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I stared out over the battlefield, surveying the scene before me. Red and blue lasers lit the orange sand, merchants of death doing their job with consummate professionalism. As a Jedi, I was no stranger to death. But war? This was something that I hoped I would never have to face. A dozen lives ended every second, and I felt every last one of them.
I sensed a solitary clone trooper standing behind me. Clones were different; as far as the Force was concerned, they were empty shells: without purpose, without souls of their own. And yet, somehow, they were still alive.
"General Tek-Farr, I have report, sir," said the clone. I waited for him to continue, and he took my silence as permission. "We have the advantage. It may be an uphill battle, sir, but if projections are accurate, we will emerge victorious."
"And what of casualties?" I asked.
"Four hundred KIA," he replied. "That does not include Jedi, sir."
"And what of them?" I asked again. "How many of my kind have we lost?"
"There is no official count yet, sir," he replied, showing a hint of emotion. "Among the dead is Coleman Trebor. I understand that he sat on the Council, sir."
"Indeed he did," I replied. "He was one of those whom I counted among close friends. We'll be lucky indeed to find Jedi enough to fill those seats after this is over."
"General, the Council has requested that you go into battle." He seemed hesitant to inform me so.
"My time will come soon enough, commander," I replied. "The Force will tell me when I am needed." And that moment came sooner than I wished. Amidst the hollow screams of the dying troopers, I sensed a real, imperiled scream. One of my Jedi brethren was in grave danger. I leaped down off the cliff upon which I was standing, running as fast as I could, with the Force as my guide. As I reach terminal velocity, I began to slide down the mountain on my feet, using the friction of the sandstone to brake so that I wouldn't wind up breaking every bone in my body. When I reached the bottom, I heard the clashing of lightsabers far off in the distance. I felt a slight pain deep in my chest as one of those dueling was struck down. I had no time to waste.
What I saw when I reached the scene was an utter disaster. The bodies of slain Jedi Knights littered the sand. Many of them I recognized. Some of them I had trained. I looked up and saw three young Jedi dueling with the black-robed figure who wielded a crimson lightsaber. I immediately recognized the aggressor as a Sith Lord, a sight which should have surprise any Jedi. It was no wonder these young Knights were being slaughtered. The Council wanted me in battle, and now was my time.
Using the Force to speed my movement, I jumped in front of the crimson lightsaber blade, blocking it with my own emerald blade. I still couldn't identify exactly who the robed figure was, as he wore a mask, but that didn't really matter. All that I had to do was keep these Jedi safe. I blocked here, parried there, and attacked whenever I could, but this Sith was doing a particularly good job of anticipating my movements. It was like he had fought me before. And the more I dueled him, the more I recognized his style. But the Jedi who once fought like this was long dead.
The Sith hit me in the chest with a powerful Force palm attack, sending me flying toward a nearby spire. I hit hard, and it knocked the wind out of me. I forced myself to move, throwing my saber at the attacker, who deflected easily, sending it flying through the air back to my waiting hand. Still gasping for breath, I began running for the Sith, but he held out his hand and pushed me back into the spire, which crumbled and fell over. I felt the bitterness of yet another life being snuffed out, and it sent me into a desperate frenzy.
I sprang to my feet and chased after the attacker, but it was too late. He had his saber at the throat of the last of the young Jedi Knights, holding her by a fistful of her long hair. "Release her, and I'll let you live," I beseeched. He just shook his head.
"Master!" she pleaded, but it was too late. The searing, red energy slashed through her neck with no effort whatsoever, and her lifeless body slumped over.
"You will pay for what you have done," I growled.
"How many times have you made that empty threat, Master?" the Sith asked, finally breaking his silence. I recognized his voice immediately.
"Takero?" I gasped, uttering the name of my last apprentice. "You're dead."
"No, merely come out of hiding," he replied. "I am not the villain here, Master."
"How does massacring a dozen innocent Jedi exempt you from being the villain?" I demanded. "You have fallen to the Dark Side."
"I have as much contempt for the Dark Side of the Force as you do, Master," he sneered. "You insult me."
"Who is your master?" I demanded.
"I have been without a master since I left the Order," he replied. "And I haven't ignited my saber until today."
"I know that Count Dooku is behind this, and I know that you're his pawn," I tried.
