Title: MOSAIC, Part One: Visions of the Past Author: Christopher Dzwonnik Timeline: 3 years after Visions of the Future PREMISE: A holocron has been recovered and brought to Callista by her fiance, Dayved Karrde. The holocron is the only one of its kind to be built since the formation of the New Republic, and it is the teachings and history of the Skywalker family. When the potential Jedi Callista holds it, an image appears and begins to tell her the tale of their heritage. It takes place in three parts (hey, this is Star Wars, it's gotta be a trilogy or it just wouldn't be right). Luke, Mara, Callista and some new characters are all in this one. Part One: Visions of the Past--- Luke and Mara Skywalker have accepted and embraced their path of life together. They are expecting a child, but the future can be a frightening thing. Mara has visions she can't understand, and Luke is haunted by the feeling that old memories are about to materialize once more. Will they survive what lies ahead, or will they give in to despair? What do you think? MARA AND CALLISTA FANS: Where was it written that you must be at war? A Jedi is always at peace. And since they are both Jedi (in spirit, if not in fact, yet) they can be at peace with each other. This is a kinder, gentler version of what would happen if Callista were to come back. I think it could be interesting. Besides, I think that Mara has a wonderful ability to be noble that she hasn't discovered yet, and here was the best place I could think of to bring that out. But don't worry--this isn't just a Luke and Mara story, although it starts out that way. Warning: Spectre of the Past, Vision of the Future, Children of the Jedi, Darksaber, Planet of Twilight and the origional Zahn trilogy spoilers. But if you're reading this story you should at least be familiar with the events in those books. Copyrights: I have no copywrite on the characters of this story that have appeared in any of the movies or any pro-fiction. They all belong to George Lucas, Timothy Zahn, Barbara Hambly, YKW and the other writers of the GFFA. THERE IS NO MONEY BEING MADE IN THE TELLING OF THESE TALES. My only payment is the inflation of my ego by those who tell me how much they like it, and the loss of my pride by those who say they hate it (please be kind, but not too kind). PROLOGUE--HOLOCRON Callista Skywalker tapped her foot inpatiently against the smooth metal floor of the landing bay. Her red hair was getting in her eyes, but she shoved it out of the way anxiously. The ship had landed, but Dayved was taking forever in getting out of it to come and greet her. He finally appeared, tall and handsome in his black flight suit, his smooth silver helmet under his arm. His warm brown eyes danced as he saw her, relishing her anxiety. "Been waiting long?" he asked in a droll, but he didn't get much beyond that before she threw her arms around his neck and cut off his oxygen supply. "Dally like that again, Dayvie," she warned, her voice husky in his ear, "and you're going to realized how cold your bed can be." He laughed. "And after I brought you a present, too." She let go and looked up at him, her eyes--like blue-white newborn stars, Dayved had always thought--trying not to plead with him but unable to help themselves. "Well?" she said, practically dancing on her tip-toes. "Where is it?" He reached into his helmet and pulled the cube out. It was the size of his hand, with strange markings on all sides, except for the top and bottom, which were the only giveaway that the cube was some sort of an electrical device. "I wasn't sure," he said. "I mean, it fits the description alright, but I'm not a Force sensitive. Only you would know." Now she hesitated, Dayved thought with mild annoyance. Her hands hovered a good foot away from the device. "The Skywalker Holocron," she whispered. "After all these generations...can it be?" "Touch it and find out," Dayved said, his voice deceptively calm. He was dying to know, too. That thing had been locked in his ship for the last two weeks, and he'd gone through hell and back to get it. But if it was what it truly claimed to be, all of that would be worth it. So she closed her palms around it, and instantly something happened. He stepped away, then became afraid that Callista would instinctively react in kind and drop it. So he reached out again and clasped her two hands--which cupped the holocron--from underneath, holding them steady. For indeed, it was the holocron. The image that appeared on top of the cube was that of a woman. She was very beautiful, even in the old tech image. Her hair seemed to be alive, the strawberry blond curls tangling down her back like tentacles. And her eyes--a blue-green he hadn't seen even on the ocean worlds of Chad. They shone out at them, but mainly on Callista. "Greetings," the image said, her voice rich and regal, like a woman of stately bearing. "My name is Vaiya Jade Skywalker. I am the daughter of Jedi Masters Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, sister of Valery Ben Skywalker. You are Callista Skywalker, my great great great granddaughter. How may I serve?" "It knows me," Callista whispered, her eyes on Dayved. "God preserve us, Callie," Dayved said, wanting to laugh in frustration. "Do I know that much more about Jedi lore than you? Of course it knows you. Holocrons aren't just computers...they're a part of the Jedi that created them." "Your friend is wise," said the image of Vaiya Jade Skywalker, "and is also Force strong, although he does not know it. You are not Jedi yet," the image stated, almost casually, "but you have much potential. How may I be of aid?" Callista swallowed. There was so much...."Many of the legends of the Skywalker family have been told and retold through the centuries," Callista said respectfully. "Perhaps you could tell us the true story of the Skywalkers. Luke Skywalker's aid in the building of the Republic is well known, but nothing has been recorded of his and Mara Jade Skywalker's lives after their marriage. Perhaps...you could fill in the gap history has left for our family." The image of Vaiya smiled. "A wise question. The past must always be understood to aid the future. Very well, Callista Skywalker, you will learn the story of your ancestors. But it is not all mine to tell. This Holocron is called the Skywalker Holocron for a reason. While I am its keeper, there are the wisdoms of the other Skywalkers that are kept here. There is another to tell the tale of my conception and birth." The image faded, and another appeared, this one bedecked in a vibrant green robe that brought out her eyes, and hair as red as Callista's. She smiled at them, but it was a wry smile. "Greetings, Jedi-to-be," she said, her voice like a dry purr. "I see you have discovered the Skywalker Holocron. The only Holocron to be built after the war between the Rebellion and the Empire, as well as the only Holocron to contain the knowledge of four Jedi Masters, rather than one." In a more humorous tone, she added, "Oh, the wonders in technology. But in reality, it took four Skywalkers to come up with enough wisdom to take the trouble of building this Holocron. Surely that doesn't make us an impressive family. I hope our generations have gotten smarter." Dayved laughed. "I like her." The image of Mara smiled. "Okay, you want the story. I warn you, I don't dress things up. Picture, if you will.....me, fifty pounds overweight." PART ONE--VISIONS OF THE PAST 1--Mara's Dream As Mara got older, she realized that there were fewer things in the universe that she thought she understood. Like this thing with her and Luke, for instance. How many years had they known each other? How many before that had she spent hating him? And yet, all along, this had been their destiny. She just didn't get it. Looking down with a sigh, she rubbed her protruding belly. *Only three more months to go, little one,* she thought to herself. She smiled. They would have to pick a name soon, but nothing seemed to work. Mara had wanted to call the baby Jade, no matter what the sex. Jade Skywalker. It fit. She missed the use of her old name sometimes, but Mara Skywalker was such a title, such an honorific that she had no desire to insert her old surname in between. That wasn't who she was anymore, not really. She had changed. And she had stayed the same. She still had her temper, her old predator instinct. She still loved to dance, and still enjoyed raking her husband over the coals more than anything. She even loved calling him Skywalker, like she always had. Except during the more passionate moments.... The baby kicked. Mara let loose a small giggle, and then quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard. Not that there was anyone around this deserted mountaintop, where she usually did her morning meditations. She had a reputation to protect, after all. Speaking of things that didn't change...her pride was one thing she couldn't shake, no matter what. Only Luke knew her as she truly was, as she had truly become. To many, though, she was still Mara Jade, smuggler, trader, ex-assassin. Ex- Emperor's Hand. Okay, so maybe they wouldn't call the baby Jade. Unless she had Mara's green eyes. Mara knew that the child was a girl. She didn't need to be force sensitive. A mother just knew. Luke had wanted to call the baby Bernadette (if it was a girl, he said, because Mara knew he deep down wanted a son), a female derivative of his mentor and one-time teacher, Ben Kenobi. But Mara couldn't imagine calling her child Bernie, so that was off. Beru, after Luke's aunt, also came to mind, but that was discarded by Luke himself. The name did not seem to fit the mental picture Luke had of his child in his head. If it was a boy, there was little question of him being called Ben. Mara did not even attempt to debate it. But this baby was going to be a girl. And this morning, Mara was determined to think of a name. She sat down carefully--her belly made any sitting without a chair difficult, but Mara was in good shape and had never needed any help, in spite of Luke's mother- henning of her since she'd announced to him that she was pregnant. She laughed when she thought of the look on his face. She had seen it before, when he had proposed to her and she had said yes. His eyes had just lit up from inside, like a child receiving a birthday gift they had longed for their entire lives. She had never had any reason to doubt that he loved her, but when she saw that look, it was like finding it out all over again. Not that their "romance" had exactly been romantic. After all, how many couples could brag of their kind of history? With her trapped on a planet where a band of renegade Imperials awaited the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn (or rather, his clone, as she and Luke had discovered), he had come to her rescue, playing hero to her damsel in distress. She hadn't liked it one bit, but after it had all ended, she knew why. She had been fighting destiny. Now that she had accepted it, she would never understand why she had ever wanted to fight. But she had fought so hard, and for so long. Even from the first moment she had laid eyes on Luke, in his black Jedi garments, with that unshakable calm and tranquility that she had wanted all her life but would never let herself have. The way he treated her, as if he knew it as well, as if he wanted it but could not see past her hatred of him. Instead, he was reduced to playing pacifier, placating her at every turn, giving her no reason to lose her temper or shoot off the inevitable blaster bolt that would end his life and fulfill the Emperor's last command. No, Luke had known, somewhere in that vast force-ability of his. She had always wanted to ask him how he had felt, being in that position. Seeing her, knowing her in a way beyond human kinship, and yet unable to do anything but wait, and watch. If he had been aware of the barrier, it might have driven him insane. But apparently, there had been a barrier, because it had taken ten years for him to finally take that last step toward her, giving her no choice but to see it, too. The biggest clue, as she had come to realize in her meditations, had been when whe saved her life during the Katana Fleet incident. Although it hadn't been the first and only clue. The first clue had been when he'd come with her, with no suspicions or bargaining, to help her free Karrde from that Imperial prison, after Thrawn had betrayed her. In the beginning, she dismissed it as him realizing it was less dangerous to go with her and risk physical harm than stay with that mad Jedi Cy'Both and eventually go insane. Then she'd dismissed it as his continuous crusade to be the perfect Jedi Knight, and help everyone, even pity-cases like hers when she was obviously not in control of her own feelings and didn't even know it. But later, after she had realized that he'd saved her life *when he hadn't had to,* that he'd gone to all that trouble just to save her because it was something he *felt* he had to do. From then on, there had been no rhyme or reason in her relationship with Luke. She couldn't see the obvious, and he wouldn't confront it. But that command in her head held her firmly in place, at his side. After facing Cy'Both, on the roof of the Palace, when he had given her his father's lightsaber, that should have been the moment for him to say something, *anything,* give her a chance to crush him cold and walk away, totally free. But he didn't. He let her go as she pleased. He knew she wasn't ready, and quite frankly, neither was he. She stayed close, though. Through the years, she went from tolerating him to respecting him and then even liking him. She never let herself think about what *might be* with Skywalker, though. It was ridiculous, she always told herself when the thought came to mind. He was running off from this place to that, building the Academy, recruiting force-sensitives, destroying superweapons and....falling in love with Callista. Mara never questioned Luke's feelings for Callista. She didn't have to. Nor did she feel jealous. She was here and Callista was not. Whatever their relationship had really been, it was Luke's private business. Even though she knew he would never keep it from her, she understood about lost loves. Now she did, anyway, once she'd had a chance to look back. That day she had come to Luke's rescue, yet again, and watched as Luke realized that his former student, Cray, had "stepped aside" so that Callista might have life again, she realized that her heart had broken and she had never realized it. It was just as well. She probably would have acted even stupider than she did. Going to Yavin IV, taking him for a joyride and giving him a silly line about how she sometimes had the urge to "see" him was not one of her better moments. And of course, there was her little chat with Callista. She'd felt sorry for the girl, really. Losing her force powers and all. Callista had seemed so alone at that table in the mess hall, so set apart. Mara felt for her. She knew what that was like more than she cared to admit. And then Callista had laid that line on her about her being "interested" in Skywalker, something Mara had shaken off, even if--for a reason that had seemed strange at the time but made perfect sense now--it had been a slow shake. Slow enough to make Callie suspicious that she'd hit a mark. Oh, well. Water under the bridge. Luke had chased her, caught her, and let her go. It was over. Although the fact that Callista was still out there somewhere, possibly with the idea in her head that Luke was waiting for her, did not make Mara feel all that comfortable sometimes. In the beginning, she had jumped at every ship she heard land, worried that it would be *the* ship, the final moment of truth. And even though Mara knew Luke loved her, there was a little voice inside of her that made her worry about what Luke would really do if Callista ever came back. Mara was his wife, his very *pregnant* wife now...but that wouldn't stop him from wanting.... Mara shut her eyes against the thought. Luke and Callista had been a strange meeting, but at least there had been real romance there. As for her and Skywalker, well...for a while she was tempted to think that it was all brought on by duress, the belief that they were going to die, and that there was no reason to hesitate any longer. She had been more than willing to let him out of the deal, not wanting him to leave her but having no desire to trap him. Mara was, at heart, a free spirit. She knew that Luke loved that about her. She would not change to please him because she pleased him the most as she was. She was strong, she was loyal, and she was smart. She would not run off and get herself killed, like so many of his past loves had tired to do. She would not coddle him or protect him from herself, but she would not shut him out. She belonged to him as surely as he belonged to her. She had known that the very moment their souls had touched in that chamber, trapped by sentinel droids and fighting for their lives. They were bound together for life. Nothing would change it. She had every faith in that. The morning breeze ruffled her clothes, but Mara was only vaguely aware of it as she sunk deeper into her meditation. Memories gave way to more pure emotions, and emotion gave way to the buzzing hum of the energy of the Force. It sounded like a hum to her, anyway, even though Luke said that was unlikely. The Force wasn't like a power converter or a speeder, wires didn't conduct electricity from the tree to the rock...or the land to the ship. It was this memory, even though it was Luke's, that she chose to focus on. The lesson Yoda had taught him about size not mattering, and that belief was everything. If you do not believe, you fail. It had touched her when Luke had shared it with her. In the beginning, she thought it was a matter of confidence, of which she had spades of throughout her life. But it wasn't the same thing. This was a matter of faith, something she had never had much of in anything but herself until she had been freed of the Emperor's grasp on her. It was a puzzle she wanted to figure out, had been trying to figure out for years but had never had a trustworth y guide...who she could tolerate for long, anyway. What had kept her loyal to Palpatine for so long? She had served him unquestioningly, and had completely believed in him and in the Empire. But now she was married to his worst enemy. Was that explained away by it just being destiny? It couldn't be...it didn't make sense. And until she reconciled it, she had a feeling that the name of her child would remain elusively out of her grasp. Why they were connected, she didn't know. She just knew they were. So Mara took the lesson Luke had learned about faith in that hellish swamp of Degobah so many years ago and let it flow over what memories she could summon of her beginning years in the Emperor's service. She didn't know how the pieces of this puzzle fit together, but they did somehow, and she would figure it out before her child came into the world. 