Star Wars: The Force of Friendship
Copyright © 2016
DURING A TIME OF UNREST AND TURBULENCE IN THE
REPUBLIC, THE SENATE WAS IN DISARRAY AND THE
JEDI WERE BEING DISCREDITED.
STUDENTS LEARNED OF SOMETHING
MORE POWERFUL THAN
"Hey, Beau!" hollered 15 year old Bennett Galspalon, known to his friends as 'Net,' as he ran to catch up with his roommate at the Jeidara Jedi School.
"Hey there, Net!" answered Beauregard 'Beau' Orion, a 16 year old Jedi student, slowing down to let his friend catch up. "What's up?"
"You tell me. Heard you had a meeting with the Teacher's Council today," stated Net while catching his breath. "What'd they want?"
Beau continued walking toward the dorm without answering and a thoughtful look on his face. Suddenly he turned toward the records and computers building.
"Where you goin'? Aren't ya gonna tell me what they said?" queried Net turning to follow Beau.
"Later, Net," answered the sandy blonde student waving off his roommate. "I gotta think and do some research."
Net glared at the retreating back of his roommate, best friend and idol. Net had heard a rumor that Beau had been pegged for an assignment by the Council. Usually he came straight to Net excited about whatever it was and asked Net if he wanted to go along.
Deep in thought Beau walked into the records building. This was a real assignment from the Council not a practice run like they usually gave students. He was told to pick one other student as his partner and he had to get this right. His chance at becoming a Jedi Knight might depend on how well he handled this assignment.
Inside the building Beau found an empty room and composed himself for meditation. First order of business was to decide what he needed in a partner then find a list of students that fit his criteria.
An hour and a half later Beau had narrowed it down to three possible students; Shanda Torrella, Jorin Indel and Carholme Rorgano. Each had their strengths and weaknesses when it came to complementing his skills and to being compatible with his personality.
He was given a week to make his choice and Beau planned to use the time to observe and compare the three before making his decision. But now he had to break the news to Net who had gone on almost all of his practice missions with him.
A sudden burst of inspiration sent Beau hustling over to the commissary where he picked up several of Net's favorite snacks and drinks. Laden with his gifts, bribes or whatever you wanted to call it Beau made for the dorms and the heart to heart with his roommate.
"Hey, bud! I've got some news!" Beau stated with an attempt at enthusiasm.
Net turned with a hopeful look that died when he spotted the packages from the commissary. "I'm not gonna wanna hear this, am I?"
"Not this time," said Beau sadly and patted the bed next to him. "I'm sorry, Net, but this is a real assignment from the Council. A couple of masters from the Jedi Council were even there. I have to choose very carefully this time. I need someone who excels at the skills I don't and that isn't you. You are good at the same things I am."
"That's true, especially since you help me learn and practice," agreed Net nodding his head. "At least I can drown my sorrows in some goodies."
Beau chuckled and pushed Net over, "You goob! Do you really get why I can't take you this time?"
"Yeah, but it still sucks," returned Net as he sat back up. "Who are you going to take then?"
"Well, where I went was to think and research class rankings. Here are the three best possibilities." Beau tossed the printouts to Net saying, "what do you think?"
Net looked at the printouts until he came to a certain one, "You gotta be kidding' me! You're thinking of choosing Jorin!? He's weird! And way too close with his roommate. I mean, I know we do a lot together but . . . those two are practically inseparable, if you know what I mean."
"I know,' sighed Beau, "but look at his scores." He gave Net a couple of minutes to look over the sheet.
"See! He's in the top five in every class and in most of the ones that I'm not best in- he is!" exclaimed Beau.
"Sure. But do you want to spend that much time that close to him?" questioned Net.
"I don't know. I still have a week to decide. I plan to watch the three candidates and see who I think fits me best."
Beau gathered the printouts and laid them on his desk then turned back to Net.
"Since you can't go on this assignment, why don't you help me pick a partner. You can observe them too and make a report on each one for me to use when I decide," offered Beau with a hopeful expression.
"Okay," answered Net with a smile. "At least I can be a part of it that way. Now, let's go eat!"
Over the next five days the two roommates watched the three candidates closely often pairing with them on projects and class assignments. After the first day Beau wanted to discuss their findings but Net declined saying they should wait for the whole week to pass. Beau finally agreed and dropped the subject.
On the first day of their observations Beau didn't get paired with one of his choices but was paired with Ammal, Jorin's roommate. Net, however, did get paired with the one female candidate, Shanda Torella.
Beau found it pleasant to work with Ammal who was 16 years old with true black hair and eyes so dark they were almost black. He was extremely intelligent and just as extremely shy. It took almost half the day to get him to relax enough to talk with Beau in more than single words but the information he gained about Jorin without even trying was invaluable.
Net's day wasn't close to being as enjoyable as Beau's. Shanda, a tall thin girl with orangey-red hair, was wearing a tunic style blouse in almost the same shade as her hair over charcoal gray slacks. She was also full of herself and bossy, correcting Net at every turn. By the time classes were almost over Net hardily resented her for the way she treated him, Jorin for having a chance to go and Ammal for giving Beau such an easy day.
On the way out Net was seething so bad he wasn't watching where he was going. He bumped into Ammal, who had bent over to retrieve a pen he had dropped, causing Ammal to crash to the floor. The collision sent Net stumbling into the doorjamb hitting his head.
That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Net was furious now and turned to take it out on the nearest person who happened to be Ammal just picking himself off the floor.
Net shoved Ammal hard yelling, "Watch out, you moron!"
Ammal stumbled backwards then recovered and held his hands palm out up in front of his chest. "I was just picking up my pen," he spoke quietly.
"Yeah! Right!" Net yelled even louder drawing attention to the confrontation. "You tried to trip me on purpose!"
Ammal again answered softly, "I didn't. Honestly, I didn't even know you were there." The shy boy shifted his weight slightly to balance evenly on both feet.
"Liar!" With that Net rushed at Ammal wildly.
Ammal was ready and nimbly sidestepped the mad rush causing Net to stumble and nearly fall.
The commotion had nabbed the attention of Beau and Jorin both of whom started toward the two combatants from different directions.
Net regained his balance and spun around to face Ammal with a face as red as a Sith Lord's lightsaber. Speaking of which, Net pulled his off his belt and activated it.
Ammal blanched and backed away from the furious antagonist. Dueling in school was forbidden!
"Com'on! Pull your lightsaber; I wanna teach you . . ."
That was as far as Net got with his threat when he was pushed forcefully back against the wall and held there three feet off the ground.
Jorin had reached the fracas first and acted immediately to protect his roommate. He stood a couple of feet behind Ammal with his right hand stretched out in front of him. He had used the Force to stop Net's attack without harming him.
Net continued to struggle against the hold until he heard Beau call his name.
"Net! Stop before you get in trouble!" called Beau calmly.
He reached out with the Force and with great concentration caused Net's saber to deactivate and pulled it from Net's hand to himself. Beau attached the lightsaber to his own belt as he walked over in front of Net.
"You can let him down now," he called over his shoulder while keeping his attention on his friend and roommate.
"Make sure you keep him away from me and my friend," commanded Jorin sternly. "Or next time I might not be so gentle."
Jorin, sixteen with light brown hair and hazel eyes, helped his roommate gather his things, wrapped an arm around his shoulder and walked him away to their room.
Beau shook his head in disappointment and frustration; this was not a good start to the week of observations and analysis of who to choose to accompany him on his mission.
He turned his attention back to Net just in time to catch him as he slumped down the wall. All his anger was gone and with it the adrenaline that had been coursing through his body. Net was trembling and crying as he clutched Beau's wide shoulders for support.
"Oh, god! What did I almost do?" he exclaimed as the reality of what could have happened sunk in.
"Com'on, Net," urged Beau gently. "Let's get you to our room and settled down."
Beau hoped there was some of the snacks he brought Net yesterday left because he was going to need to replace the spent blood sugar.
As they made their way slowly across the campus to the dorms Net leaned on his roommate since his legs were still shaky and began to talk.
"He's really strong. Did you see? He held me there without any strain and I couldn't budge. I tried . . . even with the Force. It was no use." Net shook his head in wonder.
"Yeah, I know," answered Beau matter of factly. "He's the best in our class and he takes extra lessons with Master Wodan. I tried to lower you too and didn't get anywhere."
The next day was less exciting if not any better in helping Beau make his decision. He was 'lucky' enough to be paired with the third name on his list, Carholme Rorgano.
Through the ever present, at any school, grapevine Carholme had heard that Beau was tapped for a real assignment. Although he felt he should have been the one offered this opportunity Carholme took this chance to make the best case for being chosen as Beau's partner.
Before the first lesson or project started for the day the paired students had time to get to know one another. Carholme quickly took charge and told Beau why he was the one who should be going on this assignment.
