Initiate (Aronoke - Book 1)

By ACFellows

Scifi / Fantasy

Displacement

If Aronoke had thought the Quell flier was unusually clean and orderly, the off-worlder’s ship was even more so. There was hardly any dust anywhere, save for the trails filtering out of Aronoke’s clothing, and to a lesser degree, that of the others. It was all sweeping corridors and tidy rooms. There seemed to be plenty of space, despite what Master Altus had said to the Quellers.

Master Altus and Hespenara were busy unloading the things that they had brought back with them and Aronoke took the time to look around himself. He had not looked very far when someone, a sollustan who seemed to belong with the ship, noticed him.

“Here to help with the unloading are you?” he said to Aronoke. “I don’t think there’s much need for it. Looks like we’re almost done. Master Altus hasn’t brought as much back with him as I expected he might.”

“He said I could come,” said Aronoke, not as vehemently as when he had said it to Hespenara.

“Oh?” said the sollustan. Aronoke had seen their kind before in Tarbsosk and occasionally beyond. “He said that did he? Well, in that case, welcome aboard. My name is Brox, and I’ll be responsible for piloting you all back to Coruscant.” He held out a hand and after a moment Aronoke shook it. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Aronoke.”

“Do you know any games? Once we get underway, there won’t be much to do. Might entertain ourselves with some games. Know how to play holochess?”

Aronoke shook his head.

“Ah, pity. Still, I’m sure anyone from a place like Kasthir can shake down an off-worlder like me at Sabacc or the like. Much as I’d rather keep my coin in my pocket, maybe we can play a few hands later. What games do you know?”

“Sabacc, Three-legged Trig, Knife’s Edge, Smackdown...” said Aronoke, “but I don’t have any money.” It had all been tied up in purchasing the lost blaster.

“Ah, too bad,” said the pilot. “I’ll just have to teach you holochess then. It’ll help pass the time. I’d better get busy now, since we’ll be taking off soon, so I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Okay.”

Aronoke liked the easy-going talkative pilot. He seemed less impossible, less surreal than the others. The Jedi, he told himself. That’s what they were called.

“Hespenara,” said Master Altus, “Show Aronoke where his quarters are. He can have Isperia’s old room.”

“Yes, Master,” said Hespenara. She led Aronoke through the ship, showing him the various rooms they passed as she went. Some she did not go into, but merely waved in the direction of them and described their function. There was a tiny kitchen, almost unrecognisable as such. Aronoke had worked in the kitchens in Bunkertown as a menial for Careful Kras, before he had become a skimmer. Had not enjoyed his time there. Geb the cook did not like him. Aronoke had been fresh from his time scavenging off the Grinder. Had been hungry all the time and the kitchens were the perfect place to steal food. Little bits of food, no more than a mouthful at a time, gone before Geb could notice. But Geb did notice and Aronoke usually paid in bruises. Sometimes worse. Geb was a houk and inclined towards violence, especially towards smaller people. Geb’s dislike meant it was not long before Aronoke was assigned as a scraper instead, going over the bits of salvage that were brought in. Speeders, things from the miners’ camps – all were brought back to the scraping pool to be salvaged for components or searched for hidden loot. In some ways scraping was better, but being outside in the hot sun all day was not an advantage.

“That’s where the facilities are,” said Hespenara, pointing to one door. “And that’s the sonic shower in there. And this will be your room, while you’re on the ship.”

There was little enough to look at – it was not much more than a small square empty chamber - but then Hespenara pressed something on the wall and a bed slid out. Another place and a closet opened, then a desk and a chair. She showed Aronoke the controls.

“So there you have it,” said Hespenara. “All yours. There might be some old clothes Isperia left behind in there, but don’t let that bother you.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke.

“You might want to get cleaned up a little,” she said and then she left him alone. For a while he was caught up in experimenting with the room. It was magic, the way things slid in and out. He looked in the closet and noted that Isperia’s clothes were robes too, like the Jedi wore. The underlayers looked like they were clothes for a female person. He had only just finished looking at everything when the ship began vibrating gently and making louder engine noises. There was a slight lurch and he guessed that they had left the ground.

There was no window in his room, no viewscreen that he had found yet, but he wanted to see outside. Wanted to see Kasthir disappearing behind him. Wanted the evidence of his own eyes that he was really leaving.

