Kyle Katarn: The Rise & Fall

Book 2: Birth of a Jedi

Chapter 30: The Unexpected Partner

A/N: Sorry about missing last week, everyone. Things got both busy and crazy for me, but as it might result in me rejoining the ranks of the unemployed, it wasn't so bad. Anyways, I'm back this week with the new chapter and leading up to the Refueling Station mission. I have to admit after playing the level that describing it in words is going to be a challenge. We'll see how it goes. But, for the here and now, there's plenty going on. But before that, time for the shout outs.

Nerwen Aldarion: So you did, did you? Guess that means you liked it! Y'know, I was really worried about writing this chapter being a guy and all, but maybe I do have an inner feminine side. Who knows? I'm with you on the video game store! I used to haunt those. That and movies. Believe it or not, I've never watched Fatal Attraction, although I know the general plot. So, are you saying I've created someone even worse than Blaze? I like emotional stuff, as long as it not overdone or fakey. Hey, the author appreciates his fans, how could I do any less? Yes, Wineglass is joining the cadre! I'm imagining y'all using a mouse droid with a hidden video camera! Don't worry, I'll let Kyle be okay for a while.

Tinuviel Undomiel: For real? I had no idea that I had written it like that. Touching my inner feminine side, I guess. Yeah, I had this real clear vision of how things looked. You'll get to find out why Kyle sensed Jan's pain in this chapter. Crushed? Naw, just happy you liked it! I'm envisioning Jan as kind of breaking her shell a little and allowing others inside. Yeah, once Jan figures it out, Kyle may have to consider using Force Speed to get away!

Ovall Aocrog: I get what you're saying. I honestly had no idea I was writing in the "girly" style. You might like this chapter more than the last one. Y'know, I had another character named Blaze that was universally hated. I think Vinial might top her! Like your plan for dealing with Vinial, slow and painful! Those three getting close to Jan is something I've done cause I see Jan as having been close to no one before and now is letting people in, but it still isn't easy for her.

Phygmalion: I love it! But I think we oughta add a nail gun and then use her as a piñata. Y'know, you made me realize that a number of incidents back when I was "younger" are having an influence on my writing. I'm glad you had your friends and the Lord. You're never alone with Him. Oh yeah, the Sith Brothers battle is gonna be a major one, especially when you seen what I've done in this chapter. Thanks for the info on them. Hope your DC trip goes well! I grew up near there in a city called McLean, DC was kinda like my backyard!

Manus Dei: Hmm, might work except I'd be nervous about giving them Force powers. I have a suspicion they'd be tempted to mis-use them. Oh yeah, Jan and Kyle are so gonna get caught in time. As for Wee Gee, you'll see him in this chapter.

A/N: Well, after reading the reviews, I can see that I've got more of a feminine side in me than I realized. Fan guy or fan girl? You decide. Seriously, I'm glad the last chapter went over well. Looking forward to your reviews on this one!


New Republic Command Ship Intrepid

Sickbay

Two Days Later

"No."

"Doc, c'mon…"

"I said no, Kyle."

"I'm not looking to run a marathon here, Doc. I just want to get up for a while."

"And I told you that you need to rest a bit more. Your injuries are nearly healed, but they need at least another day before its safe for you to go traipsing about."

"Traipsing about?" Kyle repeated, "Jeez, Doc, I'm not trying…"

"Kyle," Berth said with a tired sigh, "the discussion is over. No walking until tomorrow at the earliest."

Seeing that he was losing ground fast, the operative capitulated.

"Okay, Doc. It's just that I'm getting sick of lying here is all."

"I can understand that," Berth said, "I think you spend more time here than on duty."

"Oh thanks!" Kyle exclaimed, "That helps!"

The doctor laughed. "Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, Kyle. Now, I'm not letting you get up just yet, but you can have visitors, all right?"

"I suppose," the operative said sullenly.

The doctor chuckled. "Actually, Luke has been asking after you."

"He has? Did he say why?"

The doctor shook his head. "I'll call and let him know he can come."

"Thanks," Kyle said, "and Doc, when he gets here, can I just for a little bit…?"

Berth shook his head.

"I see. Well thanks anyway."

"No problem. I'll see you later."

As the doctor departed, Kyle leaned back against the upraised portion of the bed. He was glad to hear Luke wanted to see him. He had questions to ask his teacher. But more so than that, he wondered why there hadn't been at least one message from Jan. Berth had told him she was all right and back on duty, so why no call? The operative surprised himself with just how badly he wanted to see her. There was no doubt in his mind that she'd turn up sooner or later. But not hearing from her, especially given what had happened…

Maybe I should call her instead. Knowing Jan, she might be waiting on purpose, teach me a lesson or something.

