MOSAIC: Part Two---Bane of the Present Author: Christopher Dzwonnik Timeline: From 6 to 20 years after Visions of the Future Summary: Luke and Mara try to raise their child, Vaiya, while protecting her from the dark forces that threaten them as Jedi and as a family. Mara continues her search for Callista's child, and winds up running into a face from the past that for a change makes Luke's jealousy flare. However, this old friend is anything but harmless. As Vaiya gets older, Mara realizes that her memories are affecting her child's fate, and one night Vaiya has a terrible vision that threatens to destroy her very sanity. 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). Premise: The Skywalker Holocron has been recovered and returned to Callista Skywalker by her fiancee, Dayved Karrde. As the two potential Jedi hold it, the images of the legendary Jedi Masters appear to tell the tale of their family history. In this tale, told by Callista's once-lost son, the childhood of Vaiya as the daughter of Luke and Mara Skywalker comes to light, and it is not the prettiest picture. The road to Jedi Knighthood often begins at birth. INTERLUDE 1---LOST SON Callista stared at the image, which had grown rather solemn. "So that was who I was named for," she said softly. "Indeed, although you have inherited my red hair." The image moved, and her robes seemed to flow as if they were alive. "That was the birth of Vaiya Jade Skywalker, who was an honor to the woman who saved her and my life. Vaiya grew quickly, and it seemed like the eyes of the galaxy were rivited on us. Such attention is not healthy to the life of a Jedi. There were attempts to steal her from us that we had to thwart time and again. Luke and I returned to our ship, the Jaded Sky, and fled Coruscant to return to Yavin IV, where Luke had now changed his Academy into a humble school. We thought that the presence of many Jedi would be good for Vaiya, as well as offer her sufficient protection. But I was unhappy with settling in one place, for the roots of lust for adventure and excitement were not yet dead in me. Luke, for his part, was disappointed that my idea of our completing the training of Jedi Knights-to-be while we were actively traversing the galaxy had not yet been attempted in fact. We were Jedi Knights, but we were parents first. We should have realized that this was the best path, the safest path. When one takes on lofty aspirations, one had far to fall when they fail. But no, we thought we were failing the rest of the galaxy. So Luke began to teach again, even though he was limited to the surface of Yavin IV, and I became engrossed in our daughter, for she had powers in her youth that were not safe for her to have. Power such as that is never safe, but in the hands of reckless youth, it is more dangerous still." "But..." Dayved interrupted, and Callista looked at him sharply, nearly upset that he had broken the image's story, "what about the boy? The son of Master Skywalker and Jedi Knight Callista? Did you ever find him?" "That was Valery Ben Skywalker, was it not?" Callista asked the image. "Yes." The image's eyes seemed distant. "The boy eluded us. We were unable to find him, and we were burdened with our new responsibilities and the responsibilities we thought we were to have." "But two great Jedi Masters such as yourselves," Dayved objected, getting more dirty looks from Callista, "should have been able to---" "I was not a Jedi Master. Not yet. I had no real wisdom--only space-smarts that I had picked up in my long careers as an assassin and a smuggler. I was no Master of the Force. But I was going to learn." She paused, as if having memories too painful to tell. "The next tale in our saga shall be told by Valery Ben Skywalker. He will tell you why." And she vanished to reveal a young man with deep brown hair and somber grey eyes, dressed in a simple blue robe much like the one Mara had worn. "Greetings, friends," he said, his voice dignified, like he was addressing a house of important people. The gentleness on his face, however, implied that he truly did think of them as his friends. "I have been called upon to tell the tale of my sister Vaiya and my mother, Mara. The story of their connection is too painful for either one of them to tell, so they have entrusted it to me." "Painful?" Callista echoed. "But they are Jedi Masters. How...?" "Knowing one's limitations is vital if one is truly to grow." The image smiled. "Humility is the greatest and most hard-learned of all lessons. My mother and sister have asked me to tell the story because their certain point of view is colored by their emotions. They know they cannot be secure in relating its wisdom through their emotions, but I can." "You keep calling Mara your mother," Dayved pointed out. "I thought Callista was your mother." "Callista gave me life and birth," Valery Ben said solemnly, "but it was Mara Jade Skywalker who gave me the love of the mother that I never knew. She is my mother, in spirit. So I shall begin this tale where she left it. My parents had returned to Yavin IV to raise Vaiya, but it was not the happy home that they had dreamed of. Other things weighed on them that they did not realize were not their duty. Only when they discovered their enormous responsibility in Vaiya did they gather the courage to return to their old life as wanderers of the galaxy." PART TWO: BANE OF THE PRESENT 1--Yavin IV The scream came from their main chambers. Luke turned around, the hairs on the back of his neck rising not just with the chilling pitch of it, but with the familiarity of the voice. He'd been dreading when Mara would discover what the young twelve year old pre-Jedi students had accidentally made with their Force tinkering. Perhaps he should have done more to prevent it, but watching out for Vaiya was all her could have handled that day. Besides, these kids needed a real lesson in invoking the wrath of a Jedi Knight. And Mara needed a lesson in patience, which she still needed, in spite of how she had mellowed in the last years. Not that Mara Jade would ever mellow. Never completely. There would always be a spark in her, ready to ignite. These poor youngsters had unfortunately found it. "SKYWALKER!" she raged as she stormed out of the building, her green robe blowing about her in the late morning breeze on Yavin IV. Her hair looked like she'd been catching a quick nap, and as she got nearer Luke could see the sleep marks on her face, where she'd been leaning against her hand. *Wonderful,* he thought. *She's angry and tired.* "You guys had better scram," he said to the three adolescent boys before him. They nodded, their eyes wide in awe at the caliber of Mara's scream. The air was still ringing. Even the trees had shakens lightly with the Force impact. "I'll handle this." They scampered off as Luke turned completely around and caught Mara in his arms. "Good morning, my love. You look beautiful," he tried, his smile coy. "Don't you dare, Skywalker," she growled. "Do you know what those three prize students of yours did in our kitchen?" "Make you breakfast in bed?" he tried, all innocence. "HA! You should see their idea of cooking. Is that some stupid Force trick you picked up during your bachelor days that you never told me about? Cooking eggs in mid air? Didn't you bother to tell them to be careful not to let them explode all over the ceiling? Or what about the flour and milk? If you put them together, you get glue, not pancakes, and it's glued the cooler door shut! Not to mention the bacon! Here I thought you couldn't kill pork twice!" Luke just continued to smile at her, risking enraging her more, but put as much affection as he could into it in the hopes that it would distract her. "You're so beautiful when you're creating a dark side disturbance in the Force, Mara," he said. It was like taking a chisel to a diamond in just the right spot. Instantly, she was trying not to laugh. "I'm serious, Luke. I don't want you bringing them into my kitchen ever again." "Yes, mistress," he said with a flourish. "That's more like it," she said. "Now who is going to clean it up? Not me." "You just said they can't come into the kitchen anymore. Who does that leave?" "You." "Oh, no. I didn't do it. I didn't have anything to do with it. They were just trying to surprise you and they got carried away." "Their hormones got carried away is more like it," she snapped, angry again. He was going to have to curb this temper of hers or one day it was going to get the better of her. But before he could stop himself, he found himself sighing and saying; "You're on your period, aren't you?" Instantly, he regretted it. She slapped him across the chest with the heavy, wide sleeve of her robe and spun away from him. Three-year-old Vaiya, who was sitting on a thick blanket not ten feet away, giggled. "Daddy whap whap!" Mara scooped her up into her arms. "Daddy can go whap himself tonight, he's not sleeping in my bed," she muttered as she carried Vaiya back toward the quad building. "Come on, sweetie, we're going to practice our levitation skills in the kitchen." "I love you!" Luke called lamely. "Eat my lightsaber!" she snarled back, and then turned her head again to look at him over her shoulder. Her hair flew about her head like a flame. "At about eleven o'clock tonight." "It's a date," he said with a smirk as she disappeared through the door. Ah, Mara, Mara, Mara. Thank the Force she would never really change. 2--Wanderlust Mara watched at Vaiya made her toys spin in the air around her, like she were a small planet and they were her moons. "Slower, Vai," Mara instructed, and observed the reduced speed. Vaiya was learning the most important thing of all rather young--how to listen to instructions. Sometimes Mara asked Vaiya to so something just to make sure the girl was always paying attention. If Vaiya's attention wandered, it could be dangerous. Like the time she idley picked up the Artoo unit that Luke was so fond of, and even though the droid was quite used to being the subject of Force exercises, she raised him too high and the droid squealed in panic. Vaiya paniced, too, and wound up tossing the droid so hard it took all of Luke's strength to catch him before he was dashed to pieces. Thank the Force Luke had been there to do it. Mara didn't like to think about how lucky they were that Vaiya didn't have many temper tantrums. There were a few ysalamari kept in a nearby shelter to put by her bed at night if there were any reason. Like potential nightmares, although Mara monitored her daughter's thoughts regularly. She had a good feeling for things like that, although she could never completely predict it. Once Vaiya levitated herself in her sleep, but that was as bad as it had ever been- -without ysalamari. All the other times had been safely avoided. She sighed. Motherhood was more work than two smuggling jobs and being a Jedi Knight. Tiring, too. She stood up and stretched. "Okay, Vai, it's time for your after lunch nap." "Awww," Vaiya moaned. "Why when you get sleep sleep, I gotta nap nap?" "She's got you there, Mom," Luke said as he entered the apartment. Mara shot him a dirty look tinted with the hint of humor and scooped Vaiya up to take her to bed. The little girl yawned. "See, you are tired," Mara said, then yawned herself. "Okay, Mommy." The little girl curled into her mother's embrace. "'Night 'night." "'Night 'night." Mara set her down in her crib. In a few weeks, there would be a new baby bed to put together. Force forbid those boys should try and help again. Although, Yoda love 'em, they *were* just trying to help. Vaiya's eyes popped open again the second she was prone on the mattress. "Why we say that, Mommy?" "Say what, sweetie?" "Say 'night night' when it dayshine? What we say during sleepy in day?" Mara had never thought about it. "I don't know. We'll have to think of something. Although I think you think too much, for a three-year-old." Vaiya smiled. "I special for three year old, Mommy." She rolled over onto her side. "Day day." Mara would have laughed, but Vaiya had instantly fallen asleep. She pulled the cover over her and crept out of the room. In the kitchen, Luke was cleaning up the last of the mess and fixing them a light lunch. "Did they destroy all the bacon?" he asked. "Yep. And the butter, too." She eyed the sandwiches he was stacking. Okay, so maybe lunch wouldn't be so light. "Not too much for me, Luke," she said, patting her stomach. "I still haven't shaken those last few pounds from carrying Vaiya around." Luke looked at her admonishingly. "I don't make Skywalker supremes for dieters. Especially for those who don't need to diet." He frowned. "But I think something is eating you." "When isn't something eating me?" she laughed wearily as she walked around behind him and put her arms around his shoulders. He'd always been so fine-boned and slim, and with his Jedi exercises he was surprisingly compact in the muscle department. Ever since Vaiya had been born, she'd felt like she was getting old--things sagged that had never sagged before, her hair was just barely sprinkled with some grey, and it seemed that all the lines on her face from her frowning and scowling years had caught up with her to turn her once smooth skin into a zig-zagging maze. She almost wished she had been more vain so that she could have fought this harder. But age caught up with everyone. Even Mara Jade Skywalker. Luke reached around to put his arms around her waist, still keeping his back to her. He leaned his head back and it rested on top of hers, which was nestled between his shoulderblades. "Are you sorry we decided to stay here?" he asked, "No," she said, her voice sure. "Vaiya needs planet life. She can't live between the stars, like us. She needs sun, sky, fresh air--" "She'd have those things in space," Luke pointed out. "Not the same." "Nothing is. The sun and sky here isn't the same as it is on Coruscant, or Tatooine, or Wayland, or Hoth!" "Hoth?" She gave him an amused look. "Just making a point, dear. Nothing will ever be perfect. It doesn't even matter where you are on the outside. It's where you are inside that counts." She raised her head and let go of him. He turned to her, looking at her earnestly. It was easy for him to say. He hadn't aged much. He'd cut his hair so it didn't billow around his head in those sandy locks he used to have, and he'd changed his style of dress slightly, favoring button-down tunics made of light materials and heavy pants made of thicker but comfortable stuff--all black, but it was a change nonetheless. She had returned to her old flight suits, the black ones with the round collars and no sleeves. She even wore that white scarf-hood sometimes, when she went out in the middle of the day. Sometimes, Yavin IV could get a little bright. "I know," she said. "Jedi's don't crave adventure and excitement. I know all that. I don't think I ever did crave adventure and excitement. It's that..." and she squirmed, instantly turning Luke into the cuddling husband with his hands on her shoulders. "I feel like I've been domesticated." "And?" "It bothers me." "Why?" "Because it isn't me." "I agree. So what should you do about it?" "I don't know." She frowned at him. "You're supposed to be objecting here, you know." "Objecting to what? You being domesticated? I don't think you are, but you obviously do, and you have to do something about it. The question is, what?" "I've thought about it," she admitted. "But to be honest, the only thing I can think of is a vacation away from here, away from Vaiya, even. Just you and me, like we used to. Or maybe...." "Or maybe just you," Luke finished. "But I don't want to leave you, and I certainly don't want to leave Vaiya." She shuddered. "Remember when we left Endor? She wasn't even three months old, and word was already out." "It had to have been out for a while, for them to have planned so well." Luke smiled at Mara, remembering how ferociously she had defended the safety of her daughter. The Emperor's Hand may be dead, but she had left behind skills Mara would always find uses for, when the times were right. "I don't want to risk that. I'd rather stay." "And be miserable?" He shook his head. "No, Mara, you're right. You need to take that vacation. Just go away for a few days, you don't have to go long. Go and catch up on what you've been missing. We'll be here when you get back." She shifted her feet. "I'll think about it." "You'll be gone by the day after tomorrow," he predicted. "All you have to do is go call Karrde and find out what he's been up to. Trust me, Mara, I know you." She grinned at him. "Have I told you lately that I love you, Skywalker?" "Not lately, no." She kissed him on the nose. "I love you." "I love you too, Mrs. Skywalker. Now hurry up and get out of here so you can come back. I miss you already." 3--Searching Of course, Luke did not tell Mara what he really thought. Before Vaiya had been born, she'd had disturbing visions about her daughter's future, but had decided to put them to rest and let them work themselves out in time. Besides, it wasn't like she could do anything about it, and since Vaiya's birth they only occasionally popped into Mara's dreams. It wasn't anything she couldn't handle. Callista's death, however, had been another story. At first, Mara had been content to continue to scour old records for traces of Jabba's Fist, trying to figure out where here child might have been sold. After a year of searching, she had to conceed that an organization like Jabba's Fist wasn't going to leave any evidence of their activities behind them, and the law hadn't been solid enough to keep any real records on them to give Mara any trail to follow and find those who might have had some association with the old slavers group. There was simply no scent to pick up, and she'd had to put it aside. Luke had done his part. Every night, he searched for his son through the Force. He reached out to places he had never thought he could reach. During the year Mara was tracking records, they had moved a lot, before they had settled on Yavin IV permanently. Luke was able to use the different distances to reach out to new places every time, but he never touched anything. Then she'd given it up, feeling that she'd exhausted every port and now had to rely purely on destiny and Karrde (a frightening combination, Luke thought, but said nothing) who still had his ax to the smuggler's grindstone and promised he'd let her know if he caught a whiff of a clue. She trusted him. Besides, if it had to do with smuggling, Karrde would eventually stumble across it. They stayed mobile for a while longer, several months, actually, but they had to consider Vaiya. She needed planet life. Growing up between the stars with no native planet just didn't sound healthy for her. She needed people other than her parents, other children, other Jedi to be around. So Luke had to content himself with learning to stretch out a little farther every time from Yavin IV. About a month ago he'd given up searching. It was unlike him to be that way, and he knew it should bother him but it didn't. Something just told him to sit tight and wait, that something would come. Just like Mara had said about her visions of Vaiya, that she just had to be patient and it would all reveal itself. He hoped it would work for him. As Mara put in a call to Karrde to let him know she was coming to pay a visit, Luke joined her, his senses tingling in an odd way. "Your timing is perfect," Karrde told them after they had finally reached him. The man made it impossible to reach him by comlink, but Mara knew how to do it. "I just stumbled across an old trader friend of mine who worked with me back when Jabba was alive. He worked with Jabba's Fist for a little while after Leia strangled the old slug, around the time they disbanded. The leader, some guy named Karander, kept a disc of his credit report on him at all times, but the son of a jawa wound up getting shot in the back by his second, who didn't care for the way he was running things. What really frosted it was the fact that Karander had a lot of deep loyalties from his thugs, and they turned on the second. Of course, with Karander dead, there was no reason to let those beautiful credits go to waste, so my friend, Rand, swiped it. He and Karander went pretty far back, too." "He took the credits, of course," Mara said dryly. "Like any good smuggler," Karrde replied smoothly. "He kept the disc as a momento. Supposedly he kept some other information on it, too, but it was coded. Ghents cracking it. He should be done by the time you get here." "Sounds good," Mara said, biting her thumb. "I'll call you again when I take off and let you know when I'll arrive." "Fine." And he disappeared off the holovid. Mara turned to look at Luke. "Sounds like destiny to me." Luke frowned. "All this destiny makes me uneasy. Are you sure you don't want me to come along?" "I'd love it, but I don't want to drag Vaiya on this. And we can't leave her here alone." "We could leave her with Leia and Han." "And how many times were their kids stolen?" Mara countered. "Point. OK, you go. Hurry back with whatever you find." "I will." She kissed him. "I'll be ready to go by mid- afternoon. The Jaded Sky's been being prepped since this morning." "Anxious to leave me?" Luke asked, cocking an eyebrow. She cocked her head to one side. "You know, don't you?" "I know you, Mara." He grew solemn. "We've both done our best. He's my son, wherever he is. But if he was sold...I doubt it was to be a slave. He probably has a home, parents who love him, friends. He has to be nearly eleven now. I just wonder...if we're doing the right thing." "We never said we were going to take him," Mara said softly. "We just said we were going to find him. If he's happy, then.....you decide. I'll stand by you, no matter what." He smiled at her. "When did you get so wise?" She shrugged. "Don't know. Kinda just happened, I guess. Whatever else that happens, Luke, we can at least find him. We owe ourselves---and Callista---that much." He nodded. "May the Force be with you." "And with you, my love." She left to finish getting ready. Luke stared at the empty glowing holovid, where Karrde's image had been, and sat down where Mara had left the nearby stool. He shut his eyes and concentrated. He hated that Mara was leaving. He had to admit it. He didn't want her to go, he wanted her to stay. Because just as she had always feared that he would leave her for Callista, even though she knew he loved her and only her, he had always feared that she would grow restless being a good Jedi wife and eventually leave him for her old life among the stars. Then he reminded himself that she had trusted him to let him go and meet Callista when Callista had returned. He owed her the same thing. He had to give her this chance. He loved her too much to keep her against her will. And he knew she would return. The question was--with what? He thought about the statis block. A few weeks after Mara was safe and stable, he had had Leia order a demolition crew out to the mine to block it up. It was Callista's grave and therefore off limits, plus Luke didn't want anyone getting hurt there any more. But before they blocked it up, a crew went in and recovered the stasis block for further study. Luke briefly remembered getting word about it around a year ago. The technology was questionable and therefore banned until it could be studied further. But the most important thing about it was that whatever was inside a stasis block was temporarily put on hold from life. And if that was true, then the Force, which was generated from all life, would react to it like the ysalamari. It would bubble around it because no Force came from the creature inside it. Yet, it had done more than that. It hadn't just blocked the Force. It had distorted it and hypnotized Luke. That made it dangerous to a Jedi. And if his son was still trapped inside it, that would explain why Luke could not even feel his existence, why he seemed to have no feelings about his son at all. Sitting down at the console, Luke began to record his thoughts, and planned to give them to Mara before she left. Maybe she could make some sense of it. After all, she was the one going on this mission, not him. Even though it was his son, it had been her promise. He sighed. He hoped she hurried back. Living without her would be like living without the sun. And worse than that...he had a feeling that dark times were ahead. 