"You are mistaken, Master. Count Dooku is the Apprentice. I'm trying to discover who the Master is." He used a Force spell on me that I had never seen before, paralyzing me. He began to walk toward me, and I tried to fight, tried to break free. But it was no use. He reached me, and he extinguished his saber. "If I were a Sith, I would've killed you by now," he said. "But I can't have you following me without a little bit of a head start. At least, not until you can learn to trust me again." He raised the hilt of his saber, and he brought it down upon my head. I slumped forward, and even though he had released me from his spell, I was still virtually unable to move. He walked away, stepping over the bodies of the fallen Jedi Knights, and my vision faded to black.
I regained consciousness in one of the prefab medical buildings the Republic had set up. My chest, arms, and head were covered in various and sundry sensors, which I immediately began removing as I sat up.
"No, don't do that!" pleaded a medical droid. "We are still running diagnostics!"
"The only diagnostic you need is that I'm alive," I retorted, plucking the last of the sensors from my skin. I took my shirt from an adjacent table and pulled it on, tucking the hem into my belt. Something was noticeably missing. "Where's my lightsaber?" I questioned.
"I don't know," replied the medical droid. "Check with the quartermaster."
"That won't be necessary," said clone Commander Jepson as he entered the building. He handed me my saber, and, needless to say, I was glad to have it back. His helmet was at his side, and aside from his shaven head, he looked exactly like his progenitor, Jango Fett. Mercenary scum. "Master Yoda has expressed a desire to debrief you, sir," he said, giving a snappy salute.
"He won't be pleased with my report," I sighed, pushing past him. He followed me like a trained dog follows his master.
When I reached the command post, Master Yoda was waiting there for me. "Master Tek-Farr," he greeted. "Ended, the battle has. Victorious, we are."
"Notwithstanding our losses," I remarked.
"Found you among the dead, we did. Worried, others were, but knew you were fine, I did."
"You never worry," I quipped.
"No, Essek. Worry I do, especially in wartime, but calm I remain. Tell me, Essek, what happened?"
My memory was still as sharp as ever, and I wished with all my being that it wasn't. "I felt a disturbance, Knights being slaughtered like nerfs. I rushed to help them, but it was too late. I fought the Sith Lord who had attacked them, and I could have defeated him. I should have defeated him. But I had a moment of..." I sneered contemptuously. "...weakness."
"Weakness, you say?" He sounded intrigued.
"The Sith was someone with whom I have sparred with before. My former padawan."
"Namoda? Dead, he is."
"Or so we thought," I said. "Apparently, he's been in hiding these ten years. And in the intervening time, he has fallen to the Dark Side."
"The Dark Side," he asked, "did you sense it in him?"
"I think his actions are proof enough," I replied.
"Many motivations, one may have. Tell me again, did you sense the Dark Side in him? Lie to me, you cannot."
"I don't see why it's relevant, Master," I groaned. "But no, I didn't."
"His motivation, we may yet see," he suggested. "Rushing to judgment is as reckless as rushing to war. Only when judgment is your only course of action, should you take it."
"What of Skywalker and Master Kenobi?" I asked. "How did they fare?"
"Poorly," he replied. "But with neither of them rests the blame; Dooku's alone, the fault was."
"I hope they are not too injured," I mused.
"Obi-Wan's wounds, superficial, they were. As for Skywalker, being fitted for a prosthetic arm, he is."
"So I take it the Dooku escaped, then," I asked.
"Yes, he did. But Skywalker and Kenobi were worth more than he."
I fully understood the course of action that Yoda had taken. Indeed, the lives of two of our most important Jedi were worth far more than the life of one enemy. Besides, if Dooku was indeed the Apprentice, his death would have meant a cold trail in the search for the Master. As Master Yoda has said in the past, there are always two. No more, no less. When the previous Apprentice, Darth Maul, had struck down Qui-Gon Jinn on Naboo, I had versed myself in Sith practices and history.
"So what is our plan of action now?" I asked.
"Track down Count Dooku, we must," he replied. "Our biggest threat, he is."
"A powerful Force user, a brilliant tactician, and our only lead to the identities of the current Sith Lords. That does sound like a good plan. But I request permission to track down Namoda myself."
"No, Essek," he chided. "More important matters, have we."
"More important?" I snapped. "The blood of thirteen Jedi Knights is on his hands. He must pay for his crimes."