Minutes passed as the operative contemplated the idea. He was just about to press his call button and ask to use a communicator when he heard Berth's voice greet someone.

"You can go right in," the doctor said.

"Thank you."

Footsteps approached his bed and a moment later, the curtain slid aside to reveal Luke Skywalker.

"Hello, Kyle. How are you?"

"Better, looking forward to getting out of here."

"I can believe that."

"I'm glad you're here, Luke. I need to ask you some things."

The black-suited Jedi moved forward and with his one free arm, Kyle reached out and shook hands warmly with the Jedi, a greeting of friends.

Retrieving a chair, Luke took a seat by the bed.

"I'll do my best to answer whatever I can. And then there's something I want to go over with you."

Kyle nodded. "To begin with, what happened the other night?"

"You mean with Jan?"

"Yes. I heard her, Luke. I heard her scream, but I have no idea how."

The Jedi smiled and nodded. "Believe it or not, Kyle, that's a sign that your powers are growing."

"Huh?"

"Master Obi-Wan told me once that the Force is everywhere, that it surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together," Luke said, "part of being a Jedi is awareness of currents in the Force, particularly disturbances in it."

"Wait a minute," Kyle said, "do you mean that what happened that night was a disturbance in the Force? And I sensed it?"

"Exactly," Luke said, "although it's uncommon for non-Force sensitive people, sometimes they can create a disturbance in the Force in extreme circumstances. Jan was so overwrought that her emotions affected the Force itself. Your awareness of it allowed you to feel the disturbance."

"But I didn't understand what it was at first."

Luke smiled knowingly and nodded. "That's actually quite normal as well, Kyle. When the Death Star destroyed Alderaan, I can remember Master Obi-Wan physically reacting. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me he had felt a great disturbance in the Force, but he didn't know precisely what had happened. It wasn't until our arrival in the Alderaan system that he knew for sure."

"So how did I…" Kyle said, voice trailing off as he sought for the next word.

"Proximity, I'd guess," Luke replied, "Jan wasn't that far away, and so you sensed both the disturbance and the cause behind it."

"I think I understand," Kyle said, "and now here's the question you probably don't want to answer. What happened to Jan?"

Luke looked uncomfortable. "You're right. I don't want to answer that, but you'll know in time, so I might as well tell you."

The Jedi went on to explain the scene in Jan's quarters and what had happened afterwards. He watched as Kyle's eyes went wide and the blood seemed to drain from his face. When the story was finished, neither man said anything for a time.

"Oh, Jan," Kyle whispered, "I'm so sorry. I should've been there. This is my fault, I…"

Luke cut him off. "You're wrong, Kyle. What happened is not your fault."

"But Luke, I…"

"Kyle; there is no way you could have anticipated what happened. Vinial … well, I didn't know her, but from the reports I've seen, she was a deeply disturbed person. Perhaps if that had been identified earlier, steps could have been taken. But you are in no way responsible for her actions."

The operative wanted to protest, but Luke's words were spoken so sincerely that he could not ignore them. And the more he thought about it; Kyle realized his teacher was right. There was nothing he could have done to stop Vinial.

"Is she… is Jan… all right?"

"I'm not sure. Those ones who came, Tinuviel, Nerwen and Wineglass seemed certain they could help her and when you consider the fact that Jan's back on duty; it would seem to suggest that she is."

"I haven't had any calls or messages from her," Kyle confessed.

"I don't know a great deal about relationships, Kyle. But for what it's worth, there's got to be a reason why."

"I said the same thing to myself just a little bit ago," the operative said, smiling.

"Then try and be patient," Luke said.

Kyle nodded. "I guess that's it for now. So what did you need to talk to me about?"

"Well," Luke replied, "this situation has obviously curtailed our training sessions."

"Tell me about it," Kyle said, "and I was really getting into it, too."

Luke nodded. "So, since we can't continue that part of the training right now, I thought we'd move onto another area."

The operative raised his brows in question, to which Luke replied by raising his hands and closing his eyes. Seconds passed and then, to Kyle's amazement, the container he used for water lifted into the air and traveled across until it gently landed in Luke's outstretched palm. Opening his eyes, the Jedi smiled, leaning forward to place the container back on the side table.

"Interested?"

"Where do I sign up?" Kyle replied excitedly.

Luke laughed. "All right then. Now this isn't very different from what we did with the blindfold. You need to reduce, if not eliminate, any distractions and concentrate on what it is you want to do.

Kyle considered this, and then said. "Rahn taught me a bit about using the Force to run faster and how to jump higher."

"Good," Luke said, "then this shouldn't be too difficult for you. It's basically the same principle, just exercised in a different way. You ready to try?"

"Absolutely," Kyle said.

"All right then. Close your eyes first."

When Kyle had done so, Luke continued. "Now, listen to my voice. Don't think about anything else, just focus on the sound of my voice."

