Chapter 1

Obi-Wan Kenobi kept his eyes on his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn. He did not like to break Qui-Gon’s concentration, but he was impatient to know what his Master was thinking.

They sat in the small, elegant waiting room at the Supreme Governor’s residence on the planet of New Apsolon. A lightsaber lay on a small table next to Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon didn’t move his eyes from it. Every few minutes he would pick up the hilt and hold it a few times, losing himself in the sapphire glow. Then he would deactivate it and, still holding it tightly, get up to pace the room. In just moments he would abruptly whirl, slam the lightsaber down on the table again, and sit.

The process had been going on for some time now.

Obi-Wan was sure that his Master was formulating a plan. Jedi Knight Tahl had been kidnapped. They knew who the culprit was — Balog, the Chief Security Controller of New Apsolon. They just did not know why, or where Balog had taken her. Tahl had not been able to leave any clues behind.

Obi-Wan was trying to come up with the best course of action himself. He hadn’t gotten far, but they didn’t know who he was in league with. Confidently, Obi-Wan waited for Qui-Gon to conclude his internal strategy session. He had seen it in the past. His Master would turn and look at him directly. His gaze would be sharp and focused. He would crisply outline the best way to proceed.

Qui-Gon turned to him at last. “I should have gone with her to that meeting,” he said sadly.

Startled, Obi-Wan could only shake his head. Qui-Gon never wasted time on what they should have done. “But Balog told us that only one Jedi was allowed.”

“I should have made her leave the planet when it was clear her identity was compromised.” Tahl had gone undercover and pretended to be one of the Absolutes.

They had once been the secret police of New Apsolon, and had since been outlawed. They had never disbanded, though, and had continued to meet in secret, gathering power over the years.

“But she would not have left.” Obi-Wan spoke patiently. He wasn’t telling Qui-Gon anything his Master didn’t know already. “We need to contact the Temple. They will send help.”

“Not yet.” Qui-Gon’s tone was firm. “We know now that there are many here who hate and resent the Jedi. If more Jedi arrive, it will make it harder for us to find contacts to help us. Especially among the Workers.”

“But a Jedi Knight is missing,” Obi-Wan said. “It is our duty to contact the Council.”

“And we will,” Qui-Gon told him. “But we need twenty-four hours first. We will find her, Obi-Wan. I can feel her. I know she is alive. I know she will find a way to help us once we get on her trail.” Qui-Gon returned to his pacing. “We should talk to Balog’s assistant again.”

“We’ve already spoken to him twice,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “Both of us felt sure he had nothing more to tell us.” It would feel strange and awkward to tell his own Master to focus, as Qui-Gon had told him so many times. Yet Obi-Wan felt that Qui-Gon needed to slow down. His Master’s thoughts were circling in a pattern that would lead nowhere. Obi-Wan could see it clearly, for he had been taught by Qui-Gon how to think calmly in the midst of panic, how to find a way out.

Qui-Gon knew this. Why couldn’t he practice it? Obi-Wan could see anguish and desperation on Qui-Gon’s face, and something it took a beat for him to recognize — indecision. With a sense of shock, he realized that Qui-Gon did not know what to do next. Qui-Gon always knew what to do next. Obi-Wan decided to use a method Qui-Gon had for helping to focus. If you don’t know which way to turn, review what you know.

“This is what we know,” Obi-Wan began, even though he could tell that Qui-Gon was only half-listening. Obi-Wan was starting to worry about his Master, and that was taking his own attentions from the task at hand. “There are two factions battling for power on New Apsolon — the Workers and the Civilized. The government is in disarray. Before we arrived on New Apsolon, the Supreme Governor, Ewane, was assassinated. He was a Worker who had been imprisoned for many years by the Absolutes. After his death, his close ally, Roan, was elected. Though Roa was a Civilized, he had fought for the Workers to become full citizens of New Apsolon. He took in Ewane’s twin daughters, Alani and Eritha. But Alani and Eritha still feared for their lives. They contacted the Jedi to escort them off-planet.”

Qui-Gon stirred impatiently. “We know all this, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan had once been impatient when Qui-Gon had always ignored his impatience and continued. Now it was Obi-Wan’s turn to push forward.

“Tahl came to the planet alone and infiltrated the disbanded Absolutes, who had gone underground. After we arrived, Eritha and Alani were kidnapped. Roan disappeared to pay the ransom and was killed. Shortly afterward, the twins were released, which led us to believe that Roan was the true target all along. Tahl’s identity as a Jedi was discovered but she escaped. She went to a peace negotiation meeting of Workers and Civilized organized by Balog. Only we have discovered that there was no meeting. Balog lied in order to kidnap Tahl. The question is, why? Balog was a Worker. It doesn’t seem likely he’d kidnap a Jedi.”

“Anything is likely on this planet,” Qui-Gon said grimly, shoving Tahl’s lightsaber into his belt.

“Another question is whether Tahl’s kidnapping is linked to the twins,” Obi-Wan went on. “Was Balog responsible for that, too? If so, he is most likely responsible for the murder of Roan. Irini gave us information from the Workers that suggested that the person who masterminded the twins’ kidnapping was in the inner circle here. But why Balog?” Qui-Gon’s gaze was clear now. “We don’t know the answers to any of these questions,” he said. “But it seems clear that it is all linked — Ewane’s assassination, Roan’s murder, the kidnapping of twins — and that someone or some organization is behind these things. They want power.”

“So kidnapping Tahl is a way for them to get that power? How?” “Uncovering the answers will take longer than a day. Time we don’t have. We need to find Tahl first.” Qui-Gon turned back to Obi-Wan. “What was the principal method the Absolutes used to keep the Workers in line?” “Probe droids,” Obi-Wan answered after a moment. “The droids on New Apsolon are technologically advanced. They can track subjects and attack to stun or kill. The vital information of all Workers was kept in files, and with that information a probe droid could be programmed to target a specific person —” Obi-Wan slowly rose. “Of course. Balog is a Worker. If we can get his vitals —” “And a probe droid,” Qui-Gon finished.

A soft voice came from behind them. “But they are illegal now.”

It was Alani. The slight sixteen-year-old stood in the doorway for a moment, dressed in a simple tunic, her golden hair braided and coiled around her head. She had dark smudges under her eyes. The twins had stayed awake mourning Roan, and the news of Tahl’s disappearance had devastated them. Tahl and the twins had a special bond. She took a few steps into the room. “I didn’t mean to overhear. I came to see if I can bring you refreshment.”

“We’d rather have a probe droid,” Qui-Gon said.

“I might be able to help you with that as well,” Alani said. “At least, I know someone who can find one. Lenz.”

“Lenz,” Obi-Wan said, repeating the name. Lenz had been among the Workers in a secret meeting he and Qui-Gon had overheard.

“He is the leader of the Workers,” Alani said. “He will say he doesn’t know how to get one, but that is a lie. Tell him I sent you.”

“You know him well?” Qui-Gon asked.

“Lenz took us in when our father was imprisoned,” Alani said. “So yes, I know him well. We are not in touch anymore, but he will help you if I ask him to. The trouble will be finding him. He moves from place to place.”

“We have not time to waste,” Obi-Wan said in frustration. Would they need a probe droid to track Lenz, too? Alani frowned, thinking. “Irini will know how to find him. She will be at her job at the Absolute Museum by now.”

The Jedi knew Irini. But knowing her didn’t mean she would help them. She was a prominent leader in the Worker movement, and she had made it clear that she did not consider the Jedi her allies. They suspected her of trying to kill them when they had first arrived on New Apsolon. But there was no one else to turn to.