Alida moved through the market. The conversations were hushed and some of the open market owners looked at her suspiciously as she walked by. She didn't need the Force to notice the drop in conversation when the Lieutenant approached her, then bowed to her before he left. Alida continued her search, looking for supplies and listening to the events going on around her.
"Best fruit, you've ever tasted!" one of the dealers yelled, eliciting a chuckle from Alida. She'd heard that before, in hundreds of marketplaces across the galaxy. It usually meant it was the most expensive in the area.
"Come taste it, ma'am."
Alida smiled and went over. "The best fruit ever?"
Giving Alida a wide grin, the woman spoke in even tones. "Yes, try a sample. It's the best and whoever you serve will enjoy it, too." The woman's eyes sparkled with laughter.
"Perhaps a taste," she allowed. "But MíLady has discerning tastes. It has to be very good."
The woman shook her slightly graying head. "I would not mislead you. I know how masters can be, regardless of what face they wear." The woman offered Alida a piece of fruit and waited for her reaction.
Alida took it, regarding the fist-sized fruit. Cream colored and speckled with purple, it was attractive enough. "What do you mean?"
The woman shrugged her shoulders. "They are demanding, and are never satisfied."
"It can seem that way sometimes," she said slowly. "You have much experience in those matters?"
The woman looked around, then lowered her head when she saw guards. "The price is fair. Here, try another. I'm sure you will agree."
Slowly, Alida took the second fruit. "And what is the cost?"
"Merely two deccas." the woman nodded to the guards and waited until they were gone. "You aren't from around here, are you?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Then take your master and leave. This is a dangerous place to be unless you wish to be free of him or her."
"She's here for the opening of the lab," Alida said in a quiet voice. "I can't leave."
The woman backed up slightly, shaking her head. "You can't let her attend that." Meritaís voice shook. "No one ever returns from there."
"Merita, what lies are you telling?" a man questioned, coming up to the stand and looking at both women.
Alida looked up toward the newcomer. He put his hand on the fruit sellerís shoulder protectively.
"Nothing Ö just a fair warning, Price. She's not from around here."
"Is something wrong?" Alida asked, hefting the fruit in her hand.
The man looked at Alida, then back to Merita. "You know better than to talk in the open." He turned his attention to Alida. "Things aren't as they seem, and to be honest, this isn't the place to talk of them."
"I can't take you at your word." She felt guards approaching once more. "How do I know these were grown naturally?"
"Merita grows them herself." Price bellowed loudly.
"What's the problem here?" a guard asked, stopping while his partner surveyed the market place.
Alida turned, her hands on her hips. "I'm just shopping," she said.
The guard looked at Alida as if memorizing her features, an uncomfortable feeling. Alida stood firm, as she had seen unhappy shoppers do before.
"And disputing my word on my wares." Merita pouted, pulling attention back at her. "Alright, one decca per fruit."
The guards picked up some fruit and started to walk away. "Workers, who can understand them?"
"Who wants to?"
Alida looked to Price and Merita. "Where can we talk?"
Price watched as the guards left. "You should be careful how you talk to them." He paused, looking at Merita. "Can you get away tonight? We can meet here, then I'll lead you to a place where we can talk in peace."
She nodded. "Tonight."
"That is, if your Mistress will let you leave without too many questions," Merita added.
"I think I should be able to get away," Alida said with confidence. "I can come up with a good enough reason to be out, I'm sure."
"One word of warning: don't get too close to the guards. Word is spreading how polite one was to you a while ago." Price cautioned.
"And that's bad?" she asked.
"They are only polite to us when they are ready to arrest us." Merita cautioned. "But since you and your mistress are new, perhaps it would be better. He is, after all, head guard for the lab your master is so interested in."
"I didn't realize that," Alida breathed, widening her eyes for effect. "Do you think she's safe with him?"
"I'm sure. He would never do anything to disgrace his family," Merita scoffed.