The Jedi waited a few more seconds, and then continued. "Visualize the container, see it, picture it in your mind."

After another pause, he added, "Now imagine it rising. See it rising off the table."

He looked to the container as Kyle's brow furrowed a little. "Don't struggle or try to force it. Just listen to my voice and do as I say."

He looked to the container again. For nearly a minute it remained stationary and the Jedi wondered if perhaps he had overestimated his pupil, but then it trembled a little. Luke watched intently as the trembling subsided, but then returned, stronger this time.

"That's it," he said, "good, Kyle. Now, see it rising. See it rising into the air."

The glass trembled more strongly and then, as Luke's eyes widened, it rose perhaps an inch or two into the air before falling back to the table and nearly tipping over. Kyle's eyes opened and he exhaled a breath, sweat popping out on his forehead. He worked to bring his labored breathing under control.

"That… was… hard."

Luke nodded. "It was for me too. You need to build up your mental muscles and then it'll get a little easier."

"A… little?"

"Kyle, the Force is not something a Jedi controls or simply gets used to using. It is a part of the universe itself and needs to be treated accordingly."

"You mean… don't… take it… for granted," Kyle said between breaths.

"Exactly, are you ready to try again?"

"Al… ready?"

"Trust me," Luke said confidently.

Kyle wasn't totally confident in the Jedi's words, but he decided he could attempt the exercise once more. He closed his eyes and reached out to the Force.

"Master Obi-Wan once told me that a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him."

"What do you mean?" Kyle asked.

"When you are at peace, that's when the Force speaks most clearly."

Kyle frowned for a moment, then his face smoothed. "That's why you said not to force it."

"Correct. The Force isn't something you can demand to answer or blindly obey you."

Nodding, Kyle tried to relax as he reached out, calling with his mind. A sudden idea came to him and sensing that it might work, he tried it. Luke watched as Kyle, eyes still closed, lifted his free hand. A moment later, the cup began to tremble as before. And then to the Jedi's surprise, it lifted several inches into the air, and then traveled across the bed before depositing itself in Kyle's palm. As the cup settled, the operative's eyes opened and a pleased smile came to his face.

"It worked."

"Well done, Kyle!" Luke exclaimed, "That was perfect!"

"Thanks."

"You did something different, didn't you?"

"Yeah, I guess I did. I was listening to you when it occurred to me, why not ask the Force to help?"

"Oh?"

"Yeah, so I did it, at least I think so. I asked the Force to allow me to pick up the cup without using my hands. And as I did, I felt something. It wasn't exactly a response, but like… approval? Yeah, that's it, approval."

Luke was practically beaming at him.

"I guess that was right then?"

"Kyle," Luke said proudly, "you remind me of something Master Obi-Wan said when I first learned to 'ask' the Force as you just said. He said, 'You've just taken a first step into a larger world.'"

"Can I try again?" Kyle asked.

"Of course," Luke said, "but let's add something to it."

Hours passed as the two men continued to work together, Luke guiding, and Kyle doing his best to follow his teacher's instructions. Nearly three hours later, the Jedi stretched, having not moved from the chair once.

"I think we should take a break, Kyle. I need to get up for a while."

"Okay, but I'm not that tired."

"Then have pity on the rest of us mortals, okay?"

The men laughed as Luke rose from the chair and moved about the room, stretching some more.

"Hey, Luke?"

"Yes?"

"I really appreciate you coming here today and teaching me. Part of me still has trouble believing I can do this."

And with that, Kyle turned to table, reached out his hand. The cup there rose almost immediately and landed in the operative's hand a few seconds later. He was grinning almost stupidly.

"You're progressing quite well. But remember, the Force isn't something to play around with. It's an awesome power and knowing when and when not to use it is a mark of maturity for a Jedi.

Kyle's face clouded a little. "You're right. I'm just caught up in the moment here."

"Perfectly understandable," Luke said.

Just then, the curtains around Kyle's bed parted to reveal a droid carrying a food tray.

"Is it that late?" the operative asked.

"The time is exactly 1230 hours, patient Katarn, and the prescribed time for your mid-day meal."

The operative looked at the Jedi and rolled his eyes, eliciting a chuckle from the other.

"We'll train some more this afternoon," Luke said, "I'll see you later."

"Right," Kyle replied, "thanks, Luke."

As the Jedi passed through the curtains, the operative accepted the tray from the droid and watched as it began to leave. But no sooner had it passed through the curtains than he heard its voice.

"The patient is currently eating. Visiting hours will resume at 1330."

In response came an unmistakable blatting sound followed by a series of beeps.

Kyle neared laughed aloud as his mind translated.

"I am here to see Kyle Katarn on an important matter."

But the medical droid was not deterred by this in the slightest.

