STAR WARS: KOTOR: ZERO-SUM GAME
Chapter One: Interlude
"How did our schedules get set up so we both have to spar right
after lunch?" Valen grumbled, taking a quick bite of his ambrosia-greens salad. "Master Kiral's class shouldn't start until at least an hour after we're done eating. Instead, it begins in thirty minutes, and on a full stomach, I hope that we'll be using the combat droids again." He stifled a snicker.
I shook my head sadly. "I don't think so. Remember? She's testing us on our early lightsaber forms today, specifically II and III: Makashi and Soresu." These forms were respectively known as Contention and Resilience.
His eyes widened. "Sith spit! I thought that was two days from now, Vala."
We frequently called each other by our last names--or, rather, Valen called me by mine. My first name was not something I liked to reveal. No one else knew what it truly meant, being a word from the ancient times of the human race, and if they did know, my fellow classmates would ridicule me for it. Thus, I was almost always known as "Vala" or "Padawan Vala". Valen was Valen, however, as his last name of Tveri
was hard to pronounce. When speaking with others, we had to say our names quite clearly so those with whom we were speaking wouldn't get confused! They often did, though, and it caused all of us to laugh when someone said, "No, I meant Va-LEN!"
Why am I sensitive about my given name? That is something I'll reveal later...
Meanwhile, Padawan Salras, the third student in our social circle, rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "I can't believe you'd forget," she smirked. "You've been practicing Form III for a long while now. Hopefully, you'll be able to impress Master Kiral, though I know you won't be able to beat me at it when it's our turn to spar." She liked to goad Valen into reacting to her banter.
He didn't take the bait. "If I win against you, very well, and if I lose, I'll simply consider it a learning experience." With an elegant motion, he sliced into half of a bantha steak while Padawan Salras gaped at him. Ever since I'd known Valen, he'd come back with some witty retort. Right now, his calm and straightforward response had caught her off guard. I smiled, remembering an adage that Master Kiral had taught us during some of our earlier lessons.
"If aggression meets empty space," I announced, "it usually fades."
"Well said," returned Padawan Salras, nodding to me in acknowledgment. I'd scored a point in her eyes, and though she hated to admit it, so had Valen. "I think some people would do well to remember that in this Temple, because their emotions are running high." She glanced around suddenly, as if she'd spoken too loudly and certain people nearby might have overheard.
I raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"
Padawan Salras lowered her voice. "Can't you feel it through the Force?" she asked. "Everyone's wondering who is going to be chosen as the first Grand Master of the rebuilt Jedi Order. Ever since we won the war against Darth Malak, and then defeated the Sith Triumvirate, we've been focusing on recovering our losses and laying our fallen comrades to rest. Now that this process is almost complete, however, we Jedi must turn our attention to a future head. Our Order has many Masters, yes, but it must have a Grand Master as well: one who stands above the rest and has the vision to lead us."
I nodded. "I agree, and if I've heard correctly, there are two in contention."
Valen's gaze was stark. "Dokan and Kiral. Your Master and mine, friend."
The base of my spine tingled when he called me "friend", because his voice was soft as the touch of a maalras cub's fur. However, his message was utterly serious. This was no friendly competition between two equally-competent Jedi. Kiral and Dokan had entirely different views of life and the Force. You could say that they were night and day, yin and yang, dark and light--except that in this case, neither Jedi was dark. Whoever was chosen to govern our Order as its Grand Master would shape it for the next several generations! The Council would not have an easy decision.
Padawan Salras winked. "Do you have any theories on who's going to win?"
"They both have excellent qualifications," I said quickly, trying to play diplomat. "My master, Dokan, is a Consular and a true adept in the ways of the Force. Some say he can move mountains if he tries, and I believe them."
"Boulders, at least," countered Valen. I playfully bumped my leg against his.
"He's also a prime negotiator," I continued. "Remember when he diffused that intense bomb threat situation here on Coruscant at the outdoor summer concert last year? Someone had planted a bomb under the stage, and before the music even began, that person dashed onto the platform and said he'd detonate it if he didn't receive ten million credits by the time the Bith band finished its first number. It turned out that he was a poor, recently-laid-off dockworker who was under a great deal of stress. There really was a bomb--this wasn't just some prank--but a trained squad quickly disarmed it while Master Dokan talked the suspect down and took him into custody."
Nods and murmurs came from Valen and Padawan Salras. "Quite admirable," Valen said, "and yet Master Kiral has also done heroic deeds far and wide. The decision isn't going to come down to who's more virtuous than whom," he continued. "It will be put to a vote based on several considerations, and in the end, who knows the final outcome? Certainly not us Padawans."
I winked at him. "You want Master Kiral to be chosen," I said slyly. Padawan Salras wasn't the only person who liked to get Valen Tveri's hackles up!
Valen cleared his throat. "Um, no," he answered. "May the best Jedi win."
It was evident that, from his hesitation and phlegm-clogged reply, that he didn't quite believe it himself. Of course, it was only natural if he preferred his own Master to mine when it came to who would earn our Order's most prestigious title. However, something still worried me. Would the fact of our Masters' rivalry drive a wedge between us as friends--more than friends?
"Attention, all Jedi,"
came an electronic-sounding voice from the Temple's intercom system, installed high in the ceilings. "Those Padawans who are scheduled to attend Master Kiral's Lightsaber Combat course at 13:30 will now attend at 14:30. Master Kiral must make extra preparations for the round of testing that she has planned for today. During the regular hour, her students shall attend a lecture on the recent history of the Republic and our rebuilt Order by none other than our own archivist droid, K-4JO. Dismissed."
Valen and I groaned. K-4JO wasn't the most invigorating of public speakers...