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View Full Version : Sidereal - a prelude in 8 parts



Rigil Kent
4 September 2008, 07:48 PM
Title: Sidereal

By: Rigil Kent
Genre: Drama, wildly … nay … happily AU, H/L, L/M
Rated: PG. Some mild language and adult situations.
Summary: In the year following Grand Admiral Thrawn’s death, everything changes.
Disclaimer: I own a big fat nothing. Not my hopes. Not my dreams. Nothing. All were pawned off to pay for school.
A/N: This is more of a set-up fic than anything else and is intended to set the stage for my (eventually) forthcoming trilogy entitled The Unseen War that replaces the nonsensical Jedi Academy series entirely. This fic begins 5 weeks after the end of The Last Command (which, unfortunately, was the last good SWars book for a very long time) and veers into AU territory according to how I wanted the franchise to go. No silly cloned Emperors or body-jumping Jedi (how is that not evil, BTW?) or superweapons of the week here. There are eight planned chapters that cover a period of one Standard year.

And lest you think otherwise, this is not a "ship fic" even if romance pops up.


Chapter 1

The rumors would not stop.

As she finished her reading of the daily briefings, Leia Organa-Solo grimaced at the less than subtle implications of this latest NRI report regarding her brother and the ex-Imperial assassin, Mara Jade. There was no substantiated proof, of course, but it was impossible to conceal the fact that the government of the New Republic was paying very careful attention to the rather significant amount of time the last Jedi Knight spent in the company of the erstwhile Emperor’s Hand. Had it been anyone other than Jade, Leia seriously doubted that Luke’s latest project would have warranted more than a paragraph or perhaps even a single sentence mention.

In the five weeks since the defeat of Thrawn, though, Luke had been seen almost every day in Jade’s company, whether it was attending a victory celebration banquet together or visiting one another’s quarters in the Palace at all hours of the day. Joint expeditions to the remains of the Jedi Temple had become commonplace, leading Leia to suspect that her brother was continuing the training that Han said began on Wayland. Innuendo and rampant speculation flowed like wildfire among those aware of the unexpected relationship, and, according to this report, on at least one occasion, Skywalker had been sighted entering Jade’s quarters shortly before dusk and not leaving until dawn the following day.

It didn’t take a genius to decipher what was going on between the two.

The sludgenews had gone wild with the implications that Luke Skywalker may be romantically involved with an ex-Imperial operative, and public opinion remained starkly divided: half of those polled seemed to think it was the most romantic thing to have ever happened in the history of the galaxy while the other half – the half that remained afraid of all Force-users in the wake of Palpatine’s effective propaganda blitz after the Clone Wars – remained convinced that Skywalker was trying to set up a new Force Empire with Jade as his consort. Leia grimaced at what would be said if the media knew the complete truth about Jade’s background; it had taken every gram of her political capital – expended on her idiot brother’s request – to make sure that the only people who knew that Jade had been the Emperor’s Hand were those who needed to know.

A stress headache began making itself known, and Leia tossed the flimsi to one side so she could focus on something else, something far more important than Luke’s social life. Her opinion on the budget proposal that Mon Mothma planned to submit to the Senate was long overdue, and Leia still needed to actually read the damned thing. Ackbar was already complaining about funding for the military – as usual – and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Thrawn’s recent campaign were falling behind schedule. A dozen other things sprang to mind, each far more worrisome than her brother’s choice of nightly dinner companions.

Despite her best efforts, though, her mind came right back to the idea of Luke being with Jade. It was such a ridiculous notion that it seemed almost inevitable.

“Damn fool,” she muttered under her breath as she reached for the flimsi once again. This was just like him, to carry on with an unknown quantity like Jade when anyone with a lick of sense would have kept as far away from the ex-assassin as possible. The woman had threatened to kill him, for kriff’s sake! What kind of suicidal idiot stayed around someone like that? Oh, right, Leia reflected darkly. The kind that insisted there was still good in a monster like Darth Vader. She fought back a sigh.

“You’re thinking about your brother again, aren’t you?” The melodic tones of Winter Retrac drew Leia out of her growing funk, and Organa-Solo shot her executive aide a frustrated glare. It didn’t help Leia’s temper that the other woman was wearing an amused, almost condescending expression from where she accepted a datapad from an oddly silent C3-PO.

“I’m worried that he’s going to get himself killed,” Leia growled as she scanned the flimsi for a second time, noting the times and dates of the Jade/Skywalker sightings by the NRI agents assigned to follow the ex-Imperial. Almost as bad as Luke’s constant presence was Jade’s ability to simply drop out of sight, seemingly at will. It seemed as if she were playing a cat-and-mouse game with the agents following her and, unsurprisingly, Leia automatically placed the ex-assassin in the role of predator.

“Because of Mistress Jade?” Winter asked calmly, and Leia nodded.

“I don’t trust her,” she said simply. “And I’m afraid Luke trusts her too much.” She placed the flimsi in the ‘re-read later’ pile and reached for the budget analysis once more. “Why he would want to be around a woman like that in the first place…” Leia shook her head in mixed disgust and confusion. To her surprise, however, Winter chuckled slightly.

“Surely you’re not that naïve, Your Highness,” the woman laughed, and Leia frowned. “I’ve seen the way he looks at her.”

“What way is that?” Leia asked hesitantly. She found herself praying that it didn’t mean what it sounded like it meant.

“She’s a very striking woman,” Winter pointed out. “Red hair, green eyes, Force sensitive…”

“Like Shira,” Leia said darkly, and her white-haired aide sobered quickly.

“It’s not the same, though, is it?” the other woman asked somberly. “He’s learned so much since then.”

“He’s still a man,” Leia pointed out as she scanned over the analysis. To her disgust, none of the data had sunk in and she paged back to the beginning to start over. “And men don’t always think with their brains.” The startled gasp from C3-PO at her less than diplomatic language would have caused Leia to laugh out loud if she had been in a better mood.

“But Luke isn’t like other men, your Highness,” Winter reminded her.

“No,” Leia said softly, images of her late and unlamented biological father flashing across her mind’s eye. “He’s much more dangerous.” She glanced up, meeting Winter’s eyes. “She was the Emperor’s personal assassin. I would like to trust her but somehow, I doubt that sort of brainwashing goes away just because she killed a clone.”

“She saved your children,” Winter pointed out softly, and Leia winced slightly at that reminder. A part of her wondered if she was being too hard on Jade, but that part was quickly swallowed up by her worry over her brother’s tendency to lead with his chin.

“One good deed,” Leia replied, thinking again of Vader and Luke’s description of the Sith Lord’s last moments, “Doesn’t undo a lifetime of evil.”

Winter was silent for a long moment before finally responding.

“What will you do?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Leia responded coolly. “There’s nothing I can do. Luke’s a grown man, and if he wants to do some as categorically stupid as getting involved with an ex-assassin who has spent the last five years wanting to kill him, there’s not much I can do about it.” Despite her bluster, Leia knew that she would be keeping an eye on Jade.

Just in case.

Rigil Kent
5 September 2008, 06:18 AM
Chapter 2

She was on the roof when he found her.

Mara felt him approach but offered no greeting as she watched the sun slowly disappear beyond the horizon. The feel of his eyes upon her caused a brief moment of self-consciousness, but it passed quickly. In the midst of her turmoil, Mara wondered when she had become so comfortable with his presence. It hardly seemed possible, given how badly she’d wanted to kill him barely a year ago.

Two months had passed since their jaunt to Wayland and the destruction of C’Baoth’s clone. Mara had halfway expected to be thrown in prison once more upon their return, but Skywalker’s steadfast defense of her swayed the opinion of the chancellor. Even more surprising had been the complete pardon that Mon Mothma had signed, a pardon that Mara simply knew Skywalker had been behind.

“Hey,” he said softly as he leaned on the rails, mere centimeters away from her. Warmth seemed to radiate from him, though Mara wasn’t sure if it was her imagination or some aspect of the Force that she didn’t quite understand.

“Hey,” she repeated, eyes still locked on the drive trails of the ships and speeders in Coruscant’s skies. They were silent for a long moment, and Mara felt her temper spike when she realized the ploy he was using. It was a good tactic, one she had used effectively in the past during interrogations for the Empire, but it annoyed her that he would even consider trying it on her. After today’s events, she wasn’t in the mood for company, especially his company. “What do you want, Skywalker?” she demanded crossly, hoping that he would get the hint and leave her alone.

“Galactic peace,” he replied smoothly and she gave him a startled look at the unexpected answer. “A really good nerf steak,” the Jedi Knight continued without pause. “And maybe one of those Nubian J-36s.” His expression was one of complete innocence and a sense of calm seemed to roll off of him. Mara felt her anger dwindle and she hated him a little bit for it.

But just a little.

“A J-36?” Mara asked slowly. “Why would you want one of those? They’re pieces of junk.” A smile flashed across Skywalker’s face then as he gave her an amused look.

“Yeah, but they’re shiny,” he retorted with a mischievous glint in his eyes. A smile escaped her before Mara could fully control herself, and she shook her head in amazement.

