Chapter 1: Assignment
Jedi Temple, Coruscant, 22 BBY
"Have you heard? Ahsoka's been made a Padawan!"
That was the news that had spread through the Jedi Initiate Clans like wildfire. While this news was very abrupt, it wasn't completely surprising. Even though she was only fourteen, Ahsoka Tano had established herself as one of the foremost lightsaber combatants among the younglings, and had put up a formidable showing at the most recent Initiate Tournament alongside several others of her clan. She also had a reputation as a bit of a mischief-maker, and if it weren't for the war more than one Master would have breathed a sigh of relief that she would be spending most of her time outside of the temple. Among the Initiates, reactions were varied. The younger ones cared little, as they weren't as familiar with Ahsoka herself and the news was filtered out in favor of focusing on their studies. The older ones felt varying amounts of jealousy, as they were the ones who risked assignment to the Service Corps unless they were assigned a Master. For two Initiates in particular, the reactions were significantly more noteworthy…
"You're kidding me!" Jaylen exclaimed, ignoring the shushing motions from his best friend. "First Ahsoka becomes a Padawan before us, then when she has to up and leave you're the only one she tells? And not only that, but she's gonna be the apprentice of Anakin-fragging-Skywalker himself! How is that fair?"
"Jaylen, quiet down! We're in the library for Force's sake!" Luat hissed, looking around nervously for any monitor droids. "I only know because I ran into her in the halls, I told you!"
The Alderaanian sighed to himself as Jaylen subsided, muttering under his breath. His friend hadn't changed much even with the advent of the Clone Wars. "Besides, you know that the High Council has started assigning Padawans now, instead of leaving it up to each individual Knight and Master. Just because Ahsoka got assigned to Skywalker doesn't mean–"
"Ha! I knew it!" Jaylen interrupted triumphantly. "I thought it was the case, but that confirms it! You do have a crush on her!"
"Wha-I-me? With Ahsoka?" Luat spluttered. "What the kriff are you smoking Jaylen?"
Whatever it was that the Zabrak was going to say in response Luat would never know, because at that moment one of the librarian droids, JL-52, decided to intervene.
"Initiate Kos, Initiate Ceema," the droid droned, "Please lower your voices. Rambunctious discussion and vulgar language are prohibited in the Temple Archives. In addition, any mentions of substance abuse are to be reported to Master–"
"Wait wait calm down JL." Luat waved his hands frantically. "I'm just joking around, there's no need to tell anyone about this!"
By some miracle, the desperation in Luat's voice went unnoticed by the library drone. "Very well," it said. "However, the both of you have been requested to report to the Jedi High Council. It is highly recommended that you do so shortly."
Message delivered, JL-52 proceeded to walk off towards a nearby access terminal, leaving Luat to give Jaylen a look that mixed both relief and confusion. What could the High Council want with them?
"Initiate Ceema, Initiate Kos." The two Initiates tried not to fidget in front of some of the most powerful Jedi Masters in the Order. Even with several of the seats empty, with many of the Council members off on campaigns or other missions due to the war, there were still enough eyes on them to make both of them nervous.
"Uh… Yes Masters?" Jaylen eventually asked.
"Calm, Younglings," the venerable Grandmaster Yoda chuckled from his small chair. "In trouble, you are not. Quite the opposite, in fact." What?
Master Windu spoke up next from his own seat. "The two of you have been observed to possess the qualities necessary for being promoted to Padawan."
"Jaylen Kos," the serpentine Master Oppo Rancisis continued as Luat gaped in shock, "You will be assigned to Master Bant Eerin. Luat Ceema, you will be assigned to Master Plo Koon at his request."
If Luat was shocked before, then this news was ground-shattering. Plo Koon wanted to be his Master? Him, who could barely even hear his own Force visions? There had to be some mistake, right? He noticed that Master Windu had started speaking again, and wrenched himself back to the present.
"And you will travel to Kashyyyk immediately to meet up with Master Eerin," the Korun Jedi Master was saying. "Padawan Ceema, you will accompany him for this assignment, as Master Koon is currently negotiating a ceasefire on Utapau and any additional forces would only reignite hostilities. Are there any questions?"
"No, Masters," Jaylen said, looking to Luat to see if he had any. Overwhelmed and still trying to process the new information, he could only shake his head in the negative lest he blurt out something stupid in front of the Council.
"Then dismissed. May the Force be with you, Padawans."
