1To the readers/reviewers: Yes, I know, I'm the worst updater ever. I really have no legitimate excuse for being this late, and most (if not all) of my original readers have likely forgotten all about me and moved on. Still, I truly do like this story, and so help me, I will finish it eventually. There's just one more chapter to go after this, folks, so enjoy the ride while it lasts, and thanks for reading.

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The Wayside

By Gan Xingba

Chapter Nine

The inside of the Blue Bombshell is no less modified than the outside. Even though it has been less than a minute after our newly formed pseudo-Jedi coalition has taken to the stars in the vessel, I have already spotted six pieces of non-standard equipment crammed into various nooks and crannies all over the ship. I am positive that five of them are illegal enhancements, and I am only somewhat unsure of the sixth one because it had a tarp over it that read "Warning: It Bites" in sloppy red handwriting. Everyone has scattered to various parts of the ship to rest or otherwise occupy themselves, with Mission, Atton and I left in the cockpit. Mission to pilot the ship, myself standing ready to pull rank on any zealous Republic authorities that decide to be a nuisance, and Atton presumably because he himself is a pilot.

"This certainly is some ship. These modifications must have cost a fortune," Atton says from his position in the copilot's chair. "Not to mention I have no idea how you could land this thing without every badge polishing authority on the planet flocking to you."

"I have a lot of friends in high places. Low ones, too," answers Mission with a smug smirk. "That, and skill. Lots and lots of skill."

"The questionable ethics of this vessel aside, where exactly is our destination?" I query, taking advantage of the relative silence Atton's chuckle provides.

Mission turns around in the chair and gives me a look that seems somewhere between disappointment and skepticism. Clearly, she wanted to enjoy her gloating for a little while longer, which explains the disappointment. The skepticism is a bit harder to explain though. I shift uncomfortably under the look, having let my normal guard down now that the "mission" is complete. Still, even without being prepared I can handle most looks like this. This Twi'lek must play a lot of pazaak.

"Huh, I would have thought Bastila would have told her wonder-kid the whole plan," she says dryly before turning back to the ship's controls. "We're going to Kashyyyk."

Bastila's "wonder-kid?" It would figure. Bastila never really intended to give me much of a choice in the matter of my training. As I noticed earlier, she is not the type to take no for an answer. Then again, I seem to have been leaning towards accepting her offer myself. Perhaps she is not trying to make me choose the path of the Jedi so much as she simply knows that it is the path I am destined to take. Of course, I could simply be reading into the comment too much, but I doubt it. Force sensitive, expertly trained intelligence agents tend to have good intuition about this sort of thing.

"Wait, wait, wait, Kashyyyk? The Wookiee planet?" asks Atton. "The Jedi we're meeting are Wookies?"

"Not exactly, but you'll get your fair share of Wookiees, don't worry," replies Mission after a small laugh. "Okay, here we go. Hyperspace in three, two…"

As Mission utters the word "one", her hand pushes the hyperspace lever down completely and the stars turn into lines of light as the Blue Bombshell enters hyperspace. Pressing a few more buttons, ostensibly to put the ship on autopilot, Mission yawns loudly and props her feet up on the console. I don't need to be told that Kashyyyk is a ling way from the core, and that means I suddenly have a lot free time on my hands. Offering a brief farewell to Mission and Atton, I leave two alone in the cockpit to discuss starship upgrades, pazaak, or whatever else it is that spacers talk about. That's not to say they aren't good people, even if Atton strikes me as a bit brazen, but it will be a long flight to Kashyyyk if that's all I hear about.

Now that I am free to speak to Vagus' crew as I please, I ought to find out exactly what has happened to Vagus. First, however, I ought to clear my head with some meditation. I've been put through quite mental swoop track lately, and it would do me some good to give my mind some well deserved rest for a while. As I head to the back of the ship to search for a suitable place for this, I pass the Zabrak, Bao-Dur, hunched over a workbench. He seems to be working on some sort of spherical piece of equipment, and it looks to be nearly complete. In fact, I daresay he's building a tiny little droid. Well, I guess that answers where his cybernetic arm came from.

Continuing onward, I eventually find the cargo hold. There are stack of crates scattered in a seemingly random pattern across the hold, the lighting is dim, and there is hardly a sound aside from the thrumming of the Bombshell's engines. It's perfect. Making my way to the back of the hold, I sit down with my legs crossed and hold my out to my sides in a relaxed posture. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath, and when I exhale, I allow my mind to slip into the void. The sound of the engine is gone. The cold metal I am sitting on is gone. All that is here is me and my thoughts.

