“The Wizard and the Tin Man”
Senex Sector, Mussibir II:
Mussibir II was a rustic world. It was dotted with cities, large and small, and thrived on trade. Every town and metropolis was connected by roads carved into the earth by the constant flow of hover trucks. Goods were the life lines of the populace. The climate of Mussibir II was distinctly divided into different regions. The southern badlands were bare of vegetation but rich in subterranean ores and fossil fuels. Around the equator yearly rains created a thriving belt of beautiful forests. The trees provided lumber, and the plants provided medicines. In the north was the planet’s sole ocean, a giant body of fresh water. Early industrialist capitalized on this resource by devising massive pipelines to the south. This created a small yet successful farming community who became responsible for the entire planet’s crops.
Through this complex division of communities and environments, the people of Mussibir II worked closely to provide for each other. In effect, they created a massive world market. Due to Mussibir’s self reliance, they never developed trade with outside planets and largely remained isolated and ignored by the Core.
When I stepped foot on the hard dirt pan surface of the Southlands, I realized that I had stepped into another realm of existence. A world where people never heard of Jedi, and blaster weapons were held in awe.
I was standing amid a dirt parking lot of landspeeders, bikes, old fighter craft, and shuttles. The planet’s sole flight controller recommended it. I guess there was a mechanics shop off to the side, a small refueling station, and, most importantly to the average spacer, a bar.
The outdoor landing lot was on the outer edge of one of Mussibir’s larger population centers. The town was called Daragov, and from the looks of it, was made completely out of duraplast. All the buildings had a simple yet effective design. They were cheap and provided shelter. On the Rim, that’s what counted. Thus I began walking through the lot towards town.
Along the dirt roads I peered at the buildings. Most of them had two stories and a dull blue color mired with dust. Tinted windows dotted the exteriors with simple trim work to add a little flair. Some of the homes had speeders parked at front, while the others seemed a bit more run down. As I walked further, I came upon the city’s main avenue which was lined with various colorful shops.
This area of town was much livelier. People came in and out the shops in a constant flow. There were shop stands set up along the sidewalks where vendors did business in the open. The hagglers practiced their art with a cunning skill. I admired the way both sides struggled to strike a bargain in both their interests. Jedi diplomacy went on much the same way.
Alas my search needed a starting place. But that was the problem. Most people are disinclined to provide information to people who seem intrusive. Plus I had no idea what my target looked like, nor any idea how to describe him. Asking people if they knew anyone with a lightsaber could very well draw the wrong kind of attention.
So, I blended in.
* * *
Once again I put on my boots and headed out of my room. I went down the hallway and passed the hotel’s manager at the front desk. He gave me a lurid grin that suggested he would like to get to know me better, I returned with a slight smile that revealed nothing.
Sometimes it was better to leave them guessing.
The sun hit my eyes the moment I stepped out the door. It was terrifically bright, much brighter than Coruscant. I continued to the left, walking down the city’s main street, Dara Ave, while my eyes began to adjust. I saw familiar faces, though the names were still a little hazy.
Across the street there was Flazul, a young rambunctious child who seemed to have no other desire in life but to chase his pet lizard up and down the street. His friends ran behind him, trying to keep up. The trio was always out and about from sun up to sun down. A constant fixture of the landscape.
Next I passed the creepy old man that sold vegetables from the back of his speeder truck. His prices were very cheap, but he was also very curt. As far as I can tell, no one even knows his name. They simply refer to him as the ‘old produce man.’
As I walked by I encountered Ms. Jenstel and Mrs. Rendant.
“Why hello dear, fine morning isn’t it?” Mrs. Rendant beamed with a luxurious smile that made her look years younger.
“Yes it is.” I replied.
“Well if you happen to see any lonely stranded men in need, send them my way honey.” Ms. Jenstel, a widow, shared a conspirator’s smile.
“Well if they are not to my taste I will surely do that.” We all laughed.
My morning walk had become routine. I chit chatted with some and nodded to others. And at the end I took my seat at Sal’s ‘Break and Dine’, a cozy little restaurant that was always busy. A Toydarian, a rare sight for this world, floated over to my table.
“What may I get you today, mam?” His voice was rich and well defined with a deep tone.
“I’ll have a caf and gartro eggs, toast on the side.”
“Very well mam, I’ll be right back with your caf.” And the Toydarian fluttered away into the kitchen.
From my seat I could look out the window and watch the passing traffic, but I was also able to listen in on everyone’s conversations. An old couple next to me was discussing the weather and plans for the weekend. Some men at the counter were chatting about last night’s bolo match, which, even out here on the rim, was followed with upmost scrutiny and pride. Other conversations lingered on family, some didn’t converse at all, yet others bickered about petty things.