"I don't believe it."
"Come on Luat, I told you! You deserve this!"
Luat grunted in response, focusing on familiarizing himself with the cockpit of his new Delta-6. "Master Plo Koon is one of the Council Jaylen. There's no way he wants a Padawan like me. I barely passed those kriffing flight sims, and he's one of the best pilots in the Order!"
Sometimes, the Alderaanian hated how difficult it was for him to connect with the Force. Jedi pilots, as Master Kcaj had explained several times over, were supposed to be able to connect with the Force and fly almost on instinct thanks to its guidance. He, of course, couldn't do that, at least not in any feasible manner. That left him reliant on instruments and his own instincts, and those just weren't enough to make him anything more than the worst pilot in the Clawmouse clan.
"If I did go with him," he sighed, giving voice to the doubts in his mind, "I'd only slow him down."
He went back to finish up checking his cockpit only to feel a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Jaylen giving him an uncharacteristically serious look.
"Luat," he said solemnly, "Listen to me. Plo Koon personally requested for you to be his Padawan. Master Rancisis himself said so, with Master Windu and Grandmaster Yoda himself right beside him, and neither of them said anything. If the wisest and most powerful members of the Order say that you'll be fine as Master Koon's apprentice, then I think the statement must have at least some truth to it, right?"
Luat hesitated, looking down at his hands for a second. "Well, I… Yes, but–"
"But nothing!" Jaylen exclaimed. "Luat, you're one of the best lightsaber users I know, and the most creative user of telekinesis and Force Push that I've seen, bar none! You've taken your struggles with the Force and turned them on their heads, so you absolutely deserve it!"
Luat could only gape at his friend for a few moments, before coming back to his senses with a shake of his head. Sometimes, he really didn't know what he did to deserve a friend like Jaylen Kos. "Well," he grinned shakily, "When you put it like that, I guess there's only one response I can make isn't there?"
A sharp beeping rang out from nearby, preventing Jaylen from answering as a brown-and-green patterned astromech rolled through a nearby doorway. The droid's optical sensor flared as it let out a furious series of beeps and whistles towards the two Padawans.
"Hey, calm down R3!" Luat said, raising his hands in surrender. "Do you honestly think I'd be flying off on a mission to anywhere without my favorite astromech?"
R3-G0, the astromech in question, gave off an indignant whistle.
"Well, I mean, yes, you're also my only astromech, but that doesn't mean anything! Jaylen, back me up here!" Luat glanced over to see his friend valiantly trying to suppress his laughter. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," he grumbled. "R3, just get in the blasted starfighter so that we can get going, please?"
Thankfully, the droid acquiesced, slotting itself into the astromech port as Luat powered on the fighter. "Jaylen, ready to go?"
"Hell yeah!" his first friend exclaimed. "Let's go! I can't wait to get out there and make my mark!"
And with that, the Zabrak's orange Delta-7 lifted off of the ground and made its way out of the hangar. Luat followed in his own green starfighter, sublight engines flaring as he and Jaylen sped their way through the Coruscant skyline.
Hyperspace travel in a Delta-6 was a novel experience, Luat mused. He'd been to Ilum to get his lightsaber crystal, of course, but for that trip his clan had been inside of a freighter-type ship and there was a lot more legroom than in the cockpit of a starfighter. Thankfully, the trip didn't take long, and his comm beeped as soon as his ship detached from the hyperspace ring. "Luat, I'm assuming you got through intact?" Even through the commlink, Jaylen's snark was as clear as ever.
"I'm not that incompetent of a pilot, you mook," Luat huffed. "And even if I was, R3 was the one who took care of the calculations." The astromech in question beeped an affirmative from where he was nestled.
"Well," Jaylen replied, "We'll have plenty of time to see just how bad your flying really is, because that was the last jump. It's all sublight the rest of the way. Just try not to crash or something, 'kay? This cockpit's cramped enough already without another passenger." By the Force, he could hear the insolent smirk on Jaylen's face after that one.
Any retort that Luat could have given was cut short when his holo went off, signaling another caller. Answering it resulted in the hologram of a female Mon Calamari in Jedi robes appearing over the transmitter.
"Ah, you two would be the new Padawans, correct?" she said. "I am Jedi Master Bant Eerin."
"I'm Jaylen Kos, and I'm the one the Council assigned to you," Luat could hear Jaylen say through the comm.