A little hesitantly, he made his way to the front of the ship, to the corridor Hespenara had said led to the bridge. Sure enough, the front of the bridge had a large window showing outside of the ship. They were high in the air already, above the retreating dark smudge of Tarbsosk.

Brox was seated in front of a large bank of controls, much more complicated looking than the controls of a flier. There were many labels and strings of text, on the controls and in the corner of the window screen.

“Aronoke,” said Master Altus, and Aronoke looked over to see the green man and Hespenara seated in chairs along one side of the bridge. “Come and sit down.”

Aronoke obediently went to sit in the chair indicated. He sat and watched as they swooped off, high over the surface of Kasthir. Hespenara and Master Altus were talking together in that strange way they had, all people, places and concepts that Aronoke could not possibly understand, but Aronoke’s attention was soon firmly fixed on the landscape. It was all laid out in detail below him, dusty and malevolent, and Aronoke found it difficult to believe that all the people he knew were still down there, going about their regular lives. That Careful Kras was down there, so very far away. He stared down at the dusty morass that was the Dust Sea, a place where no one could live, vast and roiling, and felt again how impossible it was that he was leaving. Felt that there was nothing more likely than that they should crash into the sea and die, because that was so much more probable.

But the Dust Sea rolled away beneath them, the brown smudges of sandstorms crawling across its surface, and they were suddenly angling further upwards. Aronoke could still see Kasthir on a smaller screen in one corner. Gradually the planet was falling away beneath them, growing smaller and smaller, shrinking further and further away with each passing minute until it was no more than a light in the dark sky.

“Making the jump to hyperspace,” said Brox, doing something to the controls.

Then the sky disintegrated, the stars impossibly drawn out into streaking lines.

This seemed to be some sort of signal to the Jedi, because they left their seats and disappeared back into the bulk of the ship, but Aronoke sat there for long minutes mesmerised by the streaking stars, by the knowledge that impossible distances were falling behind them, between him and Kasthir, every minute that passed. Unable to move because it had really happened.

After a while, Hespenara came back.

“Master Altus says I should make sure you get cleaned up,” she said a little reluctantly and Aronoke wrinkled his nose up. Back in Bunkertown, getting cleaned up entailed nothing more than shaking the dust out of your clothes, beating them against something handy and perhaps wiping some bits of you with a rag. Then you put salve on any sore bits and put your clothes back on. If you were like Aronoke, you only owned the one set. You either wore your clothes or went naked and that was no choice at all. Aronoke remembered having more than one lot of clothes, back when he had lived with Uncle Remo. Remembered the garments getting worn out, some of them getting too small, when he had lived with Boamba. Had been given someone’s old shirt in Bunkertown when he became a scraper.

Here, Aronoke was certain, getting cleaned up would mean something quite different.

Hespenara led him to the room she had said contained the sonic shower.

“I’ll show you how it works,” she said, “I expect this shower is a more advanced model than anything you had back on Kasthir. It has quite a lot of functions.”

Aronoke had never seen a machine like this before and said nothing.

“So this control turns it on, this one directs the jets, and this the temperature,” Hespenara said, moving the switches and handles with well-practiced speed. “And this controls the pattern of the jets...” She continued explaining the functions but it seemed hopelessly complicated. Beating out your clothes was much easier, thought Aronoke, bewildered.

“You can get started while I go and find you some other clothes,” said Hespenara finally. “If you leave the outer door unlocked, I will slide them in here around the corner when they’re ready. You can put your old clothes in this bin and they’ll be taken off to be laundered.”

Then Hespenara went off to find him some new clothes. Aware that she would be coming back he didn’t get undressed yet. No matter what she said about doors and sliding clothes around the corner, he didn’t want to risk her catching sight of his back. She seemed to think he wouldn’t want her to see him naked, which was a mildly alarming concept but nothing compared to how he felt about her seeing his back. Instead he played with the controls of the sonic shower, getting a feeling for what the different bits did.

By the time she came back, and, true to her word, slid a pile of fresh clean clothing around the corner without looking inside, he thought he understood how the thing worked.

Once she was gone again, he locked the door and got undressed. His clothes looked peculiar against the too-clean floor, like a muddy dust-puddle, and he was suddenly aware of how dirty and strange he must look to these off-worlders. Here his clothes did not mean anything. No one would recognise his rank from them, nor his affiliation. No one knew that they meant he was a skimmer for Careful Kras. That to mess with him was like messing with all of the Fumers. Here there was no dust, no fumes, no reason for garments like Aronoke’s, but he had worn them for so long that they felt like part of his skin. Nevertheless, he obediently put the garments in the chute Hespenara had indicated and stepped into the shower.