“You know Bea, if this thing don’t get no better, I think I’ll go out and see that wizard in Trilldone. Ole Jakobs said he worked wonders on his aching back-“
It was a casually snippet of conversation. I might have paid it no mind except for the use of the term ‘wizard.’ Out here a word like that could adequately describe the work of a skilled physician or even a good mechanic, yet there was always the possibility that there was more to it. Especially since my prey, Bacillus, was somewhere on this planet.
There was no denying it. The more this quest went on, the more it turned into a hunt. However I wasn’t just hunting one target, but a whole herd that might just lead to the elusive stray. For it was the stray, Praxus, who would yield the light on Darth Skuldren’s studies and discoveries of the Krudesh rituals.
When I looked down at my table, I was surprised to see a steaming cup of caf. In my eavesdropping I’d completely blocked out the waiter’s return. The warm fluid rolled down and my brain began to churn. Should I chance a conversation with them, or head out to Trilldone and see for myself? It was an important question. Gather intel or retain the element of surprise…
Surprise is more important. If Bacillus gets word that a stranger is looking for him, he might disappear or stab me in the back. Better to get the drop on him.
The caf went down quickly and was soon followed by the greasy gartro eggs. The old couple who mentioned the wizard had already left. Their conversation failed to reveal anything else. Taking the bill, I went up to the counter. The Toydarian hovered toward the register.
“Ah, gartro eggs and caf. That’ll be 5 credits or 25 Sennex chips.”
“It’ll be credits today. Say, there wouldn’t happen to be a place where I can rent a speeder in town, is there?”
The Toydarian’s face lifted at the question. “Why Dat’s shipyard, next to the landing pad, he rents ships and speeders.”
“Don’t mention it.” A warm smile crept across his face. “But don’t hesitate to spread the word that Sal’s got the best food and service around, eh?”
“I’ll do that, Sal.”
* * *
The trip to Trilldone didn’t take that long. Dat, the mechanic, gave pretty good direction as the place was easy enough to find. On the outskirts, it looked very similar to Daragov, but without the two story houses. Just like Daragov, there was a main street that drew in all the businesses and a descent amount of foot traffic. Though I’d say the population was about half that of Daragov.
Everything looked very familiar, including the blue dusted duraplast homes, and colorful street vendors. Yet unlike Daragov, one building completely dominated the avenue, a very seedy looking cantina that took up half a block.
Despite being only a single story, the building was very large. The front of it alone was big enough for five or six shops. Yet there was only one set of doors, right in center front, with garish bright letters above the door. Eee’s.
I pulled my speeder over and parked it a block before the cantina. A man passed by, in his early thirties.
“Excuse me. But what does the sign mean by ‘Eee’s.’?” I asked with a somewhat doubtful look on my face.
The man had a short, well trimmed beard and a rugged face. His eyes lit up at my question. “Why it’s because the man who owns it is named Eee’s.” He looked at me with some interest. “I don’t think it’s someplace you’d care to enter though, miss. Eee’s deals out more than liquor. A lot of lonely men on this planet. Good business for someone with the right connections. And Eee’s isn’t one to let scruples or morals stand in his way. Most descent folk turn a blind eye to it. They’d be a bit outnumbered anyways.”
“I see. Have you ever been in there?”
He seemed stunned at my forwardness. “Why…yes, I have. It is the only cantina in town and they do have the coldest drinks around.” A genuine smile enveloped his face, though it did not hide his blushing.
“Well then, perhaps it would be better to enter such an establishment with an escort.”
Now he truly was stunned. “An escort?”
“Yes. It would be safer that way, and a bit easier on my part. I could do without some jerk asking for a number or wanting to know if I was looking for work.” I kept a stern look on my face but I could see that he was still turning the idea over.
He didn’t say anything. He just stood there quietly. Finally he broke the awkward silence. “Okay.” He was little more at ease when I flashed him a smile. “By the way, my names Duran.”
“And I’m Azel. So tell me a little about yourself Duran. Do you like it here?”
And so we talked about little things. Where we were from, whether we had siblings, simple things. I managed to keep from mentioning the Jedi, but more or less stuck to the truth. I just left certain things out. Big things.
By the time we walked through the doors of Eee’s, I no longer felt like me and Duran were complete strangers. We knew enough about each other to seem like a casual couple. I’d even put my arm through his to push the idea a little farther. I hadn’t quite thought out what I was doing to Duran. That would come about later.
When we walked through the doors, the thick smell of stale beer hit me like a wet, sour blanket. It was very dark inside and the only lighting was provided by flashing, strobing neon stage lights. There were dancers there, all scantily clad or completely bare. I paid them little mind. Instead I followed Duran to the bar where he promptly ordered a drink. The bartender, a rather young looking human, quickly filled up a mug and plopped it down.
