Is an illegal or immoral act, committed for the greater good, inherently of the dark side?

Jedi had pondered this question since the dawn of the Order. Did the intention behind such an act matter more than the act itself?

That couldn't be the case because megalomaniacs and mass murderers had been claiming good intentions for millennia. But what of the case of the man who steals to feed his family? Or the soldier who is forced to kill in order to survive during wartime?

Kit-Sun Wolfgana, insecure Jedi Master, now wrestled with his own conscience—he was convinced it was a question of conscience, not merely something academic to be picked apart and interpreted dispassionately. It had to be felt, in the Force and in the heart.

He stood before the towering front gate of CoCo Penitentiary, shut his eyes, and took a deep, relaxing breath; the air smelled of imminent rain, an aroma he rather enjoyed for its rarity on the climate controlled city-world of Coruscant. He craned his neck, looking up at the heavy cloud cover that had rolled over the Collective Commerce District, and sighed.

Why was he a Jedi Master? His whole life, he'd been told he was wise beyond his years but he hardly felt it. He questioned everything, lacked the decisiveness of other Jedi. And here he was, about to do something the Council would never have approved of in all the history of the Republic.

But for some inexplicable reason it felt right to commit this illegal—and very probably immoral—act in the name of what he imagined to be the greater good.

Kit-Sun considered for a moment that he may face expulsion from the Jedi Order for what he was about to do. Well, he thought, they threatened Master Jinn enough times and never followed through… Even so, perhaps there could be a place for me among the Kiffar Guardians.

He laughed the thought away, as clear and carefree a sound as a ringing bell, and shook his head. He hadn't even been born on his people's homeworld, let alone felt a connection to it. But, he allowed, looking down at his hands—hands that could read the history of any object he touched—there are some connections that transcend birthplace. Everything is connected through the Force. The Kiffar, the Jedi, the Mandalorians… even the long forgotten Sith; all connected.

Calling the Force to him, Kit-Sun steeled his resolve and strode to the gate, wrapping himself in illusions.

# # #

"This stuff really stinks," muttered one of the prisoners, a bald human with a firaxan shark tattooed on his scalp, just above his right ear. His name was Torm and he'd been sent to CoCo Penitentiary for murdering his sister-in-law and nephew.

"That's how you know it's working," Qate Jularc replied. Their voices were muffled by the filter masks they wore while mopping the floor in the administration wing's office section, under the watchful eye of several prison guards. It was actually a cubicle farm; paper-thin dividers separated row after row of desks to offer the administrators a small measure of privacy from one another. The only actual office belonged to the warden.

Beneath her mask, Qate let a devilish grin spread across her face; no one but her really knew the potential flammability of the cleaning products she was spreading everywhere. She imagined the look on everybody's face with the fireworks started.

The Zabrak demolition specialist had been ferreting away a few deciliters of various solvents and solutions here and there, hiding them in her cell to use in an escape attempt. She'd worked with plenty of more sophisticated devices but using common household cleaners gave her immense satisfaction. It was their unassuming nature that she enjoyed; most sentients had no idea that they were sitting on top of a veritable powder keg in their kitchen.

She dunked her mop into the bucket and continued spreading the harsh-smelling liquid. The mixture she'd whipped up in it had roughly the same properties as napalm and would linger on the floors for several days before eventually evaporating and needing to be reapplied. The addition of another particular chemical—one she'd stashed away for later use—would ignite it, sending a firestorm flashing through the prison offices in the blink of an eye.

"What's with the bug-face?" Torm asked, nodding at Qate's Gand friend, Maalku. He stood in a corner, shoulders hunched, swiping a rag across a desk over and over again, trying to look busy.

Qate frowned. He'd been like that for a few days, ever since that Jedi, Kit-Sun, had paid her a visit. He hadn't said a word about what was bothering him either; she'd simply taken it for his usual enigmatic behavior.

Maybe he'd gotten even more preoccupied with his visions?

