Star Wars: The Last of the Jedi, Volume 9 (4 page)

BOOK: Star Wars: The Last of the Jedi, Volume 9
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“Amie, I beg you. Get to the point.”

“So I researched mining planets and volcanic planets, but the database was just too large to pin down. So I went back to the supply list and found something I’d overlooked. Well, I
hadn’t overlooked it, but it hadn’t seemed significant. One of the med agents ordered for the center had been ordered in a very small quantity, too little, really, to be logical if it
was a standard order for outfitting a new care facility. This was a rush shipment of a very expensive medication, which only has one medical use: to neutralize an extremely rare but toxic heavy
metal that is only found on two hundred and eleven planets…” Amie took a breath “…which I cross-checked for volcanic activity. The weird thing is that this allotrope can’t
survive in normal lava; the lava has to be a bit cooler. Say about eight hundred degrees.”

“That sounds pretty hot to me.”

“That’s because you’re not a volcano. So this particular allotrope stays liquid, which increases its toxicity. So then I cross-checked for volcanic eruptions in the last year
of the Clone Wars, and amazingly enough, because this never happens, only forty-three planets met all the criteria.”

Ferus sighed. Forty-three wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t close enough. It would take time to narrow down the list. “Thank you, Amie, you can send the—”

“Wait. I’m not finished. I took the list to Dex, and Oryon was there. Remember he was a master spy at the end of the Clone Wars? Well, he recognized one of the planets. Reports at
the end of the Clone Wars cited it as a hideout for the Separatist Council. Mustafar. Look, I’m a scientist, so I don’t like jumping to conclusions. All of this is speculative. But if I
to guess where this patient had been injured, I would bet on Mustafar.”

“Mustafar. I’ve never heard of it.”

“That’s not surprising. Nobody in their right mind would go there. It’s a remote planet in the Outer Rim. It has a gas-giant twin, Jestefad. It has unspeakable heat, rivers of
boiling lava, and the volcanoes are in a continual phase of eruption. Your basic nightmare planet.”

A perfect place for a Sith to be born
, Ferus thought.

But what could he do with the information? He could hardly go tearing off to the Outer Rim. There was no telling if he’d find anything there, anyway. In his bones, he felt whatever
information he needed to defeat Darth Vader lay here in the Core, in the everyday activities of the new Empire. In his own intuition.

In the Holocron.

That voice…what was it? Not his own. It had sprang up in his mind, and the Holocron seemed to burn his chest in response. Ferus put his hand over it.

“There’s one other thing,” Amie said. “The Moonstrike meeting isn’t going well.”

Ferus felt a surge of annoyance.
Why was she bothering him with trivialities? Amie was foolish and naïve.

That voice again…it wasn’t his.

No, Amie was brave and resourceful. She’d been a doctor on her homeworld on Bellassa. She’d kept out of the Eleven as long as she could, but only so she could continue her work. She
had a son back on Bellassa whom she pined for.

That makes her a weak link in the chain.

No. He would never consider Amie weak, or capable of betrayal.

Everyone is capable of betrayal. Everyone has a weak point.

Ferus dropped his hand from the Holocron. It felt as though it had burned him. The voice in his head was too insistent. Where did it come from?

It comes from you. It is your true voice that is speaking.

Agitated, Ferus reached out for the Force. He needed to fight the voice, and he couldn’t do it alone.

He’d never had thoughts like that about Amie. They weren’t true. She was a courageous, compassionate woman.

The Sith Holocron cooled against him.

He looked down at his fingers. They were reddened as if they’d been held to a flame.

“So if you could just consider it,” Amie went on, “we would be grateful.”

He had lost the thread of what she’d been saying. With difficulty, Ferus wrenched his attention back to her and replayed her words in his head. “The asteroid must remain a secret
between all of us,” he said. “If we expose it, we endanger any future Jedi I may find.”

“Ferus, I respect your mission, I do,” Amie said. “But so far, all we’ve found is that the Jedi who haven’t been eradicated have gone so deeply underground that
they are impossible to find. And the resistance is starting here, now. We need your help.”

“I’ll consider it,” he said finally. “I can only promise you that.”

They ended the communication. Ferus looked at his burned fingertips. He felt shaken. It was the first time he felt that the Holocron had influenced his mind.

Was this just a taste of what could happen to him, with a Sith Holocron so near?

Ferus walked all the way to the northern outskirts of the city and reached the park. It was built over the lake that surrounded the city of Aldera and mimicked the grasslands
that covered much of the planet. Ferus knew that there were thousands of varieties of grasses on Alderaan, and he could see that many of them were represented here. The grasses had been planted in
swaths of undulating rows, each in a different color of green and blue and gold, and the colors seemed even more intense on this day of bright sunlight.

Children ran through the grasses or congregated on the soft sandy areas that were interspersed with the grass to provide space for play and picnics. Ferus made his way to the very edge of the
park. There was a gradual slope upward and then a long flight of steps made from blocks of white stone. He climbed up to the vantage point above.

He now stood on a sandstone bluff overlooking the lake, which stretched to the horizon. To his left was the main spaceport of Alderaan, a busy place with constant traffic. He could see the glint
of sunlight on the cruisers that were almost constantly landing and taking off. To his right was the expanse of blue lake.

The railing had been designed to look like braided vines. He wandered along it until his gaze found what he was looking for. Despite the careful repair work, he could see where the railing was
newly mended. If the woman in the report had fallen, she would have landed on the sandstone rocks below, and would have been seriously injured.