Duran pulled out two credits and slid them across the bar’s wood polished counter. On closer inspection I realized that it was only duraplast made to look like wood. I hopped up on one of the bar stools and let my legs dangle down.
“What would you like, Azel?” Duran asked very politely, a stroke of confidence appeared. It was a rather striking quality that I hadn’t noticed before.
“Ooo, how about a Tarisian ale.”
“One Tarisian ale coming right up.” The youthful bartender perused through the wide assortment of bottles stacked against the mirrored wall. He took a glass and poured in three different substances of varying quantities. After a quick mix and slushing of ice, he placed the colorful concoction on the bar.
The glass was cold but the liquid went down warmly with a small sweet twist that glowed on the tongue.
The barkeep checked to make sure it was to my liking before stating the price. “Fifteen credits, mam.”
I pulled out the credits and dropped them into his hand, then turned to glance at Duran. He was being very careful not to look over at the stage. I almost thought to tell him it was alright, we weren’t really a couple after all, but it felt rude. Instead I asked about the wizard.
“This might seem odd, but have you ever heard of a man people refer to as a wizard?”
Duran seemed delighted to have something to focus on. “Yeah. Guy lives at the end of town, last shop on the main drag. Repair shop. He can repair any being whether mechanical or flesh.” He made it sound like a jingle. “Sorry, kind of corny but that is the store’s sales pitch. Mussibir might be a long ways off from the Core but we have quite a few droids on planet. Most of them are rather outdated and nearly impossible to fix. Especially since the replacement parts don’t even exist anymore. But somehow Bacil can take them things apart and find a way around it. I’ve never seen a droid he can’t fix, or a person for that matter. He’s about the only doctor we have on this side of the planet.”
“You sound like you know him.” I took another long sip from the ale. I’d have to be careful with it though, it was as potent as it was refreshing.
Putting his mug down, Duran nodded to the bartender for another. “I work for him. Been there for five years now. Though Bacil's been there longer than that. Would you like to meet him? He’s a great guy. Can do wonders with stuff. “
I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. “That would be wonderful!”
We both smiled, though for different reasons. As we finished off our drinks, Duran became uncomfortable again. I could tell it wasn’t the sort of atmosphere he wanted to bring a lady into.
“You know Azel, we actually had pretty poor timing. Eee’s runs the dancers during the day but in about a half hour they’ll pull them out and the band will come on. They’re usually some good gigs, all local groups, but they play long into the night. Lot of people come in to listen to the music and dance.”
I listened to the words and began picking up on where they were going. He wanted to show me a good time, and maybe I deserved to give him the chance. But now was definitely not the best time to be in here.
“All right. Is there somewhere else we can burn up some time until the band starts?” For a second I thought I might have been giving all the wrong signals.
He drained the last few gulps of his mug and rose from his seat in a quick, fluid motion. “Certainly. We can check out some of the shops or we can catch a bite to eat. The band doesn’t start till six.”
So we walked out, leaving the lonely men and lurid dancers behind. The shops were nice. They were small but had wide selections of odds and ends. There was hand crafted jewelry and clothes for special occasions. Duran stuck by my side most of the time but I lost him once he caught a glimpse of some blasters in the display case. By the time I was done looking in that shop, I had to practically drag him away from the case. Outside the sun was setting and I was surprised at just how quickly time was passing. Perhaps the trip in the speeder was longer than I thought. Time does fly when you’re moving fast.
“Look there.” Duran pointed over to the backside of the cantina. “That’s the band. They’re moving in their gear. We can probably head on over now, unless you’re hungry.”
My stomach was still a little queasy from the greasy gartro eggs, and the Tarisian ale hadn’t helped much. A little food might settle it down. “Let’s grab a bite to eat first.”
* * *
After some stir fried nerf and greens, we headed over to Eee’s. The place was really picking up now. A crowd was already lined up outside, and the noise from the band could be heard out on the street. There were lots of people, most of them younger, and quite a few couples. As we waited in line, I tried to think back to the last time I did something fun for myself. Nothing came to mind.
Is that what it means to be a Jedi? To live without a life of your own. No attachments, not even to yourself. “Or reality.”
“What was that?” Duran had to raise his voice over the noise of the crowd. “I couldn’t hear you.”
I couldn’t believe I muttered the words out loud. Or that I even thought them. Yet they were true. “Oh, nothing. Is it always this busy?”
“Yep.” His smile was now a regular thing. “When we get in, do you want to sit near the band, the bar, or somewhere in the middle?”
“Toward the band.” I noticed I was smiling too. It felt good to get out, away from Coruscant and the Order.
When we got inside, the place was a constant motion of bodies. A third of the people were dancing, another third heading toward the bar for drinks, and the rest heading back with drinks. Things were a little quieter along the sides where all the tables were. Everyone was enjoying the music and their drinks, some were even playing some Pazaak.
