Star Wars fan fiction
introduction to Circles Complete
Can’t Go Home Again
Trial by Fire
Turning Points: So Alone
Turning Points: So Alive
Steer the Shore
Seed of Deceit
Euphoria and Foreboding
Out of Darkness
Out of Doubt
~@~ Trial By Fire
There were a lot of empty hours ahead between Myrina and Coruscant. Normally the first order of business would have been for Luke to make contact. As standard procedure, he'd send a coded message notifying Coruscant of his return and giving the proper "all-clear" codes: assurances that he was in no danger, that the mission had been completed, and that the conditions of his arrival were in no way urgent or even unusual. This time he was ignoring the proper protocols.
Luke had decided not to report his passenger until after their arrival on Coruscant. He wasn't breaking any clearance rules with the omission that he was carrying a passenger – an eyewitness who could offer valuable information – but it was a considerable breach of security protocol to return from an undercover mission and neglect to mention that you were bringing a trained intelligence operative back with you. That breach was going to be all the more troubling to many in NRI and to the Senate Inner Council once the facts surrounding Lyra's identity did come to light.
Luke expected his decision to cause more than a little turmoil, but this was the way he wanted to handle it. With that decision made, he'd headed straight for the ship's repair shafts. There was something about being able to fix things, simply, using his hands and a set of tools; that process helped him to think. And Luke had plenty to think about. He wanted the chance to present Lyra's case to the Council himself, before planetary security could get a look at any records that might exist on Lyra Dare – or whatever aliases might have covered her previous comings and goings from Coruscant. He wanted to present her as an ally before having to explain that she hadn't always been one... and, truthfully, he wanted to shield her from the past she was so obviously trying to put behind her.
His mind wandered again to his unexpected ally, and to all that she brought with her. Luke's first impression remained that she would make a strong ally, and a fearsome enemy. He already knew that she was a capable fighter and copilot, and that she was strong in the Force. He also knew that there was a lot under the surface, things that she was unwilling to reveal. He could see it in what she said and in what she left unsaid, but mostly he could see it in her eyes, as if something vital had gone out of her. Mara had described her as having something that made her stand out, a certain depth of spirit. With a pang of sympathy, Luke wondered if losing her family had somehow taken from her what the Empire hadn't been able to break. Clearly she was still dealing with the grief of the loss.
She was decidedly guarded, but not to the point of being overtly defensive. There was none of the biting sarcasm that had been Mara's trademark, and still was, Luke reminded himself with a smile. Lyra was every bit as straight to the point and no-nonsense as Mara, but she lacked Mara's tendency to fight out, making her much more self-contained. Almost as if that grief she was carrying, and her helplessness against it, had twisted her emotions tightly inside. All in all, he realized, Lyra was very different from the hardened Imperial agent he had expected. Luke realized in retrospect that either from her association with Mara, or from only knowing her from Mara's perspective, he had somehow expected Lyra to be like Mara in personality. In some ways it was true. She was certainly everything that Mara had said: strong, smart, and fearlessly brave. She was no one to be underestimated. Then, in some ways, the two women were as different as their looks implied.
Mara's slim figure and cat-like grace had served her well under the guise of a dancer in Jabba's court. Her fiery personality was matched by the shimmer of her red-gold hair and the sharp glint of her bright green eyes. Lyra, on the other hand, had calm, reflective blue eyes. Looking into those eyes was like looking into a shimmering pool of water, but those waters ran deep with intensity and emotion, and loss. She had light brown eyebrows that curved at a slight arch to set off the draw of her hairline. Bangs that were half a shade lighter escaped that draw to curl back over her forehead. Her face was finely set, with a small mouth held against a strong jaw, and her delicate features were defined more by the strands of hair that fell around her face than by the softly understated cheek bones that they fell along. The light hair was tied back at the nape of her neck, barely reaching below her shoulders, and a few shorter strands fell around her face only to be pushed back behind her ears.
