Aedan saw the danger as soon as Kan did. Without a word, he whipped out his comlink and dialed a number. "Jahn Pal, code W-I-C-K-E-D," he rapped out. "G-O-O-D sighted, Action CKI328. Copy, WICKED?"
A voice fogged with sleep came over the speaker. "Hello," Jahn Pal mumbled over the static. "Me following orders. No food. No sleep. Stay here. Alert Aedan…"
"Hey, look at the pretty lady." Sai'wer popped into the frequency.
"Yes, look at her," Aedan said sarcastically. "She's the G-O-O-D taking Action CKI328!"
"Uh-Oh!" the cousins sounded alarmed. "Hurry, get on board before we disappear!"
Aedan rolled his eyes. "You're supposed to disappear!" he shouted. "You're in plain GOOD sight!"
Kan heard someone whimper. "Sai'wer? Where are you, Sai'wer?" Jahn Pal said, his voice desperate. "Where are you?"
Kan looked out the window again. Sai'wer was clutching his friend's hand as if he could never let go. "I don't know," Sai'wer answered.
"Oh, GOOD," Aedan said. "They're taking Action DGO5711."
"What the blazings…" Kan muttered.
"They're made of such pure WICKED genius," Terry explained to the bewildered Kan, "and they spend so much energy and WICKED time contemplating things only nerdy professors can understand, they can't see beyond their WICKED faces."
"Kien, Minir!" Aedan said. "Take Action W-I-C-K-E-D 207WICKED!"
Kien and Minir raced out of the hold as if they were running for their lives.
In the same moment, Adriaan had paused to inspect a mutilated starship, turning her face away from Kan's transport to view the broken hull from all angles. Even before her back was completely turned, Kien and Minir darted to the bottom of the ramp and dragged the cousins out of view. The young knight turned back around and continued toward the ship a microsecond later. Kien and Minir tumbled into the cockpit, holding Jahn Pal and Sai'wer by their ears.
"Mission WICKED complete," Minir said, looking with undisguised disgust at the "genius" boys, who were sprawling at his feet, slobbering all over his boots like playful nek pups. Minir turned up his nose and his face twitched as he backed away.
Na'thin nudged Aedan. "GOOD coming," he said. "WICKEDLY disappear?"
"Na'thin has a WICKED idea," Aedan said. "I say we WICKEDLY hide!"
"WICKED!" they all said, scattering to find refuge. Before five seconds had passed, every trace of the Wicked Club was quietly and effectively hidden.
Kan stood by the pilot seat, staring blankly at the holofiles suspended in the air above him. Suddenly the sound of a booted foot clanging against the durasteel ramp shattered the silence, and without thinking Kan instinctively reached out and pressed a key. The files shimmered in the air and slowly faded, concealing the last bit of evidence the intruders had failed to hide.
Suddenly, he felt something claw him from behind, and he impulsively twisted in the attacker's grasp to fight back. Instead he was violently yanked into a storage closet, one that he hadn't noticed before, for its door had been in flush with the wall.
"Kan, you can't just stand there and let them find you," Jordin hissed in his ear.
His mouth dropped open. "What are you doing here?!" he whispered furiously. "You were supposed to be looking for Zett!"
Her smile didn't waver. "I was supposed to look for Zett?" she asked. "I wasn't looking for him, I was looking for you. Sorry. Zett is snoring away in a corner behind the broken starfighter. I was getting bored, listening to him snore; you know how it is, watching someone sleep. I told you, remember? Then I saw you chasing those weird kids ––– why do they scream "wicked" all the time? ––– anyway, I thought you might need help. I don't understand why those dumb boys were drooling all over the ramp; I think it had just been cleaned, too. They were very rude to mess it up. Where did they all go, anyway? Don't tell me they –––"
"Quiet!" Kan said. "I had everything under control. You'll just mess everything up."
"It looked like you were doing a great job," Jordin remarked sarcastically. "And don't bother talking back to me primarily because you'll lose the argument, secondly because I'm right and you're wrong. By the way, the Masters are right outside the door."
Before she even finished speaking, Kan heard the doors hiss open. He clapped a hand over her mouth and tensed, listening. He couldn't hear her silent stride, but a powerful wave of the Force hit him like a thunderbolt, warning him of Adriaan's arrival. He shrank as far back into the supply closet as he could go, hoping that she was too preoccupied to feel his presence.