"Visiting hours ended two minutes three point five seconds ago. You may return at 1330 and be granted access at that time.

Bad mistake, he thought.

The series of beeps and whistles that he heard next sounded both angry and strained and nearly had Kyle laughing aloud as he mentally translated them.

"I will have you know I am under orders from Mon Mothma herself. Do you intend to countermand her?"

There was a brief pause.

"You may see the patient now," the medical droid said.

Barely two seconds passed before the bulky form of Wee passed through the curtains and into the room. Seeing him, Kyle couldn't hold back his laughter any more.

"Orders from Mon Mothma!" he managed to say, "I can't believe you! You're gettin' devious, Weeg!"

The droid responded with an offended series of sounds.

"Just so you know; I do have a message from her."

Hearing this, Kyle stopped laughing and looked at the droid.

"For real?"

"Why else would I have come here so urgently?"

Kyle studied the droid for a moment, and then said, "Y'know, Weeg, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were being sarcastic."

When the droid didn't reply for several seconds, Kyle smiled at it and then said, "All right, I'm sorry. I stand corrected, okay?"

"I should hope so," the droid replied, "I came here on important business and that… factory reject, telling me I could not see you."

"He's just following orders, Weeg."

"Perhaps," the droid responded, "are you ready to see the message?"

"Ready whenever you are."

The droid's holoprojector came to life and an image of Mon Mothma's face appeared, floating in mid-air.

"Kyle," she began, "I understand you're awake and that Doctor Berth says you should be discharged soon. As soon as that happens, I need to have a meeting with you. There have been developments with a certain 'friend' of yours."

8t88.

"I will fill you in on the details when we meet. In the meantime, do what the doctor tells you and feel better soon."

With that, the image faded.

"So," Kyle said, "that probably means there's a lead on 8t88. I need to get out of here soon, Weeg. That tin plated menace has my Father's map stuffed somewhere in his rusted head. And one way or another, I'm going to get it back."

"Is that what I should tell Mon Mothma?"

"Are you nuts?" he exclaimed, glaring at the droid, "If she hears that, she'll keep me in here indefinitely. Look, just tell her message received, looking forward to the meeting."

"Understood," Wee Gee said, "May I ask one question?"

"I suppose," Kyle said suspiciously.

"Are you all right?"

The operative didn't answer for nearly a minute, feeling his heart react to the droid's words. Wee Gee was far from being the sentimental type, but that didn't mean it wasn't concerned about him. What the droid had asked just now proved it.

"I'm going to be fine, Weeg, I promise. Doctor Berth did his magic once again and in a few days, I'll be back on my feet. So don't worry, okay?"

In response, the droid floated closer and reached out with its heavy arm to gently pat Kyle on the head. Then it beeped something.

"I have not stopped worrying since you reactivated me."

Kyle rolled his eyes. "Jeez, Weeg, you're worse than Jan, you know that?"

At the mention of her name, Kyle was reminded of his not having heard from her.

"Listen, Weeg, one last thing before you go."

"Yes?" the droid asked.

"Have you see Jan recently?"

"Yes."

"Is she okay?"

"As far as I can tell, yes. I have greeted her more than once and she has acknowledged my greeting. However…"

"What?" Kyle asked, beginning to worry.

"She seems… preoccupied. She is quite perfunctory in her conduct, but it does not seem… normal to me."

"You think she's putting on a face, then?"

"I do not understand."

"A face, a false front, smiling when she's not happy."

"Yes," the droid said, "that is exactly how it appears."

Kyle considered what Luke had told him about her quarters and wondered if that something to do with what Wee Gee had just said.

"Do you want to record a message for her?" the droid offered.

Kyle considered this, but then shook his head.

"No, I'd rather talk to her in person. Just tell her say I say hi, okay?"

"Very well," the droid said.

Once Wee Gee had gone, Kyle settled back against the bed, mind whirling, wondering what was wrong with Jan.

If she wanted to talk, she could have come by. Luke knew I could have visitors today, so she should've known too.

Plus, there was the fact that he wanted to see her.

No, I won't force her, he decided, I'll just try and be there for her, if she wants.

He marveled once again how perplexing and complex women were, especially the one named Jan Ors.


Two more days passed, ordinary and peaceful. Luke and Kyle spent as much time as they could training while the operative was still in Sickbay. Luke continued to be impressed and praised the operative as he progressed to more complicated tests, sometimes faltering, but never quitting.

"You're getting stronger, Kyle," he said at one point, "and very quickly too. I can see Master Rahn and Master Obi-wan were right about you."

"Must be because I've got a good teacher," the operative returned.

