Obi-Wan Kenobi paced between rows of tombs in a tunnel below the city of Zehava. Overhead, a battle raged. The noise of the explosions was muffled. But every time Obi-Wan heard the faint thump of a proton torpedo, he had to stop himself from wincing. His imagination supplied the damage the explosive device had inflicted. The enemy had starfighters, and the ground forces of the Young were being bombarded.
Around him, the shapes of other tombs loomed in the murky darkness. The Young had made their headquarters in the tunnels below the city. They had chosen the vaulted space of an ancient mausoleum as central headquarters.
"Obi-Wan, sit down," his friend Cerasi called. "You're making me dizzy."
In moments of crisis, Cerasi was always calm. Nield, a tall slender boy with dark eyes, was more serious. Obi-Wan could see the strain on their faces. He could not remember the last time any of them had eaten or slept. They had been fighting aboveground for fourteen days. Now they waited for the news that seemed long in coming.
The three had led the Young on a quest to bring peace to the planet of Melida/Daan. Their war with the Elders was yet another war in the bloody history of Melida/Daan. The planet had been torn by conflict for centuries, as the two tribes, Melida and Daan, struggled for control. It was the Young who had finally called for peace. The Elders had refused, and now the children of Melida/ Daan were battling to save their planet.
Obi-Wan had never believed in a cause more. He had forsaken his Jedi training because of it. After struggling to become Padawan to the great Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn, he had turned his back on him to battle for peace on a strange planet.
Sometimes, he could not believe that he'd made the decision. Then he would look at his friends and remember why he had done so. He had never felt as close to anyone as he did to Nield and Cerasi.
Cerasi's crystal green eyes gleamed in a face streaked with dirt and sweat. She patted a space on top of the tomb where she sat with Nield. "I'm sure Mawat will clear the tunnel to the spaceport any moment now," she assured Obi-Wan.
"He has to," Obi-Wan said worriedly as he took his place between them. "We have to strike when the starfighters are being refueled. It's our only hope."
Obi-Wan had been the one to notice that the fleet of starfighters all attacked in the same wave. Most of the advanced weaponry on Melida/Daan had to be constantly retooled and refitted. The people had been fighting so long that equipment had worn out. The aging starfighters had to be refueled and checked more frequently. And the Elders' mistake was that they were refueling their entire fleet at the same time.
Which meant they were vulnerable.
Obi-Wan's plan was to invade the spaceport with a small team during the refueling process. While one member of the team disabled the power converters on the starfighters, the others would serve as lookouts. If a battle started, the first objective was to distract the guards.
It was risky, but if they were successful, victory would be assured. Recently, the Middle Generation had offered their support to the Young. They would form an alliance, but only if victory was in sight. If the young gained the support of the few who remained of the Middle generation, the Elders would be outnumbered.
Mawat, the leader of the Scavenger Young, was now working to expand a small side tunnel into the spaceport's power shaft. From there they would be able to enter the port through a grate in the floor.
"All we need is timing and luck," Cerasi said.
Obi-Wan grinned. "Who, us? We don't need luck."
"Everybody needs luck," Nield shot back.
They held out their palms toward each other, their hands as close as they could without touching. The gesture was a ritual they'd developed through the many battles over the past weeks.
Suddenly, a small, slender girl rushed into the vault. "Mawat says we're clear."
"Thanks Roenni," Obi-Wan said, springing to his feet. "Are you ready?"
She nodded and held up a pair of fusion-cutters. "I'm ready."
He hated to involve Roenni. She was younger and unused to battle, but her father had been a starfighter mechanic. She'd grown up around every kind of air transport available. She knew how to use a fusioncutter, and how to disable a power converter. Obi-Wan was counting on the fact that she was small and agile. She could slip into the starfighter through the cargo hold below. With any luck, she could do it without being seen.
Obi-Wan, Nield, Cerasi, and Roenni hurried through the tunnels. When they got to the new tunnel immediately beneath the spaceport, they moved more carefully. They were now directly below the guards.
Mawat came toward them. His lean face was completely covered in dirt and muck. His clothes were filthy.
"Took longer because we had to work so quietly," he murmured to them. "But, hey, you'll come up right behind the fueling tanks. Three of the starfighters are, bang, lined up next to them. Two are close to the entrance. There are two utility droids and six guards. At least, blast, they won't be expecting you to come from below."
Remember, Padawan, when you are outnumbered, surprise is your best ally.
Qui-Gon's calm voice entered Obi-Wan's mind, twining through his apprehension like a cool river. He felt a pang. He had never carried off an operation like this without his Master by his side.
Obi-Wan reached out to the Force. He would need it in this battle. But the force slipped away from him like an unseen sea creature that brushed against him and then moved on. He could not reach it or summon it. He could not only imagine its great power.
The Force had left him.