4--All Business "All right, Karrde," Mara said, tossing back the white hood as she stepped into his new office, "where is the disc?" "Hello, Mara, it's lovely to see you in the flesh again," Karrde said, a half-grin on his bearded face. She smirked at him, and it turned into a grimace. "When are you going to just break down and shave that thing off?" she asked. "When I feel like it. Shada doesn't mind it." "Where is she, anyway?" Mara asked casually. Karrde waved his hand dismissively, but Mara knew him well enough to know that the absence of his new wife bothered him. "Off doing something important, I'm sure. Is this wives-going-away-without-their-husbands thing a sickness that's going around? I hope she misses me half as much as you miss Skywalker." Mara's eyebrows furrowed down sharply. "Excuse me?" It was Karrde's turn to smirk. "Please. You didn't even say hello to me. To *me,* your former boss, your one-time savior, your friend. Come on, Mara. You only left him a few days ago." "Three," she breathed. "I thought this was going to be a good idea, but about a day ago I started to get all...I don't know. Antzy." "An antzy Jedi is something I rarely get to see." He grew thoughtful. "Any particular reason?" "No. I just know I have to get back home as quick as I can." She let out an exasperated sigh. "You know, I'm getting really tired of this." "Of what?" She plopped down on a nearby sofa and shut her eyes. In spite of her itchiness to get home, she was actually glad to be in close company with someone who wasn't a Jedi. "All this back and forth nonsense. When Vaiya was born, I kept having this terrible feelings that I was mediating on and meditating on until I thought it would drive me nuts. About Palpatine and why he took me from my parents, and how Luke and I were destiny--" she gave a slightly mocking snort in order to take the corny edge of the phrase--"and all that. But the worst of it was, there was something about Vaiya and Luke and Callista's son that were so significant, but for the life of me I couldn't figure them out." "They're the children of the Jedi," Karrde said with uncharacterisitic poetic license. "What else is there?" "Something more." She remembered that day before Callista had returned. "There was something on Endor when Vaiya was born. When Callista died, it seemed to retreat a bit. I know Endor is where Palpatine died, but it wasn't him. It was bigger than him, like a manifestation of the dark side, a-- -" "Demon?" Mara looked at him sharply. "Yes." Karrde nodded. "They're not unheard of. Perhaps Palpatine invested in darker forces than you realized." "I never thought about it." "I can see why." He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, tapping the tips of his fingers together. "It isn't something you would want to think about, that's for sure." "I guess this demon had an interest in Vaiya." "Could be...or Callista. You said she'd lost her Jedi powers and could only touch them through the dark side. Maybe it was closing in, since she was on the way to her death. It happens." Mara cocked an eyebrow at him. "When did you get religious?" Karrde laughed. "I'm not. But any good trader knows who believes in what. It can keep you from getting shot at, and can also make you better bargains." He returned to thoughtful mode. "It makes sense, Mara. Vaiya may well be destined for great things. You said she's very Force sensitive, she was lifting things while still in the womb. You and she obviously have a deep connection, beyond the regular mother-daughter thing. All of this is perfectly natural." "I know. But I'm worrying myself to death and I can't take it. If it's not one thing, it's another. After I got the bug about Callista and Vaiya's birth out of my system, it's now become finding Luke and Callista's son. It's eating at me like a cancer." "Perhaps you should trust more." "Trust who? What?" Karrde shrugged. "You're the Jedi. You tell me. The Force. A god. Pick something, Mara, there's plenty to pick from." "I've never been that religious. Besides, the Force embraces all religions. If we picked a religion, we might cause more problems than we solve." Karrde smiled at her, a touch of old-age in his rugged face. "If you've got a demon on your tail, I'd find a good place to hide, and soon." Then he added, "people are so quick to believe in the bad things. You would think they'd be even more inclined to accept the good as well." "Well, my *point,*" Mara said, not liking where the conversation was going, "was that I keep getting these urges to get up and go, then come right back again. I wanted to go to Endor, then I wanted to leave. I wanted to settle on Yavin IV, then I wanted to leave. I wanted to take a vacation away from Luke and Vaiya, and now I want to go running right back again. I can't seem to make up my mind and it's driving me nuts." "Wait. You're still young." Karrde stood up and walked over to his desk. He opened up a drawer and pulled out a silver disc with an irridescent gleam on its underside. "Here's the disc," he said, holding it out to her. "Maybe it will help put some of that wanderlust to rest." Mara stood up and took it, grabbing it with the Force purely by habit. "Thanks, Karrde," she said, turning the disc over and over in her hands. "At the very least, it will tie up a loose end." 5--Duran At first, as Mara scanned the disc in the Jaded Sky that evening, she was inclined to think she'd just gone on a wild goose chase. But at the very end, the disc started to go on about a planet named Duran, which was on the very edge of the galaxy, one of the few rim worlds that had a flourishing civilization. The problem was, it was rather primitive, considering it had nearly blown itself up a couple of hundred years ago. Mara had heard stories about Duran during her first few years as the Emperor's Hand, but the Emperor had never seemed to care enough to bother with it. As long as it didn't interfere with his plans, he was content to leave it alone. Besides, it was a desolate place in those days, still trying to recover from its own crises. Duran was considered by many historians to be a working model of the past, and how many planets had survived the age of spacecraft technology and all the wonderful advancements science had made in the quest for sentient-life dominence of the galaxy. According to the disc, Duran had recovered, but closed itself off to outsiders for the last hundred years. He had been smuggling stuff to certain parties, but always at heavy costs for damage done to his craft. They did just dislike visitors--they were absolutely hostile toward them. But he had made one last shipment to them before Jabba's Fist when the way of its namesake, and it was dated about ten years ago--right around the time Callista would have had her child. Mara looked toward the casement that held Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. Beside it, they had placed Callista's lightsaber, determined to give it to the boy when they found him. Luke had suggested--oh so tactfully--that because they seemed unable to find the boy, and even if they did they might not be able to actually contact him, they should give the lightsaber to Vaiya when she was old enough, to use it at least to learn with until she made her own. She sighed. If this trail came up empty, she was going to do just that. After all, they had named Vaiya after Callista. The old Jedi Knight had told them her father had called her Vaiya when she was a child, a Chad word for "stonelifter." It had fit. And Callista had died to save Vaiya's life. In a way, she was her guardian. It would not be an insult to honor the woman's spirit by giving her lightsaber to the child she had saved. Until the boy showed himself. Which Mara knew he would. Someday, somehow, in some way, that boy would come into their lives. Mara was sure of it. And the sooner, the better. She didn't know why she felt that way. She just did. The planet Duran was a good distance from where Karrde had set up his new HQ, and Mara had to contact Luke and tell him she was going to be a good while longer than she had anticipated. When she explained why, he posed no objection, but he was not happy about it. Mara could feel it, even across the light years. "How long?" was all Luke said. "About a week there, then a week and a few days back." She grimaced. "I don't like it either, farmboy, but--" "But it ain't like dustin' crops, I know," he replied, trying to lighten the mood. "Just hurry, Mara. Vaiya misses you pretty bad. And so do I." Mara wished she could kiss the holovid image. He looked so sweet he made her homesick. "Kiss her for me," Mara whispered. "I'm setting the coordinates for Duran now." Inwardly, she groaned. It was going to be a long, quiet trip. She was starting to hate them. "I'll be waiting." And he was gone. Mara waited a few minutes for the ship to prep itself, and then pulled back the lever. The world turned to starlines, and she began steeling herself. A week alone with only her own thoughts to keep her company was not her idea of a vacation anymore. She passed it--like a piece of an asteroid in her guts, but she passed it. She worked a lot on the memoirs she had begun before Vaiya was born, and even toyed with some old data on holocrons. Not that she would dare attempt it, but the technology was like a puzzle she liked to play with in her spare moments. She hadn't had too many of them. Maybe this trip had been a blessing in disguise. There was also lightsaber practice. She hadn't done any of that in so long, when she began with the remotes she was stunned several times and wound up destroying a few of them in her anger. However, she attoned for it by keeping at it diligently, and by the time she came out of hyperspace, she had managed to surpass even Luke's top scores. Duran was a beautiful planet, she realized when the world solidified before her once again. It was all blues and greens and browns, like the old holovids of Alderaan. Leia would have liked it. Of course, Leia would have liked spending seven days in hyperspace, alone, to get to it, too. It would have seemed like a paradise to the overworked Chief- of-State. Of course, there was one thing that Alderaan had had that Duran didn't--a peaceful people. The second Mara passed into immediate Duran territory, a laser-cannon shot across her nose. She looked around to find the culprit, amazed that their technology was that advanced, and realized that it was no ship that had attacked her but a guard-probe in orbit around the planet. She looked at her readings and discovered seven more of them. Someone had put them out here to ward off visitors without the inhabitants of the planet even knowing. Then a light on the sensor board started to flash. There *was* another ship, but not a Duran ship. This was not good. She debated whether she should investigate the ship or head toward the planet. The planet obviously didn't want her around, but if the ship was hostile that wouldn't be good either. And before she could make a clear decision the ship came into view, obviously having picked up her trail as well. It was a heavily modified Dreadnaught-like ship, which immediately made Mara think of a smuggler. They liked doing that to their ships. Look at Han's Millenium Falcon. That ship was a *literal* bucket of bolts because of all the things her pilot had done to her. Mara hung back, playing possum. The ship didn't seem to be hostile, just curious, but if it didn't hail her soon, it would-- "Jaded Sky, this is the Cal Iber. Do you copy?" The voice was male, and young. He sort of reminded her of what Luke may have sounded like. Trying to be tough but really shaking at the knees. "I copy, Cal Iber," she replied. "That's a cute name. I knew a guy named Cal once." There was static for a few minutes, and then another voice came on. This was was so familiar it made the skin on her cheeks tingle. "Mara?" She could hardly swallow. "Cal?" "I should have recognized the Jade," he said, his voice lapsing into that drawl that had once made her all gooey. "And I the Cal. You always were a showoff." She smirked, but wasn't sure if she should be relieved or extremely worried. 6--Cal Mara entered the grand room and looked around her, trying to hide her appreciation. Cal had always had excellent taste. He had a fondness of fijisi wood that was equal only to her own. She managed to hide her feelings behind a trademark smirk. This was a rather odd thing to be in the middle of an old modified Dreadnaught. Cal entered from a set of doors made of the deepest wood, carved with characters from a mythology she vaguely recognized. Probably from Cal's homeworld--wherever that was. He liked to talk about it but had always managed to sidestep the direct question about its location. Sometimes, Mara wondered if it existed. He looked the same. Eyes blue like force-lightning, hair dark and swirling around his head, perfectly styled. His vanity was etched into his features, a trait she had found herself drawn to in spite of itself. His skin was nearly white from his days between the stars, but that face...it had not changed. If anything, it had improved with age. His smile was radiant. She found herself returning it. What was it about him, anyway? How could the Force allow such a broiling pool of ambition and cruel desires to lie behind such unspeakable beauty? She rarely thought of men as beautiful, but Cal was the exception. She had never found another. Not even Luke's handsome face was comparable with his. Still, she loved Luke. And the mere thought of him brought her back to her senses. "Mara," he said, his voice rolling over the name. "Back to old tricks, I see," she said, fighting to keep her voice from sounding husky. "As always. And you? I heard you got married." "Truth travels fast." He gave a slight grumph. "Only if they sound like outrageous rumors. Skywalker, of all people? The one who wanted so badly to kill?" She gave him a half shrug. "Some of us grow up past our pettiness, Cal." He frowned. "Easy. I thought you came in peace." Damn him. The old tricks did work best. "Sorry. I do." She took a breath. "I didn't know you'd be out here by Duran, of all places." Cal strode forward, his long black cape flowing out behind him. He was even starting to look like a dark Jedi, although it was obvious to her that he lacked the sheer power behind the appearance. "I take it you weren't looking for me, then." He paused, glancing out at the blue-green world right outside the viewport. "I've gone back to the old smuggling game. There are certain parties on Duran that are opening themselves up to outside trade, but they have to keep things ultra hush-hush. No one can know we're here, so we have to be careful before we go in to make a drop. Nothing can pick us up. They pay very well, though. Eventually, they're going to pick up enough Basic that the truth will probably slip out accidentally." He grinned. "I must confess I wouldn't like that very much. I've done things to...prevent it." She folded her arms. "Don't tell me. My husband is a New Republic figure, and my sister-in-law is the Chief-of- State. Tell me about any illegal activities and I'd have to report you." He put up his hands. "If it means I'd get to see you again after you finish your business here, I'm willing to pay the price." She grinned at him again, trying to make it mocking. "You're laying it on too thick, Cal. Don't you even want to know what I'm doing here?" "I admit, I'm idlely curious. I'm even more interested, however, in learning why you left me to begin with." He grew serious. "Why you didn't even say goodbye." She fought to keep from shuddering. "I had my reasons." "I would hope. I would hurt my feelings if I thought you had disappeared on me just because you felt like it." Maybe it was the tone of his voice. Maybe it was the earlier thought of Luke. Maybe it was the tremor in the Force she felt at those words. Whatever it was, Mara was sick of him having the upper hand on her. "I do everything because I feel like it, Cal. You know that," she returned in the same tone. He advanced on her, but she kept herself from jumping back. Remembering all the things Luke had taught her, she called a peace to herself, and swore she saw Cal's step falter. "Still the free spirit, in spite of being domesticated," he tried, his tone arrogant. "If I were domesticated," she said slowly, "then I would not be here." He went back to the disarming grin. This was more tiring than a lightsaber duel, she thought. "Of course. Tell me what you're doing out here, Mara." "Do you remember Jabba's Fist?" she asked. Good, that one surprised him. "A little. I know that I wasn't too happy when they wound up falling apart. I did my best to banish the bad memories." "Do you know--" and she hesitated, unsure as to how much she should tell him. "Do you know anything about their last shipment here?" He frowned at her. "What about it? They were slavers. Are you looking for someone specific?" She sighed. "A friend of mine died recently. She was pregnant a long time ago and gave birth while she was a temporary captive of Jabba's Fist. She escaped and wound up spending the rest of her days trying to recover her child, but never succeeded." "So this is a deathbed promise thing," Cal said flippantly. "What makes you think I would help you, Mara? You and I haven't even laid eyes on each other in almost fifteen years. You pop up down here out of nowhere and give me your typical hostile attitude, not even a simple explanation as to why you left." He looked at her, those force-lightning eyes glowing angrily. "Dammit, Mara, I'm human, too. I know you think I'm some sort of monster, but I'm not. You didn't even say goodbye!" "There was no reason," she said softly. "If you knew me at all, you knew why I left. You just won't admit it." He got even angrier. "I'm beginning to realize everything I thought I knew about you was a big lie. You were this tough assassin that had a vendetta against the rebellion, not a desire to marry into it. You were smart, cool, and beautiful. You still are beautiful." His eyes raked over her face. "But you've changed. I don't even know who you are. And with all that, you can't even spare a kind word for my feelings." She snorted. "The woman you knew, Cal, didn't have a kind word for anyone." "True." His eyes glittered, but they were starting to smile. "If that was who I was talking to, I could live with that." "If you don't help me, I'll just ask the officials on the planet Duran. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to find out that you're out here," she said with a dangerous tone in her voice. "How is that for 'old times sake?'" He smiled even wider. "That was the Mara I knew. My old heart feels so glad." "You know what's going to happen to your old heart if you don't tell me something I want to hear. Now," she took a breath, "Jabba's Fist's last shippment was here, to the planet Duran. Do you know anything about it?" Cal turned away and walked over to a big desk. He pulled out a small box, and Mara could smell a familiar scent. Sugar. The guy had an old supply of sugar stashed in this ramshackle ship of his. Force help her if he took a taste of it- -she would have to draw her lightsaber and kill him. He turned back to her quickly, catching her emotion. "This bother you?" he asked. "Yes," she said between gritted teeth. "Sorry, it helps me think." But he shut the box and held up his hands to show they were empty. "Okay...what was that, about ten or so years ago?" "A few years longer." She calculated it in her mind. Callista had come to them three years ago, and it had been nearly eight years since Callista had left Luke. "Eleven, or twelve, I think." Cal nodded. "It was the last shippment...I remember there being a pregnant woman on board. A yellow lightsaber, am I right? Funny, she wasn't Force sensitive. What was she doing with a lightsaber?" Mara nodded. "That was Callista. It's a long story. What was done with the child?" Cal stared out the viewport for a long minute. "She was pretty upset about the baby being taken from her. She escaped, like you said, but not before doing some heavy damage. She was Force-sensitive, now that I think about it. But it was the dark side." He frowned. "I remember Kerander talking about how some of the shields...he couldn't get them back on line. He didn't want to miss the shippment, but he didn't want to be on the ship, either, in case something happened. He was a big coward. That was the biggest reason I left. The last I heard, the ship was headed out here." He paused. "If you want more than that, you'll have to let me check some things. I may know where to look. Besides, there were a few men I know who were on that ship when it went to Duran. They are none too fond of the memory of finding out how bad of a shape it was in. They may complain of it quite willingly. Such bad experiences make memories more vivid, don't they?" His eyes had turned to hers in the middle of his little speech, and held hers. After a long moment of silence, Mara deftly broke the contact and turned her back to him. "Please call me when you hear anything," she said softly, and left. 7--Suspicions Mara sat in the pilot's seat of the Jaded Sky. Cal's ship (which she had misheard before, it was actually called the Caliber) had docked her in their cargo hold, and she'd agreed to stay against her better judgement. The more space she could put before her and Cal, the better. She remembered being with Luke, near the end of her pregnancy, and thoroughly freaking out on him when he'd done to her what Cal's old trick had always been--biting her right on the back of her neck while holding her down. It was like a trademark, a thing he got off on and always made sure his victim got off on, too. The more she thought about it, the harder she shuddered. Cal hadn't changed. Perhaps there was a small amount of comfort she could take in that. After all, the devil you knew was better than the one you didn't. What was it he had said? "Such bad experiences make memories more vivid...don't they?" Bad experiences...sure, she could say that now, now that she was on the side of the light. Now that she was with Luke, who was sometimes the only thing that held back the dark forces that she had served for so long without knowing. She had told Luke once that she didn't think she'd ever served the dark side, only Palpatine. He was a man, while the dark side was the Force. But Palpatine's entire life and purpose had been for power from the dark side. Perhaps she had served the dark side after all. But that didn't explain why it hadn't dominated her destiny the way it had threatened to do to Luke's. Or maybe it had...and she'd just never seen it before. One rarely noticed a smell once they'd been immersed in it for so long. Seeing Cal after how much she had changed and grown...she'd been wrong when she'd said that to Luke. Very wrong. But she had been saved from it, just as Luke had. *Saved by what?* Mara frowned. There was that feeling again. That feeling just under her stomach, the feeling that had haunted her while she carried Vaiya in her womb. She shut her eyes, determined not to let it have any power over her. It hadn't been this strong since she'd given birth, but maybe if she meditated on it right away there might be an answer. A vision flas hed before her. She wasn't sure if it were terrible or beautiful. They were on Endor, and it was the night that the Rebellion celebrated the death of the Emperor. She hadn't been there in real life, but in this vision she was with Luke. He looked so young, so victorious as he strode toward her. He had gained his victory over the dark side, and was now a Jedi Knight. He held out his arms to embrace her, and then he changed. His hair, sandy and fair, turned long and golden, flowing over his shoulders like honey. His crystal blue eyes turned to the blue-green hue of her lightsaber, and his face changed shape. It was Vaiya. But she was not smiling in radiant victory. Luke had been a boy in many ways, exhuberant to return to his family. He had always been solemn, and would be solemn again, but there was still a restlessness to him that gave him an extra spark. Vaiya did not have this spark. There was a sense of enormous loss about her. She grasped her mother's hands and looked into her eyes, and Mara saw herself and her own fear. A future gaped before them, and she felt the Presence she hadn't felt since she had nearly died, and given Vaiya her entire self as a memory. It was beyond light, beyond the Force, beyond time and the universe. And it radiated behind Vaiya's solemn eyes that had a peace beyond anything even Luke Skywalker, hero and master of the Force that he was, had ever known. The loss, even though it left lingering pain, meant nothing. Hope was stronger. Mara could feel it in Vaiya's grip. And as they stared at each other, Vaiya spoke, although there was no voice coming from her lips. "Your courage will sustain you, Mother, but trust will be your salvation." Mara's eyes snapped open to see Luke staring at her from the holovid. "Mara!" he shouted. "Wake up!" She ran a hand over her eyes and found herself sweating profusely. "Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." "Well, you did!" He looked nearly angry with concern. "I tried to reach you through the Force, but something was blocking me. Luckily Ghent called about Jabba's Fist and I asked him if he could splice be a better line to contact you. Seems the space you're in is only open by old Imperial lines." She scooted closer to the console. "I had...another vision." His face softened. "About what?" "The past, the future...I wonder if there is a difference anymore." She paused. "How is Vaiya?" "She misses you." "I miss her. Kiss her for me." "If I can find her. Han came by to visit the twins, drop them off some things from Leia. Vaiya has grafted herself to his leg." The vision those words conjured up made Mara smile. "And how does Han like that?" "He's absolutely enchanted. You know he didn't get to spend too much time with Jania when she was little, so he's thrilled about Vaiya's attentions." Luke gave a little snort. "She keeps wanting to call him Daddy Two." That made her smile wider. "Give him a break, Luke. He's married to the Chief-of-State. His kids spent their earliest years on another planet, being protected. You and I, however, are free to protect ourselves." She paused, wondering how to tell him, but she didn't have to. "What is it?" he asked, frowning at her. She shook her head. *Talk to me like this. We can't risk anyone hearing.