A single RZ-1 A-Wing fighter appeared from hyperspace, entering the remote system of Dadanna at the fringes of the galaxy. Despite the fact that the star was a K class star and could thus have supported habitable planets, there were none in the system. The single big reason for this loomed in the orbit around the star: an enormous gas giant that had probably swallowed every other proto-planet that there might have been when the star itself was born. The fighter that had entered the desolate system soared towards the sun, its bearing taking it away from the gas giant. For a long moment, there was no sign of anyone being in control of the small vessel and it appeared that - given three or four months - the ship would plunge into the heart of the system and become a tiny drop of additional fuel for the continuous nuclear activity of the star.
Being less than ten metres in length, six and a half metres in width and little more than three metres in height, the A-Wing was a sleek, wedge-shaped fighter, capable of efficient atmospheric combat. Despite its almost fifteen-year old design, it was still one of the fastest and most manoeuvrable fighters in existence. Even the later fast designs, E- and T-Wings were not quite as fast and manoeuvrable as the A-Wing. The only weakness of the fighter was generally thought to be its weaker hull which led to lesser protection for the advanced technology and, most importantly, the pilot inside the small craft. Thus, the ships were rarely used in intense dogfight and were usually preferred in hit-and-run tactics.
But unless the lone green-and-grey A-Wing speeding towards the K-class star intended to try hit-and-run tactics against the humongous celestial body, there was little to explain its behaviour.
Except for the fact that the pilot flying the craft was preoccupied and was in no hurry to correct the fighter's trajectory. Given that he had at least three months to do so was a strong alleviating factor to his negligence.
Borre Daigeil laughed aloud, his maniacally delighted voice bouncing inside the small cockpit and making it seem louder than it was. He reclined in the pilot's seat as relaxed as he could, his heavy brown jacket open and revealing a grey shirt underneath. His trousers were khaki-coloured with small utility pockets at the thighs and his boots were made of dark green leather, normally procured from the elusive predators, Sadri, on the planet Rori in the Naboo system. On the whole, his outfit bore no resemblance to any pilot's uniform in use anywhere in the galaxy, either by the New Republic or any other known faction, and were more akin to those of just another rogue smuggler. The only aspect in him that made him look like a fighter pilot was the helmet that he wore, currently with the darkened visor down. However, even the helmet seemed out of place in the cockpit of a small fighter craft: it seemed too light and too high-tech to protect its user from any serious damage.
In the event, the insides of the visor were filled with the playback of a recent holocomedy that Borre had downloaded just before his departure from Coruscant. The five hour comedy saga starred some of his favourite actors and Borre had not stopped watching the last few minutes of the flick even though the onboard computer had beeped to let him know that they had arrived to their destination. He knew that the ship was at a safe distance from every other object in the system and that he could take the necessary time to finish watching the comedy.
When the holocomedy finally ended, Borre raised the visor of the helmet, revealing thin light brown hair that almost reached to his shoulders and curled slightly onto his forehead. His green eyes were still filled with joy when he removed his helmet, and his mouth was open as he smiled widely, revealing a neat row of upper teeth. The curve of his chin was strong, as were his cheekbones, and covered with stubble. His features were those of a man in his thirties, but it was hard to tell his age more exactly than that.
Although he was alone, Borre grew serious quickly and turned his attention to the readings in his fighter's screen. Normally guardedly self-conscious, he felt he was free to express his emotions openly only when he was alone in his fighter, but often he could be found being gloomy even in those situations. People who had grown up in as harsh conditions as those of Rori were usually that way: finding little in life to keep themselves cheerful. Especially those who had lived their lives in the giant, reed-infested swamplands, like Borre, fighting for their survival throughout their early years against diseases and predators more dangerous than the human settlers from Naboo were usually unable to shed their early childhood memories and mindset even if they moved to a more hospitable planet.