Duran led me toward a table in the front and to the right of the band. It was fairly close but there were already two people seated there. Duran immediately bent down and gave the one man a hug.
“Hey man, looks like it’s going to be a good night. These guys were in here last month and tore the place apart.” Duran turned back and introduced me. “This is Azel. She’s from Coruscant. We were in here earlier but it was bad timing, ya’ know.”
We took seats across from the two men whom Duran seemed to be friends with.
“Glad to meet you, Azel.” The man nodded his head and raised his glass. He was wearing a thin tan shirt that showed off his muscular frame. He had a burly brown coat draped on the chair behind him.
“Odd thing is she’s looking for you. I figured you’d be in here tonight.” Duran‘s smile deflated a little as his friend grew quiet.
Meanwhile my brain was racing and by pulse was picking up. This was Bacillus. One of the apprentices of the Sith Lord Darth Skuldren. A survivor of the Battle of Kajji. A Sith.
“Tell me Azel, why would you be looking for me? Are you sick? Have a droid that needs work?” Bacillus was calm but his face was one of careful observation. I could tell he was watching me closely, waiting for any hint that I posed a threat. I noticed one of his hands was not on the table.
“Actually I wanted to talk to you about an old friend. I’m trying to reconnect some old ties.” I tried to diffuse the situation with a cheerful face, always keeping both hands where he could see them.
For some reason Bacillus dropped the discussion. Instead he plastered on a smile and nudged Duran. “Best be careful picking up strange women.” Duran smiled back, I could see some of the tension washing off as the conversation became more lighthearted.
Everyone seemed to be easing their guards, though in reality none of us were. That’s when I noticed that the other man at the table was gone.
Stang! Stupid, stupid, stupid!
I cursed myself for being so lax. I should have never focused my attention so closely on Bacillus that I lost sight of everything else. That other guy could have easily got the drop on me. In fact, it was probably the reason Bacillus let things go the way they did. He had complete advantage of the situation.
Then the other man returned with a tray full of drinks. It was a good cover for his absence.
He’s a droid!
It was odd that the realization hit me so sharply. Droids were commonplace in the galaxy, especially on Coruscant. Even here on Mussibir I’d seen a few. But there was something different about this one. He looked like a droid. Nothing stood out visibly. He simply felt different. He felt…human.
Bacillus was looking at me. “Azel, I’d like you to meet Cadius.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you madam.” Cadius reached across the table and gently took my hand. He gave it a very simply squeeze, a gesture of greeting, then returned his metallic hand back to his glass. Then he took a big swig, chugging the entire thing, wiped the foam from his metallic mouth and began nursing a second glass.
Two things shocked me. First the droids extremely human actions. The very movements themselves were surreally lifelike. Secondly, he was drinking alcohol. He was actually consuming a beverage.
My shock must have been apparent because even Duran was looking at me now. “Something wrong Azel?”
“No. No I’m fine.” I glanced away from the droid, Cadius.
Duran didn’t let it go. “Don’t worry. Cadius gets that a lot. Took me awhile at first too.” He put his hand on top of mine on the table. “You see Cadius isn’t a droid. He’s a sentient being, really. Only he’s made of metals and composites. He can even eat food to replenish his systems.”
“You created him?” I was looking straight at Bacillus.
“Yes, but I don’t own him. He’s free. He has his own will.” I could sense the pride in Bacillus’ words. I had to admit that if what he said was true, and if Cadius was what I was thinking, then he had every right to be.
Cadius was alive in the Force.
The rest of the evening went much more smoothly. The band was very good, and after a few drinks I found myself dancing the rest of the night with Duran. Bacillus and Cadius ended up in a heated game of Pazaak with a half dozen other players. One of the locals, a man named Big Jym, ended up taking the pot. By the time the band was finished, it was early morning and I was exhausted and, though I felt somewhat ashamed for it, buzzed.
Duran walked me out once the crowd started thinning.
I woke the next morning on a very comfortable bed. When I rose, I found myself tangled in the sheets. Almost instantly my brain snapped to and slung my head around to look at the other side of the bed.
It was empty.
Feeling a little groggy, I tried to think back to what happened in between the moment I arrived in Duran’s house and the moment I fell asleep. It was blurry.
The smell of bacon brought the thoughts to an end. It smelt heavenly. Flipping off the sheets and disentangling them from my legs, I noticed that my clothes were still on. Essentially, that was a good sign. I got up and stretched, then mossied down the hall and into the kitchen. Duran was hovering near the stove busy flipping strips of roba bacon. I took a seat at the table in the kitchen.
“Morning. Hope you like your bacon burnt.”
“Is there any other way?” I joked. To my surprise Duran had a glass of juice already poured for me. We ate breakfast quietly. I found my mind racing about thoughts, not quite sure about most of them.