* *Who did you meet?* *An old boyfriend. That one I told you about, Cal?* Instantly, Luke darkened. Mara couldn't help but enjoy the jealousy a little bit. "What?" she asked innocently. "That isn't funny," Luke said softly. "I know," she sighed. "But he was involved with the Fist. He might be able to help us." "How long are you going to stay here?" "Until tomorrow night. Then I'm out of here. If Cal doesn't have anything by then, he won't have it at all." "Maybe he'll stall...try and keep you there." She shook her head. "Don't you trust me, Skywalker?" she said teasingly. "I trust you. I don't trust him." "You haven't even met him!" "Mara," he gave a nearly whithering look, "I trust you, and I can feel your emotions. You don't trust him, I don't trust him." She sighed. "Tomorrow night, I promise. I have a feeling, though, that it won't even take that long." She yawned. "Luke, I hate to do this, but I'm exhausted." He nodded. "I understand. Use a trance. It may keep you from having any more visions." "I will. And Luke?" "Yeah?" "I love you." "I love you too. Goodnight." And he was gone. 8--History So Mara Jade was back. What a wonderful little coincidence, Cal thought as he scanned over his old files. He kept a minimal amount of records strictly for business reasons, and all of them were carefully encrypted to keep unwanted eyes from seeing them. She was back, and she was searching for the child of a dead friend. That was even more precious. And the fact that he was possibly one of her last leads---too perfect! He could sense her frustration. He'd gotten better at that over the years, and the price he had paid was starting to be worth it. All he had to do now was make it worth her while to stick around a little bit. Surely this thing with Skywalker had to be nonsense. The woman he had known all those years ago would *never* have even *thought* of Skywalker in that way. After the nightmares and the visions, surely this couldn't be real. Maybe she was with him, even married to him, even given the Jedi-wannabe a child--for Mara Jade, that was nothing. With her, loyalty had been everything. Loyalty to Palpatine, loyalty to her cause. Of course, Cal had never kidded himself that she was every loyal to him. Mara made herself clear about what she thought of him. He was fun--no more, no less. He knew he would have to prove his worth to her if he wanted her loyalty. Then she'd gone and left him before he could get the chance. He really couldn't be too angry at her for that. That was just how she was. Restless, forever searching to fulfil her last command. Perhaps...perhaps this was all a scam. Perhaps her revenge on Skywalker was worse than a simple death. By murdering the Emperor, he had murdered Mara's life. Cal remembered how she had softened to him, telling him these things about herself. He knew he'd taken advantage of a lonliness inside of her, but it had been worth it--to him. She'd shared her pain, her sorrow, and her plans for revenge. Now, as Skywalker had taken everything from her, perhaps she was now preparing to take everything from him, just when he least expected it. How beautifully wicked, Cal thought with a grin. And so like her. She was a prize, all right. How could he have just let her go? Now it was just a matter of getting her to trust him. Surely she had to keep her cover story intact, even make an old lover like him believe it. Skywalker couldn't know, couldn't come anywhere near the truth. But out here, on the rim, so far away from all of that...it was just a matter of time before she started to remember, and he started to win her over. All he had to do was keep smiling and wait. He chuckled to himself as he strode down the hall back to his quarters. He would send her a line, inviting her to join him for a meal. Perhaps that would help relax her a bit. And maybe he could find out why she was really here before she arrived. It might give him some useful leverage. He knew what persuaded Mara Jade the most. He would be sure to find it. Back on Yavin IV, Han Solo was busy tossing his niece, Vaiya, high into the air and catching her. Vaiya was loving every second of it, although Luke was nervous enough in his observational post to stick close by in case Han should slip in his grip. Vaiya, however, knew what her father was up to, and Luke could feel her protesting him in her little-girl way. *No, Daddy, no Force! Fly free! Uncle Han can make me fly free!* And she let out a delighted squeal as she floated a bit higher. Finally, she alighted on the ground like a graceful bird. Her long, sharp green tunic was twisted every which way, and Luke took a step forward to fix it. "I don't remember seeing you toss your own kids around like that, Han," Luke said in his chastising Jedi-voice. Han shrugged. "I know I did, but they were always surrounded by the Force so I never felt like I really tossed them. No danger, no fun, right?" "I'm sure Leia just agrees with you a hundred percent," Luke drolled sarcastically. "She hovered around me just like you did with Vaiya. But the kids were always so heavy with the Force they never needed her. I guess Force sensitives don't like being without it. Vai seemed to thrive without it." Vaiya giggled. "Daddy's head too full." "That's what I've been telling him!" Han said, taking Vaiya's hand. "He won't listen to me...maybe he'll listen to you." "All right, you two, that's enough." Luke ruffled Vaiya's soft hair. "Go on inside and get something to eat." "You guys keep any Dewback around here?" Han asked. "Dooback?" Vaiya chirped. Luke smirked. "What kind of desert farmboy do you think I am?" "Now you're starting to sound like Mara." "As much as you sound like Leia." "Oh, eat my lightsaber, Jedi," Han snorted. Luke laughed. "Now you're starting to sound like Mara." "If only I were as smart. She was apparently smart enough to take a vacation from you." They headed into the kitchen, Vaiya dragging Han behind her, and Luke bringing up the rear. "The more you insult me, Han, the more I know you love me." Han just grunted and shoved a piece of cold dewback in his mouth. "Pumperbread, pumperbread!" Vaiya said, jumping up a down. Han frowned at Luke, but the Jedi/dad just walked over to a air-tight box and opened it up to pull out two thick loaves of dark brown bread. Vaiya snatched them up and flattened them out on the counter. "She does really well for a three-year-old," Han murmured as he munched another piece of dewback and watched Vaiya put some meat on the bread. When she had arranged the pieces how she wanted them, she looked up and her father expectantly. Luke stepped forward and spread a thick layer of some sticky substance on one piece that smelled like peanut butter, but was a little too moist to be peanut butter. "Come to think of it," Han added, "you do well for a forty-four year old. Most new dads freak out when their kids eat freaky combinations like that." "She eats like a Hutt," Luke said dryly as he folded the two pieces of bread together and cut them into quarters for Vaiya to eat more neatly. "You get used to it. Nothing comes as a surprised. Last month, she was eating Mon Calamari seastew and chomping those sugarbars in the same mouthful. Mara had a hard time with that one." He let out a little sigh. "I hope she gets back soon." Han looked sympathetic. "I know how you feel, Kid. But trust me, Mara is loyal to the core. She won't do anything to make you sorry." "I know that," Luke said, the tired tone was still there. "It's that Cal I don't trust. From what Mara's told me...he's been dabbling in the dark side. I would just hate to have her find out the hard way he's picked up some manipulative powers." Han clucked his tongue. "Come on, Luke, not every corrupt Jedi is Palpatine! You still haven't learned to let go yet, have you? To just not worry and trust? If anyone in the world can resist temptation, it's Mara. She wanted to kill you, didn't she? Not only did she not kill you, but she married you!" "Yeah, but not until after I spent ten years....never mind, forget it." Vaiya was almost done with her third piece, and she was watching her father with big, thoughtful eyes. Luke wanted to blush when he realized that she might, on some basic, emotional level, know what he was talking about. "Gen gonna call," was all she said. Luke frowned, and a full minute later, the comlink buzzed. Luke opened the line. "It's Ghent," the blue-haired man said, his voice traced with a heavy line of dread. Luke felt his throat close a little. "It's Luke," he answered. "You don't sound too happy, Ghent. What is it?" "Get to a holovid. There's something I have to tell you." Luke nodded and started out of the room, toward the bedroom. But not before giving his daughter a quick meaningful glance. 9--Booby-Trap "Destroyed?" The word was like a lump in his throat. "The ship itself was blown up by some Duran booby trap," Ghent clarified. "The wreckage was never recovered. It sort of floated out of the Rim territory and was never seen again." "How did you find this out?" "Funny you should ask me that," Ghent said, his normally serious face now amused. "I was slicing into some really old records and I just sorta...bumped into an old friend. Frade, or something like that. When I first joined up with Karrde, he was already here, and we were sort of friends. He was hacking into the same thing and we kind of tripped over each other. He left just after Mara joined up, so he knew I had worked with her, and asked me who had sent me to find this stuff out about her. I didn't take too well to that, mind you, so I demanded to know who had sent him. And this is the funny part." "What?" Luke said with mild impatience. He brushed it off. "Frade now works for this guy named Cal Saphringer. Mara used to sort of be an item with him." "I know. Mara ran into him while she was looking around Duran." "Duran is isolated. If Cal is out there, you can be sure his activities aren't legal." "Some things are more important, Ghent," Luke said softly. "Well, Luke, I don't know how much Mara told you, but...well, Cal was kind of attached to her, from what I understood. I met the guy a little while after she hooked up with us. He was looking for her, but she wouldn't see him. In fact, she denied even knowing him. Cal told me about her being the Emperor's Hand, but I kept my mouth shut, thinking it was a big lie to try and strongarm her into seeing him. Later on, when I found out, it was too late to say anything." Luke paled a little bit. "I thought Mara had to keep her idenity as the Emperor's Hand a secret for the sake of protecting her own life. Why would she tell Cal?" "I don't know. But if he knows that, then who knows what else he knows?" *Like Mara wanting to kill me.* Luke had a sudden feeling of dread. "Slice me a channel to her," he said. "I want her to come home now." When Mara woke up--very late--the next morning, her danger sense was tingling. She looked around her, but there was nothing. She scrambled to the cockpit of the Jaded Sky and found all the readings were normal. She even stepped out of the ship and scanned the cargo hold, but it all looked calm. There had to be something wrong. She scrambled back up into the cockpit and sealed the hatch. She had to stay in here. It was safe in here. She was all fueled up and ready to go, all she had to do was take off. Of course, that would be slightly rude to her host, she thought with a wry smile. She really didn't want to do that. Was it necessary? Sure, Cal was a little on the...unstable side. She slapped open a comlink to Cal's quarters. In a few moments, Cal appeared. "I was wondering when you were going to get up," he said, caught slightly off guard. He was half-dressed, with his shirt hanging open and his dark hair wet and tossled from a shower. Apparently he also still liked to sleep late. Mara resisted the urge to take a second look. "Did you make any progress on your contact last night?" she asked. He gave a cockeyed smile. "I only called him last night. He hasn't gotten back to me yet. What's the hurry?" Mara squirmed. "What do you think the hurry is, Cal? I've got a little girl to get back to, not to mention a husband. I've been wandering around the galaxy for over two weeks and I want to go home. Let me know the second you find something." And she cut off the communication. With a sigh, she settled back into the pilot's seat. Her anxiety was riding up on her again, and she had to calm it down. She took a deep breath and slipped into a mild trance, working her mind into a calming pattern. As she sat, the minutes ticked by. She was aware of how secure she was on the ship. Nothing could reach her, she was safe. She moved deeper into the trance, calling on her most calming memories. As she regressed farther and farther back into her mind, she became aware of a memory. She had lain at death's door, in the realm between this life and the next. Callista had been there with her, passing on, bidding her goodbye. Although they had never been friends, Mara treasured that memory. It felt good to know Callista had found peace in spite of all the things that had gone wrong with her life, her very existence. She had lost her son and his father, but she was past all that. Mara watched her go into a great Light that seemed to have a sentience beyond anything Mara had ever known. It was so beautiful, she felt the urge to follow. She had reached for it, just wanting to experience a brief moment, and had felt a Presence beyond any aspect of the Force she had ever known existed. It was beyond beautiful. Although it was not the luminous brightness she had experienced all that time ago, Mara felt the edges of it now, just touching her mind. Like a scattered sunbeam, it shone into her soul with its flittering Light, faint but there beyond a doubt. And she heard words, as if the Light were not just Light but Sound as well. And the Sound said, "Trust Me." Her eyes snapped open. The comlink was flashing. It was Luke. *So soon?* she wondered, but received it away. "Mara, you have to come home now," Luke was saying. "I don't want you anywhere near this Cal Saphringer any more. Has he told you anything about the Jabba's Fist ship that made a trip to Duran?" "He said he'd placed a call to his friend, and that his friend was going to get back to him sometime today," Mara said, her voice sounding distant to her own ears. "Mara...that ship was destroyed. They think the Durans destroyed it, part of their hostility toward offworlders." His voice was pale as he spoke the words, but Mara felt sudden anger at him anyway. "Luke...how can you just be so willing to give up!" she snapped, forgetting her earlier resolution to give up herself if this lead didn't pan out. "Don't you even care? This boy is your son!" Luke just stared at her for a long minute. Mara could practically hear the wheels in his head turning. It wasn't that she had been so cruel with her words--although they had been cruel nonetheless--but that her tone had been so angry. Distance did not mellow the vibrations through the Force. It was like she'd taken a set of steel claws and raked them over his heart, bringing up all the debris that clouded his mind. Luke felt his own regret at Mara doing all this and not himself, his internal anger over his failures in what he was trying to do, and his guilt over the belief that he just wasn't trying hard enough because it was Callista's son, and not Mara's. As if that made the child mean any less to him. Something had gone very wrong with Luke Skywalker. He'd gone from being a control freak to being a wimpy neruotic. "No, Luke, that isn't true," she started softly, feeling her healing calm from before return to her and sending it out to him. "I didn't mean it that way. I know you tried. You did what you could. I did what I could. I'm the one who gets information. You're the one who searches the Force. And even though we're quite capable of doing each other's jobs, we agreed that this is what we were best at. I know that you care, Luke. I care too. And not just because I promised Callista. This child is your son, and I want to find him." Luke shook his head. "You won't find him out here. The ship he was on was supposedly destroyed. It was never heard from again." "But it could still be out there! Isn't it worth it to keep looking?" "Yes, we'll keep looking..but not from out there." There was jealousy in his voice as he spoke his next words. "And we won't be using Cal Saphringer's help. I want you to head home now." Mara frowned. Maybe this was the reason her danger sense was going off--Luke's bad feelings mixed with her own. "Aside from the obvious...any particular reason?" "I just don't like what I've heard. Ghent told me a little about him. He knows all about you, doesn't he, Mara?" "He did. He doesn't any more," she said pointedly. Luke shrugged. "Nevertheless," he began calmly, "it's no good. He may not be...stable." "I already suspect that." "All the more reason. Come home now. We'll talk more when you're here." "All right. I'll leave right now. I've been staying in Cal's docking bay, but I'm still prepped for takeoff." "Good. I'll see you in a week...keep your mind open to me so I can make sure you're okay." "Sure thing, Master Worryrat," she added with a good- natured smile. "I love you." "And I love you, Jedi Troublemaker." The connection closed, and Mara started the pre-takeoff proceedures before calling on Cal again. He was dressed this time, his hair drying nicely. "Mara, I'm starting to get the feeling that you want to see me," he said with a charming smile. "Only to say goodbye," she said flatly. "I got some news from my *husband,* and he discovered that the ship I'm looking for was supposedly destroyed by the Durans. We could spend the rest of our lives searching for it." "I thought it was important to you," he said, his cool exterior flailing a bit. "It is, but going home to my family is more important." She gave him a smile that surprised even her with is compassion. "I'm not the girl you knew, Cal," she said gently. "I'm going home." His eyes darkened. "Fine. Go on home." Then, just as quickly, they brightened again. "You know, you could at least let us give you an escourt." "An escourt?" she said absently, checking some readings. "No, it's way too far for a small ship to follow me home---" "We've been out here so long, Mara," Cal said with a wave of his hand, "that we could use a trip back to the core worlds." "I'm not going to the core words. I'm headed for Yavin IV. That's where..." She stopped herself. "Oh, that's home?" he raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I didn't think you were a jungle girl." "I told you I'd changed." Okay, she really wanted to end this conversation and was starting to not care if it was done gracefully or not. "I'm heading out, Cal. If you hear anything, send it to Karrde. His operation is hard to miss." "Oh, Mara, you're being rude again." He grinned at her. "As much as I enjoy it, I can't accept it. We're going to head back with you." He rested his head on his chin. "Didn't I hear that Skywalker had a Jedi Academy on Yavin IV?" "Yes," she said tightly. "I'd love to visit it. You know I've never finished my Jedi training." "I'm sure there are good reasons." "Now you're being smart. Are you so sure you've changed, Mara? Come on, what have you got to be afraid of?" She let out a low, quiet sigh as she let the thought run through her mind. "I'm going on ahead of you," she said. "If you follow me, I guess I can't stop you." 10--Home Sweet Chaos He followed her back to the core worlds, for a solid week. She found herself pacing with anxiety over what Luke would think when he saw them. But maybe...maybe this might do Cal some good. If he could get a good earful of Luke's "the darkside is bad" speech he would either be so annoyed he would want to leave ASAP, or he might take some of it to heart and shake that creepy aura that was massively wigging her out. Besides, at any rate, she had seven beautiful days to prepare for whatever might happen. At least the comlinks didn't work in hyperspace. After the first day, she tried to reach out to him with the Force. She could feel him faintly, could feel his emotions, but it was like a blur. She had to be closer. On the second day, it was clearer, and she got the distinct sensation that he was moving closer to her. Why in the Force would he be doing that? Mara checked her navcomputer and considered her options. If she were to suddenly drop out of hyperspace, she would give Cal the scare of his life. Sure, she could sent him a signal, but no explanation, and if he dropped out of hyperspace after her, she would have to deal with the annoying situation of talking to him. Maybe she should wait a few days. So on day four, she tried again to find him distinctly closer to her. A day closer, at least. What was a day closer? Courscant was the only place she would even suspect he'd go to. But why had he gone there? Was there trouble? She simply had to know. So she pulled the Jaded Sky out of hyperdrive, distinctively hearing the burst of static that Cal's ship made in objection before it followed, and settled in to open a comlink to Courscant. Minutes passed. Cal tried to call her, but she ignored him as the channel cleared. The controller told her that Master Skywalker hadn't landed yet, but was still an hour away from the planet. Mara cursed herself for not trying that first, and struggled to think of the ship that Luke might possibly be in. *Come on, Emperor's Hand,* she demanded, *THINK!* Luke had said something about Han coming to visit. Han...the Millenium Falcon. It was worth a try. So she opened the comlink and prayed to hear a familiar voice. "They're still on us!" Han Solo shouted as he manuvered the Falcon through some space debris. "What the hell did you do to piss these guys off?" "I've never seen them before," Luke growled from the copilot's seat. They were outside the orbit of Yavin IV, having escaped narrowly from the makeshift deathsquad that had assembled over the Jedi Academy. Luckily, they weren't after the Jedi--they were just after Luke. His mind went to Mara. She was coming, he could feel it. But she would be coming to Yavin IV, possibly walking into a trap. So as hard as he could, he sent her the message---* Coruscant, Courscant, Coruscant!