Now, his mouth set in tight-lipped concentration as he calculated how long it would take him to fly his A-Wing to the mining station, Distal Talon, which orbited the gas giant. The onboard navigation system had already locked onto the station and had filled the screen with the relevant data. With a slight frown Borre turned the small ship onto a new heading and turned his attention to other shipboard systems. He had tweaked the small fighter to his preferences and whereas it still looked like a regular A-Wing from the outside, Borre was probably the only person in the galaxy, who knew his way around, and through, his fighter. He pushed several buttons that brought new readings to the screen, about the strength of the shields, the efficiency of the sublight engines as well as the current calibration status of the navigation computer. With the advancements in technology over the past fifteen years, Borre had been able to increase the reliability of his fighter's systems, tweak a bit more power from the sublight engines and optimise the performance of the hyperdrive. Admittedly, he had not done all of it alone, as there had been several highly paid top-notch engineers to help him, but he was the only one who had a clear understanding of the full picture.
Finally satisfied that all the systems were clearly on the green, except the navigation computer, Borre turned his attention back to the space outside and the giant ball of gas that he was approaching at an angle. It was never advisable to head straight towards a planet or a moon, because in the event of a serious malfunction or a complete loss of power one might end up burning up in the upper atmosphere of a planet or a moon, if it happened to have one. Even though Borre trusted his ship more than he did some of his friends - and that was saying a lot - he still preferred cautiousness over audacity.
The final approach took him an hour longer than it would have if the navigation computer had worked properly, but since Borre had not been in a hurry to begin with, he did not feel too badly about it. He used the extra hour to get readings of the gas giant and, although the A-Wing's sensors were not really meant for planetary scanning, he was able to pick up five exploration or mining vessels in the upper layers of the gas giant's atmosphere. He got some additional readings of some other bodies in the maelstrom of gases, but they were too unclear for him to make out of they were actual craft or some random cyclones or storms moving in the atmosphere. He did not pursue that particular line of thought further, for he knew that he was going to learn there was to learn about the gas giant and its mining and exploration as soon as he docked onto the orbiting mining station. The station itself was a simple design of an oblong core section surrounded by a ring along which there were various larger segments, such as the docking bay. The ring was connected with the core section by thick pylons, but there seemed to be only one pylon thick enough to provide an access between the two sections.
A sudden burst of static on the fighter's comsystem brought Borre off from his reverie.
After a few rattling noises, the link between the A-Wing and the mining station was formed and Borre heard the voice of the local traffic controller. "Approaching vessel, identify yourself immediately!" The voice of the speaker sounded female to Borre, but that was only from the human perspective. There was no way of saying if the speaker was truly a female or even organic.
"This is Borre Daigeil," Borre replied casually. "I was sent here by the New Republic Senate to respond to a plea for consultation that you sent a week ago."
There was a moment of silence, but then Borre heard someone clearing her throat (he had decided to think of the traffic controller as a female until he was proven wrong). "Ehm. Proceed to the docking bay, Mr. Daigeil."
Borre frowned but did as he was told. He had heard a clear note of irritation in the traffic controller's voice and he wondered why that was. Perhaps, he wondered, the miners had expected a larger contingent from the Republic and were disappointed to see only one, but, Borre admonished the miners in his mind, if they had wanted to attract more attention, they should have sent a clearer message to the senate officials in the first place. As it was, the crew of Distal Talon had merely sent a plea for consultative assistance in the recovery of certain artefacts that had apparently been found deep in the gas giant's bowels. There had been no indication whatsoever as to what the artefacts may have been, aside from a quick note of old piece of a fighter craft, or what kind of consultation their recovery would require from the New Republic. Given the scant information, Borre thought that the miners should be overjoyed to be receiving this kind of a response from the senate. And, Borre added, reminding himself that he was entitled to a certain degree of pride, the traffic controller should not have made any conclusions before she had actually seen their visitor.
Apart from two shuttle craft, the docking bay was cramped with spare parts and crates. So much so, that it was necessary for the crew responsible for it to move aside two crates before Borre could land his small ship. As soon as he had done so, he opened the cockpit canopy and removed his helmet, placing it on the pilot's seat when he climbed onto the fighter's wing. Then he reached behind the seat and picked up the small shoulder bag that contained all the personal items that he needed to carry with him. The bag seemed almost empty.
By the time the docking bay crew had brought him a ladder to get of his fighter - he could have jumped but preferred not to with all the tools and items scattered on the hangar floor - there were two Zabraks standing further away, waiting for him. They were both dark skinned and bore brilliant yellow tattoos on their faces and other visible areas. Borre knew very little of the species, other than that they were deemed rather single-minded when it came to business.
