Arc 2 Chapter 22
His and Hisku's ride for the mainland arrived the next afternoon, with a warning that they'd be arriving mid-morning of the same day, travelling faster than the planet rotated but in the same direction. B'skonako had a cleared area working as a rudimentary spaceport, though, with the Dove in orbit, no one was leaving atmosphere for fear of being shot down, though air-traffic was enough that they were going to jump in the back of a cargo transport that would transport goods and get in without suspicion.
The Pengalan Government was claiming that the rebellion was small, and certainly hadn't taken over the less developed continent, which meant there were a number of transports still moving back and forth, commerce continuing, the Resistance not stopping these transports, only making sure government forces weren't being brought in, while the government couldn't do the same on the mainland without the people noticing that something was off.
As their lift arrived, Jorel, waiting and meditating without obviously meditating, could feel the Presence of the passengers already on-board, their imprint in the Force faint with the exception of two, which carried a familiar feeling.
The feeling of Master Er'izma's Flock.
One was in the back, while the other was in the cockpit of the two-decked cargo-shuttle, but the Padawan pretended not to notice, hoisting his bag and walking, along with Hisku and a half-dozen others, up the ramp that extended as soon as the vehicle settled onto its landing gear. They'd only just entered the transport when a hatch to the top level opened, a vaguely familiar Nikto leaning over.
"Jorel! Hisku! How've ya been!" he smiled, demeanor completely at odds from when the Padawan had previously met the man, and currently at odds with the man's Presence in the Force, which practically simmered with annoyance. "Come on up and ride with me!" he called jovially. The others boarding with them looked at the pair, then up at the pilot in confusion. "We were on the same ship that touched down in Karnast," the Nikto explained to the Resistance members. "Haven't seen these two in weeks!"
Jorel nodded, Hisku following suite a moment later. "I haven't heard from the others, have you?" the Jedi asked, moving to the ladder and climbing up.
"A few," the member of the Flock told them. "Everyone's still alive, at least, but Skorgath took a pretty nasty hit. Had to medivac him to a hospital these guys set up." The man, whose name the Padawan realized he didn't know closed the hatch, motioning to the two co-pilot seats.
Jorel took one, running through a pre-flight check, the controls similar enough to standard shuttles that his training at the Temple was easily applied, showing everything in the green, and with more than enough fuel to make the trip a dozen times over.
Looking back to the member of the Flock, the Nikto was no longer smiling, giving the Jedi a flat look before rolling his eyes, sighing, and sitting in the pilot's seat with a muttered, "Kriffin' Paddies," that only Jorel's heightened senses picked up. Looking to Hisku, the woman seemed just as confused as the Jedi was, and neither of them said a word as the pilot flicked on the interior comms, plastering a fake smile on as he announced, "Okay, everyone! Find a seat, we're taking off, and the gyro-stabilizer's a little on the fritz, so the inertial compensator's not at one-hundred percent. I'll try not to make it a bumpy ride, but this ain't gonna be as smooth as the Cong's ships." As soon as the Nikto flicked off the microphone, the smile dropped off his face like it was oiled.
Then, in direct contrast to the man's words, the ship smoothly lifted up, retracting its landing gear, and took off for their destination, curving slightly to pass over the town they were supposed to be coming from, without a hint of turbulence.
The pilot said nothing, so neither did either they, until they were well over the water, at which point he reached over to a little plasteel rancor toy with a bobbing head, and pressed down on its skull, twisting left, right, then left again, a light coming from the 'toy's' right eye as a subtle whining sound emanated from it.
"Okay kid, we're good. Also, what the crinkin' hell were you thinkin', doing that check?" the alien demanded.
Having been practically breathing in the man's ill-feelings for twenty minutes, the sudden hostility wasn't unexpected. "I was thinking that, living on a ship after leaving the circus, I'd learn basic flight operations. Was that some kind of jammer?"
"Got an answer for everythin', don't you?" the other man sneered. "So, ya got enough intel to make the call or no?" Jorel hadn't been expecting that question, so hesitated, ignoring the Nikto's, "Well?" to figure out his answer.
"If I had to make the call, I'd say the Resistance is in the right," the Jedi slowly articulated, "But I've just seen one part of everything, just one cell. If they were how it all worked, sure, but we're going to central command, and I need to see how things are there too. And, and hear from the others, and what they've seen. The guy who got hit, is he really okay?" Jorel asked.
The pilot snorted, "You actually care?" At the flare of anger from the Jedi, the man physically flinched, the shuttle shaking a little. "Shavit, kid, calm down! Normally you Temple types don't give two Druks about grunts like us."
