"Kriff!" Kiusan Waurk cried out, then sighed and switched off the starfigher simulator. She knew it was time to stop when words came over her lips that she wasn't even supposed to know, let alone use. Feeling angry and disappointed with herself, she opened the cockpit of the simulator, but hesitated before climbing out, reaching out to the Force and trying to center herself the way she'd been taught. She wasn't supposed to get so impatient and frustrated while doing starfighter simulations, but it seemed that she could never obtain her objective and finish the mission. Although she'd been getting up early every morning to go over it again and again, she still couldn't make it. In fact, just now, she'd been vaped at a point in the sim that was earlier than any other point where she'd been vaped before. Just thinking about her failure was enough to break her tenuous contact to the Force, leaving her feeling even more annoyed.
And to make things worse, it was obvious she was going to be late for breakfast. Leaping out of the cockpit, Kiu raced to the door and pounded down the corridor to the stairs. She couldn't afford to be late. Jedi were never late. It wasn't diplomatic. They kept their minds on the here and now and never got carried away, even if they were only twelve. Jedi were always aware of where they were and what they were doing. And Kiu wanted, with all her mind and strength, to become a Jedi.
Jumping the last three steps, Kiu hit the floor running and barreled into the dining hall, hopping on one foot to slow her momentum. She had the distinct feeling that all the initiates in the hall were staring at her in horror as she came in, and the sensation bothered her. It wasn't as though it was the first time anybody had been late! Such a thing happened at least once a week, and usually the others scarcely bothered to notice. And there was an odd silence in the hall as well that nagged at Kiu as she tried to walk decorously to the serving line. Getting her breakfast tray along with a stern look from the kitchen helper for her tardiness, Kiu turned back around and headed for her usual table, to join her friends.
But there was someone new at her table, occupying the chair, in fact, where she usually sat. Immediately, she wondered why she hadn't caught sight of him when she'd come in. He stuck out like a heliotrope flower in a desert landscape. The chairs around him were filled with initiates alternately eating their breakfasts and looking at the visitor with a mixture of eagerness and wonderment, and the initiates at the other tables were craning their necks as well. It wasn't because of the royal purple cloak that he was wearing instead of normal Jedi brown, though that was certainly an eye-catcher. It wasn't, either, because he was tall and handsome for a human, with short brown hair and a strong nose prominent even under the full beard and mustache.
It was, obviously, the fact that he was a knight looking for a padawan. She knew that for a certainty, without even having to use the Force. There was no other reason for anyone but the instructors to venture down into the initiate section of the Jedi Temple.
As Kiu took a few automatic steps towards the table, she sneezed. It seemed as though the slight sound brought everybody's attention directly to her. Even the knight looked up and their eyes met for a brief instant before he glanced back down to his breakfast again. Kiu blushed immediately, feeling ashamed that she'd come late on this particular morning and was therefore making a bad impression on him already. Then she realised belatedly that there was no space at her usual table, and felt annoyed that she had to sit somewhere else. Feeling horribly conspicuous, even though he was no longer looking at her, she glanced around, Her best friend, the Twi'lek Hadru Faruth, caught her gaze and shrugged apologetically, her headtails twitching with a touch of embarrassment. Kiu smiled forgivingly at her for a quick moment before resuming her search, and finally found an empty seat next to a Devaronian female with whom she was not really good friends. Jiri Ku-Dre gave her a withering look and asked pointedly, "And what will you do, Kiu, if you're not chosen?"
"Apply for secondary education, of course," Kiu replied as off-handedly as she could manage, trying not to betray the panic she felt whenever she thought about having to take that path. She wanted to become a padawan more than anything! It was the dream that inspired her to strive for excellence in everything, even if it was a struggle and even if she fell short sometimes, such as practising on the simulator -- and coming late to breakfast.
Almost every initiate in the Jedi Temple wanted to be chosen by a master and trained up to knighthood. But sometimes, as their instructors and caretakers often cautioned them, their talents would take them along different paths and it was best to be prepared. Every initiate was also presented with choices for future careers, just in case their thirteenth birthday passed without a master picking them to become a Jedi apprentice. Both Kiu and Hadru thought that Jiri would make a good bodyguard, but Jiri had already made it known that she would go in for pilot training. She never failed to add, "Not that I really need to think about it, of course."
Seeing that her attempt at a jibe had not worked, Jiri changed the subject, pretending to look disdainfully over her shoulder. "Do you think he'd make his padawan wear a purple cloak, too? It's not Jedi-like."
No doubt the Devaronian was already imagining how the royal colour would look against her calico fur.
"What's his name?" Kiu asked, glancing around the table in hopes of engaging somebody else in conversation.
But it was Jiri who answered, "Can't you tell? Knight Hachas Tlatilco."
"Oh," Kiu replied, kicking herself. She should have recognised him immediately. Knight Tlatilco was famous, even down here among the initiates, for being a colourful character around the Temple. Obviously, she just hadn't been thinking. How was she ever going to be picked as a padawan if she didn't think?
"And he started with breakfast!" Jiri exclaimed in astonishment. The eleven- and twelve-year-old initiates were used to having prospective masters observe them at close range, but usually only during their classes. Kiu didn't remember any coming for mealtimes.
"Maybe the Force told him to come at this time, just like it told him about the suicide bomber that wanted to blow up the entire royal family of Dapal," a boy further down the table added admiringly, then asked, "How long do you think a knight like that would need to make his choice of padawan?"
"With any luck, he'll need two days, then he'll get to hear my history report," Jiri said. "Whose turn is it to-day, does anybody know?"
"Mine," Kiu answered with not a little satisfaction, looking forward to it already. "And there's no such thing as luck, remember? There is only the Force."
Jiri adopted her best effort at an inscrutable expression and picked up her glass of milk. Kiu imagined that she thought she was trying to act extra-Jedi-like, but then decided it was because she had nothing good to say. That wasn't very nice, but Kiu didn't care. She was thinking too hard about how she could improve on everything she had to do to-day. Unfortunately, nothing was coming immediately to mind.
The first class of the day for Kiu was not Galactic History. It was Force Exercises. Kiu went into the classroom early to practise, and was sitting quietly in the corner with one of the jigsaw puzzles when the door opened and Instructor Vering came in backwards.
"Oh, let's see," he said, obviously speaking to someone still out in the hall. "If only Ractor Urus weren't in the infirmary with that flu. Hadru Faruth is very advanced ... Jiri Ku-Dre shows great promise."
Kiu straightened up a little, hoping to hear her name, but although the instructor mentioned two or three other initiates, Kiu was not among them. Instead, when he turned and saw her, he merely said, "Oh, good, you've got the right puzzle out, Kiusan. Could you bring it here to this middle table, please? And would you like to sit here across from me, Hachas?"