Both of the Zabrak's wore long brown robes, but it was obvious that the male, differentiated by his more protrusive array of vestigial horns ringing his bald head, was the one in lead. As Borre walked towards them, looping his shoulder-bag over his head, the male Zabrak stepped forward, keeping his hands in front of his robes with the fingers crossed, and nodded curtly.
"I'm Ileth Kolen, the owner of Distal Talon and the founder of this mining venture."
Borre nodded back to the Zabrak. "I'm Borre Daigeil, a Jedi," he said simply.
Ileth Kolen's eyes widened visibly, but there was no other indication of surprise. The other Zabrak, still standing slightly behind Ileth, showed more emotion as she drew a long breath and stared at their visitor.
"A Jedi," Ileth Kolen said, nodding again, the word coming out as if a sigh. "I'm honoured."
Borre nodded again, keeping his expression benign, although he sensed that Ileth did not mean what he said. It was difficult to read a Zabrak's emotions, but Borre was certain that he had sensed more alarm in the man, and even a touch of fear in the woman standing behind him.
But rather than confront his hosts about their true feelings, Borre smiled. "I came here at your behest, Ileth Kolen," he said. "In your message you indicated that you needed someone to consult you about something that you had found."
The Zabrak nodded. "That is true," he said, "but I have to admit that rather than a single Jedi, we expected an experienced salvage crew."
Borre shook his head, feeling slightly confused by the Zabrak's remark. "I'm sorry if you are disappointed, but you must understand that the New Republic has very limited resources and your request did not seem urgent enough to warrant drastic measures. As far as I understood, you have found only a piece of some old craft orbiting this gas giant and possible other artefacts in its lower atmosphere?"
There was a moment of silence and Borre got a clear sense that his point of view was not approved by either of the Zabraks who had arrived to welcome him. He decided to try to repair some of the damage that he might have caused. "I do, however, have the means to contact certain people on Coruscant whose help we may need if this finding proves to be more than we assumed and additional crew and be called at a moment's notice."
Ileth Kolen turned his yellow eyes to appraise the Jedi. "I understand," he said coolly. "It is thus our task to convince you that this finding is important enough to call for more attention from the New Republic." Without waiting for a response he turned to indicate the female Zabrak accompanying him. "This is Aiie Eodo, my assistant. I've asked her to explain the situation to you in more detail and introduce you to our mining crew."
Borre nodded and smiled to the woman, trying to make her relax. He had sensed her nervousness ever since he had said that he was a Jedi. But even as he smiled, he sensed that it would not be enough to calm Aiie Eodo down. Her pale eyes were narrow slits as she looked at him - a clear sign of nervousness in Zabrak as far as Borre had learned - and she answered his smile with a sick frown. Borre wondered what it was that made her so worried about him being a Jedi, but knew that there was no way for him to find that out unless the woman decided to say it aloud. And he doubted that she would do so.
He made a point of turning his attention elsewhere and turned to look at the chaotic docking bay. "I see that you have a lot going on here," he said, trying to hide his amusement as well as he could. He could not understand how any leader might allow his people to keep the docking bay as disorganised as it was. But, then again, he understood that none of the crewmembers of the Distal Talon were humans, and that different species had different ideas of what was the best or most convenient way of organising things.
"Indeed," Ileth Kolen said dryly. "Now, let us escort you to the storage room where we have the artefact that we found orbiting the gas giant. There, you'll also meet our scientist, Ackla'quak."
Borre frowned as he started after the two Zabraks. "That does not sound like a name of a Zabrak to me," he said hesitantly. "I believe I've never heard such a name before."
Ileth Kolen glanced at him and made a face that could have been amusement. "Ackla'quak is certainly not a Zabrak," he said. "You must have presumed that this mining company is wholly a Zabrakian venture, but I assure you that we have other races here working with us. Our resident scientist is certainly the most unusual of them but he is in no way the only one. Ackla'quak is a Qalaquan, a species that developed on the planet Qalaq which had a highly toxic atmosphere and occasional dangerous eruptions of poisonous gasses and which, as you will soon see for yourself, will explain the general outlook of Qalaquans."