"They would never attack one of importance or upbringing," Price added. "But knowing most of the upper class, she'll be swept off her feet. Mindless, all of them"
Alida felt Price's scowl without having to look to see it and she wondered just how bad things had become here on Arridor. They would tell her more tonight.
She picked up a few of the fruits and handed over the appropriate number of decca to Merita.
"Your Mistress will love them!" Merita yelled after her.
Price moved closer to her. "Are you asking for trouble?"
"We have to trust someone, no one on this planet will help us ... even the old one has disappeared."
"I just hope you're right..."
"I do, too."
Alida hurried through the marketplace toward the lodging. Octavia should be back in their quarters by now. She wondered how she fared at the shop, and if she had discovered anything of importance.
Octavia turned, hearing the door open. "I was starting to get worried."
"I ran into an interesting couple." Alida took out her scanner and checked the room quickly. "I'm going out tonight."
"What a coincidence," Octavia replied, taking a seat. "It seems Lieutenant Tor Kyrsk is interested in taking me out this evening. He found me at the dressmakerís." Octavia shivered. "I'm not used to such idleness." She paused "What makes this couple so interesting?"
"The information they will hopefully provide." Alida smiled. "Such as: are you aware that your lieutenant is in charge of security for the lab?"
"No I was not. We could use that to our advantage," Octavia mused. "The labs seem to be the focus of many people. Some of the ladies at the shop talked about them and the opening."
"The couple in the market spoke of arrests," Alida told her. "We most definitely must get inside that lab."
Octavia nodded in agreement. "I overheard something like that." She looked at Alida. "How did you know I would use Syn as my last name when you made the appointment at the shop?"
Alida frowned. "What appointment?"
"I was asked if I had an appointment. I of course answered no. The woman asked for my name, I used my middle name Syn. She then informed me that I had an appointment, and I was ushered in rather quickly." Octavia frowned. "If you didn't make the appointment ... then who did?"
"One possibility is that they would not wish to lose a potential client," Alida said. "As for any others, only the Council knows where we are."
"Perhaps," Octavia rose to look out the window. "Yet wouldn't they know if I've made an appointment? Do they think I'm brainless?"
"The workers do not hold the upper class in high respect," Alida said as she dropped into a chair. "They seem to believe that those of the upper class are mindless."
"Wonderful." Octavia sighed. "I don't think I can act brainless."
"As you've said, you have the harder job."
Octavia turned as a knock came upon the door. "Wonderful, it's either the Lieutenant early or the outfits from the shop. I don't know what is worse."
"Be idle," Alida said with a small smile, rising to get the door.
A young girl stood there looking at Alida. "I was to deliver these, I'm sorry I'm late."
Alida took the package she offered. "Thank you. I'll make certain my mistress receives them."
The girl nodded as she handed the packages. "Meet Price after your mistress leaves with the lieutenant," the girl whispered to Alida and then turned to run down the hall.
Alida closed the door and returned, shaking her head at Octavia. Once more, she brought out the scanner and ran it over the package. "Well, news travels quickly here."
"That doesn't sound good at all." Octavia stated. "What news?"
"Your evening with the lieutenant."
Octavia stared at Alida. "It seems we are observed after all. I wonder if it's because we are new here or if there's another reason."
"Either way, we'll need to exercise extreme caution."
"I agree. This couple you are meeting, do you think you can trust them?"
"As much as we can trust anyone on this planet," she said, picking up a box and opening it. "You need to get ready for your evening, Octavia."
"I think I'd rather face the Emperor," Octavia replied, taking the box. "I've never gone out on a ... date." She opened the box to remove a light green colored dress accompanied by a silverish sheer wrap. "At least it covers the body, but thereís no way to hide a lightsaber here."
"There should be an evening bag," Alida noted.
Octavia rummaged through the box again and pulled out a bag, "It seems itís large enough."
