Initiate (Aronoke - Book 1)


Aronoke was very late to dinner that night. The cleaning droids were already bustling about, cleaning up after the diners, and only a few people were left, finishing off the remnants of their meals. He went up to get a plate and one of the droids stopped him.

“It’s very late, past the hour when dinner is traditionally served, Initiate,” said the droid. “Do you have an excuse for why you are so late?”

“I had to go and speak with Master Altus,” said Aronoke.

“Excuse accepted,” said the droid. “The refectory will be closing service very shortly, so please conclude your meal promptly.”

Aronoke was left to fill his plate, relieved that his excuse was good enough. Sat eating his food in peace. He noticed another kid came in, younger and even later than himself. The droid asked him for an excuse as well.

“I got distracted,” said the kid. “I didn’t notice what time it was.”

“Excuse denied,” said the droid. “Punctuality is an important and useful habit. Next time perhaps you will remember missing your meal and will be more punctual.”

“Aww,” whined the kid. “But I’m hungry! Look at him - he’s still eating.” He gestured at Aronoke.

“His excuse was acceptable,” said the droid. “He had a meeting with an important Jedi Master. Now please vacate the refectory.”

The kid complained a bit more, but the droid did not waver.

Sheesh, thought Aronoke. Fancy making such a fuss over missing just one meal – a meal that you hadn’t been hungry enough to attend in the first place. People on Coruscant were so obsessed with regular meals. It was different to worry about eating if there was never enough, but here it was like worrying about holding your breath for ten seconds. That you might miss out on some air.

The next day, he had to go for his rescheduled medical appointment.

It was still difficult. A struggle of will to get undressed in front of the droid.

He reminded himself firmly that he had made a pact with Master Altus. Had said he would follow the Jedi training in exchange for being brought here. He had to try. Found he could do it, although sweat broke out on his forehead from nervousness. Although it made him feel sick.

It was embarrassing to stand there naked to be examined for parasites, but true to Master Altus’s word, the droid paid no attention to the picture on his back. Did not even mention the scars.

“You are undernourished,” it scolded instead, looking at Aronoke’s protruding ribs, hollow stomach and bony limbs. “Have you been partaking of regular meals since you arrived here?”

“Yes,” said Aronoke.

Even the droids here worried about such things. Crazy.

“Do you eat an appropriate amount at each meal?” asked the droid.

“I eat as much as I can,” said Aronoke. “There’s so much food. Everyone here eats so much and so often. I can’t always keep up.”

“Regularly scheduled meals will assist in improving your physical condition,” said the droid. “It is important that you continue to partake of meals at frequent regular intervals. There are still a few silicon-based dermal parasites adhering to your dermis and within your urinary tract. I will ready the electroprobe.”

“What’s that?”

“It is this implement I will use to remove any remaining parasites,” said the droid. “It will not hurt. Please stand still.”

It did not take long, and Aronoke felt nothing more than a little pressure. The droid gave him another injection to deal with the internal parasites, which also was nothing.

“Please stand against the scanner for final confirmation,” said the droid, and Aronoke did. “Ah, you are all – wait, no you’re not. A parasite remains attached inside the mucus membrane of your reproductive organ.”

“Urgh,” said Aronoke.

“It will have to be removed. Please sit here.”

There was nothing for it but to comply. Feeling like he must have turned a very peculiar shade of purple, Aronoke sat on the bench and closed his eyes while the droid ferreted about in some very uncomfortable places. Finally it extracted a tiny white parasite which it placed inside a jar of fluid.

“Biological organisms are so very interesting,” said the droid. “There is such variety in their habitats and forms. I expect this one would have become a good deal larger and caused you considerable discomfort had it not been removed.”

“Oh,” said Aronoke, trying not to remember things that had happened to people he knew on Kasthir who had been infected with parasites. “Are you sure they’re all gone?”