Luke took the praise in good stride, privately wondering if he was doing well. Each day he remembered Obi-Wan's warning about when he had trained Anakin Skywalker. "I thought I could teach him as good as Yoda would. I was wrong." Luke knew all too well the temptation and lure of the Dark Side. The last thing he wanted was to see Kyle go that route. But, when he brought it up the afternoon of the second day, he was surprised to learn that Kyle had already had his share of struggles with the Dark Side and knew quite well its solicitous, siren call.

"I can remember how it felt," Kyle said, "the ease of it, the promise of power, the feeling of invincibility."

"As have I," Luke said.

"But when I looked beyond the veil, as it were, all I saw was… I don't know… it was like…"

"An all consuming emptiness without a shred of joy or happiness."

"That's it!" Kyle said, snapping his fingers.

They continued to discuss the dangers of the Dark Side and how to use the Light Side to keep the temptation at bay. By the time Luke left later that day, Kyle felt washed out and tired, but also happy. He felt like he was progressing well, and he was enjoying having someone to talk to about these things.


New Republic Command Ship Intrepid

Sickbay

The Next Day

0800 Hours

"You're serious?" Kyle asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" replied Berth.

"C'mon, Doc, don't tease me like that. Is this for real or not?"

"Your tests are all good, and except for those stitches in your chest your wounds are all healed. You tell me, Kyle."

"So I can finally get out of here?"

"Well," Berth said, "there is the matter of your bill."

"Doc!"

Berth laughed aloud. "Gotcha. Seriously, Kyle, you're in as good a shape as I can make you. So get out of here, I need the bed."

Kyle sat bolt upright and slipped his legs out from under the covers. He started to slide down when he remembered one important thing.

"Um, Doc, do I have…"

"Right here," Berth said, handing Kyle clothes that Wee Gee had delivered the previous day.

"Thanks," the operative said, putting them on.

When he had finished, Kyle sighed happily. "That feels much better."

"So what are you saying? My gowns are no good?"

"After this much time, no."

"Why you…" Berth began.

"Gotcha back," Kyle said and the two men laughed.

"Seriously, doc," the operative said as his boots touched the floor and he stood up, "thanks for everything."

"Just doing what I do best," said Berth.

Kyle raised an eyebrow at him. "Right, Doc. Like bringing me back from the dead? Yeah, I'd say you've done your share."

"Wait a minute," Berth said, "how'd you know?"

The operative sighed. "Doc, I was still semi-conscious when Vinial shoved that knife into me. I felt it both times she pulled it out and rammed it back in. And given where it felt like it was and everything going black a few seconds later, it's wasn't hard to figure out."

Berth looked at the younger man, surprised at his deductive skills.

"Well, the main thing is, you're all right now."

"No," Kyle said, "the main thing is, I owe you my life, Elias. And I'm grateful."

Berth felt his heart swell with emotion as he smiled at the younger man.

"Then do me one favor?"

"Name it," Kyle said.

"Don't let it happen again."

"I'll do my best, Doc. But no promises."

The two men shook hands warmly and with another grateful sigh, Kyle left Sickbay, reaching for his comm as soon as he passed through the doors.

"This is Mon Mothma," came back the reply.

"It's Kyle. I just got out of Sickbay."

"Good, I'm glad to hear that."

"Me too, should I head over now?"

"Have you eaten anything yet?"

"Well… no," the operative, his stomach choosing that moment to rumble.

"Go have breakfast first," the Rebel leader said as if scolding him, "once you're finished, contact me. Understood?"

"Understood," Kyle replied.

"Good, Mon Mothma out."

Returning the comm to his belt, Kyle suffered through another rumbling of his stomach.

"Okay, okay, we're going," he said.


New Republic Command Ship Intrepid

Mess Hall

0820 Hours

As luck would have it, Kyle found a sort of reception awaiting him when he entered the room.

"Well, looks who's finally emerged from the ether," called a familiar voice.

Kyle looked and saw his friend, Caston Droum looking from where he was seated at one of the tables. With him were Chief Brolly, Atarn Daman, Mach Farcon, Bjrn Fallqvist and Dav Flamerock. To the operative's supreme embarrassment, the men began to clap and as curious eyes turned to look, more hands joined until it became nearly a din. Feeling his cheeks warm, Kyle crossed his arms and stood there, shaking his head. Seeing this, several of the initiators began to laugh.

When the applause died away after a short time, Kyle moved towards the table, taking the seat next to Caston. He glared at each of the men assembled there.

"Y'know, with friends like you guys, who needs enemies?"

Laughter rippled across the table.

Caston threw an arm across the operative's shoulders and half-hugged him. "Seriously, Kyle, we're all glad to see you. You feeling okay?"

"Well… I was feeling all right…"

With his free hand, Caston reached to the top of Kyle's head and drove two fingers in, not hard, but enough that the operative felt it. He jerked away.

