Jedi Destiny I: Hate of the Jedi

Chapter 3

JEDI PRAXEUM; YAVIN 4

Zak was missing.

Tash was annoyed.

The previous night, before bed, she had specifically told him not to go looking for trouble, and it looked like he had once again ignored her and done just that. He’d been doing it for years, and it wasn’t just Tash that he tended to ignore at these times. He’d ignored their uncle too, and his droid DV-9.

Already, Tash had enlisted the help of the Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina, to look for her brother, but neither of them had been overly enthusiastic about it at first. They didn’t know Zak like she did, and so his disappearance to them would look as if he had just gone for a stroll or his curiosity had gotten the better of him and he had gone off to explore the jungle.

She knew better, well at least she was convinced that she did. There was always that small chance that they were right and she wasn’t. Zak had displayed a little more maturity over the past year, and she was well aware—though he didn’t know it—of his sneaking off to the observation decks of GemDiver late at night when he thought she was asleep.

“Tash!” someone called from behind her. She felt Jaina Solo’s presence approaching before she turned around to see the dark-haired girl and stopped.

“Hi, Jaina,” she said grimly. “Have you come across anything yet?”

Jaina frowned, but not disapprovingly. It was almost as if she was annoyed that she hadn’t found something. “Not yet, I’m afraid,” she said. “Jacen’s in Sensor Analysis now checking out the readings from last night’s scans. If Zak left the building, the sensors picked it up.”

“What’s the range they carry?” Tash inquired.

The other girl stopped to think about that before she answered. “The external, long-range sensors can sweep up to thirty-five kilometres from the building. The internal sensors should be able to map any movements he made up to the tree line around the courtyard.”

“What if he’s gone beyond the thirty-five?” Tash wasn’t even sure if she wanted to know the answer, but she knew she had to ask anyway.

“If he left before midnight, it’s mildly possible,” Jaina said honestly. “But that would depend on how fast he can move through thick jungle terrain.” It was almost a question, and Tash felt obliged to answer it, if only to prove a point.

“We’ve both grown pretty good at adapting to terrain changes. It might slow him down a bit at first but if he was able to pick up growth patterns, or if the Force was guiding him somehow, he could move pretty quickly.” She wrung her hands together in worry and bounced up and down on her toes.

Jaina nodded. “But, if he left after midnight—and in both cases I amallowing for at least an hour for him to stop, grab his bearings and recover strength and breath—then there’s no way he would have made it beyond sensor range even by now. Not unless he was running flat out with Force-given directions. In either case, Jacen should have an answer to us soon, in any case.”

She paused, and Tash knew what she was thinking wasn’t going to go over well. “There’s something else you should know too,” Jaina added carefully. Tash sensed the rest before it was spoken and shook her head. But Jaina continued anyway. “If he had the presence of mind to dress, it’s more than likely he wasn’t under duress. If he had been snatched by someone, they would try and get off-world as soon as possible to avoid discovery. We would have been contacted by GemDiver about unauthorised or unidentified ships in the system.”

“I don’t believe my brother would walk out on his own in a strange environment, knowing the risks,” Tash said vehemently. Deep down, she tasted the half-truth in her statement. But she refused to let it near the surface of her thoughts, knowing that Jaina would pick up on it and use it to bolster her argument.

Jaina didn’t respond but she did turn around to walk back the way she came. Tash got the impression that she was expected to follow, so she fell into step behind the other girl and followed her in silence until they reached the lift tubes in the north-western corner of the level.

They waited in silence until a lift arrived and they had stepped inside. Tash turned to face Jaina as she slapped the descent button on the control panel next to the door, and the lift began its descent.

“I know my brother, Jaina,” she said convincingly. “He wouldn’t just walk off in a place like this.” Jaina gave her a sympathetic look that she read as uncertain disagreement. There was doubt in her theory, but Tash was too polite to seize on that.

“Maybe … maybe not,” Jaina said.

The lift opened again and they stepped out onto the third level and proceeded south down the corridor between student and mentor quarters and then turned left and into the open space in the middle of the level. They followed the wall on the western side to the door to Tash’s quarters and Jaina opened the door with a Force-nudge before they approached it so as not to hinder their momentum.

