Luke followed the Master down the tube linking the Jinx to the Fleet Command ship and past a file of Rebel troopers pushing empty cargo sledges in the other direction. They emerged into a spacious loading bay. A constant stream of Rebel troopers entered through another port with loaded sledges. Two meter tall pinheaded utility droids took off the supplies and placed the containers on flatbed cars running along a rail that looped through the compartment. Sylkie presided over operations from a tall stool with an electronic manifest in one tiny hand and a silver chromed protocol droid at her side. Suddenly a cargo loader stumbled and dropped the container it was carrying heavily onto a flatbed.
"Hey, careful there!" the Erewhon cried.
The droid turned toward her and emitted a stream of sharp bleeps.
"8D16 says he is very sorry and it won't happen again." the protocol droid interpreted in a mellifluous feminine voice.
The Sylkie gave her aide a look of open skepticism and Luke silently agreed with her, If that was an apology he was a Jawa.
"Sylkie is our cargo officer." Dai-Men explained.
"On the rare occasions we have a cargo." she grumbled. "Much less get paid for it!"
"Now, Sylkie, we had a paying charter just last month. We can't have run out of credits quite yet - and we'll get a load of Spice out of this trip."
"If we survive it!" she snapped.
"You wanted to come." He shot back and steered Luke through a hatchway.
The cargo section of the Jinx consisted of three open decks of stacked hexagonal holds, each large enough to dock the Falcon and maybe a couple of X-wings to boot, held in a web of bare metal struts and beams. Grilled catwalks ran from prow to stern and cage-like lifts linked the levels. Loaded flatbeds trundled along rails on their way to the holds.
Luke followed the Master sternward. "You really carry cargo?"
Dai-Men gave him a slidelong look from under slightly arched brows. "That's how I make my living. I'm not a desert hermit, Luke, I need credit to run the Jinx."
"Yeah - but Spice smuggling?"
"Spice has licit uses. I don't sell to the likes of Jabba the Hutt."
A massive machine casing dotted with circuit boards caught Luke's eye and he stopped for a better look, then turned to stare at his master in astonishment. "An Ion turbine?"
"Part of the Jinx's starboard manoeuvring engine." Dai-Men explained and smiled down at him, "We've made a few modifications over the years."
Luke tried to hide his skepticism. It would take a lot of modifications to make this behemoth combat worthy. He reminded himself to have faith.
The Master, reading his Padawan's mind with his usual accuracy, hid a smile.
A tiny personnel lift, barely big enough for the two of them, gave onto a gantry overlooking a hanger bay almost as big as the one on the flagship. The aged A-Wing from Had Abaddon was parked at the far end between an Imperial Shuttle - and could that be a TIE fighter?
Luke blinked, took another look. Not just a Tie but one of the Empire's elite X-1 fighters with hyperdrive and cruiser rated shielding. He stared incredulously up at his Master. "Where -?"
"Hok system. It's a long story."
A green R-2 unit was plugged into the hanger control's main console. The red chromed 3PO droid sitting next to it stood up as they entered.
"Artoo-Deenine, Jay Threepio, this is Jedi Skywalker."
Jedi Skywalker! It gave Luke a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach, like the first time somebody had called him 'commander'.
"Are we ready to bring the Y-wings onboard?" Dai-Men continued.
"All set, Master." Jay Threepio had an Outer Rim twang quite unlike Cee Threepio's fussy Core Worlds' accent. The R-2 unit bleeped briskly. "Engaging containment field and opening outer doors, now." his counterpart translated.
"Rogue Leader to Rogue Two," Luke said into his comlink, "bring them on in, Wedge."
The six Y-wings fit easily with a bit to spare. Climbing down the gantry ladder to the hanger floor Luke found his second, helmet under arm, staring at the TIE.
"That can't be an X-1!" Wedge exclaimed.
"Sure looks like one to me." Luke answered.
"How'd he get it?"
Luke shrugged. "No idea. Master says it's a long story."
By now the other pilots had gathered round. "You think he'd mind if I had a look?" Dix wanted to know, fingers working as if already taking system boards apart.
"Just be sure to put it back together again." Luke warned.
"'Course I will....wouldn't mind a look at that A-wing either..." he moved towards the ships as if drawn by some magnetic force.
"Keep an eye on him, Cind." Wedge ordered.
Dix's wingmate grinned and hurried after the obsessed mechanic.
"I guess we'll camp in here with the ships." Wedge continued to Luke.
"If you like." the pilots jumped and stared at Dai-Men, who'd somehow magically materialized among them. "But I think you'll find the living quarters more comfortable."
Luke laughed. "Master, there's no way we're going to fit twelve pilots into those little cabins."
Dai-Men looked at him in mild surprise. "I didn't mean the flight deck. The Jinx was a Neimoidian trader the crew quarters are scaled for the Drones who worked the ship. The Merchants' quarters are rather larger.
His Master, Luke reflected, had a genius for understatement. The elevator doors opened onto a compartment easily twice the size of the entire flight deck with gracefully vaulted ceiling and panoramic ports on either side. It was empty except for a sculpture made up of gently rotating interlocking rings in the center of the deck which was covered by a springy gray, glistening matting.
"We use this as a training room." Dai-Men explained and led them through a pair of double doors. "This is the main hold."
It was as large as the first compartment and fitted out with a galley, banks of storage lockers and a long table surrounded by mismatched chairs. A sunken area in a corner looked to be a holo theatre.