"I'm Luat Ceema, Plo Koon's Padawan," he said. "The Council sent me here with Jaylen because my new Master is dealing with some sort of delicate diplomatic situation."
"Yes, the Council filled me in on who they were sending," Master Eerin said. "Sorry about the abruptness, but we don't have the time for further pleasantries."
"Master?" Jaylen asked. He hid it well, but Luat could make out the worry in his voice. "I thought we were going to be meeting on Kashyyyk. Did something happen?"
"The situation has changed," was her curt reply. "I will be following a lead on Akoshissss, the moon orbiting Trandosha. You will have to continue to Kashyyyk without me."
"I'm sorry?" Luat said nervously. He and Jaylen hadn't even landed on the planet and already something was going on, and he didn't like it. "What happened Master? What's going on?"
The holo grimaced. "I can't tell you over comms," she warned. "These ones are not secure enough to be sending this kind of information through. You'll be filled in on Kashyyyk, and hopefully when everything's done I can–" Her head whipped to the side and her voice cut off as she glanced at something to the side.
"Blast it! Going to have to cut this short!" she said hurriedly as her image began to distort. "Get to Kashyyyk Padawans!" Her voice was almost incomprehensible over several bursts of static. "I'll be fine jus–" was all that Luat could make out before the transmission cut out entirely.
"Master!" Jaylen yelled over the comm as he tried to reestablish the connection. "Master Eerin, come in!"
Luat grit his teeth as his own efforts came up unsuccessful. "Dammit, it's no use Jaylen. The line's dead."
There was silence across the comm for a minute, until Jaylen finally asked the question they were both thinking. "Well, what now?"
Luat wasn't really sure what to do himself. Master Eerin had said she'd be fine, and she was undoubtedly much more knowledgeable and experienced than both of them combined. "We're going to Kashyyyk, like Master Eerin told us to," he decided. Bant Eerin was a Jedi Master, and had been part of the war ever since day one, he told himself. She could handle whatever it was that had interrupted them.
"What!?" Clearly, though, Jaylen disagreed. "We're just gonna leave Master Eerin like that? What if she needs our help?"
"She's a Jedi Master, Jaylen, with an entire battalion of clones nearby," Luat snapped. "If she's in trouble I don't think a pair of newly minted Padawans are going to do much to help there."
"Of course we could help! Just because you're not a good pilot doesn't mean–" The rest of Jaylen's words were suddenly muffled, as if they were spoken underwater. Luat's confusion was quickly stifled by a gasp as a pillar of ice drove itself through his brain, and all he could hear were garbled phrases spoken by unrecognizable voices.
"Another successful delivery, Mister Dane."
"This better be the last one, Panith. I hate terentateks."
"My Lord Dooku, you presume too swiftly! When my cyborg soldiers are complete, the Jedi will crumble before us."
"I am thankful that a live Jedi is among us! You will be the perfect final test for my creation!"
The last line faded out and Luat found himself wrenched back into reality, just in time to hear Jaylen finish speaking. "–So you can go to Kashyyyk if you want Luat, but I'm not gonna risk losing my Master right after getting her!"
"You're right," Luat said, wincing as he massaged his temples. R3 beeped at him worriedly, but he waved the droid off with a free hand.
"Yeah, I'm righ–wait, what?" Jaylen cut off as he realized what Luat had said. "Luat, what's going on? I mean, I'm not complaining, but you were completely against going to Akoshissss literally a minute ago."
"I had one of my visions," Luat said, and the sharp intake of breath across the comm indicated that Jaylen understood what that meant. Luat's future visions were unique in that they technically weren't visions, since they did not give any images. Instead, they provided snippets of conversation from various people and times in the future. Master Yoda had described them as Force Echoes, and said that they weren't visions only because of Luat's poor connection to the Force.
Luat had felt these Echoes at several points in the past. The future was always in motion, Master Yoda would say, but every time the events that they described had come to pass. And now they were telling him that an insane scientist had captured a Jedi as a test subject for his cyborg creation, one he was confident could destroy the Order as a whole.
With Master Eerin's unknown situation, there was no real choice in where they were going. "I'll tell you on the way Jaylen," Luat said, "But if I'm right, then Master Eerin's in real danger. R3! Plot a course for Akoshissss!"
And that's Chapter 1. Feel free to drop a review, or PM if you've got a really specific question you need to ask. Until then, though, I'll see you next time. And as always, watch out for that friendly fire.