A/N: I've been scribbling sketches and notes for my 'The Apprenticeship' series for years; now, I've decided to publish this scrap of a work that takes place more than a decade before its storyline would start. I may or may not post all existing chapters. Enjoy!
Full summary: The Galactic Empire has been overthrown. The New Republic Senate reigns over the battered ruins of Coruscant, trying to evade the outbreak of civil wars within - and between - troubled worlds. Among diplomatic gambles and desperate attempts to quell the feuds between countless nations and species, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker submits an unsettling request before the government: he plans to establish his own Academy to train a new generation of Jedi Knights. Not only is his request met with considerable opposition, but his first attempts to seek out potential students cascade into a series of disasters...
~ This is a retelling of 'Jedi Search' by Kevin J. Anderson, with a light influence of the new film trilogy. ~
"Full moon is falling through the sky.
Cranes fly through clouds.
Wolves howl. I cannot find rest
Because I am powerless
To amend a broken world."
- Guy Gavriel Kay, Under Heaven
Chapter One – Gambling Men
If one wanted to win a billiard game, Owen Lars had once said as he tightened his grip around a scuffed flask, there was an obnoxiously large number of rules to abide by. Everything mattered; stature, speed, strength, the player's grip on the cue stick. One could not strike to soon, or the impulse of the momentum would be drowned in anticipation. One could not strike too late, for the instinctual rash of movement would betray them, and the stick would fall flatly on soft flannel covers. One could not overuse their strength, for the sticks were light, and lithe, and ill-suited to exert such force; and one could not be overly careful, either, or the ball would refuse to even move.
At this point of the conversation, the wide-eyed, sandy-haired boy would already know that the flask contained neither milk nor water, and that consequently, he had best keep his mouth shut. Drinking, as he had already observed, sometimes did funny things to people, although the effects were often unpredictable. The same amount of drink could drive one person mad, make another person ridiculously emotional, all while rendering a third individual dangerously aggressive – and when it came to Uncle Owen, well, it would render his speech weirdly eloquent, and steadily increase his use of unfitting adjectives.
For certain others, however, drinking brises focus, and blurs center.
The sandy-haired boy was now a grown man; and although his eyes were still wide, they bore a distant, haunted look: two windows opening to the grasp-less void of space.
Absentmindedly, the man mirrored the once possessive gesture of Owen Lars as he raised his cup in a soundless greeting and grinned at his companion; but no warmth of friendship reached his eyes.
"I never hoped to catch you here," Lando Calrissian said from across the table. He took a lazy sip at his own drink, sloshing the remaining liquid around a few times before tasting it again. "I wasn't aware that Jedi Masters frequented underworld saloons."
Luke Skywalker made no immediate answer; he merely blinked, and took a breath, and reached out. The Force was crystallized into a delicate pattern of approval.
"You're here to look for a job," he declared with the earnest certainty of a child. "And I am here because Ineed a partner for my next mission. I dare hope that my company seems more enticing to you than that of, ah, Moruth Doole? Am I getting the name right?"
"Get out of my head," Lando sighed, and shook his cloak out with a flourish. It seemed somewhat battered and washed-out, Luke noticed, as if mine operations in Nomad City were no longer profitable.
Of course, he'd know better than to ask, even if he needed to.
"Why would you seek my help, anyway, out of all people?" Lando pressed grudgingly as Luke had deliberately missed his next strike. "If you wanted to do something reckless, you'd take Wedge; if you wanted to do something stupid, you'd take Solo; and if you wanted to do something actually reasonable…"
"I wouldn't take you, either," Luke assured him with a flare of amusement. "But as it happens, I need to do something completely illegal."
The assertion was made in a calm, almost humming voice, its truth projected through unmoving eyes: blue with a sudden, icy hue. Solid, consummative, not to be tampered with.
Lando Calrissian made a visible effort not to flinch before their gaze, and succeeded, though the probe seemingly drained all eloquence from his mind.
Luke counted six heartbeats, then launched for the next attack.
"You're in, then!"
"Wha…? No, no, no – wait!" Lando's knuckles rubbed against his temples in a thoughtless race. Luke felt, in a whirl of unintendedly emitted impressions, that questions were dashing to and fro in his friend's head like laser blasts. Questions, and something else…
"…see, times have changed. I'm a respectable person now, and I can't just shrug my responsibilities off and do… what new imbecility are you actually contemplating to do…?!"
"Carefully investigate a very special case," said Luke, as innocently as he could. "Nothing rash. Nothing stupid. Nothing dangerous."
"Then why in space would it be illegal?"
"Well, it might go against the Senate's explicit wishes."
Lando clicked his tongue. "Ah, so we're going that way now. Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, too powerful for a mere bunch of quarrelling officials to control…"
"This is not about that, and you know it." Luke's eyes were suddenly very serious.
"How the hell would I know?" His friend crossed his arms, unconsciously shielding a fray on his robe. "I don't read minds."
Always the same grudge.
Luke sighed. He would go the sugar-sprayed way, then.
"Lando, just listen to me for one second. 'Think you can do that?" Leaving no time for answers, he pressed on, letting the words surface from the depths of his mind. "It's not like I want to do this, or that I'm doing it out of… personal gratification… whatever that feels like…"
Lando raised an eyebrow.
"…this is the will of the Force. I sense it. It calls for me. I have to go, and I have to take someone sensible with me or the whole operation I've planned would go horribly wrong. Okay? I need your help."
Blankness. Then, smouldering sympathy, and rivulets of smoking fear. Passing images of things he had done 'because the Force said so'; cascading images of Cloud City, an all-too-familiar dark form in an alcove-like doorway. A red lightsaber. The invasion of an imperial Star Destroyer. Colourful, fleeting pictures. Han frozen in carbonite, raising a middle finger, which originally, he certainly did not. An X-wing fighter disappearing in an asteroid field. Battles and blasters and flames. Mindor.
He's not even wrong, Luke had to admit. The whole mission already stank of Jedi mysticism; and the Force had a reckless reputation when it came to general guidance.
He searched his feelings, as his master taught him – his first master; Yoda would never speak of mere feelings –, and gave his killer shot.
"…but I'm not here to force you against your will, old friend. I would certainly not leave the mines of Nkllon in your place – in the messy times we're living in, anything could happen to them."
His victory was modest, but absolute. Lando ducked his head.
"Well, stock business is less and less remunerative these days. Times are always changing…"
Luke could not decide if the attempt at deceiving him was half-hearted out of knowledge that he would see through the façade anyway, or because Lando had momentarily given up on the whole world.
"Okay, so what really happened to those mines? An unlucky bet? Or did you anger a Hutt again?"
Lando groaned. "I lost them in a game of sabacc."
Luke's features froze in a lacklustre pretence of empathy.
There is no pain. Not even in the midriff.
"…gambler and outlaw." The Jedi Master extended his right with a soft huff of breath. "I believe we are even."
His friend almost took his hand, then frowned.
"I still don't know what you are plotting to do."
"We're going to find someone. I'll tell you on your ship. Just be ready in three standard hours."
(to be continued)