2--Jaded Luke Luke rolled over in the bed, his hand automatically swinging out to envelope Mara's form, but only cool sheets touched his skin. He opened his eyes, even thought this was far from the first time that this had happened. It still bothered him, nonetheless. Bothered him because he knew it was bothering her, this gnawing sensation that grew in her as surely as their child did. So many years of lost memories were finally coming back to her, and after nearly three years of being his wife and discovering herself, the only thing that Mara had left to discover was how who she was and who she had become fit together. He sat up and slid onto the floor. It was way past dawn, and the Palace was already bustling with activity. Mara's desire to remain mobile in their Jedi instruction had been stifled over the last few months. Since her belly had started to swell and everything that touched her felt uncomfortable, staying in one place had suddenly not seemed so bad. Oh, sure, after the baby was born she would probably change her mind and they would be off again, in that beautiful cruiser they had pooled their resources to buy, the Jaded Sky (a corny name that had originally been a joke but had somehow stuck), going from Courscant to Yavin IV, maybe even Endor (Mara had developed a strange liking of the trees since she'd become a Jedi Knight, which didn't surprise Luke at all but it bugged the hell out of her since she couldn't stand the Ewoks that lived in them) and then New Alderaan. There had been a few other planets they had taken a liking to, but home was between the stars. She'd left her lightsaber, Luke noted as he stepped out of the bathroom and started to pull on his clothing. He picked it up, feeling an odd tremor in the force. She had put the one he'd given her in a special place in their ship, like a shrine to the past. It was a symbol of so many things for both of them individually and together. She simply didn't feel right about using it, risking its loss or damage. So now it hung simply on the wall in the bedroom of the Jaded Sky, taken out every once in a while for a specific purpose. Her new lightsaber--a brilliant shade of blue-green that reminded him of how her eyes as looked when she told him she would marry him--had a grip on it very similiar to his own. He grinned. Well, she had said she liked it. And as was typical Mara, she had even improved it. She was meditating more deeply than usual. Maybe something had gotten her attention. He would have to ask her later, if he didn't wind up catching the backlash of it now. The connection between the two of them had been a little frightening to him for a while. While in the struggle for survival, it had been a comfort. But in real life, it was discomfiting. It made him realize how foolish he had been, beyond what he had even dreamed. Only that moment in that chamber, his back to hers, fighting for their lives, had shook him harder. So hard, he had wanted to resist it, send it back, refuse it. It was too much to ask, too much to undo. Ten years of barriers and touch-and-go games, ten years of searching and finding and losing again. Ten years, in which he had loved another and lost her, only to realize that none of it had ever mattered. It was a frightening thought sometimes. He thought he had loved Callista completely and would just have to wait for her. And how he had chased her! How he had insisted to her again and again that the Force didn't matter, that they would be happy as they were...all meaningless. He had never chased Mara like that. He hadn't had to. Mara did her part by running from him. He was afraid she would still run from him, even during that moment when their souls had touched. She was so good at denying things, hiding things. She had spent years fooling herself, and her will was one that refused to be broken. If she believed something to be true, may the Force preserve the one who proved otherwise. But no, she hadn't run. She had given into it, like someone who found something that had been lost for so long but never noticed. It was in that moment that he realized how much he truly loved her. How he had always loved her but was unable to act on it, even admit it. He had always known it, as surely as he had known that Darth Vader was his father. Perhaps, even, in the same way. So many things stood between them, and yet when the truth came to her, she did not run. For him, she had stayed. She wanted him as much as he wanted her, had always wanted him and could never see it. How little he understood about the Universe, Luke chuckled. For all their blindness, things had turned out remarkably well. It if was possible, he loved Mara more now than he ever had. He loved her more for being the human woman he'd gotten to know over the last three years than the beautiful, vibrant, powerful and remarkably resilient smuggler he had thought her to be over the years since he'd first met her. She was still all those things, but so much more than that. Of course, to everyone else, it was a complete and total shock. Only Han, scoundel that he was, had any clue. But then again, Han knew people. He didn't have to be force-sensitive. He was lucky in that respect. He got to see how people truly were, what they were hiding, how their thoughts betrayed them not through disturbances in the Force but in their simple body language or the tone of their voice. Han could hear things Luke didn't think the human ear could pick up. But he was always right. After he and Mara had broken the news to Han and Leia, it was Han who clapped him on the shoulder and said with a wink, "I was wondering when you two would wake up." Leia was too caught up with the peace treaty between the New Republic and the Empire to devote much of her emotions to it, but Luke knew his sister was happy for him. It wouldn't be easy for her, no. Mara wasn't much more than a friend--Leia valued her more as a war-time ally than a confidant. But Luke had always seen how much the two women were alike. Over the last five years, the two of them had managed to deepen their friendship considerably. Although Luke doubted her would ever find them exchanging gossip---unless Mara had something jucier than the location of the cloning facilities on Wayland. In spite of personal feelings, positive or negative, Leia would be eternally grateful to Mara for rescuing her, Han, and their children from Thrawn, and Mara would be grateful for Leia's aid in their defeat of Cy'Both. They had their own unique bond. It worked for them. Luke strolled out onto the balcony, looking out over the city. He wished he could see the greenery on the other side, the park where Mara went to meditate. From what he understood, she had always spent a great deal of time there, for as long as she could remember................ The tremor he felt earlier jumped up at him, and he caught a flash of something. They were Mara's thoughts, sudden and terrified. It was some sort of vision, or a memory, or both. It was of her mother and her father, both screaming. There was a brief flash of lightsabers and the phantom smell of ozone and blood. Luke's heart lept into his chest and he had to stop himself from turning back and running into the apartment. Mara had not called for him. She wasn't in danger, but something had leapt out at her so quickly that she had been unable to stop herself from sharing it with him. He briefly felt a flash of disgust from her before she went into her calming techniques, and then nothing but the low-level harmony of their Force-bond, all peaceful again. He shook his head. She was going to have to explain that one when she came back. Somehow, he felt she would want to. She didn't come back until lunch. Luke was a little annoyed when she didn't show up for breakfast, but knew she wasn't about to abandon her meditation if she was on the verge of putting two of the ever-elusive pieces together. He decided to go to the Jaded Sky and do a little maintenance---"Cleaning," Mara usually said in her sardonic way. "Just say what it is, Skywalker. You're doing housecleaning, like a good Jedi husband." He was grinning at the thought as he was cleaning the hilt of his lightsaber when Mara came up behind him and put her arms around his shoulders. "I'm sorry about before," she said, her voice husky. He put the saber down and reached a hand back to thread his fingers through her hair and bring her face forward so he could kiss her cheek. She straightened and he turned, pulling her into his lap. She seemed to need it. "It's okay. Get anywhere?" "I think so. That little memory I had was a big help." Her eyes were distant and smokey as she spoke, the green dimming under the sorrow of the vision. "Apparently, my coming into the Emperor's service was more cold-bloodedly planned than even I suspected. Palpatine sent his dark jedi to our home to kill my parents. I was traumatized by the whole thing so badly that I must have blocked it out. Or Palpatine made me block it out." Luke frowned. She said it so casually, like she was giving a weather forecast. "Why would he do that?" he said. "That's what I've been trying to figure out." She looked down at him, thoughtful. "You know, I thought I would feel more when I remembered that. I mean, I think I always knew, on some level, that my parents were dead, and that Palpatine was responsible. Now that I know...I don't know. It's like, I'm more relieved than anything. Now I can mourn them and put the ghosts to rest." She gave a little shrug. "Scary thing is, something tells me that part isn't even important. It's the WHY that's really monumental. Like it's the answer to life. I don't know," she repeated, sighing. "I just feel so tired." Luke nodded, and then put her hand to his lips to kiss it. "Whatever happens, Mara, I'm here." She smiled at him. He felt his heart flutter a little, remembering how rare an occasion it had once been that she would smile at him. Now, he felt like he owned that smile, like it was just for him and always would be. As if picking up his thought, she said, "I didn't smile much before I met you, you know. I was this somber faced thing, always frowing or scowling, even sulking and moping if the mood hit." She gave a little laugh. "I have a few holos of those days, here and there. I was so gloomy all the time I think my face was actually grey. I still didn't smile too much before you and I became...us. But it was more than before. At least now I know why." She touched his face. "I love you, Luke." Once upon a time, those words had rung in her ears like a death sentence. Now, they gave her comfort to say. "I love you, Mara." And he gently pulled her lips down onto his. 3--Visions In spite of her attempts to assure her that she was okay with it, Luke could tell that that memory of her parents had shaken her harder than even she realized. Mara didn't smile much for the next few days. The old worry-line on her forehead returned, even though Luke had thought it long-gone. She was even scowling like she used to, her face going into all those old sharp lines and angles it had once been. If he hadn't known her so well, he would be afraid it was the old Mara resurfacing. At night, the thoughts swirled in her head, sometimes so loud they kept him awake right along with her. Why would the Emperor go to such trouble to kill her parents? Why hadn't he just killed her, too? Why was she special? It wasn't like she was so important, not really. She and Luke hadn't fallen in love until long after the Emperor was dead. Her existence, either as his hand or as just an ordinary citizen of the Empire, did not bear much signifigance in history. In fact, if she had not been the Emperor's Hand, it was very likely that she would never have even MET Luke Skywalker. Of course, there was that Last Command thing she had been dealing with. What better way to keep her and Skywalker from falling in love than to make her kill him? Perhaps the Emperor, so keen on destiny as he was, had seen the two of them together and had wanted to prevent it. But why? Just out of spite? It seemed like a lot of trouble to go through just to spite them. Then, one night, as Mara drifted off into a sleep she had been denying herself for days, she had another vision. This one wasn't of the past, but of the future. She had had it before, briefly, on the observation deck where she and Luke had talked about their upcoming marriage, and Luke had asked her why she wanted to marry him. He had wanted her to say it, tell him why she loved him. The businesswoman in her had wanted to throw "gain and loss" reasons at him, but the Jedi Knight she had become refused to let it go at that. And she had crossed that final line, broken down that final barrier, and admitted that Skywalker was a part of her, and that she wanted it that way. She had had a brief vision then, of their children. Nothing too clear, just abstracts. She saw the vision again this time, more clearly. Two children, one a grown woman entering her twenties, and another, half that age, looking nothing like his mother or father. The woman was striking, a fusion between her parents, all strawberry blond hair and blue-green eyes, the color of Mara's lightsaber. And there was a light coming from her, something like the most peaceful flow of the Force...but greater. Something far greater. Something beyond anything Mara could even imagine. Then, the woman lit her brilliant violet lightsaber and held it up, saluting Mara and giving her a sad smile. Then she turned, and Mara saw something behind her, something dark and ugly, something that reminded her of Palpatine but was far worse. This thing was all darkness, no shred of a form, no chance of hope. And the woman, her daughter......*Callista?*...was turning into it, her lightsaber lit and ready to strike. And she disappeared, the vision dissolving, and Mara felt a horrible, overwhelming despair. She jerked her eyes awake. Luke rolled over, propping himself up on his elbow, his face all in shadows like it had been that night in Wayland, when Cy'Both had tried to take control of her mind and the ysalamari had suddenly cut him off. "What is it?" he said, his voice hoarse. "You didn't see it?" Mara said, her voice shaking. Her heart had started to pound in her ears, and she could feel the sweat on her brow. Yet she lay frozen on her back. She was sure that one had been traumatizing enough for Luke to share. "No, all I saw was darkness. I tried to see," and here he actually sounded a little guilty, "because I could feel how afraid you were, but there wasn't anything. I just caught a name....strangely enough." He frowned, leaning forward a bit more, looking down into her face with a strange amusement. "Callista?" Mara shut her eyes. She was suddenly completely exhausted. The mention of the name sent all the adreneline out of her body, and now she found that she couldn't keep her eyes open. "I didn't get that part either," she sighed. "Look, we'll talk about it in the morning, okay?" "Will we?" Luke asked, his eyebrow arched. She smiled at him, a small, weak smile, but a smile nonetheless. "Yes. And I promise I won't send any more visions your way. At least not tonight. Okay?" "Okay." He sounded skeptical, but he bent down and kissed her anyway, then lay down beside her and tried to go back to sleep. Mara didn't even have to try. The second she shut her eyes, the world became black and dreamless. 4--Endor The next morning, when Luke rolled over, he was surprised to find that his wife was still there. She had not gone out at the crack of dawn to meditate, as had been her usual schedule. And as odd as it struck him, even with the events of only hours ago, he was not at all displeased. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her sleeping form closer. His lips nuzzled her cheek and slid back into her hair. It had such a scent to it, heavy and sweet. He had always loved her hair. It had been the first thing he'd ever noticed about her-- even before the hold-out blaster that she was still so fond of carrying that she had pointed at his head. He chuckled at the memory, and it stirred her. Her green eyes gazed about her unseeing, and then landed on him. "Good morning," she said, her lips still thick with sleep. "Good morning, indeed." He kissed her cheek again, letting his love flow freely over their force-bond, so much that it aroused them both. He had not made love to her in a few months, after Mara had started to complain that everything on her felt swollen. Perhaps she would change her mind when she saw what was really swollen. Seeing her like this, all soft and yeilding, compared to the hardness she had once displayed in spades and that had overshadowed her as of late, was too much for him to ignore. His hand roamed under the covers, and her eyes began to twinkle, echoing his mischief. "Why, Master Skywalker," she cooed. "I didn't think all those old saying about Jedi's were true." He frowned a little in amusement. "Like what sayings?" "Oh, you know what they say about Jedi Masters....they like to Force it." When he kissed her, she knew it was as much to shut her up as anything else. An hour later, the commlink in their bedroom started to beep. Mara groaned and lifted her head. "We fell back asleep," she stated. Luke jerked his head up. "Oh, no." The commlink continued to beep, five, seven, twelve times. Luke was sure it was someone calling to ask where on Hoth they were, even though his brain wouldn't stop buzzing long enough for him to think if they had had to be anywhere that day. He finally reached it, his trousers barely covering his hips as the image appeared. "Luke?" It was Leia, dressed in surprisingly completely non-formal clothing. She was frowning slightly, probably amused to find him half-dressed. "Oh...hi, Leia." He started to reach for his shirt, only to look and see Mara holding it, dangling it quite out of his reach. Not to mention the fact that she was completely without clothing. Luke's face turned slightly red as he focused his attention back on Leia. "What's up?" "Well.....Han and I were talking about where we were going to take our little vacation. You know how rarely I get to get away and relax. We were thinking of going to Endor for about a month, and I was just wondering if you two would like to stop by and pay us a visit." The last of the sleep left his head. Han and Leia were not, amazingly enough, on Coruscant, but on some diplomatic mission to Hapes, where Isolder and his wife were being installed at King and Queen of Hapes. Leia had agreed to the trip only on the condition that she and Han be allowed to take some personal time afterwards, considering the fact that Han and Leia had gotten married not too long before Isolder had--with no small thanks to Isolder and his Dathomir-born wife. Although it wasn't really an anniversary, it was as close as the two could manage with their full political lives. "We really haven't gotten to see much of you or Mara lately. I know she hates Ewoks," Leia was saying, her long hair swinging against her shoulders, braided in the same fashion she had worn during the days of the Emperor's defeat, "but maybe she could find some nice Jedi chant to make her a little more tolerant and come put up with some in-laws for a few days." As Luke opened his mouth to reply, Mara came up behind him and slid her arms around his shoulder. Her teeth found his earlobe and gave it a slight nip. "We'd be glad to, Leia," she said, and her lips brushed the soft downy hairs on Luke's neck before she backed out of sight, leaving Luke to desperately try to repress a shudder as the arousing chill of that guesture passed through him. Leia was definitely trying not to laugh from behind the hand that covered her mouth. "Wonderful. Let us know when you're coming. We'll be heading to Endor by the end of the week." Luke nodded. "Okay. Bye." And he ungracefully ended the communication. Mara was humming to herself as she stood before her closet, trying to find something to wear. She pulled out a long green tunic and pulled it over her head. "What has gotten *into* you?" Luke said, his voice a little more controlled than he felt. "You haven't done that since we first got married." "Well, if you don't like it, I won't do it anymore." She looked at him over her shoulder and gave him a little wink. "If you're sure, that is." He shook his head, but he was smiling. "Sometimes I worry about you, Mara." She turned around, the green tunic setting off her eyes. "Why? How else do you expect me to act when my husband makes love to me first thing in the morning before I'm even fully awake? You become fully conscious in time to have an orgasm and see how sweet a tune you sing afterwards. The Emperor could return now and I'd still be smiling." Luke moved closer to her. "Well, he's already come back twice and we've taken care of it. I think he got the message." He paused. "You were still half-asleep? You didn't seem like it." "Well, my expert wit never sleeps. I think of ways to rattle you in my dreams, didn't you know?" "I wasn't talking about your wit." He reached her, grinning suggestively, but she put her arms out. "Come on, Skywalker, I'm sore enough as it is. Besides, there's still some of the day left and we have to salvage it. If we're going to Endor in a week we have to get the Jaded Sky ready." "You really want to go flying off? To Endor of all places?" His smile faded into a look of concern. "I don't care where it is. I'm just tired to being here. You couldn't expect me to stay in one place for too long." He shrugged. "I don't know. I was kind of getting comfortable here." She sighed and shook her head. "Poor Luke. Still the farmboy at heart." "You know you love me for it." He kissed her lightly on the nose. "Maybe I do." She frowned. "You know, Luke, if you