“How do you do that?” she asked softly. “Make me feel better when all I want to do is hit something?”

“It’s a special power I learned on Dagobah,” Skywalker said glibly, his face a portrait of faux honesty. “It’s called Force Make-Mara-Feel-Better.” He leaned closer and lowered his voice, as if he were confiding the secrets of the universe to her. “I promised Master Yoda that I would only use it for good.”

“Yes,” Mara smirked, amused despite herself. “I can see how the Jedi wouldn’t want that ability to be abused.” They were silent for another long moment and Mara felt her previously foul mood begin to evaporate.

“So,” Luke said into the silence. “What happened with Karrde that left you so angry?”

“Stay out of my head, Skywalker,” she snapped reflexively, reinforcing her mental barriers as she did. How could she not have sensed him poking around in her mind? Had she already lost her edge? Or were his abilities more impressive than she gave him credit for?

“I’m not in your head, Mara,” he replied. “Just making an educated guess. I felt your distress earlier from halfway across the planet and, as far as I know, there are only a couple of things capable of making you that annoyed.” He started ticking off fingers as he narrowed down the options. “There wasn’t a meeting of the Smuggler’s Alliance, Admiral Drayson was debriefing me all day for a change, and Lando finally got the message that you weren’t interested.” He almost snickered as he mentioned that last one, and Mara felt herself blush slightly at the memory. Threatening castration by vibroblade was crude, but surprisingly effective. Skywalker continued. “So, by process of elimination, it had to be something about your meeting with Karrde.” She sighed.

“I gave him my resignation today,” Mara revealed sadly. “And he accepted it.”

“Why?” The expression on Skywalker’s face was a baffled one and Mara nearly rolled her eyes at his lack of understanding.

“I’m a liability to his organization now,” she pointed out as she watched the Coruscant skyline come alive with night-shift lighting. “Way too high profile for a lot of his clients.”

“Because of me.” Sadness colored the Jedi’s words, and he offered her a sheepish look. “Say the word, Mara,” Luke said calmly, “And I’ll back away and leave you alone.” It was said with complete sincerity, and Mara knew that he would do exactly that. All she had to do was to tell him to leave and Luke Skywalker would vanish from her life utterly. To her surprise, however, she realized that she didn’t want that to happen.

She filed that realization away for future reference; it was much too complicated to deal with right now.

“The past can’t be changed,” Mara stated firmly. “It was time for a change anyway.” She smirked at the soft exhalation of relief that came from her companion. “Besides,” she smiled, “Talon gave me a very healthy severance package. Enough to buy my own ship.”

“Nubian?” Skywalker asked with a broad smile, and Mara rolled her eyes.

“Too shiny,” she replied, causing him to chuckle. “I’m thinking one of those YT-2400s.”

“Like Dash’s ship,” he mused, and Mara frowned at the unfamiliar name.

“Who?”

“Never mind.” Skywalker’s smile suddenly seemed forced as he continued, and Mara suspected she knew why. “So is that your plan, then?” Luke asked, confirming her guess. “Travel the galaxy as a free trader?”

Mara hesitated. Even without him saying anything else, she knew what Skywalker wanted to ask. A part of her was humbled that he thought so highly about her Force potential, but right now, the very idea of dedicating herself to the Jedi felt too much like what the Emperor had done to her.

“Luke,” she began softly, making it a point to establish and hold eye contact with him as she spoke. The ease with which his name rolled off of her lips now should have startled her but didn’t. “I’m flattered that you think I’m Jedi material,” Mara continued slowly, picking her words carefully, “But I don’t think that I’m ready.”

“I’m not Palpatine,” he said just as softly, glancing away as he did. “I don’t want to use you for my own ends.” Mara winced at the sadness that seemed to pulse through his Force presence.

“I know,” she stated firmly. “It’s not you … it’s me. I need more time. I’m just not ready to take this step…” His unexpected laugh seemed to come out of nowhere and Mara narrowed her eyes. “What?” she demanded.

“This conversation,” Skywalker chuckled. “I’ve heard it before from women, just not in this context.” He sobered and gave her a weighing look that seemed to pierce straight through to her soul. Mara shifted awkwardly on her feet, suddenly uncomfortable and utterly confused as to why she felt uncomfortable. “For what it’s worth,” Luke said after a moment of silence that seemed to stretch out for hours. “I do understand.” Mara gave him a weak smile.

“Then maybe you could explain it to me,” she replied, only half-joking. Skywalker gave her that look once more, but this time, his eyes sparkled with humor.

“The taste of freedom after years of forced servitude is awfully hard to ignore,” he guessed aloud, and Mara glanced away, unable to look at him. She hated that he could slip so easily into the Jedi role, spouting pieces of soul-shattering wisdom that would have sounded like so much drivel coming from someone else. “Mara,” Luke whispered, his voice almost pleading. She glanced back. “Still friends?” he asked.

“Still friends,” Mara Jade replied with a smile. Together, they turned their attention back to the Coruscanti skyline and watched as the sun continued its descent.

It had turned out to be a nice day after all.

Rigil Kent
5 September 2008, 12:54 PM
Chapter 3

It was going to be a long day.

His expression cool, Luke Skywalker studied his sister’s features for any hint of what was to come. He had agreed to meet her and Han for lunch in hopes that it would simply be a family meal without any of the usual political disagreements that seemed to dominate their recent discussions. It was depressing, but Luke honestly couldn’t remember the last time he had spoken to Leia about something other than the Republic. Hopes for a normal meal were dashed the moment she opened her mouth.

“We need you to go to Kuat,” his sister said almost before they had been seated, prompting Luke to roll his eyes in annoyance.

“And hello to you too,” he retorted before giving his brother-in-law a quick nod of greeting. “I don’t want to go to Kuat. I’m busy here.” For once, it wasn’t a lie or mistruth; he was busy and so close to a breakthrough with Mara that the idea of leaving Coruscant was repugnant, especially for another one of the Republic’s ridiculous public relations stunts.

“But you’re the best qualified for this mission, Luke,” Leia responded, a note of pleading already leaking into her voice. It took every gram of Luke’s willpower to keep from glowering at the all too familiar refrain. His frustration at the New Republic was rapidly souring into distrust, but he pushed it down, controlled it, and somehow managed to keep it from appearing on his face.

“Why is it,” Luke asked quietly, “That every time I request time off to focus on restoring the Jedi Order, a new mission just happens to pop up that demands my personal attention?” Despite his best efforts, some of the anger he was suppressing leaked into his voice, and Leia frowned.

“It’s not like that at all,” she argued. “This opportunity with Kuat came out of nowhere and we have to act fast. If we can bring them into the Republic, it’ll cripple the Imperial war machine.” Leia leaned forward, excitement lighting up her face. “Imagine it: without the ability to build ships, they’ll have to sue for peace!”

“You’re changing the subject,” Luke pointed out, more aggravated than he had been in a long time. They had argued over this dozens of times in the years since Endor, but it had become even more divisive in the four months since Thrawn’s death. Each time it came up, a pattern emerged: Luke would wonder if the New Republic government was actively trying to keep the Jedi from reappearing and Leia would selectively ignore what she didn’t want to hear. Invariably, Luke would find himself agreeing to undertake just one more mission before he could focus his efforts on rebuilding the Order fulltime, and that ‘one more mission’ would turn into another. And another. And another.

And another.

“The Jedi Order isn’t going to rebuild itself,” Skywalker continued, noting without surprise that Han was focusing his attention on the nearby wall monitor currently displaying smashball scores. It was to be expected, Luke mused, since Solo often found himself in the uncomfortable place of agreeing with both of them. Loyalty to Leia generally dictated which side Han took, though; after all, Luke couldn’t make his brother-in-law sleep on the sofa for disagreeing with him. Still, Solo wouldn’t hesitate to disagree with Leia if he felt she was wrong, no matter the personal consequences of doing so. “I need time off from these PR missions you keep sending me on,” Luke argued, knowing that he might as well have been speaking Binary. Leia was wearing the ‘I’m pretending to listen to you but I’m actually not’ expression she often donned when interacting with some of the more annoying government officials that worked with her. “Get someone else to do it,” Luke finished.

“But we need you,” Leia said passionately. She unconsciously stretched out with the Force as she spoke, urging him to agree with every gram of her being. Luke’s expression darkened as he reinforced his mental shields; he’d cautioned her against this sort of thing before and, even though he doubted she was doing it intentionally, it remained remarkably dangerous. Not for the first time, he felt a flicker of sadness that she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – find the time to finish her training. A memory resurfaced from a time years earlier when he was so much younger and less experienced: This is a dangerous time for you, Ben Kenobi had warned him an eternity ago, when you will be tempted by the Dark Side of the Force.