She shrugged her shoulders. "Won't tell me," she said. "But keep calling him that and you'll be fishing your teeth out of my mop water, ner vod." She threw in the Mando'a to remind him of what she was; the Mandalorians' reputation helped end a lot of potential fights before they started in the pen and established her as someone with no love for the Republic among the other prisoners. That alone had greased to wheels in her preparations.

Mopping her way over to Maalku, Qate nudged the findsman and asked, "What's wrong? You've been acting strange… er than usual."

Maalku's chitinous head snapped up and he fixed his large, compound eyes on her. "This Gand is sorry," he buzzed through the vocoder embedded in his breathing apparatus. "There has been much on his mind lately."

Qate stopped mopping and raised a quizzical eyebrow. "What do you mean, 'this Gand'?"

He hung his head shamefully and his nictitating membranes half lidded his eyes. "The ruetsavii came and took this Gand's name for bringing shame to his people. He is exiled from Gand."

That just confused Qate even more. "Took your name? Your name is Maalku Tekot."

"No longer." His response sounded like a dawn out electronic moan. "I—this Gand is shamed for helping Thernbee."

Now Qate frowned. "Like haran you are. What we did was right." She put a hand on his knobby insectoid shoulder. "You think anyone else would have stuck by him like we did? Gone out on a limb for him like we did?"


"And that's what makes what we did right," she hissed. "You saw what kind of shape he was in. He needed help, not prison."

His head bobbed up and down and, his voice still unsure, he said, "Yes."

"Hey!" one of the guards escorting them in the administration wing barked. "Keep working! This isn't social hour."

"Lo'shebs'ul narit, shabuir," Qate snarled at the guard and started pushing her mop around again.

Then, turning back to Maalku, who'd continued wiping down the desktop, she said, "No one can take the great things you've done away from you."

"But they have," he replied, modulating his vocoder so his voice was barely a whisper.

"No," the Zabrak insisted. "They haven't. You're supposed to be the sage one here; you figure it out."

"This Gand is shamed, thus he is not worthy of a name."

"How'd you get your name in the first place?"

"During a spiritual pilgrimage into the salt flats of Gand, this Gand rediscovered the lost tomb of Zetii Qufuu Nenydjir Qa'a, the First Findsman long revered by this Gand's people."

"That's quite a mouthful."

"You know how important names are to Gands," he shrugged. "It's only appropriate that he have no less than four.

"Eons ago, the Gand people were scattered across the land in disparate tribes, ignorant of what the mists truly held for them. King Zetii pioneered the art of reading omens in the mist, achieving a prescient understanding of the universe and foreseeing in exact detail every event that would take place over the course of his lifetime. The mists had revealed to him his life's sacred duty to locate his wayward people and raise them up onto the path of enlightenment. According to legend, after uniting all Gands across the world into a single collective nation, the great king had, at the antediluvian age of a hundred and thirty two, himself wandered out into the desert according to his vision. There he left his earthly carapace behind to become one with the mists."

Qate simply nodded. Plenty of people had their own "great king" myths.

"Inside the tomb, this Gand found the Mist Dial of Gand, the very device King Zetii had used to read the future."

"Valuable?" she asked.

"Very," he answered. "It's a solid gold disk etched with pictographs and symbolic inscriptions arranged in concentric rings about the circumference.

She let out a low whistle. "That must've been heavy."

"Oh it was." His vocoder let out several short bursts of static, an electronic chuckle. "At least thirty kilos."

Qate's eyes boggled. Thirty kilos of solid gold? Had to be a legend… or an exaggeration. Then, composing herself, she said, "That's an amazing thing you did, Maalku."

"Yes," he nodded wistfully. "It was. That's how this Gand earned his name."

"And they'll never be able take that accomplishment away from you," she said firmly.

# # #

Doctor Anakef Andin's mind raced as he tore his office apart. Patient files lay strewn across the floor, alongsidecabinet drawers ripped from their tracks and upended in his mad search.