“Yes,” said the droid. “You can see on the scanner that you are now completely free of parasitic organisms. You need not concern yourself. Your physical condition is still below acceptable parameters for your age and species and should be continued to be monitored. You will be routinely rechecked for parasites during future medical examinations. You will be scheduled for a further appointment in one month’s time.”

Aronoke thought that he was starting to understand the way the droid talked better.

“Okay,” he said. “Can I get dressed now?”

“Yes,” said the droid. “Please get dressed.”

Aronoke did not need to be told again.

“The medical treatment you have received to treat your internal parasitic infestation may cause some discomfort to your digestive system,” said the droid as he got dressed. “You are advised to remain near hygiene facilities for the next few hours. Your examination is complete. You may go.”

The rest of the afternoon, Aronoke mostly spent scurrying up and down to the ablutions block. It was not very pleasant, but probably more pleasant than what would have happened if the parasites had grown as large as the droid said they would. Late in the afternoon, just as the digestive complaints had tentatively eased, Draken and Emeraldine came by his room.

“Hey Aronoke,” said Draken.

“We’ve come to offer you our congratulations,” said Emeraldine.

“The test results are up - we both got in!” said Draken. “We’re going to be Jedi!”

“Oh,” said Aronoke. “That’s good.” He had already known he had passed. Was glad to hear Draken had passed too.

“And – get this – we’re going to be in the same clan!”

“That’s good!” said Aronoke again, smiling.

“You don’t look so well. Are you feeling okay?”

“I had a medical examination,” said Aronoke, pulling a face.

“Ugh,” said Draken. “Was it bad?”

“They did some... unpleasant things. It’s okay now though,” said Aronoke.

“We were going to ask you to come out and maybe come and sit with us at dinner in a while,” said Emeraldine. “But you don’t have to come if you’re not feeling well.”

“I think I should probably stay here,” said Aronoke, not willing to venture too far from the ablutions block just yet.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Well, see you later Aronoke!”


Not much later, the chime rang on Aronoke’s viewscreen, asking if he could come and speak to Master Insa-tolsa immediately. Aronoke thought his digestion had finished being over-excitable. Besides, Master Insa-tolsa was more important than Emeradine and Draken. Was a higher-up. Every attempt should be made to fulfill his request.

When Aronoke arrived in Master Insa-tolsa’s room the ithorian was waiting for him. This time, he had the interpretation gadget ready at once.

“I thought we might go and sit in one of the atria to have our talk,” said Master Insa-tolsa mildly. “My race comes from a forest planet and it is always comforting and pleasant to be near the trees.”

“As you wish, Master,” said Aronoke. He felt he was getting quite good at addressing the higher-up Jedi. Liked the little smiles they gave when he made the effort.

The atrium turned out to be similar to the place where Aronoke had gone running. There were lots of trees in planters, thriving garden beds and little private alcoves where you could sit and talk in between them.

It was a peaceful place. The constant thrum and bustle of the city still permeated it, for Coruscant was never really quiet. Bunkertown, with its noisy generators, raised voices and rowdy brawls had not been a quiet place either. Not like the desert, thought Aronoke, missing for a moment the absolute silence, the soft whisper of the sand.

“I have something to show you,” said Master Insa-tolsa, after they were seated. He took out his datapad. Brought up a screen which was covered with squiggles and lines. Turned it so Aronoke could see. There were numbers on it which he could read, and lots of writing which he couldn’t. Some of the lines were graphs.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Aronoke.

“I shall explain it to you,” said Master Insa-tolsa. “These are your test results. These numbers here are the overall evaluation of your Force-Sensitivity. As you can see, they fall within three different sections, which are how we divide people’s Force abilities for evaluation purposes. They are representative of the sorts of ways in which people are commonly able to manipulate the Force. They are called Control, Sense and Alter.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke.

“You have done well in all three categories. As you can see here, your scores in the Control and Alter categories are, each taken individually, high enough that you would warrant training on their account alone.” He pointed to two separate graphs, each one showing a bumpy line made from test scores, drawn somewhat above another perfectly straight line.

“Oh,” said Aronoke. “Well that’s good then.”