Ferus turned in a full circle to survey his surroundings. Although the smell of the grass and the water made it seem as though he was in the country, he was surrounded by the city. Here near the
edge of the park the buildings appeared to be more industrial—warehouses and vertical hangars, most likely for the nearby spaceport.

Perhaps he wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t been trained at the Temple. Perhaps it would have seemed just another flash from descending aircraft. Ferus rotated again, pretending
to take in the view. Yes, that was it. The building to his right, the one closest to the park…someone was using electrobinoculars. He’d seen the flash of sunlight on the lenses.

Was someone spying on the park?

Ferus turned and began to walk at a leisurely pace back down the wide stairs, and then through the ornamental grass. Suddenly a toddler darted in front of him. Ferus stepped back.

“Sorry.” A woman with warm eyes and a ready smile scooped up the toddler. “Tula, you’ve got to watch where you’re going.”

“I should have, as well,” Ferus said. “This is a beautiful park.”

“Your first time here?” She pushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled. “It’s a great spot. It never gets too crowded because it’s out of the way.” Her
toddler began to wriggle, and she gently set her down. “But tomorrow is when you should be here. The gingerbells are ready to bloom.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about flowers,” Ferus said.

“You must not be from Alderaan, then.”

“I’m a visitor.”

She crouched and pointed to a small bud almost hidden in the grass. “There are thousands of these in the park. They’re famous on Alderaan because they all bloom on the same day. The
park is hosting a festival here. Everyone who knows the park will come. It’s an amazing sight. They let the children pick all the blossoms.” She straightened and began to run after her
toddler. “You should come!” she called to Ferus over her shoulder.

Yes, he would come. It would be a perfect opportunity to observe the children.

What did Siri Tachi used to say?
“If you want to get lucky, open your eyes.”
Ferus smiled, remembering his Master’s brusque way of talking, her irreverence, her style.
He still missed her.

Attachment—forbidden or…normal?

He walked along the far side of the park and crossed a wide boulevard to get close to the building he’d observed. It was some kind of warehouse, with a security system but no personnel.
Ferus bypassed the standard security entry code with ease. It was a skill he’d learned in his old profession, the business he’d started with Roan. Although technically they operated on
the right side of the law, it was occasionally helpful to push the line a bit.

Faced with a bank of turbolifts, he oriented himself quickly and chose one that reached the highest floors facing west. He zoomed upward. He had counted the floors from the ground and he guessed
he’d seen the flash from the two hundred and seventh floor.

Ferus walked out cautiously. He reached for the Force, letting it tell him if there was any danger. He felt no vibrations, no clues as to what lay ahead. He didn’t feel a trace of the
Living Force. It felt to him as though the floor was deserted.

He moved cautiously toward the door he guessed would have the window he’d seen from below. He listened carefully at the door but heard nothing.

He bypassed the security code and entered.

The room was empty. Completely empty. Nothing had been stored here for some time. He could smell the dust. So why had it been locked? He walked to the window. The dust had been disturbed.
Someone had cleared a clean space to look out.

He looked down at the park. From here he could pick out the woman with the toddler who had talked to him. Now she was with a tall, thin man who picked up the toddler. The baby’s father.
They started to exit the park. Ferus swept the park with his gaze and the boulevard below. Everyone else seemed normal, too. No one was moving quickly or keeping underneath the underhangs. If there
was anything suspicious, it wasn’t evident from here.

He took out his own electrobinoculars and trained them below. From here you could see the fence clearly; he could even pick out the point of repair. If he lifted his gaze just a fraction, the
spaceport was directly in his line of vision. He had a close-up view of the main landing platform for galactic traffic arrivals and departures. He could pick out cruiser models. He could see
pilots, insignias, flags of other planets, supplies being offloaded from freighters.

Ferus lowered his electrobinoculars. On the day the child had showed Force-potential, perhaps there had been a lull. Or a flurry of activity that had caused the watcher’s attention to
divert to the park below. The watcher would have noted the toddler moving to save the caregiver and would have recorded it, perhaps just to pad a report so that a superior would be pleased. The
watcher would know, as an Imperial spy, how important it was to inform on anyone or anything.

The report on the toddler was nothing compared to this. No one on Alderaan could come and go without being seen. Ferus knew that all Alderaanians were required to pass through the main spaceport
before going offworld.

Ferus leaned forward. He had just noticed that the dust had been disturbed on the sill to the window, too. Luckily he hadn’t smeared the impression when he’d leaned forward. He could
just make out some letters and numbers, as though someone had quickly scrawled them in the dust.

then a smudge. Then…

Ferus quickly committed the letters and numbers to memory.

He just had to figure out what they meant.

Vader was ushered into the Emperor’s office immediately. Sly Moore opened the door and withdrew quickly, as if to escape a blast. Not a good sign.

His Master waited by the window, staring out at the luxury craft streaming into the Senate landing platform. In the first flush of the Empire, Senators were taking advantage of the end of the
tiresome regulations of the Republic. Regulations that safeguarded banking, corporation greed, mining, environmental concerns…they had only prevented the outrageous profits that could be made by
the few at the expense of the many. Now the Senators could exploit their connections to the great mining and corporate concerns and, as a result, they were richer than ever. It was one way
Palaptine assured their loyalty.

“We need to discuss Operation Twilight,” Palpatine snapped. “I’m tired of excuses. You promised me speed and efficiency.”

Vader would have to be careful.

“We are very close,” Vader said. “Less than a week. The first step of the final phase is in only a few days.”

“You must go to Alderaan,” Palpatine said.

It was never a good idea to allow surprise to show. “Yes, Master.” He kept his silence, awaiting his orders.

BOOK: Star Wars: The Last of the Jedi, Volume 9
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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