“Stop that,” Luke ordered sharply, his eyes boring into his sister. His annoyance deepened to actual anger when she looked away the moment he spoke; there was no hint of remorse on her face and he wondered if he’d actually be wrong, that she had done it on purpose. “I’ve already told you, Leia; get someone else to go. I’m busy.” He glanced at the wall chronometer, wondering if he could make an early escape to avoid another protracted argument with her. Avoidance was usually the only way to win such a debate, especially with a woman who had been elected to the Senate at an age when Luke had been more interested in wasting time with his friends at Tosche Station or threading the Needle in Beggar’s Canyon.

“Got a hot date?” Han asked abruptly, a lopsided smirk on his face. Luke exhaled softly, recognizing the change of subject for what it was: an attempt to defuse the situation. Silently, he thanked his brother-in-law as he returned the smile, all the while wondering when Han had become the mediator in the family.

“Not unless you consider me visiting the Rogues a date,” Luke replied. “Wedge asked if I could help him teach his rookies a lesson or two in humility on the simulators.”

“Luke,” his sister began, eyes wide and imploring, but Skywalker waved it off and interrupted her.

“I don’t want to argue about this, Leia,” he said firmly. “Especially not here,” Luke continued, gesturing slightly to their public surroundings. She nodded fractionally and, just for a moment, his sister returned.

“Then why don’t you come over tonight?” she asked. “You can see the twins and we can discuss this like adults.”

“I can’t tonight,” Luke replied without thinking. “I’m meeting Mara later at the Temple.”

And just like that, his warm and friendly sister vanished, only to be replaced by Senator Organa-Solo of Coruscant.

“How lovely,” she said coldly, and Luke frowned at her tone.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded even though he already knew. It was impossible not to know, given the sludgenews’ propensity for exaggeration and melodrama. Most of the time, Luke really didn’t care what they said about him, but recently, it had been getting more difficult to ignore the innuendo that seemed to accompany everyone’s comments about the exact nature of his relationship with Mara. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Leia swallowed that bile, but it was.

“Half of Coruscant is wagering on whether the two of you are sleeping together,” Leia stated primly, annoyance writ on her face.

“Six to one in favor,” Han snickered, blithely ignoring the glare that both Skywalkers shot him.

“Then maybe half of Coruscant needs to get a damned hobby,” Luke snapped. “What I do and who I do it with is nobody’s business but mine.”

“You’re a public figure, Luke,” Leia said in her lecturing tone. “Who you are seen with has a reflection on your image.” Unspoken was the fact that her image was also tied to his. His sister hesitated, and Skywalker could almost feel her searching for a diplomatic way to speak her thoughts. “And Jade was …”

“An Imperial?” Luke asked softly. Fury pulsed through him as he recognized the old biases showing up. He’d seen it before during the Rebellion; an Imperial defector generally had to go through hell and back to earn the respect of his or her fellow rebels, and even then, they were sometimes still looked upon with distrust. It had never made any sense to Luke as most of the ex-Imperials he’d fought alongside with possessed firsthand knowledge of why the Empire needed to be toppled and had thus fought that much harder.

With Mara and her background, though, it was far, far worse.

“Crix Madine,” Luke said suddenly, his voice steady. “Kyle Katarn. Tycho Celchu. Derek Klivian. Biggs Darklighter.” Even as Leia’s expression tightened in comprehension, he nodded toward the Corellian sitting next to her. “Han Solo,” he continued, emphasizing the name as he did. “What do all of these people have in common?”

“It’s not the same,” his sister started, clearly preparing to contest his argument and point out that none of them had been Palpatine’s personal assassin, but Luke spoke over her as if she hadn’t even spoken.

“As a matter of fact,” he stated, “I’m the only one at this table who hasn’t worked for the Empire in some fashion, Madame Senator.” Leia recoiled at that and Luke recognized that his temper was too near the breaking point. He blamed it on his lack of sleep; last night was a very long night and today looked to be even longer. I won’t be any good to Mara tonight if I don’t get out of here right now. He stood.

“Where are you going?” Leia demanded, now openly glaring at him. “This isn’t over-”

“Yes, it is,” Luke interrupted again. He leaned down, pitching his words for her ears alone. “No one tells me who I spend time with or call my friend. No one.” His eyes narrowed. “Not you and especially not the Republic.”

He was out the door and heading toward his speeder before she could even rise from the table, but Luke knew she wasn’t going to pursue him. She’d wait and ambush him later with facts and persuasive arguments that would leave him so tied up in knots that he would ultimately agree to whatever she wanted in order to shut her up. It was how their arguments always ended.

And three days later, that’s exactly what happened.

Rigil Kent
5 September 2008, 08:52 PM
Chapter 4

It was bound to happen sometime.

Still, Mara mused as she studied her visitor, she wished it could have happened later. Eight or nine months would have been good, a couple of years even better.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” she sighed, and Aves seemed to relax fractionally. From the moment he had stepped into her office, Mara had known why he was on Coruscant instead of Procopia with Karrde at the Tapani Trade Summit. The dataslate he’d been carrying only confirmed what she already suspected.

“Talon said you’d understand,” Aves admitted, leaning back in his chair as he spoke. There was still a furtive air about him, as if he was distracted, and he kept glancing toward the door. Had the situation been less frustrating, his actions – and the reasons behind them – would have made her laugh. “This latest senate bill was the straw that broke the bantha’s back,” he finished.

At that, Mara grimaced. The moment that she had heard about the latest bit of legislation to emerge from the New Republic Senate, she had been preparing for the worst. Officially, it was the Ackbar-Fey’lya Shipping Reform Act, but the holonet had taken to calling it the Death to Smugglers Act which was, sadly, an amazingly accurate description of it. Following Ackbar’s recent retirement from the military, he had been almost unanimously elected to serve as one of Mon Calamari’s two senators, and this was the first bill authored by his office. That he cooperated with Borsk Fey’lya to accomplish it seemed nearly inconceivable given their known antipathy for one another, and Mara suspected another hand behind it.

“He’s right,” she said. “I do understand. The Alliance simply isn’t financially useful to him anymore, not now anyway.” She tried to keep the disappointment from her voice, but was only partially successful. Fortunately, Aves was glancing toward the door again and didn’t notice. Mara rolled her eyes.

“He’s still on Kuat,” she said sharply, and Aves jumped at her words before giving her a wide-eyed look of false innocence.

“Who?”

“Skywalker. You’re looking for him, right?” Aves’ eyes widened at her accurate guess and Mara very nearly snickered at his flush of embarrassment. She wasn’t exactly sure how it had happened, but the normally unflappable smuggler had developed an odd case of hero worship for Luke, something that invariably left Skywalker embarrassed and jittery whenever they interacted. To Mara, it was absolutely hysterical: Aves would barely blink if you threw him against two Thrawns, four Isards and a fleet of Death Stars, but toss Luke into the mix, and the older man turned into a prepubescent fan meeting a professional smashball player for the first time.

“That’s really creepy,” Aves muttered, still looking at her. “You’ve been hangin’ around him too long.” He stood, still redder than normal but obviously eager to get away while he still had some dignity left, and Mara rose with him. “I’m sorry to be the one to bring you this news, Jade,” he said apologetically. “But Talon figured you’d want to know before he formally withdraws from the Alliance.”

“Tell him I appreciate it,” Mara stated in response, offering her hand to her ex-coworker. “I take it you’ll be joining him on Procopia?” she asked, and Aves nodded.

“He would have told you in person, but business…” Mara waved it off.

“I understand,” she said. “Take care of yourself, Aves.” He gave her a nod and turned to leave. “Aves,” Mara called, and he hesitated at the door’s threshold, half turning to face her again. Using the Force, she floated his dataslate to him and almost laughed at the look he gave the hovering device. “Don’t forget this,” she said.

“Like I said,” he muttered as he grabbed the slate. “Creepy.”

The moment the door slid shut, Mara dropped heavily into her chair and groaned. A headache began building at the base of her skull and her stomach gurgled, reminding instantly that she hadn’t eaten since sometime yesterday. Glancing at the chronometer, she did some rapid calculations and realized that she’d been in her office since before that damned senate bill was officially adopted into law, some thirty-six hours earlier. Clearly, her attempts at damage control had been a complete and utter waste of time.

“Well,” she grumbled as she reached for a different dataslate, “It was a nice job while it lasted.” After checking that this was the correct slate, she rose from the chair and gave the office one last visual sweep. Completely utilitarian, there wasn’t a single personal item present that identified it as hers.

But then, her apartment was the same way.

Shrugging, Mara left the office, firming her shoulders as she strode quickly through the halls of the Senate. She ignored the numerous looks that she received from the various bureaucratic flunkies and smirked darkly at how quickly most of them moved to get out of her way. Whether it was from her reputation or the lightsaber dangling from her belt, seeing them react like frightened rabbits was oddly gratifying.

A pair of blue-garbed Guardsmen stood before her destination, and she gave them a quick once-over without slowing. The uniforms were similar to the attire of the Royal Guardsmen that she knew so well from Palpatine’s court, but these men were armed with blaster rifles instead of the force pikes. It was another deliberate attempt by Mon Mothma’s government to invoke the memory of the Old Republic and, for the most part, it worked admirably. Still, Mara often wondered where they pulled the men from and whether they were as formidable as the old Red Guards.