Trying to hide her hurt feelings at not having been recommended, Kiu gathered the pieces together and brought them to the middle table where the knight was already sitting. Was she really so far away from attaining her dream? Would she never be chosen as a padawan, never given the chance to help save the galaxy? Once she'd heard about a master and a young apprentice who'd prevented what had appeared to be a legal and beneficial alliance between two worlds. After surviving a seemingly meaningless attack on their lives, the Jedi had discovered that the first world had secretly wanted to plunder the resources of the second one. Kiu wanted to be able to help millions of people like that as well!
When all the other students were there, Instructor Vering glanced around the little circle, then asked Jiri to find two pieces and fit them together, using only the Force. It was an exercise designed to increase their fine motor control in the Force. Jiri glanced quickly at Knight Tlatilco, then closed her eyes briefly. Waving her hand, she picked up one piece of the Force and moved it away from the others. It wobbled a few times. She hesitated briefly, then found a second piece and guided it to join the first one. It took a bit of fumbling before the two pieces finally fit together, and Jiri sat back with a grin.
"Very nice," the instructor nodded, then asked the next initiate. Kiu watched each piece as it floated along, and wondered idly if it were possible for her to make the pieces turn aerial somersaults on their way from one pile to the next. She imagined an entire row of puzzle pieces, each one leaping into the air and somersaulting twice before falling into place at the same time as the next one shot up. Quickly realising, however, that that particular scenario was definitely beyond her, she decided to settle for making one piece do one flip over the surface of the table. She'd never done it before, but she was able to imagine it so clearly that she was sure she wouldn't have any problems.
"Kiusan," Instructor Vering finally said.
Reaching out for the Force, feeling it flow through her in fits and starts and then finally smoothing out, Kiu used one finger to indicate the puzzle piece she'd already selected, and felt it lift off the table. Up, up, into the loop, come on, why was it so hard all of a sudden? It was supposed to curve up neatly into a loop, blast it!
The puzzle piece shot out of her control and would have hit the other side of the room if Knight Tlatilco had not reached out a hand and caught it in mid-air. The five other initiates in the class giggled, and Kiu, extending her arm to pluck it from his outstretched palm, felt her face burn with embarrassment. She fumbled and had to reach again for the piece. Thankfully, Knight Tlatilco did not speak, or even smile.
"Kiusan?" the instructor asked gently. "Please explain this."
Despite the mild tone, Kiusan knew she was being scolded, and the presence of Knight Tlatilco made her feel even worse. Meeting the instructor's eyes, she bit her lip briefly, then admitted, "I wanted to make it do a somersault."
"I did not ask for the puzzle piece to be put through aerial acrobatics. We have not yet learned how to put puzzle pieces through aerial acrobatics. I asked you to fit that piece to another one."
"Yes, Instructor Vering," Kiu replied meekly, and hoped that he would not ask her why she'd done such a thing. She would not know what to tell him. No doubt Instructor Vering and everybody else there thought she'd been trying to impress Knight Tlatilco, but that wasn't true. She'd completely forgotten about him while she'd been considering the pieces, and had only remembered that he was there when he'd caught the piece. It had seemed like a fun idea at the time, but now, too late, she remembered that Jedi did not do things because they were fun. They did them in the fastest, most efficient way possible simply because they were necessary, because they had to be done.
"We must learn to walk before we can run," Instructor Vering intoned. Kiu had heard that many times before. "Please try the exercise again and concentrate on the task at hand."
Kiu placed the puzzle piece back in the first pile, then concentrated on the Force again, and moved it jerkily across the table to where it was supposed to fit in on the other side. After she'd missed the connection four times, Instructor Vering raised an imperious finger, signaling her to stop. Kiu let go of the piece, leaving it half on top of the other one, then folded her hands in her lap and tried to meditate away the sickening feeling of being disappointed and ashamed of herself.
Mathematics was next, with a completely different group of initiates, as they were divided up according to ability and not age. Kiu couldn't help being pleased -- no, relieved -- no, sympathetic -- she told herself over and over again, to see that it was somebody else's turn to be embarrassed. She tried not to be too proud that her own work was very close to being one hundred percent correct. Unfortunately, Knight Tlatilco had chosen to attend another class in a different room, and Kiu wondered if he might be following Jiri. In that case, she'd only have one more chance to impress him, as she and Jiri were only in two classes together.
And then came Galactic History. As to confirm Kiu's theory, Knight Tlatilco came into the classroom directly after Jiri did, and Kiu felt slightly miffed. After a short review of what they'd covered the day before, the instructor looked at his schedule and called on Kiu to give her oral report of the political situation on Corellia in that era.
"Good luck!" Hadru whispered. Flashing her friend a grateful grin, Kiu stood up and walked to the front of the room, trying hard not to look at where the knight was squeezed behind a desk in the very back. When she'd finished, she remained standing, but turned slightly to look at the instructor.
"That was an interesting appraisal of the situation," the instructor commented after a long pause. "I expected you, however, to be as objective as you could, and report only the facts, not to speculate on what would have happened if the political figures of that day had decided differently."
Kiu froze with utter humiliation. She'd done it again, right in front of a prospective master! She hadn't kept her mind on the here and now, hadn't been concentrating on the task at hand. She'd been leaping ahead again, trying to do more and understand more, and had ended up neglecting the actual assignment.
"You wrote well, and yet your speculations took up too much of the report. There is a time and a place for such things; this was neither. I can only give you five out of ten points. Re-do it and concentrate on the facts this time. Sit down, please."
Her cheeks burning, Kiu slunk to her seat and slid into it, and Hadru leaned over and gave her hand a quick pat. Kiu forced her lips into an imitation of a smile, then glanced away again, thinking that secondary education might not be such a wise choice after all. It would open the door to several career possibilities, but only if she could get high marks in all her courses, and if she continued on like this, she wouldn't be accepted in the first place.
Maybe she'd end up in the Coruscant Security Force. According to the scuttlebutt among the initiates, they accepted everybody who applied, and almost everybody knew of at least one initiate who'd landed there. Kiu didn't know if she'd be able to stand the shame of it, though, being given a job that anybody could do, when she knew she had so much more potential.
Taking a few deep breaths, she concentrated on letting the feelings of humiliation and disappointment wash through her into the Force, and then turned her mind to Basic, which was the next class. She knew she'd done well here, mostly because it was a spelling and grammar test, and it was impossible to speculate about correct spelling. Either it was right or it was wrong, there was nothing in between. You could speculate about some parts of grammar, though, Kiu remembered, but fortunately for her, those parts weren't the ones featured on the test. Unfortunately, however, Knight Tlatilco had wandered to yet another class, probably because there was nothing more boring than watching six initiates silently bowed over datapads for an hour.
At lunch, the menu of the day was labeled under the heading of "Galactic Cuisine". Every so often, they were presented with unfamiliar food and were expected to eat it without too much complaint. It was good preparation for the life of a Jedi, they were told, when they would be travelling to many different worlds and serving among many different species.
The boys ahead of her in the serving line groaned in unison. "Not boiled bugs again!"
"Not so loud, you idiot. What if he hears you?"
"Where is he, anyway?"