“So, did you want to drop by the shop today? Bacil will be there.” Duran was cleaning up the dishes.
“If it’s no trouble?” I tried to be diplomatic. I was feeling torn. Part of me felt like I was using Duran just to meet Bacillus. Which was true. But another part of me liked Duran and didn’t want to hurt him.
“No trouble at all. Actually I have to go in. I have to work today, but my hours are pretty informal.” Duran finished up then went to grab his coat.
* * *
Bacillus’ shop was just like all the other buildings in that it was made of simple, cheap duraplast and coated with dust. But outside his shop were two droid like statues guarding the entrance. In between them they held a sign, “Bacil’s Repairs and Remedies.” Two tinted windows adorned the front, along with a simple solid door.
However the inside of the shop was alive.
There were dozens upon dozens of machines roaming around the shop. Most of them were small, tiny little things scurrying around, some of them carrying tools. Others were half-sized, about a meter tall. Six were full size but extremely different in appearance, each with a very unique look. In the center of all the commotion, Bacillus stood tall and motionless. He was tinkering on some sort of robotic limb.
“Bacil.” Duran called out, his voice barely audible over the droning sound of the machines.
Yet Bacillus heard him quite clearly, his head rose up ever so slowly. “Ahh, the young lady returns.” He put down the piece he was working on. “Come, let’s talk in the back. Duran, why don’t you see if you can get Lombo’s arms working correctly.” Bacillus opened a door leading into a back room, he held it open for me.
The back room was quiet. There were no droids back here, only parts and a long workbench. Bacillus took a seat on a stool.
“So you wanted to talk about an old friend…Skuldren. Why are the Jedi interested in him?” He kept his eyes leveled on me.
His bluntness put me off guard. It didn’t help any that the poor lighting cast an eerie shadow on Bacillus. It made him appear sinister. “I’ve been studying his holocron-“
“Holocron.” Bacillus blurted out. “Skuldren made a holocron?”
“And you’ve been studying it. To what end?”
“The Krudesh Rituals.”
“Ahh. Krudesh.” He shifted on his stool. “But why do you come to me? Skuldren knew more about the Krudesh than I did. Surely the holocron could tell you everything you need to know.”
“It has shown me some, but I feel there is more. I spoke with Xenon, he led me here. I was hoping you could point me towards Praxus-“
He sat there as unmovable as stone. I could feel the determination flowing off him in the Force. It was a subject that he would not speak of, not even under the threat of death. “Why. Why does everyone lock down when I mention his name?” I was desperate. If Xenon and Bacillus wouldn’t speak of him, then Adder probably wouldn’t either. I was getting nowhere fast.
He let out a long breath, his eyes turned to the floor. “Praxus was Skuldren’s apprentice. Mind you, we all served under Skuldren, he was our teacher, but Praxus was the one he groomed to succeed him. When Skuldren died, Praxus took his place. At that point, his real mission began. That mission is what I cannot speak of, and if I tell you where Praxus is, it will put the mission in jeopardy.”
“I see. So you won’t help me?”
“Look, you’re a Jedi. But you’re not the usual strike first ask questions later type. That’s why you’re still alive. If you want to learn something about making droids, I can show you. I can talk about the past, but Praxus is off limits.” He crossed his arms to iterate his point.
I didn’t know what to think at that point. There was no changing his mood, none that I could think of. Yet worse off was that I didn’t know where to go from here. Dejectedly I sat down on a crate and let out a sigh of exasperation. Bacillus actually looked like he was sorry for not being able to help me.
Then Cadius came in. “Sir, there’s a situation.”
Bacil shot up in his seat. “What is it?”
Bacillus jumped to his feet and hurried over to a locker. He pulled out a bandoleer and two rifles, tossing one to Cadius. He tucked a couple blasters in his belt and turned to face me. “Do you have your lightsaber?” I nodded my head yes. “Good. Come with us, you can help.”
I didn’t argue. What point was there? It was my job as a Jedi to help those in need.
Bacillus grabbed Duran, handed him a blaster, then we all piled out the back into a speeder. Cadius took the controls and instantly floored the accelerator. As Cadius aimed the speeder out into the vast flat plains, he began spurting out the facts.
“Tam Fermby made a distress call about 30 seconds before I entered the shop. A large group of slavers showed up in Ginsberg. The town was cordoned off systematically and resistors were shot. Fermby estimates six killed, 15 wounded. He mentioned a heavy gun and a large ship plus speeder bikes. Maybe 30 or 40 slavers, well armed.” His voice would have been perfectly human like except for the calmness in his speech.
Yet Bacillus seemed equally calm. “You should jump out before we hit town, I’ll circle us around so we can hit them from the other direction.” He turned around to look at Duran. “It’ll be just like last time, Durrie. Shoot from cover, move to cover, and keep moving. Don’t worry about me…or Azel.” He paused for a moment, his eyes hovered on me, then he said it. “She’s a Jedi.”