Octavia held the bag up. "Large enough for a datapad," she chuckled.
The older woman frowned. "You're not going unarmed."
Octavia smiled. "One who has knowledge of the force is never unarmed." She became serious as she looked around the room. "If I was scanned or searched it would not do well for me to have it on me. I'm only concerned of the room being searched and it being discovered."
"You've learned well," Alida said quietly. "My cloak will conceal the lightsabers as I move about the city, it won't remain here. Regardless, I remain concerned."
Octavia nodded, removing her saber from her own cloak and handing it over to Alida. "I've grown used to having it near, even before I remembered how to fully use it, it was always near. As for being concerned, I will have to keep my senses alert and trust in the good lieutenant to protect a brainless woman." She made a slight face at that statement. "A somewhat brainless woman?"
"Only as a charade, Octavia." Alida regarded the young woman in front of her. "Trust in the Force is wise, young one, but I recall Masters, armed with the Force and their lightsabers, being cut down. Exercise great caution."
"I will, just remember to take your own advice. The hunt for Jedi isn't over, our time with Raven proved that."
Alida nodded. "Go get dressed."
Octavia nodded and went into the other room. The dress was long and green, revealing the leg slightly. Placing the wrap over her shoulders she exited the room and stood before Alida. "Well?" she questioned, holding her posture straight but relaxed at the same time.
"Can you do 'haughty'?"
"Your expression, Octavia." Alida explained.
Octavia thought back to some of the people she observed. "Is this suitable?" Her tone and expression changed to that of one of use of position and power.
"Very much so," Alida said, nodding approvingly. "When is the lieutenant due?"
As if on cue, a knock came on the door. "He did not give a set time, but said early. Perhaps that is him."
"Go into your room," Alida instructed. "It would not do for you to be out here waiting for him."
She waited until Octavia had returned to the other room before she went to the door and called, "Yes?"
"Lieutenant Kyrsk," came the reply.
She opened the door. "Lieutenant, won't you come in? MíLady Octavia will be with you in a moment."
"Certainly. I hope I'm not ..." he looked at the boxes on the couch. " ... too early."
She shook her head. "No, I've been derelict in my duties. Please, excuse me."
Tor stood by the door. "I hope everything met with the Lady's approval?"
"She seemed pleased, sir." Alida motioned for him to enter and then went to pick up the packages. "Please, have a seat."
"Thank you." Tor took a seat. "Has Lady Octavia mentioned how long she will be staying here?"
"No, sir," she said. "She hasn't said anything to me."
Leaning back he smiled. "Hopefully, the fact that she will be going to the opening of Xanatos Labs will help persuade her not to leave too soon." he said with a smile.
"Yes, sir," she said. "I'm sure she'll tell me so I can purchase what she will need."
"How did you find the market place?" he asked, watching Alida as she moved to clear the small area of packages.
"Colorful," she said.
He chuckled slightly. "Yes, it is that. So how do you plan on spending the evening in the absence of Lady Octavia?"
"I hadn't given it much thought, sir," she said. "Most likely cleaning and making certain the lady has everything she needs."
"Is Alida keeping you entertained, Lieutenant?" Octavia questioned, entering the room and nodding when he stood to greet her.
He gave her a small bow. "Yes, I've been watching her straighten your room."
Octavia looked over the room quickly. "She's quite good at her duties, I forgot when you said you would arrive and I wanted to make sure I looked my best for you."
He gave her a smile, lighting up the room with its brilliance. "My dear Lady Octavia, you are stunning and I doubt you could be anything else."
"You know just what to tell a lady Lieutenant" Octavia replied smiling glancing at Alida quickly. "If you think I'm presentable, I'm ready to leave when you are."
"I'm ready now," he said. He offered her his arm to take and she slid her hand into the crook of his elbow.
"I will return later, Alida." Octavia said looking at her. "I'm sure you will have more than enough time to take care of your duties."