"First, I am the oldest student here at seventeen and should have first choice. I'm not sure how you got to be in front of me but whatever. Second, my parents are very important people on our planet. The governor doesn't make a move unless they have approved it. I plan to ask them to have him look into this obvious oversight by the Council. Third, I am ranked very high in all my classes. I should be ranked first but the teachers must certainly be jealous of my abilities. Although I suppose you deserve to be ranked highly. Anyway. Fourth, physically I am more fit than . . ."
Just then the tone sounded signally time to start the day's lessons.
'Thank goodness,' thought Beau as he headed to their first class. 'Not sure I could've taken anymore. This is going to be a l-o-n-g day.'
The day did turn out to be a long one for Beau. In every class at every chance he got Carholme tried to make himself look good by making one of the students ranked higher than him look bad. Plus both Jorin and Ammal would scowl at him whenever he went near them after yesterday's disaster between Ammal and Net.
Beau was ready for classes to be done by the time the final tone announced the end of the day. Usually he enjoyed his classes and wanted them to continue into the night. Today, however, he grabbed his evening meal and went to his room alone.
Net saw Beau sneak out of the cafeteria with his food and thought Beau was still mad at him for losing his composure yesterday. A glance at Jorin and Ammal sitting together enjoying each other's company brought a sense of loss to Net with Beau not sitting with him as usual. It was magnified when he saw the looks he got from Jorin and Ammal when they caught him staring.
Suddenly no longer hungry Net left the cafeteria and walked along slowly until he found himself at his dorm. Despite fearing that Beau was upset at him Net had no other place to go so up to their room he trudged.
"Hey, Net!" greeted Beau amicably. "I didn't expect you to be done this quick."
The friendly greeting threw Net for a moment then he finally answered, "I wasn't very hungry." This statement was punctuated by a grumbling from Net's empty stomach.
Beau laughed at Net's betrayal by his stomach. "I can hear how 'not' hungry you are. Sit down and I'll share with you. Then you can tell me why you left without eating."
Gratefully, Net sat and ate with his roommate and best friend relieved that Beau apparently was not mad at him. When they had finished Net insisted on cleaning up then relayed what caused him to leave the cafeteria.
"I saw you sneak out after getting your food and thought you were upset because of yesterday. Then I saw Jorin and Ammal having a good time together; they caught me looking and they didn't look pleased that I was looking their direction. I couldn't stay there any longer but I had no place to go so I ended up here."
Net's eyes were full of unshed tears when he finished with, "Thanks for sharing your dinner and thanks for not hating me."
"I would never hate you. Yes, you were out of line yesterday and could have been expelled but you're my friend and the only roommate I want." Beau stated very matter of factly, "I really wish I could take you on this assignment. Believe me!"
"So, why did you come here to eat?" asked Net.
"Did you see who I got paired with?" Beau inquired emphatically. "Carholme is unbearable! I was afraid he would want to sit with me and continue to put down every other student and teacher in the whole school!"
"Wow! He might be worse than . . . well never mind. You'll find out in my report at the end of the week," Net started then switched directions. "Let's not think about that and do something relaxing and mindless."
"You got it, bud!"
The next day dawned bright and early and Beau hoped it would be better than yesterday. Net was not paired with any of the contenders or with anyone connected with them and he breathed a sigh of relief. He could just observe today.
Beau, however, got paired with Shanda and was soon to learn what Net had discovered previously and then some!
The redhead was still full of herself although not as bossy with Beau. Bossy might have been better! She constantly shifted between trying to make herself seem important and throwing herself at Beau. She oohed and aahed over his muscles, his hair, his prowess with a lightsaber and anything else she could think of to flatter him.
Beau once again was grateful the day was over. It was not looking good for choosing a comrade for his assignment and he had only two more days before he had to make his decision. He was tempted to just take Net and consequences be damned!
Surprisingly, it was a much calmer and thoughtful Net who talked him out of making any rash judgements. Net reminded him he had two more days before he had to make his choice known.
The last two days were uneventful and neither of them were paired with one of the three. That meant neither of them had any one on one time with Jorin. Beau suspected it was no accident after the incident between Net and Ammal.
On the last day Net disappeared for a while after supper and when he entered their room he handed Beau a folder.
"Here is my report like I promised," Net said as he plopped onto his bed. "Read it; if you have any questions, ask."
That evening after supper was also Jorin's extra class with Master Wodan. He was not as focused tonight which of course was noticed by the Master Jedi.
"What is on your mind tonight, my young padawan?" asked Master Wodan after twenty minutes of trying to get Jorin to concentrate on the lesson. "Would it have to do with the Council's assignment?"
Jorin nodded, "Yes, Master Wodan."
"Do you think you should have been chosen instead?"
"No, not instead," answered Jorin slowly. "Beauregard is a top student but I had hoped to receive the next true assignment."
"You wonder why him and not you?" questioned Master Wodan watching his student closely.
"Yes, sir," replied Jorin quietly.
"For the rest of your lesson time think of what you know about Beauregard and what quality he has that would cause him to be chosen ahead of you." the Master Jedi commanded yet kindly.
"Yes, master," Jorin spoke as he composed himself for a long period of meditation.
When the time was finished Master Wodan raised Jorin to his feet and looked into his eyes.
"What answer do you have?" the Master queried.
"Leadership, sir," Jorin answered without breaking eye contact. "He is a better leader than I am even though I am better at most of the individual skills."
"Very good!" Master Wodan smiled. "Perhaps he will choose you to accompany him."
"I don't think so," the youngster replied dejectedly. "Not after what happened between his roommate and mine."
"Do not give up hope so quickly, young one," consoled Master Wodan. "Stranger things have happened. Now run along and don't worry. Even if you're not chosen to participate in this mission you should be next in line anyway."
The following day was a rest day from classes and most of the students slept in as much as they could get away with. Today, Beau was up with the sunrise. He had to announce his choice of co-worker for the upcoming task. The trouble was he had to actually make the decision before he could make the announcement to the Council.
After about an hour of pouring over the class scores, Net's report and his own notes Beau was no closer to a decision than when he awoke. Stirring from the other side of the room broke his reverie as Net slowly returned to the land of the living. Finally Beau could ask him about his report.
"Morning, sleepyhead!" grinned Beau.
"Uuhgg!" grunted Net sliding his feet around to sit on the side of the bed. "Go poke a Wookie! I've been the first one up more often than you."
"Okay, okay!" acceded Beau. "You're right. I haven't been able to choose. I need to ask you about the last page of your report."
"Why? I thought I made my feelings plain especially on the last page," Net said as he closed the distance between them.
"You really think that's the best way to go?"
"Yes, Beau!" Net spoke adamantly. "Jorin is your best chance of surviving and succeeding on this mission. I don't want anything to happen to my best friend."
"Thanks! I guess you're right. I just hope he agrees to go," Beau said as he straightened the papers and put them away. "Let's go get some breakfast then I've got to meet with the Council."
Two hours later Beau was at last ushered into the Council's meeting room.
"Have you made your decision, Padawan Beauregard?" asked Master Grrindall who was this year's Council Head.
"I have, sirs," answered Beau with a deep bow. "I would like Jorin Indel to be my assistant on this assignment."
"A good choice. Have you asked Jorin or would you like for us to contact him for you?" inquired Master Grrindall.
"I have not talked to him yet but I would like to do it myself, Master," answered Beau with another slight bow.
"We can have him paged now if you like," offered the Council Head.
"No, thank you," Beau declined the offer. "I would prefer to approach him in private. I will apprise you of his answer when I have it." Beau bowed more deeply this time and backed out of the room.
Once out of the room Beau blew out a long breath of relief over getting the meeting over with. Now he just had to find and convince the guy whose roommate was attacked by his roommate to join him on this mission.
A search of all the usual student free day hangouts came up empty. Beau didn't find Jorin in any of them so now he had to do what he was dreading. Outside Jorin's dormroom Beau nervously licked his lips before knocking on the door. Ammal opened the door and frowned when he saw who was there.
"What do you want?" Ammal asked almost aggressively.
"I'm sorry to bother you," began Beau quietly. "But I need to see Jorin. Is he here?"
"No, he isn't," answered Ammal as he started closing the door.
"Please, could you tell me where to find him?"
Ammal paused, examined the pleading look on Beau's face and relented. He told Beau where Jorin was and gave him directions just to make sure.
When Beau arrived the door to the room was open so he peeked inside. The sight that greeted his eyes was surprising but pleasantly so. Cool, aloof Jorin Indel was surrounded by younger Jedi students looking to him for advice and help with their Jedi skills.
There was nothing cool and aloof about him now as he interacted with the younger padawans. He smiled, was animated and gave much encouragement to the students vying for his attention.
As Beau watched grinning at the scene, one small boy walked sadly away from the group gathered around Jorin. He was unsuccessful in getting Jorin's attention for help with the lightsaber that now dangled from his hand. Beau couldn't stand the dejected look on the kid's face and checking if Jorin was turned towards him crept into the room.
The light brown headed lad of about ten years moved toward the door making it easier for Beau to intercept him. As the boy turned around to leave Beau squatted in front of him motioning for quiet.