The boys glanced around automatically, then caught sight of someone standing behind Kiu, and froze, their eyes bulging with surprise. A moment later, one of them squeaked, "I love boiled bugs!"
"Yeah, they're so ... crunchy! Yum!" the other one added desperately.
Kiu turned around as well, and her mouth dropped open as she discovered that Knight Tlatilco had somehow managed to catch up to her without making a sound. Smiling at the boys in amusement, Knight Tlatilco leaned forward and challenged, "Who can eat the most?"
Their faces reflecting exaggerated panic, both boys recovered at the same time and exclaimed, "You can!" joining in with Knight Tlatilco as he laughed.
Kiu looked down at the serving of steamed insects on her plate as she took her tray from the serving hatch to the nearest table, then sat down at her usual place and picked up the chopsticks that had been provided instead of regular silverware. Pinching the ends around one of the insects, she guided it over to the bowl of dull green sauce and dipped it in, promptly dropping the bug and having to fish it out again. Then, closing her eyes and thinking of nerf fried in batter (which had a similar crunch), Kiu popped the morsel into her mouth and chewed. Except for the strange insect taste, it was ... not ... bad. She tried to remind herself that they'd definitely eaten worse things. Once she'd had to eat a stew that had been so spicy she'd thought her tongue was being dissolved by acid. This was better. Milder, anyway.
Knight Tlatilco had sat down at a nearby table and seemed to be eating the insects with enjoyment. Jiri had been right behind him in line, and had ignored her usual seat into order to swing herself boldly into the chair across from him. "Do you eat these things a lot, Knight Tlatilco, out on missions, I mean?"
"Never," he replied, his eyes twinkling. "Why do you think I chose to come down here to-day?"
Everybody at the table laughed, and Jiri fell silent. At that moment, Hadru claimed the seat across from Kiu and leaned over the table, whispering conspiratorially, "Knight Tlatilco's been in every class of mine this morning except one!"
"Well, that's a relief," Kiu whispered back. "I thought he might be following Jiri."
Hadru turned her head to glance at the Devaronian and the corners of her mouth turned up, but she managed to control a smile.
"He'd do well to choose you," Kiu said earnestly, though she still held out a tiny bit of hope that the knight might choose her.
Hadru popped a bug into her mouth without even bothering to dip it into the sauce and chewed, trying not to look too excited about the prospect of padawanship.
"Did he see you in Force Exercises?" Kiu asked.
Hadru nodded, then swallowed.
"What did you have to do?"
"Put the Connect-Us blocks together to make a little house. The really small ones, you know."
"I'm not going to ask if you managed." Kiu knew that Hadru was best at Force manipulation.
Hadru gave a little shrug. "What about you?"
"We had to fit two puzzle pieces together," Kiu sighed. "And ... Well. You know me."
"Running before you can walk?" At her nod, Hadru asked, "What did you try this time?"
Kiu arranged two of her insects on the table with a space between them. "All we had to do was fit the puzzle pieces where they belonged. And I was watching everybody else and completely forgot that he was there. I started thinking about how nice it would be if I could make the puzzle piece do a little somersault before it went where it belonged. But I only got about this far."
She tried it again, stretching out her hand and concentrating on the uppermost bug in her bowl. It rose up, up, and almost seemed to be going into a loop, but then shot out of control and landed right in Hadru's bowl of sauce.
"Hey, thanks!" Hadru fished it out with a happy grin and ate it up.
"Knight Tlatilco caught my puzzle piece or it would have ended up on the floor," Kiu added. "Want another one?"
"I wouldn't want to deprive you."
"Oh, go on, you know you love them." Kiu used one chopstick to push the remaining two insects towards Hadru's side of the table, and Hadru did not hesitate long before snapping them up.
"See, you'd be good for Knight Tlatilco. He's eating them, too. You could eat them together."
Hadru laughed, covering her mouth with her hand, but letting her lekku twitch merrily.
After lunch, a politics course where they were currently studying different forms of government, and a meditation session, Kiu and Hadru were both scheduled for Lightsaber Skills. Knight Tlatilco was already there when they entered the hall, wearing their heavily padded body armor. As was usual when a knight visited the class, the instructor (Master Yoda this time) paired them up into twos for sparring. He asked Hadru and another of the initiates to stay close to him, so that Knight Tlatilco could have a good view of the fight, and the others moved further down the great hall. After five minutes, they rotated both partners and positions. By the time it was Kiu's turn to be under observation, it was the end of the session, and she was tired. She also had the disadvantage of fighting against a Wookiee, who was much taller than she was, and had to take several hits without being able to land any. She continued to defend herself, barely managing to defeat several would-be kill points in a row, but part of her mind was reaching ahead, trying to find a strategy that would let her win.
There were several equipment cabinets set into a recess along one wall, and some of the cabinets had their doors open. Maneuvering the Wookiee around a little bit, Kiu was able to risk several glances inside the nearest one. Her attention distracted, she cried out as his lightsaber connected with her knee, and then she stepped back and to the side, reaching out with the Force as she used only her eyes to anticipate the next blow. The coil of jump-rope fell from the shelf to the floor and moved along towards her as she stepped to the side yet again, bringing the Wookiee around so that his back was to the cabinet. Just a little bit farther ... there! Now she had to lift it up while parrying a series of blows delivered with enough strength to knock her to her knees. Concentrating on two things at once wasn't as as easy as she'd hoped, as she was used to using the Force in a more passive way during lightsaber practise, to help her be aware of her surroudings. She wasn't used to levitating at the same time as being so active, and it took a great amount of concentration to get the rope high enough--
The Wookiee's lightsaber sizzled against her neck just as the jump-rope fell on his head, one end snaking down his neck. He stumbled backwards, roaring in surprise tinged with panic, until he'd shaken the object free and could see that it was only a rope and not a live snake. Master Yoda announced the kill point, and both students bowed to each other.
"Left yourself open you did," Master Yoda intoned, turning to Kiu. "Too busy thinking about the rope. The danger in front of your nose, see you did not!"
Kiu put a hand to her neck, wincing at the burn, then bit her lip as the tears rushed to her eyes. Master Yoda was right. She'd been a prime target. Her mind had been somewhere else. Her mind was always somewhere else. If the situation had been real, she'd be dead by now. A master didn't need a padawan who would get killed on their first mission. She glanced over to see if Knight Tlatilco had any readable expression on his face, and was just in time to see him finish the motion of running his fingers through his beard, holding them there for a moment with a sigh, then letting his head fall forward and rest in his hands for a moment. It was not an encouraging sight.
"Good strategy it was -- for an older student," Master Yoda continued, pulling Kiu's attention back to him. "Ready for it, you are not. Much practise you need for that trick."
"Yes, Master Yoda." She tried to breathe away the tears and succeeded for the most part.
"Good it is, that you want to learn so much. But walk you must, before you run."
"Yes, Master Yoda," Kiu sighed.
"Heard that already to-day, did you?" Master Yoda smiled up at her, and Kiu managed a small smile back before replying, "At least once, yes."