The woman ducked her head. "Yes, MíLady. I will."
"So what do you have planned for the evening, Lieutenant?" Octavia asked. "Or can I call you Tor?"
He smiled. "I'd be honored if you would call me Tor," he said. "I had thought dinner, followed by the theater?"
"It sounds like a wonderful time." Octavia replied light-heartedly. She opened her senses to the Force the minute they stepped out of the living quarters. She hoped Alida would be careful, and when she returned they would have an idea of how to proceed.
He led her to an air car and held open the door for her. Taking her seat, Octavia noticed a man watching the building she had just left.
Tor closed the door and went to get in on the other side. "Are you ready?"
He gunned the engine and moved the air car into the stream of traffic. Tor smiled at her. "I think this will be a very interesting evening."
Octavia smiled sitting back. "And what makes you say that Tor?"
"A beautiful evening, a beautiful woman. . ." He smiled. "How could it be anything else?"
"Why, it can't be anything but perfect."
"Perfect?" he asked. "Put a man to the test, will you?"
"It won't be a difficult test, I'm sure you'll pass."
He kept his eyes on the traffic in front of him, but she could see that it was the right thing to say. Octavia knew she would need to be on alert for the rest of the evening.
It didn't take long for Alida to finish clearing the small room. As soon as she believed Octavia and her escort for the evening were out of the area, she took out a heavy, dark cloak and wrapped it around her slender figure. She secreted both her and Octavia's lightsabers within the folds of the garment before she turned the lights off and slipped out into the hallway.
Her stepped echoed on the marble floor of the hotel. She kept her posture as one on a mission for her master, hurrying along, her head down. She noticed with no small amount of curiosity that the way was deserted. Even as she stepped into the street and made her way toward the marketplace, it seemed as if the local populace had gone into their homes for the evening. Alida stayed close to the buildings, wondering if this was the normal course of things in this area.
As she drew closer to the market place, she found more people moving about the area. Interesting, she thought to herself as she sought out the fruit seller's stall.
Merita looked up and smiled. "Glad to see you could make it."
She nodded. "My mistress had an engagement this evening."
"Yes, Lt. Tor Kyrsk." She rose and motioned for Alida to follow her.
Gathering her cloak around her, Alida followed the woman back behind the rows of fruits laid out for sale.
Merita led the way to an underground area that opened up into a cellar. They hurried down the small staircase and into another room where there were a number of others already waiting there. All seemed to be waiting for something.
"Price wasn't sure I was right in talking to you, but I feel you can be trusted."
"I thank you," Alida said.
Price turned as they entered. "We are all present now." He motioned for Alida and Merita to take their seats.
The woman motioned for Alida to sit next to her. She did so, fully aware of the eyes upon her, the stranger.
"What is she doing here?" one questioned.
"She's not from here," Merita answered quickly, "but she's one of us."
"I asked her to join us. Merita believes we need to trust someone from off world. One who has a different perspective," Price answered, backing up Merita's statement.
That seemed to settle the other. Alida sighed to herself. This seemed like the best way to find out what was going on, but she could feel strife in the room, in the participants. They were angry and afraid.
"We need to find a way to destroy the lab," another spoke up. "The water near the lab is already poisoned and many along the area have been ill."
"How are we supposed to get near it?" someone asked. "There are too many guards."
"We've lost too much trying to get close to it," another stated. "The government is starting to have us arrested."
"What happens to those who are arrested?" Alida asked.
Merita shook her head. "We've not seen any of them since their arrest."
"It's reported that they fall ill to the same plague that destroyed a lot of our crops and animals. Others just disappear," someone said from the back of the room
"They aren't in the jail." Price stated. "We have eyes there."
"In the lab?" Alida questioned.
"Why didn't we think of that?" ane yelled.
"We don't have anyone inside," Price said. "Yet."
Merita shook her head. "I doubt if we will. They haven't hired any of our class to work there."
"No, they bring their own." Price added.
