Jedi Destiny I: Hate of the Jedi

Chapter 10

Again, Tash Arranda was in a state of panic, and Luke Skywalker was happy to oblige her concern. Zak Arranda had gone missing again.

Luke himself had awoken early from a dreamless sleep for an early morning stroll around the perimeter of the academy before the eventual rise of the rest of the buildings inhabitants. When he had finally gone back inside, to see about class preparations, he had been intercepted by Tash Arranda and his nephew Jacen. This time, however, Jaina was not by their side.

Luke was aware that Zak had missed dinner with the rest of his peers the previous night. He also knew that it was because the young man had been steadfastly preoccupied with repairing the stack of consoles and control boards Luke had had supplied for him for his spare time.

He knew the reason Zak was losing himself in his mechanical tinkering was because he was still entirely uncomfortable with his newly discovered potential as a Seer. There had been many ways that he could have eased the young man into the knowledge, and telling him that he, Luke, had known since before the younger man’s departure from GemDiver had probably been a little easier than a sucker punch to the gut. He should have taken him aside at some point after his initial arrival and talked to him about it then.

But, despite all of that, it was now apparent that Zak had not shown up for breakfast this morning either, and when Tash and Jacen had gone to investigate, they found his room locked.

Every resident of the Praxeum was issued with their own key to their own room for security or privacy reasons. But few ever really used them. Zak, it seemed, would be one of those few.

So Luke retrieved the master from his office and returned to Zak’s quarters with the pair and unlocked it, only to find it empty. There was no note, no recorded message on recording flexiplast on his desk.

But he did find that the bed had been slept in and two sets of day clothes and a set of bed wear were missing from his wardrobe. A quick check of the laundry depository by the door confirmed the location of one set of clothes, and his sleeping attire had been tossed upon the bed itself. The logical conclusion was that Zak had donned a second set of clothes and, again, gone walkabout.

This was what had Tash in a state of near panic. In the month that they had been here, this was now the second time that her brother had seemingly wandered off on his own and gotten himself lost.

The trio’s next stop had then been the sensor analysis station on the building’s second level to see what they could pick up from there.

It was a futile attempt. The sensors had been disrupted by some unknown EM interference throughout the night, which Luke said he would have R2-D2 investigate further. It struck him as odd that at the most likely time of Zak’s disappearance, the sensors were unable to give readings. He knew of no natural phenomenon in the system that could produce an EM signature strong enough to disrupt the Republic Navy standard sensors that they had in the building.

And their final stop had been to Jaina’s quarters to enlist her in the search—though it struck Luke as odd that Tash and Jacen hadn’t already taken this step before coming to him.

When they got to Jaina’s quarters, however, they found those empty as well.

Jacen hadn’t been so worried about this fact. He suggested that perhaps she was on a morning run or in the machine shop on the ground level working on some gadget or another. But after a search in all the likely places, Jaina was still missing and Jacen too was beginning to worry.

The three of them, plus Luke’s personal astromech droid, R2-D2, were in the hanger at present, huddled at the edge of the starship lift, discussing the next move in their investigation. Luke had already contacted his wife to request that she take his classes while he worked on solving this mystery.

Tash looked anxious, tense. Jacen was barely saying a word. R2-D2 wouldn’t be silent. Luke admired the optimism of the little droid as it ran its sensor over every cubic inch of the hangar’s interior, looking for clues.

“Both of them this time,” Tash said quietly.

Jacen looked at her but said nothing, and Luke’s mouth formed a tight line of tension. “Zak wouldn’t go back out into the jungle,” Luke said.

“Didn’t he give you his word that this wouldn’t happen again, Uncle?” Jacen said, looking up. “I know I don’t know him that well, but it does seem a little out of character for him to go back on his word like that, from what I do know about him. It’s reckless. And on top of that, where is Jaina? She wouldn’t allow herself to be dragged into this.”

“It occurs to me that when Zak said it wouldn’t happen again, he was referring to the late-night trip into the jungle on his own. I believe he was earnest in that regard,” he considered. “However, if he were escorted by someone who knows the jungle quite well—Jaina, for instance—perhaps that would constitute not breaking his word.”

Jacen conceded the point with a nod. “We must assume that since Jaina is also missing, that she is with him. If this assumption is in earnest, and we must believe that it is, she wouldn’t have allowed him to go back into the jungle. And she would have followed him in if he had somehow gotten past her, and therefore they would most likely both be safe from danger.”

“Assuming they went in there by choice,” Jacen said.

“You know something?” Luke said. “Or is that a guess?”

“It’s a feeling, Uncle Luke,” Jacen said grimly. “I just have this feeling that something’s happened and wherever they are, they didn’t go willingly.”

“We can’t base a search off a feeling!” Tash bit back.

“Jacen and Jaina are twins, Tash,” Luke said, gently. “And speaking from my own experience, twins who can both touch the Force have an unusually strong bond. Jacen’s feelings may just lead us to answers.

“Have you tried to reach her, Jacen, through your twin bond?”

Jacen nodded. “Wherever she is, she’s cut off from the Force by some means,” Jacen said. Luke felt his nephew reach out again with the Force, and his distressed flinch when he felt nothing was visible. “It’s a feeling I know, but can’t quite describe.”

“There are no Ysalamiri on this moon,” Luke said. “So it couldn’t possibly be that.”

“Doesn’t that lead to the conclusion that they’re not even on the moon anymore?” Tash said frantically, almost on the verge of chewing on her nails.