Where is it? I can't have misplaced it!

The holodisk containing Riscan's assault on the service droid had gone missing after Detective Orsiri had viewed it. He couldn't have taken it, the psychiatrist kept telling himself, but with each passing minute, it seemed more and more likely.

Each. Passing. Minute.

Andin's head whirled around to the chrono mounted on the wall.

He was supposed to present the holorecording to the judge this afternoon, to evince that Riscan was fit only for a padded cell in his psych ward, but the blasted disk had gone missing!

I'm going to be late, he thought, horror-stricken. Frustrated, he grabbed a glowlamp from the desk and hurled it; the small luminous sphere shattered spectacularly against the wall, adding more debris to the ransacked office.

Andin turned to the small window and looked out over the blocks of uniform skyscrapers, so plain and undistinguished. This was to be the most important case of his life; he was finally to have everlasting revenge on the man who'd doomed him to this pathetic, obscure existence. But without that disk, he'd be forced to remain as those thousands of unimportant buildings out there: overlooked and unremarkable.

He balled his fists on the windowsill, then punched the transparisteel in frustration. It wasn't fair! His knuckles bounced off with barely a thud and he hissed and sucked on the abused joints, cursing under his breath.

It was no use. He'd have to go to the courthouse and try to make his case without the recording.

Andin took a moment to compose himself, adjusting his sport jacket and mopping the sweat from his brow, before grabbing his briefcase and quietly stepping out into the hall.

# # #

"Something I can do for you, Pakric?" Prefect Zarms asked.

Detective Orsiri stood before his desk in the warden's office, shoulders slouched, hands buried in his pockets. It wasn't slovenliness that affected his posture; he'd carefully orchestrated the stance as a means of keeping one hand on the concealed holodisk for safekeeping. "I need to speak with one of the prisoners," he said. Then, slightly cocking an eyebrow, he added, "Somewhat off the record."

The prefect nodded. "Who'd you have in mind?"

"Light-skinned human," Orsiri answered, "bald and bearded, with a firaxan shark tattoo on the right side of his head."

"Ah, Torm Pantrakahs." Zarms tapped a few keys on the datapad to bring up the prisoner's file. "Convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. Violent but mentally fit." He offered a code cylinder.

"Sounds about right," Orsiri said, taking it.

"I assume you don't want an escort?"

"You assume right, sir."

"Mind telling me what this is about?"

"The Riscan case." Before Zarms could question him further, the detective retreated through the office door.

Out in the administration wing, he wound his way through the maze of bland, identical cubicles. The air stank of cleaning solvents; an inmate cleaning crew must have been up here recently. Forcing air out through his nostrils, Orsiri took shallow breaths to try to avoid the acrid smell. His fingers wrapped around the holodisk in his pocket, pressing the plastoid casing into his flesh.

Torm Pantrakahs, he thought. He looked at the code cylinder in his other hand; it was half-again the length of his index finger and had "Cellblock Tau/Cell# 8311" stenciled on it. With his attention focused entirely on the object in his hand, he didn't notice the Bothan walking the other way.

"Sorry," the small, hirsute being mumbled as they collided, spinning the detective partway around. Before Orsiri could gather his wits to reply, the Bothan had already swung around one of the cubicles and was out of sight.

Shaking his head, Orsiri continued on his way.

# # #

Kit-Sun entered the prison through the staff entrance, proceeding confidently to the front desk as he held up a blank piece of flimsi. The sergeant on duty glanced up at it, then at the Jedi's face, and nodded him on before returning to his holozine.

The desk sergeant had seen an ordinary, clean-cut human male in a guard's uniform, bearing the proper credentials to gain entrance to the prison facility. It was his true talent in the Force, manipulating the perceptions of others, making them see and hear and even smell things that weren't really there.

He passed other guards making their rounds, not drawing their attention. Just act like you belong, he told himself, focusing on his false appearance.