really want to stay....I just thought you'd like to see your sister and all. That you'd like to see any other human being than just me and my swelled stomach all the time." He pulled her closer. "Why would I want to see anyone else other than you? I mean, sure, I miss having Leia around and it will be great to hang out with Han, but... Mara, you're all I need to be happy. You and our daughter." "So you've finally decided to believe me that it's a girl?" "I never really disbelieved you." His hand spread across her stomach. "But we don't have a name for a girl. Did you manage to think of one?" Mara's face clouded over and Luke knew she was remembering her dream. "I don't know...something is telling me to wait. It will come. The whole thing will come together when it's time." Her eyes focused on his and he felt her mind draw nearer to his. It was so much easier this way, rather than the clumsy dance of words. And now he could see why she was so different. She was determined to be at peace with the past, whether the past wanted to wage war on her or not. "There's so much," she whispered. "I can't make sense of any of it now. When the time is right, I'll understand." She shrugged. "It's just a feeling I have." "I know about feelings." He ran a hand absently through her hair, pushing it back away from her cheek. "I hope you can do it." "It will just take some patience." He grinned. "Mara Jade....patient. I think the universe is going to end." She jerked away from him and lightly punched him in the stomach. "That's Mrs. Skywalker to you, you ewok-loving, wampa-mannered Jedi Master wannabe!" "What do you mean, 'wanna-be?'" he cried. "That's the last morning you take me off guard," she added, turning away from him, deliberately letting the edge of the tunic lift a little to reveal a flash of creamy skin before snatching up a pair of trousers to cover it. "I guess it's true was they say about Traders, then," he returned. "What?" "They like to smuggle it in." She threw a pillow at him as he backed out of the room, laughing. Mara was true to her word. Luke felt her make a conscious effort to shake off her anxiety. She knew the answers were not going to come now, and she had to be prepared for when they did. But until then, there would be little to stop Mara Skywalker from attempting to relax. Not that she could do much, anyway. Already going into her seventh month, her doctor advised her continuously to avoid heavy activity, and she obeyed, not wanting to take any chances. It was hard for her, however, to just sit around all day. She was bored with the holonet, couldn't do much of anything with the ship except give Artoo orders about what she wanted checked out, and didn't dare touch her lightsaber. Luke tried to give her lessons about lifting objects with the Force, but she had gotten pretty good at it and everything seemed redundant. The only thing she had plenty of time for was thinking, and it was the last thing she wanted to do. Luke did everything he could to distract her. They talked more than they ever had in the fifteen years they'd known each other. The big topic of discussion was the book of memoirs that Luke was compiling of his past in hopes that the many things he had experienced during the days of the birth of the New Republic would not go to waste. He wanted to teach other Jedi not to give in to too much power like he had---not to fall into the darkside on their own, like Mara had said. He even kicked around the idea of building a holocron, but didn't think that he should attempt such an edevor at the point of life he was in. The old Jedi Ood Bnar (see Dark Empire I & II) had been a thousand years old when he'd made his holocron. Luke knew he wouldn't even touch that many years, although the Force did extend the life of many Jedi. Perhaps it would extend his as well.... All this talk, however, got Mara thinking in a new direction. As the Emperor's Hand, she knew many things about the galaxy. Even though she had served Palpatine's evil, the abilities she had gained were neutral. It seemed a shame to let all her skills die with her. So she began to make plans for her own memoirs, although knew they were quite different from Luke's. It just seemed fitting, though, that she and Skywalker pass their knowledge down together. Historically, they had been two of the most famous and infamous figures of their day. History deserved to have a record of the truth. So as they started their hyperspace journey toward Endor, Mara started getting herself together. It was similiar to what she had been trying to do before in her meditations--make sense of her life--but this had a different purpose, and spread out much farther than just her suspicions about the Emperor's plans for her destiny. This was every scrap of memory she could call forth. And she barely dented the surface before they landed on Endor. Leia and Han were waiting for them on the landing platform when arrived. Leia smiled sympathetically as she gazed at Mara in her not-so-delicate condition. "Good thing you're not carrying twins," she said as she hugged her sister-in-law. Mara let out a little groan. "Force forbid! Rancors and born-again Emperors and Superweapons we can handle....but two kids at once? We'd fall in a month." Han played bellhop and grabbed their gear. Luke tried to get it away from him, but Han was pretty fast for a non-Force-sensitive and was down the platform and into the speeder before Luke could have even pronounced Thrawn's full name. Mara laughed as Luke shook his head at his old friend. "Still the competetors," she murmured to Leia. Leia smiled. "Let's just try not to encourage them. Although I wish, just once, I could get Han to blush like you make Luke do sometimes." Mara grinned wickedly. "We'll talk. If an old hard-ass like me and give a maidenly glow every once in a while, I'm sure Han's gotta have his soft spot." The two women walked down to the speeder, their quiet conversation inaudiable to Luke and Han, who were bantering so loud it echoed off the surrounding trees. "The only things I need to lift something heavy are my own two hands, kid," Han gloated. "I guess if it isn't heavy it can lift all by itself," Luke grinned slyly. "At least I don't need to Force it," Han returned. "Mara, have you and Han been conspiring again?" Luke shouted back to her. "Who do you think told me that one, darling?" Mara replied sweetly. "Wonderful. Everybody is a comedian." "You seem to be pretty cheerful lately," Leia commented to Mara as Luke and Han continued their insult-tossing. "The glow of motherhood, I guess." Mara ran a hand through her hair and let the wind toss it about. "I guess when you were expecting you had to deal with a potential galactic war. Not exactly a time for smiles, huh?" "Nope. And even with Anakin there was that deal with the Emperor." Leia cleared her throat. "I'm just saying that I wish I had had more time to relax. I'm glad you and Luke are here." "It's not to late for another kid, Leia," Mara said, her face open. "I mean, you're not even forty yet." Leia shrugged. "I know....it's just that we've had so much trouble keeping Anakin and the twins safe. I almost wish we could live like you and Luke. No one would be able to find us." Mara's eyes narrowed slightly. "It's got its advantages and disadvantages." She paused. "I promise we'll visit more after the baby is born." Leia started. "Oh, that isn't what I mean." She smiled. "But that would still be nice." Mara leaned forward a bit. "So...what's really eating you up, Madame Chief of State? You know you don't have to be all diplomatic with me." Leia's eyes grew very serious. "Okay. I've been having these dreams lately about you and Luke. I can't seem to figure them out. Luke's told me that you've been trying to sort some things out about your past, and for some reason I think all of this is connected. Tell me, when you came to Endor...did you experience a dark spot in the Force? Around where the Death Star used to be?" "Where Palpatine died?" Mara's eyes grew distant. "Luke put in a course that took us around that spot. I didn't feel anything from around it." Then her eyes cleared. "But really, Leia, he's already come back twice. I think he's finally gone. At least, I've put him to rest." "Then what is it?" "I don't know. It's like....Palpatine was trying to prevent something. Maybe even prevent me and Skywalker from ever meeting, or at least ever meeting on friendly terms. I used to think that him wanting me to kill Skywalker was his way of getting revenge on Vader, but I have a terrible feeling it was more than that. Like it wasn't just revenge--it was a way to hurt me as well, prevent me from fulfilling some destiny that I can't even begin to understand. And the worst of it is, it isn't just me, or even Skywalker. It has to do with our child." Mara's hand subconsciously went to her belly. "Palpatine knew something. But Palpatine wasn't all knowing or all powerful. Otherwise he would have forseen his own death." She paused. "Tell me about the dreams you've been having, Leia." Leia opened her mouth to reply, but the speeder stopped and they were at the small resort that had been built there shortly after the Empire had fallen. Endor had become quite a tourist attraction as of late, with the twentieth anniversary of the events that had taken place there coming within the next couple of years. Leia had gone to considerable trouble to make sure that the Ewoks wouldn't be robbed of their forrest territory during the business expansion. She had even invested some of her own money in the project to make sure she would have a direct say in what went on there. The resort was attached to a rather quaint museum, but Mara knew perfectly well that Leia and Han only slept there. Most of their time was spent, Mara was quite sure, in the Ewok village as an honored guest. She grimaced, hoping that she wouldn't have to endure too much three-foot tall, fur-covered company. Although the Ewoks had a particular brew of alcohol that she found to be rather good. *Not while you're pregnant,* Luke reminded her. She glanced up to see him looking at her as he climbed out of the speeder. She got up to follow and exchanged a brief look with Leia that clearly said, *We'll continue this later.* Leia shot Luke a grin. So Luke had gone from protecting the Universe to protecting Mara from herself. She wondered which one was the harder job. 5--Leia's Dreams "Surprise!" Leia shouted as she stepped first into Mara and Luke's suite, turning and throwing her arms wide. She enjoyed their reaction, well-deserved after all the work she had put into it. Presents covered the room. They spread over the bed, flooded the chair and littered the carpet. Each in a different wrapper, some small, some large. "What is this?" Mara asked. "Well," Han explained, "Leia just couldn't resist the idea of thrown you a baby shower. However, I reminded her that you are not exactly the type of person who wants to sit around with a bunch of women for three hours, all of them trying to kiss your butt and outdo each other with the next gift." "And that we didn't want everyone to know about the baby," Luke added, giving Leia a confused look. "I thought we talked about it." "We did," Leia assured him, "and don't worry, the secret is as safe as it can be. Although from what I've been hearing, everyone already knows." "She's right, Luke," Mara said, squeezing his hand. "The boy who blew up the Deathstar can't possibly expect to keep the birth of his child a secret." "Right. So all these presents started pouring in, and I've just been saving them up, waiting for the right time." She grinned. "Few people will resist a chance to kiss-up to the Chief-of-State simply by giving her sister-in-law a baby-shower gift." "I hope there's some useful stuff in there somewhere," Han muttered. "Looks like there will be enough useful stuff in here for us to use on three worlds," Luke murmured, looking around. "Well," he grinned, "shall we just starting tearing things open at random, or do you want to get some Force-practice in on this?" "Oh, wonderful!" Han said, whirling around and stomping down the hallway. "That's all we need---three Force-users showing off by tearing up paper!" "We're not going to tear it!" Leia cried. "We have to take it off carefully so we can save it!" Han let out a loud groan. "Enemies of the New Republic, beware! The Jedi Knights are saving wrapping paper!" "So, you were going to tell me something earlier," Mara said, leaning heavily into the thick pillows of the couch, putting her feet up on the footrest in front of her. Luke and Han were off somewhere--probably on one of the nearby trails--reliving old memories. It was funny, the way the two of them could get when they were together and were not on a mission to save the world. They could actually act like human beings. Leia caught her thoughts and smiled. "Yes, it's strange, isn't it? Fatherhood seems to have loosened them up. Luke was never like that before. Han would try and bait him but he'd always ignore it." Her eyes met Mara's meaningfully. "I guess I have you to thank for that." Mara just shrugged. "Skywalker had it in him somewhere. I don't even know if I'm the one who brought it out. I guess he wasn't like that with Callista." The princess sighed. "Not really. He was so concerned about her being so upset over her Jedi powers. It made me wonder if Han had difficulty with me being a Force- sensitive. But then again, Han was always able to take care of himself. If anything, I wound up needing protecting." Mara laughed. "I've never needed protecting. And from what I've heard, neither have you. Luke has captured the memory of your voice quite well---'This is some rescue. When you planned to get in, didn't you have a plan for getting us out?'" The memory of standing in the halls of the prison, blasters firing all about her, and the look of total annoyance on Han's face as she snarled at him made Leia smile. "I guess I've been able to hold my own in a fight pretty well." "So what have you been dreaming about, Princess?" "They're not the same. Not every time. The one that's the most vivid is that you're in a cave somewhere, I don't know where. And Luke is looking for you, but he's nowhere near where you are. You're lying on a rock, about to give birth, and there's....there's blood everywhere." Leia grimaced as the worry-line on Mara's face started to appear. "No, go on," Mara said, her voice low. "You're getting ready to give birth, but you're trapped in the cave. You're trying to hold back, but the blood gets thicker. And that's when Callista appears." "Why is she there? Is she hostile?" "No, on the contrary. In the dream, Callista has her Force powers back. And she's telling you to hold on, just hold on for a few more minutes and you'll be found. And then she seems to come apart, like she's returning to the spirit that she once was. And then I wake up." Leia paused. "It's very brief, but the most vivid. The others are of a girl who looks like you and Luke, and a boy whose face I can't see clear enough. But it's almost as if he looks like me. Not one of my children, but Callista's child." "What's she doing?" "Who, Callista or the girl?" "Either one." "Callista isn't in that dream. As for the girl....nothing. She just appears. And she keeps calling for the boy, but I can never make out the name." "Maybe Callista had a child by Luke and never told him." Mara looked away, out the window and into the deep forest night of Endor. She was silent for a long minute, her eyes deeply disturbed. Finally, Leia said, "Mara? I didn't mean....." "No, you didn't. I know. I just....all of this is going to begin very soon." The one of Mara's voice was other-worldly, and for a moment Leia was slightly afraid. "How soon?" "Days...weeks. Could be tomorrow." And then Mara was back. "At least some questions will get answered. Although I don't think it will get anyone anywhere for a long time." When Luke came back that night, he found Leia sitting alone in the lounge. It had been a while since he'd had some time alone with his sister, so he sat down beside her. To his surprise, she actually started. "Oh, Luke. Sorry," she added, "I was kind of lost in thought." Luke nodded. "I could see that. Is something bothering you?" "Sort of. Luke, I hate to ask you this, but....you and Callista. Have you two ever had any sort of contact since that day on Nam Chorios? Just a message, a goodbye, anything?" Luke shook his head. "No, I just sort of...let it all go. And then Mara came along, and I pretty much forgot about it. I mean, not Callista...but the thought of her ever coming back." He got the same funny look in his eye that Mara had had earlier. "I'm not worried about her coming back, Leia," he said, his voice cool and smooth. "If she does, it will just give me a chance at some closure. But if she doesn't, that's fine." "Are you sure?" Leia touched his mind with her own. Luke was more than sure. "Yes." Leia cocked her head to one side, the memories of Callista from Nam Chorios coming back to her. "Do you think it was possible that she was pregnant when she left?" she practically blurted out, but it was in such a soft voice, Luke didn't even flinch. "If she was, she never said a word. And if she had a child, she's made it pretty clear the kind of contact she wants me to have with him." "Him..." Leia murmured. "You do have a feeling, don't you." "Not until five minutes ago." His voice was a near a growl as she had ever heard it. "I see Mara's made you her confidant. And I thought she had put all that stuff aside for now." "They're my dreams, Luke. I brought it up. I keep dreaming about your children-- at least, I think they're your children. As if they're important somehow." "Of course they're important. Yours are important, too!" Luke cried softly. Leia shook her head. "That's not what I'm saying. Mara told me that she's been remembering her past, the lengths the Emperor went through to keep you and her separated. He foresaw something bad enough for him that he had to prevent your children from ever being born. He failed, and now that reason is going to reveal itself." "If the Emperor wanted to prevent it," Luke said slowly, "then how could it possibly be a bad thing for us?" Leia jerked her head back a bit. "You know, you're right. But if that's the case, then why is it causing all this disturbance in the Force?" "That's what's been bothering me," Mara said from the doorway. Both twins turned to see her in her nightshirt, her hair matted around her head from the way she'd been tossing and turning in her bed. She entered the room and Luke stood up. "You said you were going to try and let this go for now," he chastized her. "I am. But what I do about this isn't going to change anything. Don't you get it, Luke? Something big is coming. It might not happen for another twenty years, but it's coming, and in the age of the Universe twenty years is a passing heartbeat. Something so big the Emperor tried to prevent it and it's worrying all of us. What could be so big that it would put us and the Emperor on the same side?" "Maybe it isn't," Leia offered. "Change is never an easy thing. It always causes pain, whether for better or worse." Luke followed Leia's line of reasoning. "Then whatever this change is...it's going to affect us all. And maybe we're not going to entirely like it." "Or like it at all." Mara put her arms around Luke's shoulders and he held her close. "Like when we became Jedi Knights. We had to sacrifice something very close to us. A sacrifice is coming, Luke. And I'm just afraid of what it might be." Luke looked deep into Mara's eyes. She knew about Leia's dream, about the child. But it was so late, and he just couldn't talk about it right now. "Let's go to bed," he said huskily. "There's plenty of time tomorrow to worry ourselves raw over this." 6---Callista The next morning, everything and everyone was strangely silent. It hung in the air, even stilling the breezed that usually played with the high-hung leaves of the forest canopy. It even muffled the sharp sizzling sound of Luke frying the bluish-purple tinted eggs of the local treika--a short, wingless bird that hid in the brushy floor of the forest. Mara had expressed an interest in trying them during the trip, and he was anxious to please. Anything to get the feeling of foreboding to leave her. His conversation with Leia last night wouldn't leave his memory alone. She had