In a barely audible whisper Beau asked, "Would you like me to help you with that?" He pointed to the saber.
The lad's eyes grew to the size of saucers as he realized the best lightsaber duelist in the school just offered to teach him. Speechless he just nodded vigorously with a huge grin replacing the sad countenance of a moment ago.
Beau grinned back, "I'm Beau. What's your name, buddy?"
It took a moment but the excited boy managed to reply, "Jacer."
"Well, Jacer, let's see what you can do with this thing." The two did just that.
Unbeknownst to Beau, Jorin actually was aware of his presence but sensing no hostility said nothing. Several times Jorin would sneak glances at Beau working with Jacer. Jorin noticed that he was quite good working with the youngster so after a while he nudged the mind of another boy to go seek help with his lightsaber. By the time Jorin called a halt so they could get lunch Beau had a small group of about eight boys and girls gathered around him.
Once the younger ones had cleared out Jorin approached Beau, "Come on. I'll treat you to lunch."
"Uumm, our meals are free," Beau said hesitantly.
"Yeah, I know but we could sit together," returned Jorin. "Besides didn't you come to see me about something other than working with a bunch of younglings?"
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Beau with sudden realization. "I was suppose to report your answer to the Council!"
"Relax!" Jorin exhorted Beau as they entered the cafeteria. "You can't report an answer you don't have. Let's eat. You ask your question and I'll think about my answer. Okay?"
Beau agreed and the two teens spent a pleasant lunch together discussing the younglings they had been helping. Each got to see a side of the other they had never seen before. Beau managed to remember to ask his question and Jorin promised to give his answer when the lunch period was over.
When the cafeteria workers came out to clean the tables Jorin rose from his seat and waited on Beau to do the same. Standing face to face Jorin gave Beau his answer formally.
"Beauregard Orion, I would consider it an honor to accompany you on this mission." Jorin bowed when he finished.
"Thank you," replied Beau. "But please call me Beau."
The boys went their separate ways; Jorin back to his room and Beau to report to the Council.
Two days later Beau and Jorin were summoned to the Council room. When they arrived they were greeted by only Head Master Grrindall and Master Wodan. In the room with them was a six foot long by two feet wide by three feet tall wooden crate.
"It is time for your mission to begin," began Master Grrindall. "The contents of this crate while important are not the main objective of this assignment. Master Wodan will explain."
Pulling a six inch by six inch brown packet out of his robe Master Wodan explained, "This packet contains important information about a possible connection between the Trade Federation and members of the Republic Senate. We do not know what is contained in the packet. It is coded for Senator Organa's eyes only and we trust him completely."
"He has provided transportation in the form of a small Alderaanian cruiser for delivery to a secure spot. The destination is already programmed into the cruiser. You will be able to access it once you are in orbit." Master Grrindall paused before finishing, "We are trusting you to make this delivery. Do not fail and do not allow this packet to fall into any other hands."
"Successful completion of this assignment will ensure promotion to Jedi Knight status for both of you," stated Master Wodan with a slight smile. "Good luck and may the Force be with you."
Beau stepped forward, accepted the packet, tucked it into his robes then once he was back beside Jorin they both bowed to the Masters and left.
"Don't forget the crate," called Master Wodan.
Jorin turned his head slightly toward the crate and it lifted from the floor and followed them out.
When they reached the dorms Beau started to split away toward his room when Jorin laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I think we should stay together until safely in the cruiser," said Jorin quietly then inclined his head down the hall. "My room is a few feet away. I could get my bag then accompany you to get your's. It is, of course, your decision."
At first Beau began to bristle thinking Jorin was trying to tell him what to do. He paused and let all of Jorin's words sink in and realized he was only making a suggestion leaving the decision to Beau. Another moment allowed Beau to see the sense in the option Jorin presented.
"Okay," Beau agreed motioning towards Jorin's room. "Thanks for the suggestion."
After retrieving his already packed bag from his closet Jorin asked for a moment of privacy to say goodbye to his roommate, Ammal. Beau stepped just outside the room until Jorin opened the door; he then stuck his head in the room and said goodbye as well.
The pair then made their way to Beau's room where his bag too was already packed and ready to go. Net wasn't there and had no intention of saying goodbye. It was a superstition of his to never say goodbye when you hoped to see the person again.
"Aren't you going to say goodbye to your roommate?" asked Jorin pointedly.
"Naw. He isn't here. Why do you care anyway?" answered Beau.
"I had a message for him. He won't leave Ammal alone."
"That don't make sense." said a puzzled Beau. "I know he regrets what he did. . . . . . . wait a minute!" Beau ducked back into his dorm room then came out carrying a trash can with several wads of paper in it. "Let's look at these."
Jorin took a couple of the wads from the can and started opening them while Beau did the same and set the can down. They read the scribbles on the papers and sighed in relief.
"Okay, I see now," said Jorin as he glanced at his timepiece. "Whoa! We better get a move on!"
With bags in hands, packet tucked safely out of sight, and crate still floating along behind, the teens wasted no time getting to the small spaceport attached to the Jeidara Jedi school. They wondered how they would know which ship they were to use when Master Wodan appeared out of the control building.
"This way, young padawans," he gestured toward the launch pad.
Beau and Jorin stopped in awe when they saw the Alderaan cruiser sitting there. To students who had only piloted planetary vehicles and simulators it was the most beautiful ship they had ever seen. They tried to see every inch of it as they entered, stored their bags and secured the crate in the cargo hold.
Beau settled into the pilot's seat and Jorin took the co-pilot position. They spent several minutes familiarizing themselves with the controls of the cruiser before Beau began the take-off procedures.
Once they were in orbit a file in the computer opened for them revealing the coordinates for their destination. Beau entered them into the navigation system then he and Jorin did a complete systems analysis before giving the command to go.
Both boys stayed alert watching the controls and console to be sure everything was in order. They didn't want to take any chances of screwing up this mission. With a satisfied grunt Beau relaxed back in his chair and told Jorin to stand down.
Jorin leaned back and asked, "What now? How do you want to pass the time?"
"Why don't we get to know one another?" answered Beau with a lift of his eyebrows.
"Uh, shouldn't we practice or make contingency plans in case something happens?" Jorin inquired with a slight frown.
"We can do that later. I really want to know the guy I'm trusting with my chance at Knighthood."
"Well. Know that I want to be a Knight every bit as much as you do and will do everything in my power to succeed on this mission," returned Jorin tartly.
"I didn't mean to imply that you wouldn't do your best. I can tell that by your class scores," Beau apologized. "I hardly know anything about you. Take the fact that you spend your free day helping the younglings improve. I didn't know that until Ammal told me where to find you. By the way, I had a blast and hope I can join you again when we get back."
Jorin leaned his head back and smiled shyly. "You were surprisingly good with them and they really ate up the attention you gave them. Jacer couldn't stop talking about it the next day when he saw me in the hall. You made his day!"
"I just . . . I mean . . . well," Beau sputtered blushing deep red. "He's got you all the time."
Laughing at Beau's discomfort Jorin continued, "Dude! You're his hero! You always were!"
"Okay. Enough, please?" Beau was still blushing. "Can we change the subject?"
"Sure," agreed Jorin relaxing even more. "What d'ya wanna talk about now?"
"There's something I'd like to ask you about," began Beau hesitantly.
When he didn't go on Jorin prompted, "Are you going to ask or not?"
"Okay. . . . uhmm . . . uh." Suddenly Beau blurted out, "Why did you need privacy to say bye to your roommate?"
Jorin studied Beau's face in silence trying to determine his purpose in asking about him and Ammal. The quiet was unsettling to Beau as he waited for Jorin to decide to answer. The awkwardness stretched on and on until Jorin finally answered with a question of his own.
"Why did you ask that? Is there another question you'd rather ask?"
Beau's blush deepened as he stammered through a response, "Uhmm, . . well . . you see. Uh, Net thought you and him were closer than just roommates."
"Is that his problem with Ammal?" Jorin was instantly yelling. "He better stay away or . . .or . . ."
"Woah there! Jorin, calm down, please," Beau pleaded. "I don't think . . ."
"Whatever!" Jorin interrupted rising from his seat. "I'm going to check out the weapons controls thoroughly. Alone!"
Beau slumped down with his face buried in his hands. So much for being friends, he had screwed that up royally. Sighing he dropped his hands to the controls and checked that they were still on course and all systems were working properly.
A couple of days after their roommates had left Net searched for Ammal but couldn't find him anywhere. At last, he went to Ammal's dorm room, knocked and waited. And waited. And waited. He knocked and waited a couple more times before giving up. He took the envelope from his pocket, looked at it a moment then slid it under the door and walked away.
Inside the room Ammal let out his breath with relief when he heard footsteps receding down the hallway. He had spent an entire day taking the long way around, ducking down side hallways and into convenient rooms. It wasn't until the next morning when he was leaving for breakfast that Ammal noticed the small envelope on the floor. He picked it up, stuck it in his pocket and went on to breakfast soon forgetting all about it.