To her surprise, neither Guardsman tried to prevent Mara from entering, prompting her to suspect that her approach had already been noted. Good, she thought as she swept into the grand office, That means we can get straight to business.

“Is your boss in?” Mara asked the white-haired aide, noting that the intercom button on the desk was already depressed. From her inner office, the senator would be able to hear everything going on and decide if she was ‘in’ or not. It was a slick move, Mara decided.

“Do you have an appointment?” the aide responded smoothly, her expression sedate and almost tranquil. Mara smiled tightly.

“Cut the crap, Targeter,” she said sharply. “She knows I’m here so just open the damned door.” As if in response, a soft buzz emerged from the intercom system.

“It’s all right, Winter,” the voice of Leia Organa-Solo declared through the small speaker. “Let Captain Jade in.” As the door to the inner office opened, Organa-Solo continued. “And reschedule my appointment with the Rodian delegation. One hour should be sufficient.”

Mara stormed through the open door, her eyes locked on seated figure behind the desk. For one fleeting moment, though, her stride faltered as Organa-Solo glanced up at her, eyes flashing in annoyance at this interruption. Through the Force, Mara could feel the raw power that petite woman had at her disposal and was once again reminded that this woman was the daughter of Anakin Skywalker. If fully trained, Leia would easily be her brother’s equal. How the Emperor or Vader failed to notice what was under their proverbial noses remained a mystery.

“I thought you would like to be the first to know,” Mara said by way of greeting, tossing the dataslate onto the senator’s desk as she spoke. It bounced once before Leia caught it. Out of the corner of her eye, Mara could see a hint of movement and knew that the ever-present Noghri bodyguard was watching her very carefully. “Karrde is pulling his organization out of the Alliance, and where he goes, so go the others.” Mara glowered at the petite woman before her. “So, congratulations. The Smuggler’s Alliance is dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Organa-Solo said politely, but Mara didn’t believe her in the slightest. “I know how much work you’ve put into the Alliance.”

“Sorry?” Mara repeated incredulously. “Are you seriously going to try and say that you weren’t behind this? That Ackbar and Fey’lya suddenly got warm and fuzzy on their own?” To her surprise, Organa-Solo laughed softly.

“While I’m flattered that you think I’m capable of brokering an agreement between the admiral and Fey’lya, Captain Jade,” Leia stated, not even bothering to hide her dislike of the Bothan as she spoke, “I can assure you that if I managed to create that unlikely coalition, I wouldn’t waste it on a trivial thing like taking down the Smuggler’s Alliance which I happened to support.” Organa-Solo’s eyes widened slightly as she realized what the dataslate contained. “You’re resigning?”

“A dying alliance doesn’t really need a liaison, does it?” Mara replied. She suddenly felt off-balance as she wondered if the senator before her was behind the collapse of the Alliance. That wasn’t new, though; these damned Skywalkers had been confusing her and knocking her off-kilter since she first encountered them. The memory of Organa-Solo’s almost condescendingly amused reaction to Mara’s original declaration that she would kill Luke leaped to mind. Mara turned away from the desk, suddenly eager to get away from Skywalker’s sister to avoid admitting that she may have overreacted. She hated having to apologize, especially to someone who – if she was entirely honest – intimidated her.

Not that she’d ever admit anything like that…

“I know what you’re doing,” Organa-Solo said abruptly, her voice low but even. Mara turned back and met the senator’s eyes.

“Excuse me?” she asked, slightly confused by the non sequitur.

“With Luke,” Leia stated. Gone was the diplomatic warmth that she had displayed earlier, and in its place was a woman hardened by years of struggle and loss, a woman who was desperately concerned about her sibling. “I know what you’re doing,” she repeated.

“No,” Mara replied, her voice equally firm. “You really don’t.”

She left the senator’s office without another word.

Rigil Kent
6 September 2008, 07:18 AM
Chapter 5

No one said a word as he approached, but Luke instantly knew something was up.

It was impossible not to realize, what with the poorly hidden smiles and soft snickers from the group of men he was here to meet. Luke’s steps faltered and he wondered if he should have stayed in bed instead of agreeing to join them for lunch. Even when he had accepted the offer, he’d had a bad feeling about this and, as a Jedi Knight, he was trained to listen to his instincts.

Right now, those instincts were screaming at him to run.

He covered the distance slowly, noting there were only six of the usual suspects present. Han and Chewie were at the dejarik table with the Wookiee clearly trouncing his longtime friend and cohort while Lando cheered him on. Wedge, Hobbie and Wes had been arguing over something when Luke arrived, but had stopped and were now grinning at him like the worst kind of idiots. Luke’s finely honed danger sense flared and he fought back the urge to flee. These were his friends, after all. What was the worst that could happen?

“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he approached them. “I lost track of time.”

“I bet you did,” Hobbie Klivian snickered, innuendo dripping off his words. Luke gave him a confused frown.

“Nice outfit, Boss,” Wedge declared, his words causing Luke to self-consciously shift in place. Beige and sable in color, the uniform he wore was intentionally cut in the style of the Old Republic Jedi Knights, complete with hooded brown cloak, dark leather boots and utility belt. He had adopted them recently after an offhand comment of Mara’s got him to thinking; if he wanted people to think of him first as the son of Darth Vader instead of a Jedi, Luke had realized, an all black ensemble was definitely the way to go.

“Did the missus pick it out?” Wedge continued with a sinister grin, derailing Luke’s train of thought. Of all his friends, Antilles had been the only one who hadn’t harassed him about the nature of his relationship with Mara, so hearing that comment from Wedge came as something of a shock.

“What?” Luke asked, caught off-balance by the question.

“Pay no attention to him,” Wes announced. “He’s just upset that Iella kicked him out again. Congratulations, by the way.”

“She didn’t kick me out!” Antilles retorted, even as Luke blinked. Congratulations? For what?

“Have you picked a date?” Hobbie asked, a wicked gleam in his eye.

“What?” Luke repeated.

“Luke!” Lando suddenly said, a broad smile appearing on his face. He quickly stood and engulfed Luke in a bear hug, slapping him on the back with a resounding thwack as he did. Skywalker winced and backed away from the unexpected contact, even as Calrissian continued. “Congratulations, you sly dog! Never thought you had it in you!”

“What?” Luke repeated. He was starting to get annoyed that his brain seemed stuck on repeat and had a bad feeling he wasn’t going to like the punchline to this joke.

“So,” Wedge threw in, “How did Leia take it?”

“Were there tears?” Wes added.

“Or thrown objects?” Hobbie asked hopefully.

“Tears and thrown objects?” Wes queried with wide, expectant eyes.

“I have a lightsaber,” Luke announced abruptly. “And if one of you doesn’t start making sense right now, I’m going to use it.” The resulting moment of silence was broken by a Wookiee’s barking laugh.

“He’s even starting to talk like her,” Chewbacca chortled in Shyriiwook, causing both Han and Lando to laugh out loud.

“Hey, Wedge, have you heard the latest?” The voice of Corran Horn prevented Luke from responding and caused him to half turn as the diminutive pilot entered the diner. At sight of Luke, Horn slowed and started to grin. “I guess so,” he remarked. “Congratulations, Luke. Inquiring minds want to know-”

“Meaning Mirax,” Wes interjected in a stage whisper.

“-if you’ve picked a date yet,” Corran finished, shooting Janson a sidelong glare the other pilot ignored.

“What the kriff are you talking about?” Luke demanded. Corran’s attempt to conceal the datapad he was carrying behind his back was sloppy, especially for an ex-member of Corellian Security, and only served to draw attention to the object. Raising his hand, Skywalker used the Force to jerk it out of Horn’s grip; Corran gave him a sour look at the unfair use of telekinesis, but Luke ignored it. Instead, he stared in abject horror at the headline still flashing upon the datascreen.

JEDI KNIGHT POPS THE QUESTION!

The article following the lurid headline was one filled with speculations and rumors the likes of which Luke had grown accustomed to over the last seven months since Wayland, but it was the new image attached to it that caused his stomach to lurch. A table concealed most of what was going on, but the kneeling position his image was in immediately brought to mind a wedding proposal, and the way Mara was covering her mouth seemed to convey pleased shock. To someone unfamiliar with the circumstances, it could mean only one thing.

And it was completely out of context.

Luke couldn’t deny they had been at dinner together since Leia and Han had been there too. It had been another of his attempts to get Leia and Mara talking in order to ease the tension between them; if it served the dual purpose of preventing Leia from talking politics or suggesting another of Mon Mothma’s mission proposals, then no one needed to know that. Instead, it had been an unmitigated disaster.