It was a strange experience. It was some time before he managed to set the jets so that they did not feel uncomfortable. Dust streamed off him in rivulets, more dust than he had ever imagined could cling to him. Other things streamed off with the dust. Loose hair and little bits of old scab. Flaky remnants of the salve used for sandsores. More sandnits and bumbiters than he would have guessed could have been living on him. They were all sucked away by the shower, disappearing into vents on the side. He felt quite scoured by the time he got out. The new clothes were plain robes like the Jedi wore. He suspected that they might be old things of Master Altus’s, since they were of a masculine cut. They were far too big for Aronoke, but sleeves and cuffs were easily rolled up, the bagginess concealed with a belt. There were trousers and shirt and then a robe, but Aronoke still felt uncomfortably exposed and kept the hood of the robe pulled closely about his face.

Shortly after Aronoke got back to his room, Hespenara appeared at the doorway again. “Master Altus would like to speak with you,” she said. “If you will just come with me?”

“Okay,” said Aronoke. He followed her to the chamber she led him to, presumably Master Altus’s chamber, currently configured like a study. Master Altus was also wearing clean robes, Aronoke noticed, and he smiled reassuringly.

“Thank you, Hespenara,” he said, an obvious dismissal, because she gave a small bow and disappeared back off down the corridor.

“Well, you do look much better,” said Master Altus and Aronoke wondered what he looked like now. What difference Master Altus saw. As usual, the green man’s gaze was reassuringly steady and calm. “Now, Coruscant is going to be very different from anything you have ever experienced. It will be rather overwhelming for you at first. Here are some pictures of it. This is the planet from orbit.”

He showed Aronoke a picture of a world criss-crossed with rays and circles of light. An impossible planet.

“And here are some pictures of the surface. As you can see, it is entirely covered with buildings. A large number of people live on Coruscant, somewhere in the number of a trillion.”

Aronoke was not certain what a trillion was. He figured it was something more than a billion, which was more credits than any sane person would ever need, but which everyone seemed to think they wanted. He found it hard to imagine a billion credits, let alone more than a billion people. He looked at the picture of the ocean of buildings.

“That’s crazy,” he said.

“Crazy?” said Master Altus, smiling.

“So many people. Why are they all there, in one place?”

“Coruscant is an important planet, the centre of the government and home to many other important things. People come there from all over the galaxy,” explained Master Altus patiently. “The city did not always cover the whole planet. There were once many smaller cities, but they grew and expanded over thousands of years, until there was no space left between them. After that they grew upwards. Additional levels were built, until it looks like it does now.”

It still seemed crazy, Aronoke thought. Impossible. He could not imagine what it would be like to live there, even with the help of the pictures.

“Now, since it will be several days before we arrive on Coruscant, Aronoke, it would be useful if you learnt a few things about what it means to become a Jedi.”

He picked up a datapad from somewhere nearby and Aronoke looked at it suspiciously. It was covered with writing, lots of symbols that he could not understand. He knew a few of them, had memorised some of the orderings. Knew that the 'A' was the first letter of his own name. That 'Ratpak' was the name of a kind of food. He could identify some things, like drums of speeder fuel or cases of ammunition, by the things printed on them.

“There are some lessons here on this datapad, mostly in the form of stories, designed for young children. Usually initiates are inducted when they are somewhat younger than you, although not always. I hope you will not take offense if these are too simply written, since they are intended for children much younger than yourself...”

But Aronoke was shaking his head. It was no use. Master Altus might think it was simple, but Aronoke could never interpret all those squiggles.

“You don’t want to read them?” asked Master Altus.

It had never crossed his mind, Aronoke realised with a sudden burst of shame, that someone would not know how to read.

“I can’t do that,” he explained awkwardly, hanging his head and looking at his feet.

“Oh,” said Master Altus, suddenly elucidated. “I see. How silly of me,” he said mildly. “Well, I shall just have to explain them to you myself then. Shall we begin now?”

“Yes,” said Aronoke gratefully and Master Altus started into the lessons, which were all stories about the way Jedi did things and the path they followed, which was known as the Jedi code. Aronoke was happy to listen to these things. Stories were a thing he understood, had been one of the few forms of entertainment the Fumers had. Holovids were valuable and uncommon. Stories, however, were free. They could be spread and collected. Memorised to be repeated to others later. After Master Altus had finished with his lesson, Aronoke was easily able to repeat the context of it back to him.