Borre nodded and tried to hide his embarrassment. He realised that he had made a foolish assumption merely on the basis of the people that he had already seen in the docking bay area of the mining station. Such hastiness was not a quality that was easy for him to accept in himself, especially after all his training at the Jedi academy on Yavin 4. Realising that Ileth Kolen's eyes were still turned towards him, Borre set his jaw and followed his hosts in silence.
As they walked along the narrow corridors that led along the outer ring around the centre of the mining station, Borre calmed himself down, reminding himself of the fact that pride was not a feeling that Jedi should harbour. It was an emotion that Jedi Master Skywalker had often warned his students about, but also a failing that Borre knew in himself. He blamed his childhood for that: having grown up in as deadly surroundings and survived as many hazards as he had, it was difficult not to feel pride for one's abilities. And his rank as the veritable prince of their swampland community, his father having been the Steward, had only fed that pride.
Pride was also something that had eventually caused the downfall of his father, Borre reminded himself, and long before Luke Skywalker, Steward Denehor Daigeil's death had taught him how dangerous that feeling could be. He reminded himself of his father's fate as they walked down the corridor and forced himself to admit that he had been wrong.
"That was a foolish assumption, certainly," he said lightly, knowing that it would have worked better if he had said the words a minute before he actually did, but not caring. "Tell, me, how many people do you have here on Distal Talon and what kind of a method you are using to mine the gas giant?"
"We have twelve people aboard this mining station at the moment," Ileth Kolen said as he led the way along the corridors. He led Borre and Aiie through several connecting rooms between sections of the ring, but Borre soon realised that they were heading towards the next larger segment along the ring going around the central section. He found the layout of the mining station peculiar in comparison to what he had got used to, but refrained from making a comment about it. "In addition to me and my aide," Ileth continued, "there are five electronic technicians in charge of the mining robots and the functioning of this station, two specialists of gas mining and one general staff member, who takes care of the general well-being and one pilot. There are several cleaning and repairing droids as well, but most of the functions of the mining process are automated so far as to allow a relatively small group of people to take care of the whole process.
"The process of mining is quite complex, but simply said, we have four automated mining vessels that mine the atmosphere of the local gas giant, filtering out the precious gasses and base elements that we are after. These miners do not have to leave the gas giant except for some special repairs and adjustments. We transport the mining products to this station by the way of two additional craft that our pilot takes to each of the mining vessels separately to offload their cargo once or twice a week."
Borre nodded, listening to the explanation. He had already realised that he was witnessing a small-scale mining venture and what he heard of their mining methods that the Zabrak used, he became more convinced of it. Any large-scale mining project would have utilised tractor beams to draw out the gas from the planet. "I think I located some of your mining vessels with my ship's sensors when I was coming in," he said when Ileth had finished. "I detected five objects in the upper atmosphere of the gas giant."
Ileth Kolen gave him an unreadable look. "Yes, that must have been them."
It was about then that they arrived to the end of the corridor that they had been following and came to an open hall. It was about the same size as the docking bay had been and, in fact, it seemed to be another docking bay, only not used as such. There were control panels alongside the walls and different kinds of equipment that Borre imagined must be intended for the analysis and processing of the gasses and other materials that had been mined from the gas giant. Thick pipes led from the equipment to the wall that was on the inside side of the room. It was likely that the pipes continued through the wall and all the way to the core section of the mining station which was where the mined gasses and elements were stored until they were transported off the station.
What caught Borre's attention was the alien working at the control panels, who was unlike any other alien he had ever seen. He was roughly humanoid in shape, but extremely stoutly built and about 1.5 metres tall at the most. The alien's legs were like stout brown tree trunks that ended into slightly thicker stumps instead of flat feet. Its arms were almost the same way, except that the hands had three finger-like protuberances. The alien's body was fat and what skin Borre could see was as brown as the arms and the legs. But it was the head that was the most peculiar aspect of the alien, rivalling even that of the Ithorians. The first thing that came to Borre's mind when he looked at it was a kind of a clam he had once seen living in the seashores of Rori: a rounded, almost round shape of two opposing shells. On the alien, however, the shells were wide open and from inside, from the point where the two sides of the clam met, extended various protuberances, like long tongues. When the alien turned to look at them as they walked towards his workstation, Borre saw that the alien's eyes were also inside the clamshells, at the end of one of the tongues. The edges of the shells themselves were fringed with long but thin white whiskers that seemed to sway on their own.