It was Hisku who came to his defense, "I'm not sure what gave you that impression, Sergeant Major, but that is not a fair assessment of Jorel."
"Jorel, huh?" the older man questioned disbelievingly, "Hell kid, you got an Ascendency Chiss to call you that? Maybe you're not that bad. You sure you're from the Temple?"
"I'm a Jedi, so yes," the teen replied, not understanding what the other man meant. "Now, is he okay?"
The Nikto looked at him in confusion for a second. "Oh, 'Skorgath', yeah kid, he's fine. Took the hit on purpose to check out their medical facilities. You wouldn't believe the kind of druk some people pull when someone's 'injured'. Or, hell, maybe ya would. Either way, they're supplied. Well supplied, with Bacta and everythin'" he stressed.
"But, we were having to scavenge for supplies," Jorel frowned. "And all we had was Kolto. If we'd had Bacta we wouldn't've lost as many people."
That caused the Sergeant Major to frown, "I hauled a shipment of the stuff two weeks ago. You sayin'. . . ah. Yeah kid, the Bacta didn't go to you." He sighed, "Word of warnin', don't think too hard 'bout stuff like that when I drop you off at 'home base', just gawk like a rube. Askin' too many questions like that'll get them askin' questions 'bout you. So, if ya had to make the call?"
"Support the cell I was in, but that's it. I don't know enough to say what's best for the entire planet," the Padawan reiterated, reaching out to the Force to see if it would direct him, but getting nothing definitive. "The leader's Force Sensitive, and thinks that we are too," he added.
"Kriff kid, you got found out on your first missi-, wait, both?" the older man asked, glancing over to Hisku. "Girl, what'd you do?"
"I did not miss," she replied primly. "I was not aware of the. . . effectiveness of our training."
That got a laugh from the pilot. "Most don't, 'till they've been on a few deployments. And this is what, your first?" At the Sergeant's stiff nod, he just laughed again. "Yeah, fine. Don't worry your little blue head 'bout it. It happens."
So I'm a screwup, but she gets a pass? the Padawan thought, familiar with the paradigm from his time in the Temple, but that didn't matter here. "Anything you can tell us?" he inquired.
The middle-aged man considered that. "We've got people in Central, but you won't know 'em, if you see 'em at all," he stated. "Past that, nah. Captain's orders," the Nikto said defensively, at Jorel's look. "Don't wanna 'prejudice the Padawan's assessments'," he stated mockingly, "which is orders from the General. You're supposed to be learnin', kid, and this place don't matter."
Looking past the veteran soldier to Hisku, and how she'd straightened in offense to the man's statements, the Padawan at least took comfort in that blasé attitude not being an opinion that was standard in the Flock. "What do you mean, this doesn't matter?" the Jedi asked, waving around them. "People are dying."
The pilot snorted, "Yeah, you're a paddy alright. Had me worried for a sec. Kid, people are always dyin'. If you kriff up here, so what? Wouldn't be the first time one of you did, won't be the last. Least this time, it won't be us that gets screwed. In a couple months, we'll be somewhere else, and then ya just need to do better there. Simple as."
"That is no reason not to try your best, regardless of the situation," Hisku stated reproachfully.
"And yeah, you're an Ascendency brat," the Nikto noted, not responding to her chastisement directly. "I'm just a driver, but we see things. Things you'll learn, if ya stick around, and keep your eyes open. I'd say if you took that stick outta your garbage shoot, but that don't seem to be your problem. Nah, kiddos, just do whatever you're gonna do, and keep yourselves safe. We haven't lost a Paddy, but the couple times we came close?" He let out a low whistle. "Let's just say big E is not someone you wanna frizz off, and I've heard stories that'd turn your horns grey, or hair white for ya mammals, when he gets others involved."
The Sergeant Major in disguise sighed, flicking on the autopilot and stood up, stretching. "So settle in, and relax. I fixed up the gyros in here so its smooth sailin', but that kinda skill's not somethin' a pilot like me's supposed to have, so I'd appreciate it if you seem a little frazzled when ya get out," he disclosed conspiratorially, walking over to a panel and opening it up, to reveal the interior was frosted over, several cans sitting in the ice. "'Till then, either of ya recruits want a beer?"