Lyra could not be mistaken for a dancer. She had the balance and precision but was too definite in her motions, placing purpose and result well ahead of presentation. She was a little shorter than Mara, standing not quite eye level with Luke, and the slight loss of height seemed to compact her figure. It was an illusion created through the coiled physique of an athlete, strong from the disciplined effort put into the shoulders and arms, and legs as well, Luke would judge from the fighting style she heavily favored. Though she had the natural beauty to pass in a superficial role, it would be hard to mistake her for that alone. Everything about her pointed to a level of dedication and intensity beyond the norm. Certainly, those qualities had made her an asset in her former life – an asset to Darth Vader, Luke realized anew.
"Need a hand?"
"Huh?" He looked up. Luke really hadn't expected company.
Now well into the lengthy return from the outer systems, Luke had completed an odd handful of repairs and double-checked most of the ship's systems more than once. He and Lyra had developed a comfortable, if not entirely open, rapport during the trip. She had answered the questions that he had asked honestly, with grace and with wit at times, but she remained decidedly aloof. In return, Luke continued to give her plenty of space.
"Need a hand?" Lyra repeated her offer.
"Oh. Well, it's nothing urgent, really." Luke shrugged.
"I figured as much. You're flying solo here."
Luke's eyebrows raised in confusion. Why did he keep feeling a step behind in this exchange?
"Your droid. I saw him out in the hall, recharging."
"Oh, yeah. Right."
"So?" she prompted.
He nodded. "Sure. I've been trying to track down a loose damper. I guess I could've had R2 locate it earlier, but I think it was meant to be part of my cover. You know," he motioned toward himself, indicating his undercover alter ego, "too many credits, not so many practical concerns."
"I could see that." She nodded. "Type of guy who wouldn't notice he'd lost an engine until the ship wouldn't go?"
"Right. But the noise has been driving me crazy," he confessed.
"Damper," she assessed. "I can tighten down a loose damper."
"Thanks." Luke motioned to a tool kit, and he watched her collect a few things before disappearing into a nearby repair hatch.
There was so much he wanted to ask her.... But he remembered the faraway look in her eyes when he had spoken to her about her time in the Empire, the way her sense had darkened at the thought of the loss it had brought her... and he was cautious. He had no doubt that she was a person of great strength. That only made the quiet determination with which she had agreed to return to Coruscant more troubling. Then there was the haunting way she had stood frozen at Myrina, as if she had been fighting some monumental internal battle.
He hoped that Coruscant would be the right place for her.
Leia joined the anxious gathering of officials and civilians who had assembled to watch a small piece of history unfold before them. She stood to one side of the old Imperial Palace's elaborate Grand Corridor and waited for the two leaders to emerge from the small conference room that separated the Inner Council Chamber from the Main Senate Chambers.
A few minutes later Mon Mothma stepped out into the Grand Corridor, followed closely by Senior Officer Pellaeon. Two leaders, Leia thought to herself. Both evoked the truest sense of the word. Both carried the weights of their positions with such poise and dignity that it would be difficult to identify by sight alone which one history would call the victor.
Militarily, it was a fact. Imperial forces had surrendered after being outmaneuvered at Valpava. Senior Officer Pellaeon, the recognized leader of those forces, had called for the cease fire himself and had hailed the New Republic to discuss the terms of his surrender. His place as the highest standing Imperial officer, and successor to the late Grand Admiral Thrawn, made that surrender the final military defeat of the former Empire.
But even as she witnessed the ceremonial signing and handshakes, Leia knew that the reality of peace was something entirely different than what stood before her today. A military surrender was necessary, but it wasn't the solution; it was only a symbol. This image would capture the hope of peace in this moment for generations to come, but it would not establish that peace for them. There was still much to be decided.
There were many who held deep grudges against the Empire, and rightfully so. For some of them, the long-awaited prospect of peace paled against more personal desires for retribution (or outright revenge) against those who had so heinously wronged them, and their peoples.