No…wait. There is something else, but what…ah, of course. It's the Force. I haven't felt it while meditating for a long time, and the last time I remember it being present, it had been incredibly weak. Thanks to Bastila, though, it feels stronger than ever. I cannot help but reach out with my mind and touch it, for it is too beautiful not to. Instantly, I can see the world again, but it is different, like back on Coruscant, but more precise. I can feel all the presences on the ship with ease. Bastila, the strongest presence, is in a room on the starboard side. Mission, the weakest presence as she is the only non-Jedi, is still in the cockpit, and another presence is sitting in the same spot as Bao-Dur had been. Suddenly, my attention I focused on another presence, one that is approaching my location in the cargo hold. Puzzling, why would anyone come back here?

Immediately, I cut off my meditation and open my eyes just in time to see the unnamed Echani woman walk through the hold's entryway, looking somewhat startled as she notices me here. It's a tad odd that she didn't simply sense me here, but then again she would have no reason to be actively feeling out the ship with the Force on a ship full of allies.

"Oh, I'm interrupting," she says quietly before starting to turn back and leave. "I'll find somewhere else…"

"No, no, it's fine. I assure you, there is plenty of cargo hold for the both of us if you wish to use the space," I interject, not wanting to seem rude. "However, I am curious to know what it is you came back here to do."

"Training," the Echani deadpans after giving a small nod of thanks.

Well, she's certainly a cheerful person. She has a very clipped and rigid walk that I notice as she heads to the far corner of the cargo hold, although it seems a little forced. I had best not pry further, though. I do not wish for any hostilities. Especially if I beco-gah! No, not now, I can't think about that yet, I have to clear my mind. With this purpose I sink back into my meditation. At least, that is what I try to do, for after a moment I hear the snap-hiss of not one, but two lightsabers being activated. After a moment of trying, and failing miserably, to focus as I hear them whir through the air, curiosity gets the better of me.

I open my eyes ever so slightly and glance in the direction o the Echani woman. She is indeed in possession of two glowing, yellow lightsabers. While I have heard of a select few Jedi being able to wield two lightsabers effectively, I have never actually seen the sight up until now. It's rather stunning how much power she seems to be able to generate behind each strike even with just one hand. I suppose this is part of the fabled martial skill of the Echani, who are supposed to be almost unmatched in close combat. I guess that was one lesson Vagus did not need to teach. Suddenly, she comes to an abrupt halt. Closing my eyes, I hurriedly try to pretend I hadn't been watching and reenter my meditation. Calm...calm...depression-wait, depression? I have no reason to feel depressed. In fact, I don't even feel depressed myself. Yet for some reason, the feeling just popped into my head. Where did it come from?

I feel a small tug at my mind all of a sudden, almost as if someone is trying to answer my question. I follow it as it guides my senses, and immediately I have my answer. It is the Echani. I know meditation heightens a Jedi's Force senses, but to think that I could actually feel her emotions already is a little hard to swallow. After all, I can't sense anyone else's emotions. Perhaps her emotions are just so strong that even a novice like myself can feel them. If that is the case, then I really should offer some counsel, or at least an ear. It is the proper thing to do.

"Is there something wrong, miss?" I ask. "You seem troubled."

"So, you are a Jedi after all," the Echani replies, giving me a less than thrilled glance. "I had my doubts after I heard about your meeting with Atton and Mira."

That hardly sounded flattering. She sounds like she is trying to call me incompetent. I'll just assume that she worded that poorly. Besides, she might just be trying to change the subject. I don't really want to pry too much, but this may have something to do with Vagus' disappearance. If that is the case, then I absolutely must know about it.

"Well, I'm not really a Jedi, just Force sensitive. However, that's more than enough to sense the kind of emotion that you're emitting," I reply with a small smile in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere a little.

"Really?" she says quietly and shifts her gaze downward "Is it really that obvious?"

Well, that certainly backfired. Time for damage control.

"Ah...actually, I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been meditating. Normally, I don't need the Force at all for that sort of thing. I am a Republic Intelligence agent, after all," I add somewhat hastily. "If you do not wish to talk about it..."

"No, it's fine," interjects the Echani before giving me small, almost microscopic smile. "Besides, with the kind of curiosity you are emitting, you'd find a way to ask, anyway."

I smile at her again, although this time it is more out of embarrassment. The task of both sensing other people's emotions with the Force while hiding my own is a difficult thing to master, it seems. At any rate, I'm sure she is wondering what exactly is behind my curiosity. I should offer an explanation, albeit an amended version.