The beer had been really good, flavorful and savory without being overly bitter, something even Hisku grudgingly admitted after icily stating that drinking on duty was forbidden, only for the older man to point out it was almost expected for young Resistance recruits to do so. As they neared a minor spaceport, heading for an enclosed hanger, and the planet's sun only starting to reach its zenith, Jorel had asked one last question. "If I'd said yes, we should support the Resistance, or no, we shouldn't, what would you have done?"
"I'd've called for a pickup for you two, and laughed when I heard Big E took ya to task over jumpin' to conclusions," he'd smirked. "Now quit the talk. I need to turn off the jammer to use the comms."
From there they'd gotten onto speeder-trucks, the forty or so people splitting up onto three vehicles, riding alongside the supplies the shuttle had carried, to their various destinations. The other member of the Flock, someone that Jorel didn't recognize, went elsewhere as their transport drove off down the road, and through the city streets, their compartment window-less.
It was almost another hour past that when they slowed for the last time, the speeder-truck pulling into somewhere, and the backdoor opened, revealing a smiling woman. "Hello everyone, and welcome to Central Command!" she greeted. "Please follow me, and we'll get you set up!"
They all filed out, and Jorel saw they were in the driveway of an enormous manor, finely crafted stonework easily visible and at odds with the utilitarian bunker they'd previously resided in. They had their identities confirmed, and the twelve of them were split up into three groups, then led in three different directions.
Going inside, as their guide detailed where everything could be found, the Padawan thought the outer-appearances would just be a shell, but the interior was just as lavish. Maybe to fool anyone that comes in? he thought, as they passed through several rooms, and entered a larger hall, where people were working on terminals, several well-armed fighters hanging out in a corner, and, still, the place just seemed. . . ostentatious.
"This the new meat?" an older man asked, walking up with an easy stride, though something about him put Jorel at ill-ease.
From the woman's reaction, she didn't care for the man either, but kept up a happy face. "Yes, sir. I'm just showing them around before they talk to Mr. Lonlen."
The man's eyes drifted over their group, stopping on Hisku, and he smiled, but not warmly. "A good group. You, blue, come with me," he ordered the woman. "There's something you can help me with."
"Sir, I have orders from Mr. Lonlen-" their guide started to say, only to be shut up at an unhappy glance from the man.
"Dilly and I have an understanding," he reminded the woman, turning back to Hisku. "Come on, blue. I'm a busy man." Hisku glanced to Jorel, who stepped forward, but before he could say anything, the older man frowned, "You deaf, boy? I'm not talking to you. Now come with me," the man told the Jedi's attaché, "you're making a scene, and on your first day no less."
Meeting the man's annoyed gaze with a cool one of her own, the Chiss woman told him. "I'm not the one making a scene. We were told to report to Dilvax Lonlen. If you're not him, or taking us to him, I have no reason to listen to you."
Something about that angered the man, his Presence weak in the Force, but the hints of dark now unmistakable. "Who do you think you are?" the older human questioned, walking up to her. "Do you know who I am?"
Jorel wasn't sure what he should do, while Hisku just stared back. "I know you are not Dilvax Lonlen."
Which was apparently the thing that upset him, as the human stepped right up to her, looming over the woman as Jorel looked the man over for weapons, spotting a hidden blaster in one pocket, and a knife at his belt, but the man wasn't going for either. "I don't think you understand how hard I could make things go for you," he whispered to her, tone full of promised pain. "Now come with-AH!"
He reached to grab her, only for the trained member of the Flock to seize his hand, and twist it painfully away. The man went for his knife, but Hisku was faster, smacking the other man's hand to the side before he could touch it, spinning with a sweep kick and twisting, flipping the man so he landed on the plush carpeting hard, face pressed down, arm still held, and with the soldier's foot on his back.
The others stared, shocked, while the man practically squealed with pain, yelling, "Do something! Shoot her!"
The armed men in the corner belated started to stand, but Jorel moved, pulling his blaster and pointing it at them, while Hisku did the same with her free hand, directing hers at the grappled man's head.
Suddenly, the door flew open and a blond, well dressed man came striding out, demanding, "What's going on out. . ." before trailing off, taking in the scene. His eyes moved to Hisku, then Jorel, recognition in his gaze, and he groaned something too faint for the Jedi to hear, the man putting his hand on his face so trying to read his lips was impossible. This new man's Presence was only slightly stronger than those of the rank and file around them, but, straining, Jorel caught hints of aggravation and disappointment, along with the barest hint of dark amusement.
"Lonnie!" the man on the ground yelled, "This bitch attacked me out of nowhere! I, I think she's a spy! Or an assassin!"