Leia took a long step away from the ceremony that was beginning to break up now. With new resolve, she headed into the Main Senate Chambers, where the process of establishing peace would begin in full.
Waton Laus disgustedly threw down the data pad he had been reading.
"Peace," he grated the word like a curse. He had been fuming since the news arrived. Now this. He paced the room, stepping deliberately over the discarded datapad. "Chaos come alive!"
Some were honoring that coward Pellaeon's call for surrender. Other valuable men and resources were being lost to the useless desire for death before surrender. Either way the waste sickened him. So much potential, lost to him, only because he lacked a way to focus it.
Of course his agents still continued their activities, and most of them reported that the situation remained salvageable. The climate at Tritis was still in his favor, as were the other considerable advances that he had made over the past few years.... But for seven long years, Laus had devoted his time and energy to building his presence and reputation in this sector, only to see his prize slip through his fingers at the very time when his foresight could have paid off the most.
This turn of events was intolerable. Someone would be made to pay. There was a knock at the door. He stepped over the data pad again. Purposely leaving that bearer of distasteful news where it lay, Laus returned to sit heavily in his chair.
"Enter," he commanded, directing a hard stare toward the closed door.
Two guards escorted Pracos into the room, giving him a final push toward the center. He tried to hang on to some shred of his former position by casting an offended stare back in their direction, but even the guards realized that Pracos' time as a man of position had passed. The sight would have been humorous to Laus if he weren't so furious. He waved the guards away, his eyes unwavering on the man in front of him. Then the door closed behind Pracos with a heavy clap.
"Do you have any idea how much your incompetence has cost me?" Laus asked icily.
"Boss, there was nothing I could do. She fought through two dozen of my best men."
"Enough!" Laus bellowed, calculating the outburst. He had no patience for incompetence, and even less for its denial. But the irony of this man standing in front of him, so completely oblivious to his own fate, was enough to bring a tight smile to his hardened face.
If Pracos hadn't had the good sense to be afraid before, he did now. He knew that smile, and he especially knew that he didn't want to be on the receiving end of it.
"Boss, please. Give me another chance. I won't fail you again."
"Is that so?" Laus asked, the barest hint of amused hope creeping into his voice. This, at least, was more like what he expected. "In that case, there may be something you can do to redeem yourself," he intoned, somewhere between disappointment and boredom.
"Anything, Boss," Pracos groveled.
"Hack, Govin," Laus ordered.
His two loyal guards reentered the room.
"Take Pracos with you." He waited a few moments to further impress his displeasure upon Pracos, and to remind the man of how short his life could still be, if Laus wished it. "I'm putting him on the mission."
He could see Pracos relax. "And Pracos–" The man stiffened. "I trust you'll serve me well."
"Y– yes sir," Pracos stammered in relief. "I will, Boss."
Laus had no further response than to motion them away impatiently. After a moment he stood and retrieved his data pad. Carefully, he pulled a cartridge from his breast pocket and slid it into the device. He scanned the screen in silence for a few moments, then smiled to himself. Sometimes a temporary setback was just the thing to open one's eyes to a new direction. Yes, Pracos would be perfect for this mission. He would follow whatever orders he was given to the letter; he couldn't afford not to. And once his part in the mission was done, he would be perfectly expendable.
Laus was ready to make his next move.
"I'm not done yet," he decided. "Not by a long shot."
Leia opened the suite door as quietly as possible and glanced in toward the living area. She caught herself holding her breath as she keyed the door closed behind her, as if that would help it to make less noise. As she had expected, Han was asleep, stretched out on the sofa. He probably lay down to rest for a minute after putting the twins to bed. Now he was sleeping soundly. Leia watched her husband sleep with a guilty smile, letting the moment stretch a little longer before she went to look in on Jacen and Jaina. She hated to think of how long it had been since she'd been here to see the twins fall asleep. Leia kissed them each, then stepped back to stand in the doorway with a sigh. She heard Han's footsteps behind her just before he reached his arms around her waist.