* and hoped that she was as smart as he believed her to be. "I'm going to make the jump to hyperspace. If they want to follow us, they'll have to take on Coruscant's guardships." Han punched in the coordinates into the Falcon's navcomputer and waited for it to kick in. Within seconds, the small raging ships that had landed on Yavin IV and then chased the Falcon back into the stars again disappeared behind them. "They're probably going to follow us," Luke said in a slightly dreamy voice. Han threw a glance at him. "Wonderful. But first let's take care of business. Why don't you make sure my niece isn't plastered to the Falcon's ceiling?" Then he shook his head. "To who am I glad I brought Artoo along for a visit." They were an hour away from Coruscant when the comlink started to blink. Han snapped it open. "Solo here," he said warily. "It's me," came the familiar voice. "Mara. Are Luke and Vaiya with you?" "Sure thing. Hold on just a second and I'll transfer you back to him on visual, okay?" Mara grunted her consent, but she was probably pretty distracted, Han thought as he made the connection. Then with a sweet voice he called, "Hey, farmboy! There's a girl on the line for you!" Luke watched as Mara appeared before him, a holographic image. He shook his head at her in frustration. "Why did you drop out of hyperspace? How far away are you, anyway?" "About two days or so," she said, sounding slightly sheepish. "I had a bad feeling I had to check out." Luke sighed and sat down, putting his head in his hand. For a minute, he felt completely drained--like he had all that time ago when Ben Kenobi had been murdered before his very eyes. Why was he getting that feeling about Mara? She wasn't going anywhere...unless... "He followed you, didn't he?" Mara looked away. "I couldn't stop him." There was a long silence. "Couldn't stop him, or didn't want to stop him?" Her eyes were on fire when she turned them back to him. "I'm not even going to dignify that with an objection. If you don't know the answer to that then---" "All right, all right. I'm sorry." He sighed again. This was getting them nowhere. "Why are you going to Coruscant?" she asked, her voice low. "Because some band of unknown terrorists decided to pick me as their target." Mara straightened. "You're kidding. Why now? Don't you have any idea who they are?" "I don't know to both questions." "Is Vaiya safe?" "Yes, she's sleeping. She loved her first trip through hyperspace. But it ain't like dustin' crops," Luke quote with a quick glance toward the cockpit. "We didn't do this for fun." "Then we'll rendevous at Coruscant," Mara said, "and I'll give these guys a taste of what the Jaded Sky can do. Maybe even Cal will help." Luke stayed silent. "Well, kiss Vaiya for me." "What about me?" "I'll kiss you when I get home...with my fist," she added with a mock scowl. "Provided you get here in time. Put some speed into it, Mara. You're two days too far away." "I'm going, I'm going. See you in two, Skywalker." Okay, that was wierd. Mara sat back in her chair and did some calculations. A few days ago, she had tried to reach Luke and figured out that he was moving. That must have been when the attack came. Now he was nearly at Coruscant. Was that deathsquad tracking him? It was entirely possible. Maybe they thought Coruscant's guardships would help. It was a good plan, but Mara knew she couldn't be a part of it so either way all she felt was frustration and helplessness. She could up her speed, but not without risking killing herself, and that certainly wouldn't make her family or friends very happy. So now she came to the feelings she'd been having about Cal. About how something was very off about him. About how he'd reacted to the news that Skywalker was now her husband rather than her target. She could almost hear the thoughts brewing in his head, even in hyperspace. Then a thought suddenly occured to her. Cal was insistent on the fact that she hadn't changed. If that was he was assuming, then everything she did would look to him like one of her old tricks. Like the times she pretended to be someone else in order to carry out a mission for whatever reason. Perhaps he thought she was pretending to be Luke's wife, just to get close enough to hurt him. Not kill him, that would be too easy. No, she'd have to make him suffer before she took his life away. That was the woman she had been, a long time ago. The woman Cal thought she was now. Perhaps--and it felt more certain the longer she touched Cal's buzzing mind--Cal was trying to help her out, or prove something to her. Maybe he'd sent that squad to Yavin IV. Although it was nearly impossible. He'd been out on Duran, and Yavin IV was a good seven days away. Well, maybe it wasn't impossible, but it was stretching the possible just a little it. She set her speed for as fast as the ship would go without flying apart. She only knew she wanted to get home to her husband and daughter as fast as she could. Coruscant--it was a beautiful planet from the air. It was practically covered with cities, with certain parts of the land protected to preserve its wildlife and plantlife. But like most places, it was a nice place to visit, but Mara had no desire to live there. As soon as she dropped out of hyperspace, she felt the urge to land, yank Luke and Vaiya into the Jaded Sky, and take off with no certain destination. She opened a comlink to the Coruscant station. Luke was waiting for her, but there was a bit of confusion about Mara's landing clearance. Apparently, the fact that she was a Jedi Knight had very little influence over the director. They were expecting a ship of refugees from Tatooine, who were being forced off the planet one by one as the sandpeople took over more and more territory. It was a bit comforting to know it was from Tatooine. At least she was being thrown over for something worthy. So she waited. And then they attacked. Mara sensed them a full minute before the alarms on the Jaded Sky went off. She swung around and readied herself for the initial blows, watching the guardships of Courscant move into defense position. The enemy ships veered off, then regrouped for a second run. She chose that moment to turn a good defense into a good offense. She charged forward toward the closest ship and opened fire. The Jaded Sky didn't have any really heavy power on it, but Mara had insisted that its lazers be top quality. The pale blue bolts shredded one of the angular wings of the enemy fighter, sending it spinning into one of its companions. That was when the Caliber showed up. It appeared like a raging beast, and all the enemy fighters turned into frightened mice when they saw it. They barely kept themselves from colliding into him by pulling up and over hard to scatter around him. Cal let out some shots, crippled some ships, and sent the rest running. Except one. Mara wondered if it might be the leader, but realized the ship was too much of a runt to be holding someone of such obvious importance. It swung around and made a suicide dive toward Mara, who barely dodged aside in time, feeling the crazy urge to hyperventilate. She did the only thing she could think to do and not get herself killed--she ran. One of the guardships got on the tail of her pursuer and managed to get off a few shots, but the little ship was not going to give up until it was a part of the entropy of space. Mara fought a rising urge to panic. Sure, it had been a long time. She'd never really participated in any space battles, but shaking insane enemies went basically by the same rules whether by land or in space. The last space battle she could think of, really, was when she'd knocked herself out and Luke had rescued her. Her eyes focused hard ahead of her. The Caliber loomed before her, and she had an idea. She opened a comlink and said in her most no-nonsense voice, "Cal, get everyone out of your cargo bay, and focus your shields there at maximum." A few seconds passed as Mara closed the distance. "Done," came Cal's voice, as if he'd already done it before she'd even asked. "What are you going to do?" "Cause a whole bunch of damage to your ship that I'm going to have to pay for, and destroy an annoying little gnat on my tail." And with that, she made a screaming turn away from Cal's ship, and the smaller ship behind her, in spite of its better manuvering capabilities, crashed into the hull as she expected. Mara leveled out the Jaded Sky and opened a comlink to the director. "Can I land now?" she asked in a flat voice. "Clearance at docking bay 27 for both you and your helper," the director said, his voice wryly admiring. "Master Skywalker is already headed there to meet you." "Thank you," Mara said. She couldn't wait to get on solid ground again." 11--Jedi Knights She practically ran down the plank where Luke was waiting for her. She hurled herself into his arms and he hugged her close. "You okay?" he asked, alarmed at how fast her heart was beating. She nodded. "Adrenaline overload." She pulled away slightly and gazed up at him. "Besides, can't I be really glad to see you?" "Don't complain, Skywalker," came a voice from not- so-far-away. "It's better than her trying to kill you, isn't it?" Luke turned to see Cal Saphringer striding toward them, his dark hair tossed carelessly about his head. He could feel Mara rest against him, and he tightened his arm around her waist protectively. "And you're Cal, right?" Luke said, forcing his voice to be friendly. Cal nodded. "I'm quite impressed, Skywalker, really. I mean, if you knew how different Mara was in her attitude about you so many years ago---" "Trust me," Luke cut him off, casting a wry smile at Mara. "I know." Cal let out a little grunt. "I guess Jedi manipulation powers aren't all on the dark side, are they?" Luke started to scowl. Mara squeezed his other hand. "I did some damage to his ship," Mara said. "We're going to have to have it fixed." Cal waved his hand. "That's not necessary, Mara, really. As long as you're safe." He gave her one of his breathless smiles, and Luke felt a tremor in the Force. Sting of it was, he couldn't tell if it was coming from Mara or Cal. It was at that moment that Han Solo strode into the cargo bay, Vaiya perched on his shoulders. The three-year- old girl squealed at her mother in greeting, and Mara broke away from the two conflicting men in her life to embrace her daughter. As Mara knelt down with the little girl to hear her tell her tale of traveling through hyperspace, Mara began to realize that Cal had significantly eased off whatever he'd been doing. It was like someone taking a rock off her head. The longer she was with Vaiya, the clearer she got. Finally, Mara turned to them to see Luke watching her lovingly, and Cal just watching. "She looks like you," Cal murmured. "Vaiya has Mara's smile, and her nose," Luke said offhandedly. "But she's got your eyes, darling," Mara said, brushing back a handful of Vaiya's silky strawberry blond locks. "And your cheekbones." "What is she, a little girl or a jigsaw puzzle?" Han interrupted. Luke jumped. "Right. Look, Cal, thank you for helping out my wife," and he said the words with a tad too much accent on "my wife," but he didn't care, "and any repairs you need done to your ship, we'd be happy to pay for. Just let us know." Cal waved his hand again. "I already said thanks but it's okay, really." Cal's dark eyes locked with Luke's. "Once I say something, I stick to it." It was in that moment that Luke realized that this man was causing more than just the slight disturbances in the Force he and Mara had been feeling. This man was a walking, talking premonition of doom. "So what made you run from the Academy?" Mara asked Luke when they were in private. Luke was downloading the report the control station had sent to him so that he could try and identify the attackers. "What do you mean?" "I mean, it isn't like you to just up and run like that, even under attack." "I couldn't put Vaiya in that kind of danger," he said as he turned to focus on her. "We had to escape." "And protect the Academy?" Mara pressed. "You realize that taking Vaiya up in the Falcon was even more dangerous than just hiding in the Massassi temple. And what makes you so sure that whoever attacked you didn't destroy the Academy when they figure out you weren't there?" "Because," Luke said patiently, "I checked in with the Academy right after we got here, and my hunch was confirmed--they were after me and Vaiya, not the Academy." "You followed a hunch? You have been hanging around Solo too long. I remember when you used to call that Jedi intuition." Luke shrugged. "Perhaps they're the same thing." He frowned at her. "Are you okay? You still seem rather shaken up." "By what? The fact that some crazy unknown enemy is insane enough to attack us in protected space, or that my ex-lover turned Dark Jedi wannabe is staying two doors down from us? Exactly which would shake me up more, do you think?" Okay, the claws were coming out. Luke gently opened himself up to Mara's feelings, and saw what she'd been denying for the last few hours--her incredible worry. It had built up on her like a fungus, penetrating every aspect of her life, her fear over never finding Callista's and his son, that the child was leading a life of slavery somewhere and she couldn't save him, and the unsettling incident of Cal Saphringer returning to her life and treating her like she was the old Mara Jade and expecting her to ACT like it...it was too much. She'd been holding it in, and now Luke was the lucky winner she was pouring it out upon. Mara sighed and shook her head. "No, it's not fair. I shouldn't do this to you. I've just been a bundle of nerves over the last months and I can't understand it. It's just so not like me." "Then you need to get rid of it," Luke said. "I know how you can get rid of one of them." "How?" "Tell Cal to leave." Mara blinked. "Just tell him? Get out and don't come back?" "Sounds good to me." She gave him an amused frown. "Why, Master Skywalker, you're jealous. Isn't jealousy of the dark side?" Luke looked up into the air as he pretended to try and remember. "Nope, don't remember Yoda ever mentioning that. Fear, agression, passion, hate, anger...no, no jealousy." She punched him in the arm and he grabbed her wrist to pull her closer. "Don't do it for me," he said huskily. "Do it for yourself." He kissed her cheek and turned back to the download he'd gotten from the control tower. She hesitated a few moments, and then disappeared out into the hallway. She felt this crazy urge to see her daughter before she did anything yet regarding Cal. About fifteen minutes had passed since Mara had left the room, but Luke found out all he could in half that time-- nothing. There was no record of the ships, their destinations and point of orgin had somehow been smeared pretty bad so they couldn't be traced or tracked. They had shown up, wreaked havoc, and disappeared. A real professional job, Luke thought as he stared at the scematic for Cal's ship. The flight records had been updated in their graphics, and Luke could see clearly the markings the man had put on his ship. Old Jedi symbols for power, passion, and vengence. He wondered if Cal even knew what they meant. As if on cue, the man entered the small holovid lounge, his dark cape removed to reveal a more simple dress. He reminded Luke of Lando a bit, dressed one of those spunsilk shirts and dark trousers with knee-high boots. His shirt hung open a little more than Lando's usually did, revealing a sprinkling of black chest hair. No wonder women found him so charming. Even Mara, once. But not anymore. He clenched his fist. Not anymore. "Skywalker," Cal drawled. "I was just coming to see if you and Mara had come up with any leads as to who your attackers were." He glanced around the room briefly. "I can see that Mara isn't here." "No, she went to check on our daughter." Luke forced himself to relax. Maybe if he could convince Cal to leave, it would let Mara off the hook. If he did, Luke was sure that Mara's unusual levels of anxiety would drop off. This guy reeked of the dark side. "Ah," Cal said. "I see. Well, did you come up with anything?" "There wasn't anything to come up with," Luke said. "They just disappeared." "No one just disappears," Cal admonished with a quick frown. "Just like no one ever changes. Those fighters will be back, with more firepower. They were just playing with you, finding your weak spot, so they could use it to their advantage." Luke cocked an eyebrow. "You seem to know a lot about the enemy," he said softly. "Well, one of them did crash into me," Cal said with a wave of his hand. "I guess you could say I got up close and personal." Luke took a deep breath and prepared to tell the man that he was grateful for his help but that he wanted him to leave both him and especially Mara alone when Luke heard Mara's voice through the Force a few seconds before the alarms went off. *LUKE! We're under attack!* 12--Adventure & Excitement They were sneaky, whoever these guys were, Luke decided as he made his way carefully to his Coruscant apartment. Maybe if he could stay out of view long enough he'd find a place to attack--- Green lazer blasted past him and he dove for cover behind a nearby column that stuck out from the wall. He automatically grabbed his lightsaber and ignited it, sending a burst of green light against the pale walls of the hallway. Just as he was about to attack, he noticed that someone else had a lightsaber, too, and his was bright orange. Luke turned his head to see Cal cut right into the small band of terrorists, swinging his lightsaber two and fro. Luke followed, desperate to check on Mara. She was okay, but wouldn't be for long if the attackers didn't relent. Cal reached the door first, slicing one of the intruders in half as he passed by him. Luke shouted out a "HEY!" but Cal was already in the room. Luke heard the loud sound of blaster fire bouncing off a lightsaber blade, and Mara's startled cry. When Luke finally caught up with them, he saw that Mara and Han had tipped over a very heavy stone table and were hiding behind it with Vaiya clutched between them. Mara was peeking over the table at Cal. "You were expecting someone else?" Cal announced loudly. But the fight wasn't over yet. The troops had retreated out of the suite and into the hallway, but they were determined to take a body count that day of the opposing side. Cal turned back to focus his attention on deflecting blaster bolts, while Mara lept over the table to Luke's side. "Stay with Vaiya," she ordered. "Why? Where are you going?" "To prove a theory!" She pulled her lightsaber off her belt and ignited it. "Hell of a time!" he practically shrieked, but she was gone and out the door, every bit the fierce protecter she had always been. Mara dove for the floor the second she stepped into the hallway, her lightsaber neatly twisting around her so she didn't cleave herself in two. She rolled between the bright red and green bolts of blaster fire, then landed on her knees and brought her saber up, the pale turquoise of the blade lighting up her green eyes and giving them an errie glow. Mara felt the bloodfrenzy of battle attempt to descend upon her. She'd been in places like this before, and had always defended herself from her anger, using rage to give her strength, even if she wasn't using the Force. But anger and rage were the dark side. She had learned something in all these years with Luke. She had to fight from calm. So she stretched out with the Force, and found it waiting for her, her eager defender. She sucked in her breath and let it out again, an easy calming technique, regular and soothing in the midst of the chaos around her. There was something else different about this, she realized as she deflected the bolts off her glowing blade. Luke had told her that the Force was never to be used on the offensive--only defensive. That was why a Jedi only carried a lightsaber. Mara was deflecting the bolts, but this wasn't going anywhere. They were going to keep firing until they ran out of ammo, or her arms fell off, whichever came first. She didn't care what side of the Force it called upon. In the days she'd spent as the Emperor's Hand until her days with the Smuggler's Alliance, she'd learned one thing. The best defense was a good offense. And these slime sucking son-of-a-hutts were attacking her family. She would defend them until the last of them dropped dead for all she cared. Mara slashed forward, deflecting the bolts at an angle now, using them as her own weapons as she moved closer to her attackers. She watched their expressions change from the neutral soldiers to the terrified victims as she got closer, but they were backing away, making room for themselves down the hallway. Luckily for her, there was debris. She reached out with the Force and started to stir up the fallen objects. Pieces of rubble from where the blasters had damanged the walls started to fly in their faces. She slid a few heavy objects--a few colums that had held large vases containing giant plants, a decorative touch Mara had always disliked--behind them, and at least three of the eight would-be assassins fell, shrieking for mercy. As Mara passed one of them, she picked up his blaster before she knocked him out cold with the heel of her lightsaber. This was more like it. Now she was in business. "You're just going to stand there and let Mara go out there and risk her neck?!" Han Solo stared at Luke, his mouth agape. Beside him, Vaiya peeked over the top of the fallen table. "I don't believe this, Luke. You let her go chasing around the galaxy for a child of yours that isn't even hers, and now you let her go fight your battles for you while you hang back and play babysitter! I know Jedi's are supposed to be into this 'calm and tranquil' routine, but there is a time and place for everything, Luke!" Only a second had passed since she'd disappeared. He hadn't had enough time to think it through, and already Han was jumping down his throat. "I wasn't planning on it, but what else can I do? Someone has to stay with Vaiya." "I'll stay with her," Han said, grasping Vaiya's hand. "I'll get her to our apartment and leave her with the Nighori. If you had accepted their offer as bodyguards before, trust me, you wouldn't have to deal with this mess right now." Luke swallowed over a knot in his throat and nodded. Okay, he trusted Han with his own life, with the lives of those he loved. He could trust him with Vaiya. He just hoped Mara wouldn't kill him for it. "Fine," he said tightly, "and for the record, I have no idea whose battle this is. " He pulled his lightsaber off his belt and charged into the hallway. Cal had disappeared down one hallway--he could see the spectre of the glowing orange blade reflecting dimly against the white walls of the hallway as Cal drove those attackers back. Closer to the room, Mara had pinned a good handful against an aclove, and she had one of their blasters in one hand, her flashing saber in the other. Using only one hand to grip it instead of two--which seemed to be a growing habit with her--she slashed forward, destroying the blasters of two of the attackers and using the blaster to stun them. What she didn't see was that one of the three she'd already felled had a backup weapon stored in the ironically exact place to the hold-out blaster Mara had once favored. It shot into his hand and he aimed--- The loud buzz of Luke's saber whizzing past something metal and neatly cleaving it in two nearly made Mara lose her concentration--for all of about a half-second. So he'd decided to leave their daughter with Han and come after her. She didn't know whether to be touched or to kill him. She managed to spare a second to see Luke behind her, lightsaber back in hand, standing over a man holding part of a hold-out blaster. He was staring up at Luke in utter terror. *Come to help clean up, darling?* she managed. *Actually, I was considering going and finding our new friend and seeing how many throats he was crushing.* He barely managed to get the answer out because the small band had suddenly decided to focus all their attention on Luke--sharp and fast, the blasters were turned toward him. Luke slashed toward the band and took out a few, until there was only one left. It was quickly dropped to the floor when Luke and Mara pointed their lightsabers at its possessor's throat. Mara shook her head slightly, then brought her lightsaber closer to the man's throat. "Who sent you?" she demanded. The man began to babble in a language she could not understand, not in all her years of traversing the galaxy. It didn't sound like any language she'd ever heard of. It was at this moment that security decided to show up. Luke glanced at a nearby chronometer--only five minutes had passed since he and Cal had shown up to join the fight. No wonder they hadn't come sooner. They did their part, though--they arrested everyone in the hallway, even attempted to arrest Mara and Luke, but the couple's lightsabers were still glowing and the guards didn't need much persuading to give it up. "A man went that way," Mara told the head guard, guesturing down the other hallway with her now deactivated lightsaber. "He has an orange lightsaber and he'd taken on at least this many men." The head guard nodded and barked orders for a small team to follow Cal's path. They hadn't gotten twenty feet away when Cal suddenly appeared--clutched between two Nighori. One had his lightsaber, and the other had Cal's wrists tied together, which Cal seemed to be disliking intensely. "MARA!" he shouted, "IS THIS HOW YOU REPAY A FAVOR!" Mara nearly winced from the dark tremor through the Force his shout caused, but she wasn't going to show him that much throat. "Let him go, guys," she said dryly. "He's one of us...right now." The Nighori stopped him in front of the Skywalkers and untied his hands, but gave his weapon to Luke. "Forgive us, Son of Vader," one said with a respectful bow. "We did not realize he was with you. We feared that he was one of the assailants." Luke grasped Cal's lightsaber. It had an oddly familiar grip to it...certainly nothing he'd ever held, but its design was like to something he couldn't remember offhand. He shrugged it off as he handed it to Cal, once his wrists were free. Cal practically snatched it from him. "What the sith are these mutants doing here?" Cal railed on, managing to maintain his dignity while having a nice fit in front of half of the Palace Security. "Don't tell me that you have them as bodyguards?" "We serve the Son of Vader and his consort, Mara clan Skywalker, to honor the family of Vader," the other Nighori hissed, his eyes on Mara. "Han clan Solo has brought us the child of the Son of Vader and she is safe in our midst." "Don't be so rude, Cal," Mara said, tossing her red- gold hair back over her shoulders. "If I can handle their calling me 'Mara clan Skywalker' you can deal with a little bit of manhandling." Cal's eyes focused on Mara, and Luke got the distinct impression that he was Fed-Up with a captial F-U. "So much for my little vacation," Cal said, his voice softer. "Perhaps I'll be taking my leave now." "Perhaps that would be for the best," Luke said quickly. "Mara and I are going to make ourselves pretty scarse for a while until we can figure out who wants us dead." Mara gave him a small grin. "This time," she added. Cal nodded, but his eyes didn't leave Mara's. "I hope you'll come and see me before I leave," he said, his voice softer. He didn't have to say the next word that was in Luke's head so clearly he was sure he hadn't imagined it. *Alone.