The armed men in the corner tightened their grips on their weapons as the other people that Jorel and Hisku had walked in with pulled away from them, but the blond man, likely Dilvax Lonlen as he resembled the picture Stelog had shown the pair, just waved for the guards in the corner to sit down without looking at them, only giving them an annoyed glance when they remained standing, causing them to take their seats.
The leader of the Resistance walked over to where Hisku stood, partially atop the other man, and, with one finger, gently moved her gun away from the man's head. She hesitated, but stowed it, causing Dilvax to nod, then squat down.
"Slevath," the blond man said, with the tone one took with disobedient children, and the very stupid, "What have I said about trying to sample my people."
"I wasn't!" the older man denied, trying to move to throw Hisku off, and wincing in pain when she didn't move. "This bitch jumped me out of nowhere!"
"Slevath," the leader of the Resistance repeated, with more force, but in the same tone, "What have I said about lying to me?"
"I'm not! You know I never would!" Slevath protested. "You're believing nobodies over me?"
"Slevath," the younger man said a third time, now angry. "What have I said about reading the reports you demanded I send you?"
"They're not for me," Slevath replied, which didn't make a lot of sense.
The blond man, however, nodded, "Yeah, and I said that wasn't a reason not to. Because if you had read the reports on these two, you'd know they're married commandos, and the only reason you're not bleeding out on my nice carpet is that they didn't see you as a threat."
We're what? Jorel thought, but trying to hide his expression, as Dilvax looked up at him. "Kind of surprised you're not the one taking him down."
The Jedi shrugged, "She had it in hand."
The leader of the Resistance chuckled. "That she does. Ms. Hisku, if you could release him, I'm sure he's learned his lesson."
The Chiss woman hesitated, before letting go and taking a step back as Silvax scurried away, his eyes wide with fear, but hard with hate, both of which darkened what little Presence he had in the Force. She, however, turned away from the prone man, to focus on the blond one as he stood up straight. "Dilvax Lonlen?" she questioned, and the man smiled, nodding. "Stelog Waleye asked us to report to you."
"That sounds like him," Lonlen replied. "Let's finish this in my office. Sterala, you don't mind if I borrow these two, do you?"
"Of-Of course not," their guide quickly stated, shooting Hisku and Jorel wondering looks, obviously wondering why they merited the special treatment. "I can show you two around after?"
The Padawan smiled, "That sounds great."
Dilvax turned away and started walking, the pair following him through the door he'd burst through, which was another room full of people working on things, if smaller, then through a door in the back of that room, down a couple hallways, and finally in a richly appointed office that sat at the center-rear of the building, with large windows overlooking the grounds. "How about some refreshments?" he asked. "Tea? Caff? Water?"
"I could use some tea," Jorel replied. "It's been an interesting day."
The Resistance leader nodded, sitting at his desk and motioning to the two seats on the other side, hitting a button and requesting, "Mondala, three teas, please." He waited for them to sit, before he sighed, shaking his head. "Sorry about that. Silvax Ceavin is. . . well, he's a Twi'lek in Human skin, but he has rich friends, and while we're doing this for the people, wars aren't cheap."
Hisku gave the room slow, significant look. "You do not seem to be lacking in funds," she noted coldly.
However, rather than take offense, Lonlen laughed. "Oh, this?" he waved around them. "We didn't pay for this, it's a 'donation' from the congressional class, one they didn't have much of a choice in making, and one that is now being used by those more deserving of it. Trust me," he smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes, "if I could trade this in for more supplies, I would in an instant, but there's not many buyers for three-thousand-year-old art pieces on Pengalan, and, well, selling it off-world isn't something we can do right now."
Jorel was listening to the man, but, more than that, he was trying to read the man's Presence in the Force, which was difficult because there wasn't much of it. It might be a lacking in the Padawan's own skill with Empathy, but the man's emotions seemed. . . muted. He'd seemed angered before, but all Jorel could feel at the time was mild annoyance, and now instead of rueful regret the man almost felt bored.
Wanting to keep their new commander talking, and wanting to get some answers, the Jedi said, "I have to ask, what did Stelog write that made you think we were commandos?"
Dilvax just grinned, "That's what you're worried about, not the married part?"
The Padawan shared a look with his attaché, "I mean, we are together."
That got another laugh from the blond man. "At least you have your priorities in order! No, Waleye didn't say you were in your file, but reading the reports on what you've done?" Lonlen shrugged, "That old mercenary might believe in 'The Force', but those who are stuck in the past often have nonsensical beliefs. He looked at you two, and bought your stories of just being a smuggler and coming from 'the circus'," Dilvax smiled. "But there's a reason he's there, and I'm here. Don't worry," he added, waving as if to dismiss something, "Your secret's safe with me, but with what you two have done? You both have years of military experience, I can tell."