"I apologize if I seem overeager, but I know Vagus from a long time ago..." I start before diverging from the entire truth somewhat. "I suppose I feel an obligation to help his companions in his absence."

"I see," the Echani says slowly glancing at me a moment before leaning against a wall on the opposite side of the room from myself. "I'm afraid that you can do little good. What troubles me, what troubles us all, is the fact that he absent."

There is a long silence. I suppose that should have been more obvious to me. Vagus has always been a quite the dynamic presence. Remove him from a situation, and it can sometimes be akin to draining it of life. That was the power of his charisma.

"He and I, we sparred," the Echani says, breaking the silence. "It's not a normal thing to do, spar with someone who is not Echani, I mean. Yet, when I sparred with him, I felt more at home than sparring with my own sisters. Now…it just doesn't feel right to train without him here. I understand why he chose to leave, he said that he was needed to fight a great evil, and he had to do it alone, but…I can't help being selfish and wishing he was here instead."

Fighting a great evil? I suppose that's reason enough for such a departure to the Unknown Regions, but even so it seems odd. Even if it was true, how could he possibly know about this evil? Perhaps it was connected to Revan's disappearance, and they were both called to fight this evil. That's it, as soon as I am able, I need to read up on the Unknown Regions. Maybe the Jedi library would have something…

Suddenly, I realize how the Echani was speaking and not just the words she was saying. Simply the tone of her voice, carrying that "why in the name of the Force am I saying this?" quality, indicated something odd. In fact, it seems like she's opening up to me. While I'm used to getting people to do that on missions to gather information, I sometimes accidentally trigger it when I'm off duty. As I take a closer look at her, it becomes obvious that this has happened again. Her hands, steady before, look almost fidgety, and her cheeks carry the lightest shade of red I have ever seen. Suddenly, I put two and two together: the way she is acting, how she said she was "wishing he was here" and that she "felt at home" with him all make the answer painfully obvious. My word, this is Vagus'…that is to say she and he…and that would mean…oh dear.

I feel my jaw drop slightly and my eyes widen. The Echani must have noticed, because her blush immediately moves to much more detectable levels. She mutters some unintelligible farewell and makes to leave. Cursing inwardly, I rise and take a light hold of her wrist to stop her.

"Wait, it's okay, there's no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed," I say hastily, causing her to pause her exit to regard me. "To be perfectly honest, I didn't simply know Vagus from before. You could say that I was a fan of his, actually. Some might describe it as a sort of 'hero worship' situation, I guess."

"You worshipped him?" asks the Echani, now fairly puzzled. "You mean you viewed him as some kind of god?"

"Heavens, no!" I amend immediately, though I can't help but laugh. "No, that just means I looked up to him very much. I saw him as a hero, you see?"

The Echani nods slowly in understanding, and pulls her hand away from mine. However, she no longer seems intent on escaping the conversation. In fact, I think she is giving me anther one of those tiny smiles.

"Well, it is nice to know someone who understands me about these...matters," says the Echani before offering a small bow. "Thank you for the conversation, Mical. I feel a little more a ease now."

"It was my pleasure, Miss…?" I reply, realizing that I still have not found out her name.

"Brianna," she replies after a moment's hesitation. "My name is Brianna."

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Brianna," I say with a polite bow. "Perhaps we shall find more time to converse in the future."

Brianna nods and exits the cargo hold, leaving me all alone. It is the strangest thing, though. For some reason, I feel strangely complete after that conversation, as though two different threads of fate have combined into one. Perhaps my presence here is indeed the will of the Force, as though even if the universe were a different place, I would have always ended up here, having that conversation with Brianna in the cargo hold.

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"Now, boys and girls, if you look out the nearest viewport you'll see the lovely planet of Kashyyyk, home of the seven-foot tall balls of fur, the biggest trees in the galaxy and several species of insects that will can bite your head clean off…"

If I ever set foot on this ship again, I swear my ancestors' graves that I will find a way to disable the intercom. Mission, while certainly a good person and normally a pleasure to be around, has some kind of addiction to announcing things over the ship's intercom. Towards the end of the flight, it became an almost hourly affair under the guise of an updated ETA that inevitably became either a rather juvenile joke or just a long string of irrelevant fluff. So, instead of looking out a viewport to get a view of the planet, I instead opt to go wait in the area by the ship's exit ramp, almost in defiance Mission's abuse of the intercom.