His plan was deceptively simple. Report to the block chief that he was there to transport a prisoner to an appearance at court, show him a datapad that appeared legitimate, and then take her to his waiting transport. Simple.

But of course, the Force was seldom simple.

"You there!"

Kit-Sun froze. He turned slowly and spotted a genuine guard trotting up to him, stun baton drawn. The Jedi took a deep breath, calling on the Force, ready to act while maintaining his illusion.

"A fight's broken out in gen-pop," the approaching guard puffed. "They need everyone available down there to subdue the cons."

Kit-Sun mentally sighed in relief. "I can't," he said. "I have other orders."

"This comes from the warden," the guard protested, his brow furrowing. "All other orders are superseded. Now come on." He reached out to grab the Jedi's arm and pull him along.

Oh no, Kit-Sun thought as his hand closed around the crook of his elbow. The moment the guard made physical contact, his illusion dropped and he became a Jedi Master again.

The guard's eyes widened and he gaped in shock. He managed a surprised, "Wha—" before Kit-Sun slammed him against the duraplast wall. He slumped to the floor, unconscious, and the Jedi knelt down beside him, placing a hand over his fluttering eyes.

Forget everything you saw, he thought into the guard's mind. Kit-Sun sighed and frowned. Standing, he wondered why things never seemed to go smoothly. Then he called out to the Force and wrapped himself in illusions once more.

Eventually he found the turbolift that brought him to the cellblock he was looking for. The block chief looked up from his security monitor and asked, "Security badge and orders?"

Kit-Sun obliged with his blank flimsi and datapad. "Prisoner One-Seven-Two-Nine-Four-Alpha's being called before the judge," he said, subtly impressing the words upon the block chief.

The sergeant nodded and waved in the general direction of the cell bays. "Have fun with that one. She's been in and out of solitary the whole time she's been here."

"Great," the Jedi said, making a show of sounding dejected as he passed the security desk and made his way down the narrow row of detention cells.

# # #

Qate lay on her cot, wiling away the time. She worried about Maalku. The poor Gand had been seriously disturbed by the visit from the ruetsavii, as he called them. Meritocracy was all well and good, but to strip sentient beings of all self-worth so that they didn't even have an identity? That just sounded awful to her.

Mando'ade were hard-and-fast individualists; she figured that was why not many insectoid species had ever joined them. Even so, something had to be done about the funk Maalku had found himself in. It was more than just the loss of status; Qate knew he wasn't that petty.
Hopefully he'd take her advice and forge ahead because she was also worried about Ganhuff. They hadn't seen him once since they'd arrive at CoCo Penitentiary, not even when they'd finagled themselves a visit to the medical wing.

Suddenly the lock on her cell door clicked open, breaking the silence in the room. Qate's eyes darted to the door and she sat up as a prison guard stepped in with a broad smile on his face. What the…?

Then the guard shimmered and dissolved, replaced by the Jedi, Wolfgana, with that same broad grin spread across his tattooed features. "I'm Kit-Sun Wolfgana and I'm here to rescue you," he said enthusiastically.


He held out a pair of binders. "I don't have much time to explain," he said, dropping the cheerful façade. "Put those on, I'm going to try to get you out of here. I have a transport waiting."

She eyed the binders suspiciously. Was it a trick, one of his twisted illusion games? Or was she being taken into Jedi custody now? "Why?" she demanded.

His body shimmered and he became the prison guard again. "I need your help," he said, peering out into the corridor. "Please. I'm defying the Council to try to save lives, including Buruk's."

Qate frowned. It was probably a trick. Still, she wasn't likely to get another chance to escape as good as this one. "Alright," she said, placing her hands in the binders, making certain she disabled the locking mechanism first so she could get out of them quickly; she never much liked breaking her thumb just to escape a pair of cuffs.

Then, leaning over the refresher, she lifted the lid off the tank and slipped several hundred-milliliter bottles into her orange jumpsuit.

"What are those?" the Jedi asked.

"Just a few parting gifts for this osik'palon," she replied with a feral grin.