A grizzled old man got up. "Kill them. Kill them all and tear down the lab. That's the only way this is going to stop."
"Attack the upper class. Hit them where it will hurt!" Another yelled
"Violence is never the answer," Alida said evenly.
"Easy for you to say," one accused. "You don't have to live here."
Alida shook her head. "You're right," she said. "But what you're suggesting is as bad as anything they might do."
"Perhaps, but no one listens to us. We have to show we will not be treated as sub-human."
"And the way you propose to do that?"
"By destroying the classes." a man stated. "It's been done before."
"Bomb 'em!" someone else yelled. "Where it hurts. Their theaters, their restaurants! Their places!"
"The festivities for the lab!" another yelled.
"No!" Alida said, getting to her feet. "You want to hurt innocent people."
"There are no INNOCENT people!" another challenged. "We are prepared to meet what ends we must."
"ORDER!" Price yelled.
"I agree something must be done, the guards have to be shown that we won't sit back and let them treat us as they wish," Merita stated.
Angry shouts punctuated the air. The meeting was quickly dissolving into chaos. Merita shook her head. The people were definitely angry.
"We need to keep a cool head," Price stated.
Alida focused, gently manipulating the Force around them, bringing a small measure of calm to the room.
"What about our new guest? She's speaking of peace. Perhaps she has an idea."
"Is there anyone within the guards who might be called upon?" Alida questioned. "Or are none of them sympathetic to your plight?"
Price shook his head. "We've tried, unfortunately none care to listen to us or see the dangers that this lab could do to our planet."
"Has anyone tried to infiltrate their ranks?"
"None of us have the ranking to pass the inspection," Merita answered.
"What does the inspection consist of?"
"Background checks, as well as a physical inspection and interview," another answered.
Alida sat back, considering.
"But nothing that one of your standing couldn't pass, Alida."
"My thoughts were leading in that direction," she admitted.
"What of her mistress?" Price questioned.
"Lady Syn is not as strict, perhaps, as some of the people you have been describing."
"Regardless, she won't betray her class," another objected.
"I'm sure Alida will persuade her to see our point of view. Won't you?" a man asked from the doorway.
Alida turned to look at the newcomer. "She's not blind to what goes on around her."
Removing his hood, he smiled at her. "I certainly hope not. It would be a sad statement for you." He had aged, but she could still see the man she remembered. "Has time changed me that much?"
"You know Alida?" Merita questioned.
Alida stood with a smile on her face. "It has been a long time."
"It is good to see you survived."
"So many did not." Her smile faded slightly. "You've survived, as well. I'm grateful to see that."
"How do you know her?" another challenged.
Zuren's eyes met hers, asking permission. She nodded and he turned to his challenger. "She and I are from the same place, Sadac."
"Which is?" Price questioned, not liking the change of events.
"Coruscant. A very long time ago."
Merita nodded. "Told you we could trust her?"
Price nodded grudgingly.
Zuren stepped forward. "I have discovered many of your companions who were arrested were taken to the lab."
"Why?" Merita asked. "What do they want with them?"
"I don't know." He shook his head slowly. "None of them survived."
His announcement was met with gasps and cries that echoed through the room. So many here had lost loved ones to the arrests.
"Then we are left with no other recourse than to attack."
Alida looked at Zuren. "There are two ways in. As a guard or as a prisoner."
"We are overlooking of another way. As a guest." Zuren looked at Alida. "How far is your apprentice willing to go?"
"She is not my apprentice," Alida corrected him. "But she is a Jedi."
"BAH! Jedi do nothing except fight with the Empire over territory," one of the servants scoffed.
Zuren looked at Alida. "Again I ask: how far is she willing to go?"
"As I said: she is a Jedi. I believe she will do all that is necessary," Alida told him.
Zuren turned to the people assembled. "Let us try to handle it our way, without involving any of you. If we fail, then you will be free to proceed as you will."
