Chapter 8 Once Qui-Gon and Argoth were out of the military base, they found a nice secluded alley. There they changed back into their robes and tossed the military uniforms into a large waste bin. Argoth appreciated the chance to get out of the over sized uniform and back into his robes. He also felt less vulnerable with the lightsaber by his side again, rather than in a backpack. The city itself was quite busy, with vehicles and people moving about. It was close to mid-day by now and the daily life of the Elltiri people seemed to be in full swing. Brightly colored signs offered a variety of goods and services, shop windows were being browsed by curious people, and from here it didn't seem like there was a war going on. Qui-gon was standing at the end of the alley by now, looking around, and Argoth was almost beside him, when the older Jedi quickly flattened himself and his padawan against the wall. <S>“What's wrong?”<S> “Look, up there,” Qui-gon said, motioning with a nod of his head. He followed the motion to see one of the large electronic billboards had changed from an advertisement to a wanted poster with their faces on it. 'Jedi: Wanted Dead or Alive for collaboration with Talran forces.' It also offered 10,000 units of local currency as a reward for each of them. The only thing Argoth could do at the moment was grumble and roll his eyes. This was only going to make their mission that much harder. Now it would be difficult for them to even move about without potentially being seen and identified. They both drew their hoods about their heads and moved back into the alley. “We'll need to think of a new-” “Hey look, it's them, it's those Jedi!” They both turned to see a young man standing behind them at the end of the alley, before he quickly ran away calling for help. They exchanged a brief glance at one another, then up at the roof of one of the buildings that was only three stories high. In a blur they shot almost straight up, grabbing the edge of the roof and pulling up. Then quickly ducked down, and not a moment too soon, as the sound of running feet could be heard in the alley below. There were at least half a dozen men, and one of them was giving orders for the others to spread out and start searching. They began to race across the rooftops of the buildings in an effort to get away, not anticipating exactly how intent the Elltiri government was, on trying to capture them. No more than two buildings away, a small fast moving aircraft flew overhead. It took Argoth a moment to realize it was an aerial surveillance device. It slowed and began to circle back around, only to have Qui-Gon reach out an open hand, then close it and crush the small craft. The situation was heating up a lot faster than he had thought it would, not even sure how the Elltiri had found out about them, he looked to see what Qui-gon was going to do, deciding to let his master take the lead in this situation. “We need to get out of the open and find somewhere to hide.” Using a rooftop access door four roofs later, they were able to get into a building that was still under construction on the inside. It was dimly lit, only a few streamers of light coming in through the plastic covering the windows. The only thing that even came close to a wall were a few wooden frames that had yet to be built upon. There was a lot of construction material and tools laying around in semi-neat piles, but there didn't appear to be anyone nearby. Argoth also realized he hadn't checked the day of the week in local time. It would have helped to know if this was an official work day or not. The inside of the building sat in stark contrast to the commotion outside. The darkness seemed almost pervasive, and for a moment Argoth thought back to the disturbance they had felt in the dark side of the Force. While Qui-gon kept watch for any sign of trouble, he closed his eyes and carefully began to concentrate, seeing if he could feel anything out of place. There was nothing he could sense, but it still bothered Argoth that something so strong had appeared once, then was gone without a trace. He wanted to know what it meant, but had a good idea they wouldn't get the chance for that until they reached the capitol. He had no doubt that Qui-gon would find a way, it was just a matter of when and how. They remained in the building keeping watch for Elltiri planetary security until it was well past dark. It was then that they decided to move out. The plan was to make their way out of town and avoid any other patrols. From there they would try to find a way to get to the capitol, since 300 miles was a bit far to walk. The problem they were facing now was that there were still a number of foot patrols out on the street, and they knew the soldiers used thermal goggles which made them considerably harder to evade. The only option left to them was to continue across the rooftops and hope that no one spotted them. For nearly an hour they moved through