Your Sense skill has scored very highly,” said Master Insa-tolsa. “These are your Sense results here.” He pointed to a third graph, where the wobbly line was much higher over the straight one.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you are especially good at sensing the Force in things, to detect the Force within people, places and objects,” said Master Insa-tolsa.

“Okay,” said Aronoke. He supposed that might be useful somehow. Probably not for moving huge rocks though.

“You will be moved to the training centre and assigned to a clan very soon now,” said Master Insa-tolsa. “Master Altus is departing on an expedition, and since he won’t be back for some time, he has asked me to oversee your training. While it is unusual for a Master to personally take an interest in the training of an Initiate, there are some peculiarities regarding your situation which make me agree that this would be best in your case.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke. He wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. It probably meant he was being more difficult than the other students.

“You may come and talk to me if you have any problems,” said Master Insa-tolsa. He brought another object out of his pocket – a communicator like the one Aronoke had seen him use to talk to Master Altus. “If anything alarms or concerns you, contact me on this communicator. My code is programmed into it – see, it is here.”

Aronoke did not know how to use the communicator at first – it was different from using the radio back in Quasper’s flier on Kasthir. But technological things did not intimidate him. It would be easy enough to work out.

“I would like you to feel that the Jedi temple is a safe haven for you, Aronoke,” said Master Insa-tolsa. “That you can trust the people here and feel comfortable within its walls. There is no need for you to fear anything or anyone here.”

Aronoke felt it would be a long time before he could feel that way about such a large number of people. The temple was more peaceful than the city outside. People behaved differently from Kasthir, it was true. There was no stealing or killing that he had noticed. No taunting or beatings or harsh punishments. But all those people had not proven themselves to him like Master Altus had. Not yet.

“Thank you, Master Insa-tolsa,” said Aronoke. “I will try.”

The next morning, after breakfast, Aronoke was scheduled to report to his new quarters at the primary training centre. He was supposed to bring all his things and when he looked in his cupboard he found that there were more of them than he expected. There was a sturdy bag with his name printed inside and a datapad. He looked at the datapad reverently. It looked like it was brand new. He never had one of his own before.

He put the datapad in his bag along with the clothes and other things from the cupboard. He was not sure what some of the things were. They were probably used for for more detailed kinds of washing. Didn’t want to experiment with them yet. He also put in the robes that had once belonged to Master Altus, glad that they had not disappeared.

He hefted the bag, impressed that he owned such a large number of possessions. Even if none of them really replaced the blaster. Took one last look at the directions on how to get to the new place and set out confidently.

Some time later he was feeling a good deal less cheerful. Was certain that he had taken a wrong turn. He could not read the signs on the wall, which the instructions had assumed he could. He had been forced to try and find his way by process of elimination. The hallways had grown broader and more silent. Great banks of important looking machines towered on each side and people seemed busy doing serious important things. They talked in hushed, reverent tones. Sometimes looked at him oddly.

No, he must have taken the wrong turning, Aronoke thought, reversing direction to go back to the last major junction.

But it was too late. Someone had spotted him. A prune-faced human man sitting at a desk was staring at Aronoke and glowering.

“You there,” he said, irritably. “Yes, you, initiate. Come over here.”

When Aronoke hesitated he grew more insistent.

“Initiate! Come here at once!”

“Yes?” said Aronoke, going over to the desk, uncertain of what it was he had done wrong.

“What is your name? And what are you doing here, wandering about in the library?” He made it clear that Aronoke was not supposed to be here.

Since two questions had been posed to him he chose to ignore the first one. Prune-face would be less likely to be able to punish him if he didn’t know Aronoke’s name.

“I got lost,” said Aronoke.

“Lost?” said Prune-face, like he had never heard of the concept before. “Where were you trying to go?”

“To the primary training centre,” Aronoke said.

