Authors: Secret Weapon (Jude Watson)
Last Of The Jedi
By Jude Watson
He always heard the breathing first. The disembodied rasp of the inhalation, the echoing wash of the exhale. It never failed to spook him. Hed have the sudden urge to run, to find the tiniest hole in the galaxy and crouch in it.
Not exactly a heroic response, Ferus thought, but he was no hero. That particular unpleasant fact was becoming clearer to him by the day.
And he had a feeling that even the tiniest hole in the galaxy would be found by Darth Vader and cleaned out with Vaders usual ruthless efficiency.
Instead, Ferus Olin was here a former Jedi, a former resistance fighter, now an Imperial agent. A double agent, of course, but if hed known how trapped hed feel taking on that particular role, he would have stayed back in occupied Bellassa with the stormtroopers breathing down his neck. And now here he was on an Imperial ship, some sleek, powerful prototype from the Sienar yards. He didnt even know where he was going, because nobody had bothered to tell him. Nobody trusted him enough.
The door to the lounge hissed open.
Staying out of sight, I see, Darth Vader said.
Ferus kept his face neutral and tried not to let his nerves jangle the energy in the room. Just enjoying the ride.
Vader remained in the doorway, filling it with his presence, sucking the artificial light into the massive plastoid armor he wore.
Ever since Ferus had agreed to work for the Empire, hed been an annoyance to Darth Vader. That was clear. A petty annoyance, because if he had truly challenged him, Ferus had no doubt that Lord Vader would have crushed him. So hed gotten used to lurking beyond his vision, occasionally meeting with him, and always retreating. It was easier to stay out of sight.
There was only one flaw in this plan: Vader wasnt going along with it. On this trip, Ferus had noticed that Vader had made a point of talking to him. He even initiated conversations. It was clear that these conversations were designed to unnerve him. The Emperor had forced Vader to bring Ferus along on this trip Ferus had no idea why and Vader wasnt happy about it. Instead of ignoring Ferus, hed decided to play with him, the way a felinx might bat around a field mouse before devouring him in one gulp.
In that breath mask, Vaders expressions couldnt be seen. But Ferus felt his contempt.
Feruss blood rose. He struggled to stay calm. Vaders mere presence was bad enough; when Ferus felt his scorn, it inflamed the deep rage and the bitterness he felt.
Less than a week ago, Ferus had gambled, and he had lost. He had been certain that Vader was planning an invasion of Samaria, where Ferus had made contact with the resistance. Vader had outmaneuvered him.
Hed invaded the neighboring planet of Rosha instead. And Ferus had just sent his friend and companion, thirteen-year-old Trever, there.
Vader had taken particular pleasure in showing Ferus the smoking ruins of Roshas capital city. Theyd even flown over it before they left the two-planet system. On the HoloNet, Ferus had seen the destroyed hulk of Trevers ship. It had been blasted to pieces.
He didnt know whether Trever was dead or alive.
And the others… his friends. Did they make it to the secret base? Was his partner Roan Lands still there, or had he returned to Bellassa? How were Astri and Lune? Ferus had helped Astri Oddo escape Samaria with her eight-year-old son. Her ex-husband, Bog Divinian, was determined to take the boy from her. Darth Vader and the Emperor had just installed Divinian as the ruler of Samaria and Rosha.
He had no way to find out if his friends were safe.
He hadnt thought that becoming a double agent would be easy. Hed been prepared for danger and the possibility of his own death. But he hadnt prepared for the loneliness.
He was in too deep. It was too dangerous to contact his friends. He was forced to wait, hoping things would improve and hed have some freedom to remove himself from Vaders presence.
It had been a long time since hed felt this alone. Surrounded by Imperials, Ferus missed his own life more than ever. But that gave him something to fight for.
It was his own fault he felt so marooned. He had made so many mistakes. He had turned left when he should have turned right, gone forward when he should have remained still. He had sent off Trever instead of keeping him close.
He had been chewing on the hard pieces of his remorse for several days. Time and again he almost led on the double agent idea and wondered if he could jump ship at the next stop. He needed to get back to Rosha. He needed to look for Trever.
Ferus knew that Vader could pick up fear and confusion, so he tried to push back all these thoughts. It was exhausting to constantly do this, but it had to be done.
Ferus heard a muffled sound coming from Darth Vaders helmet. He knew Vader was wired into the ships comm system. No doubt he was receiving a message. Without another word, he turned and stalked out. In addition to being a terrifying sort of guy, Vader had no manners.
Ferus waited a moment, then followed, staying well behind. Vader turned into his private quarters. Ferus sprang back as Vader exited only a few seconds later and proceeded to a hallway near the bridge, where the pilot, an Imperial navy captain, emerged to speak to him.
Not much to see. It seemed an ordinary consultation.
Ferus was turning away when something pinged inside him, something small that he had noted unconsciously but hadnt analyzed. He was getting better at this Jedi skill to see the tiniest detail in a picture and something is off.
Darth Vaders Imperial code cylinder was missing. It usually hung on his belt.
Ferus quickly made his way back to Vaders quarters. He accessed the door, which had no privacy code to lock it. Vader was probably expecting to return quickly.
The code cylinder was sitting in the dataport dock.
No doubt Vader had placed it there to update it with the new information constantly streaming through the Empires infosphere. Each Imperial officer had one, and clearance extended upward through the ranks the higher your rank, the higher your clearance.
Ferus had a code cylinder, too. It basically got him into the kitchen.
But Darth Vader had to have the highest clearance of all.
The possibilities thundered through Feruss mind in the space of a moment.
If new information was being downloaded, it wouldnt have Vaders privacy lock on it yet.