When they had a free period that day Net wandered around aimlessly. Usually he hung out with Beau or practiced with Beau or studied with Beau. Why hadn't he made any other friends? Because he thought Beau's friends were his friends too.
He decided to practice using the Force to 'feel' his way around and headed for a part of the building that was usually rather deserted. Closing his eyes, Net tried walking down the corridors without running into anything.
Tuned into the Force as he was, Net felt a slight disturbance and it was close by. Opening his eyes Net looked around until he saw a small group of students gathered around a single student. The group shifted around creating a gap where Net could see the face of the lone student the others had surrounded. It was Ammal!
There were six to eight antagonists ganging up on Ammal; that was too many even with two people. As the group shifted again Net caught a glimpse of two of the students threatening Ammal: Carholme and Shanda. They must be mad about Jorin getting chosen and plan to take it out on Ammal while he has no help.
Net knew he had to find a way to stop them; he owed it to Ammal for his actions last week. But what could he do against so many and two of them were among the tops in their classes?
He had to think fast before they actually attacked. Too bad a teacher or one of the masters couldn't happen along. Wait a minute! Maybe there was something he could do! Could he pull it off? Beau said he was very good at it.
Just then the attack began as Carholme knocked Ammal to the ground. There was no more time; Net had to try. He glanced toward the ruckus and noticed that Ammal was using the Force to block the kicks and punches aimed at him. That meant he had a little time.
Net closed his eyes to help him concentrate on his task. After a couple of minutes he opened them again and spoke loudly.
"Hey there! What are you miscreants up to? You better be gone before I get there!"
The words sounded as if they came from the other side of the hallway and thankfully was a fair imitation of Jedi teacher, Herndal Ohmsworth. He was the strictest teacher in the school and his punishments were to be avoided at all costs.
With curses and exclamations of dismay the group broke up and took off in different directions. As soon as they were gone Net rushed to Ammal.
"You should have left with the rest of your gang," Ammal spat at Net. "Teacher Ohmsworth is on his way; you won't get out of it this time."
"Uh, Ohmsworth isn't really on his way," Net answered kneeling down. "I used a Jedi trick I've been practicing in my room."
"Just used them to soften me up, huh? I won't make it easy on you."
"I deserve that I guess," Net spoke quietly. "Didn't you get my note? I slipped it under your door last night."
"I found an envelope this morning but haven't had a chance to read it. Is it from you?"
"Yes, you wouldn't talk to me so I wrote it down. If you have it with you I'll move back and let you read it," said Net as he rose and moved away.
Ammal sat up, fished the note out of his pocket, opened it and began reading. He kept glancing at Net as he read who was standing with his head down, hands clasped behind his back. When he finished Ammal stared at Net a moment then spoke one word.
"Yes, I'm sorry" replied Net raising his head and looking Ammal directly in the eye. "I'll accept whatever you decide for my punishment. Anything."
"Anything?" smirked Ammal while arching an eyebrow.
Net visibly gulped and nodded and in spite of his apprehension at what might be asked of him found himself starting to like this attitude from Ammal.
Ammal's grin threatened to split his face, "Well, since you're willing to do anything. I could use a good . . . . friend. I don't have any close friends other than Jorin."
Net relaxed and sported a grin to match Ammal's. "I don't either; other than Beau. I would like to be your friend but it don't seem like a punishment."
"Others seem to think so," Ammal sadly admitted.
"I really am sorry. I'd had a super colossal frustrating day and bumping into you just set me off," explained Net. "It's no excuse but it didn't have anything to do with you in particular."
"The others seem to have a problem with me because I'm . . . I'm . . . g . . well because I'm . . different," Ammal finally got out.
"Oh! Was that why they were after you? Because you're gay!" asked Net with his usual subtlety.
"How did you know?" questioned Ammal once again apprehensive.
"I didn't for sure; I kinda figured with as close as you and Jorin are," answered Net placing his hand on Ammal's arm gently. "Then you almost said it just now."
"Oh, okay. You're not bothered by it?" Ammal wanted to know.
"Well, actually I don't understand it and the thought of it is, well, gross to me," Net replied honestly. "But I don't feel threatened by you or the fact you're gay."
"Okay. Thanks, . . I think!" Ammal spoke with a lighter tone than before.
By this time they had made it to the dorms and were headed towards Ammal's room when they heard voices discussing what they would do to Ammal when they caught him alone again. One look at Ammal's crestfallen face and Net knew what he had to do.
Grabbing Ammal by the elbow Net led him away from the brewing trouble and towards his own room.
"Com'on, you can stay with me," he announced as he got them further away. "Thanks to Beau's constant nagging I have clean robes you can borrow for tomorrow."
Stunned Ammal stopped in the corridor and turned Net to face him. "Why would you do this? You said you thought gays were gross."
"No, I said doing gay stuff was gross. I promised to be your friend and friends help each other when it's needed," corrected Net taking Ammal by the arm again. "Let's hurry before they spot us."
Just as they rounded the corner to the hall to Net's dorm room they ran (almost literally) into Master Wodan.
"Take your hand off him, Bennett," commanded Master Wodan sternly. "I knew I felt a disturbance but I didn't think you'd be foolish enough to go after Ammal again."
As Net opened his mouth to protest he felt himself being pushed away from Ammal. The feeling of being shoved back stopped as quickly as it had begun. Ammal had stepped between the Master Jedi and his new friend and countered the Master's use of the Force.
Wodan stopped in surprise asking, "Why did you do that, Ammal? I was trying to protect you."
"Because he was protecting me already," returned Ammal looking directly in Master Wodan's eyes. "He's not the one who came after me. They're waiting outside my room. Net prevented them from attacking in the learning hall and again just now."
"I will take care of them right now," Wodan asserted then turned to Net and offered his hand. "I am sorry I misjudged you, Bennett. Please accept my apologies."
"Certainly, Master Wodan," replied Net as he shook hands with the Master Jedi.
"Thank you for speaking up, Ammal."
"No problem, Net," he said grinning. "After all, someone told me friends look out for friends."
Matching Ammal's grin Net remarked, "It must have been someone very wise."
Master Wodan smiled briefly at the exchange as the boys went into Net's room and went to confront some unruly students.
Once he had finished checking all the systems and was sure they were still on the correct course Beau knew he had to find Jorin. He had to let the other teen know that he didn't care one way or the other about who he wanted to be with. They had to be able to work together to accomplish their mission and have a chance to become Jedi Knights. Increasingly even more important to Beau was making friends with the shy but interesting Jedi student.
By the time Jorin had thoroughly explored the weapons station in the center of the cruiser and was confident he could handle the controls in a crisis he had calmed down immensely. Jorin regretted his outburst and knew he needed to apologize. If that was Bennett's problem with Ammal it was not Beaure- . . Beau's fault.
Beau arrived just as Jorin exited the weapons room and they almost bumped into each other.
"Uh" "I . .uh" They both started to speak at the same time. Then laughed at the absurdity of it.
"You go ahead," Beau offered with a slight nod of his head.
"Thank you," Jorin began. "I apologize for my outburst. It was uncalled for."
"Not a problem. I didn't exactly handle that very tactfully," declared Beau with a slight blush.
"You did kind of blurt it out and that caught me off guard," admitted Jorin sheepishly. "I got defensive without giving you a chance."
"I didn't mean to. I just want to get to know you and Net thought you and Ammal might be . . .uhmm . . . well . . . uh . ." Beau stuttered along until Jorin took pity on him.
"Gay, The word you're looking for is gay." Jorin chuckled as Beau blushed slightly.
"Okay, okay. Have your fun," Beau relaxed and chuckled with Jorin. "I'm not bothered by it but not comfortable talking about it yet."
"Well, we have a whole trip to get you comfortable, " began Jorin before he was interrupted by an ear-piercing wail from the ship's klaxon.
"In here, Beau! There's a monitor that will let us know what's happening," exclaimed Jorin as he reopened the door to the weapons station.
Inside, he pointed out the appropriate monitor to Beau and they checked it to see what caused the alarm to sound. At first they couldn't see anything amiss then blips began to show. One, two, . . three . . . four! Four ships in pursuit of their small cruiser.
"What are they? Why are they after us?" asked Jorin with concern.
Beau stared at the screen a moment longer before answering, "Pirates! I don't know for sure why they've targeted us but my guess would be they think there is something of value on board." After another pause he asked, "What do we do?"
"You get to the bridge and use the manual controls to outmaneuver them," suggested Jorin calmly while climbing into the battle chair. "I have spent an hour learning these controls so I'll man the laser cannons."
"Good plan! Thanks!" a more confidant sounding Beau said as he turned to leave. "So glad I chose you. The other two would have been trying to find a way to do both themselves."
In the middle of the night Net was awakened by sounds coming from the other bed. For a second he was confused then remembered that Ammal was staying in his room because of the attack from other students.
"Ammal? Are you okay?" whispered Net with concern for his new friend.