"Away put the rope, then dismissed you are," Master Yoda said.
Kiu scrambled to obey, but by the time she'd finished, both the master and the knight had left the hall, which meant, once and for all, that he wasn't going to linger behind and ask to speak to her. Not that she'd really expected it, not after she'd shown him again and again how well she could mess up. He probably had somebody else in mind already, maybe even Hadru. That was all right, then, Kiu mused, trying to maintain a positive attitude as she walked slowly to the changing rooms. And as for herself, well, there were other knights in the Temple, and maybe she'd have a better day next time.
"That was a good strategy," Hadru said as Kiu came in. She'd already undressed and was reaching for a towel. "I'm going to remember it next time."
"That scream was something else," one of the other girls said. "I thought you'd caught him between the legs, Kiu!"
"Maybe I'll try that next time," Kiu murmured, though she knew she wouldn't. The initiates were not encouraged to fight dirty. "How did you do, Hadru?"
"I won," Hadru said with a modest shrug. "It wasn't much of a match, though. It was almost an accident that I got a kill point so soon."
"That's too bad," Kiu murmured. "Knight Tlatilco should have had the chance to see more of you."
Hadru said nothing, but as she walked away towards the showers, her lekku curled a little at the ends, which meant she was too shy about appearing arrogant to say what she really thought.
When they left the changing rooms, the knight was nowhere to be seen. Kiu thought that Hadru looked just a little disappointed, and gave her a friendly clap on the shoulder, which made the Twi'lek respond with a grateful smile.
"Come on, let's go to the lounge," Kiu suggested. "Maybe he's there."
"In the lounge?" Hadru looked doubtful. After classes, the students often gathered in the large rooms, roughly divided according to age groups, to relax and socialise for an hour or two before drifting away to finish their homework or practise skills in need of refining. Neither Kiu nor Hadru had ever seen a knight visit one of them.
"He did eat breakfast and lunch with us," Kiu reminded her encouragingly.
"True. He must be very serious about choosing a padawan. Do you think he's watching our table skills? Trying to find someone who wouldn't embarrass him?"
"Good thing you didn't eat with your lekku to-day," Kiu teased, and Hadru gave her a mock-indignant shove.
"Or maybe he was only pretending to look for a padawan, and just came down because of the boiled bugs," Kiu hastily amended.
Laughing, they walked down the hall together, but Knight Tlatilco was not in the lounge. If he were, no doubt the other initates would not be sprawled over the furniture and loudly discussing how well or how badly they'd done in front of him. Kiu could well imagine that they'd be sitting primly instead, not too close to him lest they should seem too eager to be chosen, but not too far away, either, so as not to be overlooked. They'd be unnaturally quiet, too, not knowing what to say or do in his presence. Except for Jiri, of course. Well, let Jiri talk. Kiu was secretly convinced that Hadru was the padawan this Knight Tlatilco was looking for.
After a few minutes of relaxing and socialising in the lounge, Kiu remembered her history re-write, and went reluctantly off to her room to work on it, along with other assignments for the next day. Hadru came by to pick her up for supper, and Kiu felt a twinge of disappointment for her friend when they discovered that Knight Tlatilco was not in the dining room, either.
"Perhaps he found somebody else," Hadru said, trying to sound philosophic about it.
Kiu was glancing through the rows and counting heads, and felt a distinctly un-Jedi-like burst of satisfaction when she noted that Jiri was clearly visible. On the other hand -- "Where's Edu?"
"Down with the flu," the person next to Kiu reported.
"Oh. Well, everybody else is still here that I can see, so he probably hasn't chosen yet."
"He doesn't have to pick from the oldest. There's no rule that says he can't take a younger padawan."
Kiu shrugged. There was a generous peppering of younger initiates in all their classes. It was quite possible that he'd asked one of them, but on the other hand, the good news was not circulating among the tables. Nobody seemed to know what had become of Knight Tlatilco, though there were plenty of stories going around of all the glorious deeds he'd managed to do since knighthood, and Kiu felt her spirits start to rise again.
"He'll come back to-morrow and pick you," she told Hadru firmly, and saw her friend's lekku twitch hopefully at the ends.
The next morning, Kiu awoke with a dull headache and an irritable disposition, which became even more irritable when she discovered that she'd slept later than intended and had only half of the time she usually allotted herself for the starfighter simulation. Flopping back onto the pillow with an unhappy sigh, she closed her eyes again, not even certain that she wanted to get up at all. Even breathing seemed to be an effort this morning. Eventually, however, she staggered out of bed and into the refresher. At the rate things were going, she'd have more than enough time on the sim to get vaped and still be early for breakfast.
She was right. She'd scarcely engaged in battle when her screen showed that her starfighter was exploding around her.
"Kriff," Kiu breathed in annoyance as the explosion faded to grey and the canopy of the simulator popped up. Her head was throbbing.
"So this is where you get to in the mornings," Hadru said from behind her, making Kiu jump with surprise.
"I'm just trying to improve," she said unhappily.
Kiu hesitated a moment, wondering when it had suddenly become so hard to inhale, then admitted, "Medical Supplies in the Midst of a Civil War."
"That doesn't sound like the one your starfighter class is working on," Hadru commented suspiciously. As good as she was at Force manipulation, she was also one level below Kiu in starfighter piloting. "It's not, is it?"
Kiu shook her head.
"Let me guess. Running before you can walk again?"
Miserably, Kiu nodded.
"I don't know. I just wanted to try it out once, just to see what it was like. It sounded more interesting than 'Deliver the Ambassador'. More fun."
"And then you got so caught up in it that you were determined to keep trying until you won."
"Yeah," Kiu sighed. "And -- I thought if I managed to learn something here, on my own, maybe I could use it to help me be successful in the other one."
"Kiu, it's supposed to be the other way around. You learn skills in the easier sims and apply them to the harder ones."
"I know," Kiu wheezed, then stood up tiredly and put one leg over the side of the cockpit.
"Do you think Knight Tlatilco will be at breakfast again to-day?" Hadru asked hopefully as they walked out of the room and down the corridor.
Kiu shrugged. She didn't really care anymore. She'd be just as glad if he wasn't.
"Kiu?" Hadru, walking at her normal pace, had left her behind, and now she glanced back in surprise. "Are you all right? You don't look very well."
"I don't feel very well," Kiu panted.
"You'd better get to the infirmary." Hadru came back and laid her hand against Kiu's forehead. "You're burning up."
"I am?" Kiu had already felt uncomfortably cool inside the simulator, but now she was shivering visibly. "No, I'm cold."
"Come on." Hadru put an arm around her shoulders and steered her down the corridor to the lift. Kiu didn't remember much of the journey, just that they seemed to be walking for an inordinate amount of time. She started to worry that they would never reach the double sliding doors that marked the entrance to the infirmary. Eventually, however, they did, and Kiu sank exhausted onto the nearby bench as Hadru spoke with the healer padawan on duty at the front desk. She was almost falling asleep right there when another padawan appeared to guide her to an examination room.