Duran didn’t say a word. Nor did he look at me. His attention staid on Bacillus for a second, then he looked back out at the zooming landscape. It was very quiet after that. The buzzing of the speeder filled the void but no one spoke.
“How far is the town?” I asked.
“Ten more minutes.” Bacillus propped his rifle on the dash, and adjusted himself in his seat.
Then Duran broke his silence. “My parents were captured by slavers.”
When I looked over at him, his eyes looked into mine, yet they had that faraway look in them. I could tell that the words were hard for him to say. He was struggling with them.
“The slavers, they come here regularly, raiding the towns. They take everyone who they don’t shoot. Out here the Republic’s law doesn’t reach, and no one bothers to interfere. We try and resist. Each town has a militia, but we don’t have the money for proper guns. The slavers always have the upper hand. Though sometimes the people fight anyways. They always die.”
I didn’t know what to say. No words that I could think of would hold any merit.
Duran continued. “When I was eight, I watched the slavers take my parents. I managed to hide and my father told me to stay. They knew it was better for me to stay behind, even if I was alone, rather than get caught. The thing was there was a Jedi there. He was in town getting supplies for some archaeological dig off in the south. When the slavers arrived, he went over and…talked to them. From where I was hiding, I could hear them. The chief slaver told the Jedi that this was out of his jurisdiction and that this was perfectly legal in this part of space. It was the law, he said. And the Jedi-“ Duran laughed coldly, “-the Jedi just nodded his head in agreement. He stood by and let the slavers take them. All of them. When they were all gone, I came out and approached the Jedi. He was surprised to see me. He tried to say something, he was probably going to say something comforting. Maybe even offer to take me with him, but instead I kicked him, hard in the shin. I was only eight so it really didn’t hurt him. After that I ran away.” He stopped and turned his head forward, looking past Bacillus’ shoulder.
There was nothing I could say. The next ten minutes were even quieter than before. What Duran said unsettled me and there was nothing I could do about it. He would always hate the Jedi, not for what they did, but for what they didn’t.
“Okay Cadius, better jump out now. I’ll take over.” As Cadius leaped out of the vehicle, rifle in hand, Bacillus slid over and took control.
It took about 20 seconds to reach the edge of town. That’s when it started.
Screeching blaster bolts zoomed out toward us from a dozen different directions. The slavers were spread out along the perimeter of the city and their fields of fire were pouring into us. Bacillus pushed the speeder faster, edging closer towards the buildings, then snapped the vehicle sideways into a power slide. We jumped out and took cover to one side, while the bolts pounded into the other.
Bacillus propped the rifle on top of the speeder’s driver door and rapidly emptied the entire clip.
Pop, pop, pop…
It was a staccato rhythm, steady and blunt. I watched as each shot hit its mark, taking out some hidden shooter among the buildings. After ten shots, he pulled back, again taking cover.
“Duran, take this.” He handed the rifle over and drew two blaster pistols. “Good luck.”
And with that, he charge out from the cover of the speeder and blitzed across the ground toward the buildings. Swarms of blaster bolts trailed behind him, the shooters struggled to keep a lead. He was just running too fast for them to keep up with. In three seconds, he made it to cover.
I stood behind the car with Duran with two choices. I could stay and try to protect him, or I could charge out and help Bacillus. At the time, I remembered and old adage that always rang true to me. The best defense is a good offense. And so I ran.
Bolts sizzled by and my lightsaber was a blur. I acted without thought, purely on reflex. If a bolt was close enough, a bounced it back at the shooter. Otherwise I ignored them and pushed on. In five seconds I was there, right at the foot of the buildings. My heart was pounding in my chest. I instantly began scanning for targets. From the ground I couldn’t see anything, so I jumped up on a rooftop.
As I somersaulted through the air and landed on the solid duraplast sheet, two wide eyes stared back at me. The eyes belonged to a face, a human face, but the face tilted sideways, then rolled upside down and right side up before it hit the floor. The sweep of my blue shimmering blade was short and precise. I didn’t stop, the world before me kept spinning as I circled for another threat. I found there was no shortage of them.
On the building next to me was a pair of brawny Gotals. Each had massive concussion rifles and was still taking pop shots at Duran. I took two strides and leaped over to their position. My arm drew back in a continual, fluid motion then recoiled forward, slicing through one of the sharpshooters. His buddy looked over in shock, stunned by the carnage. The severed Gotal was curled up into two balls. One cradled around his rifle, the other around his boots. The blue blade snapped back and took the other one’s life as well. His rifle clanged off the roof as it fell to the ground.
The blaster fire was easing up now. I looked down into the street and saw a blur running by. It darted into an alley and was followed by blaster shots and a scream. Then there were more shots two streets over. I began hopping, building to building, to get a better look.