First, his nerf steak had been so bloody it was nearly sentient, and after it came back from the kitchen, it had been charred so badly that cutting into it would have required use of a lightsaber. Even then, there was no guarantee the blade would actually penetrate the blackened husk. Midway through the dinner – the quiet, tense dinner in which only he and Han actually talked – Leia had been called away to respond to a minor senatorial crisis involving the impending Kuati defection to the Republic. Almost immediately afterwards, the server droid had suffered a catastrophic malfunction and collapsed on the table, splattering Mara and Han with the house soup and ruining Luke’s favorite jacket. This particular image had to have been taken when he was trying to repair that damned server droid; from the angle of the shot, there wasn’t any sign of the droid and the cloth Mara had been using to clean her face appeared to have been digitally removed.

Luke’s eyes narrowed slightly as he realized Han knew exactly what had happened yet had remained silent. He looked up and pinned his brother-in-law with a glare.

“It’s not what it looks like,” Luke started to explain. His so-called friends weren’t even paying attention to him.

“You should have the ceremony on Endor!” Wes said with malicious glee. “You’re still a member of that Ewok tribe, right?”

“What is it with you and Ewoks?” Hobbie wondered aloud.

“I was thinking a traditional Zeltron wedding myself,” Lando snickered. “I for one, would love to see the bride in nothing more than smokesilk and a smile.”

“Corellian is the only way to go,” Han drawled, not bothering to hide his amusement at Luke’s predicament.

“Damned straight,” Wedge and Corran said in unison.

“I’m not getting married!” Luke growled.

“She turned you down?” Hobbie was aghast.

“You should have killed a katarn for her,” Chewbacca rumbled, his eyes glinting with humor. “That convinced Malla.”

“Keep after her, Luke,” Wedge commiserated. “I’m sure you’ll wear her down before too long.” A grin suddenly appeared on Antilles’ face. “Or you could just keep her so full of alcohol she doesn’t know what kind of horrific mistake she’s made.” He jerked his head toward Corran. “That works for Horn.”

“Hey!”

“Am I interrupting something?” His eyes dancing with suppressed humor, Talon Karrde approached the group, a datapad in one hand. His lips were upturned in a slight smirk as he gave Luke a knowing nod. “Congratulations, by the way,” Karrde said.

Luke fled.

“Dibs on best man!” Wes’s voice pursued him as Luke fast-walked toward his speeder. Once inside, he closed his eyes and tried to will the headache away. Mara was just going to love this latest twist.

“Where are we going?” Han asked as he slid into the passenger seat of the speeder. He was alone, and for that, Luke was grateful. Still, he owed the older man for instigating back there, so he shot him a dark smile.

“The Jedi Temple,” he responded, chuckling at Solo’s poorly hidden discomfort. When Luke had moved into the Temple after returning from Kuat nearly two months earlier, Han had helped him relocate his belongings but hadn’t been able to hide how much he disliked the place. For the most part, Luke actually agreed with him: apart from the constant sensation of being watched by unseen eyes, the Jedi Temple reeked of arrogant elitism and Skywalker had no intention of turning his stay there into a fulltime one. Right now though, it was the only place where he could be free to just be himself for a change. Not Jedi Knight Skywalker, or Commander Skywalker of Rogue Squadron – just Luke.

“Great,” Han said. “You can show me what you’ve done with the place.”

“You could have said something back there,” Luke muttered as he pulled the speeder into the appropriate skylane and accelerated rapidly. Solo chuckled.

“Are you kidding?” he asked. “After all the grief you gave me for not marrying your sister immediately after Endor? I think I deserved a little bit of revenge.” Han laughed again. “You should’ve seen your face, kid. I swear, I thought your head was gonna explode.”

“It still might,” Skywalker grumbled, thinking of how Mara would react.

“You know,” Han said after a moment, “it’d be easier to take your side if I had some clue what the hell is going on between you and Jade.” Luke spared him a brief glance but made no reply. He tried to ignore Solo’s chuckle.

As they entered the Temple’s cavernous landing bay, Luke could feel Han tense slightly and fought back a smile. His amusement faded, though, when he caught sight of a familiar-looking airspeeder. Ah, kriff…

“Isn’t that Jade’s speeder?” Han asked, his lopsided grin returning full force.

“Looks that way,” Luke replied. He was out of the vehicle and heading toward the door before Solo could make another comment. The low snicker that followed him was nearly impossible to ignore.

A booming bass line greeted them as they entered the Temple proper and Luke smiled slightly in understanding. As he suspected, Mara was combining her daily exercise regimen with a dance routine while incorporating some of the lightsaber forms he’d taught her. Her hair was tightly braided but drenched with sweat, and she noted their arrival almost instantly. Though she frowned slightly at Solo’s presence, Luke doubted Han noticed. With a gesture, she used the Force to deactivate the music while reaching for a towel with her other hand. The entire time, her gimlet eyes were firmly locked on Solo.

“Mornin’,” Han offered, his smirk growing when she merely grunted in response. “I didn’t know you lived here,” he stated.

“I don’t.” Mara’s voice was flat and slightly annoyed. Solo nodded as if he understood, then grinned.

“Congratulations, by the way,” he added, and Luke nearly groaned. Sometimes, he wasn’t sure if Han was the bravest man he knew or the stupidest. Maybe it was both.

“Congratulations?” Mara repeated tightly.

“Evidently, we’re getting married,” Luke told her as he tossed Corran’s datapad in her direction. To his delight, it froze in mid-air a half meter from her and Mara reached to take it. Luke turned toward the nearest set of stairs, intent on tracking down Artoo and finishing their survey of the Room of a Thousand Fountains.

“Wait a damned minute,” Mara suddenly growled. “This was from last night! While you were fixing the kriffing serving droid!”

Han laughed.

Rigil Kent
6 September 2008, 03:19 PM
Chapter 6

Han couldn’t help but to laugh at the expression on the kid’s face when he opened the door.

Tracking down Luke’s new apartment had been more difficult than Han had expected it to be, probably due to the kid’s propensity for secrecy these days. As far as Solo knew, most people still thought Luke was living in the Temple fulltime and Han had no doubt that was intentional. There were plenty of times when Solo wished he had some place he could hide out where people wouldn’t bother him. If he disappeared these days to blow off some steam, pretty much anyone looking for him knew to check the Falcon first.

“How did you know about this place?” Luke asked as he moved aside to let Han in. Solo gave him a sidelong glance.

“Give me some credit, kid,” he replied before glancing around the comfortable-looking apartment. It was better decorated than he would have expected, especially for someone with such rimworld tastes as Luke. “Anakin Starkiller? Anyone with half a brain could figure that one out.” Han was about to speak again when he noticed how awkwardly and slowly Luke was moving. Normally, his brother-in-law had a dangerous grace, as if he was always reining himself in, but today, Skywalker was shuffling across the floor like an old man.

“Mara said the same thing,” Luke muttered as he sank into a plush chair with a sigh. “I take it Leia sent you,” he asked, and Han gave him a sheepish look.

“She might have asked me to talk to you,” Solo admitted before dropping onto the sofa across from Luke with a grunt. “But you know me. I only listen to her half the time.” He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. “Are you okay, kid? ‘Cause you look like hell.”

“I’m fine,” the younger man replied. “Just tired,” Skywalker continued. That was to be expected, Han reflected. For the last two weeks, Luke had been on deepcover assignment for the NRI, helping them bust up a slaving ring that had been operating on the fringes of Republic space. Han didn’t know how it had been resolved – hadn’t even known Luke was involved in it until it was over – but he’d already heard about the repercussions as Luke told Chancellor Mothma, point-blank, he was no longer available for missions of any kind before leaving her office. Leia had intercepted her brother before he left the Senate building, but Luke had told her to leave him alone before climbing into his speeder and disappearing.

Naturally, Leia had turned to Han.

Not for the first time, Solo felt like he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he recognized the Republic’s need for Luke to be out there, waving the flag as necessary and doing the sorts of things only a crazy Jedi could do. Though the kid never seemed to realize it, people of all species looked to him as a symbol of what was best and brightest about the New Republic. Han had actually seen firsthand how those without hope would force themselves into action the moment Luke appeared; it was uncanny, really, how he could sometimes sway the course of events simply by showing up. More than ships or troops, the Republic needed Luke Skywalker to remain solvent.

At the same time, though, Han recognized that Luke couldn’t do it all by himself and was, in fact, trying to work himself into an early grave by taking so much on his shoulders. More often than not, he sided with the kid against the Republic’s desire to put Skywalker out there on the front lines to fight the good fight. After all, how could the Jedi Order be rebuilt if the kid was too busy to train anyone or, gods forbid, dead? Sometimes, Han found himself actually wondering if certain members of the New Republic would prefer a dead martyr to a live Luke Skywalker.

It was a depressing thought.

As Han opened his mouth to tell Luke he was behind the kid’s decision no matter the consequences, the main door slid open without warning and Mara Jade entered, her eyes flashing angrily. She dropped the bag she’d been carrying to the floor and stalked toward the seated Skywalker. Even to someone as Force blind as Han, the anger was rolling off of her in waves.

“Lose the shirt, Skywalker,” she ordered and Han’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. There was no way that he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. Unless it was some sort of sick payback for that joke at the diner last month…

“Mara,” Luke started, but the redhead gave a sharp hand gesture that cut the Jedi off in mid-sentence.