“Excellent,” said Master Altus.

“I can remember the words,” said Aronoke, “and I understand most of them, but they mostly don’t mean anything. Not really.” He meant the stories were like glittering stars, beautiful things but impossible to grasp. Visible, but completely distant from everything Aronoke knew. The people in the stories did not behave like real people. They reacted to things in an entirely different way from anyone Aronoke had ever known. Except perhaps Master Altus and Hespenara.

“I can see that now,” said Master Altus, but Aronoke was not sure he did, thought he might think Aronoke was still talking about not being able to read.

The days on the ship passed slowly. Aronoke found it hard to judge the passing of time. The ship was always lit. There was no sun to come and go. Between lessons with Master Altus, there were lessons with Brox about holochess. Aronoke liked all the kinds of lessons.

He liked best spending time with Master Altus, hearing the green man’s calm voice explaining glittering dream-like things that were like windows into another world. Master Altus also set Aronoke simple exercises to teach him meditation. At first it sounded boring, just sitting there making your mind calm, but Aronoke was surprised to find he really liked it. When he managed to do what Master Altus told him, he could find a place inside himself where the outside world was blocked away. Where he could forget about always having to look over his shoulder in case something was sneaking up on him. That feeling, which had been there as long as Aronoke could remember, went away and he felt completely safe.

But learning holochess with Brox was fun too. It was a complicated game. Aronoke was not very good at it at first. The pieces moved in a lot of different ways and the strategies were very complex. Brox kept up a constant stream of conversation while they played. Seemed content to do most of the talking while Aronoke nodded or shook his head, made the occasional monosyllabic response, occasionally asked a question. Brox’s world was less puzzling to Aronoke than that of the Jedi. He talked more like people Aronoke had known on Kasthir.

“It’s no use trying to play holochess against Master Altus,” Brox told Aronoke confidentially. “You sit there making your move, and he just sits there not paying attention, leaning back in his chair, reading or something, and then when it’s his go, he reaches out and moves a piece without even really looking, and then it’s your turn again. That’s not much fun. A game is meant to be something more than that.”

Aronoke had nodded. Master Altus was amazing, other-worldly, surreal. Aronoke had realised that from the moment he lay on his back in the dirt, looking up past the light stick at the green man’s calm face looking down and evaluating him.

Then they arrived on Coruscant. Aronoke went to the bridge to watch their approach, could see the planet from the picture Master Altus had showed him, only more vast and terrible in reality. So many lights! On the ship’s radar, blips of nearby ships were scattered like sand, seething like rock-mites, and the information that poured across the ship’s screens flowed in a constant twitching string. Aronoke’s respect of Brox grew remarkably. It seemed impossible to keep track of all that information at once.

It only got worse as they drew closer. More and more traffic, all trying to get to somewhere on the planets’ surface. Ships everywhere, on a hundred different trajectories. Their ship joined a run of traffic to one place, was diverted off somewhere else, passing over and under other streams of traffic. Later, as they grew lower, Aronoke could see the great spawl of lit buildings, endlessly marching across the planet’s surface as far as the eye could see. In the end Aronoke could not look at it all, could not take in all the numbers. Each ship was a flying clot of people, each building a cluster, all stacked on top of each other, multiplied over and over again, endlessly, hugely... It was too much and he squeezed his eyes shut to block it all out. Kept them closed, until the ship seemed to stop, until Hespenara said “Aronoke, are you alright?” He opened his eyes to find that they were parked in an enclosed hangar bay. Large, shiny and completely different from the one on Kasthir, but a hangar bay nonetheless.

“It is quite overwhelming the first time,” Hespenara said kindly, as Aronoke climbed unsteadily out of his seat.

They took their leave of Brox, making conversation about how well the landing had gone, how smoothly they had passed through the traffic, how quick it had been.

“There will be a lot of people,” Master Altus warned Aronoke as they crossed the hangar. “But there is nothing to worry about. We will stay with you and take care of everything. Just try to stay calm.”

“Okay.”