It was only then that Borre noticed the looks that Ileth and Aiie were giving him. Both of them were clearly amused and he realised that even the woman had got rid of the nervousness that he had sensed from her in the beginning. Forcing his expression to remain nonchalant, Borre turned his attention to the alien to whom he had been brought.
"I believe it is my honour to meet Ackla'quak," he said politely as he gave a slight greeting bow to the alien. He was quite certain that this was the Qalaquan that Ileth had mentioned earlier and whom he was supposed to meet, although the Zabraks had neglected to introduce them to each other properly. "I am Jedi Borre Daigeil," he finished.
The loud snap that followed startled him and Borre reeled backwards, his hand groping for his shoulder bag where he kept his lightsaber. Then, even as adrenaline was pushing into his bloodstream, he realised that although the sound had come from the Qalaquan, it seemed that it had not been a prelude to an attack. He celmed himself and made a point of straightening himself up and giving Ileth Kolen and Aiie Eodo a dirty look as he did so. Then he turned back to the Qalaquan and saw what had caused the loud sound. The clamshells that had been open to reveal the alien's eyes and other tongues were now tightly shut and the Qalaquan stood as if rooted to the deck; completely unmoving. With the clamshells shut, the head of the alien seemed even more like a clam, although the white whiskers were a definite departure from the resemblance.
As Borre watched, the clamshells cracked open again and a tongue peeked out. It was the one with the eyes and they seemed to look around warily as the head continued to open up. Only when fully open again, Ackla'quak turned his eye-tongue back to Borre.
"I'm sorry for my startlement," the Qalaquan said. Its voice was heavy and rumbling and Borre could not quite figure out where it was coming from. "I wasn't expecting to meet a Jedi."
It was only now that Ileth Kolen stepped forward. "Jedi Borre Daigeil, let me introduce Ackla'quak, our specialist in the area of gas mining and processing. Qalaquans are especially suited for the job since their species developed on a swamp world which is infested with poisonous gas eruptions. As it is, Qalaquans can detect and protect themselves from such dangers rather swiftly. When their head is closed, they can withstand any kind of an atmosphere for several minutes at a time, even vacuum."
Borre narrowed his eyes and took a careful look at the Qalaquan. It seemed to him that the snap-reaction of the Qalaquan's head was not reserved only for dangerous gasses but also to other kinds of surprises: such as meeting a Jedi. He realised that thus far everyone he had met had been startled to hear that he was Jedi and he began to wonder what the reasons for such extreme reactions could be.
Turning to Ackla'quak, Ileth said, "Jedi Borre Daigeil is the man the New Republic sent to help us with our finding."
The Qalaquan's tongues waved and the one with the eyes fixed on the Jedi. "You came because you learned what type of a craft we had found, Jedi Borre Daigeil?" he asked.
Borre frowned. "I thought it was just a piece of a fighter, not a whole craft?"
Ackla'quak turned slightly and one of his tongues pointed further into the hall. "We have only recovered one piece of the craft, that is true," he said in his deep voice. "But we know where the rest of it is located."
Borre turned his attention to the direction that the Qalaquan was indicating and saw something that made his skin crawl in excitement. The message that Ileth Kolen had sent to Coruscant had given the first hints of what he now saw in front of him and that message had been the reason why he had been the one who had been sent to investigate further what the crew of Distal Talon had found. In the absence of Jedi Master Skywalker, he was one of the few Jedi who knew enough about fighters to recognise what he now saw in front of him.
It was obviously a portion of a larger whole: a four metre piece of a large ring, professing a large lump that had once been an engine. It was badly burned by laser cannon blasts that had broken it apart, but Borre could still see that it had once been painted red and white. "A TransGalMeg Industries booster ring," he said, barely able to contain his excitement. "It must be four decades old."