“I could feel your pain the moment I hit orbit, Skywalker,” she growled, crossing her arms as she placed herself in front of him. “Now lose the damned shirt or I’ll embarrass you in front of Solo and take it off anyway.” Luke gave him a hopeful glance, but Han merely smirked.

“If I were you, kid,” he offered, “I’d do what the scary lady wants.” Jade shot him a glower, but Solo raised his arms in order to signify that he wasn’t going to interfere.

With a put-upon sigh, Luke shifted slightly in his chair and began to remove the shirt as ordered, wincing as he did. Even before it was completely off, Han was silently making plans to pay Admiral Drayson of the NRI a visit that the admiral wouldn’t enjoy, especially when Solo asked Chewie to rip the man’s arms off and beat him to death with them.

“Oh, Luke,” Mara murmured with surprising feeling at the mottled mass of bruises that seemed to be the whole of Luke’s upper body. She glanced at Han. “Make yourself useful,” she told him, pointing toward one of the open doors. “There’s a blue jar in that refresher. Get it for me.” When Han hesitated, her expression hardened. “Move!” she snapped.

Han moved.

The door led to a tidy bedroom that had a small personal refresher; as he crossed the room, Han realized that this was most assuredly not where Luke slept. The bed was too well-made, for starters, and the cosmetics that were all carefully stored on the dresser simply weren’t the kid’s style. Solo chuckled as he entered the refresher that was clearly used by a woman. He wondered what Leia would say if she knew her brother was apparently living with Jade when the sometime smuggler was on-planet, and then quickly decided it wasn’t his job to let her know. If Luke thought it was important, he’d tell her.

As he returned to the main living room, Han was even more amused to see Mara pulling Luke’s pants off, though his good humor faded at the dark bruises on the kid’s legs. Oddly, Skywalker was wearing a wrist holster on his right arm; it took Han a brief second to recognize it was the same style he’d seen Jade wear and he almost grinned again.

“Can you cook?” the ex-assassin asked as she snatched the jar from Solo and opened it, revealing an absolutely putrid stench. This simply had to be some seriously potent medicine based on smell alone.

“Sometimes,” Han replied, suddenly feeling like an outsider as he watched her begin applying the salve from the jar onto the kid’s bruises.

“Kitchen’s there,” Jade pointed. “Knowing this idiot, he hasn’t eaten in three or four days.” As if in response to her comment, Luke’s stomach growled loudly and he looked away with a sheepish expression on his face. “See?” she asked, then jerked her head toward the kitchen. “Go make food,” she ordered tersely.

Chuckling, Han obeyed.

He kept an ear out as the redhead focused on attending to Luke’s wounds, wondering yet again about the nature of their relationship. During their trip to Wayland, Han had watched the woman carefully, noting how she and Luke danced around one another like Rylothean fire moths. That the kid was fascinated by Jade wasn’t a surprise – even a generally happily married man like Han had to admit that she was a well put together woman – but throw in Luke’s savior complex and watch out. To Han’s surprise, though, Jade seemed nearly as riveted by Skywalker, despite the Emperor’s indoctrination and her constant insistence that she was going to kill the Jedi.

It must be some Force thing, Solo reckoned. He sure as hell wouldn’t have been so nice to someone who had wanted to kill him for the last five or six years, no matter what she looked like.

“Gamorreans, mostly,” Luke was saying in response to Jade’s question about the opposition he’d faced that had resulted in his latest bout of injuries. “And a couple of Rodians. They were actually the worst to deal with.”

“Concussion guns?” Jade queried as she continued to apply the salve. Luke hissed.

“Damn, that stings,” he muttered, grimacing as spoke. “It really stings.”

“Suck it up, Skywalker. If that Jedi Master of yours had bothered to teach you how to duck in the first place, you wouldn’t be in this situation.” Jade slopped a dollop of the horrible-smelling cream onto Luke’s back and smeared it around. “Frankly, it’s a wonder you’re still alive.” Han barely kept from laughing out loud as he realized who they reminded him of. “Now get into the shower,” Jade instructed, her voice both warm and commanding at the same time. Solo wondered how she managed it. “The water will react with this salve and accelerate the healing.” She glanced at her wrist chrono before adding, “You have seven minutes before I come in there and drag you out.”

“Mara,” Luke whined, but she cut him off.

“Six minutes, fifty-six seconds. You should get moving if you don’t want me to kick your ass in front of Solo.” Grumbling the entire time, Luke obeyed, still moving like a crippled old man. The moment he disappeared into his bedroom, Jade began cleaning up the mess she’d made. “Artoo,” she called, and the droid chirped in response from the recharge socket on the far side of the room. “Keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t fall asleep in there.” She smirked at the droid. “If he does,” Jade added, “feel free to zap him once or twice.” Responding with what simply had to be the droid equivalent of a chortle, the R2 unit followed his master into the bedroom.

“I didn’t know you were so good at lookin’ after the kid,” Han remarked with a smile after a few minutes of silence. Jade didn’t return it as she pinned him with a fierce glower, abruptly reminding him that she could probably kill him with her pinky finger.

“Somebody has to,” she retorted coldly, “since his family isn’t.” Han recoiled and struggled to find a response that didn’t sound like a lame excuse. Before he could speak, he heard an electrical pop and a strangled shout easily recognizable as Luke.

“Ow! Dammit, Artoo, don’t do that!” Luke’s voice carried the short distance. Another electrical pop sounded, followed by another curse. Snickering, Jade started moving toward the bedroom, pausing long enough to extract a medkit from the bag she had been carrying when she entered the apartment.

After checking that the autostove would finish the meal without catching fire or burning the food beyond recognition, Han discreetly let himself out of the apartment. The kid was obviously in good hands and Solo had to tell Leia he wasn’t going to try and talk Luke out of his decision, no matter how badly the Republic needed him. Han sighed.

He wasn’t looking forward to this.

Rigil Kent
6 September 2008, 07:11 PM
Chapter 7

He hadn’t been looking forward to this.

It had no official name, but, in recent months, Luke had taken to calling it ‘Hell Week.’ Once a month, his sister would organize a party for her friends and co-workers, almost all of whom were well educated, wealthy and so utterly different from him that Luke invariably donned his Jedi ‘mask’ to avoid showing his rimworld origins. He knew Leia wasn’t trying to be arrogant or snobbish with these parties, but he’d long since grown to suspect she always felt a little guilty that she’d been raised as a princess while he had been stuck on Tatooine so she tried to make it up to him in the only way she knew how.

If Luke was honest, though, he always felt like he had gotten the better deal, especially when Hell Week rolled around.

The worst part of these parties were the women Leia tended to steer toward him, despite Luke’s oft repeated request for her to stop doing so. It wasn’t that she was necessarily trying to set him up – though there clearly was a minor element of that in her intent – but rather, it was another indication of her deep-rooted guilt that she had found happiness with Han while Luke was still single. Had he not grown up with such a strictly traditional upbringing, Luke suspected he would have enjoyed the parties more and taken advantage of what was so often … offered to him. Lando certainly had no problems enjoying himself.

To Luke’s mild disgust, though, the number of women who seemed interested only in brief and meaningless sexual liaisons had doubled since the rumors linking him with Mara began.

This month, Leia had decided to combine the monthly party with the celebration marking Jaina and Jacen’s first birthday. Well-wishers and sycophants alike had come out of the woodwork to attend and Luke knew for a fact the Noghri had tripled their presence for this particular event. Throw in the various security detachments for the high-ranking VIPs and it seemed as if there were more bodyguards present than actual partygoers. Fortunately, that made it easier for Luke to avoid the more predatory of the women like the one who had been pursuing him for nearly an hour.

Not that he was hiding, exactly. After all, a Jedi knew not fear.

“Is she gone?” he asked softly of his companions. Lando snickered into his wine even as Corran nodded, eyes glittering with poorly concealed mirth. Luke released a soft sigh of relief but didn’t relax or move away from the potted plant he’d sought refuge near. He had learned not to relax at the last of these functions.

“You know,” Horn smirked, “You could just mind trick her into leaving you alone.”

“Won’t work,” Luke revealed sadly. “I already tried that.” Corran looked at him with wide eyes, obviously surprised, and Skywalker flushed in mild embarrassment when he recalled all the times he’d cautioned the other man from abusing his Force gifts in any way. “You don’t understand,” Luke grumbled, not liking how whiny he was sounding but unsure how to stop it. “She’s evil and deceptive. More manipulative than Palpatine ever was.”

“She’s a social climber, Luke,” Lando commented as he sipped his drink. “Don’t tell me they don’t have them on Tatooine.”

“Have you ever been to Tatooine?” Skywalker asked rhetorically, before groaning at sight of the malicious Coruscanti woman whose name he couldn’t even remember. Kristyl or Jewyl or something ridiculous like that. “Kriff,” he muttered before trying to make himself smaller. Lando followed the line of his gaze and blinked.