Wolfgana had her lead the way to the turbolift. On the way past the security desk, she turned a murderous look at the block chief, just for effect.

When the lift doors hissed shut behind them, Qate's pseudo-guard pressed the button for the prison's main floor.

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked.

"Getting us out of here?" he ventured a guess, raising his eyebrows.

"I'm not leaving without Maalku and Ganhuff."

Wolfgana frowned. Qate frowned right back at him.

"It'll strain my use of the Force to disguise all of you," he said. "I may not be able to maintain the illusion."

"That's what your lightsaber's for," she growled. "They're my friends. We leave them, you can forget about me helping you."

He sighed and reached for the control panel. "Where are they located?"

# # #

On his way to the parking garage, Andin spotted Orsiri rounding a corner, headed for the east turbolift bay. What is he doing back here? he wondered anxiously. He swallowed past a lump in his throat and glanced nervously down at his chrono.

I could try to get the holodisk back…

He turned from the garage entrance and stole after the detective. Turning the corner, Andin spotted his quarry waiting before the lifts, tapping his foot, with one hand in his pocket and looking at his chrono. The psychiatrist took a deep breath to calm his nerves and strolled cheerfully up to wait beside him.

"Good day, Detective," he said brightly. He suspected the disk was in the same pocket as his hand and he had to force himself not to stare at it. "What brings you back here so soon?"

Orsiri looked up at him and said, "Needed to talk to one of the inmates. It's for a case I'm working on."

He knows! "Might I inquire as to whom?" Casually, Andin slipped his hands into his own pockets to hide them from shaking too nervously. His right hand brushed against the plastoid stylus he used for his datapad. It was long and thin, tapered to a point at one end.

When one of the turbolift's doors parted, they stepped inside, one after the other.

"I'm afraid I can't say, Doctor," Orsiri answered as he reached for the control panel.

He definitely knows! "Are you certain? We could dredge up this miscreant's file; perhaps give you some extra leverage in wringing information out of him." He wrapped his fingers around the stylus, rubbing his thumb over its tip.

"That won't be necessary," the detective assured him. "I just have to confront him with some new evidence." He patted his hip pocket.

"Very well then," Andin breathed, and with speed born of obsession and desperation, he drove the tip of the stylus into Orsiri's throat.

The detective's eyes bulged in surprise and he gagged as blood spurted out around the thin piece of plastoid. Andin withdrew the stylus and plunged it in again, this time with more accuracy, and pierced his carotid artery. Orsiri raised his hands to ward off his attacker but his movement was sluggish, he'd already lost too much blood. He slumped against the turbolift wall and slid down to a sitting position, gurgling. At last, the light went out of his eyes and his head lolled to one side.

Andin stepped back and inspected his suit. To his great surprise, he hadn't a drop on him. He let out a shuddering laugh. Such a stroke of fortune!

The psychiatrist reached over and hit the stop button on the control panel, then knelt down beside his victim's body and pulled the holodisk from his pocket. "You shouldn't have taken it," he hissed at the corpse as he stood and inserted the disk into his datapad. The hologram shimmered to life thirty centimeters above the device.

Andin's heart stopped.

It wasn't his faked Riscan footage. It was simply an image of an armored being with a T-shaped visor giving him a rude gesture.

Andin dropped his datapad and started rifling through Orsiri's pockets, repeating the maddened search of his office on the dead man. It wasn't there. Where is it? he wondered desperately. Standing, he shrieked at the corpse, "Why don't you have it?"

Of course no answer came.

This was wrong, all wrong. There was no hope for him now, nothing he could do. The detective's body would be found and security footage would show Andin boarding the turbolift with him and exiting without him. It was all over. Doomed to a life confined in obscurity, routine, and uniformity.

It's worse than that, he realized, looking at his chrono and feeling something snap inside him. Now I'm really late.