Qalaquan made a sound that sounded like a sigh. "That is what we estimated as well. It's from the very early years of the rise of the empire."
Borre nodded, deep in thought. He knew precisely which particular fighter craft had used this type of booster ring to carry it through hyperspace. And if it had been found broken here in this uninhabited system, it meant that the craft that had used it must also be somewhere, and perhaps even the remains of the one who had piloted it.
"You recognise this?" Ileth said warily, studying Borre's expression.
He nodded. "I do. It is a booster ring type used specifically by the small Delta-class starships that did not have their own hyperspace drives. It's a generic design, capable of docking with any Delta-class fighter, but most notably by Delta-7 Aethersprite starfighter, also known as the Jedi starfighter. It was a starcraft designed specifically for the pre-Empire Jedi order."
Ileth nodded. "Yes. That is what we have determined as well, but I guess you knew it already since you decided to come here to help us."
"I didn't know, but the description that you gave made me suspect," Borre admitted. Then he shook his head. "I'd never have thought to find one of these. They were all thought destroyed by Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader when they exterminated the Jedi."
Ackla'quak gurgled, and said, "And as far as we know, we have also found the fighter itself, intact."
"Intact?" Borre exclaimed, losing the hold of his Jedi calmness. "Where is it?"
Ackla'quak's eye-tongue turned towards Ileth and the Zabrak met his eyes. Borre turned from one to the other, waiting for their answer. But when the answer finally came, it came from neither of them.
"It's inside the gas giant, deep in the lower atmosphere," Aiie said. Borre hid his surprise and turned to look at the Zabrak woman. She had not uttered a word thus far and even now he could see that she was nervous to do so. Her voice was very soft compared to that of her boss, and it touched upon him like silk.
"In the lower atmosphere? It's not on the ground?" he asked, frowning to himself at his reaction to Aiie's voice.
Aiie shook her head, her yellow eyes looking at him nervously. "The ship remains settled in a lower atmosphere where the atmospheric pressure won't let it fall any deeper. We suspect that there's still some air pressure inside that keeps it floating higher than it should be, and where our sensors were able to find it."
"Were you able to determine which Delta-class ship it is?" Borre asked, keeping his voice calm.
The woman smiled and Borre found himself wondering how he could find her so attractive even with the alienating tattoos all over her body. "We think it is Delta-Seven," she said.
Borre nodded, feeling his excitement bubbling, but he still realised that there was something that Ileth or the others had not yet explained. "All this is very exciting," he said slowly, forcing himself to calm down. "But if you did not know that this ship was a piece of Jedi history when you sent your plea for aid to Coruscant, why did you do it? You could have raised the craft with a tractor beam, fixed it up and sold it by yourselves, if you had wanted to."
Ileth Kolen looked at him and Borre saw that he was perplexed. "The situation has evidently changed now that we know what the ship down there is. Now, it is fortunate to us that we have a New Republic representative, and a Jedi at that, here to witness this salvage operation, for it is clear to us that the New Republic will want to have this ship. But you say that you want to know what our plans were before the present circumstances proved them fortuitous?"
Borre nodded. He knew that Zabraks had trouble thinking in the past tense, especially when it came to unrealised intentions, as their mentality was geared towards the present and future, and thus he gave Ileth Kolen time to think about his answer.
Apparently, also Ackla'quak knew of the Zabrak mindset and the Qalaquan decided to interject. "As soon as we found this remnant of a hyperspace booster ring, we suspected that there might be the remains of a Jedi starfighter nearby. Also, we had gained strange readings from the depths of the gas giant, which we suspected would require more investigation. You must understand, Jedi, that Distal Talon is owned by a small mining corporation and our profits depend very much on the amount of product that we can extract from this planet. We could not spare the time required for the investigation of the gas giant unless we knew that we would profit from it."
Ackla'quak fell silent, but Borre understood what he was getting at. He also understood why Ileth Kolen had made his comment about a salvage crew when he had first met him. The Zabrak had been thinking on the present terms, working with the additional information that they had found out after they had sent the message to Coruscant. "So, you contacted the offices on Coruscant in hopes of them sending someone here, who would then decide to fund this extra work or send a fully-equipped salvage crew?" he asked.