* 13--Run This time when Mara embraced her daughter, Vaiya was the one gaping at the small abrasions and cuts that Mara's brief encounter in the hallway had caused along her arms. She hugged her mother more tightly, and even tried to cling to her leg, causing Mara a fresh flood of guilt. What had she thought she was doing, anyway? Running off like that right in front of her daughter. Both she and Luke were very lucky that they hadn't traumatized her by their actions. They should have just sat and waited for security to show up and clean up the mess. She snorted. *On a cold day on Tatooine,* she thought. Mara picked up the little girl and cradled her in her arms. Vaiya wasn't very big for her age. She fit into the cook of Mara's arm rather easily, while her other arm supported Vaiya's legs. It was times like this that truly tested her muscles, though. The constant weight could get pretty tiresome. Although Jedi were pretty good at keeping themselves in the best of shape. "I missed you, Mommy," Vaiya said, yawning. All the excitement had finally taken its toll. "I missed you too, Vai. But I'm home now. And the next time we leave, we'll all go together." "When we go?" "Soon." "To the sky?" "Beyond the sky. We'll fly in our pretty ship through the stars." "Uncle Han talk about pretty stars. He says they make shapes." "They do. Some stars make big shapes across the sky, and some of them are made of swirling gas filled with every color in the rainbow." Vaiya's eyes drooped. "When we go, Mommy?" "Soon." "When soon?" "As soon as you go to sleep, my love, and you can dream about them." "Don't wanna dream," the little girl protested sleepily. "Wanna go." "You can do both. Right now." "Kay." Vaiya let her eyes close, and in a few seconds Mara knew she was asleep. Several minutes passed. Mara considered putting Vaiya in bed, but it was so peaceful like this. Plus she knew if she tried to move it would wake her daughter up again, and Mara was just too plain exhausted to use the Force. No, she would just sit here for a little while and enjoy the peace. After those minutes had passed, Vaiya wasn't the only one dreaming about flying through the stars. "Son of Vader," one of the Nighori guards pleaded in his rough voice, "if you would allow us the honor of protecting you, this sort of thing would not have happened." Luke shook his head with a smile. "I appreciate the offer, really, but my wife and I have decided it's better this way." Behind the Nighori guard, Leia rested her chin on her palm. "I can't change your mind about this, can I?" Even Han looked a bit shaken. "At least come by to visit, Luke. So we know you're still alive." Luke smiled. "I'll be fine, trust me. I just don't want Vaiya exposed to this sort of thing again. And especially if that Cal Saphringer," he practically spat the words, his smile gone, "is responsible for this like I think he is. He can't know where we are. Ever." Leia nodded. "I can't give you my blessing on this, Luke, but I do wish you well." "I know." He hugged her. "Tell the kids I love them, okay?" "Anakin's going to be crushed," Han muttered. Luke slapped him on the arm. "I'll see him when I come to visit. You're just mad because I'm taking Vaiya away." Han tried to fight off a smile. "I just don't want to see her turn into a lunatic Jedi like her father." "No, you'd rather see her turn into a cunning smuggler like her mother, right?" Leia teased. "Speaking of Mara, I'm going to go find her. We'll say goodbye before we leave, don't worry." Luke turned and left Leia and Han's apartment, heading right down for his own. There was a Nighori standing guard, and Luke relieved him-- -respectfully. Maybe he should rethink his refusal of Nighori aid, he thought as his eyes passed over those needle-like teeth. Creatures like that never had to do anything to intimidate enemies. They just *were.* He stepped into the apartment and felt Mara's warm presence. Very warm, actually. A few steps into the next room showed him why. She was asleep, with Vaiya nestled in her arms. Her head was resting back and tilted a little to the side, exposing her neck, well muscled and yet slender and graceful. Her red hair gathered on top of Vaiya's own strawberry curls, and their chest rose and fell in the same rhythmic pattern. He really didn't want to break this up, as precious as it was. Maybe there was a way he could absorb this picture into his head with the Force. Make it a momento for the rest of his life, a holograph that would never fade. The pure peace of it was like a thick, sweet wine--it lulled him into a quiet, calm place where he could almost see the Force around them. Stepping forward, he lightly grasped Vaiya with the Force, careful not to move her as long as Mara had her arms adjusted to hold the weight. He bent over and gently kissed Mara's neck, and Mara's eyes fluttered open and her head turned to gaze at him. She stirred, and Luke slipped Vaiya from her grip and lifted her with the Force into his own arms. While Mara came back to the conscious world, Luke put Vaiya in her bed. *You know,* Mara sent, *most parents have to take their chances and move their kids with normal force. You're cheating to do it that way.* Luke tossed her a crooked grin. *If you like, we can go back and do it again.* Mara stretched like a cat and stood up to walk over to him. *Nah, you've already taken care of it.* She gave a little shrug, and then looked down at Vaiya. *Poor kid. She's been through so much.* *Very little, actually, compared to what you and I faced when we were young.* Mara sighed. *That's part of what worries me, Skywalker. I mean, she's got both you and me for parents. Her genetics are all screwed up.* Luke eyed Mara up and down. *Where she got her genetics from looks fine to me,* he sent. *You've got anger, I've got anger, Vader had some really big anger...Force forbid Palpatine scared me enough to have it hurt Vaiya too.* Mara touched her daughter protectively. *Sometimes, I want to have a normal life so much it hurts. But this is the best thing, I know.* Luke slid his arms around Mara's torso and pulled her close. *If we had had normal lives,* he sent, *you and I would never have met, and she would never have been born.* *You know what I mean.* She rested her head against his chest. *I'm just..so tired.* *But what about the old saying that life begins at 40?* *They lied.* *Did they?* There was a seductive note in his mind, and Mara looked up to see his eyes gazing down at her, hazy with desire. *You've been away too long, Mara.* She wanted to laugh, but didn't dare. All Luke got was the mirth in her mind. *I guess you'll keep me young, Skywalker. You'll never grow up, will you?* *Never.* And he pulled her down to the floor. *HERE? But what if we wake Vaiya?* Luke pressed himself on top of her, his lips nuzzling her ear. *Then we'll just have to make sure we stay really quiet. Like this.* And his covered her mouth with his kiss. 14--Good Riddence The next morning, Mara somehow managed to tear herself from Luke's arms--they'd fallen asleep on the floor of Vaiya's room, and agreed they should move quickly and quietly before the little girl woke up. She needed to see Cal off. Maybe this would put to rest some of her odd feelings about him, as well as her suspicions. Cal was overseeing restocking of his ship with all the necessary supplies. Mara approached him from behind, not wanting him to see her, but not willing to wait for the right moment. She was only three feet from him when he turned and smiled at her, as if he'd already known. "Come to see me away?" he asked. "Do I get a kiss goodbye?" "You get a thank you," Mara returned evenly. "For helping out yesterday. Although I admit I'm not sure why you helped." "Mara, you wound me. Whatever else that has happened, I still consider you a friend." Mara just stared at him. "You don't have very good taste in friends, Cal," she said softly. Cal shrugged and gave a self-depreciating little laugh. "I guess I don't. I tell you, Mara, seeing you like this has shaken me up a bit." Then in a softer voice, he added, "So when are you going to tell him?" "Tell who what?" Cal rolled his eyes at her. "Don't play coy. You may do it well but I find it so uncharming." "If you're referring to Luke, he already knows. There's no one else to tell anything. You and I...aren't anymore. But maybe you can keep an eye open for that missing child for me in your little adventures." Cal nodded, and Mara could feel him attempting to probe her mind. She had firm barriers, and he got nowhere. "What I was referring to," he said after a few moments, "was this charade you've got going here. When are you just going to kill him and get it over with?" The suddeness of the question make Mara's brain lock up for a second. That was one of Cal's tricks--to say the outrageous thing he was thinking of to throw her off. But in that second, it all sort of clicked into place. "I knew they were your men. That was why they didn't hit me. Even with my lightsaber, I would have been a perfect target at that range." She let out a ragged sign, holding back rage. She had to hear his side--she had to give him that. Cal advanced on her, his eyes not breaking contact with her own. "Come on, Mara. You say you've changed, you say you haven't. Hate like what you had doesn't just melt into love, like some fairy fable. I hoped this was all a set-up." Mara was horrified, but she kept her cool. She wanted to ask him why he thought that, to hear all the reasons again and put them together in one long list so that she might be able to make sense of it. But she already knew. "You know," she finally replied, "what the worst of all this is? You aren't wrong. People don't change. But I did change--or rather, something changed me. I love Luke, I've born his daughter, and---" Cal waved his hand. "Children...sex...whatever, Mara. That isn't proof of love. People couple all the time and make children, whether they're husbands and wives or not. Do you really love Skywalker? Prove it to me and I will never darken your doorstep again." She narrowed her eyes at him. For the first time, anger got the better of her. "Fine. You want to know whose child it is that I'm chasing after? Yes, the son of a former Jedi Knight, Callista. But that's not the whole story. The boy is Luke's son, too. Now who do you know other than me that would do this sort of thing for a man she wanted to kill?" Cal seemed to consider her for a moment. "Convincing," he murmured. "But there could be reasons behind that, too. Maybe the same as your reasons for bearing him a child. When the time is right, you plan on worse than just killing him. You want to destroy him utterly." He grinned at her. "That would be more like you, Mara, and you know it." She shook her head. "I followed orders. I was never cruel." "Weren't you? I know things about you, Mara. I chased all over for you when you left me. Talon finally convinced me it was in my better health interests to leave you alone while you were his employee. I learned things about you, though. Jobs you'd done, the things you pulled. Perhaps all this holier-than-thou Jedi Knight bantha dung has made your memory short. You're no better than I am. Inside, you know that part is still there, and you don't know whether to fight it or not. Maybe that urge to kill Skywalker is still there. Tell me, does he trust you completely? In spite of all that's happened?" Mara held perfectly still during Cal's tirade, as if she were afraid to move. When she spoke, only her lips moved. "He trusted me even when he knew I had every intention of killing him. He always knew me as I really was, Cal. The woman you knew a long time ago has gotten rid of those demons. I suggest you do the same. It isn't too late for you." Cal snorted. "You're even starting to sound like one of them. What should I do, stay here and learn about the light side of the Force? I'll bet your hubby would just love that, wouldn't he?" He paused. "You see, either way it doesn't work." Mara stared at him, the suspicions from earlier coming back to her. Those men she'd fought in the hallway--they hadn't aimed to well at her. But Skywalker had gotten the full treatment, all blasters aimed right at his face the second he'd appeared. And Cal jumping into battle so quickly--he'd defended them too quickly. It was not like Cal to stick his own neck out. Then he'd come back in the grip of two Nighori, and no other prisoners save himself. *I'm not so sure why you helped,* she'd said to him. Now she was sure. "You did it, didn't you?" she whispered. "I don't know what you're talking about, Mara," he said with a smile, and then bent over to kiss her on the cheek. She was frozen with a mixture of rage and outrage. "Farewell for now, Mara Jade. You know how to reach me if you want me." She glared at him as he walked all the way into his ship. "Don't hurry back," she whispered as the ship prepared for takeoff. She turned and left the hangar, not even looking back as the ship rose out of sight. Luke was sprawled out across the bed, flipping casually through the journal he had started a long time ago. He had been working on it on and off over the last few years, but lately there just hadn't been any time. Mara came in, and Luke instantly sensed something was wrong. He waited silently and patiently as she came over to him and sat down on the edge of the bed beside him. "He's gone," she said, her voice flat. "I know." "I think he's the one who arranged this attack. He was trying to kill you." Luke gave her a little grin. "Should I take that personal?" She turned her head to look at him with humorless eyes. "Are you hearing me? He managed to launch an attack at us within hours of our arrival here. He's always been quick to get things done, but that's plain scary." Luke ran a hand through her hair. "We're leaving soon. We'll be safe." She shook her head. "He'll bide his time. That's what he's good at." She let out a ragged sigh, and continued, "I can't believe he's doing all this over me." "I can." She flopped back on to the bed, stretching her arms over her head. "Then you're just as nuts as he is." "Well, I wouldn't go that far. But I know about obsession. People get something stuck in their heads and they can't shake it. You'll have to face him one day, you know, Mara, and resolve this." The anxiety that enimated from Mara at that moment was enough to make Luke wobble. "Not anytime soon," he added. "Doesn't matter. He's got one up on me anyway." Luke frowned. "What?" "He knows about you and Callista, and that I'm looking for your son." He grew very still. "And?" "I'm just...afraid." Luke sat up and pulled Mara up into a sitting position. Their arms locked together, one's hands on the others forearms. "What are you doing?" Mara asked. "Work with me," he said. "I'm going to see if I can put this anxiety of yours to rest...at least for a while." "I'm up for that," she said wearily. Luke shut his eyes. *Follow me, Mara,* he sent through the Force. Mara shut her eyes and reached out for him. For a moment, she saw it--the Mosaic of her life as she had seen it when she was standing with him on the observation deck, staring out into the stars. Beautiful and grand, almost infinite. As she stared at it, she could see Vaiya, and the boy Luke and Callista had had--*Valery?* she thought, the name a fragment in her mind. But the pictures weren't stable. They moved, the contorted, they ran together and spread out. *Destiny,* came Luke's voice from beside her, *has been the most important driving force in my life. But the future is always in motion. Destiny is only the beginning of our path, not the end.* *We choose our destiny,* Mara sent back, understanding him. *We accept or deny it, or we change it. But in the end, destiny is fulfilled.* *I don't understand. How can we be free to choose and yet always have it end up in the same place? How can there be a choice when what happens is what is meant to be?* She could feel Luke grinning. *That is the mystery of the Force.* *No,* she objected. *It is far beyond the Force.* She expected him to correct her, but he remained silent for several moments. *For a Jedi,* he finally continued, *peace is the true objective. Peace must be in the heart during any trial. Without peace, the dark side can close in. Mara, you must find your peace.* Mara searched, and as she did, she could see Luke with her, as if they were physically present in this dimension of mind. She could see Vaiya, her daughter, embrace her and say that everything would be all right. *Just be patient, Mother,* the young woman said. Mara took in a deep breath and found the air was warm and sweet around her. The gnawing teeth at her stomach stopped and the ache from her shoulders lifted. She let it all go, let it slide into the fabric of the Force, to be crushed against the blinding light as a moth disintegrates in a flame. When she opened her eyes again, Luke was staring at her, his blue crystal orbs shining with the power of the Force around him. He was a Jedi Master, her Jedi Master, teaching her a lesson she needed badly. "Feel better?" he whispered. "Yes. How long will this last?" "As long as you want it to. Mediate on what you saw here whenever you feel it come back. It will return you to this peace." She nodded. "I will," she said, and then after a second's hesitation, she added the honorific, "Master." He nodded, and the old Luke returned. "Let's get geared up, then," he said. "We'll leave soon." "I hope this is the right choice," she said, her voice calm. "It is," Luke assured her. "We won't stay away forever. Vaiya will return to Yavin IV ready to complete her training. I have a feeling she'll be an early bloomer." "She'll bloom when she's six at the rate she's going." Luke shrugged. "If she does, she does. But she's going to get to see the galaxy first. There are many things she should learn first about this universe we live in if she is going to become a Jedi Knight." 15--Ten Years True to their plan, Luke and Mara left Yavin IV by the next day, and did exactly as they intended--they visited the galaxy. Vaiya absorbed languages. It seemed to be her knack. She could understand Chewbacca perfectly by the age of six, and even imitate some of his noises. By the age of ten, Luke began her lightsaber training, letting her use Callista's lightsaber, like Mara wanted. But when puberty hit her at 13, she was ready to get off the Jaded Sky and get as far away from her mother and father as she could. She temporarily lost control of her ability to lift objects and there were a few incidents that some spaceports had to record in their logs of unusual phenomenon. Vaiya always apologized, but how could Luke and Mara punish a child who was locked up with them in a ship in the deep of space? What were they going to do--ground her? Vaiya had charm and grace. She had her father's innocent looks and her mother's guile. But if anyone were to ask her parents which one she was most like, the response was always, "Luke." She had a restlessness about her that sometimes scared the Jedi Master. He didn't want her running off and trying to blow up and Star Destroyers. But he also knew what it was like to be forced to stay in one place and desperately desire to be in another because of a parental figure who thought they were doing the best thing for the child. They stopped at Yavin IV and Courscant regularly. Vaiya usually clung to her Uncle Han. She always said she liked the way Uncle Han's head didn't buzz. Han doted on her, realizing that she wasn't destined to be a nutcake like most of the Jedi's he'd known. This girl wanted to live a real life in the real world. And she was her mother's daughter. In spite of the spoted past he and Mara had had, if there was anything Han felt for the ex-assassin, it was respect. There were reliefs for Vaiya every once in a while, when Luke and Mara would help complete the training of a Jedi Knight--new people which mostly stood in awe of the ability of one so young. It would never last, and they were few and far between in the 11 years they spent on their travels. Mara's experience as the Emperor's Hand was sometimes the only thing that kept them interested--often, she would pop out interesting information about this planet here or that moon, and want to see if it was still that way. Every once in a while, they would land into some trouble, but nothing they couldn't handle. Mara would always say, "Just because Jedi's shouldn't crave adventure doesn't mean they shouldn't have any." Finally, when Vaiya was 14, they returned to Yavin IV, to stay. She was so happy when she found out that she wound up giving her parents too big of a Force boost of joy and slamming their heads against the hull. The jungles of Yavin IV had always fascinated her, since the very beginning. All the sounds and the textures, the animals and the colors. If left on her own for too long, she would wander too close into the outskirts. It was usually Mara who discovered her first--her mother always seemed to know where Vaiya was, no matter what. Then there were the Jedi Knights. There had once been a legion of them, but Mara had gotten her way and the Academy was now more of a Pre-Jedi school. There were twenty or more young men and women, mostly humanoid but sometimes interesting aliens would pop up, and Vaiya was always testing her language skills. Until, of course, she got her first crush. She was fifteen when he arrived--not exactly attractive by regular standards, but he was charming. He had bright eyes and a wide smile, and he treated Vaiya like she was a princess. She never escaped his notice, and he never escaped his. He was the same age as the Solo twins---who were well into their twenties, with Anakin only a few years younger--and managed to charm them as well. Once or twice, Mara said something to Luke about curbing the young man's flirtation skills--half of the female body of Yavin IV were talking about him. Derrin Nighttreader from Tatooine was definitely a hit among the Jedi-Knights-to-be. Vaiya, however, was beyond serious in her infatuation for Derrin. The fact that he father, also a native from Tatooine, prized Derrin as a great hope for the future of the Jedi Knights, didn't help the matter. Luke would smile and shake his head at Mara, telling her not to worry--Vaiya would grow out of it. Mara knew better. The connection the two women shared Mara credited to what had happened before Vaiya was born. Terrified that she would die and her daughter would never know her, Mara shared her memories with the pre-born child. In Vaiya's head, hidden deep somewhere, was everything about Mara Jade's life. Perhaps even things she didn't know about herself. Mara had hoped that one day Luke would help his daughter uncover them, when the time was right. But Mara had lived. What to do about Vaiya? Fortunately, her parents were the last thing on Vaiya's mind. 16--Derrin Derrin was going to be here today. Vaiya had to keep herself from jumping with excitement at the breakfast table. Her father was gone already. He had taken the Solo twins that morning off on some Jedi adventure. They were going to come back a step closer to being Jedi Knights. Big deal, she thought dryly, gulping down the pale blue milk to wash away the residue of her mother's slightly-burned bisquits on her throat. Being a Jedi Knight was overrated. She could read people's minds, manipulate their thoughts sometimes, even lift things bigger than herself. But what had it gotten her? Nothing worthwhile. Certainly not Derrin's attention. Not how she wanted it, anyway. Okay, so he was ten years older than her. Big deal. She only had to wait three more years. Surely he could wait for her that long. Besides, her Jedi skills far surpassed his. Surely that counted for something. Mother came into the dining room, her cheeks slightly flushed. "Done yet?" she asked. Vaiya shrugged away the slight probe of her mind. Sometimes Mother could smother, but if Vaiya reacted just right, her mother would give her a respectful distance. Besides, she had to be nice to her mother today, extra nice. Her mother was training Derrin. Oddly enough, it had been Mother's idea. It briefly came to mind that Mother was trying to get Derrin's attention, which riled Vaiya in more ways than one, until she overheard part of the exchange between her mother and father before Father left. *...good idea?* *Needs to learn....* *Don't....too hard.* *Who, me?* Then they got all sappy sweet on each other, to which Vaiya, watching it all from the dining table, snapped, "Do you have to do that in front of me? I'm *eating* here, for Yoda's sake!" They just exchanged looks, kissed one more time (probably just out of spite, Vaiya thought, but seeing them like that always made her feel secure in a way she could never understand) and Father had left. Mother dumped some sweetener onto a half of a bright green fruit and proceeded to dig her spoon into it. "So what's the thought for the day, Vai?" Vaiya just grumbled. She could feel her mother sigh in frustration, and then assure herself it was only Vaiya's age. "Derrin should be here soon," Mother said carefully. "Are you going to be grumpy like this for him?" Vaiya looked at her mother carefully. "If I could go with you, I would be a lot nicer." Mother smiled at her--it was a smile she'd never seen another mother wear. There were times that it made Vaiya wonder if her mother wasn't someone entirely different than the person she knew throughout her childhood. Quite frankly, it was at times like this when Vaiya liked her mother best. "Would you?" Mother carefully at the fruit, and none of the juice dared to drip on her. "Why? You seem to have lost interest in your Force training. I can't remember the last time you practiced with your lightsaber." "Surprised you noticed," Vaiya grumbled. Mother's green eyes were slightly sharp. "I notice everything," she said, and then sighed again. "Let me tell you, kid, I know what you're going through. I went through it myself a bit. But you have to understand something about the human heart. Sometimes it does things unexpected. I just don't want you to get hurt. I don't want you to experience the things that happened to me." Vaiya's ears perked. The feeling of her mother's duality sharpened from the usual hum to a pointed curiosity. She had heard that her mother was an Imperial at one point, and had even worked for the Emperor, and she knew all about her father's history, but Mother never talked about her feelings about any of it. "How did you and Daddy meet?" Vaiya whispered. Mother leaned forward, and stretched out a young hand to her adolescent daughter. Vaiya, to her own surprise, took it. "You know the answer to that. We were on a mission to stop the Hand of Thrawn---" "No," Vaiya said with a shake of her head. "I mean before that. How you first met Dad." "I was a smuggler working for Talon Karrde. We formed an alliance with the New Republic, and I wound up working with Luke---" Vaiya slapped the open palm of her other hand on the table. "The truth, Mother! That story is so dead without detail! I mean, what *happened?