The things he could learn from Vaders high clearance…
Any still-missing Jedi.
The fate of Trever.
Plans to crush the resistance.
Even a clue to Vaders true identity.
Ferus waved his hand over the sensor and closed Darth Vaders door.
Small fires flickered all over the streets of Rosha. The Empire had cut most of the power to the city to be sure it controlled the tech infrastructure. Fighting had broken out in intense battles that left more and more Roshans dead or homeless. The smoking city had lost some of its most beautiful buildings, whole neighborhoods razed by the Empire in order to stamp out rebellion and frighten the populace. The city had been pounded from the air.
Trever Flume darted through smoke and shadow underneath an eerie red sky. The taste of flight and ash was familiar to him. His own world, Bellassa, had been brutally invaded, too. At times during the last few days hed felt he was living in his nightmares.
He had left his homeworld as a stowaway aboard Ferus Olins escape ship. Hed been with Ferus ever since. Except for now. Now, Ferus was somewhere with the Empire. He had started out to be a double agent … but did he still remember his friends?
Trever thought about what had happened on Samaria. A politician had been imprisoned and killed. And the leader of a resistance cell had been arrested. Ferus had known both of the victims. Had he betrayed them?
Trever hated these suspicions. Hed thought Ferus was a hero. Hed worshipped him like a dumb, naďve kid. When really hed been on his own for long enough to know that there was no room for heroes in this galaxy. Just beings trying to get along under the Imperial boot.
Seems like Ferus had found himself a cushy gig, traveling around on Imperial transports and hobnobbing with officers and politicians. Maybe that had gotten to him. Maybe he wanted an easier life. Hed been on the run, scrounging and hustling to find materials and support and a way to get clear. Now he was sitting pretty.
Did Ferus think he was dead? There was no doubt that hed seen the ship burning; it had been broadcast on the HoloNet. There was no way to get word to him that he was safe.
Would he care?
Or was he one of them now?
Trever could see that Flame, his new compatriot, had her doubts about Feruss true sympathies. She was wary of him. Her doubt had fueled the wondering in Trevers own mind. Flame had taken all the considerable wealth shed amassed as a business leader on her homeworld of Acherin and established a fund to help resistance movements around the galaxy. She called the movement Moonstrike.
Now she appeared out of the darkness, a blaster rifle held steady. She lowered it when she recognized Trever. With a jerk of her head, she indicated the way.
He followed. Hed only known her a short time, but hed follow her anywhere. Flames instincts were incredible, her timing flawless, and her courage remarkable. Hed seen her pilot a plane under fire and jump out into e midst of blasterfire, dragging him along, protecting him, urging him to run when he didnt think he could make it.
Without her, hed be dead. Another casualty of the Empire.
As she slipped into a crack of a partially demolished building, Trever followed. Inside, the building was open to the sky, but the four walls offered protection. A ramp had lost most of its surface but still led up to a second story. Blasted-out windows lined one back wall. Trevers gaze flicked over the space with an accomplished eye. As a street thief on Bellassa, he had learned to always plan more than one exit in case of trouble.
Already a small group sat waiting. Strapped to their backs or their belts were a variety of weapons. Before the Empire invaded, Rosha had been a peaceful planet, but citizens now had scavenged arms from wherever they could find them. Their clothes were stained with smoke and dirt. Some had bandages wrapped around an arm or forehead.
Here were the beginnings of the Roshan resistance.
Flame motioned for Trever to sit next to her in the tight circle.
No names, a tail Roshan said. His four delicate antennae were tightly curled, a signal of anxiety for a Roshan. Were going to set up a code name system after this meeting. Were all here for the same reason. He indicated Flame. Our visitor has assured us that we can count on help from her organization.
You need to set up an account that I can transfer credits to, Flame said.
We need weapons and a secure comm system, another Roshan said.
And vehicles, someone else chimed in.
The most important thing you need is information, Flame told them. You have to find the right insiders to bribe. If you know what the Empire is going to do before it does it, you can plan strikes and escape routes.
Trever found his mind drifting. He knew the basics now. Hed learned plenty about how to set up a resistance. He admired how Flame sat back and didnt dominate. She waited until one of the Roshans asked a question, and she asked plenty of questions on her own.
Trevers mind drifted to Ferus again. Instead of traveling with Ferus, he was here with someone he hardly knew, seeding resistance groups from planet to planet.
Maybe it made more sense than hed thought. Saving Jedi wasnt his fight. But setting up resistance groups throughout the galaxy was more his speed. Maybe fate had stepped in and given him a push in the right direction.
Suddenly his father appeared in his mind. He tried not to think about his parents. Trever had attacked his grief long ago. He had spent months in a haze of agony and anger until he realized he just couldnt function if he continued to remember things. He had turned his face away from memory. Hed left his life behind and become a street thief.
Until hed stowed aboard Feruss starship and found himself reborn yet again.
What was he now? Trever, resistance fighter? Trever, Jedi saver? Neither of those fit.
Old friends in your heart, new friends by your shoulder. Was that it? Whatever the saying had been, his father had always pointed out that he should honor his commitments. Trever had to admit to himself now that he wished hed been a bit more attentive to those life lessons. Well, sure, at the time hed thought it was a whole lot of blah-blab, but now his conscience pricked him whenever he thought of stealing the ship from the secret base. Ferus had been furious.
The tall Roshan suddenly tensed. He held up a hand for silence.
I think I hear
The rest of his sentence was blotted out when an explosion ripped off the entire back wall of the building.
Trever felt the explosion through a shudder of air that hit him like a fist, lifting him through the heavy air and slamming him down on the hard ground. A piece of rock pierced his shoulder. He tucked himself into a ball while debris rained down.