"Hey! Quit it! Ouch!"

"Aw," Caston cooed, "does da wittle baby have a boo boo?"

Kyle glared at him a moment, then smiled. "Like I said, with friends like you…"

"C'mon, Kyle," said Dav Flamerock, "he's just kidding."

"Exactly," added Bjrn Fallqvist, "we really were worried."

"He's right," Caston said, his expression growing serious, "we were worried."

"Well, worry not," Kyle said, "Doc Berth fixed me up and I'm doing just fine. Heck, I'm just glad to be out of Sickbay."

"You do spend a lot of time there," said Atarn Daman.

"Maybe you oughta move in," added Mach Farcon.

"And," chimed in Brolly, "you always manage to somehow damage, if not outright destroy, my shield on every mission."

"Hey!" Kyle protested, "The operative is only as good as his equipment."

"Oh," Brolly said, his face morphing into an "oh yeah?" expression, "so it's my fault now?"

"Well, if the shoe fits…"

"Why you… you… you…"

"Easy boss!" said Mach Farcon.

"You're gonna blow a gasket or something," added Atarn Daman.

"Y'know, Kyle," said Caston, "there are five of us and one of you."

"Yeah? So?"

"So how'd you like to return to Sickbay via the express lane?"

For a moment, the operative thought his friend was serious, but then Caston's serious face fell apart and he laughed loudly.

"You are so easy!" he managed to say as the rest laughed.

"Okay, okay," Kyle said, holding up both hands, "mea culpa. I give."

He turned to look at Brolly.

"Hey, Chief?"

"What?" came back a cold reply.

"I do appreciate having the shield. I wouldn't have made it back alive from the last mission without it, seriously."

For a moment, Brolly stared at the operative and then a small smile came to his face.

"All right then."

"I mean it, Chief," Kyle said gravely.

"C'mon boss," said Atarn Daman.

"He's serious," added Mach Farcon.

The triple wave of pressure finally caused the weapons tech to smile widely and chuckle a little.

It was then Kyle noticed that none of the men had trays in front of them.

"You guys haven't eaten yet?"

"We were about to," Caston said, "and then this troublemaker walked in."

"Really?" Kyle said, looking about and then returning his gaze to Caston, "Where?"

This set the whole table laughing anew and then, in collective agreement, the men rose from their places and got in line. Returning to the table after a few minutes, a toast was given in honor of Kyle's return and then the men fell to their meals. As time passed and new conversations started up, Kyle realized how good it felt to do something as simple as this.

Now if I can just catch up with Jan, he thought, the day would be even better.


New Republic Command Ship Intrepid

Bridge

0830 Hours

Jan refocused her attention on her console.

"I said I'm busy, Wee Gee."

"I only wish to pass along a message," the droid repeated.

"I know," Jan said, "you've said that at least ten times. And I've tried to explain to you that I'm on duty and can't talk right now. What part of that don't you understand?"

"Most of it," the droid replied.

Jan turned to fix a strong glare on the floating automata, but it seemed to have little, if any, effect.

"Then see if you understand this. I am working right now and need to focus on what I'm doing. I don't have time for idle chatter. If you've got something to say to me, wait till I'm off duty, all right?"

The droid processed this for a number of seconds and then replied.

"I do not understand, but I will comply."

Finally! Jan thought.

"May I ask one final question before leaving?"

"What?" Jan said coldly.

"I do not understand your anger. Have I done something wrong?"

This brought the operative up short. It was a simple question and yet, she had no answer for it.

I'm not angry, am I?

Again, she had no answer. But the longer she stared into the droid's photoreceptor, the more uncomfortable she became.

"I have to get back to work," she finally said, turning away.

Wee Gee floated there a few seconds longer, then turned and headed for the exit, its logic systems running scenario after scenario, trying to determine what was wrong with Jan and why she was angry. The situation did not make sense.

When she heard the doors slide shut, Jan paused in her work and stared down at her console. She felt almost sick and not a little irritated with herself for she had treated Wee Gee.

He just came here to deliver a message. And I acted like…

She didn't understand why she had acted the way she had. But at the mention of Kyle's name, the anger had arisen, so sudden and strong as not to be denied.

But why would I be angry with Kyle? He hasn't done anything stupid, well at least not recently. So why then?

No answer came and finally, before her frustration got out of hand, the operative returned to her work, putting aside the incident and instead focusing on the analysis she was compiling.


New Republic Command Ship Intrepid

Mon Mothma's Briefing Room

0945 Hours

"Welcome back, Kyle," the Rebel leader said.

"Thank you," he said sincerely.

"Are you feeling well?"

"Yes ma'am," he said.

"Good," she said, her face softening a little, "you had many of us worried about your condition."

"I can imagine," Kyle replied.