the city from rooftop to rooftop trying to make it toward the outskirts. They were nearly there and standing near the edge, watching another patrol go by, when they heard a loud crash from behind. The noise came from a rooftop access door from which two planetary security soldiers came rushing out. One of them pulled his pistol from a holster and trained it on them. “Alright, nobody move and I don't fill you full of holes.” The first one seemed rather excited, while the one behind him didn't appear to be so at all. “See Tig, I told you, if they weren't on the ground, they had to be up top. Man am I gonna get a promotion out of this, maybe two.” “I'd be careful if I were you, Jedi have all sorts of magic powers. I hear they can even stun you by just moving their arm.” “Geez really?” “Yep,” the second soldier pulled his pistol, adjusted the setting on it, then moved his arm and fired a single stun blast directly into the others back. The first soldier face planted the ground in an unconscious heap, while the other holstered his weapon and approached the two of them. “Sorry about that. Sometimes Eger's a little too smart for his own good.” Seeing one of the guards stun the other, Argoth wasn't sure how to react. There didn't seem to be any hostile intent that he could feel, and the other guard holstered his weapon before approaching them. These two were wearing helmets which concealed their faces, and the man didn't appear to be moving to take it off. Qui-gon was suspicious and ready to act if the need arose, as was Argoth, but as the two of them would quickly learn, there was no need. “Sorry for all the commotion, my name is Tig and I must say, you two are not easy to find.” “What exactly is going on here?” Qui-gon asked. “Come on, I'll explain on the way, and don't worry, I'm on your side.” Tig picked Eger up with a bit of effort and tossed him over a shoulder, then they began the trek down through the building to the street below. As they walked, and finally drove, with Eger being dumped in the passenger seat, Tig explained the situation. He was part of an underground movement known as Hebel United. It was comprised of both Elltiri and Talran who were tired of the fighting, and they were trying to work toward a solution to bring an end to the constant conflict. They were often at odds with the government, and considered by many to be a dissident organization, so they had to operate in secret. “Where are we going?” Qui-gon asked, leaning closer from his seat in the back of the ground speeder. “To one of our bases in the city. You should be able to rest and recoup there without having to worry about getting shot at or arrested. We've been keeping an eye out for you since our people on the Talran side of the border told us you were coming. With a war on it's not easy to get information through, only heard that you were Jedi this afternoon. Been trying to track you down ever since.” About that time Eger moaned a little, to which Tig responded by taking out his pistol and stunning him again. “Must be building up an immunity to it or something.” That made Argoth wonder just how many times Tig had stunned Eger, but thought better of asking about it. Rather than driving to the outskirts of the city, they moved further in, deeper into the heart of hostile territory in Argoth's mind. By this time much of the city was sleeping, and only a few other vehicles or pedestrians were out and about. They parked on the side of the road with Tig making sure the coast was clear before letting them out, and the three quickly moved down a small alley. At the end there was an old steel door with a slit in it. Tig knocked on the door and the slit opened, then he gave the password 'bacon and eggs' to the set of eyes on the other side. The slit closed and several locks could be heard releasing, before it opened. As they walked inside, Argoth looked at the door guard. It was a young Twi'lek woman with green skin. She had a slender and very attractive face with full lips, wearing only a pair of leather pants with matching boots, and a white shirt tied in a knot in front of her chest. She was armed with a blaster pistol holstered on the left hip, but at this point the first thing to come to Argoth's mind was the road sign 'Dangerous Curves Ahead', because she had some to spare. “Mind your surroundings,” Qui-Gon said, speaking in a low voice. That was enough to tear his gaze from her body. The small run down building they were in was home to a good bit of makeshift furniture, and a variety of people in makeshift clothing as well. They looked like a street gang, and about as friendly. “Don't mind the scenery,” Tig said. The little group didn't speak to anyone, and walked down a blind hallway. Half way to the dead end, Tig stopped and knocked on the wall. A secret door opened and behind it was a Rhodian who was also armed, and a set of stairs leading down to a light near the bottom. Once they were down the stairs