"The Force will see that justice is done," said another voice from behind me. Mace Windu walked up and put a hand on my shoulder. I had great respect for the stoic, dark-skinned Jedi Master, who had given me much advice and training over the years I had known him. But his looks and manner were certainly deceiving; he was one of the most skilled and adaptable warriors that we had. "You must respect its will, whether you like it or not."
"Were we able to track Dooku's escape?"
The dark-skinned Jedi sighed contemplatively. "We were able to track him as far as Nar Shaddaa, but that's where the trail went cold. For now, our best hope is to spread out and hope to find traces."
"Or to wait until he attacks us again," I hypothesized.
"Of course," Mace replied. "But we don't really want to give him that opportunity."
"So you're sending me after him."
"Yes," Yoda replied. "Go to Nar Shaddaa, you must."
"You have sight through the Force to a degree that nobody else does," Mace explained. "Even in a bustling place like Nar Shaddaa, Dooku would have left behind some sort of trace. Perhaps you could find out where he went from there."
"If he landed, that is."
"We do have confirmation of a Geonosian sloop landing briefly in New Vertica. We think Dooku might have a contact there that could shed some light on his eventual destination. When you're ready to leave, you'll receive command of the RAS Prosecutor to aid in your search."
I nodded, formulating a plan. "Dooku was chased to a secret hangar, yes?" Yoda replied in the affirmative. "Take me there. I need to pick up his scent."
When I arrived at Dooku's hangar, several clone troopers were patrolling the premises. A large power-regulator column lay on the ground, as well as several chunks of the ceiling. I could only imagine the kind of battle that had taken place there.
I closed my eyes and reached out to the Force, feeling my surroundings. When I opened my eyes again, I saw the fading echoes of the three combatants' auras. One of them glowed brightly, and I could immediately see that it belonged to Master Kenobi; I had seen his aura before, and it was fairly familiar to me. I found it strange that Skywalker's aura was strong yet had a dull, grey sheen, and it fluctuated like a broken light cell.
The third aura was unfamiliar but easy to identify as Dooku's; it was a ruddy brown color, and it smelled of the Jedi blood that covered his hands. It absorbed everything around it like a black hole, emanating instead of x-rays hatred, anger and malice. It was a unique blend of darknesses and would be easily tracked even in such a wretched mire as Nar Shaddaa.
As I turned back toward the entrance, I was nearly blinded by a fourth aura, which must have been Yoda's. It was a combination of limitless power and unparalleled wisdom and compassion, with an improbable peace resting at its core. It was the mark of a true Jedi Master. By all accounts, Skywalker's power alone should have made his aura just as bright, and that made its current state troubling indeed.
I let go of the Force and my vision returned again to normal. "Such an unfortunate loss," I commented. "Dooku would have been a valuable asset in this war. Skywalker won't be as much of an asset in his current state, if the cloudiness of his aura is to be taken seriously."
"It always has been that cloudy," Mace commented. "It was why we objected to his admittance in the first place. We'll be watching him closely, but I trust Obi-Wan's guidance for the boy."
I nodded in agreement. "Kenobi is a fine Jedi. If only Anakin will let go his childish arrogance as I once did, he will prove to be as fine a Jedi."
"Are you certain you will be able to track Dooku once you reach Nar Shaddaa?" he asked.
"Fairly easily," I replied. "I'll leave straight away."
"If you don't find anything, let us know. It's not unheard of for Force users to mask their presence. Even from you." I knew he was referencing Namoda.
"The only reason he was able to do so was because I was looking the other way," I defended.
"Even if you're looking hard, sometimes a chameleon can hide right under your nose."
In hindsight, the implications of this statement were much more profound than I first realized; the Sith Lord Darth Sidious had us all under his thumb the entire time. But I would soon find myself removed from the one-sided dejarik match, thrust back into the game as a free agent with only a handful of pieces to support me.
I boarded the RAS Prosecutor almost straight away and set a course for Bothawui. Bothan space was warm and friendly to the Republic, quite unlike Hutt space. I could easily land on Nar Shaddaa in my small starfighter, but if an entire Republic Assault Ship were to enter Hutt space, it would definitely attract unnecessary attention.