I find that I am not the only one with such an idea, as Bastila, Bao-Dur and Visas are all already seated there. I find an empty seat and sit silently down, noting that all three of them seem to be concentrating on something else other than the present. That, unfortunately, has been the norm for Bastila in particular during the flight. In fact, now that I think about it, she seems to have been avoiding a personal conversation with me. It seems I did not give her enough credit. She really is letting me make my own decision about my future. She will ask me about it soon, though, since this whole affair is soon coming to an end, but by that time, I believe, I will be fully ready to give it.

It takes us another few minutes to reach the surface of Kashyyyk, or more likely somewhere in the trees above its surface. The actual surface is supposedly quite dangerous, so I'd assume one would avoid putting a ship there. Not surprisingly, another intercom announcement accompanies every stage of the landing. I try my best to block them out.

"We have a welcoming comitee, it seems," Bao-Dur remarks as he moves to lower the exit ramp. "Some more of our young captain's friends, Lady Shan?"

"Yes, some old comrades in arms, you might say," Bastila replies. "In fact, you'll find that the Wookies as a whole are stout allies of the Jedi due to our last trip here during the Jedi Civil War. Of course, if you want stories, you'd be better off asking your other senior Jedi."

Bastila's statement leaves me curious, but not for long. Having already reached out with my senses after Bao-Dur's comment, I felt two strong presences in the Force outside the ship, with one of them being particularly impressive, perhaps as strong as Bastila. As the exit ramp lowers and me and my new comrades walk exit the Bombshell, I look around to try and see just who this person is. My curiosity is quickly satisfied, as I find my attention drawn strangely away from the elaborately decorated Wookies, one of whom is carrying a large blade on his back, and towards and elderly, dark skinned human in Jedi robes. He is standing net to a younger, much lighter skinned human male, but I pay that one no heed.

I recognize that face. It's someone famous, someone I have studied frequently, but the name is escaping me…my word, it's Jolee Bindo! The one and only Jedi Master Jolee Bindo is standing right there. Hero of the Exar Kun War, famous vigilante of the outer rim and one of the more powerful wielders of the Force in recent memory…I should say hello. No, no, that would make me look like some weird fan. Well, technically I am a fan, but I'm not weird. Maybe Bastila will introduce me or…

Suddenly, I find myself pushed aside as a blue streak bursts down the exit ramp and collides with the Wookie possessing the sword, much to my dismay. The Wookie, of course, is totally unfazed, letting out what sounds like a slightly amused, bear like sound

"Of course you missed me, Big Z. You're so lost without me," Mission says as she finally lets the Wookie out of her hug as the Wookie lets out a rumbling growl. "Oh, you know it's true. It looks like you figure out how to put that cute jewelry on without me, though." Another growl, "Yes, yes, ancestral chieftain whatever. It still looks adorable."

"Some things never change, do they?" says Jolee with a warm smile as he approaches Bastila.

"And it's good that they don't, especially when they're as amusing as this," returns Bastila with equal warmth before turning to Vagus' former crew and I. "Everyone, this is Jedi Master Jolee Bindo, and his apprentice Dustil Onasi, they are the other Jedi I mentioned earlier. The Wookie trying to prevent his hair from being braided over there is Zalbaar, chieftain of the Wookie tribes in this region."

Onasi? As in Admiral Carth Onasi? This is certainly turning into a star studded occasion. I had no idea that the Admiral even had a son, much less a son that was a Jedi, and he happens to be training under a legendary Jedi Master. Remarkable. Not only that, but being on such good terms with the Wookies here is equally unbelievable, both in terms of actual probability and good fortune. With such powerful friends on a fairly unknown and uncivilized planet with so much life on it, this is an ideal safe house for the rebuilding Jedi Order.

"So, that means they're all…good Wookies, right? No homicidal ones?" Mira says somewhat nervously, much to my surprise.

Odd, what has her so spooked? She has seemed like a pretty tough woman to me, ever since she threatened me with a blaster. Dustil, apparently, is more amused than perplexed, letting out a laugh at the comment.

"Don't worry, it's like Bastila said, they're all on are side. After all, Mission has known Zalbaar for years," he says assuredly, before a blue fist appears out of nowhere and smacks him in the shoulder.

"Didn't stop you from being scared when you saw Big Z for the first time, Mr. Big Tough Jedi Manly-Man," she teases with a wink, causing Dustil to chuckle somewhat nervously and hold back a blush.

"Save your flirting for when we get back to the village so I don't have to hum songs in my head to block it out," chimes in Jolee rather bluntly, causing stifled laughter throughout the party as the offending parties turn red with embarrassment. "AS for the rest of you, you can bug me with your life stories over dinner."

It's a good thing I didn't introduce myself to Jolee earlier. He's not only as strong as the tales say, but just as grumpy. Maybe grumpier.