* Why did it take all that time for you two to get together?" "Ask me again in a few years." "Why? Can't I understand it now? What could be so hard about it, Mom?" Vaiya yanked her hand from Mara's. "It's not fair...you tell me all these stories of war and romance, but you act like you're trying to hide some big secret from me! What could be so bad?" To her credit, Mother didn't recoil. She stood her ground, bracing herself against the table. Old instinct probably taught her that, Vaiya sensed, and the urge to know who her parents really were was nearly overwhelming. Her Jedi Knight parents, a hero farmboy and a converted smuggler who had a checkered past they refused to expose to their only child. There were so many holes--and there was something deep in her head filled with truths she couldn't reach, couldn't understand. If only her mother would just *tell* her, maybe the constant suspicion that she was not who she thought she was, and neither was anyone else in her universe, would go away. But at that point, Derrin showed up, and all other thoughts vanished from Vaiya's mind. It occured to her about a half-hour later that her mother had actually been about to tell her something important before Derrin had arrived, but she brushed it off. What was the point, anyway? It would probably be just more fluff. 17--Truth "I don't like this," Mara said that evening as she and Luke walked back from the landing port to their home. "I don't like not telling her. She's old enough to know. She'd probably even find it exciting. It might make her respect us more, and take more pride in herself." Luke put his arm around Mara's waist. "Only four months to go, Mara. We decided to wait until she's 16. It's far too complicated for her to understand now." "Understand," Mara practically sneered. "Hell, Luke, she probably already knows on some level." "But it's not as traumatizing as it could be if she found out that you once wanted to kill me, that you killed for a living, and that I was at one time a dark Jedi Knight. She's so strong in the Force. We have to wait until she's mature enough to understand the way things work." "*I* don't understand the way things work, Skywalker!" Mara railed at him, her voice enchoing off the cool night- covered jungle. "And of all people, I still don't understand how you could have agreed to this! I mean, you didn't find out about Vader until you were---" "Old enough to deal with it," Luke pointed out. "Any time before, and I might have fallen to the dark side-- completely." He nodded. "Trust me, Mara. It's not even a year. She'll learn her heritage. She'll learn how much she needs the power of the light." Then there was Han Solo to tell them that they were both full of bantha fooder. He and Leia came to visit the twins and celebrate the completion of their training. If they actually completed it. Han had some colorful opinions about that, too. "You know," he said one evening as Mara dealt out a "friendly" game of sabbacc, "you're just going to make things worse for her if you keep this up. I don't understand what the big deal is. I mean, what's four months? The poor kid is ready to burst! Besides, isn't all this anxiety she feels over it bad for her psyche or something? Isn't that all part of the dark side?" Luke grinned at his old friend. "Come on, Han, you know how messed up I was when I was 19. I could never have handled knowing that Vader was my father. I would have run off to find him and wound up becoming a darksider before I even knew it." "But Vaiya has you and Mara for parents, not some mysterious Dark Jedi out there somewhere. What are you afraid of?" "That she won't understand about Callista and her son, for one thing," Leia offered. "That sort of thing can be really hard on a child." Mara ran her thumb over her cards, letting then snap loudly. "Call it Jedi intuition if you want, Solo," she said dryly, and then added thoughtfully, "and she's so rebellious. If she finds out too much of our colorful family history before she's ready, she could do more damage to us than I'd like to think about." Han let out a little laugh. "You're worried about your own daughter? Now that is really paranoid." "Mara had several disturbing visions when she was carrying Vaiya," Luke defended his wife. "I trust her to take the right course of action." This time, it was Leia who shook her head. "But Luke, if you hadn't made it sound like a big secret---" "That's just it, we didn't," Mara said. "We always talked about things so casually, even told her the little story about when we defeated CyBoth, and how Luke 'rescued' me and we fell in love. But she knew there was more to it than that. And I'm not telling a 9 year old information that could get distorted in her mind, or she could wind up distorting herself and getting us all into trouble. She knew, though. She knew there were secrets, insisted in hearing them until we told her flat out that we would tell her when she was old enough to understand. When she turned 13, I thought she was going to just burst." Mara did not add that it was at that point that Vaiya's pubervescent hormones had strengthened her Jedi abilities and made her aware that memories that were not her own lurked in her head. Han and Leia didn't really know about that and that was just fine with her. Han snorted. "Jedi nonsense. You're going to turn her into a basketcase, mark my words. Just like your old Uncle Ben." Luke smiled. "If I should be half as lucky," he said. Father had gone off with Derrin on some sort of hike through the jungle. Vaiya had watched them disappear into the thick green foliage, wishing she could tag along but knowing better. Father taught his students alone. Mother was a bit more flexible, and besides, she owed her mother something for letting her hang around Derrin the other day. Her stomach still fluttered when she remembered the attention he'd lavished on her. Just as her daydreams filled with his face, she felt a strange disturbance in the Force. "Someone's here, Mother!" Vaiya called as she gazed toward the landing port. A sleek craft that she didn't know the technical name for had just set itself down in an empty slot, and within a few minutes she could see the movement of the hatch door opening. She felt Mara come out behind her. "Who is it?" Vaiya asked her, not looking at her but keeping her eyes fixed on the craft. "Wait here," Mara said softly. "I'll go see." "NO!" Vaiya objected, stamping her foot on the ground. Mara whirled on her daughter, a look of surprise on her face from the Force echo of Vaiya's anger. "You're always doing that to me!" Vaiya ranted. "You and Daddy just want to shove me away, lock me up in my room, and forget about me!" "You know that isn't true," Mara said, her voice calm and level. "We just want to protect you--" "Then why don't you just lock me in a box and shove me in the ground! I can't get any safer than that!" With that, she whirled around and ran back into the house. Watching her go, Mara was shaken. First, because she had felt something coming from her daughter's mind that felt too familiar, and second, she had a very bad feeling about strange ships landing in their port, unannounced. After all, this scene had happened before, and no good had ever come out of it. 18--Old Friends Derrin followed Master Skywalker through the stretch of rocky ground he was leading them through. He didn't quite get what the point of this hike was, but if Master Skywalker said to do it, that was what he would do. Problem was, Master Skywalker was a talker, and he wasn't saying anything. That made him uneasy. Not that the Master wasn't cheerful. He was evening whistling lightly. He was in a rather good mood, which puzzled Derrin even more. Finally, he could take it no longer and started the conversation. "Master Skywalker?" "Hmmm?" Okay, he'd started it. Where to go from there? And how could he make light conversation with the man who was the husband of the woman he thought about night and day? Mara Skywalker, red-haired, emerald-eyed goddess of Yavin IV. She carried a mystery about her like a thick, flowing cloak, and if there was anything Derrin loved, it was a mystery. And the way she moved during lightsaber practice....Derrin had had to focus his attention hard on Vaiya to keep himself from getting too "distracted" by the fresh memories. He'd heard that she'd once been an Imperial, even worked for the Emperor himself, but had long since mended her ways and was now one of the "good guys." Still, the mystery was killing him. "Yes, Derrin?" the Master repeated, sparing him a glance over his shoulder. Derrin shrugged. "I don't remember. It was nothing." "Nothing is ever nothing," Luke corrected, stopping. "Tell me...what were you thinking about?" Derrin stopped and sat down on a rock, and quickly found out how badly he needed to do so. "I was just wondering about...about you and Master Jade Skywalker." Luke shook his head. "Don't ever call her that, Derrin," he said with a half-smile. Derrin cocked his head. "Which part?" "Any of it, except the Skywalker. She is Jedi Skywalker to her students. If you call her master, you'll get a lecture that may last days. And only Vaiya has the Jade in her name anymore." Luke took a breath. "But what did you want to know?" "I don't know. We talk about you sometimes, the students, I mean," Derrin began. "We have all sorts of theories about you two, but none of them seem to fit." "Theories about what?" The Master looked amused. "Well....it's just that...you're the Master. You run the academy, and do most of the work...." "Um humm." "But M...Jedi Skywalker is hardly the good Jedi wife she pretends to be. I've fought with her, trained with her." "And your question would be?" Luke said, his eyebrow raised. Derrin shrugged. "Stupid, of course," he muttered. Luke finally chuckled. "Not really. I've heard it before. Mara hasn't known much peace in her life. She's always been the warrior and the fighter. She's always been running to the rescue of someone, even if she didn't want to. She had to kick and bite and scratch and claw her way through the galaxy. Now, all she wants to do is have a chance to raise our daughter in peace. The Jedi way," Luke reminded him. "I can tell that Jedi Skywalker is a fighter. And I know that you've given us the big lecture on how a Jedi does not crave excitement or adventure. However, you also said that we could enjoy them if destiny chose to send them to us." Luke waved his hand dismissively. "I've gotten away from the destiny part of the lecture. But you're right. So, what are you saying? You want to see Mara in action?" Derrin tried to hide a smile. "I would settle for a recounting of her active days." A few moments passed, and Luke stood up. He was chuckling softly, remembering. "I don't know if you should settle for that, Derrin," he said. "Witnessing Mara in action is a site worth seeing. And there aren't too many Jedi around here aside from me that can boast of having such a big strong protector." He said the last words with affection, but Derrin jumped up, a worried frown on his face. "Master, I wasn't saying that you needed protection. After all, you are a Jedi Master--" Luke practically snorted. "Easy, Derrin. Trust me, I got into my fair share of messes even the Force couldn't get me out of. But Mara did. Many times over." Then the blue eyes focused hard on Derrin and the student felt like the Master could read his thoughts. "You're sweet on her, aren't you?" For a moment, Derrin was tempted to say, "Which one?" for he knew full well that Vaiya had a severe crush on him and that Master Skywalker and Jedi Skywalker knew about it, too. But all he dared do was nod his head. "Don't worry, I'm not offended. Sith, I'm flattered." Luke grinned, and for a minute Derrin was tempted to believe he was as young as himself; even though the Master was well into his fifites, he didn't look too far past his 30's. "Mara is a real piece of work, and she's my wife. I'm proud of who she's become. I love her, too. She's actually pretty easy to love, if you know her." "I don't know her," Derrin said, slightly embarrassed. "Yes, but you've found that the fastest way to her heart was through her daughter." Now the Master looked slightly disapproving. Derrin stiffed defensively. "I have done nothing with Vaiya, Master---" Luke held up a hand. "I know that. Nothing physical. But Vaiya is going through a rough time. And my intuition is telling me that things are going to get rough. You're going to get a chance to see more than just Mara in action, Derrin. Before you leave Yavin IV, you'll realize things you might never have wanted to know." To this, Derrin just gave a slightly disarming grin. "But that's the price of the Jedi, isn't it, Master?" he said. Luke nodded gravely. "Yes, it is. Now we can work on your training." Mara was slightly out of breath when she reached the landing port, but the innocent eyes of the traffic controllers regarded her with calm politeness. "Jedi Skywalker. How may we serve?" said the director, a man in his mid-forties who reminded her of a clean-cut version of Karrde. "Who just landed here?" Mara asked, her breath quickly regulating itself. "Is there a problem, Jedi Skywalker?" Mara shook her hand evasively. "Just tell me who it was," she demanded calmly. The director shrugged and looked down at the datapad. "His name is...Jaid...I can't pronounce this last name." He showed it to her. *Saphringer.* Mara's stomach sank. "Do you know him?" he asked. Mara didn't answer. Instead, she said, "Is he still here?" "Yes," the director said, his face brightening. "They're checking out his ship right now, and he's in the main office. He said something about wanting to find the Academy. We told him it's not an Academy anymore, but a School. He seemed disappointed. Too bad, too. He's just a kid, really. Maybe 18 or 19." "Twenty, actually," came a young voice. Mara smoothly turned around to see the spitting image of Cal when he was 19 as she had first seen him. Dark hair, blue eyes, innocent features, and a smile to make anything female faint. For a moment, she couldn't breathe. "Are you Jedi Mara Skywalker?" he asked, stepping forward. "I tried to call into the Academy, but they said both Skywalkers were out on training missions." He smiled again, the worried frown leaving his face. "But of course, you're Jedi Skywalker. Your red hair is a bit famous in the core worlds." Mara regarded him carefully. There was something slightly hypnotic about him. But he seemed so innocent and hopeful. "Is it?" she asked. "Well...my fame just continues to spread." And she grinned at her own silly joke. "My name," the man-child began, "is Jaid Saphringer. I think you know my father." Mara nodded. "A long time ago." Jaid smiled, a bit embarrassed. "Yes, Mother wasn't too happy when she learned about you. I think I was named after you. It didn't make for a good marriage." He shook himself. "But that's all a very long story." "You'll have to tell us. Master Skywalker will be returning from his training mission shortly. You can come with me if you came here for the Jedi schooling." Jaid's face brightened. "Thank you, Jedi Skywalker," he said eagerly. Mara just shrugged, remembering that there was still much about the galaxy that she didn't understand--and currently, didn't want to. 19--Flirt "Come on, Derrin, you have to meet my parents," Jacen Solo said, giving Derrin a light tug on his arm. They stood in Derrin's quarters, not much bigger than a dormitory room, and Derrin was putting the finishing touches on his Jedi garb. "I don't know," Derrin muttered, straightening the wrinkled fabric where Jacen had pulled at it. "I've got to meet the Master after dinner. We're going to discuss taking the next step in my training." "Then there's no problem," Jacen said, grinning so hard Derrin was sure he would split open his face. "My parents are with the Skywalkers." Derrin turned and gave his friend a sharp look. Sure, he and his twin sister Jacina were leaving tomorrow, but the Master didn't meet with Jedi parents flippantly. Besides, Jacen had never told him who his parents were. He treated it like it was some big secret. Maybe it was time Derrin found out what the secret was. "Since you put it that way," he said with a grin. "Let's go." So Derrin followed Jacen all the way to the Skywalker's private home on the far side of the schoolgrounds and even allowed his friend to just open the door and walk in without requesting permission. Derrin hesitated in the doorway, unwilling to have whatever wrath that was in store for Jacen for such a lack of manners descend upon him as well. Then he saw who was in the living room. The Chief- of-State Leia Organa-Solo, and her husband, the war hero, former General Han Solo. Jacen ran over to his mother and gave her a kiss on the cheek. As the woman bent forward to receive it, Derrin saw Jacina at the table behind her, working hard on a lightsaber. Jacen joined her, giving her unwanted pointers. "Hello, Derrin," came a familiar voice from the nearby stairs. "You can come in, you know. They won't bite." Derrin turned his head to see Vaiya sitting half-way up the flight of stairs, her legs crossed under her. He stared at her for a long moment, searching her face. She did look like Mara, in some ways--the curve of her lips, the setting of her eyes. Her hair shone a much paler shade of red-gold than Mara's rich waves, but it fell as free and long as a mane. She was stunning for a 15 year old. Unfortunately, she was a good decade behind his interest area. Vaiya stood up--she was all limbs, really, peeking out from underneath a loose-fitting tunic-cloak that bore more of a resemblence to a robe than clothing. "Wanna meet them?" she asked, standing in front of him. She was only a little over a foot shorter than he. "Your aunt and uncle," he said, glancing at the real-life celebrities. "You never told me who they were." Vaiya shrugged. "Father and my cousins decided that they didn't want anyone to treat them any different, so we didn't tell anybody." She gave a little snort. "I see Jacen couldn't resist the last minute urge." Derrin grinned at her. "I'm glad he didn't." He paused, and then said, "Just don't let me babble like an idiot to your uncle, okay?" She giggled. "Okay. But I have to warn you, it may be a futile effort. You see, Uncle Han is rather...protective of me." It didn't take Jedi tuition to know what that comment meant. Perhaps it was time to put some serious distance between him and the future Jedi Knight Vaiya Jade Skywalker. The last he wanted was both the Master and his war hero friend chasing him around the galaxy for breaking their little girl's heart. "What do you think?" Mara said as she wrapped her arms around her husband from behind. Luke snuggled back into her, a little sigh of contentment escaping from his lungs as they lay outside, underneath the bright sky of Yavin IV. The night was slightly chilly, and the big fire was dying down too quickly. "Of what?" he asked sleepily. "I don't know. About anything." He chuckled. "Typical Mara. You evase your own question." She kissed his ear, her teeth brushing the soft skin. "You know about what, Luke," she said, her voice deep with seriousness. Luke opened his eyes and grunted. "Do we have to talk about that?" He turned his head and looked at her suggestively. "Can't it wait until morning?" At that, she let go of him and turned away, her face scrunched up into one of her own grimaces. "I'm serious, Luke," she muttered. He turned with her. "Hey, it's your own fault for nibbling on my ear," he said, grasping her hand and bringing it to his lips. "But seriously, this kid who claims to be Cal Saphringer's son...I mean, it's kind of written all over him. He looks exactly like the man." "Too much like him," Mara said softly. Luke shrugged. "There you go. He claimed to be named after you, for Yoda's sake! Is it so unthinkable that a man like Cal would sow some wild oats while he was grieving over you?" She sat up straight. "Would you PLEASE stop it?" She didn't shout, but her voice was very sharp. Luke put his hand up defensively. "Sorry." Then after a moment of silence, and a careful study of Mara's downturned face, he said quietly, "It isn't the fact that he's Cal's that bugs you, is it?" She shook her head, her eyes turning back to him. "He's about the same age your son would be," she said, her voice hoarse. Luke sat up. "That occured to me." Then, gently, he probed her mind. Always with her there had been such concern over finding Callista's son. So much so that it had made Luke's own hopes seem casual. No one could want to find his son more than himself, but he had somehow always known that it would be a long time before he did. Plus, there was the thought that his son might be perfectly happy with some adopted family, and that he didn't want to burst in there and wreck everything. Still, his pain over never really having known Anakin Skywalker still burned in his heart, so he let Mara do whatever she wanted, trusting her completely, and having every confidence that if it could be done, she could do it. This evening, there was something different. She was older now, just a little past 50, and the most toll age had taken on her was a few laugh lines and some stray grey hairs. Being a Jedi was said to keep you young, but both he and Mara had taken much advantage of that advantage. Her hair, hanging a bit past her shoulders, was thick in his fingers as he twined the locks, a conforting guesture. She looked at him, the eyes a smoky green. Her lips parted, and her voice came out raspy. "I wanted another child, Luke." He started, surprised. She swallowed hard and then gave a little self- depreciating laugh. "Doesn't that sound nuts? Sith, if Karrde could hear that, I'd never get the end of it. But I do. I love Vaiya so much, maybe too much. I want another child to love--and it sounds terrible to say this, but maybe even to take some the pressure off her, too. I mean, I always believed that I'd have another child. I guess I feel...jipped....that I didn't. So I've been chasing after Callista's child, picturing in my mind a little baby, no matter how silly or irrational that was." "Not so irrational," Luke comforted her, his arm around her now. "If he's trapped in a statis block somewhere, he will still be a baby when we find him." "If we find him. And I don't think you or I will ever find him." He frowned at her. "Now why are you talking like that?" She shook her head, angrily supressing tears. "I don't know. It's just a feeling I have." Luke just nodded. "Would you humor me for a moment, Mara?" he asked gently. "What does this have to do with Jaid Saphringer?" "He told me that he was looking for his father," Mara said, calming. "He gave me bits and pieces of a story about how his mother had died, and that he wanted to find his father to tell him, but that he doubted the man would care. I felt so sorry for him...for this stranger who reminded me of someone I totally despised! I mean, I wanted to blame him for his father's sins, but I couldn't." "That was a good thing." "I know. But it feels wrong. And I'm scared that Jaid will bring back a lot of memories I don't want to have, and that he's got his father's darkside tendencies, and that one day Cal's going to show up here and find him and then all Sith will breath loose." She chuckled over the lump in her throat, a strange, broken sound. "I sound nuts, I know." Then she scowled. "Worst of it is, he was looking at Vaiya early this morning during exercises." Luke laughed lightly. "Don't worry about that, Mara," he said, kissing the top of her head. "Vaiya doesn't have eyes for anyone except Derrin Nightreader. And Derrin doesn't have eyes for anyone but you." Mara looked up at him, her eyes wide. "What?" He laughed harder. "Maybe we'd better go to bed." He stood up, pulling her with him. She gave him a cockeyed grin mingled with a scowl. "What is it with you men from Tatooine? You all have a thing for red-heads or something?" 