"Good-bye, Kiu, get well soon," Hadru called. "I'll come visit you to-night."
"Thanks," Kiu murmured, giving her Twi'lek friend a little wave. Then the padawan guided her down the hall and into a small room, helping her onto the examination table. She was a human female with round eyes and short yellow hair, the kind that Kiu had always secretly admired as a contrast to the black hair and slanted eyes which she always saw on her reflection. To judge by the length of her braid and the sheer confidence that she exuded, the padawan was close to taking her Trials.
'Hello, I'm Fidence Xacer. You can call me Fi if you want. How do you feel?"
"Cold." After struggling to inhale, Kiu added, "Breathless."
"Headache? Achey feeling all over?"
"Yeah. And tired, really tired."
Pulling a device out of her belt, Fidence nodded. "Let me take your temperature. Ah. Yes, it's very high. Can you sit up? I want to listen to your lungs."
When she'd finished, she helped Kiu lay down again, then reached for her arm. "Just a quick blood test. It won't hurt much."
Kiu ignored the prick of the needle, already shutting her eyes and drifting away. She was vaguely aware of Fidence inserting the probe into a scanner, then reading the results and reaching for her comlink at the same time.
"Fidence here, at Admissions. We've got another case of Commenor flu. Which room is free?"
Kiu could just barely make out the reply through the comlink. "Two ten."
"Right. Come on, Kiu, let me help you get up. We're just going to get you into a real bed now."
Kiu sat up reluctantly and stumbled on the way to the door, but Fidence caught her before she could fall. A little bit farther down the hall, Fidence found a repulsor-lift chair and guided her into it. She sat down gratefully and rested her elbow on one arm, propping her head up with her hand as she closed her eyes. She was aware of being moved, both horizontally and vertically, and then Fidence was helping her to stand up and get undressed. Even that small exercise made her wheeze, and she couldn't stop shivering.
They were in a room now with a bed, Kiu noted dully as Fidence pushed her to sit down on the edge of it. The padawan kept her upright with one arm and pulled a light-blue gown over Kiu's head with the other hand. At last Kiu was allowed to lay back. Fidence raised the end of the bed slightly, then tucked the covers over her shoulders. "Better?"
"C-c-cold," Kiu replied without opening her eyes.
"I'll get another duvet, hang on a minute. And a Master Healer should be here soon."
Under the warmth of the second duvet, Kiu finally managed to stop shaking and fall asleep. She was only aware of the presence of the Master Healer in her dreams. He seemed to exude a kind of comfort that made the fever demons fade away, at least until the next dream. She craved that comfort. Her dreams were strong and frightening, and she often didn't realise that they were not real until she woke up.
Waking up was not very pleasant, either. Her head still ached and her body still tingled with unwellness. She was alternately too hot or too cold. The first few times, she'd dreamed of someone chasing her through rooms suited more to Mon Calamari than to humans. Then her pursuers had seemed to sense the Master Healer, whom Kiu could feel as if he were just in the next room, and as the demons broke off the pursuit and faded away, Kiu had then woken up to find that she really was breathing warm, humid, medicinally scented air. Her brain, however, never seemed to make the connection between the air, and the fact that something was covering her mouth and nose, and each time she awoke, she struggled to remove the uncomfortable mask.
Each time, however, a firm hand caught hers and guided it away, and an authoritative voice said, "Don't. It's helping you breathe."
And each time, the mask would be returned to its proper position as Kiu drifted back to sleep. Later, however, the dreams shifted. She was no longer in the humid Mon Cal atmosphere, but alternately running from the demons through a hot desert, or struggling to escape them in an icy river. When she woke up from such dreams, she was usually clear-headed enough to either push the covers off and rejoice in the cooler air, or pull the covers around her for more warmth. Fidence was there once, and helped her to the refresher, then gave her a big drink of water. The next time, it was Master Healer An-Paj himself, smiling down at her as he placed a hand on her forehead and sent both comfort and healing through the Force. Once, she woke up completely alone in the middle of the night, her heart racing from the nightmare, but managed to calm herself and get back to sleep.
Kiu opened her eyes a second time. The demon was still there, clothing red from the blood of his victims, sitting in the chair between her bed and the window. Oh, he looked almost human, with his short brown hair and cleanly-shaven cheeks, but Kiu knew that he was a demon. He had leaned forward slightly and was staring at her intently, no doubt waiting for his chance to pounce. Kiu couldn't understand why he hadn't already. Maybe he was toying with her. Or maybe he'd already eaten. Wasn't Fidence supposed to be in the room with her? Or the Master Healer? He must have consumed at least one of them, perhaps even both. Maybe he was too full to attack her, and was waiting for his digestion to kick in. Maybe she had a chance to get away while he was still sluggish from the large meal. Sliding to the opposite side of the bed, Kiu glanced over at the demon to see how he'd react. He was still watching her, but showed no signs of wanting to move. Good!
Throwing back the covers, she leaped from the bed and raced to the door, going down on one knee once because the illness had left her weak. The demon stood up slowly, but Kiu was faster, scrambling to her feet again and somehow managing to reach the door handle. She pulled the door open and staggered into the corridor, right into Master Healer An-Paj.
"Kiu?" he asked, catching her so that she didn't fall.
"Help!" she shrieked, throwing her arms around him, as much to keep her balance as for comfort and protection. "Oh, help me, there's a demon in my room, you've got to make it go away!"
"A demon! In my room!"
"What kind of demon?"
"It looks like a human! But it's a demon! It's been chasing me and chasing me! Make it go away! Kill it!"
As soon as she realised that An-Paj really was moving towards the open door, Kiu shot around so that she was standing behind him, hanging onto his belt. "Kill it, kill it!"
"All right, calm down, Kiu. I'm going to look into the room now," An-Paj announced slowly and loudly. "And if there are any demons or anybody else in there, I'll tackle them to the floor! Then I'll give them a shot of tranquiliser! And when they've woken up from that, I'll call their masters to come give them a lecture!"
"Put down your syringe. I surrender," called a voice from inside the room. Kiu gasped, and peeped out from behind An-Paj's waist. The demon was standing by the bed with his hands raised and a distinctly sheepish look on his face that made him look more human than before.
"I only wanted to see how she was doing," he said apologetically. "I didn't expect her to wake up the moment I laid eyes on her."
"Hachas Tlatilco, you have a bed in another room just down the corridor," An-Paj said. "Find it. Lay down and stay down."
"Master An-Paj," Kiu hissed. "That's not Knight Tlatilco. Knight Tlatilco has a beard!"
"Had," the knight corrected her with a grin. "I shaved it off this morning. What do you think?"
Kiu stared closely at him, forgetting herself enough that she came out from behind Master An-Paj. The nose was certainly the same. And the eyes looked familiar. He smiled hopefully as he presented first his left cheek and then his right cheek for her inspection, and after a moment, Kiu had to admit that it really was Knight Tlatilco, dressed in red silk pyjamas, and not a demon at all. No bloodstains. She felt very stupid and embarrassed, and suddenly exhausted to the point of tears.