“That’s who you’ve been avoiding all night?” Calrissian asked before shaking his head in mock disgust. “I’ve got this, Luke,” he offered, a wicked smile on his lips. Like a shark seeking its prey, Lando made a beeline for the woman, eyes twinkling. In seconds, the two of them had disappeared toward the dance floor and Luke felt a wave of relief wash over him.

“You should have just brought Jade,” Corran said with a half-smile. “She could have defended your honor if you won’t.”

“Mara’s on a shipping mission offworld,” Luke replied sullenly. “Which you well know.” He frowned slightly at the subtle – for Corran, anyway – mindtouch. “Trying to fish for a reaction with the Force, Corran?” Skywalker asked.

“Hey, you tried to mind trick that lady,” Horn defended himself, eyes still twinkling. “Besides,” he continued, in a slightly more serious tone, “If you’re not going to give out free pointers any more, I've got to figure some things out myself.”

Luke sighed. That decision had been a difficult one, but in the end, he believed it to be the correct one. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, Yoda had warned, the most serious mind. It was a conflict Luke had yet to resolve: could one be a part-time Jedi or was that simply impossible? Until he discovered an answer, he had ended his various impromptu training sessions. Leia had accepted it without complaint, but she rarely had time for lessons anyway. The same held true for Corran who was so often deployed with Rogue Squadron that he’d only managed some rudimentary instructions on mental focus and control anyway. Mara, who Luke realized with some mild surprise was the furthest along in her training, claimed to understand, but he had grown to know her well enough to recognize her disappointment.

“Good evening, Lieutenant Horn,” Leia said as she approached, snapping Luke out of his reverie. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”

“That I am, ma’am,” Corran said with a smile and a half bow. He gestured toward the dance floor. “If you’ll excuse me, though, my wife beckons.” Leia gave him a smile as he headed toward where an impatient-looking Mirax stood.

“Why are you hiding over here?” Leia asked the moment Horn was out of earshot and Luke smiled.

“Why do you think I’m hiding?” he retorted.

“Luke, if you get any closer to that plant, I’m going to have to send out the wedding invitations,” his sister chuckled, and Luke joined her. It was good to hear her laugh, and he was glad she didn’t appear to be angry at his most recent refusal to do any missions for the Republic. She slid her arm into his and started pulling him back toward the cluster of visitors. “If you’re bored,” she commented, “Just say so.”

“I’m bored,” he replied instantly, smiling as he spoke. “You know how I hate these things,” he added softly. He grimaced suddenly as he recognized who Leia was steering them toward and shot her a frustrated look. She returned it with a tight smile.

“You know Lieda, I believe,” Leia began, gesturing to the chancellor’s daughter. With dark red hair and aquiline features, Lieda bore a striking resemblance to a younger version of mother.

“Master Jedi,” the woman said in greeting, inclining her head with perfectly simulated respect.

“Ambassador,” Luke replied, schooling his features to stillness. Emotion, yet peace, he recited to himself, all the while mentally planning his revenge on Leia for this. He doubted his sister knew how badly Mon Mothma’s daughter disliked him or for what reason. From the glint in his sister’s eyes though, he wondered if perhaps she did know and this was simply revenge for the unbelievably noisy and obnoxious toys he’d given the twins as presents earlier. Redheads are my bane, Luke reflected in morbid amusement as Lieda subtly glared at him over the top of her wine glass. He suspected that Mara would have laughed at his current predicament, especially once she learned the particulars about Lieda’s dislike of him.

A shiver suddenly crawled up his spine and Luke glanced around the reception hall, his eyes narrowing as he tried to discern the source of his sudden unease. Instinctively, his hand dropped to the lightsaber hanging from his belt and he felt rather than saw Leia stiffen in recognition of his unspoken warning. Across the hall, he saw Corran abruptly stop dancing – if one could actually call it that – and glance in his direction, and Luke could sense the sudden heightened status of the carefully hidden Noghri watching him.

“Luke?” his sister asked, and he responded with a slight shake of his head. Whatever it was, it had already receded, vanishing like so much smoke in the face of a stiff wind. Had it been some residual effect of Palpatine’s presence or something else? Or maybe some one else?

“It’s nothing,” Luke murmured. “Ambassador,” he nodded to the haughty-looking Lieda, before turning his eyes to his sister. She seemed to instantly recognize her brother was gone and that Jedi Knight Skywalker had taken his place.

“Go,” she whispered, releasing him to patrol the area and seek out the disturbance in the Force that had affected them both. He smiled, leaned forward to kiss her on the forehead and turned away, noting without surprise that Han was already moving to join him. Lando and Corran met them at the doorway and fell into step without question. They spent the remainder of the night searching for the elusive source of darkness that had momentarily touched the banquet.

But by morning, they’d still found nothing.

Rigil Kent
6 September 2008, 07:14 PM
Chapter 8

There was nothing more to say.

Unable to shake the sense of foreboding which had haunted him for over two months, Luke stood silently on the landing pad and watched as the bulk-lifting droids carried sealed crates into the Second Chance’s hold. He wasn’t about to ask Mara to cancel this trip to the Elrood Sector on a hunch, especially not after having seen firsthand how hard she had fought to get this contract in the first place, no matter how badly he wanted to. In the seven months since the collapse of the Smuggler’s Alliance, Luke had watched her struggle to make ends meet in the face of a hostile system. On one side were the Republic and their utter lack of trust of her and on the other was the less than unified front of smugglers who still seemed to blame her for the failure of the Alliance.

Karrde had lent a discreet hand whenever he could, diverting jobs to her which were too small for his organization, but Luke suspected Mara was chafing at what she perceived to be glorified hand-outs. This naturally led a proud woman like her to jump at this opportunity, no matter how dangerous the Elrood run was right now. It would be a difficult trip, one which would take her away from Coruscant for at least a month and a half – more if she experienced trouble. There were pirates and slavers and backstabbing smugglers to deal with along the way, not to mention the random spatial anomalies which always made space travel a dangerous proposition even in the best of times. A sane person wouldn’t even think about a trip like this…

Luke was unbelievably jealous.

“Come to see me off?” Mara asked as she rounded the battered-looking YT-2400, a datapad in hand. Giddy excitement was rolling off of her in waves, robbing her of the grim intensity which had been hanging over her since Luke had first met her and it made her even more attractive than normal. As she nearly danced over the ferrocrete landing pad, her infectious joy radiated off of her and caused him to return her smile despite his worries.

“Sort of,” he replied before gesturing to Artoo. The astromech droid was rolling around the landing pad, exchanging beeps and whistles with the slow-moving loaders. Luke wasn’t sure, but he suspected the droid was issuing orders to the less intelligent loaders. “Artoo is bored and I wanted to ask if he could go with you.” Mara’s eyes narrowed.

“Are you trying to keep an eye on me?” she asked tightly. Luke responded with a laugh.

“I’m serious, Mara,” he replied. “He’s so bored right now that I caught him rewiring my speeder yesterday.” Luke took a step closer to her, making sure he kept his mental barriers down so she could tell he was being completely honest. “You’ll need someone to watch your back out there,” he continued, “And there’s no one better to do that than Artoo.”

Mara was silent as she studied the droid for a long moment. Finally, she shrugged.

“As long as he does what I tell him,” she said, her excitement returning, “I guess I could use his help.” Luke doubted she was even aware of her pronoun use for the droid and hid a smile at how telling it was; after all, she still referred to Threepio as ‘it’.

“I’ll let him know,” Luke assured her. Once again, the bad feeling he’d been trying to suppress returned and his smile faltered. Mara gave him a sidelong look.

“Quit worrying, Skywalker,” she ordered. “I’ll be fine.” Her smile was dazzling and lit up her face. “Besides,” she continued, “I’ll have Artoo with me.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Luke muttered. He glanced away, allowing his eyes to drift across the cityscape as he touched the Force. In the two months since Jaina and Jacen’s birthday celebration, he had fought a growing sense of unease that he didn’t entirely understand. Meditation had revealed only confusing hints of possible future events, but ultimately left him as in the dark as before. Something was happening, something big, something unseen…

He nearly jumped when Mara touched his arm and gave her a sheepish look. The concern in her eyes warmed him, but Luke firmly suppressed that thought.

“You really are worried,” she realized before biting her lip and glancing at her ship. Luke could almost feel her reconsidering her decision to make this trip, regardless of how desperately she needed the money. It was humbling how much she seemed to trust his instincts. He spoke quickly.

“It’s not about your trip, Mara,” Luke admitted. “It’s something … elsewhere. Elusive.” Even as he spoke, he knew his words didn’t make much sense. A sigh escaped his lips. “Something’s coming,” he said softly, his words pitched for her ears alone. “Something dark and terrible. When next we meet,” Luke spoke, the words falling from his lips like a prophecy, “everything will be different.” Mara blinked at the intensity of his words and Luke shook his head as he examined what he had just said.