asked him about Callista coming back---but why? Had Mara said something to her that she hadn't been able to ask him? Why would she do that? Didn't she know she could say anything to him? She was his wife, for Alderaan's sake! He swirled the fork through the thick batter, mixing in the cream and the local white cheese the resort was thoughtful enough to provide. He'd considered attempting an omlette, knowing Mara had a fondness for things mixed into her eggs, but didn't trust himself to not break it. They were coming out nicely, really. Maybe he'd add some of that cured wild-boar meat he saw in the hydro-cooler--- And then he heard the sound of a ship land. Mara stirred in the bedroom, and Luke, in a sudden fit of farmboy nerves, shoved the eggs off the burner and turned the heat off. He felt Mara appear in the doorway, and didn't even have to turn around to know she was staring at him anxiously. "Someone's landed," she said. "So? Could be anyone. People come here all the time." "Then why did you stop everything you were doing?" There was just a hint of warmth in her tone, as if she wanted him to know something. But his stomach started to do backflips. He had a terrible feeling. "Well...you want to go check it out?" he asked, finally turning. To his utter astonishment, she was actually giving him a slight smile. "No...but you do. I'll finish up. You never could make an omlette right, anyway." He gave her a puzzled frown, and then realized she was right. Strangely enough, her feelings had pulled back from his, as if she were letting him go in more ways than one. "Are you sure you don't want to come?" She touched his cheek. "I love you, Luke. Now go." She made a shoo-ing motiong with her hand. "Hurry back." With a sigh, he turned and left the room. The ship was unfamiliar. It looked like one of the old Imperial shuttles, but it had either been heavily modified or was an actual distant relative of the design. By the time he reached the platform, the ramp was already down and the person inside had made her way to the smooth stone ground. The breeze suddenly picked up, and for the first time that day Luke heard the leaves rattle. The breeze also made the figure's malt- brown hair flutter behind her like the tail of a comet, and the large grey eyes--still so somber, even moreso after all these years--met his evenly. "Hello, Luke," she said, her voice soft. "Hello, Callista," he said, feeling guarded. So he hadn't been as sure of his feelings as he'd told Leia, he thought. Seeing her again, remembering how beautiful she was and how much she had meant to him, made his heart beat a little faster. And just as fast, it ended. He found himself reaching for Mara's familiar presence, and knew he had nothing to fear. From Callista, or himself. "It's been a long time," he continued, his voice suddenly normal. "Yes." She nodded. He could see a glimmer of hurt in her grey eyes, but she didn't say anything. "I guess you're wondering why now." "It occured to me. But I'm also considering that this is just a huge coincidence." He cocked his head to one side, and realized that even though she was still not Force- sensitive, he could pick up a slight disturbance from her. "You're not even here to see me, are you?" She smiled. She would always be beautiful, he thought. It felt good to appreciate her beauty without all the guilt coming with it---guilt, he realized, he had ultimately expected to feel. "No," she said. "Although I wanted to. I've wanted to for a long time." He could feel her sudden longing, and her just-as-sudden dismissal of it. "Actually, I've come here to see your.....your wife." Luke's eyes widened a bit. "You heard." She nodded. "I've always watched out for news of you. To tell you the truth," and she gave a little, self-depreciating laugh, "I'm really not surprised. I guess I always knew she was special to you. It explained a few things." Luke felt relief suddenly flood over him. "Then why...." "It's kind of....personal." She fidgeted and looked around them on the open platform. "Do you think she would see me? I mean, even after you and I....well....." Callista let out a sigh. "I've heard things about Mara Jade, to tell you the truth. I just don't want to get on her bad side if I'm not there already." "You're not." Luke smiled at her and guestured for her to follow. "Come on. I'll clear a path for you," he joked. "You're just in time for breakfast." Mara wasn't in the kitchen when Luke and Callista came back. She wasn't in the bedroom or the lounge, either. Luke felt a ripple of worry run through him and told Callista to sit on the couch. "I'll be right back," he said sharply. "And don't go anywhere." "Ok," Callista said, her voice sounding slightly small. Luke knocked on Leia's door as he made his way down the hall. No sense in giving his sister a heartattack if she came out and saw Callista sitting there. "What is it, Luke?" Leia asked, seeing the look on Luke's face. "Callista is in the living room. I've got to go outside for a minute. I'll explain it all later," he added, taking in the saucer's Leia's brown eyes suddenly became. She nodded duitfully, and Luke took off outside. He stood on the grounds at the edge of the resort and sent out a tendril through the force. The last time he'd had to do this with Mara, she'd gone and destroyed her beloved ship, the Jade's Fire. He felt her answer, and realized she was on their ship, the Jaded Sky. *Don't blow it up until I get there,* he sent to her with a caustic humor. He swore he felt her laugh. When he got there, he found her in their bedroom, holding her old lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. She was standing by the window and her eyes were red- rimmed. "Mara, why in the sith did you scare me like that?" he demanded. "Scare you?" she asked. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." He felt completely and utterly confused. "What are you doing there, anyway? Have you been crying?" He felt his heart wrench as he fully took in her eyes, so bright from unshed tears. "I'm fine, Luke," she reassured him, smiling. "I'm just...really relieved, I guess. Deep down, I've been dreading this day. Now it's over." "What do you mean?" She gave a little chuckle. "I don't know. Even though I knew you loved me and I trusted you completely...it isn't easy for a new wife to deal with an old lover, no matter who she is and how secure she feels. Don't hate me for saying this, but...deep down, I've always been a little bit afraid that you had just settled for me just because you couldn't have Callista." "You mean you thought...you thought that I.....?" He was completely flabbergasted. "Then why did you let me go to the landing platform by myself?" he asked softly. "Just in case I was wrong. Luke," she started, putting the saber down and sliding closer to him, "you and I have communicated so much through the Force that we've forgotten how reassuring words sound. I want you to know," she said, taking a deep breath, "that no matter what responsibility you have to me, or think you have, I'm not going to make you do anything you want to do. I'm a big girl, and I can take care of myself." "I know that," he said with a teasing grin. "But I mean it," she said, her tone firm, but tears lay just beneath it. Tears of pure emotion. "If you ever wanted to...leave me...I know you're over Callista, but if you hadn't been...if you find out that you really aren't...well, I would let you go. I wouldn't keep you against your will." "And so you let me go to the platform alone." *Just in case I saw Callista and realized I loved her, I wouldn't be distracted by a pregnant wife.* "Mara..." but there were no words to finish the sentence. He put his arms around her and pulled her closer, wanting to pull her so close they would become one being. He had always known Mara loved him, but until this moment the scope of that love had never seemed so big. "I love you, and only you. I would never want to leave you, I don't care who came back." "Even if you found out Leia really wasn't your sister?" she asked, but he could hear the teasing tone. "Even if," he said, dead serious. "And as for that other remark," he added, a touch of anger in his voice, but just a touch, "if anything, I would have been settling for Callista because I couldn't have you. And don't you ever refer to our marriage as me 'settling' for anything ever again." She smiled at him, remembering how she had once used the same tone with him, long time ago: "And by the way, just for future reference, don't you ever not care for someone just because you're afraid they might get hurt in the process. Especially not me. You got that?" He knew her thoughts, and his face cracked into his typical farmboy grin. "Do we have a deal?" "Absolutely." 7--Emperor's Hand Mara was incredibly surprised when Luke told her as they walked back to the resort that Callista had in fact come to see her. But after a few moments, it didn't seem so surprising. In fact, Mara quickened the pace, anxious to learn the next clue in this mystery scheme of events. "Did she tell you why?" Mara asked in a low voice as they climbed the low stairs to their suite. "No, not a word. Although I think I know." His face grew a little pale as he shot Mara a glance, but Mara seemed to be able to handle anything at the moment. They entered the suite, their hands entwined, and Callista stood up, relieved to see them. Leia was nowhere to be seen, and it made Luke briefly wonder why. Perhaps for once Leia's diplomatic skills had failed her, and she just wanted to stay as far away from the situation as possible. Although Leia had a bit to be grateful for when it came to Callista. The woman had helped save her life on Nam Chorios. But Callista looked anything but upset as she greeted Mara and even offered her a sincere congradulations, obviously referring to her condition. "How much longer?" Callista asked, a slightly wistful tone in her voice. "About another month or so. I have a feeling she's going to be early. If she gets any bigger, I'll wind up popping." The weight seemed to get to her then, and she sat down, guesturing for Callista to do the same. "Luke said you came here to see me. If it makes you feel better, I think I know why. But please, don't hesitate to be blunt." Callista's solemn gray eyes widened a bit and she seemed to want to bite her tongue, but instead let out a sigh and did as Mara asked. "I need your help. I'm trying to find my son." She looked at Luke, who took the news as if he'd already heard it once before. "I think, though, that I should start from the beginning. "After I left, I wandered for a while. I didn't have much money, so I wound up on some freighter heading out to Chad. I hoped that going home would help me stabilize myself for the emotional journey ahead. On the way, I discovered that I was pregnant. I wanted to come back, Luke, but the ship was captured by slavers. They took everyone on board. I never had a chance." "How did you escape?" Luke asked softly. "It's all a blur. They found out that I was pregnant and I instantly became some sort of prized possession. They held me until I was full term, and when I went into labor, I heard them talking about experimenting with some new technology." Mara grimaced. "What did that mean?" she whispered. "You both are familiar with carbon freeze. Well, there's this new technology that's like carbon freeze, but it isn't carbon and it doesn't cause hybernation sickness. It's like the entire body is put on hold by a forcefield. It was so new it wasn't even legal yet. They call it a stasis block. It was being used to ship animals from world to world because it wasn't damaging like carbon freeze. And after I gave birth, they put my boy in a stasis block, wanting to sell him to the highest bidder. Probably some rich couple who can't have children," Callista added, her voice as hard as the steel her eyes had become, "and have to resort to buying them." She shook her head, clearly restraining tears. "I didn't know what to do. I just went berserk when I found out. I was so angry I wound up using the dark side of the force and destroying their ship. I searched for my baby in the wreckage, but there was no sign of him. They must have sold him already. When I left, I was determined to never touch the dark side of the force again, and so I went to Nam Chorios to see what I could learn. That's why I couldn't bear for you to come near me, Luke. I would have told you. I couldn't bear to tell you, didn't want you to feel the pain as well. So I kept going. I've spent more years searching for my son than I have trying to regain the force. I've failed in both, and then when I heard about the two of you...well...." she figited, embarrassed. "Mara, you're a hard person to track down. The only way I knew you would be here was because of a transmission I intercepted about a month back from your old employer Karrde and someone named Ghent. And the fact that I heard in the news that Leia was on vacation...I just sort of put the pieces together and hoped for the best." Mara leaned back on the couch. "So what do you want me to do?" she asked gently. "I know that you were the Emperor's Hand. You know how to get information. Maybe you've even heard of the slave opperation that took my son. Do you think there's some way you could help me find him?" "He would be about ten years old now, right?" Mara said, reaching for the small datapad sitting on a nearby endtable. She hooked the datapad into the nearby holonet and started pressing some buttons. "Yes. The name of the slavers was something like 'The Fist of Jabba,' or something like that." "Jabba's Fist," Mara confirmed. "I've heard of them. After Leia killed that old slug a faction of his company broke off and named themselves after him, kind of like an honor thing." Mara grinned. "Bet Leia really appreicated that, after what Jabba did to her." She flashed her eyes at Luke. "Athough I'm sure her outfit was stunning." Luke's eyes widened, but he was fighting off a smile. "What kind of ship was it, do you remember?" Callista shrugged. "I remember thinking it looked like an old class of star destroyer, back in my day." She winced. "Seventy years old, at least. But still running. Not exactly a clean place." "Yeah, the Emperor was real happy about them driving around in Imperial model ships. Made them hard to spot, hiding in plain sight like that." She was quiet for a few minutes, watching the information run across the small screen in front of her. "Well..." she murmured, "it looks like they weren't that big. There isn't too much of a mention of them after about five years ago." She bit her thumb. "I don't have too much access from here...Coruscant would have better files." "You mean, better databases for you to hack into," Luke corrected. Mara shrugged. "I'm not really the hacker. I know a few passwords here and there. I know how to manuver a system. But Ghent, he's the slicer. If anyone could find it, he could." She stood up. "I can send him a message right now, Callista. If you want, we can all head back to Courscant in a few days. Just give us some time to pack up." Luke tried to hide his surprise, but Mara felt it ripple toward her. Her exterior remained cool, but he could hear her thoughts--*Sithspit, Luke, what are we supposed to do? Make her sit around here and watch us play expectant couple while she waits for me to follow a lead that very may well be a dead end? I've given up my cruelty days.* "No, I don't want you to do that," Callista said, half-way through Mara's thought. "You must both be pretty busy, and I'm sure you don't get much time off." Mara snorted. "Oh, yeah, we're just up to our necks, aren't we, Luke?" *Come on, back me up.* "Callista, really, we can always come back. But the longer we wait to find your...our son, the farther away he might get." "It's been ten years, Luke. I'm running on sheer desperation now. I'm ready to give up. Trust me, I can wait another week for that. How do you think I've managed until now?" "Well, at least let me get to the Jaded Sky and contact Ghent. We might not have to go anywhere if luck is with us." She set down the datapad and looked at both Luke and Callista. "You two can stay here if you want," she said carefully. "I won't be too long." And she exited the room before either could insist on it being otherwise. Luke and Callista just stared at each other. Finally, Callista sat back down and cleared her throat. "How long have you known?" she asked. "Only a few days ago did the subject ever come up. I think I knew you were coming." Luke watched out the window at Mara's retreating back. She didn't glance back at him, not once. And since he knew she wasn't angry, that must mean she trusted him. "You didn't have any feeling before that?" Callista asked hopefully. "I...had a feeling he was a force sensitive." "Well, he would be, even if only one of his parents---" And then he stopped himself, realizing that his tone was entirely too flippant. "I'm...sorry, Callista. I didn't mean--" She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. I deserve that one. Actually, to be honest, I'm sort of okay with it now. Sort of. Not entirely. It's kind of become secondary lately." "I understand." "I hope you do." The words were entirely different in their meaning as her eyes watched him, guarded, as if he might strike her. "I mean...you're taking this extremely well. So is she." Callista paused. "She's changed a lot." "Yes," Luke agreed. "She has." He sighed. "I guess I'm taking it well because she is, or maybe I'm just getting old. Or maybe I'm going to wake up tomorrow steaming mad." He frowned. "Stars, Callista! Couldn't you have sent a message or something?" She recoiled as if that blow had finally come. "I'm sorry. I know I made a lot of mistakes, and I just make more." She put her head in her hand, and Luke noticed that even ten years in that body hadn't changed the curve of her neck, that stemlike neck. "But you had a right to know. And you know you aren't really sorry I never came back. This is where you're happy. You never would have had this with me." She swung her arm in the direction Mara had taken. "She can hear us now, can't she, on some level? Always touching your emotions, always aware of you in some way. I was right to leave. It's what was meant to be." "I know that," Luke said softly. "I meant, couldn't you have at least told me that you had had a son? I know you had lost him, but if you had told me, I could have done something sooner to find him. Now....it may be too late." Callista stood up slowly. "It's times like these when I miss my Force sensitivity the most," she said with a self-depreciating laugh. "I take everything the wrong way. It's been a long trip and I'm tired. I'm heading back to my ship. Tell Mara she can find me there if she gets any information for me." Luke put his hand out. "Callista, you don't have to sleep on your ship. You can stay in a suite here. Trust me, it's much more comfortable." "No, Luke," she said, her voice firm as she retreated from his outstretched hand. "I'm going to stay in my ship. Trust me, it will be better like this. Besides, it's my home." She reached the door and stepped out. "And this is yours." Luke sat in the quiet she left behind her, his mind churning over the last half hour. A gentle foreboding washed over him, and he heard the words of his old Master. *Adventure...heh! Excitement...heh! A Jedi craves not these things.