20--Sixteen Months passed. Vaiya's 16th birthday approached. And just as Mara feared, Jaid showed her attentions that Derrin Nightbringer had suddenly ceased to give. Only a few days after introducing Derrin to her famous aunt and uncle, Derrin had stopped noticing Vaiya. Mara was extremely nervous about that at first, in light of what Luke had told her. She didn't want to give the boy any mixed signals. But she quickly figured out why Derrin had suddenly cooled his flirtatious ways. Her name was Drianna Scrent. She had thick dark hair that she wore in a braid down her back, and she sported flight suits like the kind Mara used to wear. Mara had liked the girl at first, and then felt a naturally defensive dislike of her when she saw that Drianna had gotten Derrin's full attention. Sure, the boy was a compulsive flirt and charmer. But the rest of the female sex did not exist for him when Dria was in the room. The pain Vaiya felt over it was the only thing keeping Mara from demanding that she stay away from Jaid. Jaid was the only person who could make Vaiya forget it for a time. As the months had passed, Jaid and Vaiya became friends. He was younger than Derrin, but he seemed so much older--at least to Vaiya, at times. There were times when they talked that she felt like he only looked young, but was an old man on the inside. It wasn't that he had any particular wisdom, but the stories! Planets Vaiya had only seen in her childhood he'd visited in the full bloom of adulthood, the time for adventure. The stories only lasted a few months, though, because after all, he said, he was only 20. There would be more after he finished his training and went back out to explore space again. So much for Father's "a Jedi craves not these things" lecture, Vaiya thought. As Drianna and Derrin became more and more visible, however, Vaiya found herself growing hostile. She found that she didn't even care about learning the real, dark story behind her parents' lives anymore. When her 16th birthday was only a week away, Luke made a comment at dinner. He was stunned to see her face impassive. "Whatever," she said. Mara nearly dropped the dishes she was carrying to the washerdroid. "Excuse me?" she said. "Did someone clone you or something? Who are you and where is our daughter?" Vaiya stood up, and for the first time her parents realized that she had aged. Her feeling for Derrin had obviously been pretty serious, and the sudden cold-shoulder was really hurting her. She looked like she could be as old as Jaid, now. Luke reached over the table for Vaiya's hand, which she didn't pull back. "Sweetheart, do you want to talk about it?" She shook her head, sadly. "There's nothing to say that anyone around the academy can't tell you," she announced. Mara jumped. "What do you mean?" "Apparently," and here Vaiya sighed heavily, "Derrin has been making it known to his friends that he had the affections of a certain Skywalker's daughter, and that he wasn't interested. He also didn't want to look like he was kissing up to you anymore." "Where did you hear that?" Luke said quietly, running his mind through calming techniques to quell the urge to run to the dorms and ram his lightsaber down the young man's throat. "Jaid heard him just the other day. I tried to say that Jaid was just being jealous, because I always thought Jaid liked me a little more than I liked him. But after Derrin being so nice to me and then acting like this, how can I know anything anymore? How can I know when someone likes me or that's just the way they are? Are they using me or do they want me? What's the difference?" She sighed again and turned to head for her room. "I'm going to bed, but let me know if Jaid calls." After she had gone, Luke turned to Mara. "You make the call," he said evenly. "Oh, sure, thanks for sticking me with that," Mara scowled. "I mean it, Mara. Should we do anything, or just let it go?" "I'd like to get her away from Jaid, I confess that. I don't like that they've gotten so close. But still," she added, "I don't doubt that Derrin played her like this. The man seems to have a vice for it. I don't want to cut her off from Jaid if he's the only person she can stand to be around right now." "Exactly the cause for alarm," Luke pointed out, keeping his voice low. "That isn't good." "No it isn't, Skywalker, but cutting her off from even that would really scar her right now, and I don't have the heart to do it." She shoved the rest of the plates into the droid and slammed the hatch shut. "The pitfalls of adolescence, I guess. Sometimes I wonder if the fact that you and I never had real parents is doing our little girl some real damage. We're so indulgent on some things and so strict on others. What if it should be the other way around?" Luke gave a little shrug. "I don't know. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were good parents to me, but they were night and day. Aunt Beru was so sweet and encouraging, and Uncle Owen just wanted me to stay on the farm." He shook his head. "I think all parents make mistakes with their first child because they're still growing up too." She laughed. "Say that when you look in the mirror, Skywalker." He approached her with wide open arms. "I've been told that I still look sixteen years old," he said smugly. "No, you've been told that you *act* like you're sixteen years old," Mara corrected. "Hey, I mean it. Even you've managed to hold up in your old age. Of course, get any older and I'll have to trade you in for two 30's. I mean, there's my image to consider and all." He was grinning and Mara turned on him, riled like and angry cat. She had a towel in her hand and raised it to swat him across the face. "Who are you calling old, farmboy? You were still a virgin before our wedding night!" "Who told you that?" he asked, throwing his hands up to defend himself from the towel. "Callista!" Mara shrieked, and then pulled back and started to laugh at her own joke. "Oh, Mistress Skywalker, you will pay for that one," Luke said darkly as he advanced on her and abruptly threw her over his shoulder and carted her into the bedroom. "But what about the dishes!" she yelped. "Forget em'!" he growled. "I'm going to get you un- domesiticated if it's the last thing I do!" She slapped him on the bottom. Hard. "OW!" 21--Drianna Tomorrow was her 16th birthday. Curiously, Vaiya didn't really give a Hoth-frost. After all, it was just another day for Derrin to ignore her. She had started to ignore him, too--in that juvenile, I'm-pretending-not-to-look-at-you-but-I- really-am sort of way. She'd managed once or twice to get Derrin's attention a few days ago, during lightsaber practice. But like a compass pointing North, Derrin's eyes had gone right back to Drianna. Vaiya spent most of her not-watching-Derrin time watching Drianna. It had given her the only successful idea for getting Derrin's attention over the last two months. Mother had taken Father's place that day for lightsaber practice because Father had a special task for Anakin to complete. With her teal-blue lightsaber--the color of Vaiya's eyes, she thought with pride--Mara had taken on Drianna, who had a bad habit of being smug about her dueling talents. Mara hated smugness in students. It never led anywhere good. It was time to take Drianna a step down or two. They had started out innocently enough, sparring here and there, no heavy clashes, the buzz soft in the symphony of the noises coming from the jungle. They were outside, enjoying the day, in a wide clearing behind the main temple. Mara had taken off her button-down shirt that she always wore to reveal only a black tank top and leggings underneath. She was well muscled and smooth-skinned; Vaiya was inclined to believe that it was not really her mother she was looking at, but some look-alike two decades younger. Mara was holding back for Drianna--even Vaiya could see that. She was testing her weaknesses, finding her strengths. And just when Dria was least expecting it, she was going to---- The strike came hard on Dria's left side. Dria barely countered it, and gave Mara wide-eyed look that didn't need a Force sensitive to be translated into, "Are you really trying to kill me?" Mara struck again, twisting Dria's lightsaber in her hand. Dria barely held onto it and managed to counter with a wide arch, forcing Mara a step back. The fight was on. Vaiya watched as her mother's blue blade clashed back and forth with Dria's lime-green practicing saber. The fight lasted almost fifteen minutes, and they took the entire circle. For the first half, neither one spoke, but when the side of Dria's blade grazed Mara's hand, and Mara pulled it back in pain and brief shock, Dria stepped away and lowered her blade. "Jedi Skywalker, I apologize!" she cried, her eyes wide. "DON'T!" Mara roared, charging again. Dria caught her but not without considerable effort. "Don't...let...your...guard...down!" Vaiya's eyes passed over the wide burn on the back of her mother's hand. She could smell the faint stench of burning flesh mingling with the crackling ozone. The jungle sounds now seemed far away compared to the buzzing and crashing of the lightsaber blades before her. Her mother had trained her in how to use a lightsaber, something Father said she had worked long and hard on learning herself. Mara had an instinct for fighting that bested even Luke, but Luke was always quick to caution that she easily slipped into fighting from anger if she let herself get too caught up in it. She wondered what her father would think, to see Mother like this, her eyes shining and her body covered with a thin layer of sweat. Her hair flew around her shoulders in its thick pony-tail, like a whip. Drianna, however, was not faring so well. She didn't have the spirit Mara did. She was calmer than Mara, and more at peace with the battle, but there was a worry-line forming on her brow, a frustration that was starting to grow. Any more, and she would make a mistake. Tearing her eyes away from the scene, Vaiya looked and saw that Derrin and Jaid had both joined the crowd of lookers-on. Jaid gave her a brief glance and smile. Derrin's eyes were wide as he was mezmerized by the battle. At once point, Mara did a nifty little backflip onto a nearby set of exercise bars, balancing herself perfectly as she caught her breath. Drianna watched her, her lightsaber pointed right at her. "Impressive, Drianna," the older woman announced. "But as my father-in-law once said, you are not a Jedi yet." Drianna gave nervous litte laugh and let her lightsaber shift off to the side. "Thank you, Jedi Skywalker." That was when Mara hurled her lightsaber at Dria, using the Force to guide it to just brush against Drianna's right hand--tit for tat, Vaiya thought dryly. Drianna yelped with the pain and dropped her saber to the ground. Mara jumped down from the bars and kicked the practice saber away. "Never let your guard down, no matter who you are fighting. I know that Master Skywalker tells you not to fight from fear, agression, or anger. Those are the dark side. But while we must be a peaceful as (Alderaanians), we must also be as sharp as Nighori. Understand me?" Drianna rubbed her hand as she nodded. Mara gave the girl the gift of a smile. "I've given you a present today, Dria," she said. "Anyone else would have taken off your hand. Now you have a reminder to help you." She looked down at her own hand. "If it makes you feel any better, I haven't been burned by a lightsaber by one of my students since I first started teaching Vaiya." Dria's eyes widened. "Vaiya burned you with her lightsaber?" Mara looked at her daughter over her shoulder. Vaiya just grinned. "It was an accident," Vaiya said. "I got a little overexcited." "I almost lost a leg," Mara muttered. "But it was a beautiful move." "I didn't know that," Derrin said, his eyes on Vaiya. Jaid spoke up. "I did." He grinned at Vaiya. "Why don't you show me that move?" he said, pulling out his own practice lightsaber. Vaiya held up her hand. "I don't think so, Jaid," she said, but it wasn't at all convincing. "I don't know if you can take me or not." He gave a little laugh. "Find out," he challenged. Showing reluctance, Vaiya unclipped her lightsaber from her belt and ingited the glowing yellow blade. She was the only one at the school who had her own lightsaber. It had been one of the things Derrin had been interested in when she first met him. He would especially like hearing the story about--- No, wait...she hadn't told him...what story? Behind the lightsaber? As Vaiya gazed down at it, she felt a strange tremor in the Force. This was part of her parents' secret, she realized. There was a story behind this saber, behind everything. Some big secret they were keeping from her, only to be revealed when she was 16 and (Force help them) old enough to understand it. "Vai?" Mara's voice came through a fog which Vaiya pushed aside. "You okay?" "I'm fine." She turned her eyes to Jaid, who was watching her knowingly. How did he always seem to know? she wondered. But instead of saying anything more, she lifted her blade to meet his. "Ready when you are." Of course, they battled for fun, and Vaiya trusted Jaid to never try and hurt her. She didn't worry about getting a burn on the back of her hand, but kept herself on guard from it anyway just to put on a good show. But sometime during the fight it took a serious tone, with Jaid hacking away at her with a new fervor which pushed her back into a corner. When pushed back into a corner, Vaiya had a bad habit of turning into her mother. She counterattacked rather than defended herself, catching Jaid's grey practice saber easily and nearly knocking it out of his hand. Jaid was thrown by this, and had to quickly compensate by going into a tuck and roll, the tail of his short cloak catching against Vaiya's yellow blade with a hiss as he went under her. He lifted both legs and caught her in the back of her knees. She fell but didn't land on her face. She managed to keep her balance on her knees and siezed Jaid as he made it back to his feet to haul herself up, clashing her saber against his to keep it away. It was at that moment that their eyes met. Something happened. As Jaid's deep blue eyes gazed down at her, Vaiya felt the heat rush to her face. What was going on? Was it merely the hormones that her parents were so worried about? It had to be more than that. This was a feeling she only had around Derrin, but this feeling was much more physical, more raw. As her eyes dropped to her mouth, she realized that she wanted him. It was a shallow feeling that made her feel empty inside, but on the outside her body betrayed her. Trembling, she broke away, and her eyes flew to Derrin, who was frowning at them. Dria looked on knowingly, and Vaiya didn't even want to look at her mother. She had had no desire to see the expression on Mara's face. Vaiya snorted as she flopped into her bed. So much for getting his attention. Next day, it was like it had never happened. But she would never forget the look of jealousy on Derrin's face. Or the look on Jaid's. She shut her eyes and rolled herself into a more comfortable position. After running through a Jedi calming technique, she tried to focus herself on what was really bugging her. She glanced over at the nearby table where her lightsaber lay. Maybe that was it--that flash of intuition into her parents' dark secret. Whatever it was, she snorted again, it would wait until tomorrow. Or whenever she was ready. If she even cared by then. She shut her eyes and feel instantly into sleep. 22--Dark Jedi Vaiya had had little visions before. A flash here, and picture there. Sometimes she could see entire sequences of events, but they were always fuzzy and broken. They were not like this. She was standing in the middle of a large room with a giant, octoganal window displaying the stars to a large, curved throne. The thone was facing away from her, but there was someone in it. Someone familiar. She herself was draped in a black robe, a part of the shadows, forbidden to speak or to move. She couldn't even feel herself, her own body. It was like she were a ghost observing some past time. The room was silent. She could barely hear the breathing of the person sitting on the throne. Seconds ticked past, and then a pair of doors slip open, letting the harsh glow of the lift lights create a crude off-white rectangle on the cold grey floor. The shadow of a woman was the only thing that disturbed the stillness. She glided into the room, something clutched in either hand, not making the slightest noise. The person on the throne knew she was there, but she didn't know it. Vaiya wanted to open her mouth and cry out, so terrible was the sudden disruption in the Force she felt. There was something very wrong here, something that shouldn't be. The woman was half-way across the room when the throne turned. A figure dressed all in black, save for his head, was seated there. A man Vaiya couldn't bring herself to recognize. "I've been waiting for you, Mara Jade," the familiar voice said. Vaiya dragged her eyes back to the woman. The light glanced off Mara's hair and the red-gold shone like a demon's halo. "Have you, Skywalker? Have you been waiting for the Emperor to gain his vengence against you? Then by no means should you wait any longer." She ignited her blade--not the teal-blue that Vaiya knew, but a pale pink. The light flew against the dark man's face, and Vaiya recognized her father. His hair was darker in this version, no longer the sun-bleached sandy blond she knew, but a darker golden color, and thinning rapidly. He smiled at her. It was a cold smile. Mara returned it with a look of such hatred and rage that Vaiya wondered who was on what side. There was no trace of the light, here. It was all the dark side...overwhelmingly evil. These two were just two more victims of a darker power. Skywalker rose. Mara didn't even flinch. "Do you really thing you can best me?" he said calmly, sounding for a moment like the man Vaiya knew. Mara's glare hardened. "If you have the guts to fight me, I'll take my chances. At least it will be an honest kill. Not like your murdering of my master." Skywalker waved his hand. "I didn't murder your master, Mara," he said. "Vader did. And he paid the price. He, too, is dead. There is just me." He descended the low flight of stairs, approaching her in spite of the threat of the humming pink blade. "And you, Emperor's Hand." Vaiya's ears felt like they were ringing. *Emperor's Hand*....her mother had said she was once an Imperial, but this piece of truth was too much to take. She had served Palpatine himself? As Vaiya gazed at her mother's hate-filled face, she could see memories floating past her like ghosts. The times she'd killed, stole and cheated to serve her master. How he had been her everything, her only reason for existing. Now, she was going to avenge his death if it cost her her own life in the process. He raised a hand toward her. "If I wanted to," he said, a little crossly, "I could kill you with Force lightening right where you stand. But I'd rather give you a chance." "How touching," she hissed. "The Emperor was keeping you back," Skywalker said. "He knew the potential you had. And he knew that you were destined to be with me. That we were destined to rule the galaxy in his place." The hard, cold eyes softened as he gazed at her. "Accept your destiny, Mara." "You're delusional." She physcially recoiled as he took another step, her first show of weakness. "I will never join you. You are everything I hate." "Me?" he said softly. "*I* am everything you hate? What about the man you served, Mara? He was surely worse than I. Do you know how many innocent lives he took to serve his own pleasure? He was as much of a monster as you think I am." "Then all the more reason to destroy you." He gave a little chuckle. "You are everything I thought you would be, Mara Jade. Bold, beautiful, and a complete paradox." He moved closer still, and Vaiya realized he was backing her against a nearby control panel. It was high, reaching her waist, and would be the perfect place for Skywalker to pin his prey. "Don't forget dangerous," she snapped, bringing her blade forward again. Skywalker just smiled at her. "How could I? I have seen how dangerous you are. When you were in Jabba's Palace, I knew you were there. It cost me a great deal of effort to let Jabba on to who you were without letting him kill you. You should be thankful I bothered." "And why did you bother?" she sneered. His smile widened and his eyes shone at her. "I have seen you in visions, Mara. I've seen you kneeling before me. I've seen you as my consort, my guide, and the mother of our children. I have seen you as my Empress, ruling the galaxy beside me. You have no Master any more, Mara Jade. And you shall never have another Master besides me." "I am my only Master," she announced. "I avenge Palpatine's death as his last act as an Emperor. After you are dead, I and the rest of the galaxy will be free." "At least let me prove my case." With that, Skywalker raised his hand and Mara's saber arm flung far to the side. He stepped forward and caught both her wrists, pinning her against the control panel. The look of pure astonishment on Mara's face was almost comical. But as Skywalker's lips bore down onto hers, the look melted underneath something else. Seconds passed. Mara's eyes grew heavy and her face lost the sharp scowling angles and the hot rage. Finally, Skywalker pulled back and gazed down into her face. She gazed back up at him, almost dreamily, and then said in a soft tone, "I hate you." "That's a start," he murmured, smiling that eerie smile again. This time, Mara returned the smile. "And a finish," she said, and with that swung her lightsaber forward with all the Force she could muster. Skywalker countered the blow effortlessly with his glowing red saber. The fight had begun. Vaiya watched helplessly as the two warped versions of her parents battled it out across the throne room. Red on pink sizzled and clashed, and it felt like all the air was being sucked out of the room. They tore up the throne, a heavy blow from Mara taking the top clean off. She chased Skywalker back down the stairs, but tripped and in an undignified manner wound up sprawled on her back. She barely brought her blade up in time to counter a stabbing blow to scramble for the nearest cover--the same control panel he had pinned her against. Skywalker laughed in an almost jolly way. "Mara, Mara! You have such potential! Do not waste it on me. You cannot defeat me. Surely you see you only have two choices--join me or die!" "Fat chance, farmboy." Skywalker's eye glittered in anger. "Mara, don't test me. I will kill you, as much as I would dislike it." "Oh, I'm sure you'd have no problem getting over me and finding some nice Jedi bimbo to breed litters Dark Jedi for you to train. If you can even get it up, anymore. You'd be surprised what immersing yourself in the dark side does to your staying power! Ask Palpatine...he'll tell you when you see him!" "Enough of your petty insults," Luke said, deactivating his saber. He raised his hand toward the control panle. "Perhaps you just need a lesson." The Force lightning came from him in a brilliant blue white. Mara raised her blade to deflect it but it hit the control panel and wound up bathing her in an electrical storm. She screamed and fell back, rasping in pain. Vaiya screamed with her. She could no longer see her mother, only hear her breathing, and see her father making his way around the panel with perfect calm. He stood over her, his voice hallow. "Now do you see, Mara Jade? I am far your superior in the ways of the Force. If you deny me, I will kill you." He held the blade to her throat steadily as she glared up at him. Vaiya couldn't see her mother's face, but she could feel her rage. "Go jump into a sarlacc pit, you pathetic excuse for an Emperor," she spat. "Very well." Emotionlessly, Skywalker raised his lightsaber to bring it down sharply. The last Vaiya felt of Mara was her deathcry through the Force. It was then that Vaiya started to scream for her sanity. 