“What new theory are you about to spin,” Tash questioned.

Jaina hesitated when they stopped inside, and waited for Tash to pull a robe over her tunic before following her back out and across the space into Zak’s room.

“Jaina?”

“You say Zak wouldn’t have walked into the jungle on his own,” Jaina said plainly when they entered Zak’s room; the door had been left slightly ajar from Tash’s inspection of it earlier.

Tash sat down on the edge of the bed as Jaina stood in front of the sink, flicked the tap on for a moment and splashed water into her face. “And yet he does not appear to be on the premises, and we have not been informed about any fast-fleeing ships in the area. It stands to reason that he must have gone into the jungle. Might I be out of order in saying that he would have at least roamed the complex at such a late hour?”

“Not at all.” Tash thought about how much of a concession she could make without disproving her arguments thus far, and then she said with a frown: “Sounds exactly like the kind of thing Zak would do.”

“Then might it not stand to reason that he …” she paused. Tash looked at her, tried to probe her thoughts with her feeble Force powers, but was shut out before she could get anything. She watched Jaina shake her head and blew out an impatient sigh to urge the other girl to continue. “Perhaps he did such a thing. Perhaps even to the degree that he would even go to the hangar and maybe the courtyard … just for a little fresh air,” she added hastily, seeing the mounting dislike on Tash’s face.

“Maybe,” Tash conceded.

“And maybe he didn’t go any further than that on his own steam?” Jaina pressed.

“Kidnapped?” Tash shot up from the bed, now face to face with the other. “Here? Under Luke’s protection? Hardly likely, don’t you think? Especially considering you have now twice pointed out that GemDiver would have warned us about any fleeing star ships or shuttles.”

“Hardly, but not impossible,” another voice said from the doorway.

Tash shifted her gaze just enough to look over Jaina’s shoulder to see her twin, Jacen, leaning against Zak’s doorway with his brows furrowed.

“Hey Jaina, how many Corellians does it take to change a glow panel?”

“Jacen!” Jaina hissed at him. “This really isn’t the time for bad jokes, okay?”

“Whoa, whoa,” Jacen said, holding his hands up in surrender. “I was just trying to lighten the mood a little. Sorry.” He paused, and Tash saw his expression change to one more serious. “If he was kidnapped, then the kidnappers may have chosen to hide out in a thick, but shuttle-accessible, part of the jungle until the moon was on the far side of Yavin from GemDiver. Then they could launch and pass themselves off as a regular shuttle outbound from the station.”

“That’s … actually likely,” Jaina said with a frown. Tash mirrored the other girl’s expression more because she hoped that it wasn’t the actual scenario they were dealing with.

“But it’s a false assumption, nonetheless,” Jacen added flippantly.

“You have something?” Jaina said.

“Yes … and no,” Jacen admitted.

“What is it?” Tash asked quickly. She didn’t like the tone or the look on his face. While true that she had not known the Solos very long, she was familiar with many looks and, for the most part, they looked the same on most people, and meant the same.

“Internal sensors mapped Zak’s trek through the grounds. He left his room a little after midnight, and made a beeline straight for the courtyard. He paced around for a bit, and then started back inside,” Jacen said. “

“If he started back and didn’tmake it back, how does that not automatically implicate a kidnapping?” Jaina said impatiently.

“Because the external sensors picked up another life form,” Jacen said. “Whoever they were, they were in the jungle, but just outside of the range of the internal sensors. It seemed to be pacing him from beyond the tree line. Zak must have picked them up with his ears, or eyes, or something, because he then turned and followed it.”

Tash chewed over this information in her mind. She had been wrong. Zak had taken off, but not for the reasons that Jaina and Jacen had postulated. He’d found something and gone to investigate. Now, it seemed, whoever—

Wait.

Whoever?

As if reading her thoughts, Jacen Solo blinked and redirected his gaze to his twin sister. “Jaina,” he said softly, “the life form that the sensors picked up in the jungle—it was human.”

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