This town had two major roads that intersected in the middle. That was where the slavers landed their freighter. A large band of men were gathered around it, most of them crouched down in firing positions. Carefully I edged my way closer to them, sticking to the rooftops but maintaining a low profile.
Then Bacillus came walking down the street, a blaster in one hand, a round looking object in the other. With an overly dramatic motion, he tossed the object toward the group of slavers. It fell well short of them with a sickly thud but continued to roll forward. When it stopped, I realized that it was the head of an Arkanian.
The other slavers wasted a valuable handful of seconds gazing at their buddy’s severed head, a tortured expression still plastered on his face. Bacillus poured blaster fire into them. Their stunned expressions followed them all the way to the ground as they dropped dead, one by one.
It was like watching an athlete who was in the zone. Bacillus led every shot true, each striking a target cleanly in the forehead. His left arm would rise up, a bolt would scream out of his gun and slap into the head of a Rodian. Then the right hand came up, another bolt, and a human fell to the ground dead. Two more humans tried to return fire, but a pair of blaster bolts seared into their heads simultaneously.
On the other end of town I heard an explosion, a cloud of thick black smoke rose into the air. When I looked back toward Bacillus, he was gone. But the sound of blaster fire on board the ship told me everything I needed to know. I jumped down to join him.
* * *
Inside the slaver’s ship, it was dark and smelled of ozone. The stench of blaster fire permeated the air, leaving a thin haze of smoke clinging to the ceiling. I followed the sound of pinging bolts blasting into the interior walls of the ship. Bodies littered the floor, each with Bacillus’ telltale mark on his forehead. The consistency was unnerving. I’d never seen what someone skilled in the Force could do with a blaster before. The next corner I rounded led to the cabin. It was empty. The shots had also halted. Stretching out with the Force, I searched for Bacillus.
His dark radiance burned like a hot, white light. Its purpose bled death.
I ran down a parallel hallway and stopped short as I saw Bacillus in a side room. A shivering old man, with a long braided beard cowered before him. The man was adorned in sparkling jewelry and numerous bands of gold. His clothes were richly ornate and his features were trim and shallow. He looked up at Bacillus with trembling watery eyes. His teeth were actually chattering from the fear.
“How long have you done this?” Bacillus asked, his voice perfectly calm.
The man’s jaw sagged open, “Please, please don’t kill me. I have money-“
“Money is not what I want. What I want is a simple answer.” He waited.
As I watched this episode, I realized that Bacillus no longer had his blasters but a bulky looking lightsaber hilt. It was odd in that another cylinder was attached below it with an irregular sized hand guard.
This time the slaver captain drew a breath to gather his courage. “Twenty nine years.”
“Twenty-nine-years.” Bacillus repeated the words with marked emphasis. “Do you know how many slaves you’ve shipped out in all those years?” He put the strange lightsaber under the man’s jaw.
“I don, do, don’t kno-know. Maybe a couple thousand. May-maybe more.” He was shaking terribly.
Bacillus eased the lightsaber away. “Thousands.” He spoke it like a death sentence.
Now I could see that Bacillus had gotten what he wanted. I tried to intervene, but the slaver captain moved first. He knew as well as I did that his life was forfeit. He drew a dagger and lunged forward. The strange lightsaber crackled in a burst of electricity. It shot a ball of energy out that slammed the slaver backward, sending him tumbling head over foot until he bounced off the wall from the impact. Curls of smoke rolled off his chest where the deadly blast had hit him. It left a charred crater in his ornate clothing.
“So, Jedi, do you extinguish your blade or does this continue?” Bacillus stared at me with cold emotionless brown eyes.
My lightsaber was still humming in my right hand. He waited for me to strike, but I didn’t. Finally he got tired and simply walked off, though he never dropped his guard. I simply stood there looking at the smoldering corpse of the dead slaver. It wasn’t quite a cold hearted execution, yet it was close.
* * *
Later we all met outside. All of the slavers were dead. The townspeople were released from the cages in the ship’s cargo hold and they gathered to congratulate Bacillus, Cadius, and Duran. I stayed aloof from the crowd, still uncomfortable with what happened. Duran and Cadius helped the people gather up the slaver’s weapons and people began returning to their homes. A few stayed behind to clean up the bodies.
A hand fell softly on my shoulder. I’d felt him coming from behind me, but the gesture still startled me.
“You did well today. You acted for others, and not for yourself. You helped people.” Bacillus tried to make the words sound comforting.
“You didn’t have to kill him. What benefit did it prove to execute him like that?” I was irritated and cranky, and my words were bitter and heated.