* Luke smiled. "Oh, Master Yoda," he whispered, "why didn't you tell me it was because one can hardly crave what one gets in abundance?" Mara straightened her shoulderblades. When had Ghent gotten so talky? Of course, it had been a little while. He had fun teasing her about being pregnant, that was probably it. Wondering what kind of mother she would be. She herself had absolutely no idea. But no matter what else, the kid would be able to shoot a blaster better than her father before she reached the age of sixteen. That was a promise Karrde had had her make. She grinned. "Those were the days," she whispered. But as nostalgic as she was for them, she knew they were far from over. Being a Jedi Knight's mother didn't seem like the easiest job, and Mara knew that the child of Luke Skywalker was not going to be an easy secret to keep. Something between a grimace and a grin crossed her face as she remembered saving Leia and Han's children, many years ago on Coruscant. They had handled it well, and Han wasn't even a Jedi. And Leia wasn't the ex-Emperor's Hand, also known as the Ultimate Predator. These Jabba's Fist scum were going to regret the day that Jabba died. She sighed. Callista had said something about running on sheer desperation. That she would have to be, to come to them--to come to *her*--after all this time and after all the things that had happened. But a lost child was a crisis everyone could sympathize with, even those who had never experienced it directly. Callista knew full well that she wouldn't be turned away. It just made Mara a little suspicious. Even though Mara was always a little suspicious, even when there was no reason. Callista had known about her and Luke, hadn't even seemed too surprised when she saw Mara eight months pregnant. And she wasn't surprised when Luke knew about the child. That part wasn't surprising. The surprising part was, the more she thought about it, was that Luke hadn't *always* known. That it had only come up over the last few days. Weren't Force sensitives supposed to be aware of each other on some level at all times? Especially relatives. Luke was always aware, on some basic level, of Leia. And she had always known he was her brother, even when she didn't actually know. Vader had sensed the presence of his son, according to Palpatine. And Palpatine had always been aware of her every move. That was why he trusted her so completely. What had Callista said about that new technology? Statis blocks? Would that keep the child from being active in the Force? Maybe not completely, but enough to keep his presence a secret? Then again, Vader hadn't known about Luke until Luke became a public figure, and the name SKYWALKER was as good as a flashing neon sign. She could be wrong, entirely wrong. Luke might only be able to sense his son in a fleeting way because that was the way of the Force. Vader, Luke, and whoever this boy was. Callista had never told them a name. She stood up and headed out of the Jaded Sky, stopping at the bottom of the ramp and taking in the air around her. It might rain soon...she hoped so. She loved the feel of the Force after a good rain. It vibrated with all kinds of new life and made the entire world smell fresh. She put her hands over her head and stretched, letting the light pour over her, relishing the tale-telling breezes over her bare arms. The baby kicked. She laughed. *Want to join me, little one? Soon now.* But the baby kicked again. HARD. And again. And again. She had had little tantrums like this before, but this was different. Mara had always been connected to the child through the Force. Sometimes, when she thought about it really hard, she could remember the first moment she had realized that her little girl had been conceived. The child's soul was so real, and Luke himself had touched her presence and predicted she would be very skilled in the ways of the Force. That was all smalltalk compared to what Mara felt now. While she had talked to the baby many, many times, it was not words that the unborn child understood, but rather emotions. Emotions had become Mara's second language over the last three years, and she was speaking it rather fluently. There were no words for this. Then the baby all but leapt out of her. Mara grabbed her abdomen and let out a little groan. What was it? What had upset the child like that? The creature wasn't even born yet and she could detect something Mara couldn't? Taking a deep breath, Mara ran through a calming technique. She let it seep through her and into the baby, sending all her love and peace into her unborn child. In a few moments, it was over, and the baby was still. Luke's arms were around her before Mara could even open her eyes. "What happened?" he asked, slightly out of breath. "I thought you were going to go into premature labor." "So did I," Mara said, her voice a monotone. "Calm yourself," she added, looking at him tenderly over her shoulder. "You know, you're much prettier than Yoda ever was," he whispered, and kissed her cheek. She smiled. "Help me. Something created a disturbance. Our daughter just went...well, nuts. And I can't sense what it was." Luke opened his mind to her, and together they scanned the area. Nothing but the trees, and the Ewoks, and the life, and the coming rain....Luke shook his head and pulled away, but Mara flashed across something...something black and horrible and smelling of death. She would have turned back, but something seemed to slap her away, and she gasped as she stumbled back just a bit. Luke's grip around her tightened. "What did you see?" he asked, his voice hoarse. "I...I don't know." And she turned around, putting their unborn child between them. Suddenly, Mara was very much afraid. "Palpatine?" Luke whispered. "No. Something worse." She shuddered. "Let's get inside, Luke," she said, her arms going around his shoulders. "I...I don't want to be out here anymore." He nodded and they started up the ramp back into the Jaded Sky. 8--Spellbound Callista had told him he was home. He knew she hadn't meant the resort. She had meant with Mara. And nowhere with Mara was more home than their bed. He lay on his side facing her, his right leg slung over hers, his arm stretching across her chest, just above the life in her womb. His face rested comfortably in the curve of her neck and shoulder, her hair pillowing his face. Her arm was wedged between them, her palm against his face, her fingers entwined in his hair. This was home, with her. The peace between them, during these moments, when he could feel how strong she was, how she radiated that vibrant life that had always drawn him to her, even when she was consumed by bitterness and hatred. That love was still there, underneath her skin, waiting for someone to come along and bask in it. Luke basked in it as if it were the sun. All of his life, he had been protecting someone. With Mara, he felt as if she protected him, enclosed him in her aura of strength. It was in these moments that he loved her so much it was painful to even move. *Well, you have to move eventually, Skywalker, or your hand is going to go to sleep.* Luke let out a stream of hot breath against her skin. He wiggled his fingers, the ones that were wedged underneath the pillow under their heads. *I'll live,* he sent back. She turned her head away from him, her breasts heaving up as she filled her lungs with air. Luke raised his head, his cheek sliding against the arc of her neck. His lips found her cream-colored flesh and he began to kiss her. He felt her purr in the back of her throat, and intensified his enthusiasm. Soon his teeth joined in the effort, and the corners of his mouth lifted wickedly as he reached all the way for the most sensitive spot on her skin, the back of her neck where it met her shoulders. He bore down with his lips, his teeth, and his tongue, and Mara jerked with the impulse to back away. The sensation was almost too much, but Luke held her down and let out a low growl. But suddenly she wasn't having any fun anymore. In one second, the pleasure caved in on itself, and a small cry of fear fell from her lips. Instantly, Luke let go and pulled himself up on his arms, giving her as much room as she seemed to need. "What is it?" he asked soothingly. "Did I hurt you?" She was panting, her eyes shut underneath the hand she had clamped over them. "No," she managed. "Just...just don't ever do that again. Okay?" "Okay. I'm sorry." He wanted to hold her, to kiss her, to make her forget that the last moment had even happened. Never in all the time they had been together had she ever acted this way toward him when they made love. Nothing he had ever done had been wrong before. Of course, he had never done that before, either. Was there something about her he still didn't know? She caught her breath and looked up at him, then managed a small smile. She reached up and cupped his cheek in her hand, her cheeks slightly tinted with a blush. "Actually, I'm the one who's sorry. I don't know what got into me." "Are you sure?" He lowered himself again, positioning himself beside her, his arm curving over her, bringing her close--tenatively at first, and then more confidently as the moment got farther and farther behind them. "Well...the last person who did that to me, I didn't take that kindly to it." She laughed lightly, but it fell flat. "I haven't thought of him in years." "Him?" Luke echoed, trying to sound innocent. Her eyes flashed at him. "Jealous, Skywalker?" she said, a touch of the old Mara in her voice. He gave her an innocent farmboy grin. "Why would I be?" he asked. "No reason, really. His name was Cal Saphringer. I met him while I was sloshing around the galaxy for the five and a half years after Palpatine bit the lightsaber. I was twenty, he was eighteen...but he acted older." "A younger guy?" Luke arched an eyebrow. "You wouldn't have known it to look at him. Not every man is as boyish as you." She seemed lost for a moment in the memory. "I don't know what I saw in him. He was pretty captivating, though, at the time. One of those tall, dark and handsome types that usually cause nothing but trouble." "Ah, I know what you mean. You mean those guys that always wear those heavy black cloaks, black outfits, and carry lightsabers. A...a..." he snapped his fingers, searching, "....a Jedi Knight, right?" She punched him in the chest, sending him onto his back, laughing. "I'm being serious!" "I know, and I want you to stop!" He caught her fist and kissed it. "Talking about another man while you're in bed with your husband...I knew the old Mara Jade was still in there." She pouted for a minute. "Fine," she muttered. But he wouldn't give her back her fist. "So he broke your heart, huh?" Luke said, his voice a little softer. "No," she snorted. "I didn't have a heart to break then. I was too obsessed with...." And she stopped, suddenly unable to say it. "Killing me," Luke finished, and kissed her hand again. "Even then, I still had your heart." "More like my undivided attention." She gave him a half-hearted grin. "But no, he didn't break my heart. More like I broke his. He was kind of angry at me for a while, but I just assumed he got over it. He was a little on the obsessive side. I remember being flattered by that, considering he had an ego the size of the first Death Star and could attract people like the maw of Kessel--" "Especially women, like one bitter ex-Hand I used to know." "Damn skippy. God, he was so good looking. But no, there was nothing. I broke it off with him when he tried to go to far. He used that little manuver on me, and I sort of freaked. I think it was some dilluted version of Force lightning that he got zapped with. Some kind of automatic self-defense I can never use when I need to. I had more Force powers back then, and they were dark in nature. All that atrophied within a year after Palpatine died. I haven't seen it again. But you doing that...it wasn't a pleasant memory." "It explains why I didn't do it before. But why would that thought suddenly occur to me now?" "Maybe it has something to do with what I sensed earlier," Mara whispered. "But what did you sense? If not Palpatine, it was something of the dark side." "It was beyond Palpatine," Mara said, her voice still hushed. "Palpatine was only mortal. Even with the dark side. What I sensed was...immortal. But it was only there for a second." "Something worse than Palpatine." Luke shuddered. "But what would that have to do with Cal Saphire...or whatever his name was." "Saphringer," Mara corrected. "I don't know. Cal had a lot of potential. Potential for being bad." She grimaced, her face going into those old sharp angles and shadows. "He was Force sensitive, but was abusive with it. He'd cheat everyone at cards, even his own friends. No one knew he was Force sensitive but me, and he made me swear never to tell. After he tried to...you know...I just sort of cut out. Never even looked back. Didn't even say goodbye to him." She gave a wicked little grin. "Bet he loved that." "Well, it's nice to know I wasn't the first broken heart you left behind." "Oh, shove it down your sarlacc pit, Luke." She pulled the pillow out from under her head and whalloped him with it. "I thought that was your job!" he said, muffled through the pillow. "Oh, wait, but you botched that one up, didn't you?" She hit him again, harder this time. "Insensitive, ungrateful swine! I can always correct that mistake!" "How? You're just a barefoot and pregnant female!" he howled. She pulled herself up on her arm, glaring down at him. Then, she abruptly calmed. Luke looked at her, his laughter fit temporarily stilled. "What?" he asked, almost afraid. "Anger is of the dark side, Luke," she whispered. "Why get angry...when I can get even?" And she abruptly Force-shoved him right out of bed, stark naked onto the freezing cold floor. The glass of water on his bedside table suddenly lifted and upturned itself, and the shower landed on the place he would have least wanted it to. "MARA!" he shrieked, jumping up. "Why, Master Skywalker, is that your lightsaber, or did someone just freeze you upright?" Mara asked, her eyes wide. He just stared at her a second. Then he lept onto the bed, straddling her. "If you wanted it again, Mara," he purred, "there were better ways to ask." "Oh, no!" she hollered, using her elbows to try and scoot away, but there was no escape. "You're not going to warm that thing up inside of me!" He smiled. "You started it." "And I'll finish it!" And she lifted up her leg and shoved him off her. He grunted at he hit the bedpost, but it wasn't hard enough to hurt. Then she bent her knee and wedged it against his chest, keeping him there with a Force grip. "OK, Mara. You win. I give." But he was smirking at her in her undignified position. "Apologize," she demanded, but her eyes were glittering. "I apologize." "Sounds pretty sincere, but I think you're going to have to prove it to me. I'm not quite convinced." His smirk took on a more naughty appearance. "Take off the Force grip and I'll convince you." "The Force grip? My knee is doing most of the work." "I know, but I don't want you to put your leg down...yet." She sighed. "Okay, I give, Skywalker. Just thaw that thing out first." Before she could get out a laugh, Luke was on top of her, and she found out that cold wasn't the only thing that made things stiff. Ghent called back that morning. Mara was impressed with how quickly he had gotten into action, and Callista was nearly estatic that anything on Jabba's fist had been that easy to find. What Ghent found out, however, could have meant anything. "This has got to be one of the biggest coincidences ever," the blue-haired man said, shaking his head, "but it turns out that Jabba's Fist had their last base somewhere on Endor. It was right before they wound up disappearing off the records." "On Endor?" Mara echoed with a frown. "The Ewoks didn't scare them away? I thought scum like that was allergic to cute." "You should know," Luke said lightly. She gave him the raspberry. Ghent cleared his throat. "Well, I'm sending you a map to where it was, and a map of the inside. It turns out that the reason they wound up disappearing is that they were infiltrated by some outside source. There is no mention of whether it was Imperial, or just some competitor. All they know is that he was a Force-sensitive." Luke had his face resting on his crossed arms, which were sitting on the back of Mara's console-chair. He didn't lift his face when he said the name. "Cal?" "Could be," Mara muttered. "Explains why I was thinking about him last night." "All of last night?" Luke teased. "Shut up, Skywalker," but she was grinning. "Okay, Ghent, go ahead and send the stuff. We'll check out any leads. There might be some leftovers in their old hide-out that we can use. Thanks." "No problem." He gave them a small, half-salute. "I'll let you know if anything else comes up." And he was gone. In a few minutes, Mara had a copy of the map in her hands. "I guess Endor would have to have more on it than forests," she muttered as she looked it over. "I mean, how can a planet or a moon all have one environment anyway? Even Tatooine has to have some water on it somewhere." "Hoth was all one environment," Luke said as he purused the lines and pictures. "All ice." "Well...that's different. But even by the equator there had to be something mildly thawed." "I didn't know Endor had a history of miners." Luke traced his fingers over the ridges, his eyes widening. "Listen to this--a spice relative, called 'sugar' for slang. It was all dried up centuries ago, and when the miners left they must have left their work behind for anyone else to use." "It explains it. Where are these mines, anyway?" Luke snorted. "From the looks of this, at least a hundred or so miles away. It'll take us the better part of the afternoon to get there." "Then let's get Callista and go," Mara said, straightening. The she grasped the small of her back, adjusting to the sudden shift in weight. "Correction---Callista and I will go. You stay here." Mara didn't have to speak. The way she looked at him told him enough. "Mara, great Force, you're three weeks away from giving birth!" He threw his hands in the air, exasperated. "You shouldn't be doing anything!" "Luke, when have you known me that I've been able to stay sane and not do anything? Especially when someone has asked for my help?" Then she added, "You didn't have this philosophy when we were fighting last night." "That was different. If I had thought you were overexerting yourself, I would have stopped you. But this is different. These caves might be dangerous. I don't like the idea of you going one bit, and for the first time in my life, I'm going to forbid it. AND expect you to obey. Got that?" Mara had given Luke many dangerous looks in his life. Some he didn't even know about. But the way she was looking at him now was beyond what he had seen previously, and he had to resist the urge to reach for his lightsaber. However, he knew this was right, and that Mara, once her infamous temper could be pushed aside, would realize it. And sure enough, like a flame extinguishing, it did. She turned her head to the side, unable to look at him, and when she turned back, Luke realized with a sinking feeling that she really meant it when she said she was going to go. Now her eyes were totally soft and pleading. A combination he had no defense against. "Oh, Mara, please don't," he begged. "I'm sorry, Luke. I really am. But I have to be there. You can't leave me alone here. Not with all the things that have been happening. Look, I promise that if I have any trouble, you can bring me right back. The first sign, I PROMISE." Luke sighed. "I guess it doesn't do much good to go without you anyway. Since you're the one who knows the most. But I'm going to hold you to that promise, Mara. And we're only going to stay for three days, and then we're leaving. I'm not going to let you give birth to our child in a cave." She positively beamed. "Thank you, Luke," she said sincerely, and then added with her traditional cockiness, "I do always win, don't I?" Luke shook his head. "I just hope you did win, Mara. I have a bad feeling about this." And when a Jedi had a bad feeling, it was not to be taken lightly. 