"Oh! Sorry! I didn't mean to wake you," answered Ammal with a sniffle. "I'm fine."
"You miss him, don't you?"
Ammal paused and sniffled again before replying, "Yes and I'm scared."
"Okay, then," said Net getting out of bed. "Get up. There's only one thing to do."
As he spoke the last sentence Net started pulling his mattress off the bed.
"What are you doing?" asked Ammal as he got up.
"Pull your stuff off too," Net commanded but gently. "We're making a nest to sleep in."
"Well, yeah! That's the idea. How else can I comfort you?" Net was matter of fact in his answer.
"You do remember I'm gay. Right?" questioned Ammal pointedly.
"Yeah but I don't plan on making out with you," chuckled Net. "We just pile everything in the middle of the floor, climb in, get comfortable together and go to sleep."
"Okay. Thanks . . .friend." Ammal smiled gratefully at Net as they did as he had said.
Beau struggled with the controls trying to escape from the two pirate ships left. Jorin had taken out the other two with the cruiser's laser cannons. He barely missed getting a third one just five minutes ago but now they were behind the cruiser and closing fast.
It had taken some fancy maneuvering but Beau had managed to avoid almost all of the return fire from the pirates. The bandits had only made three hits; two of which were very minor and of no concern. Unfortunately the third shot damaged one of the control rudders and Beau had lost some of his flexibility in dodging.
For the next twenty minutes they chased each other through space with hardly a chance to get a shot off. Out of desperation Beau suddenly dropped his ship straight down between his adversaries. One tried to match the stunt Beau pulled exposing it to Jorin's sight through the cannon's aiming mechanism.
Two quick shots later the ship veered away from tracking them and in fifteen seconds more exploded in a dazzling display before becoming cosmic dust. Only one pirate ship left to contend with but it's captain was more cautious.
He stayed out of the gun sights preventing Jorin from getting a decent shot however this also prevented the larger pirate ship from being in position for a clear shot at the teens.
The tactical flying contest continued for another forty minutes before the reduced capabilities of the Alderaan cruiser allowed the pirate to have one chance at them. His gunner made the shot of a lifetime knocking out one of the cruiser's engines causing it to go into a spin.
Despite this Jorin kept his wits about him and concentrated on his gun sights. Suddenly the gyrations of the cruiser brought the pirate ship into view and Jorin used the Force to fire at the right moment. It worked somewhat. Although he didn't achieve a direct hit Jorin did clip a wing and sent the ship spiraling away from them.
Before Beau could gain control back the small cruiser hit the atmosphere of a nearby planet and started to plummet towards the surface.
About twenty minutes before the morning alarm would have buzzed Ammal awoke with a start, bolting upright in the middle of the nest he and Net had made. The sudden movement brought Net out of his night's rest as well.
"Are you okay, Ammal?" inquired Net groggily rubbing at his eyes.
"S-h-h-h! Quiet and reach out with the Force," whispered Ammal. "Can't you feel it? Something's wrong!"
Net did as Ammal wanted concentrating on the Force, letting it flow through and around him. Suddenly his eyes flew open and he gasped.
"BEAU!" Net involuntarily yelled when it hit him. "What?"
"Yes, Beau and Jorin are in trouble," confirmed Ammal with a tremble in his quiet voice. "I don't know what but they are still alive . . . for now."
Net sat silently for a couple of minutes then jumped to his feet exclaiming, "Let's go!"
"Go? Where? To do what?" Ammal threw confused questions at Net in a jumble.
"To find them," answered Net moving bed clothes out of his way. "We have about an hour and a half before classes are due to start. Plenty of time to pack a few necessities and steal a ship before we're missed."
"WHAT!? Do you know how much trouble we could get in," started Ammal forgetting to be quiet now.
Net cut off any more objections, "Which is more important: staying out of trouble with the teachers or saving our friends?" Net stared at Ammal with his hands on his hips waiting.
"Well, when you put it that way," Ammal gave in. "Why did you include me? You could probably do this easier on your own."
"Two reasons, my friend," returned Net with a smirk. "One your boyfriend is out there and two . . . uh . I need a pilot. I don't have my license."
"The instructor says I'm too rash. I keep crashing in the simulator. They won't even let me take a skimmer out by myself. It stinks!" Net slammed in the last bit of clothing he was packing and started gathering all the snack food left in the room.
"Okay, I got clothes and snacks for us," Net said as he hefted the bag onto his shoulder. "Don't forget your lightsaber."
Ammal remained quiet but grabbed his saber and followed Net out of the room. Moving quickly and noiselessly, the two sneaks made it out of the dorm and most of the way across the campus before they were almost spotted by the night watch.
Once their heartbeats and breathing returned to normal Net and Ammal crept the rest of the way to the Jeidara spaceport. They now crouched at the edge looking over the available ships to 'borrow.'
"This is your time, Ammal," Net reminded him. "You know what you can pilot and what each of these can do."
Ammal studied each ship in sight noting its size and running through its capabilities in his head. When his decision was made Ammal motioned for Net and whispered.
"Follow me. This cruiser is almost perfect for our needs."
Inside the cruiser Ammal headed directly for the flight controls with Net in tow. He sat in the pilot's chair and directed Net to the co-pilot's spot. Ammal handed Net a communications helmet, showed him how to fasten it and how to listen to radio calls and signals without activating the mic. He then donned the other helmet himself and readied the ship for flight.
In an attempt to get as far as possible before alerting anyone of their actions and intent Ammal used the light thrusters to raise the cruiser that was uncannily like the one used by their roommates, only slightly larger.
When the buildings below took on the aspect of a small scale model Ammal prepared to use the main engines. Suddenly the helmets burst into sound as the theft of the ship was finally noticed.
"To whomever is in the cruiser rising from the spaceport: lower the ship at once or we will force you down!"
As they tumbled into the atmosphere of an unknown planet Jorin could feel the panic rising in Beau and in himself. A quick moment of meditation quieted Jorin's mind and he attempted to contact Beau through the Force. Something he had never tried before, not even with Ammal.
Beau was frantically pushing buttons until he felt Jorin's presence and went through the calming exercises he had been taught by the Jedi who discovered him on his home planet.
Now he could remember his piloting lessons and knew what to do to stop the spinning. With the craft descending mostly upright it was only a matter of fighting the joystick to maintain flight position and begin slowing the cruiser for a probable crash landing.
Keying a microphone Beau contacted Jorin, "Are you still in the gunner's chair?"
"Yes, I am," answered Jorin calmer than he felt. "Do you need me on the bridge?"
"No! Don't try to move. Stay buckled in securely; it's going to be a bumpy ride."
"Acknowledged! Captain Orion!" Jorin replied with bravado. "How may I assist you?"
Beau chuckled in gratitude for Jorin's jaunty manner. "Do you have any flight controls available there? I'm fighting to keep the ship level but need to slow our speed too."
"I have all the thruster controls but not the main engines."
"Good! I'll manage to kill the mains then you activate the forward thrusters," commanded Beau.
"Roger, sir! Over and out!"
With the cruiser finally leveled out Beau wrapped one arm around the joystick to hold it back while feeling his way across the control board for the switch to the main engines. Although it took less than a minute, to Beau it felt like forever before his hand swept over the switch he needed.
He flipped the engines off and almost immediately felt the thrusters kick in. Jorin was on top of things on his end. The two cohorts could feel the craft slowing but not enough and they were losing altitude much too quickly.
In spite of every bit of muscle Beau was putting into pulling the stick back the ship started to turn nose down and descend even quicker. Beau was considering the options available to correct their problems when he felt the down thrusters push the cruiser up. The lift enabled him to level the craft once more and their descent slowed but still not as much as they needed to land safely.
He gave a silent thanks to the Force for his choice of partner on this assignment.
This pattern continued with Jorin making adjustments with the various thrusters that provided Beau with exactly what he needed to help him keep the ship level as they approached the ground. Still, they were way too fast for comfort but it was too late now.
The small cruiser hit the ground with a jolt making both teens glad of the tough safety restraints. The ship bounced off the ground causing Beau to nearly lose his grip on the controls. The next impact sent the ship a little sideways and Beau felt some thrusters kick in but Jorin miscalculated or the erratic movement caused him to hang on too long.
The craft turned completely sideways and the next landing flipped it over and it rolled until an abrupt stop against a stand of trees.
Net gave a worried look at Ammal when they heard the Jeidara Spaceport Control Center ordering them back to the planet's surface. He wasn't sure how Ammal would react since he had been hesitant to begin with. Ammal turned to Net with a big grin and pressed the control bringing the main engines to life and gunned them out of the gravitational pull of Jeidara so fast they almost became one with the seat they were in.
After a moment Net asked, "Are we headed in the right direction? How will we know the right way to go?"
Ammal's answer was quiet and low keyed, "Stop and relax. Let the Force guide you. Right now we are not going toward our friends."
"Why not? They might need our help," demanded Net.
"We don't want to lead anyone to them," replied Ammal calmly. "We might be followed so we have to misdirect them then we'll turn to the correct heading. Don't worry so much, Net. Trust the Force."