"Another late night, Sweetheart?"
She turned to hug him, mumbling against his shoulder. "There are other kinds?"
After a moment he reached around her to close the door to the children's room. Han paused, smiling as he watched Leia crane her neck for one more glimpse of her sleeping children, then he guided her back to the living area. Leia retrieved her evening meal from the kitchen and sat across the table from Han to eat. She felt exceedingly tired as she realized that this, too, had become routine.
"I knew that it wouldn't happen overnight, but this is insane," she admitted. "Peace, staring us in the face, and the Senate is divided. The Pellaeon Agreements have us at a standstill."
"I thought he was offering unconditional surrender," Han objected suspiciously.
"He is. The Imperial surrender is a reality, regardless of how we resolve the rest of this. But Pellaeon is asking for anonymity for his officers, in return for his future cooperation. That's the sticking point. He also wants a moratorium on war crimes, and possible autonomy for the Tritis sector. That combination has emotions boiling over. A lot of beings are fighting real hard for the right to claim retribution for occupations, and to hold immediate trials for the offending high officials."
"Doesn't sound so unreasonable to me." Han backed away from the statement as Leia raised her eyebrows in warning. "But not exactly the way to start off a peace process, I get it," he amended, and redirected. "Any chance of those things happening?"
"The moratorium may be a compromise, but there's no way we can allow a armed a sector of Imperial loyalists to build strength, no matter how far out on the rim they are. That's asking for trouble, and he knows it. Pellaeon's just looking out for the men under him."
Han rolled his eyes as he sat back in his chair.
"He believes in military tact and honor," Leia offered defensively.
"Great. An honorable Imperial," Han responded, less than convinced.
"I wish the same could be said for the men he's trying so hard to defend. We've got outpost surrenders at one side and suicide attacks at the other – there's 'unconditional' for you," she intoned with a little of her husband's sarcasm.
"And somewhere in the middle of all this, I'm sure the warlords are having a field day," Han added dryly. "Even in defeat, Pellaeon can't reunite the Remnants. Doesn't exactly do wonders for the value of Pellaeon's future cooperation."
"You should be a politician," Leia observed dryly.
Han snorted in mock offense. "No way!"
"You read people better than anyone I know," she persisted in stating the truth.
"Yeah," he responded with that lopsided smile of his, "but then if I disagree with 'em, I can't settle it with a blaster."
She smiled as she shook her head at him. "That's that," Leia decided with good-natured finality. "I married a scoundrel."
Han only lifted his eyebrows in recognition of the back-handed complement, before asking a serious question.
"Do we know for certain yet, that they're arming in the Tritis sector?" he asked her.
"That's just one of the problems. No one knows for sure. From the best of Pellaeon's knowledge, no. From our intelligence, it's highly probable. All we really know is that the population influx at Tritis has doubled since the call for surrender. We just don't know what their intentions are. Are they there hoping for sanctuary, like Pellaeon believes, or are they there to try to regroup for some kind of an offensive?" she questioned warily.
"Sounds like Ackbar talking, intentions," Han intoned. "What's his take on it?" he added the question without missing a beat
"At this point, he just wants the quickest line to peace. Right now a great deal of his forces are tied up in peacekeeping. Once we have a working agreement, a peace that the military doesn't have to actively enforce, then his hands are finally untied to reshuffle the military line and begin putting pressure on the warlord fractions."
Han watched his wife's expression for a moment. "What about you? What do you want?"
She took a deep breath, finding the question harder to answer than she would have expected. "More than anything, I want peace. But it has got to be lasting peace, and I don't think we can get that through compromising with the loyalists." Leia hesitated. "They've got to be held accountable. And then we've got to find a way to let it go, all of us."
"Tall order," Han mumbled quietly.
She met his eyes, waiting for his opinion.
Han shrugged. "This needs to be solved. Fast. The factions are getting stronger every day, with such widespread networks that we can't get solid locations on them, even from Karrde's best people. And they're getting better armed all the time." Han hesitated, looking cautiously to his wife. "Any news from Luke?"