"Come on," said Master An-Paj as he sensed her distress. He took her arm and led her to the bed. "You need to lay down again. And you, Hachas --"
"This isn't a good time to ... ah ...?"
"No, it is not." An-Paj sounded more forbidding than Kiu had ever heard him.
"All right. The demon's going. You don't have to kill it," Knight Tlatilco said, moving slowly towards the door. "I apologise, Kiusan. I never meant to scare you. I'll talk to you later. Get well soon."
He looked as exhausted as Kiu felt, and somehow sad, too, as though all of his vitality had suddenly drained away.
When he'd gone and An-Paj was listening to her lungs, Kiu asked, "Why did he come in here, anyway?"
"I think I'll let him explain that," An-Paj announced, beaming down at her for a moment before going on to the next part of the examination. "Your temperature is almost normal. You're definitely over the worst of it."
"What did I have?"
"Commenor flu. It mostly affects the respiratory system. A lot of initiates seem to be getting it lately, and Knight Tlatilco, too, because he was down there with you the other day. It comes quickly and goes quickly, but it's very intense while it's there. You're going to be weak for a while. It'll probably take several days before you're back to your normal level of activity."
Kiu made a face at that even though she could sense by the trembling in her legs and her shortness of breath that he was telling the truth. With a sigh, she leaned back against the pillow.
"When I'm feeling better, can I go to the animal garden?" In one corner of the infirmary, far away from the intensive care units, there was a garden filled with all kinds of tame, Force-sensitive animals for injured Jedi to interact with. It was considered therapeutic, especially for the children. Once, Hadru had injured her leg so badly that she'd had to remain in the infirmary for more than a week, and had been allowed to "adopt" a cuddly deemuot for the duration of her stay. Kiu hadn't been jealous, of course, but she'd also found time to visit her friend at least twice a day and linger over the animal when she should have been doing her homework.
"Yes, of course," An-Paj smiled. "When you're feeling better."
"Am I going to have those bad dreams again?"
"No," the healer said firmly, laying a warm hand on her forehead before tucking the duvet around her shoulders. "You're going to dream about deemuots."
And she did.
"Isn't it a bit prickly?" Kiu asked, looking dubiously at the orange and tan puffercat which the animal therapist had dumped in her lap. It was the next afternoon, and Kiu had been so disappointed about not yet being considered well enough to visit the animal garden that Fidence had promised to ask the therapists there to bring one to visit her for an hour. Kiu had been hoping for a soft, furry deemuot, but instead, the Caamasi female had brought her something with quills.
"You'll be all right if you only rub in one direction," the therapist said, demonstrating. "He likes being touched. Really, he can't get enough attention. Put your hand out and try."
Kiu ran her hand gently over the quills.
"See, he's laying them flat for you, that means he likes it. If he starts kneading your lap with his front paws, then he's really happy. He likes having his chin chucked, too." The therapist demonstrated. "Listen, can you hear him purring? You don't have to be afraid that he'll puff up and stick you. He's very tame and not easily alarmed. Yes, Hachas, you like it, don't you, my lovely boy?"
"Hachas?" Kiu asked, stroking the puffercat a bit harder. The rumbling from underneath the quills increased. She could almost feel them vibrating.
"That's his name. Sometimes we name the animals after famous knights, or people on the Council, or even after the Chancellor," the therapist smiled. "But little Hachas here got his name because of his colouring. Puffercats are usually brown and tan. This one, however, was an aberration. Not really an albino, because they're pure white. No, he was just different. And the real Hachas -- Knight Tlatilco, I mean -- is well known, not only for his successful missions, but also for being a colourful character around the Temple. Anyway, I let my padawan name most of the animals, and apparently she'd just seen Knight Tlatilco walking down the hall, so that was that."
Kiu thought of Knight Tlatilco's purple cloak, and his red pyjamas, and couldn't help grinning.
"Right. You can pet him for a while, and here's a toy vrelt if he wants to play, and I'll be back in about an hour to pick him up, all right?"
Kiu sat and petted the puffercat, and the purring continued. It wasn't so bad. Suddenly, Hachas pricked his ears and turned his head to the door. There was a hesitant knock, and then the door opened to admit Hadru.
"Hey, you're awake! How are you doing?" her friend asked, coming closer. "Ooh, a puffercat! Can I stroke him?"
She pulled up the other chair, leaned over, and began to rub little Hachas vigorously. After a moment, Kiu transferred the animal to her friend's lap, and the puffercat began to knead with his paws almost immediately. Hadru giggled and squirmed a little. "Eek, that tickles!"
It seemed to Kiu that they had been talking and sharing the animal for only a few minutes when there was another knock at the door, and Knight Tlatilco himself came in. He was wearing a pair of baggy trousers and a long.sleeved tunic that fell to his knees, both in bright orange-yellow coloured silk. Glancing down at the puffercat, who had just jumped up onto Hadru's leg after catching the toy vrelt that the girl had tossed across the room, Kiu could see that the animal was indeed well named. She remembered the day before, when she'd mistaken Knight Tlatilco for the demon from her dreams, and felt too embarrassed to look up again. Instead, she glanced sideways at Hadru.
"Hello, girls," Knight Tlatilco said.
Hadru straightened up as much as she could, and her lekku seemed unnaturally stiff, as though she were holding them at attention. She stared up at the knight, her eyes wide with hope, the puffercat forgotten, and murmured, "Good afternoon, Knight Tlatilco."
"Hadru, isn't it?"
"Hadru Faruth, yes," she nodded, sounding breathless with excitement.
"I'll leave you two alone for a minute, shall I?" Kiu asked, standing up to go.
She tried to catch Hadru's eye, to give her a discreet thumbs-up sign, but Hadru never glanced in her direction. Knight Tlatilco, however, reached out to put a hand on her arm. "No, wait, Kiusan, I really wanted to speak to you. Hadru, would you be so kind as to leave us alone for a few moments?"
Stunned, Kiu just stood there and watched as the knight reached out and plucked the puffercat from Hadru's lap, folding it carefully into the crook of his elbow while stroking it firmly with his other hand. Relieved of her burden, Hadru stood up slowly, and in that moment, Kiu could plainly see the hope drain from her eyes and her lekku go limp.
"Of course, Knight Tlatilco," she said, and her attempts to keep a pleasant expression on her face were painfully visible. "I've got to be getting back to my studies anyway. Good-bye, Kiu, I'll c-come by again to-morrow."
"Good-bye," Kiu replied automatically, giving her a little wave. Because of her illness, the fact that Knight Tlatilco had been looking for a padawan the first time she'd seen him had gone right out of her head. She'd only just remembered when she'd seen the way her friend had looked up at the knight with hope and excitement radiating from her face. For a moment, Kiu had also believed that he'd come for Hadru, and now she sank down into her chair knowing that it wasn't so, that he'd come for her instead.