"I'll try, Ammal," Net said with a sigh.
"Okay, I have a course set and an alarm will let us know when we reach it and need to change directions," announced Ammal turning toward Net. "Until then we're going to practice using the Force."
Jorin groaned as he realized the ship had finally stopped flipping. He was as sore as he had been at the end of his first martial arts class. As his awareness grew Jorin realized the cruiser had landed on its side and if he undid his restraints he would fall out of the chair.
Before doing anything else, he tried to contact Beau through the ship's intercom system but got no answer. Ignoring his aching body J
Jorin reached out with the Force for Beau. He could tell he was still alive but otherwise he got nothing that way either.
Assuming that Beau was still in the captain's chair Jorin gathered his strength and concentrated hard. It was quite a strain but slowly, bit by bit he managed to turn the craft right side up.
The pain eased a little now that he didn't have the restraints digging into his side. Jorin carefully undid them and eased out of the gunner's chair. A quick check revealed nothing broken but lots of bruises from the less than stellar landing. I guess this is what the instructor meant when he said sometimes any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
Now that he knew he was okay, Jorin made his way up to the bridge to check on Beau. When he opened the door Beau began to move which sent him into a round of moaning and groaning.
Jorin put his hand on Beau's chest to stop him from moving any more.
"Be still, Beau," Jorin spoke quietly. "Let me check you before you do anything."
In answer Beau just settled into his chair and gave a slight smile.
A thorough check showed Beau had no bones broken either but he did have a nasty gash and bump on his head right above the right temple. Looking around him, Jorin saw several pieces of equipment that had come loose during the violent landing. One of them must have caught Beau in the head.
"Open your eyes, Beau. I need to check your pupils," instructed Jorin leaning closer. "You got a nasty bump on the head."
Beau's eyes were fine and after grabbing some bandages out of the first aid kit and taking care of the cut, Jorin allowed him to get out of the chair.
Together they checked the damage to the inside of the cruiser, found some food and then stepped out to survey the outside of the small Alderaan ship. It was banged up some but intact except for one of the main engines that was somewhat mangled. However, Beau proclaimed it fixable if there was time, tools and a little luck.
The inside of the cruiser had a lot of damage on the bridge but the rest was in fairly good shape. The cargo hold was apparently one of the strongest parts of the ship's interior. The crate that was part of their mission was still secured to the floor and hadn't moved nor did it have so much as a scratch on it.
Now that they knew what they faced in terms of repairing the ship, the teens surveyed the area around them. The cruiser had come to rest at the far edge of a beach that led down to a lake or sea. Jorin grabbed a large blanket from the ship and laid it out on the sand in the warm sun.
Beau shook his head and insisted on exploring, "Let's walk around the water and see what else there is here or maybe travel into the trees."
"No, Beau, you need to rest. We're on our own and you can't take any chances after getting hit on the head," countered Jorin with his arms crossed over his chest.
Beau stared stubbornly at Jorin for several minutes before relenting, "Okay, you win. My head is starting to throb again. Aren't you going to get bored just resting here?"
"Are you kidding me?" announced Jorin. "My restraints held me in place but at the cost of a bruise every place they touched me. My body is aching all over."
When the boys woke the light had grown dimmer and the forest was coming alive with the sounds of animals moving and calling out. Both felt much better after their long rest except for their stomachs which were growling. They went back into the cruiser for food and decided it might be best to spend the night inside until they knew more about where they were.
Stomachs now full the Jedi students wondered what to do next; they weren't sleepy after their long naps. Jorin suggested starting on repairs to the bridge. Beau wanted to talk and get to know one another better. After a short discussion it was decided they would do both. Working on the repairs would keep their hands busy while they satisfied their curiosity about each other.
A quick check of the ship's blueprints revealed the location of a maintenance room where they found all the tools they would need. Thus armed Beau and Jorin headed for the bridge and started by finding what worked and what didn't.
One of the systems that didn't work was communications but when Beau opened the cover reconnecting a loose wire fixed everything except sending calls or signals. During the next hour the two workmates had refastened all the pieces that had come off during the crash landing including cleaning Beau's blood off the one that hit him. They also now knew practically everything about each other's childhoods and how they came to be Jedi students.
As they tried to actually repair some of the equipment Beau got around to the questions about being gay that he had wanted to ask before they were attacked. He was still so nervous about asking that he flung several questions one after the other in rapid fire fashion.
Jorin shook his head as he waited to see if Beau was finished.
"That's a whole lot of questions, Beau," stated Jorin cocking his head at Beau. "Do you think you might be gay? Or thinking of giving it a try?"
"No, nothing like that," Beau returned calmly and in a matter of fact tone. "I've never thought about it at all. I don't get it and just want to try to understand."
"Okay. It's not as strange as you might think. Do you want to find someone special and settle down with them someday?" asked Jorin.
"Of course I do," replied Beau making the question seem silly.
"So do I," Jorin told him as they finished replacing the cover on another piece of equipment. "The difference is I want a guy the way you want a girl."
Beau remained silent as they moved to the next repair job they planned to attempt.
After a few moments contemplation Beau began nodding and spoke slowly, "I think I see. Basically, we are just the same except for who we love. Although, I still think some of what you do together is gross."
So what! I think some of what you would do with a girl is gross!"
"Fair enough!" Beau chuckled. "Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions."
"You're welcome," answered Jorin. "I hope we can be friends."
"I already consider you my friend, Jorin," said Beau stopping to look into Jorin's face.
Jorin looked up from his work, meeting Beau's eye and then smiling. Beau returned the smile.
The almost Jedi teenagers finished what they could do to the equipment and decided to call it quits. They found a room with two bunks, stripped to their underwear, climbed into bed and went to sleep.
"Come on, Net! One more time," exhorted Ammal. "You can do this!"
"You're more of slave driver than a Hutt," exclaimed an exhausted Net, "and stricter than any of the teachers from school."
"When you're tired is when you need it the most," replied Ammal. "Try!"
Ammal had been working with Net on using the Force in a variety of ways for almost three hours and Net was feeling the effects. He tried to collect his thoughts and concentrate for one more attempt when an alarm bell sounded.
Ammal checked the console to see what was happening. It was only the alarm he had set to let them know when to stop and change directions if they weren't followed. They puttered around the local planet and moons watching for other traffic for a while then reckoned it was safe to find their friends.
Again Ammal led Net to concentrate and reach out with the Force while doing the same himself.
"Think about Beau and your friendship with him," urged Ammal in a hypnotic voice. "Remember how he looks and sounds. Remember the things you like to do together. Search your memory for fun times you had. This will lead you to connect with him even across space."
As he talked Net through the process Ammal was doing it at the same time. He knew he could find them on his own but wanted his new friend to grow in the Force and to feel that he had contributed to a successful search for their friends.
Net's eyes popped wide open as he felt Beau's presence and knew which direction he was in. Then his brows narrowed in concern as he realized that Beau had been injured.
"I know where to go," Net said checking a monitor. "There! We head to the Straigali system."
"Very good," commended Ammal seeing that he was correct.
"We need to hurry though. Beau's been hurt."
"Don't worry. Jorin will take care of him."
Beau and Jorin awoke before daylight feeling rested and ready for a new day. They had their breakfast and went to the bridge to work some more before it got light enough to go out and explore. They checked the navigation system which they had not gotten to yesterday. It was in good condition and Beau used it to figure out that they were on Straigali IV, an uninhabited and barely explored planet. There was almost nothing about it in the computer banks and that info was useless to the boys' needs.
All the equipment that had come loose was now reconnected and they managed to get a couple more of the systems up and running. Jorin tossed his tools into the carrying case and grunted.
"Uhgg! I've had enough of this for now. Let's go outside!"
It had been light out for at least a half an hour so Beau readily agreed. A search of the ship revealed they had no hand weapons besides their lightsabers. They secured the sabers to their belts and left the cruiser.
Both were feeling antsy and stiff at the same time so they started with a series of stretches and warm-up exercises. Feeling calmer and physically ready to face anything, Beau and Jorin set out to explore starting with the forest.
They set parameters of ten yards in and one hundred yards to either side of the cruiser. They would expand their exploration area once they had covered this ground. When they chose to stop for lunch they had covered all of the original parameters and had gone another fifty yards away and twenty yards into the forest on the left side of the ship.
After eating Beau and Jorin took a blanket out to the beach again for a short nap. It was stifling hot and humid when they woke so the teens stripped to their undies and waded into the water to cool off. Beau stuck his finger into the water then tasted it. Salty!
Jorin laughed as Beau gagged and spit the briny stuff out. He also extended his senses with the Force checking the water but found nothing other than ordinary water animals.
Jorin's concentration was broken when he received a faceful of water from a smirking Beau. Jorin glared at Beau causing him to gulp thinking he had misjudged his new friend. Then a huge grin spread across his face which Beau only saw a split second before he was drenched in return. The 'fight' was on!