In effort to pass the time, I went to the gym to practice my various combat forms. I elected to use a shinai rather than my lightsaber, but I still attracted stares from the other patrons. After I finished one form, four clones walked up to me on the mat. But they were different, not empty shells like the others. They had thoughts, feelings, souls of their own, even though they all shared Jango Fett's face.
"You're a Jedi," said the obvious leader. His face was already scarred from some sort of battle, some of the wounds recent. He sounded exactly like the late bounty hunter.
"Indeed I am," I replied, replacing the shinai in its rack without taking a step. "And you are...?"
"Commandos," said the one with face tattoos and the buzzed mohawk. His face had more cuts and bruises than the leader's. And he sounded different, an effect that jarred me somewhat at first.
"Delta Squad," said a third, also in a different voice. His posture was more rigid than the other three, and his manner of speaking was careful. His face was free of blemish, and his hair was shaven according to regulations. "I'm Four-Oh." He introduced each of them in turn. The tattooed one was Oh-Seven, the leader was Three-Eight, and the fourth member was Six-Two, who wore a T-Shirt emblazoned with the logo of a popular band on Coruscant.
"I'm the guy who likes to blow stuff up," Six-Two said with a wink. "Call me Scorch."
"Do you all have nicknames?" I wondered.
"Sure we do," Scorch replied. "Three-Eight is 'Boss,' Oh-Seven is 'Sev,' and Four-Oh is 'Fixer.' He fixes things so that they work for us or stop working altogether."
"Well suited," I remarked.
"We wanted to spar with the best," Sev grinned, grinding a fist into his palm.
"'We' nothing," Fixer interjected. "I'm staying out of this."
"And unless I can blow you up, so am I," Scorch quipped.
"Still, in a fair fight, I think we could be fairly well matched," I pondered. "Unarmed, without the Force to aid me?"
"Those sound like fair terms to me," Three-Eight replied. "Though, I'm not quite sure about Sev here."
"How well do you know Teräs Käsi?" I asked. Three-Eight immediately took up an offensive stance. I elected a defensive stance known to be weak against that particular attack style.
"What are you doing?" he asked, puzzled.
"Giving you a challenge," I replied. The clone attacked, and I dodged, relying on my natural reflexes rather than the Force. He followed a predictable pattern, trying to counter my particular stance. When I counterattacked, I switched to an attack form that was weak against Three-Eight's chosen form. I landed a series of light hits, much to Three-Eight's surprise. "Let this be a lesson to you," I said as he acknowledged the hit. "Sometimes the best offense is to do something unexpected."
"I know what you mean," Three-Eight nodded. "They didn't expect four clones taking on the whole Clanker army, did they? The four of us blew up a whole droid factory and sabotaged a core ship."
"I'm genuinely impressed," I remarked. "I didn't think four commandos could do that, let alone four Jedi."
"We're the best of the best," Three-Eight said with a satisfied smile.
"And yet I threw you off with what you thought was bad form. Let nothing surprise you, and above all, don't allow your anticipations to force you into routines and get you trapped without a way out. Always be prepared to improvise. You just might have a fighting chance against a dark Jedi like Dooku."
I went into a second bout with Three-Eight, and he was a much better match this time; he almost beat me. Almost. But even without the use of the Force, I was still able to best years of conditioned martial arts with a touch of improvisation. After he conceded, Sev stepped forward. "Same rules?" I asked.
"No," Sev replied. "I want to see the best an unarmed Jedi can fight."
"I'll try not to break any bones," I replied, taking up a defensive stance.
"Not Teräs Käsi," he said, slashing the air with his hand. "MMA. A combination of Echani and Mandalorian."
"Have you noticed my lineage?" I asked skeptically. "I'm more than half Echani. I'm also one of the most accomplished Echani martial artists."
"I know," Sev grinned arrogantly.
He attacked, and, through the Force, I saw it coming long before the blow landed. I connected my elbow to his back as he slipped past me, sending him sprawling. "You're lucky I'm pulling my punches," I chided. "I could have broken your spine."
"Quit trying to hit me, and hit me!" he growled. So I did. He lunged at me, and I drove the heel of my hand into his solar plexis. But it didn't disable him, and he lashed out with an uppercut, connecting with my chin. I staggered backward, and in my recovery, he lunged again. I spun to the side, but realized too late that he was expecting that move. He threw a kick right at my gut. I caught it millimeters before it connected, and I retaliated with a high kick of my own, taking him in the cheek.
