The surface felt like a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. The air was no less hot or humid, but richer than it had felt before. The sun felt like sweet release from the suffocating darkness down below. Though after with another long trek through the thick jungles of Yavin, the feeling began to quickly fade.
"We are running low on supplies." Ahnk said, without having to look at the packs. Irtar had finished off one of the last of the ration bars that morning, and only had enough to last him for another day or two without starving. Ahnk hadn't ate much this whole trip. He must've been sustaining himself through the force, or so Irtar thought, but that was something that was beyond his abilities.
"You had mentioned something." Irtar responded with a bit of a frown. "But wouldn't foraging slow us down? We're already not making the best of pace. It'd be a hard task for the best woodsman to keep up through this, impossible for most others."
"Not for a Jedi." Ahnk stated flatly, motioning for Irtar to follow him off the river bed they had been following into the woods. As they pushed and forced their way through the dense undergrowth, Ahnk suddenly paused. "Tell me, Irtar, what do you sense out there?"
With a deep breath and a fair amount of concentration, Irtar attempted to open himself to the Force. And as he did, everything suddenly came crashing in. The trees, the plants, the insects, the animals... The sheer vastness of jungle life in one surge overwhelmed his senses, like coming into the bright daylight after sitting in pitch darkness.
"Too much." Irtar groaned as he blinked, losing his concentration. His head throbbed from the metaphysical smack it just took.
"Focus." Ahnk instructed, watching the young Jedi prepare himself for another attempt. "You need to cut through the noise and distractions, like with everything else. Focus only on what you need, everything else is irrelevant."
Irtar took another deep breath, calming himself and trying again. Slowly, carefully opening his mind's eye to world again. He first cast aside the other forms of life. The plants, and trees, and insects. It was much more difficult to sift through what was left though. It all had bones, and blood, and flesh, and all thought in their own ways. Filtering out the life above to ignore the birds, and the life below to ignore the undergrowth dwellers. That just left...
"That way." Irtar said, pointing in a direction without opening his eyes. "About... fifty meters that way is something. Or... somethings."
"A pack of somethings." Irtar confirmed with a nod, opening his eyes to look over to Ahnk who had only the slightly hint of a smile. Irtar couldn't tell what he had touched through the Force, unfamiliar with the alien energy the creature cast off. With a subtle motion from Ahnk for the apprentice to take the lead, Irtar lead them further into the woods.
As they carefully pushed their way through the brush, it suddenly gave way to a clearing. At the far side stood a pack of some sort of animal Irtar had never come across before. A low, squat creature with a long face, and brown and green fur. They slowly nudged their way through the vines and other undergrowth grunting along as they ate.
"Good. Now, which do you think would be best for dinner?" Ahnk asked absently like he was eyeing up packages at a grocers. He jabbed a finger towards one at the fringe of the group. "That one would do. Yes, it would do nicely."
"I didn't bring my rifle." Irtar said with a frown.
"You have that." Ahnk said, motioning towards the lightsaber hanging from Irtar's belt.
"This?" Irtar muttered, taking his lightsaber in his hand, and giving it a twirl. "There's no way I could get close enough."
"Why not?" Ahnk asked with a raised eyebrow. "You have all the tools you require for the task. All you need to do is learn how to use them."
Ahnk continued despite, or perhaps because of, Irtar's confused expression. "Much as you can raise your awareness of everything around you, you may reduce the awareness of everything around you."
"But... how?" Irtar asked, that puzzled expression still on his face. A lifetime ago on Naboo he had learned a variety of ways to improve himself through the Force. Nearly everything was taking the Force, and using it as a boon. Never as a detriment. Never as something you used against others. "I thought using the Force for anything but self-defence was a path to the Dark Side?"
"I am not asking you to lash out with lightning, or throw someone off a cliff." Ahnk chided with a frown. "Masking oneself is not an aggressive use of the Force. You can use it offensively, true, but that does not make the act itself an attack with the Force."