She shook her head. "No. Nothing since that report from one of Karrde's sources, placing him in system."
"Mylar." Han remembered the name of the planet.
Leia nodded, her eyes far away. "We'll just have to take it as good news. Everything is normal."
He could see through her calm front, enough to tell that Leia was worried.
"It is," he reassured her. "On a mission like this, Luke won't risk a contact until he's on the way out. He'll be okay, Sweetheart." Han smiled.
Leia smiled a little easier at her husband's reassurance. "I know. I'll just feel better when it's certain."
Lyra looked out from the small repair shaft she was working in. Ship's repairs were not her strong suit, but it was something to fill the time – or at least it would be, if she could keep her mind on it. The closer they got to Coruscant, the harder she found it to think clearly. There was nothing to do now but wait; it only added to her restlessness, knowing that her circumstances were getting under her skin this way. Still, long hours only seemed to grow longer, even despite the distractions of routine ship maintenance.
She knew what she was getting into, and the decision was made now. She would accept whatever fate came for her. That part was clear. It was the reality of returning to Coruscant that Lyra found herself dreading. A timeless sense of dread, set against the darkness of the past and the expectation of the unknown... the waiting compacted it. Lyra tightened the last bolt back into place, stood, and pulled herself free of the repair shaft. Hurriedly, she put the tools she had been using away and headed back through the main corridor toward the cockpit.
Luke turned in his seat, greeting Lyra with an easy smile. She sat down beside him in the copilot's seat, but didn't immediately meet his eye. Her gaze automatically scanned the chronometer first, looking for their arrival projection.
"I tackled that faulty gasket," she offered. "At least the ship will be running better than expected when you put down," she added dryly.
"It should," Luke conceded in equally dry agreement. "We've rehabed everything right down to the extra hydospanners."
"We're still on schedule?" she asked next, motioning to the chronometer.
He nodded, giving further weight to the small talk before turning to face her. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"
"No," she said quietly. "Just the waiting I don't like," she added with a small smile. "What about you? I can't imagine that bringing me to Coruscant will help your popularity at all."
"Probably not," Luke conceded with a grin. "They won't be happy about my springing you on them, but they'll come around," he added. Then he paused, collecting his thoughts. "I know there is political maneuvering that exists within the Senate, and there are a lot of bad feelings that still run deep for the Empire, but I have faith in the Council." His voice was serious as he weighed the situation, but there was also a deep confidence in him. "Despite all that plagues them, there is a profound desire to serve, and an overriding concern to guard the ideals and insure the survival of the New Republic. There is honor beneath the politics," Luke assured her. "You can trust them," he concluded.
Lyra blinked at him, waiting. When he didn't continue she questioned him. "Trust them to what end? My appearance could come as a severe threat to that same sense of duty you admire," she pointed out that stark fact without apology.
"I know," Luke admitted. "They'll treat you fairly," he amended his answer.
She considered the explanation – the explanation and the faith behind it – before she gave him a slight nod, making the conscious decision to set down her own doubt and accept his confidence. Lyra couldn't be certain that it would turn out as Skywalker hoped, but she was remembering the depth of respect that she had once felt for him. For his sake, she hoped that the fallout over her appearance would be less harsh than she expected.
The hard knot that had settled in Lyra's stomach lurched a bit as Skywalker pulled back on the hyperspace lever to drop them smoothly back into normal space, into Coruscant space. She sat riveted by the sight, unable to take her eyes away from the living grid and the planet that it encompassed. From space, all that could be seen of Coruscant was a sea of traffic as more moving ships than the eye could see all coalesced toward the massive city-planet below.
Coruscant was truly an impressive site. But as Luke looked over to his passenger, he knew that it was not the planet itself that was holding Lyra's attention so raptly. Her face was rigid, stone, and a sickly shade of pale gray. The combination made it painfully obvious to Luke that she didn't want to be here.