He whirled his legs to propel himself back to his feet, and he settled into a more defensive stance, a particular Mandalorian gesture daring the opponent to move. I set into him with a rarely practiced Echani form, and at first he was able to parry my flurry of fists. But soon, I got the upper hand, and I drove both palms into his chest, throwing him backward with the aid of the Force. He flew hard into one of the padded pillars that bordered the ring, and he fell to his knees.
"Touché!" he gasped, holding up a hand in defeat as he tried desperately to catch his breath. "Touché."
"I hope you have learned your lesson," I chided. "A Jedi is never unarmed."
"We'll have to take that into account," Fixer commented.
"Come on, Sev," Three-Eight beckoned, helping the still-panting commando to his feet. "Let's hit the mess."
"About time," Scorch groaned.
"You're always thinking about food," Sev shot back. "Even in the heart of a stinking Geonosian hive."
"It was an honor sparring with you Master Jedi," Three-Eight thanked.
"The honor is mine," I replied, and the four clones walked off.
Satisfied that I had sufficiently practiced my combat forms, I retired to my quarters with a holobook on the Jedi Civil War. A distant ancestor of mine, Athena Tek-Farr, seemed to have played a crucial role in the grander scheme of things, and I wanted to learn more about her. But my academic aspirations were denied when my comlink squawked to life.
"You have a secured transmission coming through, sir," said the communications officer. "Would you like me to patch it through?"
"Who is calling?" I asked. "I'm in the middle of something important."
"All he said was that he's an old student of yours."
"Put him through," I replied, setting my datapad down. A moment later, a tone sounded, letting me know the call had been connected. I knew who it was right away. "Namoda, I presume. Come out from under your rock?"
"Not really," he replied. "Listen, I know you're heading to Nar Shaddaa in search of Dooku. You can either hang up and do it yourself, or you can let me do all the work for you and stay on the line."
"I'm hanging up on you," I replied, reaching for the button.
"Wait!" he pleaded. "I know where he went from here. And I know that you'll have a snowball's chance on Sullust of finding him without my help. Besides, I know that I'm much more appetizing a prey."
I heard a touch of relief in his voice. "Dooku fled Nar Shaddaa for Coruscant, but that's where the trail ends. He was confirmed flying through the Capitol, but he left the city and passed out of surveillance. I'll be looking for him near where he was last seen, but I have no guarantees of finding him."
"Then perhaps I should head to Coruscant and aid you in your search," I lied.
"A much better idea would be for you to meet a contact of mine in the slums on Nar Shaddaa. He has 'evidence' of my involvement with Dooku that should be able to convince the Council to let you track me instead."
"And just who am I looking for?" I asked.
"An Ithorian named Trax. You can try to tell him I sent you, but he's usually pretty hard to convince. Be prepared to improvise." The call ended with an audible *click*.
I continued reading until we arrived at Bothawui, and from there, I began the hours of monotony until I reached Nar Shaddaa. I asked around, confirming with the transit authority that a Geonosian sloop had left recently, heading for Coruscant. Then I tracked down Trax.
For somebody with such a reputation, his actual location was surprisingly elusive. He was a traveling weapons merchant with a knack for ticking off the Hutts. As such, he had to lie low. Finally, after three hours of insults in about sixteen languages and obscene gestures from no less than twenty different races, I heard the words I was looking for: "Yeah, I can help you find Trax. For a small fee."
"I usually don't carry cash on me," I replied to the hooded Zelosian woman. I waved my hand nonchalantly in attempt to influence her. "Perhaps you will waive the fee?"
"Perhaps I would waive the fee," she replied. "If, that is, I were a dunce. But now I know why you don't usually carry cash. All you have is your lightsaber, your robe, and your tunic. Tell me, Master Jedi, how many food venders have you bilked with your mind tricks today?"
"I still have ethics," I glared. "I'm hungry, and I won't be able to eat until I return to my ship."
"Well, well," she said, batting her emerald eyes, "a Jedi who doesn't think himself above us mere mortals."
"Please save your sarcasm," I sighed. "A...contact of mine said that Trax had something for me."
"The only thing a Jedi would want with Trax is to lock him up."