"Doesn't seem that different." Irtar muttered, contemplating the matter.
"A Jedi can operate offensively, otherwise they would never win a fight. Many Jedi have killed without loosing themselves. It is lashing out with the Force itself that can lead to problems. The way you have to draw on that sort of energy can... change you." Ahnk said quietly, his mind almost wandering for a moment. "You are using this method to defend yourself, to keep yourself hidden."
"Dull their senses to your presence, and when you get close enough? Swtich to the saber. Don't waste your opportunity. I won't be the one sleeping hungry if you do." Ahnk said quietly, staying in the shadows and letting his apprentice go to work.
Irtar realized as he skulked around the clearing that most of the other Padawans from Naboo would be lost at this point. But this wasn't his first time out on a hunt. He slowly and carefully circled the clearing, keeping himself downwind of the creatures. Usually, he was much further out so it wasn’t as much of a concern. There was no tangling underbrush, or jungle trees to obscure his line of sight. Just furloughs, and grass.
The last time had been with his father and brothers back home, on the plains of Dantooine. There was a pack of rabid Kath Hounds that was picking off Bols from their herd. It had taken them some time to find the pack giving them grief with how much land they had to cover. They only had two rifles, one for his father and the other his older brother, Indarin, took. It was up to Irtar and his younger brother to try and-
He forced his mind back to the now. He needed all of his focus to try and sneak up on these creatures. Nothing about their stance had changed, so he guessed they hadn't noticed him yet. But he was getting close enough now that even with Jedi enhancement he would have trouble just sneaking. And so, Irtar once again opened himself to the Force.
He saw all the life he did the first time. That blinding brilliance. But instead of focusing on any type of creature, he tried to envision a shroud blocking the gaze of all those lights. He tried to work that vision through the Force, and wrapped it around himself.
Carefully, Irtar emerged from the woods, lightsaber in his hands. Prepared. Slowly, he crept forward, his thoughts split evenly between his connection to the Force and his every step. Ready. He was within five feet of them, he raised the weapon and prepared to ignite it when of them looked up.
With a mighty shrieking squeal, the lot suddenly sprang towards the jungle brush. Irtar hurriedly lit up his lightsaber, and went off trying to chase one of the creatures. The jungle however fought against his movements the second they exited the clearing. Vines, branches, and undergrowth all tried to grab him and hold him back. Long before he could catch up to them, the creatures were gone.
Ahnk was waiting in the middle of the clearing with an impassive expression upon his face. He looked at Irtar expectantly. The padawan sheepishly shrugged.
“I thought I had it. And then... I didn’t.” He said, looking back to where the creatures had been. “Faster than I expected.”
“You made the same mistake again.” Ahnk stated, his expression remaining stoic. “You tried to apply yourself too broadly, and to too many things. You must FOCUS. Not just with the Force, but with all things. Focus on what you are doing. Focus only on what you need to do.”
“There was no way you could shield yourself through the Force from everything in this jungle. Even a Jedi Master would have trouble with something like that.” He instructed, giving Irtar a serious gaze. “Hopefully you will remember that after going hungry this evening.”
Ahnk looked about the clearing appraisingly, as if suddenly realizing something. “I think here would be a good place to set up camp for the night.”
“Sounds good enough to me.” Irtar said with a shrug, sitting down on a fallen log nearby, fishing out the last of his ration bars from his backpack. Ahnk fetched it out of his hand before he got a chance to get a bite.
“Awww, c’mon!” Irtar scowled, his stomach growling its frustrations.
“Thank-you, Irtar. I needed this after the trip today.” Ahnk took a big bite out of the plain looking bar. “I’m sure you’ll try harder tomorrow.”
A group of sentients sat around a repulsor lift, each wearing different protective and safety gear. The hodge podge mix of styles and corporate symbols reflecting the hodge podge nature of the group. One man stood above the rest, wearing a white helmet and with a datapad in his hands.