"If you're up to it, I want to go over the incident with Vinial as well as your mission report. But before that…"

"Just then," the door chime sounded.

"Ah, he's here."

She pressed a key on the recessed panel and into the room stepped Luke Skywalker.

"Good morning, Mon Mothma," the Jedi said, moving to the table. "Kyle, good to see you up and around, how do you feel?"

"Much better," the operative said, smiling at the other man, "but what are you doing here?"

"I've asked Luke to be here to listen to your debriefing, Kyle. I'd like to get his take on it and see if we can come up with a way to get you back from a mission without an immediate visit to Sickbay."

"It's not like I want to be there," the operative said defensively.

"Of course not," Mon Mothma answered, "but given your history, I am concerned that your next mission is going to be your last. And I'd like to avoid that if at all possible."

"Me too," Kyle said.

"Good, then let's get down to it."

Kyle began by describing the scene where Jan had dropped him off at the large circular pool.

"I don't think anyone detected me. But the place was full of guards."

He went on to describe his infiltration of the outer perimeter of Barons Hed and eventual penetration into the Imperial Base itself. More than once Luke looked at him with an expression of mixed surprise and horror. Kyle could only imagine what the Jedi was thinking. An hour and a half passed as the operative continued, describing the Kell (not Krayt) dragon he had faced and the new weapon he had found. When he got to the part with the oversize fan system, Mon Mothma held up a hand.

"What possessed you to try that jump across to the other side?"

Kyle shrugged.

"There was nowhere else to go. It was either make the attempt or let Jan come into a hornet's nest of laser turrets to try and pick me up."

"I gather things went poorly," Luke said.

"Worse than worse," Kyle said, explaining how he miscalculated how fast he was moving and what that did to the subsequent impact.

Mon Mothma's went wide and Luke visibly flinched.

"I'm amazed you lived through that," the Rebel leader said.

"You're not the only one," Kyle said, "just trying to move was pure agony."

He continued, going through his attempts to reach the lower chamber and finding the lift that had brought him up to the roof where he watched as 8t88's shuttle took off.

"I tried firing on it, but that blasted droid had already activated the shields. And that was pretty much it. I lost consciousness soon after Jan arrived."

Silence reigned for a few seconds.

"Your thoughts, Luke?"

"Frankly, I'm amazed you're here talking to us, Kyle. I doubt a fully trained squad of commandos could have completed this mission. If there's any criticism I have, it's that you seem to rush in at times when caution might be the better choice."

"Luke…"

The Jedi held up a hand.

"I realize it is easy for me to say this, especially since the mission is complete. I think the main thing Mon Mothma wants to get across to you Kyle is that you've got to work harder on protecting yourself on missions so you don't come back half dead."

"Not exactly what I was planning to say," Mon Mothma said, "but close enough."

"Look," Kyle said, "I agree with both of you. I'm just not sure how to do what you're asking. So much of what happens on my missions is on the fly, a lot of times I have to make it up as I go along."

Mon Mothma nodded at this, adding, "I can understand that. But surely there is something that can be done."

"Maybe I can talk to Chief Brolly about improving the shield and body armor," Kyle ventured.

"A good idea," Mon Mothma said.

"How about training?" Luke asked, "hand-to-hand, close quarters, weapons?"

"What about Restall and Plana?" Kyle asked, "They're both in security and could probably…"

"Unfortunately," Mon Mothma said, interrupting, "they are both away on assignment right now."

"Oh."

"Kyle and I can brainstorm something else," Luke said.

Mon Mothma considered this, looking to the operative once again.

"Kyle, the reason I am so concerned about this is twofold. First and foremost, I am honestly concerned about you returning safely from the next mission. Secondly, our agents believe they have located 8t88."

"What!" the operative exclaimed, nearly rising from his chair, "where?"

In response, the Rebel leader pressed a control and the holoprojector came to life. Kyle watched wordlessly as a grainy image appeared, resolving itself until it showed a collection of massive pipes, a number of oblong buildings and a single, rather massive ship.

"This is footage from a spy droid at the Crimson Onyx Refueling Station outside of Barons Hed. Now watch closely."

An object flew into a view, moving towards the large ship. It took Kyle only a moment to identify the smaller vessel.

"8t88's shuttle."

"Yes," Mon Mothma confirmed, "we're not quite sure why 8t88 has come to this place. But intercepted transmissions have indicated some sort of rendezvous somewhere on the station. Where and when we are not sure."

"Please tell me he hasn't escaped from there already," Kyle implored.

Mon Mothma shook her head. "Aldarion and Undomiel have been working with a plant inside the station to, as they put it, 'muck up the works'. As such, 8t88 and the shuttle have been impounded for further inspection."

Nice work, you two, Kyle thought.