For the next hour or so the boys splashed, chased and tried to dunk one another without a care in the world. When they tired of that they swam into deeper water and floated on their backs resting from their exertions.
Jorin was ready to head to shore but Beau chose to swim out a little further. On the beach Jorin sat near the edge of the water and kept a close eye on his friend just in case.
Fifteen minutes later Beau turned back to shore so Jorin stood up and walked back to the blanket. He checked on Beau's progress before sitting down and noticed a shadowed shape below and behind Beau. It was huge!
Just as Jorin yelled, "Look out!" Beau noticed the mammoth shape coming at him. He started swimming faster but didn't seem to make in distance on the creature following him.
Jorin looked on in horror as a humongous mouth broke the water's surface behind Beau. He was swimming at a frantic pace now and still losing ground to the enormous, hungry monster chasing him.
Having no time for subtleties Jorin reached out with the Force and jerked Beau to him hoping he was in time.
With their new course set Net began to rummage in his pack for some of the snacks he had stowed in there. Watching him pull out several sweets Ammal shook his head and made a few inquiries on the computer.
"We're in luck," Ammal announced when he had finished on the computer. "The ship had just been stocked. Let's go get some real food. I'm starved."
Net dropped his supplies back into the pack and replied, "That sounds way better than what I brought. Let's go!"
Once their stomachs were satisfied the two boys discussed what to do to pass the time on this leg of the journey. Net was adamant about not working on the use of Force. Ammal agreed to find something less mentally exhausting. So the teens spent much of the time trading life stories and learning each other's likes and dislikes.
Just as they were running out of topics to discuss the warning bell sounded followed closely by a louder alarm that Ammal had not set.
Beau felt himself jerked out of the water, heard the powerful jaws snap shut and felt the whoosh of air from it on his feet. That was close!
Jorin braced himself but was still bowled over as Beau's body slammed into his at a high speed. They landed on the blanket with Jorin on his back and Beau on top of him chest to chest. Jorin's arms were wrapped around Beau with his hands almost on Beau's bubble butt.
Beau became aware of where Jorin's hands were. "If you wanted to cop a feel, Jorin, you could have just asked," joked Beau.
Jorin's hands flew up into the air as he blushed deep crimson. "I didn't . . I'm sorr . . "
Beau started cackling then the reality of what almost happened hit him full force and he broke down. When Jorin realized Beau had collapsed he brought his hands back down, turned them on their sides and held his friend as he sobbed uncontrollably.
Finally, Beau got himself under control and rolled to his back away from Jorin. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."
"You were almost eaten alive, Beau," proclaimed Jorin laying his hand on Beau's shoulder. "It is very normal for you react this way."
"Maybe but I feel like I led you on," confessed Beau turning to face Jorin. "I laid on you and let you hold me."
Jorin stopped him with a burst of laughter. "Beau, you needed comforting from a friend. As good-looking as you are, I'm not attracted to you. I love Ammal."
"So you didn't get aroused?"
"No, I didn't and neither did you," answered Jorin honestly. "It wasn't about sex. It was about being a friend."
"Okay. Good! Thank you for being my friend," Beau spoke relieved. "I'm hungry again. What about you?"
"Yeah, I could eat," Jorin replied standing up. "And you're welcome, friend."
After eating they decided to stay inside and fool around with the communications equipment to see if they could pick up any news. While they fiddled with the controls both were hit with an extreme disturbance in the Force. Not fifteen minutes after that they felt another strong disturbance that seemed even worse than the first one.
The teens got serious about tuning in some news hoping to find out what was happening. It took another thirty minutes to get anything to come in clearly and what they heard was not good.
Beau and Jorin looked at each other in shock as they listened to the report that the Jedi Temple on Coruscant had been attacked and all killed. Worse was unconfirmed reports that Jedi Masters all over the Republic were being ambushed by clone soldiers.
As they sat trying to digest the horrible reports and come to terms with the significance of what was happening an even more devastating report was announced.
A squadron of Storm Trooper clones had overrun the Jedi School on Jeidara. No known survivors.
Beau felt his heart racing and had trouble breathing but it was nothing to what he saw in Jorin's face and eyes. The light brunette teen was white as a sheet, eyes haunted and breath held until he collapsed. Ammal gone!?!
Beau rushed to catch his friend before he hurt himself. He sat in the floor holding Jorin to him trying to think of comforting words. None came.
Then it hit him that Net was gone too. No more nights sitting up studying, challenging each other to do better. No more pigging out on junk food on rest day. Jacer! And all the other younglings! No more helping them learn about lightsabers and the Force.
The Force! Beau took a deep breath and concentrated. Reaching out he felt him! Beau could still feel Net's presence! He couldn't be dead!
"Jorin! Jorin! Snap out of it!" Beau commanded lightly smacking him on his cheek. "Search the Force!"
Jorin lifted his tear stained face to look at Beau in confusion. "What? What d'ya mean?"
"Use the Force and search for Ammal," answered Beau. "I did and I could still feel Net. Alive! So don't give up yet!"
Jorin still had a blank look on his face for a moment then he did as Beau said. The change in his facial expression said it all.
"He's alive, Beau!" exclaimed Jorin happily. "And close to us!"
"What?!" Beau shouted. Then he quieted down and reached out with the Force once again to find his roommate. "Net is near too!
Ammal and Net had reached the Straigali system which accounted for the first alarm but not the second. A complete search of the area revealed another craft was tracking them. Apparently, they were not as careful as they thought or someone was already keeping an eye on this system for some reason.
"Did they follow us or were they already here watching?" queried Net voicing Ammal's thoughts.
"I don't think they followed us," Ammal replied thoughtfully. "They set off the alarm as soon as we arrived."
"But why here?"
"I don't kn …" started Ammal when the reason came to him. "Of course! They're after Beau and Jorin."
Suddenly the foreign ship darted away towards the fourth planet from Straigali and only slowed to enter its atmosphere. The boys looked at each other in astonishment followed by the realization.
"Let's follow them!"
Beau and Jorin woke the next morning with just enough time to eat before full daylight was upon them. They wanted to do more exploring- away from the sea!
This time they found a couple of packs and loaded them with food and drinks so they wouldn't have to come all the way back to the cruiser when they got hungry. They went straight into the trees from the ship until they reached where they had stopped yesterday.
They had almost covered as much distance to the right of the ship as they had to the left yesterday when they heard a strange yet familiar sound. It was a ship landing and it sounded like it was near where theirs had come to rest.
Jorin and Beau looked at one another and came to an unspoken agreement. The two padawans loosened their lightsabers as they moved in the direction of the noise. Creeping along as silently as they could, it felt like it took just as long to travel the straight line back as it did to explore the entire area.
It felt as if they were swimming in sweat by the time the intruding ship came into view. The nervous teens halted and watched for any movement. Their diligence was rewarded with the sound of a hatch opening and three humanoid creatures emerged from the craft.
The creatures were at least two meters tall with blue skin and no hair. Their faces were flat and contained two pair of eyes and a round mouth but no nose. The ears were long, laid back against their heads coming to points. Medium gray tunics and pants covered their bodies and each held a laser rifle at the ready.
When Beau got a good look at the lead creature he gasped, "Jankorons!" Beau tapped Jorin on the shoulder and motioned for them to retreat out of sight. When they had gone about ten feet Beau stopped and whispered as quietly as he could and still be understood.
"Those are natives of Jankoro. Not only are they Force sensitive and able to track someone using the Force but they can actually block the use of Force. We won't be able to use any Jedi tricks against them."
Jorin nodded his understanding and asked, "So we only have our skill with the sabers?"
Beau nodded then held his hand up and out. Jorin reached out with his hand and the two clasped wrists.
Just then a laser shot hit a tree near them. They had been found!
Both grabbed their lightsabers from their belts and moved apart to make separate targets. They held off activating the sabers until they had actual need of them to make travel through the trees easier. Keeping several feet distance between them Beau and Jorin moved in tandem sideways trying to get back to their ship.
The Jankoron that had shot at them brought the others with him as they chased after the teens. Several shots later Jorin had to activate his saber to block a shot that was too close for comfort. A couple of minutes later Beau had also activated his saber and was able to deflect a shot back at the Jankorons.
The boys used that opportunity to turn and make a dash for the cruiser but were quickly cut off. All three of the enemy fired several shots at them keeping the boys busy dodging and blocking.
Jorin blocked two close shots then had to drop to the ground to avoid a third. He had only gotten to his knees when a fourth shot came right at him. He whipped his saber into line barely on time but the deflection hit one of the Jankorons on the arm.
Two of the Jankorons chose Beau as their target and his saber was a blur as he blocked and deflected the many shots that came at him. Unfortunately, there was one too many at once for him to get them all and he was hit in his right thigh.
The Jankorons paused in their shooting after tagging Beau and one of them being tagged by Jorin's deflection. Jorin hurried to Beau and examined his leg. It had only grazed him and he would be able to use it though it burned intensely.