“Next time ask someone for directions promptly if you can not find the way,” scolded prune-face. “Instead you have wasted a great deal of time wandering about in entirely the wrong place. Lost, indeed! Now you must go back along this hallway, take the main corridor to the right and then the elevator down one level. It should be obvious from there.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke. He departed hastily. As he went he heard prune-face say behind him: “Hmph! Initiates these days! Mark my words, that one will come to a bad end.”

When Aronoke did get to the training centre he found the room that belonged to his clan without too much trouble. But when he went inside, no one was there. There was a common area that seemed to be a large general living room for everyone to share. Smaller rooms came off from the main one. One was open and the door responded to Aronoke’s palm-press. None of the others did, except one, which led to the ablutionary facilities. Aronoke assumed the place with the open door was meant to be his room. Inside were two beds. Two cupboards. Two of everything. A room to share, then. There was a window against one wall, like in his other room, but the view outside showed a dull space between two buildings without a great deal of traffic. Aronoke arbitrarily picked a bed and put his things in the cupboard on that side. In the outer room he had noticed a viewscreen which showed a clan schedule. Luckily it was set to talk and began reciting the schedule when he walked up to it. He quickly memorised the directions for the three activities that day.

The first place was not very far away. Just along the corridor outside. He peered cautiously inside and found it was a training room. A cluster of little kids sat on the floor and amongst them sat Draken, looking out of place amidst them all. There was also a teacher there, a human woman, or at least, he thought she was human. She had a severe looking face and a shiny head with a silvery grey pony tail of hair at the back. The way she spoke seemed a good deal less severe than her appearance.

“You must be Aronoke,” said the woman, noticing him looking in the door. “I am Razzak Mintula, and I will be one of your instructors during your primary training. Please come inside and close the door. Clan Herf, this is Aronoke. He is a late inductee from Kasthir, an underdeveloped world in the Outer Rim systems.”

Clan Herf. That was a strange name. Later he found out it was a kind of creature. That it was traditional for clans to be named after those.

“Hello, Aronoke,” the class chimed obediently.

“Now I think we should have introductions again, so Aronoke knows who you all are,” said Razzak Mintula. “Please tell Aronoke who you are and where you are from.”

Aronoke quickly lost track of the names and places and was glad when he was allowed to sit down with the others. He sat next to Draken, feeling peculiar being amongst all the little kids.

“Have you brought your datapad?” asked Razzak Mintula. He hadn’t, of course. It was in his cupboard. “You will have to do without it for this lesson,” said Razzak Mintula. “You should bring it with you next time.”

Aronoke liked the lesson. It was very simple, obviously being designed for the little kids, but he didn’t mind everything being new and easy. Besides, most of the little kids seemed to know how to read already. The lesson led on from the things Master Altus had taught him on the ship. It was more like a story than anything else, with Razzak Mintula asking questions afterwards. Aronoke was not eager to say things. Most of the little kids were, so that didn’t matter. Mostly he remained silent unless asked something directly. Draken, on the other hand, was inclined to say things loudly, to make silly comments and show off. Razzak Mintula, like most of the higher-ups Aronoke had ever encountered, didn’t seem to like that and scolded him once for doing so.

After the lesson there was a meal. The refectory here was very similar to the one in the Testing Unit, except that people sat with their clans. There was more variety in the age of the students here. The younger ones sat with their teachers, but the older ones, some of whom looked older than Aronoke, sat in their clan groups by themselves. There were some tables populated by adults, perhaps teachers of those groups who were old enough to sit by themselves, or maybe ones not assigned to specific clans.

“You shall go to your physical training session now,” said Razzak Mintula to Herf clan after the meal. “Not you, though, Aronoke. You have an appointment to see Master Zolo instead. I will find someone to bring you to the right room.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke.

Master Zolo was a green Twi’lek and he was talking to a strange alien when Aronoke arrived. He seemed to be trying to teach it to speak Aronoke’s language. It was a very strange looking person with a strangely shaped face and a wet looking skin and Aronoke hoped that it wasn’t the missing member of his clan. It looked like it would be more comfortable living in water all the time. He still felt ill at ease being near some of these weird people.