The Qalaquan snorted, its longest tongue waggling vertically. Not knowing what to deduce from it, and finding the Qalaquan's surface thoughts difficult to read, Borre turned to look at Aiie.
"That is right," Aiie said softly, her yellow eyes locking on Borre's. "Do you have the authority to make the necessary decisions?"
Borre remained silent for a moment, his eyes turning back to the hyperspace ring. He was quite certain that the Jedi academy would find it very interesting, as well as the possibly intact fighter that the crew of the Distal Talon had discovered. The mere sight of the broken piece, which had been set up on the floor of the laboratory, made Borre want to get his hands on the fighter itself. His instincts told him that the fighter had been destroyed during the time when the Empire had been hunting down and killing the Jedi and there was a very likely possibility that the fighter might contain some invaluable relics from the old days of the Jedi. Such relics were too scarce as it was - the Empire having done its best to destroy the very memory of the Jedi - and any further piece would be without value.
It was hard for him to imagine that someone - like the people who were in charge of the financial resources and budget of the New Republic - might not feel as he did. Unfortunately, he still could imagine the possibility and realised that there was no way that he could make such a decision on his own.
"I can contact Coruscant to get the necessary resources," he said finally. "But in order to do that I need to know your estimate of the funds you might need for the extraction of the Delta-class fighter from the gas giant?"
Ileth Kolen named a sum and Borre nodded thoughtfully. "I need to go back to my ship to make the necessary inquiries," he said. "In the meanwhile, is there a place on this station where I might clean up and refresh myself after I've done that?"
"My aide will get you to your quarters when you have finished with your communications," Ileth said, bowing politely. "We may meet again this evening and start discussing what our next step will be, if you get the necessary permissions from your government."
Borre agreed and turned to head back to his A-Wing. Neither Ileth nor his aide moved to follow him, which made him feel strange. Although the Jedi academy had been functional for about ten years already, the few Jedi that had finished their training and were travelling around in the galaxy were still very much not trusted generally. Borre was not particularly surprised by that, given the atrocities that some Force-adepts had committed, and the similar failures of the early years of the new Jedi academy, which had led to the destruction of a complete inhabited star system. But given the reactions of Ileth Kolen and his aide when he had first revealed them his identity, he would not have expected them to let him move freely in their mining station. However, as he walked along the narrow corridor back towards the docking bay, he noted that there were enough droids and surveillance cameras around to alert Ileth Kolen and his crew if their visitor happened to do something that he was supposed not to. He realised that they did not really need anyone following him physically as long as they could do so remotely.
His A-Wing was where he had left it and the canopy opened at his spoken command when he leapt onto the fighter's wing. It was not a high jump, but something that most humans would not have been able to make and Borre saw that it drew attention from the three Zabrak working in the docking bay. He decidedly ignored them and lowered himself onto the pilot's seat. His shoulder bag caught onto the edge of the cockpit, but he managed to push it down with him into the snug cockpit without further complications.
It took him most of an hour to make the necessary calls and secure the funds that he required for the job. In the end, he had to take them from the budget of the Jedi academy, which made him slightly self-conscious of the fact that it was now his responsibility that the academy actually profited from this venture. If the fighter turned out to be nothing but an empty wreck, corroded by some gasses in the planet's atmosphere, he feared that he would be in trouble. The New Republic was not the richest of organisations in the galaxy and its bureaucracy would eat him up whole if it turned out that the credits would have been better used by dumping them into some black hole somewhere than giving them to him.
When he opened the cockpit canopy and exited his fighter, Borre saw that Aiie Eodo was already standing nearby, waiting for him.
"I'm sorry it took this long," he said as he jumped onto the deck. "I had to make more calls than I had expected to scrape up what your boss asked."
Aiie smiled and Borre could not but smile back. There was something in her that made him lose his composure. "No need to apologise, Jedi Daigeil," she said.
"Please," Borre said, waving his hand, "call me Borre."
The Zabrak smiled again. "I will, Borre. Please you call me Aiie in turn."
Borre smiled to her and they started walking away from the docking bay, but into different direction than when they had headed to the Qalaquan's laboratory. Borre remembered seeing five bulbous modules along the ring that surrounded the central core of the mining station and wondered which one of them contained the crew's housing facilities and if he would be housed in the same module or not.