“I hope that wasn’t intended to make me feel better,” Jade muttered sarcastically, causing him to grin. For a half-second, Luke contemplated giving her a hug to wish her a safe journey, but he quickly discarded the idea. Mara Jade was anything but a tactile person and she was still getting accustomed to his spontaneous gestures of affection. Instead, he reached out with his left hand and gripped her shoulder lightly.

“Stay safe, Mara,” Luke smiled. “May the Force be with you, my friend.” To his absolute surprise but secret delight, she blushed under his intense scrutiny and quickly turned toward her ship. She gave him a hesitant backwards glance as she fast-walked up the ramp and Skywalker hid his smile. “Artoo,” he called and the droid whistled in response. “Watch over her,” Luke instructed. “Keep her safe.” The resulting electronic reply could have been a laugh or a snort, but he didn’t need Threepio to guess at its meaning.

Luke stayed within visual range of the cockpit as Mara prepped the Second Chance for flight, pulling up his hood to shield his face when rain began to fall. As the engines ignited with a low rumble, Luke smiled and raised his hand in response to Mara’s awkward wave of goodbye. The ramp slid closed and the Chance lifted off the landing pad with deceptive grace.

In seconds, it had vanished into the sky.

Less than an hour later, Luke found himself entering the Senate building, his Jedi ‘mask’ firmly in place even as trepidation swam in his stomach. Leia’s request for him to join her and Han for lunch had been carefully worded to avoid any mention of it being another recruiting drive for the Republic and he hoped it wouldn’t turn into one. It had been four months since he’d told Mon Mothma he was no longer available and the Republic had finally gotten the message that he wasn’t bluffing. Though it remained a source of tension between them, Luke was pleased Leia seemed to have finally realized his decision wasn’t a personal one.

The sensation of being watched caused Luke to hesitate and he glanced around to find the source of it. One of the Senatorial guards seemed to focus on Skywalker’s abrupt halt in mid-step and was obviously poised to spring into action, but Luke’s gaze passed over the man to fall on a dark-haired woman he knew from the Kuat mission. Unease bubbled up in his stomach as the recently elected Senator Viqi Shesh gave him a look of abject disdain before vanishing into her office. They’d been forced to work together quite often during the two months Luke had been on Kuat, and he’d grown to loath the woman for reasons too numerous to list.

“There you are,” Leia’s voice called him and Luke turned to face her. Han was a half-step behind her, a slightly annoyed look on his face and Skywalker wondered if they had been arguing again before deciding that, unless they involved him, it wasn’t really his concern. For his part, he agreed with his brother-in-law over their usual disagreements – Leia was badly overworked, but she listened to his advice so rarely in the best of times that Luke didn’t bother mentioning it anymore.

“Here I am,” he replied, still trying to shake off the feeling of unfriendly eyes upon him. Shesh’s door was closed, he noted, so that couldn’t be it. The Guardsman was still watching him, but that was the man’s job especially with Luke’s abnormal behavior. A pair of junior senators was pointing excitedly in his direction, jabbering away in a language he didn’t understand. Nothing was out of place. Luke wondered if perhaps he was overreacting, if stress and lack of sleep was beginning to affect his judgment. I need to get off of Coruscant for a while, he realized, quickly deciding to push up his planned research trip to the Ossus dig site.

Forcing a smile on his face – a smile that he didn’t really feel – Luke addressed his sister. “Where are we eating?” he asked.

“I was thinking we could order in,” Leia said, looping her arm through Luke’s. “Han knows this restaurant that makes some of the best Alderaanian cuisine on the planet.”

“And you could visit the kids,” Solo added as he drew even with them. “Jaina has started stealing Jacen’s toys from him,” he continued.

“Using the Force,” Luke guessed, laughing slightly at Han’s disgruntled expression. “That sounds like fun,” he admitted as the three of them headed toward the exit. “But no politics,” he warned his sister with a teasing smile. Sighing melodramatically, she nodded in agreement and then spoiled it with a light laugh.

As he neared the exit, something caused Luke to glance back. With a frown, he realized there was still nothing out of place and didn’t know why he’d felt the urge to re-examine the Senate building. Something had changed though, something that remained unseen to him despite his Force-enhanced senses. The atmosphere of the place had altered, transformed somehow, and it immediately reminded him of the deep breath taken before making a plunge.

“When next we meet,” his earlier prescient words to Mara echoed in his ears, “everything will be different.”

And Luke Skywalker shivered.

-END-
Watch for The Unseen War I: Tyranny Reborn coming…

Rigil Kent
6 September 2008, 07:17 PM
One last thing...

|-*-|

FADE IN:

Through the mist and trees of Dagobah, two figures appear, somersaulting in perfect harmony over a fallen tree as they run through the mist. As they land, we can identify them: LUKE SKYWALKER and MARA JADE. Both are dressed for exercise and training, and both have lightsabers at their waists. Mara appears winded but Luke does not.

FADE TO BLACK:

Text scrolls across the black screen:

IN THE DARKEST OF HOURS…

FADE TO:

It's a spectacular lightfight. X-Wings, A-Wings and B-Wings face off against TIE Interceptors against the backdrop of an immense capital ship battle. Two Executor-class dreadnoughts face off, their turbolaser batteries savaging one another. Star Destroyers and Mon Calamari cruisers pound one another. We pursue one of the X-Wings - it's Rogue Leader WEDGE ANTILLES - as he blasts apart a TIE...

Jedi uniform torn and burned, LUKE stands alone on the edge of a massive sky platform, his emerald saber in his left hand and a red saber in his right. He is surrounded by four figures wielding scarlet lightsabers. The city looks like Coruscant, only a dying, decayed version. We PULL BACK without revealing the identities of his foes...

LANDO CALRISSIAN dives for cover as a squad of stormtroopers appear to recoil from a thermal detonator. He rolls, ducks for cover, then bounces a grenade off the wall toward the troopers and leaps in the opposite direction, his own blaster barking...

Racing through an impossibly large canyon, a trio of New Republic gunships begin taking fire from a far distant location. A number of X-Wings race overhead, cannons spitting fire even as a squadron of TIE Fighters and Interceptors race to meet them. With TIEs twisting away in all directions to avoid ramming the insane flight path of the lead gunship, we do a stomach lurching drop and pursue as it dives toward a walled military installation…

FADE TO BLACK.

Text scrolls across the black screen:

A PATH MUST BE CHOSEN…

FADE TO:

Sitting on a fallen tree, LUKE SKYWALKER watches sadly as MARA enters the cave on Dagobah. The moment she disappears, he exhales and closes his eyes, as if praying…

Wearing a hooded robe that conceals her identity, LEIA is in a senatorial pod in the Great Chamber of the Senate. She steps forward, pushing the hood back to reveal her identity. There is a sudden gasp that races through the building...

His left leg wrapped up, CORRAN HORN sits upon a repulsor chair within his apartment, staring at two objects before him: a Rogue Squadron patch and a lightsaber…

HAN SOLO stares at his reflection in a tall mirror as he adjusts the New Republic uniform he is now wearing. At his color is Admiral rank…

FADE TO BLACK.

Text scrolls across the black screen:

A DESTINY MUST BE FOLLOWED…

FADE TO:

LUKE is dueling with a black-armored foe inside an oddly shaped room filled with rows of sleeping or cloning tubes. Behind them, MARA is facing off against a trio of foes, but that engagement is too indistinct to identify the identity of her enemies. Beyond them all, we can make out massive viewports and what appears to be an ongoing void duel between Republic and Imperial forces...

Upon the command deck of a Star Destroyer, HAN SOLO stares through the viewport and the massive fleet beyond. CHEWBACCA is at his side, arms crossed and a fierce expression on his face…

TALON KARRDE comes sliding under a closing blast door while blaster bolts pepper it – he is firing a blaster John Woo style toward the camera. Crouching at the bottom of the door is CORRAN, LANDO and SHADA D'UKAL, all firing weapons at the unseen enemy…

Surrounded by Noghri and blue-robed Senatorial Guardsmen, LEIA strides toward the camera; her expression one of grim resolve. A lightsaber hangs from her belt…

FADE TO BLACK.

Text scrolls across the black screen:

AND A PRICE MUST BE PAID.

FADE TO:

A hologram of a uniformed HAN SOLO is speaking to an assembled group of senators and senior military officers, including BORSK FEY'LYA and LEIA ORGANA-SOLO. Han's expression is fierce and angry as he loudly informs those present that, if they don't like his progress, they can kiss his skinny Corellian …

Standing back to back, LUKE and MARA are surrounded by a dozen hooded figures, each wielding scarlet lightsabers. Around them, we can see they are within a sinister-looking auditorium/temple that looks to have once been mighty but is now so much wreckage. The figures lunge forward, lightsabers flashing…

An X-Wing bearing the markings of Rogue Leader races toward an Imperial Interdictor, hotly pursed by a half dozen TIE Interceptors. Blaster fire and turbolasers ravage the fighter and we can see WEDGE suddenly lose control as one of his S-Foils is blasted off. Tumbling out of control, the X-Wing explodes…

From the explosion (ala TPM).

THE UNSEEN WAR
EPISODE I
TYRANNY REBORN