“Hello, Aronoke,” said Master Zolo. “I will be ready for you in a few minutes.”

“Okay,” said Aronoke.

He waited and watched while Master Zolo spoke to the alien in a peculiar way, encouraging it to make specific sounds.

“Very good,” said Master Zolo to the alien at last. You can go now, Ifribrinalishwi.”

On its way out, the alien came over to Aronoke and stuck out one of its strange, intricate wet-looking flippers.

“Pleagh doh meeth,” it said. Aronoke realised it was trying to introduce itself. He hesitated, took the flipper reluctantly and shook it carefully. He relaxed a little when he realised the flipper was warm and soft like fur, did not feel wet at all.

“Hello,” he said.

“That was nicely done, Ifribrinalishwi,” said Master Zolo warmly. “This is Aronoke. He is a student from an isolated desert planet and only recently arrived on Coruscant.”

“Yam – frblishawishblshbflshbflbflbwishnshswshalish,” said the alien, dissolving into a string of bubbling sticky noises.

“Yes, well,” said Master Zolo a little dubiously. “Be on your way now and I shall see you again tomorrow.”

“Now, Aronoke,” he said when the alien was gone, “please be seated. I am Master Zolo. I have another name but it is long and terribly confusing, so I would like you to call me Zolo, like everyone else does. I am going to be helping you to catch up with the other students in those parts of your education that you are lacking – to read and write, and also to speak Huttese.”

“Okay” said Aronoke, liking the twi’lek master at once. He spoke in an easy way that Aronoke had no difficulty understanding.

“Once you have learned those things, you will be able to deal with your other lessons much more effectively,” said Master Zolo. “So let’s get started. Now, do you know how to read or write any words at all? How to spell your own name perhaps?”

“It starts with an ,” said Aronoke at once.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Master Zolo. “Do you have your datapad with you? No? Well you’ll just have to use this one today. You should bring your own datapad next time. Now, if you could make a list of all the words you know how to read, then we will go through the words one at a time and explain the sounds the symbols make.”

Aronoke knew a few words, mostly labels that were on food crates, ammunition boxes and other types of equipment. He picked out the letters on the datapad. Spelled out as many as he could remember. Master Zolo seemed pleased, except with one of the words.

“You should not write that one down,” he told Aronoke. “It has an offensive meaning.”

“Oh?” said Aronoke. “Okay.”

Back home they had always used that word for a sort of ammunition. He wondered what Master Zolo thought it meant.

The lesson went well. Aronoke decided he liked this sort of lesson too. Thought to himself that he could probably learn it quickly. Might as well get it out of the way.

Information was valuable, after all. Knowing how to read things could therefore be valuable as well.

Master Zolo set him a few exercises to do before the next lesson. “I can tell already that you are going to be a good student, Aronoke,” he said. “I am sure you won’t have any trouble with these.”

Aronoke was not used to praise. Not used to people thinking he was good at something. He had been a skimmer it was true, a position that demanded respect from miners, scavengers and people who lived in the Grinder, but no one had ever praised him for it. Fronzak had been the one who first trained him. Had usually laughed at how bad Aronoke was at things.

He found his way up to the exercise area, relieved that this turned out to be an open space designed for group activities. Herf clan was doing some sort of cooperative exercise that involved helping each other jump across a shallow padded pit. He could see Draken tossing a little kid over a gap onto a padded surface beyond. The little kid was laughing. It looked like kid stuff, Aronoke thought. Games. Aronoke had thought he had put playing games behind him forever once he had become a full skimmer. Kid stuff on Kasthir had never been anything like this anyway. Aronoke could remember playing games with some of the kids in the Grinder, but mostly it was scuffling, knife-fighting, stealing things or quozball. Maybe the games would get boring eventually, but for the time being he was relieved it was so easy. Relieved that it was something he was capable of doing.

The exercise instructor was a very tall twi’lek. She had long legs and broad shoulders and was directing the students in the jumping-over-the-gap exercise. She was called Instructor Giflaxis, Aronoke remembered from the schedule.