Why are you hiding? he suddenly felt silly, hiding from a Jedi that he knew and liked. He hadn't done anything bad to cause him to hide, after all. He had been trying to stop a bunch of insane kids from taking off in a ship, that was all. So why was he hiding?
I want to go on that mission. It was useless to deny it. Knowing why the Apprentices were forbidden to accompany their Masters on the mission only sharpened his hunger for action. A pang of guilt swept over him. He was hiding because he didn't want to be left behind, because he didn't want to listen to the bossy old Council. His life had been in jeopardy before. He should be allowed to stand by his Master and fight.
That doesn't make it right.
He should go out and show himself. The deed he was about to commit would drag on him for the rest of his life if he decided to do it. And if he was caught in the act… Kan preferred not to think about that. There were stories of students getting expelled for disobeying or lying to the Council. Was it worth all the risk?
Suddenly, he heard the sound of several pairs of boots stomping up the ramp and into the cockpit, shattering his thoughts and leaving his question unanswered. He cautiously peeked out from behind the door of his hideout. Quickly he stuck his head back in, his eyes wide with horror.
"Who?" Jordin's eyes asked him silently.
"Tira-Auris, Nadma Okiwa, Jade Yil, Siri Tachi and Coleman Trebor," Kan breathed.
Jordin stifled a shriek at the mention of her Master. "Oh, no."
Master Siri Tachi was a slim human female dressed in a dark unisuit. Kan didn't know much about her, except for the fact that her Padawan, Ferus Olin, had left the Jedi Order a few years before, and she had never taken on another Apprentice since. He also knew that she was keenly in tune with the Living Force, and she could easily find Kan if she sensed he was aboard.
Nadma Okiwa, an Arkanian Jedi with a white hair and pale blue eyes, was the Master of an elite student called Kay Lee. Coleman Trebor, a tall, strong Vurk, carried a green lightsaber and had was renowned for his calm, diplomatic nature. As for Tira-Auris, she was nothing less than the meanest, grumpiest and nastiest Jedi in the entire Temple. As if that weren't enough, she had super acute hearing senses and could hear your heartbeat several meters away.
This wasn't good.
Luckily, the Jedi were all too busy getting ready to takeoff that they weren't listening to the Force, warning of the nine students hidden throughout the ship.
"Who wants to pilot this thing?" Adriaan asked.
"You go ahead." Kan heard Master Trebor speak up. "I think we all agree that you are the best pilot the Jedi Order has ever produced."
"No, one, not the best," Adriaan said modestly.
Kan heard someone snort. "Nobody has bothered to give credit to my skills as a pilot."
"Oh, get off your high seat, grumpy old Tira," Adriaan said cheerfully.
"You are the one putting on airs as a knight," Tira-Auris said huffily. "If I were the Council, I'd stick you back in your place, as a Padawan."
"But you are not a Council member," Adriaan said. "You are just a knight."
Jordin and Kan exchanged scandalized glances. They had never before heard Masters speak so rudely to each other. They had assumed that the Jedi were always peaceful and agreed with each other.
There was a tense silence. The quiet thudded in Kan's head louder than the sound of billions of waterfalls. Finally, it was broken by Adriaan, who murmured softly, "Forgive me, Master, it was unbecoming of me to act in this way. The mission cannot begin if we go at each other like battle dogs. I apologize."
Tira-Auris huffed, hardly sounding forgiving.
Apparently, Adriaan didn't notice, for Kan suddenly heard her stiffen, as if listening carefully.
"Something is out of place here," she said.
Kan felt the blood drain from his face. He looked at Jordin helplessly. Her face was ashen.
He heard boots thumping slowly toward him, and he involuntarily flinched. I'm in for it now.
Then the comm system signaled.
The boots stopped in mid-stride. "What is it?" Adriaan asked abruptly.
"All groups set. Prepare your ship for takeoff and fly toward the designated coordinates," the comlink crackled. "May the Force be with you."
"You." Kan heard Adriaan cut off the transmission and head for the pilot seat. He stifled a sigh of relief and glanced at Jordin. She didn't speak, but her face plainly told him what she was thinking. That was too close.
He felt the hum of the engine vibrate the durasteel floor beneath his feet as Adriaan did the preflight check. He heard the systems beep in confirmation that everything was running smoothly. Kan's stomach lurched as the ship pulled forward, accelerating and lifting off the ground as its pilot propelled it expertly into the space lane.
The ship left the atmosphere and shot out into the emptiness of space.
They were off.