He snorted. Ganhuff Riscan had once again ruined his life. There was only one way for him to have any sort of revenge on the bastard now. He reached over and pressed the button for the medical wing.

# # #

Qate had seen many strange things in her life and had heard of Jedi doing even stranger things than that, but nothing had prepared her for what Wolfgana had shown her outside Maalku's cell. She'd expected to have to slice the lock electronically or cut the door open completely with the lightsaber. To her surprise, the Jedi simply placed the palm of his hand over the locking mechanism, closed his eyes, and it opened as if of its own accord.

When he opened his eyes again, he looked at her and, by way of explanation, said, "Through the Force, anything is possible."

"Well, would it be possible to drop our disguises out here so he doesn't have the same reaction I did?"

"Fair enough," he said. She didn't notice any change in her own appearance but saw him revert back from his guard form as he opened the door.

Maalku sat cross-legged, facing the door, in the center of the room with his three-fingered hands folded in his lap. His nictitating membranes slid away from his multifaceted eyes and he said, "The Fox…" He peered over Wolfgana's shoulder at Qate. "And the Shepherd. This Gand never expected you to become allies."

"Come on," Qate motioned him to them. "We're getting out of here."

"This Gand cannot," he said with a shake of his chitinous head. "To escape confinement would be a greater shame."

Wolfgana actually recoiled at the Zabrak's outburst. "For the last shabla time," she roared, "your name is Maalku Tekot and you did nothing to be ashamed of!" The Gand didn't even flinch.

The Jedi cleared his throat. "Maalku," he said more gently, "I understand that you did what you did to save a friend, because you knew it was the right thing to do. I'm helping you escape so I can save my friend, even though I'm very likely going to be expelled from the Jedi Order for my actions. The consequences don't change the fact that it's the right thing. You have to look beyond the self and listen to the Force. Ganhuff still needs your help."

Maalku lowered his head and considered for a few moments. Qate could hear his mouthparts working behind his breath mask, making muted clicking sounds like an old style revolving slug thrower. At last, he looked up and said, "You speak wisely, Fox. This Gand—Maalku—should have known that. I am what I have done and what I have done is who I am; the Elders can no more take my name away from me than they can rebury King Zetii Qufuu Nenydjir Qa'a's tomb."

He picked himself up off the floor and stepped out through the door. "Come," he buzzed. "Let us rescue Thernbee and be gone from this place."

"Now you're talking," Qate said with a grin, slapping him on the back.

Wolfgana squeezed his eyes shut as he concentrated. His breath came slowly, forcefully so. It looked to Qate like casting so many different illusions simultaneously was beginning to take a toll on him.

"Tank going dry?" she asked as they piled back into the cellblock turbolift.

"Almost tapping my reserve power," he replied with a self-deprecating smile, breathing a little heavier than normal.

"Would it help if you dropped our cover while we're out of sight?"

He shook his head. "It takes less energy to maintain than to start and stop."

"A slippery slope, like teaching rutabagas to tap dance in the starlight," Maalku offered sagely. The Jedi gave him a perplexed look.

"Don't ask," Qate told him with a chuckle. "That just means he's back to normal."

# # #

Andin opened the door to Riscan's padded cell. As always, the disgraced surgeon sat in the corner with his arms hanging limply at his sides, his hazel eyes staring off into space. A neural inhibitor locked around his neck kept him subdued. He couldn't move, could barely even think, while its happy blue lights blinked away, indicating that it was functioning.

Andin smiled and pulled out the scalpel he'd taken from the medical wing's supply room along the way. It was a simple durasteel blade, with no vibro or laser technology to ensure a quick, clean cut. Riscan would die painfully.

He'd confronted Riscan with his victims for hours every day since imprisoning him here in the psychiatric ward, forced him to look at their bodies, their families and loved ones, filled his ears with stories of who they'd been and what their lives had been like before malpractice had cut their lives short.

Riscan could see and hear everything and couldn't shut it out, couldn't look away, no matter how much he might have wanted to. Andin had hoped to drive him mad.