it opened into a single medium sized room with a door in each wall, and a number of people moving about. There was more furniture here, and a few consoles that had seen better days, but it was the banners on the wall that caught Argoth's attention. They were deep blue, and had a pair of hands clasping each other, with the words 'Hebel United' over top of them. This was a site for sore eyes, not simply because they were on the same side. It was a great emotional relief to Argoth to see a group of people trying to end the violence and conflict between the two sides. Now that they were safely delivered, Tig bid them farewell and returned to duties elsewhere. There were a number of people looking at them, but no one approached. The door directly ahead of them opened, and an older man stepped out. He was wearing an Elltiri military uniform, but without any rank insignia. His short black hair had light streaks of gray, as did the goatee on his chin. The man's hooked nose was crooked, as if it had been broken and not quite properly reset. The weathered face, heavy with lines, seemed almost at conflict with the bright smile and lively blue eyes. “Masters Jedi, it's such a relief to see you safe and unharmed,” the man said, throwing his arms out almost as if to hug, then brought them down into a clasp. “My name is Alberon and I'm in charge of the Hebel United cell here in the city.” “You military?” Argoth said. “Oooh, not for almost ten years now. Got tired of being shot at. Now, before we get down to business, is there anything I can get for you? Food, drink?” This time it was Qui-Gon's stomach who answered for him with a small indignant gurgle. He looked down, then to Alberon. “I suppose some food wouldn't hurt.” “By all means, right this way,” Alberon said, motioning to the door he'd come through with both hands. The little underground base was as run down as the building above, but the people were dressed better, and seemed to be in good spirits. On the way to get something to eat, Alberon was stopped twice by different cell members, but the conversations were brief. It was mostly pertaining to upcoming efforts to try and gain more support among the people. It also seemed a little strange to Argoth, for a dissident movement leader to be this cheerful. They came to a makeshift cafeteria with a number of tables and chairs scattered about, and a door in the far corner of the room. “Make yourselves at home, I'll be right back,” Alberon said. He disappeared into the back room as they took seats at an empty table. When he returned it was with four trays containing vacuum sealed meals, and a young blond haired human woman attractive enough to give the Twi'lek a run for her money. She was holding a drink carrier with four bottles of water. They both took a seat at the table and he passed out the meals. “Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to my wife Cera,” Alberon said. “Hello,” Cera said, her voice soft and quiet. Argoth arched a brow at that thinking he was old enough to be her father at the very least, but held his tongue. Far be it for him to say anything about an age gapped relationship. They both nodded to her in greeting, and were about to start eating, when Argoth noticed Alberon and Cera fold their hands in their lap and lower their heads in prayer. Although the Jedi weren't particularly religious in the respect of worshiping deities, both Qui-Gon and Argoth lowered their heads out of respect. Alberon gave a short prayer asking a few gods to watch over them, thanked them for the meal, and other things one would expect when praying, then finished, and they began to eat. One of the other interesting differences that Argoth noted between the Talran and Elltiri were their respective religions. The former was monotheistic, the latter, polytheistic. One more difference between them. The meal proceeded in silence for a few minutes as everyone took the edge off their appetite. “Do you know anything about why the General ordered this attack?” Qui-gon said. “Unfortunately I don't. It came as a surprise to me as much as anyone else. The last I heard he was politely pretending not to know anything about his upcoming retirement party,” Alberon said. “You talk to General?” Argoth said. “No, not directly, but after thirty years in the service, you do tend to make friends,” Alberon said, then furrowed his brows. “Doesn't make sense though, Dehgo's not the warmonger type. Maybe it had something to do with his illness. Now that I think about it, it does sort of make sense.” That was enough to stop Argoth in mid-chew, and he looked up, “Illness?” “Yes, not long before this whole fiasco started he fell ill, enough so that his doctors didn't think he would make it. They kept it quiet to avoid upsetting the people, he is, or was, a national hero,” Alberon said. Qui-Gon and Argoth exchanged a look after that, and the rest of the meal continued without further conversation. Afterward they were