Chapter Three

For days, while he was stuck in the vapor-filled chamber, all Qui-Gon had wanted to do was to get out and stretch his muscles. Thanks to Padawan, he had been released from the chamber. But now, when he finally had his freedom, he found himself in an even tighter space—a ventilation shaft.

Jenna Zan Arbor had sealed herself into the room where she held the other prisoner. It had been a wise move. She knew that Qui-Gon would not dare to break in. She knew he would not gamble with the other being's life.

He could not use Obi-Wan's lightsaber to get through the door. He could not take any aggressive action. With a sensor in his body and one in the other prisoner's, both of them could be dead in an instant.

He would have to use stealth. He had found the ventilation shaft that ran through the ceiling. He had been crawling for what felt like a long time. He could not make a sound to alert her, and he had to be mindful of his directions as well. The various shafts were a maze. But if he was careful, he could wind up in the ceiling over Zan Arbors head.

What then? Qui-Gon wondered. He could drop down on her from above. But what if the trigger for the sensor was concealed in her clothing? Even if it were somewhere on a console, could he persuade her to disable the sensors? Could he believe her if she said she had?

He didn't know the answers to those questions. But he could not wait outside the door, wondering what was going on inside.

He spied a vent ahead and carefully moved toward it. He lowered his face and peered through.

He was over the lab at last. He saw the top of Zan Arbors head. The same kind of transparent chamber he had been kept in was in the middle of the room. It was filled with a cloudy gas, so he could not see the occupant.

Zan Arbor paced back and forth with short, quick steps. He recognized the angry movement. Something else had gone wrong.

"Do not think you can fool me," Zan Arbor said furiously. " I know you are willing yourself to die. You refuse to access the Force. I will not let that happen!" She strode over to a bank of equipment. "You want to die?" she asked shrilly. "Then know what it feels like to die!"

She turned an indicator knob. Qui-Gon did not know what she was doing. He could only imagine. Zan Arbor's goal was to break down the essential elements of the force into something she could control. Qui-Gon knew firsthand how ruthless she could be if her subject did not cooperate.

Hold on, he urged the prisoner silently.

She switched off the dial. "Well? Are you still so interested in dying? Now show me the Force!" Qui-Gon saw her send a sharp gaze to a chronometer to check the time. She was under some kind of pressure. Why?

"All right, then. If I cannot use you, you are just a liability. But I'll take all your blood before you die, just for being so uncooperative."

Her hand went for the dial again. It was time to act. Qui-Gon eased out Obi-Wan's lightsaber in one swift, practiced movement and reared back to kick through the vent.

But he checked himself just in time as an indicator buzzed and Zan Arbor hesitated. She pressed the communication button.

A voice blared, "Droid shipment."

"It's about time," she snarled

She whirled and stalked out of the room without another word. Qui-Gon settled back on his haunches, thinking. He could not release the prisoner until he knew that Zan Arbor was immobilized and unable to kill him. But any delay could seal his doom completely.

He was more trapped in his freedom than he'd been as a prisoner. What should he do?