9--Jabba's Fist They managed to rent a small shuttle, although the resort was very hesitant because of all the legal trouble they had had keeping the environmentalists happy. If it had been any other guests than the Jedi Knight Skywalkers, relatives of Chief-of-State Leia Organa-Solo (also a Jedi Knight, although unoffically), perhaps they would not have been rented the extremely nice four-person shuttle that Han eyed appreciatively as he watched his best friend, his best friend's wife, and his best friend's former lover pack up into it and prepare to leave on some crusade he wasn't sure he understood. No one had given him the whole story. He wasn't even sure Leia knew the entire details, although she was not attempting to get any, which was unlike her. "Callista came here for Mara's help," Leia explained to him when everyone was out of earshot. "Why would Mara help Callista? I can't say I'd be inclined to help a former lover of yours out, I don't care how Jedi-minded and noble it would be." And that was when Leia dropped her bombshell. "It's about Luke's son." There hadn't been many times in her life when Leia had left her husband speechless. Not even when she had told him she loved him. In fact, the only other time she could really think of was when she told him Luke was her brother. But Han's face was white and his jaw was slightly slack. "Son?" "His and Callista's. I don't know the whole story. I don't think I want to. They'll tell me when they're ready." Leia looked over her shoulder as Callista appeared in the doorway to the shuttle. The woman didn't look much different than she had nearly eight years ago, on Nam Chorios. Except there were no smoky colored veils draped about her head--this time it was a bare-basics grey flight suit. The malt-blond hair was yanked back into a tail that did not flatter her much, but served its purpose. Callista's eyes had changed, though. They looked very tired, and very old. Suddenly Leia felt very guilty. She hadn't exactly been warm to the woman over the last few days. She hadn't been rude, either--more like totally avoidant. She didn't have that right. It wasn't her place to be cold to Callista--she had no reason, really. Except that Mara and Luke were very much married, and Callista was.....well, she was.... Absolutely no threat at all, Leia realized as Mara stepped out after her and gave Callista a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. "She doesn't bite," Mara said to Callista, casting a look at Leia. "If she did, trust me, I'd be the person to have found out by now." Leia turned toward Callista, feeling extremely foolish but determined to correct that. "I'm sorry, Callie. I haven't exactly been a good hostess, have I." Callista smiled. It made her look young again. "I've been a partycrasher. Don't worry, I don't blame you. I know how important your family is to you." Her eyes took on a look that was light years away. "It is to me, too." "I know." The two women just stared at each other for a moment, and a sudden foreboding washed over Leia. This was the last time she would see Callista. She was absoultely sure of it. So she reached out and embraced her. "May the Force be with you," Leia said. "And you," Callista said, her voice a whisper over the pain of the words. Mara used as many techniques as she could think of to keep herself comfortable on the shuttle. It wasn't exactly designed for pregnant women, she had realized rather quickly. But if she had the entire backseat to herself, she managed rather well. Callista had insisted on driving. That left Luke in the passenger seat to give moral support (as well as disapproving looks) to his wife. "If it's bad, we can turn back," he said. She shook her head. "It'll pass. Sith, if I'd known that being pregnant was like swallowing a giant grainfruit and then trying to pass it I would have quelled my sexual urges a lot more forcefully. No pun intended." Luke smiled gently. "They say the pain of childbirth is quickly forgotten." "Yeah, so women get pregnant again. If they remembered how much it hurt to give birth they'd never have sex again." At that, Luke's gentle smile narrowed into a knowing smirk. Mara sighed. "Okay, it's passed." She turned in her seat. "How much farther, Cal?" "Actually, at the time we're making, we'll probably be there within the next hour." >From the corner of her mind, she could hear Luke turning a word over and over in his head. *Cal?* "Good. I'm going to doze a bit. Wake me a little before we get there." Okay, so Luke was freaking out a bit over her use of a name that hadn't exactly come up in pleasant conversation. With a pang of guilt, she remembered the look on his face when he had backed off of her. *Don't worry about it, Love,* she said, giving him a sleepy look. *Cal, Callie, Callista...sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.* *What?* *Nothing. Another time.* She squeezed his hand. *Just don't talk too loud, okay?* And she was asleep. Leaving Luke and Callista alone. Again. However, Callista didn't seem to care much. She was very lost in her own thoughts, a scowl touching her face as her brain whirled away. For a few minutes, Luke didn't say anything. In those few minutes, he decided he wasn't going to, period. Obviously, Callista had moved beyond dealing with him and his losses and gains. After all, this child was all she had. There was no family on Chad waiting for her, no relatives or close friends. He had been everything. She had sacrificed all of her past for a future that had wound up holding nothing. Nothing except a child that had been stolen from her. Four years ago, Luke would have destroyed himself with guilt over that. But Mara had taught him so much. You learn, you move on. And he was not responsible for the choices those around him made. Even Mara, on this trip against better judgement, even hers, was making her own free choice to be here and help Callista. Perhaps she was only helping Callista because of Luke, but that was still her choice. It had been Callista's choice to leave him, and her choice to return after it was too late. It was just a shame that he now felt like a complete stranger to her. "No, you don't." Luke jumped and glanced at her. She was looking at him out of the corner of her eye, and she shrugged. "I don't have to be Force sensitive to know what you're thinking, Luke. Body language says enough. Anyone ever tell you that you have a tendency to wear your feelings on your face if you get too comfortable?" "I wish I was. Maybe then we'd have more to say to each other." "What is there to say? Do you want to relive those days?" She shook her head in distaste. "I really don't. Neither of us were happy." "You still aren't. You're still carrying around regrets." "We all carry around regrets. Sometimes, I wonder if my whole life has been one big regret." She sighed. "I'm sorry, I don't want to be bitter." He chuckled. "Bitter doesn't bother me." "Oh, that's right. You're turned on by women who hate you." The look she gave him was sharp. "I don't hate you, Luke. I never did, I never will." Luke didn't know whether to be insulted or reassured by her words. He felt kind of both. "I get the feeling there's something you really want to say to me that you're afraid to say." "And here I thought I wasn't Force sensitive." She took a deep breath. "I would be lying if I didn't admit that I still have feelings for you, Luke. I know everything I've said over the last few days about the way things turned out for us being right and all, but it would be wrong for me to say I liked it. I don't like it. And it wasn't easy for me to come here and ask your new wife for help, considering I would have liked nothing better than to have....well, I can leave that much unsaid." She blinked at a few tears. "I regret the moment Cray stepped aside for me. I wouldn't have been tempted to take it. You could have cherished a memory that would have been pefect. I would have had a place in your heart that would never be touched." "But you do." "It's not the same. Coming back spoils the memory. You remember all the bad things, all the reasons 'why not.' None of the good looks as good after it's over." She sniffed. "I just feel like a walking emotional timebomb and I'm terrified I'm going to go off." "I'm sorry, Callista." "And that's just it. You're not, not really. I know I said that before, but I'm saying it again. You and Mara...I was just an interlude. A temporary. A distraction. Sooner or later, it would have gotten ugly. Either she would have come between us, or you would have wound up wondering for the rest of your life 'what if.' With you and me, there is no 'what if.' It had no chance of happening. And what hurts the most is that you're okay with that." Luke had no idea what to say. What did she expect of him? And then, she finished, and Luke knew she didn't expect anything from him. She just wanted him to know. "I just wanted to be the one that got away, you know?" She gave him a sad smile. "I wanted to be the perfect memory. There are women you put on pedestals and women you hold in your arms, and she's both. I don't know how, but she is. And I don't have a chance at either. I just wish...I had." They didn't speak again until they neared their destination. When Mara awoke, she knew that something had transpired between her two traveling companions. They didn't look at each other, and she could hear words rolling around Luke's head. Words that didn't make sense--words like "pedestal" and "regret." Okay, with Callista, regret made sense. But for some reason, the emotions rolling off him were not what she had sensed before. It was almost as if he were feeling guilty that he wasn't more upset over Callista. Callista...what? a little voice inside her asked. Mara didn't know. And it didn't really matter, anyway. After all, Callista was the mother of Luke's son. No matter what happened from here on in, Callista would be come a permanent part of Luke's life, forever. Mara had to accept it. Maybe not like it, but accept it. And this Callista wasn't so bad. The years had toughened her up a bit, brought back the warrior she was sure Callista had been, almost seventy years ago. After all the girl had enough guts to shut down the *Eye of Palpatine.* From what Mara knew about that, it hadn't been an easy job. Being in the body again after all those years as a ghost had to really mess her up a bit. Of course, she realized she was making excuses for Callista. Excuse after excuse...for reasons she would only let herself admit to in a prepheral way. Maybe she was doing it for Luke's sake. Or her own. She knew she had to figure out a way to deal with it soon because it was going to get in the way otherwise. Either she had to forget about it and just let it go--which wasn't such an impossible thought--or she would confront her. Quite frankly, she didn't have the right to confront her. As the shuttle landed, Mara made her decision. She was going to let it go--unless Callista, for some unthinkable reason, decided to open her mouth and say something really dumb. Then Mara would pounce. Until then, it was "stick to the misson" girl for her. When Mara took a deep breath of air as the shuttle touched the ground, she felt it all leave her. Worrying about it was futile. It didn't do any blasted good anyway. They landed in a rocky clearing. The ship settled easy enough--it was small and light, which meant it would, regardless of how well the area was shaped for heavy traffic. When the three travellers stepped out of the shuttle and glanced around them, they remembered why illegal groups were so well hidden--they picked the least appealing and least accessible places possible to hide in. Mara gave a snort of approval. "They were rather smart for such a small group. Although it's pretty clear why they didn't last long from here. Those mines still probably have sugar residue in them. It may have gotten thick in the air and well...you know how well a human brain functions on heavy drugs." "Like frying an egg on a rock," Callista said as she neared the cave entrance. "How about us...how well will we fare?" Luke was watching Mara intensely as she answered. "Don't know. We're not going to be living in the stuff. We can take a sample before we go in--it's probably best." "Good idea. I'll do it." Luke pulled a small probe out of a pack sitting by his seat in the shuttle. It was times like this that he missed Artoo. It was also times like this that he wished Mara would be less of a Jedi Knight and all-around free spirit and just be an obedient wife. *I heard that,* she shot at him with a smirk. Luke got close to the mouth of the cave. He didn't like it one bit. The bad feeling from earlier was nearly a scream, and he couldn't take it for more than a few moments. He practically stumbled over his feet as he scrambled back to Mara and Callista. "What is it?" Mara asked, slightly shaken by Luke's emotions. "Readings are minimal. There's no real threat from the sugar if we don't stay long." He let out a loud sigh. "If it were up to me, you two would both be back at the resort faster than Han could make the Kessel run." Callista was slightly pale. "Luke, we're just going to go check some data. I'll go in and you and Mara can wait out here. This whole thing is my doing anyway." "No, I'll go in." Luke shot a heavy look at Mara. "What, nothing to say?" "I think you've said it all, Luke." Maybe she was starting agree with him. Luke hadn't felt anything like this since the cave at Degobah. He was so lost in the creepy feeling that he was actually startled when Mara handed him her datapad. "Bring whatever you can carry to me. I'll take a look at it out here, okay?" She touched his forehead to find his sweat. "Or you can let Callista do it," she added so only he would hear. "No, I'll go." He took the datapad and then his eyes met Mara's. They shone like precious stones, and he felt a sudden strength. On its heels was a strange foreboding, and for one moment he was ready to renounce the whole mission and take both her and Callista back, as far away from this place as he could. Then Mara kissed him lightly, *See you soon, husband,* she sent to him. They weren't words, but feelings. Luke nodded and briefly touched Mara's belly before he turned and walked into the cave. Callista came up to Mara in Luke's wake. "What is it?" she asked, perplexed by their actions and vexed that she couldn't feel their feelings. "I'd like to think it's just a husband and wife thing," Mara muttered, distracted. "But somehow, with him, I doubt it." Luke walked into the cave and immediately expected Vader to come charging out at him with his red lightsaber. But this wasn't Degobah. Hothfrost, this place was just an old hideout for some smugglers--if this place was a darkside pit, he would have sensed it long before now. This fear was irrational, like it wasn't even his but the feelings of someone else being transferred onto him. The fact that Mara had been freaking out, on and off, over the last few weeks didn't help, either. He wanted to dismiss all of this as her fears and forebodings backing up onto him. She had seemed so extremely calm as she watched him go into the mine entrance. Maybe somehow he'd wound up taking both of their angst with him. Yes, that was probably it. The main room of the cave wasn't exactly all the way in the mines. It sat out a bit, in front of a big intersection of caves. Three gap ing mouths stood open before him, but the old computer consoles--what was left of them--sat against the far walls. The holoplatforms were rusted through, the controls coated with all kinds of webs, and every piece of furniture--if it could even be called that--was covered with insect dung. Luke sighed. This wasn't going to be easy. He shut his eyes and reached out with the Force, scanning over everything lightly. The only life around here was small and harmless. He could rummage without fear of being bitten by something lethal. As he scanned, his sensed caught something. It was far off, in the third cave. He looked and saw a pale yellow light flicker. Maybe some sort of trick switch, or a safeguard that was still working. Something to light the way after the smugglers returned from a long hard day of slave trading. Luke snorted. He was starting to sound like Mara. The light got brighter, and for a moment, Luke was blinded. He blinked several times and found long yellow shapes before his eyes. But they all paled when he looked down the throat of the cave again. It was a lightsaber. A little boy was holding it--he couldn't have been more than ten. Luke could only make out his shape--small, nearly elfin-like. The face was smothered in shadows, and the lightsaber lit everything but him. "Down here!" the boy called. Then he turned and vanished, the yellow light vibrating and humming behind him. Luke didn't know what came over him. He immediately ran after him. And just as he did, he heard a terrible crack. As he met the half-way mark to the end of the third cave, he turned around in time to hear Mara shouting his name from the main entrance, and watch the old support beam in the main room's roof give away, and the entire world come crashing down right onto the spot where he had stood. A full minute later, after the last of the crashing sounds had vibrated away, Luke ignited his lightsaber. The green glow lit the way back, and the way ahead. It didn't seem to give him much choice. As Mara would say, sometimes, Destiny could be as obvious as a kick in the head. "LUKE!" The word vibrated off the air even after the loud crash had passed. Mara stood staring at the pile of rubble, disbelieving. Luke was not dead. He wasn't under that pile. He couldn't be. She would know it if he were. Mara stood only feet away from the entrance to the cave, using every ounce of her self control to keep herself from rushing inside. Maybe nine months ago she could have handled that, but she had to think for two. And as her self control was occupied with the task of keeping her feet from moving, it was taken off her anger, which rushed at her like those rocks had rushed at the floor. *How could we have been so stupid!* she raged at herself. Every warning sign in the universe had been thrown at them. What did they need, the spirits of all the old Jedi Knights standing in front of them waving red flags? Yet like blind mynocks they'd gone right into this head first! How could they have been such idiots!?!?! Then she realized why, and her anger flooded out of her. It was for Luke's son. Whoever he was, wherever he was, it was to find him. Nothing would be spared. Mara knew that, felt it as if it were her own child. It was her child, if it was Luke's. Any part of him was a part of her. So Mara turned back to Callista with a wry look on her face and said, "Well, shall we complete this tragedy by going and digging him out? After all, the worst thing that can happen is that we get trapped in there, too." Callista was looking at her as if she had a deathwish. "Aren't you supposed to refrain from heavy activity?" she ventured. Mara shrugged. "I suppose. But I'm also supposed to help keep Luke alive. He sort of depends on me for that, you know." She carefully began picking her way closer to the mouth of the cave. "I'll Force-lift everything, I promise," she called, guesturing for Callista to follow. "Come on!" Callista followed. "Sure, let's go get buried," she said. It was the only time in her life that she was glad she wasn't Force sensitive. The foreboding of the moment would have been suffocating otherwise. 