shown to a room with two beds for them to sleep in. For Argoth it was a welcome sight. The meal combined with a hectic day made the padawan more than ready to play dead. In the process of doing so, he heard Qui-Gon speaking with Alberon. “We'll need transport to Eldin, the only way we're going to be able to stop this is by getting to Dehgo,” Qui-Gon said. “Don't worry, we'll cover all that in the briefing I've got planned for tomorrow morning,” Alberon said, assuring him that everything would be alright. The conversation wasn't even finished before Argoth was sound asleep, but it wasn't a peaceful one. The padawan tossed and turned that night, and it was well into the AM when he finally awoke and looked around. In the darkness he could see the outline of Qui-Gon laying in bed. His breathing was slow and shallow, a sign his master was sleeping comfortably. The reason that Argoth had awoken was his stomach, he was hungry again, only now it was worse than before. He walked back into the base and found someone, asking if he could get another vacuum packed meal. When the person told him to help himself, he did just that. After eating six of the meals almost without stop, and drinking enough water to float a battleship, he finally stopped. Despite this Argoth was still hungry, he could have continued eating, but the six meals had taken the edge off, and he didn't want to take advantage of the hospitality of Hebel United. On the way back to his room, Argoth started to think that he was eating more than normal, a lot more. No particular reason coming to mind, and being too tired to think on it, he went back to bed and slept the rest of the night without incident. ******************** The briefing the next morning wasn't held in a meeting room, or with a group of Alberon's most trusted. It was in the cafeteria over breakfast, with the leader and his wife. There they were told how some of Alberon's former military contacts, those who wanted the war ended as well, would help them get to the capitol of Eldin. They would also receive help getting inside the First Minister's building, which Dehgo was using as a personal command center for his new dictatorship. After that they would be on their own, as the General only allowed his most loyal soldiers to work there. Near the end of the briefing, and the meal, Argoth's stomach growled in protest. “Still hungry friend?” Alberon said, looking over at him. “Feel free to help yourself if you want.” “No, not eat all food,” Argoth said. “Ah don't worry about it,” Alberon said, waving a hand. “When we're not poking the hornet's nest, the government leaves us alone. Not like it's hard to get more.” That was all the invitation he needed to walk into the back room and start plowing through the boxes of vacuum sealed meals. It was little more than a slightly chilled room with cheap metal boxes stacked around six feet high. Against the far wall was a pallet with gallons of water plastic wrapped together on top of it. Packed in sets of four, he'd just finished the third box when Qui-Gon walked into the room and surveyed the mess he'd made. “Argoth, are you alright?” Qui-Gon said, walking up to him. Gallon jug tilted up, he looked at his master out of the corner of one eye, but finished and wiped his mouth before answering. “No, hungry,”Argoth said. Tearing another box open, he ripped the seal off another meal and started to eat it without bothering to use the utensils. His appetite was out of control and he didn't know why. It seemed that no matter how much he ate, he wanted more. Due to his size he normally ate slightly less than the average human, but was now plowing through food like there was a shortage. “Do you normally eat like this?” Qui-Gon said. It was a valid question as the two hadn't been together for very long, so they didn't know much about one another. “No,” Argoth said. With his fourteenth meal consumed, and a third jug of water down the hatch, he nodded. “Done.” The truth of the matter was that the food had only satisfied him to a small degree, but they had a mission to complete and he couldn't spend all morning eating everything in sight. This was definitely an issue he would have to look into once the mission was over. Tracking his biological changes was something of a guessing game at the temple however, since they had no frame of reference to go by. “Is this going to be a problem?” Qui-Gon asked. “No,” Argoth said. His master let the matter drop after that, and so far as he was concerned, it was the truth. The mission was more important than whatever the reason for his increased appetite was. If it came down to it, Argoth would just push through and keep going. It didn't seem likely that he would starve after a buffet like that. The one thing that he was determined to do was bring this travesty to an end, so that no one else would have to suffer like the soldiers in the hospital. For Argoth, completing this mission wasn't an if, it was a when.