That journey all blurred in Aronoke’s mind and he didn’t remember it well later. There were people everywhere of course, but Master Altus’s description of the planet had prepared him for that. The vastness of the vistas, the attention-snatching snare of the advertising holos, the tangle of passages and hallways, plazas, corridors and security points were more disturbing. Almost everything was shiny and new, there were so many things on careless display that on Kasthir would have been stolen long ago. So many kinds of people that Aronoke had never seen before. Everywhere he looked there was a little scene of something happening and he quickly realised that if he stopped to look at them all, he would be an old man by the time he reached his destination.

Master Altus steered them through the crowds at the spaceport. First they joined a stream of people, rather like the streams of traffic in the sky. Then their stream joined another stream, then another, and then they were directed into a huge spreading chamber where many such streams came together. They came in from high up, took a moving walkway down to the floor, and Aronoke could see the chamber was immense, full of hundreds of terminals to scan all the people. The scale of it was frightening, like trying to imagine how many stars shone in the night sky. Aronoke stayed close to Master Altus. Spent a lot of time staring at the floor.

Up close, the terminal was a big square metal box that was some sort of scanner. When Master Altus passed through, the light on the box flashed green, but when Aronoke followed him, it quickly turned red. Aronoke suffered a pang of fear, was frozen in place. Did not know what to do next. Hadn’t seen the terminal turning red for anyone else. Why him?

A droid hurried up, asking questions that Aronoke did not understand.

He was grateful when Master Altus quickly took command, must have been expecting this, for he had answers ready that seemed to appease the droid so they could quickly go on their way.

Then there was the quarantine section. A long, metal passageway that the streams of people passed through. Again, Aronoke was singled out.

“Greetings sir, I am quarantine protocol droid H4799T,” said a shiny droid appearing at Aronoke’s elbow. It had lots of bits that looked like they could be easily stolen, although perhaps those sorts of things weren’t worth anything here. “Our scanners have detected that you are harbouring an infestation of silicon-based parasitic organisms and that your inoculations do not meet standard quarantine requirements. Medical fumigation and inoculation must proceed before you are able to pass quarantine regulations and proceed to your planetside destination. Please come this way for treatment.”

Aronoke did not understand very much of this at all, did not want treatment, but again, Master Altus took control. “Follow the droid through that doorway, Aronoke,” he said calmly. “I will come with you. There is nothing to be concerned about.”

Without the reassurance of the Jedi, Aronoke might have kicked up a fuss, tried to run away, or at least asked more questions, but Master Altus exuded such an air of relaxed confidence that Aronoke merely nodded, followed the droid down a hallway to the medical chambers beyond. He submitted to being placed under another sort of sonic shower, one which smelt less pleasant than the one in the ship, but at least he was able to stay fully dressed. Then the droid placed a gadget against one of his arms and did something which Aronoke did not even feel.

“You are free to go,” said the droid. “Please proceed along the hallway to the left. Have a nice day.”

It would be a relief to be outside of the spaceport, Aronoke had thought while he was inside, but it was not much different. Outside on Coruscant was like being inside for most places. They went over to a taxi-rank, which seemed to be a platform from which all sorts of fliers departed for different parts of the city. Buildings towered around them, streams of fliers were moving in regular lines in all directions, as high as Aronoke could see. Other paths of traffic moved beneath them, for although it had seemed at first like they stood at ground level, it soon became obvious that there was level after level of city yawning below. Aronoke could not see the bottom, felt dizzy and had to look away. They got on one of the larger vehicles, one that was fully enclosed, Aronoke was glad to see. He did not mind fliers in general, but the tumult of the city was hard to take. He got on the shuttle and found a seat, trying not to look out the window which made up most of the walls and roof. There were lots of other passengers and some of them glanced at him curiously, although just as many stared at his travelling companions.

One, a small child, said to its adult companion: “Look Mami, are those Jedi?”

“I think so dear, but don’t point. It’s rude.”

Once they were seated, Hespenara asked Master Altus a question and they became involved in one of those conversations that Aronoke could not follow. He did not want to see the buildings and the other fliers flashing by outside. He shut his eyes and concentrated on one of the simple meditative exercises that Master Altus had taught him, wanting that safe feeling to come back. It was more difficult to concentrate here, amidst the noise and bustle, the constant hum of engines, the shuffling and the conversations of the people. But by the time they got off the shuttle, he felt a bit better. More equal to the task of entering the Jedi Temple, the last stage of their journey.

They were the only ones who got out at this platform. Ahead loomed the bulk of a monstrous towered building that rose imposingly above them. The Jedi temple, Aronoke realised. He could never have begun to imagine it back on Kasthir.

