Jedi Destiny I: Hate of the Jedi

Chapter 5


They left the academy early the next morning. After a full day searching through the sensor logs, Jacen had reported that Zak had indeed not returned to the academy grounds at any time since his disappearance. He was still in the jungle, possibly held captive by whoever it was that he had chased into it—possibly hurt.

At least she knew that he wasn’t dead. Jaina and Jacen had assured her that, while they couldn’t locate him, they did feel his presence in the Force.

Jacen had tracked Zak’s bio-signature to a point of dense growth before losing it. It was still well inside the long-range sensor sweeps, but there appeared to be some sort of localised disturbance causing nil-readings in a large area. That much spiked Tash’s suspicions. A localised sensor disruption hinted strongly at the possibility of kidnappers.

It was Jaina that suggested they go out into the jungle to look for Zak, but her twin was the one that pointed out that there was no way that their uncle, Luke Skywalker—whom Tash had once adored and worshipped for his Force abilities—would let them go out into the jungle alone. Especially when they had no idea what was causing the sensor block, and when they weren’t entirely sure of Zak’s location or even if he was being held against his will.

So the Solos had gone and told Luke Skywalker everything they knew, Tash by their side forcing herself not to show her panic, forcing herself to believe that Zak was unharmed, that they would find him, that he had simply gotten lost. It was entirely possible.

It was as if Luke Skywalker, too, remembered exactly what Zak was like. Without delay, he had led the three of them down to the hangar level and ushered them all aboard a small skiff transport. Once strapped in to the seats, he piloted it out of the hangar and over the jungle’s canopy.

It was midday when they called a temporary halt to the search—much to Tash’s dislike. The skiff had been brought down to rest on a thick, sturdy branch shooting out from one of the great Massassi trees and the four of them had broken out rations for a brief lunch before they would continue the search—Luke had given Tash his word he wouldn’t stop until they found Zak.

She believed him. He was Luke Skywalker, his word could not be called into question.

“He’s done this before,” Skywalker pointed out after taking a swig from a water bottle. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and continued. “He always came out in one piece, too. You have to remember that, Tash.”

“I’m trying to,” she said solemnly. Her own food lay untouched in her lap. Only the water bottle had been of any use to her.

She felt Jaina, sitting next to her, and Jacen, sitting opposite his sister, both staring at her, gauging her, and fought to keep the emotions raging within her from reaching her face and giving away the turmoil she felt.

Caught up in the memories of her brother, one surfaced that she didn’t necessarily want to deal with …

I looked to my brother pleadingly, but got nothing from him. The look on his face was completely blank, entirely neutral. Whatever had happened to him yesterday had shaken him to the point of silence. Anything he had to say would be left unsaid, or assumed by me. I didn’t like it.

I slipped my arm around his shoulders and led him through the open blast doors into the building, away from the heat of the open shuttle landing.

We were greeted almost immediately by our host, Fenb Peub. He was an elderly Sullustan male with dark, flabby dewflaps and hot breath that I could feel on my face even across the several feet between us. He blinked at seeing the two of us there and then stepped aside as I pushed my way past him and sat my brother down at the table in the living space.

I got down on my knees in front of him, my hands on his shoulders as I searched his face imploringly. All I could see in his eyes was horror; a cold horror that played itself over and over in his mind. I tried to read his mind to find out what it was that tormented him so, but I couldn’t. The Force was being stubborn, or otherwise respecting my brother’s desire for privacy. In either case, I was denied the access I so dearly wanted … needed … to help him.

It made me feel so sad.

Not only sad for him, but for myself. It was less than a standard day since our mysterious uncle had died. Murder, they’d told me. Zak had been found at the scene, exactly the way he was now. He refused to talk to anyone, refused to even acknowledge the presence of me, his sister, at his side, it seemed.

Fenb Peub had called in a favour at the local law office and had Zak released. I was ever-so-grateful for that. Zak wasn’t a suspect, after all, but when they realised that they stood no chance of getting something from him on their own, they allowed me to take him away.

I didn’t want to return to the unit that Uncle Hoole had rented for our stay on this miserable scorcher of a planet. It would only serve to remind me of what we had just lost; all those years under his care, come to a violent crash on a planet we thought would offer safe harbour.

Instead, I’d thought to comm. Peub and ask if he minded putting us up for a couple of days until the ship that Uncle Hoole had bought arrived and was readied for us. I wasn’t going to stay here. It wasn’t safe for the two of us anymore. And I didn’t want Zak to stay here anymore than I wanted myself to.

If Zak had witnessed Uncle Hoole’s murder, then he was going to be a target now, for he alone would be able to identify the killer. I hadn’t heard from our other new friend either. We would gladly have wanted her to be there for us through this, perhaps even take us as her charges until we were a little older. But there was nothing. Her apartment was cleaned out and she wasn’t answering her comm.

Zak suddenly twitched under my hands, and, for a moment, I thought that he was coming out of his stupor. Instead, he slumped sideways against the table and went to sleep.

I released a heavy sigh and pushed myself to my feet, turning my head to see that our host was watching us keenly, looking ready to jump up and fetch anything that Zak or I needed during this difficult time. He was a good man. I shot him a resigned look before I stepped around the chair and started to hoist my brother out of it to take him to the guest room …

Tash shook herself out of the memory to see Luke and the twins looking at her with fresh looks of worry on their faces. She hitched a smile on her face to placate them, but knew right away that it didn’t work. They were better at reading her than most people, and they were obviously no strangers to seeing underlying pain.

Tash noticed that the others had finished their lunch rations by now and that hers still lay untouched in her lap. Her water bottle was in her hand, the cap unscrewed and the water sloshing slightly as her shaking hand refused to keep a steady hold on the bottle.

Luke Skywalker scooped the rations from her lap and packed them away into the food storage container he had brought along. He let her keep the water bottle.

He released the skiff’s brake, engaged the repulsors once more, and they rose from the branch to the treetops again and began cruising over them in search of her brother.

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