He deserved it, he thought as he approached, scalpel in hand. He deserves to endure it forever. Too bad. Andin knelt down beside the vulnerable doctor and pressed the blade lightly against the side of Riscan's neck, looking into his dull, staring eyes.

"Dying's too good for you, after what you did," he murmured.

Behind him, the cell door hissed open and Andin rose with a start, dropping the scalpel as he turned. In the doorway were three prison guards, too men and a woman, all staring at him incredulously. He stared back in horror.

One of the male guards thrust his hand forward and the next thing Andin knew, he'd been slammed flat on his back beside Riscan, knocking the wind from him. What the…? He lay there gasping for air as the guards approached and gathered around his prisoner. Was that… the Force?

He looked over in time to see the three guards shimmer and dissolve into three entirely different beings, a Zabrak woman, human male, and a Gand.

"It's a neural inhibitor," the Zabrak was saying. "Locked on and keeping him paralyzed."

The human took out a lightsaber and ignited the blue blade with a snap-hiss. A Jedi? "I can try cutting it off," he suggested.

The Zabrak grabbed the Jedi's wrist. "No-no-no-no." She gesture with two fingers. "It's got these little prongs on the back embedded into his spinal cord. You do that and it'll shab'rud'kaysh good."

"Okay," the Jedi said, shutting down the lightsaber and setting it aside. "I'm going to pretend I understood that and say that'd be a bad thing."

"Your Jedi insight is amazing," she said dryly.

Instead of replying, the Jedi laid his hand on the device around Riscan's throat.

No, Andin thought. Can't let him get away.

The lightsaber lay within his reach. Forcing his aching body to move, he snatched it up and flicked the activation switch. Its blue blade shot out between Riscan and the Jedi, centimeters from either of them. All eyes were instantly on the psychiatrist again and he felt a surge of triumph at having gained their attention.

"I won't let him escape this time," Andin declared. "He has to pay for what he's done!" The Jedi and his companions backed slowly away and Andin stepped between them and Riscan. "You have no idea the life I've gone through because of him, the humiliation I've endured."

"What has he done to you?" the Jedi asked calmly, holding his hands up in a placating gesture.

Andin gaped at him. How could they not know? How could they not see it? Why would no one understand?

He quivered with anger, saw the tip of the lightsaber wobble before him. He forced his voice to remain low, wouldn't give them the satisfaction of becoming flustered. "I missed the most important exam of my life at university," he bit out. "They wouldn't accept late arrivals. I was forced to repeat my entire final year."

The two aliens gawked at him like idiots, uncomprehending, while the Jedi solemnly closed his eyes.

"Don't you realize how that looks on a resume?" he demanded, his voice breaking slightly. "Why do you think I ended up in this dead-end position, assessing the mental competency of lowly prisoners? No one else would hire me! I was practically blackballed; I couldn't even open my own practice! Because he made me late!"

Something clicked behind him and the Jedi's eyes snapped open. "Don't!" he cried, taking a step forward, and Andin suddenly felt something sharp stab him in the back.

He let out a startled, "Guh!" and someone supported his weight as he slowly sank to his knees. The lightsaber fell from his slack fingers and extinguished itself before it hit the padded floor.

Then, as those gentle hands eased him down on his stomach, Andin heard a familiar voice speak in his ear. "Strange, you almost can't feel it." Andin tried to move but those hands held him down, kept him immobile. "No," the voice said, "don't move. The scalpel is still in you, the blade right between the kidney and the spleen. Just a twitch, and…"

Andin expected to feel the scalpel twist in him, but the only thing he felt was a lifting of the weight holding him down. He looked up to see Riscan stumbling toward his saviors while the Jedi retrieved the fallen lightsaber. The Zabrak woman threw his arm across her shoulders and bore his weight effortlessly. Riscan looked back at him with cold, hateful eyes. "Never make enemies with a man who has expert anatomical knowledge, you petty shab'la nibral," he said. "Keep still and you shouldn't bleed out for maybe four hours."