Luke didn’t want her to think like that. While true, Jacen and Jaina had once before been kidnapped by a Dark Jedi who was intent on destroying Luke and the Jedi Praxeum, that had been years ago and the man in question had since been destroyed. There was no one else he knew of that possessed the resources to kidnap a pair of Jedi students, one of which was a Skywalker by blood, from right under his nose.

And that’s when R2-D2 bleeped at him. When he turned to face the little droid, he saw it rolling across the stone to the divider between two of the star fighter bays. He followed the little droid, Jacen and Tash less than a step behind him as he approached the fighters.

R2-D2 stopped and a flap at the front of the barrel-shaped body flipped open. A claw-ended arm extended from the flap to something cylindrical on the ground, just out of sight. When it returned to view, Luke saw what it was and immediately snatched it out of the droid’s pincer. It warbled disapprovingly at him, shot a harmless electric jolt as a warning at his knees, and then rolled away, scanning again.

“Evidence!” Jacen said, clasping his hands together and locking his eyes on the lightsaber in Luke’s hands.

It was Jaina’s. He knew the look of every lightsaber that had ever been constructed by any student he had ever taught. And he knew his niece’s unique style. It was simple, cylindrical, and most definitely inspired by the first Jedi to have taught Luke—Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was smooth with a studded end cap and a series of rings around the middle, roughly where her hands around the weapon would be. A thin neck connected the main shaft with the ignition cap which tapered in at the end and the ignition switch was small and just fore of the grip.

He carefully looked over the weapon, for damage or misuse, and found none. But it was definitely Jaina’s imprint he sensed upon it.

“Jaina handled this in combat,” he said aloud for the other two, looking up at them. He saw the thought form in Tash’s head of the girl mostly unknown to her, Jaina, wielding her lightsaber, dragging the deadly blade across Zak’s chest, either as a prank gone wrong, or to stop him from leaving the grounds when he insisted.

Luke frowned at the girl continued. “I can feel the imprint of its use as well as the user. For whatever reason, she felt that he had to defend herself from something. Defend Zak too. In fact…”

He looked around, mostly in the direction where Artoo had found the lightsaber, and strode over to another piece of evidence. It was a small blaster. Jaina carried it with her whenever she went on sentry, or indeed whenever she left the grounds. Jedi or not, she was well versed in every method of self-defence. But when Luke picked up the blaster, it wasn’t his niece’s imprint he sensed.

“She gave this to Zak,” he told Tash and Jacen, who had followed him over. “It’s set to the stun setting, but it was used quite heavily. I’m sensing …”

“Eight shots fired,” Tash said in trance-like tones. Luke looked at her, and she seemed to shake herself back from wherever her mind had wandered. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. That’s impressive. Eight shots. All on stun. Eight hits too, I’m sensing,” Luke enlightened her. “But only seven targets.”

“But that sounds like they were assaulted. Here, of all places!”

“Of that, I am out of any credible suspects. The only person who has tried and would possibly try again is long dead,” Luke said, shooting a knowing look at Jacen that he was glad to see that Tash missed.

He wasn’t really in the right mood to have to explain the long, sad story of Brakiss to her. “And to my knowledge, no one else would be foolish enough to try anything along those same lines,” he continued.

Luke summoned the Force and tentatively reached out to the weapon to see if he could get more from it; a sense of what Zak and Jaina had needed defending from. But it was too far gone; had happened too long ago now to form a coherent image.

He could see an image in his mind of Zak and Jaina standing where he was now, talking casually. Then he saw them turn in a circle, the sound of something touching stone nearby. Footsteps. The sounds of clattering body armour. The white gleam of a stormtrooper’s faceplate under the harsh, violet glow of an activated lightsaber.

And then he saw no more. The only other image he got from the weapon was of Jaina in a Shii-Cho opening stance, holding her lightsaber in front of her defensively with her eyes narrowed at something Luke could not see. Zak was standing with his back pressed against hers, a blaster in hand and his eyes assessing possible targets.

It frustrated Luke that he couldn’t see more.

They were his students—one his friend and one his blood!—and he wanted to know what had happened to them, he needed to know. And the only way open to him for the time being was not as forthcoming as he had hoped.

From the other side of the hangar came an echoed, shrill chirping from R2-D2, and the three of them darted over to see what the droid had found. Jacen got there first and bent low to pick something up from the ground that Artoo was just about to pick up. The droid gave Jacen the same shock treatment it had given Luke a few moments ago and then sat in silence as Jacen turned to Tash and Luke.

In his hand was a personal communicator, issued to each and every resident of the Praxeum. It was either Jaina’s or Zak’s.

“Jaina’s,” Jacen said in response to his uncle’s thoughts. When Luke cocked a “please explain” eyebrow, Jacen flipped it over to show them the back of it.

The belt clip, which by standard was usually silver in colour, was gold and lightly dulled. Luke recognised the significance.

Jaina’s clip had broken from her communicator two years ago and she had fashioned one from a tiny brick of gold Lando Calrissian had sold to her and attached it.

“Perhaps she recorded something of significance on it?” Luke suggested.

Jacen handed the communicator over and Luke flipped it over and gently pried loose the access panel on the back using the Force. He fiddled with a few switches and buttons and then pressed down on the transmitter.

I said to put down the weapon, Solo!” a voice came from the speaker of the device. Luke frowned, and the playback continued. “I won’t warn you again. You are both now prisoners of the Second Imperium.

Luke froze, and his grip on the device slackened. It dropped from his hand and clattered on the stone beneath his feet. The playback continued, but, for the shock that had frozen him in place, he didn’t hear a word more.

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