They passed up a vast flight of stairs with monolithic statues along the sides. Later, when he knew the temple better, he realised that Master Altus had taken them in one of the less impressive entrances, a back way in. In the end, it was just another impressive building after a day of seeing hundreds of impressive things he had never seen before. Never seen the inside of a spaceport, never seen a building as large as the smallest one here, never seen a medical droid, never seen any of a dozen kinds of alien, a holo-advertisement, an elevator, a tree...

Inside the Jedi Temple it was still busy, still like a city, but there was less rush and frenetic movement. Fewer vehicles. They moved through yet more passages. Imposing corridors that made Aronoke feel solemn and small. The floors were of polished stone and, later, deep red carpet, softer and thicker than any bed. The walls were hung with grand tapestries. Carvings and great statues stood everywhere.

It was a palace, he thought, dazed. That had been right.

Eventually they arrived at a grand waiting room, with benches to sit upon.

“I must report to the Jedi Council immediately,” said Master Altus a little apologetically. “They will want to hear about the things I have discovered and it is very likely that they will want to see you too Aronoke, to ask you some questions about the object at the third site we visited, where you found the transparent man. I know you are probably feeling very tired after everything you have seen today. Do you think you will be able to talk to them?”

Master Altus had taken Aronoke off Kasthir like he promised, had brought him to this god-like place. Had not been angry, not once. Had taught Aronoke things even though he could not read. Aronoke would have tried to do anything Master Altus asked of him. Talking to some more Jedi did not seem so hard.

“Yes,” he said. “I can do that.”

“Good,” said Master Altus. “Now you should wait here with Hespenara and someone will come and fetch you when the council is ready for you.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke. While Master Altus disappeared through a very tall, grand door, he and Hespenara sat on the benches to wait. It took quite some time. After a little while, Hespenara went to fetch them some cold drinks, for which Aronoke was grateful. It was calm and quiet. Occasionally someone wearing important looking robes came past, going from one place to another, but they did no more than glance at Aronoke and Hespenara, if they paid them any heed at all.

After a long while, a rodian appeared. Aronoke had seen its kind quite commonly on Kasthir, but he had never seen one wearing a long, highly decorative, silken robe like this one was.

“Aronoke?” said the rodian. “The Council will see you now.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke and he got to his feet and followed this strange person through the grand door into the chamber beyond. It was large and circular, supported by immense columns, with a wide arc of high-backed carved chairs arranged within. Many of the chairs had Jedi Masters sitting in them, some of which were very strange kinds of people indeed. Aronoke did not get a good chance to look at all of them, but he noticed at once that some of them were not actually present, but were holograms instead.

Master Altus was there, Aronoke noted with some relief, smiling encouragingly.

“Aronoke,” said one of the other Masters, a tall, colourful figure with an orange and blue face. Tall things like horns peaked above her head into the air and long head-tails, a bit like a twi’lek’s, dangled down over her shoulders. Aronoke thought he had seen a person like her at the spaceport, somewhere in the crowd. He had certainly never seen anyone like her back on Kasthir.

“I am Master An-ku of the Jedi Council. Master Altus has been telling us about his expedition to Kasthir and the things he has discovered there. He has told us that you discovered an artefact there and that it spoke to you. He has not seen fit to bring this artefact back with him, so perhaps you could describe it for us and what it said to you.”

“Yes,” said Aronoke. “It made a transparent man.”

“What did the object look like?” asked Master An-ku.

“It was made of stone,” said Aronoke. “Shaped like this, from the side.” He held up his two hands, thumbs and forefingers pressed together to make a spindle shape. “It had carvings. I couldn’t tell if they were writing or pictures. It was about this big.” He held up his hands again. “And it was quite heavy.”

Master An-ku nodded. “And the transparent man appeared when you picked it up? Like it was associated with him?”

“I think so,” said Aronoke. “He appeared as soon as I touched it. He was like a hologram, only he was clearer than any hologram I ever saw.”

“And what did he say to you?”

“He said: ‘You don’t belong here’. He said he was a guardian of that place, and that I wasn’t a Sith. He said he didn’t know what I was. He said I should go away and not come back until I had chosen a path to follow. And then he went away.”

“Most unusual,” said another of the seated Masters.

“Are there any stories on Kasthir about things like the transparent man, or places like the one you visited with Master Altus, where you found the artefact?” asked one of the holographic Jedi Masters, an old human man.