10--Vaiya Luke saw a small light in front of him. It was only a pinprick, hardly visible in the harsh green glow of his lightsaber. The only reason he saw it was because it was a brilliant blue, and blinking quickly. He shut down the lightsaber for a second and reached out through the Force to try and find the distance. Either it was an electrical device, the mouth of the cave was incredibly far away, or it was a this planet's version of a spice spider and he was about to get chomped. His mind touched no life--okay, spider option out. It didn't feel that far away-- couldn't be an exit. But it didn't feel like an electrical device--actually, it was rather soft against his fingers, like it was chemical residue or maybe a piece of sugar. Luke pressed against it hard and some of the black gave way, making the blue brighter. He kept scraping and scraping and the blue got bigger and bigger until it was big enough to light the entire room. Something was behind the blue "stone"--he couldn't think of a better word--and it didn't look like it was supposed to be there. Then it hit him. This was a stasis block. Luke ran his finger along the edge. It was so strange--smooth like stone, and even soft, but when he pulled his hand away none of the blue substance clung to his fingers. It was an odd illusion, but it made some sense. It was almost like the block was made from--hard light. Like his lightsaber, only not. He used to think that impossible. Obviously someone had proved him and the rest of the galaxy wrong. Of course, he doubted that that mattered much to the creature frozen inside the block. And looking at the blue too hard hurt his eyes. He ignited his lightsaber again and made sure that he was at the edge of the block before he began cutting. He was careful to get a good inch of the stone between his blade and the block--no telling what would happen if the two substances--so much alike and yet so different in purpose and nature--touched. He'd wait to find out. He didn't have any intentions of making this place his tomb. The rocks were moving rather well. Mara could taste a little bit of the "sugar" residue in the back of her throat, but paid it little attention. Callista was stronger and quicker than she gave her credit for. She had more rocks moved by hand than Mara had with the Force. Of course, Mara was holding back. No way some Force-begotten misfit was going to show her up--- She stopped herself. What was wrong with her head? It didn't feel right, like she was falling asleep and her baser thoughts were getting the best of her. She felt so heavy, like she just wanted to lie down and stay there, watch the world pass over her head. Maybe if she could get her Force-powers to focus, she'd make herself float. She'd float all over the place, never walking again, never having to, because she could FLOAT, freeze it all to Hoth.... "Mara?" Callista's voice was distant, like she was talking through rock. Why was the ground so close? Oh, right, she was sitting down. Maybe she should lie down--the ground still seemed too far away. Callista watched as Mara's knees went out from under her and she sat herself on a flat rock, then put her head down beside her, her eyes shut and her breath thready. Callista looked up, over Mara's head. There was a nice opening that the cave-in had caused in one of the previously sealed walls. A nice sparkly white stream slid out of it, like sand in an hourglass. It powdered into the air and made a cloud that was dancing about Mara's head. Callista pulled a thick cloth over her mouth. No sense taking any chances--Mara was getting out of here. Besides, the mouth of the cave didn't look so stable from the inside. Tying the cloth into a stoud knot, Callista proceeded to pick her way over the rocky ground toward Mara, but for some reason her feet wouldn't work right. Her ankles felt like they were made of rubber, and they wouldn't hold her up. So the flailed her arms about and struggled for balance, and started to think about the performers back on her homeworld of Chad, the ones that used to walk in the vines above the heavy pools of glasswater that bubbled every once in a while from the heat of the core of the planet. She'd seen an animal--some kind of reptile, maybe a watergater or a grino--fall into glasswater once. It gave her nightmares for a week. There was glasswater all around her now. She couldn't fall...couldn't lose her balance for a second. And as she saw the melting tusks of a grino and the dissolving jagged teeth of the watergater floating under her, Callista screamed and reached for the big support beam that had fallen cockeyed from the ceiling, the only thing holding the rest of the structure up. It slid. Instantly, the pretty sparkly white of the "sugar" vanished underneath a giant boulder that smothered it under a mountain of dust. The dust infiltrated Callista's lungs and she started to hack and cough, a terrible deep and rumbling attack that made her gag and loose what little breakfast she had been able to consume that morning. Callista felt her head clear and realized that the sugar was moving out of her blood system, that the dust had buried it. She looked at Mara, whose head was raised slightly, her eyes partly glazed over but gradually clearing as the stench of the vomit reached her. She shook her head and her face turned grey, green, then white. She rolled over onto her hands and knees and threw up her share, Callista had never been so happy to smell the acidic stink of vomit in her whole life. "We've gotta get out of here before that thing comes down!" Mara was shouting, her green eyes wide and gaping at the beam, which was rumbling--Callista could hear the noise, which had sounded so distant before and was now deafening.--and shaking and getting ready to--- Mara lunged for it, but she couldn't move fast enough. In fact, she wasn't moving fast at all, because not only was the main beam coming down, but more of the boulders from the ceiling. As if in slow motion, Callista watched as one of them started to slide down two older, rotted, smaller beams, which were cracking under the weight--right above Mara. The worst that could happen--was about to get even worse. Callista lunged forward and grabbed Mara by the shoulders, trying to move her out of the way without shoving her too hard. She got between Mara and the boulder and wound up getting it on the side, which sent her tumbling, and the force made her toss Mara forward with more momentum than she had intended. She heard Mara let out a loud, pain-filled grunt, but it was nothing compared to the noise of oblivion coming down on Callista's head. Mara looked over her shoulder in time to see the boulder that Callista had saved her from. It landed right on Callista's abdomen with a terribly loud crunching noise and Mara saw Callista's eyes glaze over in unconsciousness. Mara reached out with the Force and lifted the boulder into the air by a few mere inches, the effort causing a wrenching pain through her gut. *The baby....* But Callista would die under that boulder. She didn't have the strength, and she could feel her insides beginning to scream. Was she hemmoraging? Was it bad? She slumped forward, her hand extended with the effort. She had to do something or they would all three die here. She had to do something...something....something! And something happened. There was a new strength in the Force. As if someone else was in the room with them. *Luke?* But he wasn't there--not visible, at least, and it wasn't his presence. The baby stirred within her, the movement causing Mara a jolt of pain. But the stone lifted off Callista by a good foot, and moved to the side to slide away like a pebble. Mara hadn't done that. Who....? No time. The ceiling was going to kill them both. Mara reached for Callista and stopped herself mere seconds from moving her. From the way Callista was lying, Mara could tell things were broken, crushed, pulverized. That stone had to weigh at least a quarter of a ton, maybe more. She couldn't move her--but she didn't dare not. Then there was that presence again, and Mara realized that it had never left. It was there with her, always there. She had sensed it for as long as she could remember being pregnant, had sensed it in the beginning, when she and Luke had made love one night eight and some odd months ago, right in the cockpit of the Jaded Sky, right after Mara had made Luke take some stupid dare. She loved goading him so much sometimes it became a turn-on. She had felt it on and off, touching her mind like whisps of words, meanings but no thoughts, emotions but no connections. But now it was strong, as if it were tangible and independant, as if all that swirling mass of life and soul had a body of energy. Her baby was using the Force, and she wasn't even born yet. There was a shield over them both, her and Callista. Mara tried to help but the effort brought on too much pain. The little rocks pinged off like asteroids on a deflector shield. The bigger ones swerved away from them, rolling off to land a good few feet away. The big beam came down and half of the main chamber was filled with large debris, blocking the entrance--and the exit. The other half of the chamber lay open, although it wasn't sure for how long. When it was over, the shield faded. Mara sat up and saw that blood was trickling down her leg. She would have paniced, but the life inside her was strong and thriving. Then came the worst of it. The first labor pain. It wasn't so bad, really, except that there was nothing at all appealing about giving birth in this sithpit of a wrecked hideout. There was nothing wrong with the baby--of that she was certain. Unless, of course, something happened to Mara. And something was happening to Mara. The smell of the blood, the way Callista's broken body stretched out under her--all of it was wrong. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. She was in very big trouble. Luke felt something. Mara was in pain. They had followed him in and gotten caught in the second cave-in. But it wasn't right. Something wasn't clear. She was muddled, through the Force. He tried to reach out to her, to help her, but he couldn't focus, couldn't concentrate. He bit back the urge to panic. For an instant, he felt like he was watching Ben Kenobi die all over again, that sudden and complete shock of loss, that pain so terrible he didn't think he could live from it. Then he had reacted, firing at anything that moved. And then came the memory of when the dark side had threatened him, during his and Mara's trek through the Hand of Thrawn, when she had gone under the shelter of the ysalamari. He had thought her dead, and had wanted to destroy everything in his path to get revenge. Just as quickly, he put all of that aside. The only way to help Mara--and their daughter--was to get out of this cave. The first cave in had clearly left him no front exit, and he knew he wasn't strong enough in the Force at the moment to lift those rocks out of his path, even to get to Mara. Maybe if there was a back exit he could get around to the front and call for help. The block in his hand seemed to be heavier than it was a few moments ago. He stared down at it, lost in its eerie glow, feeling his eyes getting dry and heavy. Then it hit him--it was the stasis block. Somehow, it was distorting the Force. Maybe if he set it down...no, that didn't help. Maybe if he got some distance between him and it---so he started down the tunnel, feeling himself get clearer as more feet of earth separated them. When he felt clear enough to think straight, he turned around. He hadn't felt this sluggish since Nam Chorios. It was worse, even, like trying to run while up to your waist in water. At least on Nam Chorios he had been able to concentrate..... It made sense, though. Something that put life in stasis as this block was supposed to do had to interfere with the Force. The Force came from all living things, but whatever was in that block was suspended from life. It didn't age, it didn't breathe, eat, sleep, any of those things. While alive, its life had been put on hold, and with it, the Force that came from that life. Luke approached the block again, steeling himself for the sluggish affect. The block had a small deactivation pad on the top of it, but Luke couldn't see it well enough to work it. He ignited his lightsaber over it, but the mixing of the green and blue light was just too much on his eyes. He couldn't very well leave the block here...but taking it with him would slow him down. And in the moment of conflict, Luke sat down, nearly hypnotized, lost in the Force-distorting blue glow. Mara didn't know she had blacked out until she heard a voice calling to her through the Force. Instantly, she wanted to believe it was Luke, but it wasn't. It was a woman, and she was strong--stronger than Mara had ever encountered in her life. *Mara, come on! You have to get up!* She blinked her eyes. What had happened? Oh, yeah, the cave had come in on Luke, then on them when like a couple of mindless Ewoks they had scrambled in after him. *Real smart, Jade,* she chastized herself. *Don't make it worse by giving up.* Who was that? Mara raised her head and pushed her hair out of her eyes. Her temple hurt from where she had hit a rock when she passed out. She could feel the bruise starting to form. "That's it." Same voice--now vocal, but weak. Filled with a gritty pain, like someone dying..... "Callista!" Mara cried, jerking up and instantly regretting it. She was on her hands and knees, her stomach cast to one side in that motherly preservation instinct. There was blood running down her legs, but the baby was fine. But the baby would only stay fine for so long if Mara didn't get to a medical facility soon. Then her eyes focused on the body in front of her. Callista was awake and staring at her, a trickle of blood coming out of the corner of her mouth, her body in a position that wasn't supposed to occur naturally. Mara dragged herself closer. The voice she had heard before----*Yes, that was me,* Callista sent at her, an ironic smile on her face. Mara froze. *How long?* she asked. *About five minutes now. I felt it right after the rock...well, hit me.* Callista's ironic smile widened, and Mara could detect an edge of sheer joy. *It was worth it.* *Well, if that was all it took, why didn't you tell me sooner?* Mara joked as she managed to pull herself over to Callista's side. *I would have been more than content to throw a rock at you.* Callista would have laughed, but the sound was of strangled pain. Carefully, Mara cradled her head in her lap. "Easy," she whispered. "Don't try to move." *No, talk to me through the Force. It's been so long.* The grey eyes were hazy. *You're much stronger than I would have thought.* *Oh, really?* Mara cocked an eyebrow. Callista managed a grin. *That was a compliment.* *And here I thought you were human.* Mara gently combed back the tendrils of malt brown hair that threatened to cover Callista's face. Then she shut her eyes and tried to reach out for Luke, but felt like she was reaching through a six inch thick piece of transparent rubber to do it. He knew she was hurt, but couldn't do anything about it. He was stuck, too. There was something even more odd about Luke. It was almost as if he were hypnotized. Callista grunted. *Can't get him, can you? Me neither. It's like he's half here. Even with me dying and you going into labor...you'd think his insane overprotectiveness would kick in during situations like this.* *Don't talk like that,* Mara admonished. *Why not? It's the truth. It has to be. It's the only reason the Force came back to me.* *No it isn't.* Mara's green eyes were serious. *Have you ever tried to think about why you lost your Force powers?* *More times than I can think of. Actually, I'd rather discuss something else on my deathbed, if you don't mind.* Callista's face rippled with pain, but Mara remained steady. *When I became a Jedi Knight, I had to make a sacrifice. Luke had to make a sacrifice. And you, during your life, had to make a sacrifice. You know that.* *I was selfish to take Cray's body. I know.* The grey eyes showed the first sign of tears. *I paid the price.* Mara frowned. This was the last way she'd planned it, but she would never get the chance. *If you could change it back, would you?* *Absolutely.* For a moment, there was just a sensation of shock. *You know,* Mara began, *when I first realized you were going to be returning to Luke's life, I was sure that you would hate me.* *I did.* Okay, honesty for honesty. *But you just said you would change it.* *Mara,* Callista broke off for a second, the final death pains setting in. Mara could feel them, a grinding, weakening pain, like a dog crushing a bone between his jaws. One jolt was so hard it made Callista jerk, and Mara had to change her position to partly hold Callista down to keep her from making the pain any worse. *I love Luke. I will always love Luke. And if I had had one wish, I would have wanted both him and my Force powers. But I had to face the truth--without my Force powers, Luke--life!--had no meaning. Luke wasn't first for me, and it wasn't fair to him, so I had to let him go. I didn't want to, but I had to. And that was the first step. I had to admit that ugly selfishness in myself, and it was my first real lesson in humility. Humility, Mara,* Callista added, her eyes stone serious, *is the first step on any journey of self-discovery. But when I realized I was pregnant, I always hoped that when I got my Force powers back, Luke and I could try again, but I suspected that you and he would eventually.....* Callista sucked in her breath. It was close now. Mara could feel it. *Easy,* she sent soothingly. She felt so sorry for this woman, having to die in the arms of the one person she had to resent the most. *I don't resent you,* Callista told her. *Not now, anyway. It seems pointless. I spent these years divided between chasing my son and chasing the Force. I wish I had been wiser.* She grew very quiet, as if considering her next words. *Mara, there are so many things I wanted to tell you and Luke. I've traveled so far in the galaxy, and found so many things. I've even made some discoveries that could change the way the galaxy looks at the Force...but there's no time for them. Except one.* And then her eyes shone a brilliant silver-grey, as if she were seeing something beyond Mara, beyond the cave, even beyond the Force. *You've had visions of your daughter, Mara. Your Vaiya, your stonelifter. It's a word from the ancient language of Chad, what my father used to call me when I was little. I lifted stones early, but your child surpasses even me. Your daughter will realize the things I have only begun to learn on this mortal plane, and revel in discoveries during her life that I will only know in death.* They weren't so much words now, but a rush of feelings and emotions, tied up in thought but untangling themselves into words in Mara's mind. "Tell me," she whispered into the stillness of the cave. *The Force...is not unto itself. It is part of something, part of Someone. I have only had a taste of this knowledge, Mara, but it is as infinite as the Universe, as all Universes, and even beyond them. The Force...is only the beginning...not the end." She was going now, but it was strange...as if she were a glass of water being spilled out into the ground and let to flow where it would. The eyes were fading. "Find...my son," Callista managed. "I will," Mara promised. Callista nodded, and the look on her face would forever be burned into Mara's mind. "Even this..." Callista whispered, "is not the end...." And then Callista died. 11--Perfect Memories Luke blinked. Okay, something was wrong. He was just sitting her, and he shouldn't be. Staring at that block had done something to him, but for some reason, like a switch, it had been turned off. He straightened. How long had he been sitting here? And where were Mara and Callista? Then he reached out with the Force and--------- *LUKE!* It was so familiar, like a dream he had forgotten but treasured dearly. Someone was there with him, someone he had met before in this same way. On a ship, a long time ago. She was everywhere, filling the cave, only this time not the ghost of a Jedi Knight who had sacrificed her body and cast her spirit into a machine, refusing out of some sort of pride to go into what lay Beyond. This was Callista--as she truly was. She glittered like Ben, like Yoda, like his father, Anakin, but she was different. She did not stand before him, he could only see her face amist the dark of the room. She was the only light other than the stasis block. Even that seemed dim compared to her. "Callista," he whispered. *Luke, you have to help Mara.* No tearful reunion, no mourning over her death. She was simply there, with a purpose and a strength he had once known. Where had she been, if not inside Cray's body? Taking flesh again had corrupted her. This was purity, this was the woman he had once loved. That a part of him still loved. *She's dying, Luke!* Callista admonished him. But it was only to get him moving. The panic that rose in Luke's chest the longer the Force was normalized around him was held back only by his wonder at the spirit before him. *And the baby?* *Vayia is well, but she won't last long without her mother.* *Help me find them,* Luke begged. *I don't have long. You'll have to hurry.