“Alright boys, listen up. I’m sure we all know why we’re here.” The older man began, trying to sound very prophetic. “We’ve all been chased from our homes by the Empire, and we mean to do what those other galactic governments won’t. Show the Coalition how we took care of Palpatine and his the first run around. So, here’s where we’ve decided we’re striking down. Same place we struck down that first Death Star of theirs decades back. We’re gonna tap into that old can do attitude and-“
“If we wanted fucking talking we’d be listening to Regrad.” Someone yelled from the group. “Get to the fucking point.”
“Fine! Don’t know I bother to try and...” The foreman grumbled off into incoherence. “We’re going to be setting up some landing pads here for the heavy lifters. Scanners picked up some caves around here, and we figure we can blast on down to them. Should give plenty of cover and room to grow.”
“So, I need Faroe, Brent, and Starchaser to confirm the surveys. Those check out, we’ll start blasting us some level ground.” The foreman motioned towards a Bothan and a couple of Humans. “Fargo, I need you to go and double check the blasting supplies. Should be about two crates. Get ‘em prepped, and laid out for the blasting teams. Rest of you are going to help get the pre-fabs setup so we have somewhere to sleep for the next couple of weeks.”
“Alright, you’ve got your jobs for the day. I’ll call people as we need ‘em. Otherwise, off you fuck.” The foreman said, waving his datapad towards the group until they started heading off to their different taskings.
Drex Fargo leisurely made his way across the clearing they had been set up camp in. The Human yawning and grumbling the whole way, taking a swig from a small flask he kept in a pocket in his jacket. He hated these pisshole backwaters. But work was work. And if it helped bring down the Empire, all the better.
With the alcohol helping to steady him up, he figured it was as good a time as any to work on those explosives. They said they’d need about a good ten charges to destroy different larger rock outcroppings on the site. Techs would set up the yield as needed. All he needed to do was make sure they were dry, intact, and everything was accounted for.
He came to the large supply tent they had set up at the perimeter of the camp. Kept it well enough away from the rest of the camp, in case something went wrong with any of the supplies. Nothing quite like having a faulty charge go off, or having a chemical leak right in the middle of camp.
Safety was damned important, Fargo thought as he took another swig from his flask.
He walked into the tent and slowly ran down the rows of boxes. A portable cistern of water, several crates of perishables and non-perishables, construction equipment, bedding materials... Where was the explosives?
Fargo frantically started tearing apart the supply tent, looking desperately for the explosives. Maybe they had been put in another crate by accident? He started tossing things out of other crates, hoping that maybe they’d been put into one of the other crates. With the supply tent a horrible mess, Fargo threw up his hands.
“Well FUCK!” He yelled, kicking a box of rations. The boss was going to have his head for this.
Irtar came out of the jungle, fumbling with a small repulsor-lift with a crate on it. Ahnk furrowed his brow at the apprentice, who seemed very pleased with himself.
“You didn’t say how much you needed. And figured with the lift there I might as well take the lot.” Irtar said, patting the crate. “Worst case, we leave them what we don’t need, right? Better than going back there under heightened security.”
“Besides...” Irtar said, pulling open the lid of the crate to show some pilfered rations, and fruits. He tossed a Hindian pear to Ahnk. “I figured I could do one better than alien meat of questionable edibility.”
“From diplomat to thief.” Ahnk said with a thin smile as he took a bite out of the fruit, giving the apprentice an appraising look.
“Firstly, I only took this stuff because you ordered me to, and took my rations.” Irtar said, grabbing out one of his own and taking a big chunk out of it. “Secondly, I didn’t steal it per say. I left a credit chit that should cover this, mostly, I think. Assuming the Coalition hasn’t closed my account. Thirdly, they seemed the shifty sort. Probably smugglers that stole it all in the first place.”
“Any fourthly?” Ahnk dryly asked, the words drenched in sarcasm. Irtar just shrugged it off.
“Give me a minute. I’m sure I can think of something.”