"My contact is no Jedi. And the information that Trax has will convince the Council to let me pursue a murderer. I have no quarrel with Trax, and I share his dislike for the Hutts. The fact that he sells weapons is only a footnote."
"How much do you have on you?"
"I have about sixty credits."
"Better than nothing." She held out her hand. I reluctantly planted the six credit chips in her palm, and she stuffed them down the front of her tunic. "Maybe I can eat lunch tomorrow. This way."
"How much will that get you?"
"Current exchange rates will get me about six truguts. Not a whole hell of a lot."
"I'm sorry I couldn't give you more."
She sighed. "No, it's not your fault. Here in the slums, everybody's trying to survive. I could live a great life, were I to get a job dancing in the club, but I'm a girl with standards."
"Not a very high-class establishment?" I wondered.
She turned and looked over her shoulder at me. "The one that keeps offering is very high-class, if you can call anything on this rock 'high-class'. They're specifically looking for human dancers who are willing to show a bit of skin. They don't know I'm a Zelosian, or they wouldn't have asked me." She huffed in exasperation.
"I knew you were a Zelosian right away," I assured in her native language. "No other race has such beautiful green eyes."
"Two points for kissing up," she chuckled. "You missed your calling as a romantic scoundrel."
"I've never had an interest in romance," I said, waving off her comment. "Such is the life of a Jedi."
"Well, if you ever want to steal a girl away, remember that I'm here. I'd do almost anything to get off this rock, out of Hutt space. But again, standards." We arrived at a door, and she entered a code. A short melody sounded, she entered a second code, and the door slid open. "It's a two-stage lock," she explained. "And you have to have perfect pitch and memorize a complex series of ciphers in order to open it."
"Good thing I'm tone deaf," I quipped.
She led me through a series of hallways to a room lined with weapons of various and sundry kinds, from the newest BlasTech pistols to antique Echani vibroblades. An Ithorian stood behind the counter, cleaning a small holdout pistol. "Manda," he greeted, waving at her. "Did you get the parts I needed?"
"No," she replied, taking off her cloak and hanging it on a peg by the door. "I couldn't find the son of a gun. Brought this blighter back instead."
"Who are you?" Trax asked, beckoning me forward.
"Essek Tek-Farr," I replied. "A mutual contact of ours said you had something for me."
"I have many contacts. Which one?"
"Namoda?" Manda gasped. "That schutta owes me eighty peggats! Tell him that if he doesn't pay up, I'll hunt him down and take it out of his hide!"
"Calm down, young one," I chided. "When I see him, I'll let him know."
Trax reached under the counter and produced a data chip. "This is what you're here for. But it won't be free."
"Manda already took my last credits," I shrugged.
"It's not your credits I want," the Ithorian replied. "I'm a weapons dealer. You have a weapon that I want, one that could turn the tide of my war against the Hutts."
"Nothing doing," I growled, turning and walking for the door. Manda stepped in front of me. "Step aside, girl."
"Do you really want to try me, Jedi?" she taunted. "I'm awfully spry for a plant."
"Trax, why didn't you just get Namoda to make you a lightsaber? I'm sure you have the spare parts somewhere."
"I do," the Trax replied. "But Namoda has refused to do it. You want the data? Build me a saber or give me yours."
"No," I insisted, turning back toward him. "I'm leaving." Manda grabbed me by the shoulders, and I ignited my saber. "Let me leave or I'll be forced to make my own way."
"Fine, take the frelling chip," Trax growled in two clashing tones. "I want what you want, peace. Even having something that looks like a lightsaber will give me the upper hand in this war. Nobody has to get hurt."
I extinguished my saber and shrugged out of Manda's grip. I walked up to the counter and said, "Show me your parts, and I'll make you a defective hilt. Or maybe a training saber that won't even cut a loaf of bread. You can wave it around 'til your heart's content."
"That's more like it," Trax said. "You take the chip. I'll be right back."
I pocketed the data chip while the Ithorian went into a back room. I felt Manda's watchful gaze, and I knew that if I were to try leaving while Trax was gone, she'd go for a blaster, and I'd have to hurt her. Within a couple of minutes, Trax returned with a box. I peered inside and found what appeared to be all the necessary parts for a lightsaber. "Rubbish," I said, rummaging through the collection. "This lens is misaligned. The housing is damaged. The power cell looks good, but these crystals are both flawed. If I put together any kind of blade with these parts, it would explode upon activation. Not even the most skilled saber smith in the galaxy could help you." I dropped the misshapen crystals back in the box. "Besides, these crystals are dead, raw. I would have to meditate on them for nigh on a week."
