Acres of waterlogged fields stretched to the overcast horizon. Most of them were fallow, the rest were crowded with rotting crops, stumps and weeds. The clouds above them were thick and dark, though the rain had stopped for now. The occasional violet streak of lightning flashed across their underbelly, seeming to challenge the strobing lights of the Security Force speeders that encircled the farmstead. They must have been here for some hours, judging by how they had churned the mud around the farmhouse, the corral and the several hulking agrirobots that lay rusting around the barn.
“You don’t want to do anything rash, Nill.” The Lieutenant’s voice boomed out of a megaphone, which she aimed in the same direction as all the police spotlights: the second floor of the beleaguered farmhouse. “Your wife is on her way here, as you requested. Let’s just take this one step at a time, OK?”
There was a full minute of still silence around the farm. At some point the encircling forces let out a collective sigh of relief; silence was better than any response, the way things were going. The Lieutenant, a tall, broad shouldered Sephi, rested the megaphone on the roof of an airspeeder and turned to greet two new arrivals.
“Lieutenant Grek, Daleem Security Force.” The timbre of her martial voice was hardly diminished by the absence of a megaphone, though her bloodshot eyes and strained expression betrayed a person who had been running high on adrenaline for far too long.
The newcomers bowed their heads in response to her salute. One was a lanky, grey-skinned humanoid with a gaunt, austere countenance. The other was a lean, fair skinned woman with a mass of wavy dark hair and hazel eyes that darted about the scene with growing interest. Both had lightsaber hilts clipped to their belts, identifying them as emissaries of Joint Task Force Satele Shan.
“Jedi Korroth,” the Pau’an replied, “and this is my Padawan, Nijalah. We’re here by request of the Governor, though he didn’t have much information to give when he spoke to JTF command. We understand you have a hostage situation here.”
“Yes, let me explain.” The Lieutenant beckoned them to follow towards a command center of sorts that had been set up against the barn. As they walked Nijalah flicked a finger towards two huge crawler vehicles, eliciting a nod from her master. They looked like bulldozers, but their heavy frontal metal plate rested on the ground for the moment.
“The whole thing blew up over some ownership dispute.” Grek gestured at two figures; an Ithorian with a translation device around his neck and a skittish Sephi in a business tunic, probably his PA. “The Indag-Conclave came in this morning with a demolition crew and a notice of eviction, but the current owner, Nill Hosse that is, he—”
“He’s not the owner!” warbled the Ithorian, who had approached the group with his Sephi assistant in tow. “Hey, you!” The Ithorian’s bulging eyes looked the Odanites up and down. “Curly and baldy. You’re not my reinforcements, are you? I was promised the big guns!”
“Ah,” the Lieutenant intervened. “Let me introduce Doph Montho, PR Manager of the Indag-Conclave of Daleem. These are the Jedi from Satele Shan. They’re going to help us defuse the situation.”
“Defuse my slime glands!” the Ithorian exclaimed. “That laserbrain farmer refused to grasp he doesn’t own the land anymore. It’s his own damn fault if he let his leasehold expire. Look at me. Woke up this morning with visions of a shiny new biodome, and now I’m a nervous wreck! Do you know who that maniac has taken? Tell them, Radalar, tell them.” Montho poked his assistant in the chest. The Sephi looked on the verge of a breakdown for a second, but he regained his composure.
“My cousin, sir. With a blaster barrel to his head, and I was supposed to look after him… he was only a temp—”
“That’s right, the temp,” Montho interjected. “And my chief legal officer with him!”
“To make a long story short,” the Lieutenant continued, “Nill refused to honour the eviction notice, things escalated and now the subject is holed up in the second-floor bedroom with a blaster carbine and two hostages, one Sephi and one Ithorian. Says he’ll shoot one of the hostages if Indag-Conclave don’t leave within two hours. We have the house surrounded now; snipers on top of the barn, officers covering front and back, but we don’t have a clear line of sight. We can’t take a shot until we know exactly where the hostages are, and the subject has shuttered all the windows.”
“Have you tried to infiltrate the house?” Korroth asked, but the Lieutenant shook her head.
“Nill would know it, we can’t risk it. Front door is barricaded, back door is too exposed.” Grek pointed to the right, where a wide yard spanned the distance from the rear of the house to the corral. Several dark shapes moved about inside the fence, apparently not too concerned with the surrounding commotion. “Even with no lights on it, it’s too much open ground. Nill has it covered with his blaster, we already have two officers wounded because we didn’t see it.”
“Fine. What do you see down there,” said the Pau’an, turning to his apprentice.
“Yes. What do you sense?”
Nijalah closed her eyes and lowered her chin to her chest. The Force swelled around her, swirling through the bodies of the beings that surrounded her, like a turbulent sea dashing against the rocks, and her a little dingy on the waves. The Human shook her head.
“I can’t. There’s too many people around us.”
“Don’t try to grasp it all at once. Let your consciousness flow outwards, let it take its own path.”
She closed her eyes again, her brows furrowed. Her awareness slipped into the flow of the Force, carried like a river through the ether.
“Creatures,” she stated. “A herd of them. Docile?”
“Nerfs,” the Lieutenant added. “It’s all Nill’s got left of his herd. Would you like them moved?”
“No,” replied Korroth. “Not yet. They might be useful, depends on how we proceed. What do you think, Nijalah? How could we approach this?”
“Hmm.” The Journeyman tapped her chin with a finger. “What I’d like to know is, where was his wife when all this started, and why does Hosse want her back right in the middle of this mess?”
“‘Cos he’s crazy, that’s why! Cooked in the brain!” The Ithorian shook his finger, but a stern look from the Lieutenant silenced him, and he excused himself from the conversation with a grumble.
“Nill’s fallen on hard times lately. You can probably tell.” The Lieutenant waved her hand towards the abandoned fields. “He was one of the last independent farmers on the continent, but he’s been priced out of the market by the big Guilds. Taking out a leasehold on his own land was his last resort, I suppose. Now he scrounges around town, looking for odd jobs and getting drunk in the cantina. Got so bad that his wife’s brother took her away from him. He was probably too sloshed to put up a fight at the time, but now he’s asked to… heads down!”
There was movement at one of the windows. A slit appeared in one of the shutters. Three crimson blaster bolts rang out. One hit an airspeeder, the others dispersed harmlessly into the fields. The Security officers ducked behind cover and froze.
“I ain’t waiting forever,” a muffled voice reached them from the house. “Bring me my wife and get the kriff out of here, or I swear one of them’s going to buy it!”