Sharing another look with Hisku, as they were misjudged, again, in the opposite direction, Jorel asked, not sure he was even saying this, "What about Jedi? Don't they use the Force?"
The leader of the Resistance snorted. "Come now, Jedi aren't real."
". . . I, I'm sorry. What?" the Jedi questioned, confused. "There's, like, a thousand of them on Coruscant. They have their own building and everything."
Dilvax raised a skeptical brow. "But have you ever been to their 'Hall of the Force'? Have you seen these 'special powers' they're supposed to have? Have you ever even been to Coruscant?" the man questioned, continuing before the Padawan could respond, "Of course you haven't, and neither has anyone else, not really. Oh, some traders might visit the planet, but the supposed 'Guardians of the Republic' are nothing but a lie, a trick to make us comply. Smoke, mirrors, and holonet editing."
I wonder what he'd do if I picked up his chair with Telekinesis, the Jedi thought, but pushed the urge away, slowly saying, "And the Jedi that's supposed to be helping the Congs?"
That got them another snort, this one even more derisive, and Hisku had to keep from frowning as the leader of the Resistance scoffed, "This 'General Er'izma'? The man's a fraud, and just a dog of the Senate besides. The people in 'charge' can't even keep their messaging straight! A 'Jedi General'? Who do they think they're fooling? If the Jedi are so mysterious and powerful, why would they need a battleship, and a battalion at their beck and call?"
Before his attaché, whose Presence was nearly roiling the Force around her, could do something hasty, Jorel laughed, admitting, "Yeah, I'd never heard of someone like that before either. Glad it wasn't just me. I mean, I'd heard of Jedi, who hasn't, but Knights always act alone, or with a student or something." Hisku sent him a surprised and confused look that Lonlen missed, focused on the Padawan.
"Exactly!" the Rebel leader crowed, "And if they're supposed to be so great, why are we winning?" For a moment, the man's Presence cleared, annoyance giving way to smug vindication, though that quickly faded, or perhaps was hidden. "But that's why I knew you two had to be lying. As good as you both are, you're more than you claimed. You probably were what you said, once, but now? Well, it's luck that the Congs were dumb enough to strand you here, and it's an opportunity that I'm more than willing to take advantage of."
The door behind the two of them opened, both Jorel and Hisku turning to see a red-haired woman with a tray bearing three cups and an ornate pot. None of them said anything as their drinks were poured, though the Jedi did nod in thanks, as did the soldier, the Resistance leader smiling at the woman as she left.
"You were saying how you were going to take advantage of us," the Chiss woman noted.
Putting a hand over his heart, Devlix made an expression of mock pain. "You wound me! I'm nothing like Slevath and his ilk. Trust me, once we no longer need men like that, they'll follow the Congs on the way out. I am sorry about that, by the way, I'm just glad I overheard what was going on."
And, again, there was a disconnect between the man's Presence and his displayed emotions. Where there should be worry mixed with relief, there was only a faint sense of victory that made no sense, unless. We walked through several doors to get here, and the tour was supposed to end with us meeting this man in his office. The heavy carpets, ornate carvings on the walls, and occasional tapestries would've served to disperse and mute sound. There's no way he heard what was going on all the way over there from here.
"I guess we were just lucky you were in the next room over. This place is a bit of a maze," Jorel remarked, smiling in thankful relief, but paying attention to the other man's emotions.
It was subtle but. . . there, a moment of misplaced, nonsensical annoyance, as faint as a whisper halfway across a crowded room, but Er'izma had been working with his Padawan to hear those too. It was quickly hidden, the blond man nodding, "There was a report I needed clarified quickly before I met with you all, but I'm glad I was there. Then again, I didn't get to where I was by ignoring what was around me, and taking the opportunities they presented."
And how many of those 'opportunities' have you made? the Jedi thought, remembering how Master Halrol in the Temple knew from 'the Force' that Anaïs would have a Master, because the man had spoken to the Jedi that would eventually arrive, but the Padawan had the good sense not voice his opinions, the Force nudging him away from pressing any harder on this subject. Instead, he changed directions, nodding as if what the man said wasn't suspicious in the slightest. "I get that. Stelog said we were done where he was, but there was still work to be done here?"
Dilvax Lonlan nodded. "That there is. Tell me, how do you feel about prison breaks?"