"Namoda didn't tell me this...," Trax said sadly.
"You're lying," Manda scoffed.
"Look, Manda, I've built three lightsabers in my fifty years. I know a thing or two about quality parts. Trax, whoever sold these to you robbed you blind. These parts are worth about three hundred credits in scrap metal, and possibly a decent return if you sold the crystals to a jeweler. You might break even. But a weapon, this isn't."
"Please, Master Jedi, give me something," Trax pleaded. "My cause is failing, and my business is dead. The reason Manda is starving is that I can't afford to feed either of us."
"You have my last sixty credits. Without giving you my cloak, which is worth maybe ten credits, I can't help you any further. I'm sorry."
"May the Force be with you," Trax sighed. "Manda, lead him out."
The Zelosian donned her cloak again and led me back to the streets. "I bid you farewell," I said, beginning to walk away. But she grabbed my wrist and pulled it hard.
"Take me with you," she pleaded. "If I leave, Trax will be able to survive better. And I'll get away from this pile of crap."
"I have only one seat," I said, shaking my head. "Believe me, if I could, I would come back here with a shuttle and buy you both passage away from Nar Shaddaa, but my hands are tied. I won't forget your plight."
"I can squeeze into tight spaces!"
"No, Manda." I sighed. "I can't take you with me, but if you come with me to my ship, I'll at least be able to give you some food. It's not much, but you can stretch it out for a few days."
"Thank you, Master Jedi," she said, releasing my wrist.
She followed me to my starfighter and I gave her the last of my rations. I would arrive at Coruscant hungry, but I would rather give the food to those who needed it more than I. As Manda stood there with her arms full of ration packs, I climbed up into the cockpit and said, "As you can see, there's not a lot of room here."
"For sure," she replied, finally understanding that I couldn't even fit a tiny Chadra-Fan on my lap.
"Can you get those back to Trax without getting mugged?"
"I can smuggle a fully assembled sniper rifle through a Senate security checkpoint. I'll be just fine. I pray that I'll one day see you again."
"If I ever find myself back here, I'll look you two up. And I'd better not find you stripping in that club!"
"I'd sooner overdose on sugar," she grimaced.
I waved at her and lifted off. I docked with my hyperspace ring and set my coordinates before contacting the Prosecutor and letting them know that I wouldn't be meeting them back at Bothawui. Once I was underway, I reviewed the information on the data chip. It was a fairly crafty fabrication that painted Namoda as a rogue dark Jedi under Dooku's service. But it was still an obvious fabrication. Either way, it was all I had, and it was more convincing than the notion that Namoda was also hunting the Sith, or only my argument that following him would lead to Dooku.
When I arrived on Coruscant, I requested an audience with the Council to show them the evidence I had retrieved on Nar Shaddaa. They were quick to doubt its veracity, but several of the councilors supported the idea of tracking Dooku through Namoda. By a margin too close for comfort, they approved my new course, with Mace and Yoda voicing the strongest support.
After eating a meal just large enough to satiate my hunger, Master Yoda called me back to the council chambers. He was the only one there, and only a blue hologram at that. "Master Yoda," I greeted, bowing. "Why have you called me here again?"
"Decided, the Council has, that take a new padawan learner, you must, if you are to pursue Namoda."
"And what if I should refuse?" I asked, having vowed long ago never to train another.
"Refuse, you cannot. Decided, it has been, and out of your hands, it is."
"If I must," I sighed. "You forget, my last apprentice met a rather undesirable end."
"Never healed, that wound has," the small Jedi pondered, furrowing his brow. "Healed, it should have."
"I know it should have healed," I replied shortly, "but it hasn't. From whom may I select my next padawan?"
"Again, I say, decided, it has been."
"What?" I said indignantly, inclining my head. "Why can't I choose my own student?"
"Seen her identity, we have. Three of us."
"But none of you are seers," I protested. "Isn't the practice that a seer m--"
"A seer, any Jedi may be, when the Force decides. The will of the Force, it is, that have this pupil, you should. Waiting for you, she is, in the sparring hall." The hologram faded, and I hung my head.