"Your craft," Aiie said suddenly, interrupting Borre's musings, "it is called an A-Wing?"
Borre glanced at the woman, met her eyes and smiled. "It is."
"Then you are a fighter pilot as well as a Jedi?" she asked.
"Well," he began. "Not actually. I used to be one but that part of my life lasted only for a few years. I fought during the Thrawn crisis, ten years ago, and for a couple of years after that, but I flew a Y-Wing at the time, and later some slightly larger gunships. Then I took a break from all that and wandered around until I found myself an apprentice at the Jedi academy on Yavin 4. And that's where and what I've been ever since."
Aiie nodded and looked at him and his clothing. "Don't Jedi normally wear themselves in those robe-type things?"
Borre smiled, proving to himself beyond any doubt that he was not behaving himself. "Yes, they usually do," he said. "As far as we know, that was the way the Jedi used to dress up before the Empire and most of the new Jedi have adopted the same habit. However, I have found that those robes, and the lightsaber that Jedi often wear quite openly, are very likely to intimidate people. Not everyone trusts us or our intentions. I find it easier to do my work when I am just one of the common people and I've found that people react to me more generously when I do not go out of my way to tell them that I'm different."
"Probably a good idea," Aiie said, smiling to him again. Then she turned away from him as they entered another main section of the mining station. Unlike the docking bay and the laboratory, this one was not set up as a wide open space. Instead, the corridor opened to a small mess hall with a few tables and several chairs around them. There was a food preparation area at the back, and a few cabinets. The mess hall was empty at the moment and Aiie led Borre through it quickly and into another corridor, this one leading away from the central core and towards an area that looked like sleeping quarters. There were several doors along the corridor and stairs to upper and lower levels. Aiie led him up one flight of stairs, bringing him to an area that seemed not to have seen much use, judging from the way the walls were clean even where they met the floor. On the lower level, he had noted that the walls and doors tended to have scrape marks from people's boots, but here there were no such signs of use.
"Ileth Kalen's quarters are at that end of this corridor," Aiie said, pointing back towards the central core. "Mine are there as well, but we have arranged you to have your quarters next to the outer hull of the station, knowing like you humans like your view."
She led him slightly further along the corridor and then stopped and opened the last door on the left. When she smiled and indicated that Borre should step inside, he did so and looked around interestedly. The room was small, but serviceable with a small table and a chair accompanying the bed and a tall cabinet for his nonexistent belongings. The view that Aiie had mentioned could be admired through a small round transparisteel viewport that was on the outer wall past the table. Interested, Borre stepped to it and looked outside. The view opened towards the purple and yellow gas giant and he could see how the horizon of the planet arched against the dark space beyond.
"It's beautiful," he breathed.
"I'm happy you like it, Borre," Aiie said and as Borre turned back to look at her, she smiled and bowed to him. Then she turned slightly and pointed to a door on the other side of the corridor. "If you wish to clean up, we have the necessary facilities in there. They are mostly unused, so you don't have to worry about sharing them with anyone else during your stay."
Borre bowed to her politely. "I appreciate it, Aiie, but I hope I'm not inconveniencing anyone else by taking it over?"
"No, you are not," Aiie replied, giving him another of her beautiful smiles. "Ileth and I have out own facilities at the other end of the corridor and the rest of the crew lives on the lower levels. Now, I will leave you here to refresh yourself and rest for a couple of hours. Ileth told me to tell you that you can then head down yourself and come to the mess hall that we passed through. We will all be gathered there and you will meet the rest of our crew."
Finding it suddenly hard to keep smiling, Borre nodded to the woman again before she closed the door to his room and left him alone. When he was certain that she had gone far enough not to hear him, he leaned against the bulkhead with his right hand and passed the fingers of his left hand through his hair as he looked at the view outside. He heard himself groan at himself and his stupid imagination. It was only Aiie's last comment, and the emotions that he sensed from her, that had made him realise that she and Ileth were companions and his dreams of a small adventure would have to remain dreams.
Admonishing himself for his foolishness, Borre set out to make himself more presentable for the next meeting with the mining crew.