* The face disappeared and he saw the currents of light swirl down the tunnel. He followed at a dead run. With Callista gone, there was only her own pain to think about. Their Force connection had made Mara only aware of the deathpain that Callista had been experiencing, therefore blocking her own. Now it was just the two of them. It was overwhelming. What had gone wrong? Had she ruptured something? Had a rock hit her in exactly the wrong place? Or was it just the plain and simple fact that this was how her body worked? Childbirthing would be impossible again, if that was the case. If she even lived. She lay down on the rock, feeling the hot sticky blood on her thighs. It pooled on the ground beneath her, tricking down the jagged curves of the boulders around her. Luke would find her--she had to stay alive long enough. Not for her sake, or even Luke's, but for Vaiya's. Vaiya. The stonelifter. Her Jedi Knight of a daughter who was not even born yet. Mara shut her eyes, touching the mind that was not so small. Vaiya responded, her brain functioning on levels that were impossible. But because of the Force, it was possible. Either that, or they were both dying. Mara felt her eyes sting with tears. That would NOT happen. Her daughter would not die. She would live. She had a future to face. Mara had done her job. She had brought her into the world. She would stay alive, Vaiya would be born, Skywalker would have a piece of immortality and a piece of her. He would make a wonderful father. So Mara shut her eyes and concentrated. She didn't want to go into a trance, for fear that she would lose touch with the baby. Who knew what a Jedi trance would do to a pregnant woman? The entire body shut down--she had to keep her body alive. Maybe a healing technique...she focused all her remaining energy on her womb. She wasn't far from giving birth. Her water was about to break. Maybe it would wash away some of this blood. She felt so tired. She hurt so much, and it was so unfair. Why couldn't she be alive to see her child? Why did destiny have to be so cruel? It brought Luke and her together only to separate them again. It gave them a future only to take away the present. It was all so twisted and wrong! In those few moments, Mara felt her grim determination start to give way to self- pity, and then despair. She slipped into a partial trance, simply because she lacked the energy to stay awake. Only the child mattered. Only that thought would keep her alive. Luke knew he was out of breath, and if he didn't stop to catch it he was going to pass out. There was a real light now, at the end of the tunnel. It was daylight. It was a back exit that those low-life slave-trading smuggler, bless their paranoid hearts, had installed for quick getaways. Callista was still with him, but she was getting faint. Luke panted and reached for her. *Which way?* *Around that boulder. You'll see a path to the front. It's a bit of a climb, and I can't stay with you. Mara is slipping away.* *You're leaving me? Now?* *I have to, Luke.* He could see her again, this time more definite in shape. She looked like she had in his vision, the one time he had been with her as she truly was, before she had taken Cray's body. She smiled at him. *You do remember.* *Of course I remember.* In that moment, it all came back to him. That one perfect memory, that one tragic lost love that was never meant to be, that feeling of sorrow and joy mingled together. It was the only thing Callista had truly wanted from him. Just to be remembered as she really was. *I love you, Luke,* she told him. He wanted to reply in kind, not wanting to spoil the beauty of the moment. He had loved what they had shared, had loved what they had, but he did not love her. Not like he loved Mara. Mara was everything, Mara and his daughter. But Callista did not seem at all expectant. Her presence was oddly warm. *Don't worry. I understand. In a way you don't yet understand, I love Mara, too. Goodbye, Luke.* She vanished, leaving only her memory. Luke reached the mouth of the cave, a heap of cuts, scrapes, and thick drops of sweat. His clothes were ragged and tearing, and his hair was mangled with dirt and grime. It had been a little over a half-hour since he had started over that mountain, but he had made it, not losing his focus once. Now that he stood before the mouth of the cave and was totally exhausted, he had to face the biggest trial yet. He had to get Mara out of there. He stumbled to the shuttle and called for help. He wasn't sure who he got. For a minute, the guy had sounded like Han, but Luke wasn't paying attention. Just bring help, he told them. Just bring help because Mara's trapped and she's go ing into labor, but she's hurt.... No, Callista said she was dying. Luke ran back to the cave and began digging. Then he stopped because he could hear the vibrating of the beams. If they gave out completely, they would completely crush Mara and their child. He reached for her. Maybe if he could rouse her, she could help him. It was a vain hope--he only touched her comatosed mind, just a shadow of the woman he knew. He pushed, but there was nothing. She had shut him out. Shut him out! Luke backed away a bit, Mara's feelings of despair and self-pit lashing out at him like the leftovers of a stingtail's attack. What was going on inside her head? But there was little time for that. He had to concentrate on the task at hand. Yoday had told him that size mattered not. He had to believe that now. He had to, if he wanted to get Mara out. Because he had to hold up the entire roof of that abandoned mine if he wanted a snowball's chance on Tatooine of getting her out of there alive. He shut his eyes and concentrated. He had to do this. He *would* do it, and while everyone had tried to tell him that the dark side was filled with the love of power, no one had given much thought to the fact that the light side was filled with the power of love. His love for Mara would move that entire mine if it had to. It had to. Mara didn't know where she was. It wasn't dark or cold here, but there was a discomfort here that made her ache. She could see pictures, but they were distorted and choppy, like pieces of a holovid strung together but in no order that made any sense. The strange part about them, they were of herself, and she felt none of that queasiness that most people experience when having to view themselves. It seemed perfectly natural to sit here and watch her play out her life as if she wasn't even a part of it, as if she were someone else and herself at the same time. Luke was there, too. In some he was courting her in the days long before the Caamas Document Incident, as it had come to be known historically. In fact, it was in many. It should have seemed odd to her, or at the very least, touching. These were romances in the truest sense of the word--his heartbreak over Callista and then his discovery of feelings for Mara that he didn't know were there. *Can we say, rebound?* she thought to no one in particular. They weren't all bad. In a few, there was real love there. She could see how their relationship could have been so normal, so average. Their sparks and passion similar to any other two young heroes in love. They dated in some, in others Luke simply confessed that he loved her and declared that he wanted to marry her. In some she tried to run, in others she embraced it whole-heartedly. In nearly every one, she was with him. It seemed inevitable. For Mara, it only confirmed the obvious. There were others that were not so easily stitched together. In one, it came too soon and she utterly rejected him, never to speak with him again even after she realized how wrong she had been. In ano ther, something terrible happened to Luke, and Mara had rescued him from a life of doomed emptiness only to find herself at the center of his heart. Still in another, it took a whole lifetime for her to come around, and even then she had been forced into it by the rescue of a child that would never be. Mara didn't know if there was more sorrow over the wasted time or the child that didn't exist. He seemed like such a handsome lad, a rebel who couldn't overcome his boyish orgins. He was no hero, or any Jedi Knight, but he had such potential. Some were downright amusing, pictures of a future that didn't seem so alien, or paths that completely sidestepped history to find that the last ten years had all been one big dream. Others were mockeries, but all with happy endings. Some didn't touch her and Luke at all, merely kept them separated, sometimes hostile, sometimes with potential for more, but the line never stretched that far, and it would leave Mara wondering--how now? Then there was one where Luke betrayed her. Mara wanted to scream as she felt the pain tear through her doppleganger. Couldn't the dumb farmboy control himself? She had been so understanding, and this was how he treated her? And then there were those where she didn't exist, they had never met, and Luke lived happily ever after with someone else. What was wrong with him anyway? She tore herself away from the kalidescope of visions. She had seen enough. "Don't you know what they are?" Mara didn't turn to face the voice. She wasn't sure she had a head to turn at that point. But the owner wasn't trying to hide herself. So this was the real Callista. "I give up," Mara said, her harsh sarcasm kicking in. "Alternate paths. Futures that could have happened but never did. In nearly all of them, Mara, Luke is with you." "Not all of them." "More than not. Even those futures where you didn't see yourself present, you were still there in some of them." She grew distant, sad. "I cannot claim more than a few myself." "Yes, but you got what you wanted, didn't you?" She felt the anger make her surroundings darken a bit. She didn't know how she knew, but she knew that something had happened. "Your one perfect memory, something I can never touch." "This is tiresome," Callista said, obviously irritated. "Mara, Luke is killing himself over trying to get you out of this cave. How can you be so insecure? Don't you believe that he loves you?" Mara wanted to shake her head. The darkness was so close, it felt so much easier to give in than to fight it. All the old rage, all the old hatred for Skywalker and his arrogant Jedi-Masterisms... "You're despairing, Mara," Callista warned. "Your injuries are not that bad. You can survive them. You don't have to die if you don't want to. You can fight...I've always been told that you're a fighter." Mara wanted to shut her eyes, but wasn't sure she had eyes to shut. "Go away, Callista. They'll save Vaiya, that's all that matters. I'm just so tired...I want to rest so much." She felt so weary that her being seemed to stoop. *Mother.* That woke her up a bit. That hadn't been Callista. Then she saw her again. All strawberry blond hair and eyes the color of Mara's new lightsaber--that pale teal blue-green. She was full grown, but her features were vague, as if she were a pencil drawing that hadn't been given defined features yet. But she was alive...so much alive, and so very filled with emotion. Vaiya had called her Mother. Mara wanted to embrace her, and found that she had arms to do so. Vaiya was so close...why was she here with her? *The doctors will come soon and take you with them,* Mara assured her, although she wasn't sure if Vaiya understood. She would certainly never remember this, unless something triggered her. This would probably be the only memory of her mother she would ever get. Mara was so weary, the urge to give up was closer now. She hugged her daughter tighter and reached out with her mind. There had to be some place in her daughter's soul for her to carry something with her, and someday remember her mother as she truly was. In that moment, everything Mara knew of herself was poured into Vaiya, and locked away deep in the back of Vaiya's mind. Perhaps the trauma of being born would wash it out, but at least Mara had tried. She had given Luke his daughter, who would have a glorious future. She was done playing this game. She could offically retire, like she would have eventually done from the trading game if Luke hadn't come along like that.... Then Vaiya was gone. Mara could hear a cry--rich and deep, beautiful and moving in nature. Vaiya had been born. 12--Light Luke didn't remember much after he started lift ing stones. It was twisted and broken in his memory. Mara lying in a pool of blood, Callista nearby. Mara in the back of the shuttle as Luke drove at an impossible speed to the nearest medcenter, which thankfully was half the distance to the resort--only in the opposite direction. Telling Han and Leia what had happened. Mara's face, as white as the sheets she lay on, as the doctors told him she had lost so much blood. Luke searching for her mind to realize she was too far away, then reaching into her body to help it heal while she was gone. Hearing the cry of his daughter had woken him. What had Callista called her? Vaiya? Was that a name? Surely Mara would never agree to a name Callista had picked. The doctors asked him what the name was, and Luke firmly said, "I'll discuss it with my wife when she awakes." "But Master Skywalker," the doctor protested gently, "your wife is in a very serious state---" The look Luke gave him shut him up instantly. "How do we help her?" Luke said. The doctor sighed. "We've given her blood, but it will take a while for her body to recover. I cannot lie to you, Jedi Master, but the longer she is unconscious, the worse her chances get. If you can reach her through the Force, please do so. Only her will will keep her alive." Luke carefully pushed the hair out of Mara's face. If there was one thing Mara Jade Skywalker had, it was will. So what was wrong? He kissed her. "Don't leave me, Mara," he whispered. He had lost so much in his life. Even his own family. They had all died or left him for their own families, even Han and Leia, those closest to him in the world. All his loves had either died, left him, or both. In fact, with Callista dead, that only left Mara. And there was *only* Mara. From that, he knew he would never recover. It didn't matter where or when anyone else had come and gone. Mara was different. If she died, the baby would bear her name. Luke had to let that thought go. He couldn't bear to think of raising his daughter without Mara--if he was even able. If Mara died, he might just die with her. "See how ridiculous you're being?" Callista stormed back and forth. Okay, so she had a body here, her old body, the one with the right features, but the same malt-brown hair and grey eyes. "God have mercy, Mara, but you are pathetic!" "Trying to goad me, eh, Callie?" Mara challenged, liking the feel of it. Yes, it was about time she got down and dirty with this woman who would have liked nothing better than to steal Luke away. She'd show her exactly what Palpatine had taught to his Hands. *Mara!* It was Luke. It was the sweetest mind she had ever touched, and it stopped her cold. But it was only a flicker, and it faded quickly. Mara realized what was happening...the dark side was having its last hurrah with her soul, trying to drag her down into the madness at the last minute by making her despair over Luke. And why should she despair over Luke? "EXACTLY what I was trying to say!" Callista shouted. "Come on, Mara! Where's that spirit I've heard so much about!" Mara smiled, but froze again. Okay, she wanted to live now...but how did that put her in any better situation than she had been in fifteen seconds ago? No sooner had the thought come forth when Callista began to glow brightly. "That's more like it, Mara," she said, before disappearing in a brilliance of light and color. "We'll meet again, my friend...but not for a long, long time." Then the light was overwhelming...and it became Something Else. Mara reached for the It, reached for Callista within It, a thought coming to her mind of panic, but the cry of "Don't leave me yet!" dying in her throat. There was no chance to say it. In one of the briefest spans of time, Mara became Aware. It was not just knowledge and power and wisdom in that light that was folding back toward her, spreading over her outstretched fingers. It was the very Fabric of Existence, the Essence of the Force, its Master and Guide. Mara was entranced. This was beyond anything she ever knew, anything she could even fathom. She was staring into the Face of eternity itself, where Callista had gone, but not before saying that the Force was only the beginning. Then It pushed. Color exploded around her, and before Mara could more than revel in the beauty of the moment, it was over. She was back. She opened her eyes, feeling strange. She was lying on something that was mildly comfortable, but that didn't explain the warmth coming from beside her. Turning her head just a little, she reached out with the Force. The presense was so familiar.... Luke lay beside her, his eyes closed in sleep. But he was troubled. He'd been there for several hours, but the dark circles and deep lines in his youthful face spoke of more time spent at her bedside, worrying. She hesitated to move, remembering how strongly her body had objected to being immobile for so long all that time ago on....what was the name of that planet again? She could only remember it as the place where she and Luke had discovered that they were in love. A slight turn of her neck revealed that she was remarkably better off than was reasonable. Obviously some Jedi Master had been working his healing magic on her again. She vaguely remembered the lingering presence of pain and sorrow concerning him, as if for some reason she had doubted him. She made a note to never be so foolish again. There had been something else, though...something beautiful and warm, something so full of love she could have stayed there forever. But she hadn't. Why hadn't she? It was hard to remember. Her dreams were all getting faint. Could that have been Luke....? No, it was different. It was beyond even Luke. She smiled. Now she remembered why she had left. Aside from the obvious in the form of the man beside her. Her stomach was much flatter than before...apparently, their much expected guest had arrived. "Luke," she whispered. His eyes snapped open, their crystal blue quickly losing the foggy film of sleep. He raised his head, the pure joy taking years off his lined face. "Mara," he whispered. "You scared me." "Sorry. For what it's worth, I scared me, too." "How do you feel?" "Like a wampa's unfaithful girlfriend." She grinned...or rather, she tried to. "How 'bout you?" "Like a new father." Her emerald eyes glittered. "Take me to her." He frowned. "Mara, you need to rest---" "I've been resting. I want to see her. Please, Luke!" she begged. "Mara, you know that she came early. The doctors have her under observation. They can't bring her here." "Then take me to her." "How? You shouldn't move at all." "I don't care...carry me if you have to!" He sat up and sighed. "Okay, but only because you're her mother." He gently lifted her into his arms and she put her own arms around his neck, even though she lacked the strength to support herself. The doctors and nurses stopped them at the door. "Where are you going?" the head doctor practically shrieked. "To see the baby," Luke said calmly. "It was unwise to move Mrs. Skywalker so quickly after she regained consciousness---" "Listen, boys," Mara said, a hint of her old fire in her voice, "there are two ways to do this. You can either get out of our way, or we can get you out of our way. Trust me, I may have been on my back for the last---how long has it been, Luke?" "About two and a half days." "But I've got enough in me to make you all feel pretty unpleasant if you don't let me see my child." Mara gave them a good glare. "Anyone care to see if I'm bluffing?" For all the machinery around her, the newest Skywalker looked healthy and happy. Even though Mara couldn't touch her with her hand, she reached out with the Force and felt the peace in her daughter's mind. *Mommy's here,* Mara sent. The recognition flared back, and Luke started in surprise. "She knows you already," he said. "Of course she does. Vaiya is a smart little girl." "Vaiya...." Luke muttered. "That's what Callista called her." "Because that's her name." "Is that what you chose? Don't I get a say?" Mara looked at him. "Okay, Daddy, what do you have to say?" "I think....Vaiya is a beautiful name. Vaiya Jade Skywalker. It's perfect." Mara smiled. "I thought you'd gotten wise in your old age." Luke turned his eyes toward her. "Who are you calling old?" But he was so happy it was radiating from him. They watched Vaiya for several minutes. Finally, Mara said, "You know about Callista." "Yes. I arranged for her to be taken back to Chad and buried. She always loved her homeworld." He paused, and she could tell he was thinking about something troubling. "What?" she asked softly. "I kept her lightsaber." Mara shifted slightly in his arms. "Any particular reason?" "I felt...our son should have it. When we find him." Of course. She nodded. "I think that's a wonderful idea." He looked at her again, and she could have lost herself in that look. "I love you, Mother Skywalker." She could only look back at him, speechless with her emotions. He felt them and pulled her in closer to kiss her. "I should warn you," she said, "I have terrible morning breath." He grinned that grin that had always made her insides melt. "Ask me if I care." He didn't.