The lead Jankoron took a shot seeing the boys close together but Beau was ready and deflected the shot back at them. He grinned in satisfaction when he heard another of them grunt in pain. It's shoulder was grazed slightly deeper than Beau's leg.
The two teens backed further into the trees to discuss their options. As they were making plans they heard another craft fly overhead then land on the sand. A redo of plans was quickly commenced.
The boys decided to make a break for the beach at a diagonal away from the Jankorons then turn to their ship. Jorin tore a strip from the bottom of his tunic and wrapped Beau's leg with it. They were as ready as they could possibly be.
Their hope was that the new arrivals would follow the path of the first group leaving the beach free. They heard the Jankorons talking and figured they were deciding whether to move towards them. Now was the best time to try. Beau ordered Jorin to go in front and he would bring up the rear.
They ran as fast as they could while still attempting to remain quiet. They had almost made the edge of the trees when Beau's leg buckled under him and he crashed to the ground noisily.
This alerted the Jankorons to their new position and got the attention of two figures emerging from the newly landed cruiser. A commotion from the direction of the Jankoro ship changed the new arrivals' focus. There was a fourth Jankoron waiting in the ship.
Jorin helped Beau to his feet and they crept toward their craft while trying to keep an eye on all the other parties. Before they had made fifteen feet the original three Jankorons caught up with them. After a flurry of shots and desperate parrying of lightsabers Jorin was singed on his left elbow and one of the Jankorons was hit in the knee.
Shooting was heard from the beach area and then a yelp of pain. Jorin recognized the voice! Ammal!
Beau and Jorin renewed their efforts to reach the cruiser. They went from tree to tree dodging and blocking as the Jankorons fired every time they were in the open. The two groups were getting closer and closer.
The new arrivals were also getting closer as they were forced to retreat toward the forest. Shots were being fired from two directions now as they brought the fourth Jankoron with them.
While Beau watched the three in the forest Jorin peered toward the beach and the spacecrafts. Jorin was relieved to see Ammal come into view and then he saw Net. He watched in horror shouting a warning as Net swung his lightsaber toward Ammal blocking a laser shot.
The shout distracted Ammal and he took his eyes off the opponent. With an ugly attempt at a grin the Jankoron fired his laser right on target. Net was too close now to use his saber so he did the only thing he could to protect his friend.
Ammal had to catch Net as he slumped forward from the shot to his left shoulder. Now both were unprotected. The Jankoron moved closer to finish them both off.
"No!" screamed Jorin as he ran toward his boyfriend and Net. He saw he wouldn't get there in time as the Jankoron raised his rifle to fire. In desperation, Jorin tried a move he had heard about but never attempted.
He tossed his lightsaber end over end at the Jankoron slicing off his firing arm. Jorin automatically called the saber back to him but was left defenseless when it simply fell to the ground.
Ammal gently laid Net on the ground, retrieved Jorin's saber and tossed it to him. Then he checked on the Jankoron who lost his arm; he was out of the fight.
Together, Jorin and Ammal turned to face the other three Jankorons. Beau hobbled over to them having received another hit to his leg. He tried to stand with Jorin and Ammal to face the three Jankorons making the sides even but his leg wouldn't hold his weight.
Beau dropped to the ground keeping his saber active just in case. He turned his head when he heard a groan and felt a hand on his arm. Net was grimacing from the pain but managed to turn the corners of his mouth up in an almost smile.
To the surprise of all four teens, the three Jankorons slung their laser rifles onto their backs. Even more surprising but disconcerting they reached inside their tunics and withdrew their own lightsabers.
When the three lightsabers were activated they glowed with three colors; orangeish-red, purplish-red and a pure orange. The boys' eyes widen as they realized the trio was Sith trained.
Jorin and Ammal separated a bit and dropped into ready stances. Net tried to sit up but the pain was too much and Beau searched the ground with eyes and one hand for a tree branch to lean on. He finally found one and agonizingly rose to his feet.
"Stay back for now, Beau," Jorin spoke without taking his eyes from the group in front of him. "You and Net got injured protecting us. Now, let us protect you."
The Jankorons all attacked at once; two coming after Jorin and one engaging Ammal. Jorin moved sideways immediately putting the one in the middle behind the other who came at Jorin. Having no target there, he turned toward Beau standing unsteadily beside Net.
Holding his saber in one hand leaning heavily on the branch with the othe Beau prepared for the attack. It never came.
Having seen the middle Jankoron break away Jorin made a rash attack at the opponent facing him and feinted toward the forest. The Jankoron moved to cut him off giving Jorin the space he needed to wheel back the other way and slash wildly at the Jankoron with the orange saber. He scored a lucky hit dragging the point across the creature's hip.
The injured enemy turned halfway around which was a huge mistake. Leaning as far forward as he dared Beau swung in a downward arc removing the Jankoron's sword arm midway to the elbow. An ear-splitting howl filled the air unnerving all parties.
The severely injured humanoid tried to run to their ship. With a loud hiss of pain Net cut the legs from the hapless creature and with one more stroke ended it.
The two remaining Jankorons pressed their attacks with renewed vigor. After a couple of steps back Jorin held his own and traded parries and attacks at a furious pace. Ammal, however, was slowly and continually giving away ground.
Beau watched in concern wishing he could help. The best he could do would be to yell out advice but the Jankoron would hear it too. Watching a few minutes more Beau began to see a pattern to Ammal's retreats. He was drawing his opponent into a trap.
The more Ammal backed up the faster his opponent pressed forward. His eyes were focused only on the boy in front of him and not on his surroundings.
Ammal was steadily headed for a small stand of trees where he had seen a space he could slip through easily but his opponent could not. Reaching it Ammal stood his ground for an exchange or two then slipped sideways between two of the trees. Realizing he could not make it the Jankoron lunged at Ammal. It was just what he had hoped for. Ammal spun around the small tree on the end and brought his saber down hard. The blow took the creature's arm off just above the elbow. Ammal followed that with a two-handed blow to the body that nearly cut the Jankoron in half.
Jorin and his opponent were still trading exchanges rapidly but Jorin was starting to feel the effects. He made a show of wearing down exaggerating his movements. The Jankoron attempted an evil grin and started to strike harder. This caused his blows to be slower allowing Jorin to breach his defenses.
When the enemy tried a chop from overhead Jorin tagged him in the tender skin under his arm slowly his opponent even more. After a few more exchanges and small nicks here and there by Jorin the Jankoron made a fatal mistake.
Jorin feinted a low forehand blow at the knees. When the Jankoron dropped his saber point to block Jorin pulled the point back and swung a circle in front of his body and up into a backhanded shot at the luckless creature's exposed neck. Its head landed three feet away with a surprised look before the light went completely out of its eyes.
Beau let go of the branch and dropped heavily to the ground next to Net.
"Hey there, best friend," Beau said smiling. "It's good to see you."
"I'm glad to see you, too, best friend," returned Net although his smile was more of a grimace due to the pain in his shoulder.
Jorin felt like collapsing too, but there were two things he needed to do first. He limped to Ammal who was also coming toward Jorin. They met, hugged each other hard then Jorin took Ammal's face in his hands and kissed him passionately for a full minute.
He reluctantly let his boyfriend go but Jorin had one more task to do. He came to where Net still lay on the ground and dropped to his knees.
"Bennett Galspalon, I apologize for misjudging you," stated Jorin with tears in his eyes. "And thank you for the life of my boyfriend."
"Not a prob, dude," answered Net. "As I always say; a friend helps a friend when he needs it. Oh! And call me Net."
"Okay, Net. Let's get you to one of the ships and a medical kit," Jorin agreed while putting a hand under Net's back and lifting him using the Force. "Can you walk to the ship, Beau, if Ammal helps?"
"I think so," Beau replied then looking at Ammal. "It's good to see you again, too."
'Yeah, I'm happy to find you alive," Ammal returned. "Otherwise, my new friend would have been very upset."
The four friends made their way to the cruiser that Ammal and Net had brought since it was larger and undamaged. Soon everyone was patched up and Net was resting more comfortably in a bunk.
Jorin and Beau brought the other two up to speed on what had happened to the two Jedi schools and to Jedi masters around the Republic. After much discussion about options Beau announced his plan.
"The four of us have found strength in friendships we never thought we would have. Together we survived circumstances and attacks that we could not have alone or even paired with our original friend. We have a good ship with supplies. We can strip the other two ships of all useful items then head past the Outer Rim. We can find a place to settle and live and if we're lucky Net and I can find a couple of girls."
"Uuggg!" Came from two voices followed by giggles.
"I know you two find it gross," chuckled Beau.
"I agree with Beau," declared Jorin moving to stand with him.
Ammal and Net looked at each, grinned and said in unison, "We're in!"
Soon the ship was ready. Net was strapped to the bunk and Ammal chose to strap himself in the next bunk to keep him company.
Beau and Jorin went to the bridge where they took the pilot's and co-pilot's seats respectively.
"Ready for takeoff, First Mate?"
Aye, aye, Captain Orion"