Merita shook her head. "It's our planet, too. And we should offer assistance if we can."
"You've been a great help to us, Zuren," a woman said. "But we can't ask you to do that."
"We need to take control of the situation here," another stated.
"Let us try it our way," Zuren said again. "You have nothing more to lose than you've already lost."
"You have twenty four hours to bring us some information you are succeeding, else we will begin our plans to attack the opening," Price said to the murmured agreements of those assembled.
It was so little time, but it would have to do. Zuren and Alida nodded. They would have to accept those terms if they wished to help these people.
"Come to my fruit stand and I will pass it on to the others," Merita stated.
"Agreed," Zuren said.
The group stood and began to dissipate. Price stopped to look at Zuren and Alida. "Jedi?" he shook his head. "I wish you success, I have no desire to kill the upper class, but I will."
"We'll do all we can to keep that from happening," Alida said.
Zuren turned to Alida. "How long will your companion be out?"
"Until after the theater," she said. "A few hours."
"Can we talk at your hotel?" he asked. "Is it safe?"
"Yes, it is," she said.
"Then I suggest we go there. I have many questions for you."
"Price. Merita." Zuren gave them a smile. "Thank you."
"I'm glad we were able to help." They smiled at Alida. "We wish you luck." They looked from the door then disappeared into the night.
Alida put a hand on her friendís arm. Zuren. So much greyer now, lines on his face, but it was Zuren. "The lodging isn't far."
She led him out of the room and up toward the street. He chuckled. "You've aged well."
She gave his arm a squeeze. "So have you."
"The Force has been generous."
"How did you end up here?" he asked as they hurried through the dark streets. Alida checked carefully before heading into the lodging and up toward their rooms.
Once there, she scanned the room quickly. "We can talk."
Looking over the rooms. "One would believe you are part of the upper class."
She pulled her cloak off and hung it up. "Octavia's done well in that regard."
"That is good to hear. She's going to have to be careful." Zuren took a seat. "Where did you find her?"
"She is one of Master Skywalker's students," she said.
Zuren nodded. "You never answered me, what brought you here?"
"You." She sat down and motioned for him to do the same.
"There were too many similarities between the nameless businessman and Knight Zuren."
"I thought I hid my tracks and history so that there would be no similarities between my former life and present one. It's dangerous being a Jedi these days."
"I've noticed," she said. "Only someone who knew you would have noticed the similarities, Zuren."
"So are you now part of this new rising Academy in the Alliance?"
"I have been there," she said, "but I am not very comfortable there."
"So do you plan on returning?" Zuren questioned.
"My Padawan will be returning there," she said, "so yes, I will. For a short time, at least."
"Then you believe in the Alliance's fight against the Empire?"
"How can you ask me that?" she asked. "You know what the Empire has done. Of course I will fight against them."
Zuren smiled. "I had to hear it, so many of us who survived the Purge gave into the Dark, while others turned their backs on their training and are happy to just exist."
"Far too many," she said with a sad sigh. "And you, Zuren?"
"Iíve done what I can to help where I could. That's why I'm here. The labs are dangerous, Alida, I'm not sure what they are doing, but they are up to something."
"What is it you want Octavia to do?"
"To get inside the labs and to map the layout for us." Zuren paused. "She is out with the head guard, and can use that to our advantage."
"She should be back soon," Alida said. "She's young, but strong with the Force."
Zuren nodded. "That will be to her and our advantage. Do you know how long she's been training?"
She sighed. "Truthfully? No, I don't."
Zuren waved his hand. "We can find that out later. How do you plan to explain my presence if the lieutenant is with her?"
She gave a small smile. "Are those of the lower class here not allowed to have any life at all?"
Zuren chuckled. Alida sat back as they discussed what was going on here. Even though the situation appeared to be serious, on some level, she enjoyed just talking to Zuren. It had been so long since she had seen anyone from the Temple.
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