“Not about things like that,” said Aronoke.

“What sorts of things are the stories about?” he asked.

“Oh, about the dusters, or great worms out in the Dust Sea. About a crashed spaceship lost in the desert filled with treasure,” said Aronoke, “Things like that.”

“Hm, quite intriguing,” said the holographic Master.

“Now Aronoke,” said Master An-ku, “While you are here, we would also like to talk a little about yourself. Master Altus has told us that he thinks you are Force-sensitive and would like to have you formally tested to see if you should be trained here in the Jedi temple. Master Altus is very rarely wrong regarding such matters and several of the Masters here have already concurred with his opinion. Do you wish to be trained as a Jedi?”

“Yes,” said Aronoke simply.

“Very well then,” said Master An-ku. “You shall be taken into the Jedi Temple as an Initiate. First you will go to the testing facility where you will be given some tests to determine if you are indeed Force-sensitive, although there seems to be little doubt. If you are Force-senstive you will be taken into the temple to be trained as a Jedi.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke.

“Good. You can go now,” said Master An-ku, and Aronoke noticed that the Rodian had reappeared ready to lead him out again. He followed it out through the door, back into the waiting area where Hespenara was still sitting.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“It was okay,” said Aronoke. It had been much easier than he had expected. The questions had not been hard. Not about things he did not like to talk of. He could see that Hespenara was curious about what the Masters had asked him but did not like to ask. He said nothing.

After a few minutes, Master Altus came out too.

“We can go now,” he said, and Hespenara immediately stood up. Aronoke stood up too.

“We will take you over to your accommodation at the testing facility,” Master Altus said to Aronoke.

“Okay.”

“That was well done in there,” Master Altus added as they walked off through the corridors. Aronoke did not say anything, but the warmth of the green man’s praise settled into his bones like the heat from the sun shining on his back.

“It looks like we will be going back to Kasthir,” Master Altus said.

“To Kasthir?” repeated Aronoke, assuming Master Altus meant himself and Hespanara. He did not like the idea of Master Altus going back there. He might be a powerful Jedi Master who was seldom wrong about things, but he could still be eaten by bone-sucking worm like anyone else.

“Oh, not you,” said Master Altus. “Not for many years, at least. But there are things on Kasthir that remain to be discovered, of that I am certain.”

Aronoke nodded. He did not want to go back, even years from now. Ever.

He felt a curious pang of sadness that Master Altus was obviously not going to be staying at the Jedi Temple for long. That he would be leaving soon to go and explore somewhere else, leaving Aronoke behind. But Master Altus was a surreal being with god-like powers, Aronoke reminded himself. He had to do such things.

At the entranceway of the testing facility, Aronoke was handed into the charge of two other Jedi masters.

“These are Masters Insa-tolsa and Parothis,” said Master Altus, introducing Aronoke to two strange sorts of aliens. He had never met anyone like Master Insa-tolsa before, but Master Parothis was an aqualish, with big dark eyes and tusks at the bottom of his face. He had met several of those on Kasthir. They were known for being bad-tempered but competent mercenaries and could sometimes be seen at the dives frequented by spacers. “They will oversee your testing here and arrange your accommodation. You can talk to them if you have any problems.”

Aronoke nodded, feeling shy of the strange aliens. He couldn’t imagine telling his problems to them, even if they were Jedi Masters like Master Altus. He supposed he would get used to all these different sorts of people in time, just as he was used to all the sorts of people that were common back on Kasthir.

It struck Aronoke strongly that he had not yet seen a single person who looked like the sort he was.

“I will have Hespenara look in on you during the next few days,” said Master Altus, “to check on your progress and see how you are settling in.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke. He did not like it that Master Altus was going away, felt jealous of Hespenara’s seemingly casual position by the green man’s side, but it seemed that the green man was an important person here, needed for lots of things. Hespenara had done all this training already, Aronoke reminded himself. Had earned her position, while Aronoke was like a newly arrived menial. Maybe one day, if he trained hard, he would be able to travel around with Master Altus like Hespenara did.

“Goodbye,” said Hespenara. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Goodbye Aronoke,” said Master Altus. “May the Force be with you.”

“Goodbye,” said Aronoke, feeling decidedly lost. And then the green Jedi and his Padawan were disappearing off down the hall, leaving him alone with the strange aliens.



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