Then he noticed that there was another person he had not seen before. It was another boy, a human about as big as himself standing near a padded wall. He was skinny and pale, his skin covered with lots of dark tattoos, and he was hitting the wall furiously, as hard as he could, one-two one-two one-two over and over again.

Aronoke saw that Instructor Giflaxis glanced with some concern in the direction of the angry human boy every now and again. Like she wasn’t sure what to do about him.

“Aronoke!” called Draken, noticing him. “Come over here!”

“Is he the last one in our clan?” Aronoke asked Draken, nodding at the angry boy while they waited for their turn.

“Yes, he’s called Ashquash,” said Draken, rolling his eyes.

“He seems very angry.”

“They say he was a slave,” said Draken. “And that he doesn’t want to be here. He’s angry about it. I don’t see why he would be. Surely he’d be grateful not to be a slave anymore.”

Aronoke shrugged. The human boy looked tough. A bit scary. Aronoke glanced at him again. Wondered if he could take him. Automatically ran over a few strategies in his mind, in case it became necessary.

After a while, Instructor Giflaxis went over to Ashquash and said some things to him. It took a while, but the pale boy seemed to calm down a little. After that, he just stood there watching. Looking sullen and angry the whole time.

There was not very much of the exercise lesson left.

“You may go back to your clan room,” said Instuctor Giflaxis when it was finished.

There was some free time before the evening meal, in which they could do as they wished. The clan room quickly grew noisy with little kids running all over the place. Aronoke wondered where they got all the energy. Thought it was because they were fed so much. He went back into his room, to find his datapad in the cupboard.

The pale tattooed kid was in there, sitting on the other bed. Doing nothing.

Stoneboring pus-maggots. The angry kid was going to be his roommate.

Aronoke didn’t say anything at first. Went and found his datapad and sat down, looking at the screen. Managed to bring up the exercises that Master Zolo had set him. He didn’t look up at the pale kid for several long minutes, giving the kid time to get used to the fact that Aronoke was there. That they were obviously going to be sharing a room together.

This was going to take careful handling, thought Aronoke. He wasn’t going to be pushed around by some kid, even one as angry and scary-looking as Ashquash. He was a fully fledged skimmer. At the same time, he didn’t want to instigate a feud, not if he had to share a room.

The kid just sat there, Aronoke saw, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself.

He was crazy.

“Don’t you like it here?” asked Aronoke, wondering why the kid was acting like everything was so terrible.

“I don’t believe it,” said Ashquash. His voice was like a hiss, low and creaky. Disturbing. “Don’t believe what they tell us.” He paused. Seemed to think for a moment. “Do you like it here?” he asked, finally.

“There’s lots of food,” said Aronoke.

“Yes,” said Ashquash. “But they lie to us. I don’t trust it. And they won’t give me any riksht.”

“Oh, that’s rough,” said Aronoke, relieved. That’s why the kid was so creepy. He was something like a spice addict and he couldn’t get his fix. Aronoke had lived with Boamba when she was like that, when she couldn’t afford to buy any more spice. She had been pretty weird too, although he had been small then. Aronoke thought he could deal with a spice addict. They were all attitude and no substance.

“Yes,” said Ashquash, almost forlornly, although it still sounded menacing in his creepy voice. “I’m no good without riksht.” He sat in silence for a moment and Aronoke looked back down at the datapad. Started the first exercise.

“Do you read a lot?” asked Ashquash after a few minutes.

Aronoke made an amused noise. “No,” he said. “I’m supposed to learn.”

“Oh. So am I.”

“So what do you think they lie about?” asked Aronoke.

“About everything,” said Ashquash. “About why they take us and train us. I don’t believe the things they tell us. I think they want us for something else.”

“Why bother bring us from all over then?” asked Aronoke. “There’s a trillion people here to take right here on Coruscant. It seems like a waste of effort.”

“We’re special,” said Ashquash. “Special, and they need us for something. Not to make us like them, but for something else. The Jedi kill people, you know. Where I come from.”