"As things stand," Mon Mothma said, "I am considering sending you to the refueling station to locate and capture 8t88. However, until I am convinced that you have a plan to return from this mission in one piece; things are on hold."

"Mon Mothma," Kyle said firmly, "please send me right away. I know I can find that buckethead and get the map back."

She shook her head. "I don't doubt your ability or commitment, Kyle. But after what happened at Barons' Hed..."

"This isn't the same thing," he argued, "I was walking into the teeth of an Imperial Base at Baron's Hed. This fuel station won't have near as many guards. Besides, once I get in…"

She shook her head. "Not until I'm convinced of your survivability on this mission, Kyle."

"I'll have the shield and the armor," he said, "They'll be enough."

"They haven't been so far," she countered.

"But I'm getting better with them," he returned, "I know it'll work. Please Mon Mothma, I…"

"I'm afraid not, Kyle," she said firmly.

"Excuse me?"

The operative and the Rebel leader turned to look at Jedi.

"Yes, Luke?"

"I have an idea."

"Yes?"Mon Mothma asked.

"You're right about needing a plan so that Kyle comes back from this mission safely. I hadn't mentioned it before, but Kyle and I have been training together."

Mon Mothma stared at the Jedi with an incredulous expression.

"Since when?" she asked.

"Shortly after I came aboard," Luke replied.

"And why wasn't I informed?"

The Jedi shrugged. "It didn't seem necessary at the time. I was mainly helping Kyle to boost his strength and stamina."

The Rebel leader gave him a look that said she didn't quite believe this.

"Are you saying that you will train Kyle?"

Luke nodded.

The Rebel leader seemed unsure. "I don't feel very comfortable with this. You are a skilled pilot, Luke, but you're not a soldier."

"But Kyle is," the Jedi countered, "I'm just helping him to hone the skills he already has."

"And you think you can train him sufficiently well to tackle this mission?"

"How long do I have?" he asked.

"Less than a week."

Now Luke was the one who looked uncomfortable. "Well, that puts a different light on things. Less than a week is really not long enough."

"Luke…" Kyle began.

The Jedi held up a hand.

"So, with your permission, Mon Mothma, I'll accompany Kyle on the mission."

The room became so silent a dropped pin would have echoed.

The Rebel leader stared at the Jedi with an expression of complete incredulity.

"Excuse me?" she finally managed to say.

"I think I should accompany Kyle on this mission," Luke repeated.

"Luke, forgive me, but you're not trained for a mission like this."

"But I am a Jedi Knight."

"Given," Mon Mothma said, "however, your experience with ground engagements is… shall we say limited at best?"

"I agree," Luke said, "and that's where Kyle expertise and experience will come into play."

"I don't think…"

"Forgive me for interrupting," Luke said, "but I feel confident this will work. I can both train and protect Kyle as he works to find this 8t88. Our skills will compliment and, I think, keep both of us safe."

"Still…"

"You wanted a solution, Mon Mothma," Kyle added.

"You agree with him?" she challenged.

"I've already seen that I can trust Luke in our training sessions. And with his Jedi abilities, I think having him along will be a real asset."

Several seconds passed as Mon Mothma contemplated the request and what the two men had said. Finally, she looked at them both and said, "I still don't feel completely comfortable with this, but my instincts say you might be right."

She nodded. "Very well then. Luke, you will accompany Kyle on the mission and do your best to ensure his safety. Kyle, your objective will be to infiltrate the fuel station, find 8t88 and retrieve the map by whatever means necessary."

"I understand," Luke said.

"I'll take care of it," said Kyle.

A knowing smile crossed the Rebel leader's face. "There is one additional caveat."

Kyle fought not to groan while Luke asked, "What is it?"

"You are not under my command, Luke. If I am to assign you to this mission, you'll need to get permission."

"Permission?" he said, not exactly sure what was meant but figuring it out a few seconds later.

"Ah yes, you're right."

"Assuming you get the go ahead, I want you and Kyle to go over the data we currently have and drawn up a plan for the mission. I'll want to review at least a day before you deploy."

"We'll get it done," Kyle said confidently.

"No so fast," she said, "I expect you to inform Jan, Kyle."

He shrugged. "No problem."

"Then I will leave you to it, gentlemen. Dismissed."

Luke and Kyle rose from their chairs and the operative accompanied the Jedi outside where the latter blew out a breath.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing really," Luke replied, "I'm just not looking forward to what I need to do."

"You just have to get permission from your superior, right? That can't be too hard."

"What about Jan?"

Kyle waved a hand. "She'll understand, once I explain things to her.

Luke raised an eyebrow. "You might be surprised, Kyle."


A/N: How's that for a cliffhanger? I know, I'm bad. A quick note to everyone. I'm ending this part with Chapter 30. Stay tuned for the continuation of the story in Part 2!