Maybe she was running instead of walking, again, but she didn't care. It was a bit of a shock.
He wanted her? Despite her mistakes? Despite the fact that she was always trying to run before she could walk, that her mind was often somewhere else? It didn't seem possible. Surely he'd made a mistake, surely he really wanted Hadru, who was almost perfect -- at least in most things. Kiu felt a rush of guilt when she thought of her friend's disappointment, and glanced at the knight. One look at his face, however, showed her there was no mistake.
Beaming down at her, Knight Tlatilco seated himself in the chair that Hadru had just vacated, and settled the puffercat on his right leg, running his hands alternately down its quills. The puffercat began to purr as loudly as any motor, and Knight Tlatilco smiled, then turned his attention to Kiu.
Pushing aside the guilty feeling for now, Kiu leaned forward slightly in anticipation, knowing exactly what he was going to ask. Her heart was beating fast and she felt strangely excited to the point that she could hardly breathe. Before the knight could even open his mouth, however, the door opened and the therapist came in. "Stars and galaxies, it's Knight Tlatilco! Did you come to visit your namesake?"
"My namesake?" Surprised, Knight Tlatilco stopped stroking and glanced down at the puffercat. The purring faded and then stopped, and the puffercat lifted its head as if indignant about the sudden lack of attention.
"You named this wonderful creature after me?" Knight Tlatilco asked, then puffed out his cheeks until his eyes bulged. Both Kiu and the therapist laughed, and Knight Tlatilco exhaled. "There was more resemblance before I shaved off my quills. You never did tell me how you liked my new look, Kiusan."
"I like it," Kiu said faintly.
"Mm, so do I," the therapist drawled, then winked, and Knight Tlatilco grinned as she continued, "One Hachas, two Hachas -- what is the plural of Hachas?"
"Hachi," said Knight Tlatilco, making it sound like a sneeze, and they all laughed again.
The therapist reached for the animal, then supported his hindlegs so that he could put his forepaws against her shoulder. "That's right, Hachas, my boy, time to come home for some supper."
"Now that they've named a puffercat after me, I've achieved the highest honour the Jedi Temple can bestow on a person," Knight Tlatilco sighed happily, leaning back in the chair and crossing his arms over his chest. "I might as well retire right now."
Kiu felt slightly alarmed at this announcement. He wasn't really thinking of retirement, was he? How could they go on any missions if he were retired? Or maybe he wouldn't ask her to be his padawan now? But after the therapist had wished them both a good evening and had gone out, Knight Tlatilco turned his attention back to Kiu, and she could tell by the look on his face that he really was just about to ask the big question.
"Kiusan, would you --"
The door slid open again and one of the younger padawans came in with a covered tray. "Your supper, Kiusan. Oh -- Knight Tlatilco, here you are."
"Yes, here I am."
"I've put your supper in your room. Did you want me to bring it here?"
"No, that's fine, thank you."
"Kiusan, would you like to eat in bed, or there at the table?" the padawan went on. Kiu wanted to scream at him to get out and leave them alone, but if Knight Tlatilco could be polite, then so could she.
"Here on the table, please."
The padawan slid the tray onto the table. "May it tickle your taste buds!"
It seemed to take forever before the door finally slid shut behind the padawan. Knight Tlatilco sighed in something approaching exasperation. "Quick, Kiusan, before we get interrupted again -- er -- do you prefer Kiusan or Kiu?"
"Kiu," she replied.
"Right. Kiu. Would you--"
The door slid open yet again and this time Fidence came in. "Ah, Knight Tlatilco, I thought I'd find you in here."
"Yes," Knight Tlatilco repeated. "Here I am."
"The blood tests just came back from the lab. Your virus levels are practically nil. You'll have to take things easy for at least a week, and you'll have to have another check-up before you'll be cleared to go on any missions, but other than that, you're free to leave the infirmary now."
"Are you anxious to get rid of me, or can I stay for another hour or two? You haven't started cleaning my room yet, have you?" Knight Tlatilco asked suspiciously.
"No, no, your supper's still waiting for you," Fidence was hasty to reassure him, "and your red silk pyjamas are still folded under your pillow."
"Thank the Force. I can go without food, but those pyjamas are my favourite. I'm only wearing this outfit so that I don't look like a demon."
Obviously, the story had already made the rounds of the medical personnal, because Fidence grinned knowingly, and Kiu cringed slightly when she saw it.
"Well, your pyjamas are safe for now," the healer padawan announced. "Kiu, I'm afraid you're going to have to stay at least another day. Your virus levels are still too high."
"Oh," Kiu sighed, disappointed that her new life could not start immediately. She was already anticipating moving into an apartment with Knight Tlatilco, and doing the kinds of things that padawans did. Also, she felt peevish because she was at that stage of recovery when she was feeling well enough to be out of bed, but was still too weak to do much of anything except sit around.
"We'll check you again to-morrow," Fidence reassured her, and then she exited the room.
Knight Tlatilco got up and opened the door, leaning on the switch to keep it in an open position as he glanced up and down the corridor. "Is there anybody else lurking out there who wants to come in?"
Apparantly, there wasn't. Kiu watched him come back across the room and sit down. Her mind was already racing ahead to her new life and without thinking, she asked, "When do you think we'll get to go on our first mission? Do you think they'll send us to Alderaan?"
Knight Tlatilco stared at her with an odd expression on his face, and Kiu was horrified as she realised what she'd done. She'd gotten ahead of herself yet again -- her mind had been far away, and definitely not on the situation at hand. Her face burning with humiliation, she wished she would faint. Or spontaneously combust. Or something else that would save her from having to endure Knight Tlatilco's probing look. Was he angry and simply hiding it in the Jedi way? Maybe he'd been about to ask her something else completely! Maybe he wanted to know something about Hadru, something personal that only a friend would know, so that he could decide if Hadru would make a good padawan for him. She felt suddenly sick and cold.
"Don't you think we ought to have the Padawan Ceremony first?" Knight Tlatilco finally asked, sounding amused. "Form a bond, braid your hair, be recognised in front of the Council?"
Kiu nodded vigorously, gripping the edge of her chair with her hands and trying her hardest to show respect for her new master by keeping her eyes on Knight Tlatilco and not glancing away.
"Maybe getting you officially released from the infirmary, even?" he went on.
Kiu nodded again. "Yes, Knight Tlatilco. That's definitely the first step. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been racing ahead."
She felt so breathless and so overwhelmed by competing emotions -- incredulity, guilt, joy -- that it was hard to speak.
"You don't have to call me Knight Tlatilco anymore. You can say 'master' to me. Or Hachas. And I can call you padawan."
"Yes, master." Kiu smiled a little as she spoke. It felt so strange to be saying it for the first time. To her surprise, Hachas smiled a goofy little smile, too, as thought he wasn't quite used to it, either.
"I'm still sorry, master," she added.
"I should have seen it coming, padawan," he replied cheerfully. "And Alderaan does sound like a dream destination for a first mission. Which means we'll probably be sent to Kessel. Or Nal Hutta."