Aronoke shrugged. That was no revelation. Master Altus had killed Fronzak right in front of Aronoke, out there on the sand when Fronzak attacked him. Besides, that was the way things worked. People killed other people all the time. He would have been more surprised if Ashquash had claimed that the Jedi didn’t kill people.

“Not much we can do about it now,” said Aronoke, humouring him. He didn’t want to believe that the Jedi were telling lies. Had not believed he would ever get off Kasthir. Wanted to trust Master Altus and believe the things he said. Wanted them to be true, because then he was safe and could become someone like Master Altus, who was not afraid of anything. Besides, Aronoke thought, Ashquash was a spice addict. They were all crazy. You couldn’t believe a thing that any of them said.

“Yes, you’re right,” said Ashquash. “We can do nothing but wait and see. I just wish I had some riksht.”

He curled up on his bed miserably.

“Aw Aronoke, are you doing more studying already?” It was Draken, come to look in the door. “What are you doing?”

“I have to do these exercises for Master Zolo, for tomorrow,” said Aronoke. “Extra ones.”

“Eww! Extra lessons? That’s Bantha shit! You’d think we did enough lessons all day, without you having to do extra ones.”

Aronoke shrugged. He didn’t mind. It was all so easy.

“Can’t you do them later?”

“Maybe,” said Aronoke. “Maybe there will be time after dinner.”

“Pft, as if anyone’s going to mind if you sit up studying,” said Draken, as if that was the height of unexpected virtuousness. “Come on, why don’t you come out with me? You can do your lessons later.”

“Oh, alright,” said Aronoke. He put the datapad aside, back in the cupboard, and went out with Draken.

“I’ve had a bit of a look around already,” said Draken, “and there’s lots of interesting places around here. There’s a lot of good places we can explore!”

“Okay,” said Aronoke. He liked the idea of knowing his way around a bit better. They spent some time exploring the passages and beyond. Aronoke had to admit that Draken knew a lot of interesting ways of getting through doors and maintenance panels into the spaces that lay behind them. But still, it was kids’ stuff. Today, for example, Draken found a way through into a technical section which seemed to be where the local droids had their oil baths. Interesting but not very useful.

“It’s a scrapped piece of junk, you having to room with that Ashquash,” Draken complained while they were on their way back. “I mean Golmo is all right, but I was hoping you and I could bunk together.”

Golmo was one of the littler kids, the one who shared a room with Draken. Not as little as most of the clan, but still a good deal smaller than either of them, or Ashquash.

Still, Aronoke tried to imagine Ashquash sharing with Golmo, or one of the other little kids that made up the rest of the clan. Even with Draken. Failed to see that working. Thought that probably it had been arranged that Aronoke share with Ashquash because he was the only one tougher than the ex-slave.

“He’s not so bad,” said Aronoke airily. Showing off.

“Yeah, but sheesh...” said Draken.

“He’s addicted to some drug,” said Aronoke. “They’re weaning him off it, so he’s doing it tough right now. He will probably get better in time.”

“Oh,” said Draken.

“It’s good that we’re not the only bigger ones,” said Aronoke, and Draken brightened a little.

“That’s true,” he said. “It might be useful.”

Aronoke found the days passed quickly. The lessons were not hard, well within his capablilities. Mostly they followed the same pattern as that first day. The morning was dedicated to Jedi history, philosophy and meditation, the afternoon to physical exercise of one kind or another. Aronoke’s reading sessions with Master Zolo were moved to first thing in the morning, so as to not always interfere with the exercise sessions.

In many ways he lacked the freedom he had on Kasthir. But then, that freedom had never been much more than an illusion anyway. In the desert there was nowhere to run to. Aronoke had little choice but to perform his duties as a skimmer, or he would bear the brunt of Careful Kras’s wrath.

Here it was all easy. No pain, plenty of food and people seemingly eager to teach him everything he needed to know.

So long as that Ashquash kid really was wrong.

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