships. Prauf was right. Sessra was front and center, giving orders as if the scene in Jien’s office hadn’t happened. What’s going on?

I don’t know, but it can’t be good. Watch your back, kid.

Kor quickly relayed what had happened to Mia. She wasn’t surprised. She opened a locker and pulled out a suit of combat armor. He raised an eyebrow at her. “The insignia has been removed but that’s New Republic body armor, isn’t it?”

She nodded, her eyes twinkling.

“You’re not supposed to take that with you when you retire are you?”

“Nope. It’s 20 years if they catch you.” She gave him a teasing look. “Are you going to turn me in?”

He laughed. “Not hardly.” He glanced outside. “You’re going to need it. That and as many weapons as you can carry. Join me at the ramp when you’re ready.”

He waited until she joined him then they opened the door and strode down the ramp to the ground. Prauf timed his exit from the Whimsy to theirs. He and Kor were in their full Jedi robes. Mia wore blue, body-hugging armor. She’d modified the helmet with a clear face shield, but other than that it was regulation all the way. The three of them met in the middle between the two ships and headed toward Jien. The Viceroy was surrounded by dozens of security guards, all armed to the teeth. Sessra stood nearby.

“What’s he doing here?” Kor asked bluntly.

Jien shrugged massively. “He’s the best right-hand man I’ve ever had. You don’t think I’m going to let a little thing like this come between us, do you? Besides, he’s learned his lesson.”

Sessra nodded along with Jien. Kor and Prauf couldn’t sense any duplicity in him, but he and Jien were both harder to read than they’d been just a few days ago so it was hard to be sure.

“That’s nice,” Prauf growled. “So what’s all this?” He gestured at the armed guards surrounding them and their ships.”

“First things first,” Jien countered. “Who’s your new friend?”

“Mia Riencam, retired fighter pilot and now a miner in Ring One,” she replied boldly.

Jien looked her up and down, taking in her armor. “I don’t have to ask where you retired from. That’s New Republic body armor.” He glared at Kor and Prauf. “And here I thought you were supposed to be neutral toward all governments?”

“We are,” Kor said hotly.

“Yeah? Then why are you suddenly buddies with all the miners, turning them against us?” He drew himself up. “You’re ruining everything we’ve built!”

“You asked us to stop the pirates and we did!”

“I didn’t ask you to undercut our whole economy with that fuel tanker!”

“Sessra was,” Prauf growled. Kor could feel the anger building in him. “But you seem to have forgiven him!”

“That’s internal Mizar affairs. It’s none of your business!”

“It’s my business,” Mia yelled.

“A Republic turncoat,” Sessra hissed, speaking up for the first time. “Nothing here is any of your business, traitor!”

She pulled her blaster in the blink of an eye, aiming it at his head. Blasters came up everywhere and Kor and Prauf had their lightsabers in their hands. “Take that back,” she screamed.

In the manner of bullies everywhere, Jien stepped back behind a line of security guards. Safe behind their ranks, he snarled at them. “Drop your weapons, all of you. Surrender or die!”

Kor had seen this coming ever since they landed but Prauf had warned him about Sessra all the way back on the day they met him on Aubreta. While it was true they were supposed to be neutral toward all governments, that only meant they wouldn’t deliberately try to overthrow them. It didn’t prevent them from acting in self-defense. Nor did it prevent them from enforcing honesty just because it might be detrimental to a government’s self-interest.

I’ve got Jien, you take Sessra, he told Prauf.

Best news I’ve heard all day!

As if they’d practiced, both of them leaped through the air, turning to drop to the ground behind their target. Their lightsabers flashed and the two snarling politicians collapsed, cut in half.

Before the bodies hit the ground, blaster bolts filled the air.

The battle was short and furious. Kor and Prauf were everywhere, deflecting blast bolts, lashing out with their lightsabers, using the Force to hurl 20 or 30 troops aside at a time with a flick of their wrist. Screams filled the air and bodies dropped everywhere.

In the midst of it all, Kor felt a burst of agony and pain from a familiar source. He turned in panic and saw Mia falling to the ground, mortally wounded. He screamed and vaulted over the security guards to catch her before she hit the tarmac. Dimly, he was aware Prauf was dispersing the last of the guards but all he could see was her bloodstained face and all he could hear was her gasping breath.

“I guess I won’t get to be a Jedi after all.”

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