His teasing tone of voice helped Kiu relax, and she exhaled loudly in relief that he wasn't angry, or that she hadn't misjudged the situation completely. Hearing the sound, Hachas grinned, and they just sat and stared at each other in happiness for a few moments. At length, however, he stood up.
"Don't panic," he said, correctly interpreting the expression on her face. "I'm just going to get my supper and bring it here. We can eat together."
While he was gone, Kiu stood up and pulled the table away from the wall, arranging it and both chairs by the window so that they could sit across from each other. She sank into one of the chairs as soon as she'd finished; the effort had left her panting and wheezing.
"I could have done that," Hachas said when he got back.
"I realise that now," she replied crossly, and he laughed.
Kiu watched as Hachas removed the lid from his tray, sorted out the various items of food, then began to butter his bread.
"Can I ask you something?"
"There's nothing in the Jedi Code against bright colours," Hachas said, almost defensively.
"Huh?" Kiu had no idea how that sentence had gotten into the conversation. It certainly had nothing to do with what she'd been about to ask.
"Sorry, padawan. I made a wrong assumption. At my age, I really should know better. When nine and twenty years you reach, make wrong assumptions, you will NOT. I'm your master now, I'll make sure of it." Seeing the confused expression on Kiu's face, Hachas gestured with one hand. "Go ahead, ask."
"Well, if you don't mind telling me, I just wanted to know why you chose me as your padawan --" she couldn't help smiling that goofy smile again, still not completely used to the idea -- "instead of Hadru. She's so much better than I am!"
Hachas considered this for a moment, then said, "It was the will of the Force, Kiu. I opened my mind to the Force and I saw you."
"Me?" Kiu asked in disbelief. She'd never been the object of a vision before.
"Yes, there you were, coming late to breakfast."
Kiu frowned at the reminder and with disappointment that there had been no vision, but Hachas continued. "From that moment on, you were always in the back of my mind. I tested my theory by going to other courses, but no matter who I looked at, I was always thinking of you. Hadru is more advanced than you are -- at least in some areas -- but I just didn't feel that she and I would fit well together. I'm sorry I didn't have the chance to ask you before I got sick. I shouldn't have left you both hanging like that, and let Hadru get her hopes up over a longer period of time, but this flu came on so suddenly. I thought I was going to collapse before you got to the end of your sparring match."
He took a drink, then said, "I had such vivid fever dreams. I dreamed I was chasing after you, trying to find you, or catch up, but you were always running away, out of my reach and out of my sight. I feared you might have fallen over a cliff or drowned or something -- I wasn't really in my right mind because of the illness, and the dreams were so realistic. Every time I woke up, I kept asking about you, and as soon as I was well enough, I had to see for myself that you were all right. Master An-Paj kept telling me that you were fine, and that such dreams are a common symptom of this Commenor flu, and there was nothing to worry about, but I just couldn't believe him until I'd seen you myself."
"I had bad dreams as well," Kiu said. "I dreamed that I was being chased, and that I was always trying to escape. I dreamed it was some kind of demon, the really scary kind. And then I woke up." Squirming slightly with embarrassment at the memory, she added, "I'm sorry I thought you were the demon."
"I'm glad Master An-Paj didn't think so," Hachas grinned. "I can take being tackled to the floor and having a syringe jammed into the seat of my pyjamas, but it would have been very embarrassing if he really had called my old master to come and give me a lecture on not scaring little girls."
Kiu giggled, then made herself stop as soon as she started to wheeze.
"Anyway, that was the flu talking, not you. Though it does seem like we were almost linked in our dreams, even if it was in a rather twisted way," Hachas said thoughtfully. "As though a bond were forming between us already."
"Can that happen?" Kiu asked, awed by the idea. She'd always thought that master-padawan bonds were brought into existence by a member of the Council during the padawan ceremony, and were strengthened over the years of working together. But the instructors hadn't really spoken much about that particular detail, not with so many other things that needed to be learned before any ceremonies, and it wasn't the sort of question that an initiate could just ask a passing knight.
Kiu shut her eyes and reached out awkwardly with the Force, trying to sense him in the way she'd been taught, and was rewarded with a very clear connection to his feelings, which included both amusement and contentment.
"It is!" she breathed. "It's a bond. Right, master?"
"It certainly feels like one to me."
"So it really must be the will of the Force." She spoke reverently, still awed.
"Did you ever doubt?" Hachas asked, then answered his own question. "Yes, you did. You haven't yet learned that the Force has its own agenda. You decided that Hadru was more worthy, just because she was more advanced in some areas than you, and therefore, she had to be the next padawan who was chosen, whether the pairing was right or not."
Kiu considered this statement, recognised its validity, and nodded. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"Um--" she stopped in confusion, then tried to find the right answer. "For thinking differently than the Force? I mean, for making a decision without the Force? And it wasn't even my decision to make."
"No, it wasn't. And I hope you're sorry for underestimating yourself, too."
Kiu gaped at him.
"We'll have to work on that." As she continued to gape, Hachas explained, "You have talents that Hadru does not have. I know you're ahead of her in piloting class, for instance. And mathematics, and a few other classes, too."
"Well ... yes," Kiu agreed slowly.
"And thinking creatively."
"What?" Kiu wrinkled her forehead, then remembered to add, "Master."
"During your lightsaber duel with that Wookiee kid. You knew you couldn't beat him with just your physical strength, so you tried to find a solution that would give you an advantage. And you found it! You weren't quite successful, but the solution was the right one."
"Oh." After a long moment, Kiu realised that her new master didn't consider her greatest failing to be a failing at all, or at least not all the time, and brightened considerably.
"I liked your history report, too. You didn't do what was asked, but the ideas that you wrote down were good. A bit naive, maybe, but heading in a good direction."
"They were?" She was almost smiling now.
"Yes, Kiu, they were. You're not perfect, but -- you're perfect for me. That's what the Force is telling me, anyway, and I believe it. So stop feeling guilty about Hadru and trust in the Force that she'll find the path that's perfect for her."
"Yes, master." It was a lot to think about, but it made sense. Kiu hoped she would be that wise by the time she reached knighthood.
"So, are you sorry for underestimating yourself yet?"
"Yes, master, very sorry. And I'd be even sorrier if you hadn't listened to the Force and hadn't picked me."
"So would I."
"I hope I can learn to hear the Force as well as you do."
"We'll definitely be working on that, padawan, never fear," Hachas said, then sighed. "Well, we've certainly learned a lot to-day, haven't we?"
Kiu's answer was swallowed up in a huge yawn, but when she could speak again, she asked, "What have you learned, master?"
"The Force has just revealed to me the real reason that masters tell padawans to go to bed," Hachas announced.
"What is it?" Kiu leaned forward in awe, anticipating more wisdom and wondering if he'd had a quick vision while her mouth had been open. She was surprised to see Hachas yawn as well.
"It's so that tired masters can get some sleep!" he cackled when he'd finished, and Kiu groaned.
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