Yet another pair of doors led to a wide corridor with more doors, two to a side, opening off it. The Master opened the first on the left and led them into a cabin about a third the size of the main hold with the ubiquitous panoramic ports on one wall and a workbench against another. It was simply furnished with two tables, four chairs, and four computer terminals. Two sleeping cabins opened off it, each with two bunks and two lockers. A fourth room was sandwiched between them. Smaller with walls, ceiling and floor of a uniform dark gray and a single large port. This room was furnished only with a strip of matting and a low table. It took Luke a moment to recognize it as a meditation room, these quarters had been designed for Jedi. But they'd do fine for Rogue squadron.
"I thought you said you'd traveled on this ship before." Wedge whispered in his ear.
"I have but I never saw any of this." Luke answered, shooting a reproachful look at his Master.
Dai-Men returned it, the picture of innocence. "There was no need. We usually spend short jumps entirely on the flight deck."
It took a some time to move everybody up from the hanger. Dix had to be forcibly dragged away from the TIE. Wes, Alph and Wald managed to lose themselves in the cargo levels. And half the squadron kept running back down for things they'd forgotten but finally everybody was secure in their new quarters leaving Luke and Wedge free to go looking for the Master, trailed by Artoo Detoo.
The first place they looked was his quarters. The main room was furnished like the others but littered with strange artifacts and bits of disassembled machinery. Luke, remembering Ben's immaculate but equally cluttered hermitage, wondered if all Jedi Masters were packrats by nature.
The doors of the two sleeping cabins stood open. One spartanly bare, the other luxurious with silk hangings, fluffy cushions and fur throws. It wasn't hard to guess who that cabin belonged to. Xhosa, Luke recalled, had fitted out a supply hold on B deck for himself. Presumably even these quarters seemed a little cramped to the three meter tall insectoid.
After a minute's hesitation Luke knocked at the closed door of the meditation room. There was no answer but he gave in to curiousity and opened it anyway.
Dai-Men's table held two lightsabres, a dried flower, a metal jar with a gold seal on the lid, three pieces of broken crystal and a massive gemstone ring, far to large for a human hand. Luke sensed each object had a meaning - and no doubt a long story attached to it.
Returning to the main room he found Wedge and Artoo had been joined by the silver protocol droid. "Jedi Skywalker? I am TC-20, interspecies etiquette and protocol, at your service. Master Jinn requests your presence, and that of Lieutenant Antilles, on the command bridge."
After passing through the main hold, the training room and yet another pair of double doors Luke found himself facing a ninety degree arc of convex ports with the tall, rounded backs of four throne like chairs silhouetted against them.
"Ah, there you are."
He turned to see Jayce working at the consoles covering the back wall. "I see what you mean about Master keeping things to himself!"
Thin lips curled. "The Jinx is the least of it."
Luke rolled his eyes. "I used to like surprises." and followed Teecee Twenty forward.
The 'thrones' turned out to be control chairs, their wide arms jeweled with switches and buttons and glittering indicator lights. Dai-Men was seated in the center left with Sylkie curled up in the chair beyond him. He glanced up. "Have a seat.
The chairs had been scaled for beings the Master's height giving Luke the choice of perching on the edge or letting his feet dangle. He elected to follow Sylkie's example and sit cross legged. Wedge chose to stand, leaning against the back of Luke's chair.
The four thrones overlooked a curving work pit. Xhosa was stretched out prone on a long couch, his four hands tapping busily away on three consoles at once. Jay Threepio sat at another station with Artoo Deenine beside him. Artoo Detoo bleeped excitedly at the sight of the other astro-droid and whisked down the access ramp to join him. The two of them were instantly whistling and chirping away like old friends.
Luke grinned and turned his attention to a black and white R-4 unit standing between his throne and the Master's and plugged into both.
"This is Arfor-Geethree." Dai-Men introduced. "Jedi Skywalker and Lieutenant Antilles."
The droid buzzed and bleeped.
"How do you do." Tecee translated. "I am very pleased to meet you both as your pilots have substantially reduced the odds against us."
"And what are the odds?" Wedge drawled, shooting I-don't-want-to-hear-this-do-I? look at his C.O.
"One in fifty against." was the answer.
Wedge rolled his eyes.
"We've faced worse." Luke reminded him. "The Death Star for one."
Another comment from Arfor was interpreted by Tecee. "Master Dai-Men has been successful against similar odds with a regularity that defies statistical probability."
Luke was sure he detected a note of disapproval there.
"The Force has been with us," the Master said serenely, "it is with us still."
An electronic rasberry from Arfor translated into "The Force does not compute."
"I know." Dai-Men replied, much amused. Obviously an old argument and one he thoroughly enjoyed.
Jayce came forward to take the fourth chair. "All systems online, ready at your order."
The Master palmed a control. "Jinx to Fleet Control, ready for departure."
"Very well, Master Jedi." Mon Mothma's soft voice answered. "May the Force be with you."
Dai-Men's eyes crinkled into a smile. "That's supposed to be my line, Senator."
What sounded like a giggle - if you could imagine Mon Mothma giggling - was quickly followed a clearing of the throat. "I've been told there's no such thing as luck."
The Master's smile deepened. "Only the Will of the Force." he agreed. "We'll report in when we land on Kessel. Jinx out."
Note: Some of the names of Luke's squadron are taken from EU sources but as I have never read any of the Rogue Squadron books characterization is entirely my own.