Tears filled Andin's eyes as he watched them go. It was all over for him now. He'd lost everything. He was ruined once and for all.

No, he thought desperately. He still had a choice. Ganhuff Riscan, the man he'd hated for so many years for condemning him to this prison, had given him a way out. With a burst of effort, Andin thrashed his body about, dragging the knife in his back across vital organs. He cried out as pain shot through him, then he laid still, closed his eyes for the last time, and waited for the darkness to claim him.

# # #

Kit-Sun's reserves of the Force were empty. Now that he could no longer maintain his illusions, they were forced to fall back on Qate's cruder methods of escape. "Which way?" he asked, following behind the group, watching their backs.

"Through that wall," she pointed to the end of the corridor where it branched off at a t-junction. Except for a single window, too small for any of them to squeeze through, it was bare duracrete.

"It'll take me some time to cut through," he said.

"Don't bother," she said, reaching into her jumpsuit and extracting two bottles.

"Are you crazy?" the Jedi demanded. "You're liable to bring the whole ceiling down on our heads!"

"Never happen," Qate assured him, removing the bottle caps and securing them mouth-to-mouth with a strip of mesh tape. "That window means it's not a load-bearing wall. Trust me." She shook the two bottles so their chemicals mixed, then rolled them to the base of the wall. "Just cover your ears."

In seconds, the bottles burst, blasting a ragged hole clean through the wall, exposing twisted durasteel rebar and hurling debris in all directions. "That should get us some attention," she laughed, then jerked her thumb at the daylight pouring into the corridor. "In, in, in!"

One after the other, they climbed through the breach and emerged in the courtyard. Sirens blared and they raced across the open field. Guards opened fire from the watchtowers lining the wall ninety meters away as they ran.

Kit-Sun ignited his lightsaber and batted the blaster bolts away, drawing on reserves of the Force he didn't know were there. Behind them, more guards fired from the hole they'd blasted in the wall. He spun, giving himself over even more to the Force, surrendering his will to it entirely. It guided his hands, directing to blade so it intercepted each shot in turn, as the world slowed around him.

Someone in a tower launched teargas canisters. With a wave of his hand, Kit-Sun sent them hurling across the courtyard into the hole in the wall. That would cut off that particular lane of attack.

"I do hope you have a transport standing by," Riscan said as he stumbled along on wobbly legs while Qate continued to support him.

"Here." Kit-Sun's voice was strained as he concentrated on channeling what remained of his Force reserve into deflecting more blaster fire. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a beckon call, offering it up to one of them. Maalku took it and stabbed the button with a finger.

When they reached the wall, Kit-Sun placed himself between them and their attackers. Guards were leapfrogging across the open courtyard now, advancing tactically as they covered each other's approaches. "Get behind me, get behind me!" he ordered.

Qate set to work with the last of her chemical bombs, taping the bottled together and shaking them up before taping them directly the duracrete surface. "Ke hukaatir! Take cover!" she shouted and threw herself away from the wall, wrapping her arms around her horned head to protect it. Kit-Sun and the others did likewise before a blast, more powerful than the first, ripped through the outer wall.

Out of the sky swooped the Jedi's transport from the Temple Hangars. "Go!" he urged, dropping his lightsaber defense and sprinting for the oncoming ship. Qate took Riscan in a fireman's carry and somehow kept pace despite the added weight, while Maalku brought up the rear.

Once they were aboard, Riscan—still draped over Qate's shoulders—slapped the control to raise the boarding ramp and Kit-Sun ran for the cockpit to blast away from the prison. He could hear blaster bolts pinging ineffectually off the ship's hull as they rocketed into the air, leaving CoCo Penitentiary and eventually Coruscant far behind.

When at last they broke out of the planet's gravity well, Kit-Sun pulled back on the control and the stars stretched out before his eyes. Then, with a flicker of pseudomotion, the transport leapt forward into hyperspace.