23--Reality Mara had been restless all night, since Vaiya had gone to bed. She tossed and turned next to Luke, who was dozing, happy and satisfied. She wished she could be like him sometimes, but when something was wrong with Vaiya, it was she who suffered the most out of the two. Finally, she got out of bed. It was too early to sleep, anyway. And the night was so pretty outside. She managed to make it all the way to the patio when Vaiya began to scream bloody murder. She turned and ran, nearly tripping over the lounge table and then expertly hurdling herself over the couch to land on her feet. She nearly knocked Vaiya's door off its hinges in her hurry to get inside. There was no one in the room with her--just Vaiya thrashing on her bed like a wild cat, fighting off some invisible terror. Luke was behind her in a few seconds, and they grabbed her by the arms to hold her down. Her eyes were tightly screwed shut as she thrashed, but the second they had her and forced her still, they opened to reveal a glazed over look. She was still asleep, but for a moment the screams had stopped. "Is she dreaming?" Luke asked, his voice shaking. Mara, also trembling, shook her head. "She's having some terrible vision," she said, her voice hardly a whisper. "We have to get her out of it." Luke started to shake Vaiya by the shoulders, and yelled at her to wake up. When that didn't work, Mara tried slapping her cheeks. But the blue-green eyes wouldn't focus, and Vaiya's body remained limp under their grasp. "What should we do?" Mara asked. Luke studied his daughter for a moment. "Let me try something." He put his hands on either side of Vaiya's face, and stared down into her. Mara could feel him pushing into Vaiya's mind, sinking into her vision, unable to see it but disruptive enough to stop it. A minute passed, and Mara was tempted to push Luke aside and try it herself, no matter how terrified she was of seeing what Vaiya was seeing. Just as she moved her hand to get Luke's attention, Vaiya's eyes cleared and she blinked. Then she screamed again. Luke jumped, jarred from his concentration and lost his grip on Vaiya. It didn't matter. Vaiya recoiled from him and flew into her mother's embrace, huddling against her like a frightened dog in a thunderstorm. Mara held her and stroked her hair, waiting a few minutes to let the girl settle down. She sent soothing messages through the Force as Luke watched, astonished that his daughter should scream at seeing him. Finally, Vaiya just sat there, curled in the fetal position, silent and wide-eyed. She was awake, but she was still terrified. "Do you want to tell us what happened?" Luke tried gently. Vaiya flinched. Mara shook her head slightly. "We won't be mad, sweetheart. You can tell us." "I can't." "Why not? Nothing could be that bad." "This was." She drew a ragged breath. "Why don't you let us decide on that?" Vaiya lifted her head, her eyes grazing over her mother's face, and then turning--hesitantly--to her father. She shuddered and closed them. "I had a vision," she began. "I saw you kill my mother." "You," Luke echoed, frowning. "Who is you?" "You, Father," Vaiya said, looking at him again with real pain on her face. "I saw you kill Mother." Luke wanted to speak, but found that his throat had completely closed. "The worst of it was," Vaiya said a little while later as she sat on her bed, a cup of hot chocolate in her hand, "the ending. I mean, seeing you two like that was bad enough. But after....it happened, someone else came into the room." "Who was it?" Mara asked quietly. "He looked like Jaid, but he was much older. And he had a lightsaber that was bright orange. He threw it at you, Father, and it went right through your heart. But I...I didn't care. I thought you deserved it." Gently, Luke stroked her hair. She didn't flinch this time, but her eyes shut with pain. "And then he came over to me, and he said something that I can't remember now. But I remember how I felt. I was so angry, so filled with rage. I could almost see the dark side, like a giant black cloud, waiting to consume me." Mara shook her head. "You're going to be feeling all sorts of things from that vision, Vai. Nightmares are bad enough in the emotions they create, but visions are worse." To herself, she wondered how badly the experience was going to scar her. She could see the tired lines around Vaiya's face deepening. From the look on Luke's face, he was thinking the same thing. "How do you feel now, Vai?" he asked. Vaiya turned to her father. "I love you, Daddy," she said in a small voice. "But that vision was so real. I wish I could understand it. Maybe I wouldn't be so afraid of it." Luke and Mara exchanged looks. They were mingled with shame and guilt, but determined. "We can explain the vision--at least, the biggest part of it." Vaiya looked at them, no eagerness on her face to hear it like usual, but an openness that merely asked that they do what they said. Mara looked at Luke. "I'll let you begin." They told her everything. Luke told her about Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader, and how he himself had fallen to the lure of the dark side in an attempt to learn its secrets, and how that had corrupted him for a long time, until he finally returned to who he had been when he and Mara had found each other. Mara told her about the Emperor taking her from her parents, about never knowing her homeworld or her family. She told her how she had served the Emperor and trained in the dark side, believeing herself to be free and powerful, and then being commanded to kill Luke when the Emperor was destroyed by Vader. She told her how she had wanted to kill Luke, how she had slain a clone of him instead to abate the rage. When Luke spoke, Vaiya listened with a silent, stunned awe. It was clear that she never would have imagined that her father, whose simple, honest and peaceful ways had always inspired her although she would never admit it, was just as human and flawed as the rest of the galaxy. But when Mara spoke, a line appeared on Vaiya's forehead. She was not just listening to Mara's story. She was remembering it with her. It disturbed her greatly, until Mara and Luke began to tell her of Callista, and of the child Callista had born in captivity, the child was that was missing and the reason that her mother had been gone for so long once when Vaiya was still a baby. Mara told Vaiya of Callista's death, and how Vaiya, when she was still in the womb, had moved a boulder at her mother's direction--and desperation. Vaiya looked over at the lightsaber. She knew of Callista--but not this version that she was hearing now. She had been told that Callista was a dear friend of her parents, and that she had died before Vaiya was born. According to them, Callista had given it to Luke and Mara on her deathbed, entrusting them to give it a proper owner. Vaiya had always felt pride, but the thought that she had been given the saber by default made her stomach sour. "You lied to me," Vaiya whispered. "That isn't true," Luke said strongly. "We told you the truth as you had a right to know it." *Are you going to give her your 'certain point of view' speech?* Mara asked through the Force, and Luke's eyes went to hers suddenly, surprised by her interjection. *It's true,* he said, scowling. Mara shook her head. *Let me.* "Vaiya," she said soothingly, "we should have told you sooner. I know that. But we were afraid of what knowledge like this would do to you, so early in your Jedi training." Vaiya scowled at her. She looked so much like Mara had used to look that it frightened her parents. "And what would the truth have done, Mother?" she spat. "Perhaps if I'd known the truth then I wouldn't have.....do you have any idea what that vision has done to me? Knowing so much rage and not understanding it. Perhaps if I had known the truth behind it, the vision wouldn't have been so warped, or the emotions so terrifyingly vivid. If you had told me, Mother, about what you had done to me, that these memories were not mine, maybe I could have kept them from hurting me. I can almost feel it scaring me now." Then Luke said the worst thing he could have. "Vaiya...don't you think you're being a little...overdramatic?" Her eyes locked onto his for a long moment, and then narrowed. Luke felt a sudden chill. It reminded him too much of the way Mara looked at him all those years ago--pure hatred, pure contempt. And Vaiya was his daughter! "Get out," she whispered. Mara reeled as if Vaiya had just slapped her, and Vaiya hadn't even been looking at her. She stood up and motioned to Luke. *Give her a little time,* she said. Luke swallowed and nodded. Every Jedi had to face their great trial of overcoming themselves. Perhaps this was Vaiya's trial. She just seemed too young to be this strong. Out in the hallway, Mara let Luke have it. "That was a great show of compassion you had for the child of your loins, Skywalker," she snarled at him. Luke threw his arms wide. "What did you expect from me, Mara? I mean, she's getting all carried away about this. We couldn't sit there and humor her all night!" "Humor her?" The look on Mara's face was nearly crestfallen. "Is that what you were doing?" "Well...no...but---" "Luke," Mara began, "we should have told her sooner." Luke sighed. "I know. But whatever happened to learn and move on when it came to mistakes?" Mara wrapped her arms around herself. "You and I can do that. We've lived full lives already, seen our share of the good and bad in the galaxy. Vaiya is...so innocent. Sometimes she's so much like you I'm glad she's got my memories lurking in her head to remind her to be tough." "Tough?" Luke arched his eyebrow. "I'm not tough?" "Not like me. Come on, you and I both know why we were destined to be together." "Oh?" The other eyebrow went up. "Enlighten me." "Someone had to save you from yourself," Mara explained. "I mean, you walk around with your big blue eyes open wide, and you're so damn trusting I could just throttle you sometimes. You believed we lived in a world capable of being perfect, that everyone could be saved, even Cy'Both! And as for me---! Skywalker, you couldn't conceive that I was going to kill you. Honestly, could you imagine it? Did you really believe that your life was in danger from me?" Luke folded his arms. He looked like a child who had just been scolded by his favorite grandmother. "No." "Well, you were," Mara continued. "I nearly killed you three times on Myrkyr. You know what stopped me in the end? Loyalty to Karrde. He wanted you kept alive. I was so tempted to let that Vonskyr have his way, you wouldn't believe it. The last time I had the urge was when you were training me on Wayland. But you were teaching me things I wanted to learn. And when I killed that clone, I let myself believe that it was really you until he was dead." He just stared at her in silence. "You think I don't know this?" he whispered. "Sure you know it," Mara said, a bit louder. "But do you acknowledge it? Understand it? Process it in that happy little place you go to when you're meditating? Life isn't all stars and flowers, Skywalker. And Vaiya has just gotten one of the ugliest doses around from the two people she trusted the most to protect her! How do you think that's making her feel right now?" Luke stared at Vaiya's closed door. "What should we do?" he asked. Mara followed his gaze, and Luke could sense her conflicting emotions. "Right now, she's just plain mad. She won't listen to either of us. I say we give her time to cool down. Maybe in the morning she'll be calmer." "You sure?" Luke asked, looking at Mara carefully. Mara sighed. "No. But I know we'll do more harm than good if we bother her any more. We need to watch her, though. Make sure that she doesn't cop a bad attitude about all this and start using it as an excuse for some good old fashioned teenaged angst." "You mean the kind that makes kids light Ewoks on fire?" Luke said, attempting some humor. Mara smiled a cat-like grin of pure evil. "Maybe we *should* have some Ewoks around...for entertainment." "You wicked Jedi." He was grinning at her. "Oh, and just for the record," he added, "I do not trust *everyone.* I certainly didn't trust Cal Saphringer, and I still don't know if I trust that Jaid." Something happened to Mara at that moment. She looked like someone had just pulled a bag off of her head after months of being covered. Her eyes widened and her muscles tensed. A few seconds passed, and then she said quietly, "Why didn't I think of it?" "Of what?" "Jaid. Vaiya said she'd seen Cal in the vision. She said he looked just like Jaid, but older. And Jaid has been very close to her since he arrived." "So what are you saying?" Luke asked. "That Cal set up his son to come here and play some mindgames with us?" "Is it so far-fetched, even for you to conceive?" Mara asked dryly. "No, but if Jaid was tryly dishonest, we would have sensed it. I mean, all of these Force sensitives in one place often make emotions hard to keep private. Someone would have been able to see through him--at least you or me." "Unless...Cal's gotten farther in the dark side since we last saw him." She rubbed her chin. "Hmmm...all right. Don't wait up for me, Luke," she said, giving him a quick kiss. "Excuse me?" he said, catching her arm. "Where are you going?" "To his ship. If there's anything around here that's incriminating, it will be on his ship." "And how do you plan to get in without him knowing." Mara gave him a look. "I was the Emperor's Hand, Skywalker," she said. "I used to do this for a living." 24--Jaid Vaiya had to get out. It was suffocating, being in the same home with them, no sense of privacy, her mother knowing her mind even as it changed. She felt like was going to pop if she didn't find a place to hide. She went to the window and looked down. Two stories..that should be little problem for a Force sensitive like herself. She was good at lifting things--could lifting her own self be any different? Popping open the window, she stepped onto the ledge and shut her eyes. Then one foot went out--- The next thing she knew, she was on the ground, gazing into the dark jungle that was some distance behind their home. She took a deep breath, and found that she was finally alone. Her mother was distracted, Father was busy trying to meditate and figure out another answer to his problems--namely, her. *Let him,* she thought viciously. Let them worry for her, let them fret over her. Quite frankly, she didn't care. "Vai?" The voice was familiar. Vaiya looked over her shoulder to see a dark figure approaching her, and for a brief moment was convinced it was Derrin. No such luck. "Hey, Jaid," she said, a bit uneasy. He was all concern and caring as he neared her. "What's wrong? I felt this terrible disturbance in the Force. Are you okay?" "Fine." She clenched her fists to keep herself from shaking. The memory of the man who looked like Jaid was vivid in her mind, and being around Jaid was the last thing she really wanted right now. Sure, he was good to flirt with, sometimes he was a good confidant, and he was great during lightsaber practice--he didn't treat her like she was five years younger, even though she was. "What are you doing out here?" "I came to see you. I have a feeling that Master and Jedi Skywalker are going to ask me to leave." He gave her a little half-smirk, but it was sad. "I may have worn out my welcome." Vaiya frowned. "What makes you say that?" He shrugged. "Jedi Skywalker was asking me questions about my father. I think she's really hostile toward him, and that hostility is going to come down on me. Master Skywalker passed me on to Kyp Durron in spite of my enormous abilities. Master Durron was surprised, but he's done well. I can't train here anymore, and I don't think that either of the Skywalkers would be willing to complete my training, alone, on their ship." He gazed upward, and Vaiya felt the sudden urge to embrace him. He seemed so very much alone--perhaps that was why she connected to him so well. He didn't have any family, and few friends, and while she did, she still felt alone many times. Like there was a bigger life out there, waiting for her to come and claim it. Sometimes, it had nothing to do with her craving for adventure and excitement. Sometimes, it had everything to do with it. Whatever she case, Vaiya felt enormously sorry for Jaid Saphringer. And in spite of what her parents had explained to her about his father, she felt she could trust him with anything in the world. "If you think they're bad to you," she said, taking his arm, "just wait until you hear this." Mara crept into the docking bay unseen. She had personally seen to the holding of Jaid's ship, not wanting it to attract any unwanted attention--especially Cal's, Force forbid--and also anticipating that one day it might have come to this. Perhaps they had been a little blind. Maybe it was the fact that Luke was searching for his own son that softened their hearts towards him enough to let him stay. They didn't dare train him personally. They weren't going to risk any dark side influence--for students or teacher. Kyp, however, was more sympathetic, and he took care of the young man fairly well. But Jaid needed to complete his training and go. Kyp had just told him the other day that it was time for him to face his destiny, and Kyp had had a vision where Jaid was to face it alone--at least, that was what Kyp had said. Come to think of it, Kyp had seemed a little spooked earlier that day. Mara scowled into the dark, reaching out with her Force-enhanced senses. The ship was not in cold storage like she had thought. Now how had that happened? Had someone moved it? Maybe Jaid was getting ready to leave already--still, getting a ship out of cold storage was not something to be done so flippantly. There was so much preparation they had to make for it in the bay. She turned and headed out toward the main dock. Sure enough, there it was, on the edge of the landing bay. It was nearly completely primed as far she could see. Carefully glancing around, Mara made sure there was no one near and crept up to it, wondering if there might be a way up without having to break something. No such luck. The hatch was on a combination lock. She stared at it for a long moment, and then just for the sith of it she punched in M-A-R-A. And was rewarded by the hissing sound of the ramp detatching from the ship to land at her feet. Stealthily, she prowled up into the ship. This was already bad enough. Who knew what was waiting for her inside? Jaid was listening to her with that same wide-eyed compassion and interest that she so often wished that Derrin would show. Of course, Jaid was very handsome--in her opinion, a little too handsome. Like he was made of plastic or something. Not Derrin... she sighed in mid-sentence about her parents' past, her mind a hundred miles away from her mouth. Of all things, she kept returning to him. It was going to drive her nuts. To her surprise, Jaid knew. "Funny how our minds can get stuck in a loop no matter what the world does to try and change it." She gave a little laugh and reached over to slap his foot. They were sitting facing each other, toe to toe, their backs against a few of the trees on the farthest rim of the jungle. On one of the trees, toward the top, Vaiya had carved "Vaiya -L- Derrin 4-Ever," and even though it had been childish at the time, this nook made her feel safe. No one ever came here. Least of all, Derrin. "Shame on you," she said, "spying on my thoughts like that." "Oh, if I were doing that, I would know exactly what I did in your nightmare vision," he said seriously, looking down at his hands and then back at her. "I know this is going to sound bad, Vaiya, but you shouldn't be panting after that Derrin Nighttreader. He's beneath you. In more ways than one." She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Jealous?" He shrugged. "Maybe. I just don't like seeing him---" And then he stopped, snapping his jaw shut, like he'd nearly spilled a secret. "Nevermind." "You don't get out of it that easily," Vaiya growled, grabbing his foot as he tried to get up and away from her. "Tell me. What does he do?" Jaid squirmed. "I'm sorry I said that when I don't know anything. Just rumors." "Liar." A long moment passed. Finally, Jaid sighed. "Okay, you win. You know that Derrin and Drianna are unofficial now? They haven't made a public announcement, but Derrin told me he wants to marry her." His voice was gentle, but the words were like a Death Star beam on her heart. More time passed. The stars moved in their orbit around the center of the galaxy, and distant spaceships glittered as they passed through the system. The winds blew through the jungle, warm and tropical. Animals of every kind sang to each other through the leaves, vines and branches. Vaiya's broken heart lay silent in her chest--for all of about three seconds. And for the first time, she felt the real touch of the dark side. Her parents hadn't trusted her, Derrin had snubbed her. What was she still doing here, anyway? What was the point? All these hateful people--only Jaid had ever given her what she wanted. Sure, her parents loved her and Derrin was her friend, but it obviously didn't mean anything to them! Look at how they had all treated her! Finally, Jaid spoke. "Are you okay, Vaiya?" She gave him a tight grin. "So when did you say you were leaving, Jaid? Maybe I'd be inclined to join you. So we can teach all of them a real lesson." Jaid's forehead wrinkled. "All of them? I mean, the Skywalkers I can see, but Derrin? He doesn't care about anything but Drianna--" "And his precious training. Mom and Dad were getting ready to complete it, but if I were to suddenly disappear without a trace--well, who do you think Mom and Dad are going to go searching for?" He grinned back at her. "Sometimes you are so deliciously wicked," he said, and then under his breath, "just like your mother." 25--Father and Son Mara stood holding the orange blade, feeling that same curious feeling she'd had before, just a short time ago. It felt longer than that for a feeling like this. It was as if she'd been trapped in a dark stinkhole of a cargo hold and some fresh air had just been vented in. This was Cal Saphringer's lightsaber. There were old books in his private quarters. She'd just spent the past twenty minutes checking them over. They were books she recognized, some of which were held together only by threads. Books about the Force, about different religions, different cults, different kinds of worship. But they all centered on one thing--gaining power. Just like Cal. Then there had been the holovids. Research done on the Sith of all places, research about the Emperor, of all men. Cal had always been fascinated with the Emperor. Perhaps that was the real reason he was so enamored of her. But as she stared into the orange brightness, all doubt left her, and she suddenly understood. Jaid was Cal Saphringer. Her mind whirled as it tried to fathom it. Sure, the boy coming to Yavin IV, being the same age as Luke's son would have been, a boy searching for his father, needing training for his Jedi powers---thank the Force they hadn't been so taken in that they'd train him themselves. But they had been taken. Jaid--Cal--had played them from the start. Her fingers clenched around the blade and she hurled it against the wall. The blade collapsed back into the hilt, but not before leaving an ugly gash in the wall. That would teach him---she stopped herself. There was simply nothing that she could teach him. If he had gone this far, even to be able to alter his age, then she could not teach him anything. Luke would claim he could be saved, but Mara had a feeling he would claim it out of sheer principle, not because he believed it. The thought of her husband made her open her mind to his. *Luke,* she called through the Force. *Come here, quickly. It's an emergency.* She felt Luke respond and start to hurry over. Then she turned and headed down the exit ramp, only to come face to face with Jaid and Vaiya. "Mother!" Vaiya said in a whisper. "What are you doing here?" "I don't believe this," Jaid muttered, his face turning pale. "Why would you break into my ship, Jedi Skywalker? You are already sending me away. Must you sabotage me to feed your own sick pleasure?" Mara gaped at them, apparently disbelieving that this was happening. In a matter of seconds, she closed her jaw and turned her shock into pure rage. Her finger pointed at Jaid and she hissed, "You." Jaid's eyes flashed, and for a minute Vaiya detected amusement from him. "Mara," he said, entirely too naturally, "your way with words has deteriorated in your old age." "You slime-eating son of a hutt. How dare you?!" "Not much improvement." "What's she talking about, Jaid?" Vaiya asked. Jaid's eyes were locked on Mara's as the woman said, "Not Jaid. Cal." "What?" But his face was a giveaway. Dread started to appear around his eyes and in his confident smile. "What are you talking about!" Vaiya practically screeched. "Cal Saphringer! He's his son, Mother! Have you been smoking the jungle plants or something?" Mara looked at her, sympathy in her eyes--Vaiya recoiled from it, recoiled from her, recoiled from Jaid, from everyone. She felt her father arrive, but didn't even want to look. Mara's emerald blaze turned to Jaid-Cal, and burned into him. Vaiya could hear the command, it was so strong. *TELL HER! TELL HER! TELL HER THE TRUTH!!* It was like a rancor pounding on Jaid's skull--Vaiya could sense it. His face crumbled and he dropped his head into his hands, groaning. "It's true," he groaned. "My name is Cal Saphringer." Then, abruptly, he looked up and his face was wrapped in an arrogant mask as he reached forward and pulled Mara toward him, his hands wound in her hair and holding her painfully by it. "Too bad your little girl isn't more like you used to be, Mar." And he kissed her. Then there came the burst of Force lightening, and Father's cry as he struggled to catch them as they tumbled off the ramp. That was, Mara and Jaid tumbled. Vaiya's feet were firmly planted, set apart in defense position, her hand still extended from where the blue white distortion bolts had come from her. So this was the dark side. This was what she was to become. Someone so scorned and hated that her only comfort was in her rage. She wanted to crumple, to fall, to beg her mother's forgiveness as Mara gazed up at her, her eyes stunned and filled with pain. Luke watched her as if he did not know her, and when he realized that he had rescued Jaid, he was genuinely startled. Vaiya found she could hear his thoughts. He had thought Jaid had attacked with the Force lightening. But his own daughter---it was unspeakable. She scowled down at them all, pride rearing its ugly head. She had said she wanted away from here. Now she was going to get it. She was going to leave Jaid here to face his "destiny," and find out what the rest of the galaxy had to offer. Surely it had to be better than this. She entered the ship and sealed the ramp shut behind her. She could vaguely hear them calling her name, but after a few seconds she didn't even notice. She went to the cockpit and found the ship quite ready to fly. It would have seemed odd on any other day but today. She took a deep breath and searched the Nav. computer for a location. The last place Jaid had come from was a planet named Duran. Perhaps she should go there. It seemed far enough away from everything. Letting the ship take over, she lifted out of the landing bay without clearance and headed up into the night sky, only to disappear in a silver streak, leaving the people she hated most in the world at that moment far behind her.