He wasn’t fazed one bit. “Justice. Justice that your Order has failed to deliver. The Jedi concern themselves with Coruscant and the Core. They think that by holding a balance there it will carry out into the rest of the galaxy but they are wrong. Their ignorance only allows misery to fester and spread until its poison runs so deep that no one can do anything about it. That is what my master tried to put a stop to. That is why we pursued the arts of Krudesh, and that is what Praxus is doing now.” He returned my anger right back at me. He was just as agitated as I was, only for different reasons.
I bit back defiantly, “Well maybe I want to something too!”
Bacillus stood towering over me while I sat cross-legged in the dirt. I could tell his mind was chewing away on something. “Do you?” He watched me closely. “You said you had Skuldren’s holocron. Do you have it with you?”
I pulled it out of a pouch on my belt. The archaic looking cube had conical points on its sides, the gleaming black metal shined in the light. I held it up in my palm, gesturing for Bacillus to take it. Tentatively he reached down and picked it up. Studying the patterns, it took him a few moments to activate it, but when it did, a small holo image of Darth Skuldren appeared above the holocron.
Its voice was humble. “What knowledge do you seek Bacillus?”
“You recognize me?”
“Why of course. My memories are imprinted into this device. What I knew of you, I still retain.” Darth Skuldren’s ghostly image must have been haunting for Bacillus.
“This Jedi says she wants to do something. She wants to make a difference. From what memories you retain, would you’ve have trusted her?” Bacillus was struggling with himself. He wanted to ask his master if he should let me into his confidence, but he wasn’t sure he could let a device make such a decision for him. Yet of all the people in the galaxy, Bacillus knew what a person could create with the entrappings of mechanics. He himself worked miracles with droids. Perhaps his master was able to work a miracle with his holocron.
The blue spectral image stared up at Bacillus. “My apprentice, I hold far more than memories, though this form limits me from the great power I once held. Most of me has died and gone, but a shred lives on as this. What I have seen from this Jedi is a being eager to do what is right. One who is not constrained by the corruption that so elusively destroys most Force users. There is much she will accomplish for us. Test her if you must or seek your heart, but one thing I will not do is give you the answer. You are far too smart for that…” There were several garbled words then the image faded.
Bacillus stared at the device, he tore his attention from it and looked at me. “I can’t tell you where Praxus is, nor what work it was that I did for him…but Darth Adder can. Do you know where to find him?”
I nodded my head yes.
“Well he won’t be hard to find there. In order to help earn his trust, I’m going to send Cadius with you. Adder will then know that you have my trust, that should be a start. Praxus keeps in touch with him. He’ll know how to meet him.”
I rose to my feet, trying to contain my excitement. “Thank you.” Bacillus returned a slight smile and handed the holocron back. His eyes lingered on it for a few seconds, then he turned away and walked back toward Cadius.
Everything was coming together. Once again the Force was leading me in a direction. I didn’t know what direction it was, or even if it was the right direction, but at least I was getting somewhere.
Besides, how can the Force lead me wrong? Don’t the masters always say to trust in the Force?
* * *
The next day I stood by the rampart of my ship as Bacillus and Duran said goodbye to me and Cadius. The bronze colored droid carried three large bags with him, two in each arm and one on his back. He shared a few hushed words with Bacillus then strode on board the shuttle. Afterwards Bacillus approached me first.
“Tell Adder that he’s not the only one having all the fun. And if the crazy old Dokken is still alive, let him know that he still owes Cadius. He’s been bugging me ever since about the debt.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I locked away the information nevertheless. It would probably make more sense when I met them.
“Well be careful in the Katarri Sector, Wild Space is fairly untamed territory. I hope your luck holds, maybe we’ll meet again.” He lowered his voice a few decibels, “and I think Duran would like to see you again as well.” He flashed me a smile then walked back to his speeder.
Duran was again wearing a cheerful expression. “So Azel, I guess this is it then. It was nice meeting you. I hope your stay wasn’t too terrible, with the slavers and all.”
“No. It wasn’t bad at all. And I rather enjoyed my company with you.” I smiled as his grin became a little wider, then I did something rather rash. I gave him a kiss. It lasted a moment too long but then again, it was a long time in coming.
Neither of us said anything else, we simply smiled and walked away. I turned and waved to both of them before entering the ship. They stood by their speeder and waved back. An odd pair, those two. A retired Sith refugee and a man shaped by the events of an isolated world, emboldened with a desire to help. Together they would serve this planet, fighting off the slavers, keeping the machines operating, and healing those in need. They were making a difference.
As I walked into the shuttle, the hard durasteel door sliding shut with a whoosh of air, I envied them. At that moment I realized that there were two things I wanted in life. I wanted to make a difference that would really matter and I wanted to live a life of my own.
Sitting down in the pilot’s seat next to a Sith droid, about to venture off to some strange planet to earn the trust of yet another Sith, I began to wonder where that path was leading me.
Time would tell.