"You all right?" he asked cautiously.
Lyra swallowed hard, making an effort to regroup herself. Part of her remembered distinctly the first time she had ever seen this sight, and yet it was unreal to her now. She had not expected arriving here to be at all pleasant, but the reality was proving even more discomforting than she had expected. This place was the embodiment of so much that should never have been – for her, for the entire galaxy. Now she was returning to this place that had consumed so much, to be judged for it....
She shook the foreboding sensation away and nodded a reassurance to Skywalker, just as the comm pinged for his attention.
Luke watched her for a moment longer, wishing he was sure, before he turned to answer the comm. A few minutes later he had transmitted the necessary clearance codes for landing, along with a short message to the Senate Inner Council. He glanced to Lyra again as he punched out the communications and took up manual controls to guide the ship into its approach for landing.
Her color was better this time, and he noted that the set had returned to her jaw. But her eyes were still focused squarely ahead, watching the city that was now beginning to take shape beneath them... as though she were trying to reconcile the past with her present circumstances.
"You'll be meeting with the Senate right away, then." Lyra made her assumption quietly, keeping her gaze and her focus ahead.
"I'm sure they'll want my report as soon as possible," Luke answered, his voice remaining neutral.
Lyra nodded in acknowledgment. Another few moments passed silently before she looked over at him. "I appreciate what you're doing for me," Lyra offered evenly. He was determined to bring her forward as an informant against Laus, as an ally, despite what she had been prior to that.
Luke shook his head. "I owe you much more."
"No," she corrected him easily. "You don't owe me anything."
He began to object.
"I made my decisions for myself, what I felt I had to do, and what I thought was able to live with," she tried to explain herself over his objection. "I'm glad that I was able to help you, and I understand that you want to return that... but unfortunately there's a lot that remains to be answered for," she added slowly. Lyra paused, letting a tight smile sneak through. "What good I've done doesn't change that. It can't fix it."
"I don't believe that," Luke answered her statement with one of his own. He couldn't help wondering what emotion that brief smile was meant to express, or to cover. "It's all of your actions that make you who you are," he argued. "You can't divide them into good and bad, and keep score."
"You know what I mean," she said quietly.
He nodded reluctantly. She didn't want him to feel responsible for her because she had saved his life.
"I meant what I said when we left Marnia," Luke insisted determinedly. "I will stand with you," he offered again.
She shook her head at him just slightly. "Impasse," she admitted.
"Impasse," he agreed lightly.
If Lyra still had doubts about her reception, she had decided to keep them to herself. She looked to Luke only to help her with the proper protocols for dealing with the Palace guards and other routine security measures as they made their way into the heart of Coruscant. Luke had to admit that he was grateful for that. He was concerned, however, that she would prefer to meet this alone, even though he could be her only character witness, and even though she did not expect it to go well.... He also understood that maybe the reason she preferred to go it alone was because she did not expect this to go well.
Within the hour Lyra had been escorted to the Palace's guest quarters and Luke had been called before the Senate Inner Council. As soon as he entered the room he could tell that the tension in the air was greater than usual. He could see the stress in the faces of the Senate officials, and through his sister's relief as she came forward to greet him.
"I'm glad you're back," Leia said with a tight smile, hugging him as tightly. "And I hope you bring good news," she added grimly, "because we seem to be having a shortage lately."
"The Empire?" Luke asked the question reflexively as they started walking toward the circle of seats that would be occupied by members of the Inner Council. Sometimes it was still strange to remember that the enemy they had fought against relentlessly for over a decade no longer existed, at least not as the power that it had once been.
"What to do with the left overs," Leia concurred. Then she gave his shoulder a squeeze and took her own seat. Leia smiled at him again before Luke continued across the room, where he would take the speaker's chair beside Mon Mothma.
Luke gave his summary account for the Council, telling them how he'd backtracked the information they'd given him through the Myrtle system until he'd come across a lead in an intercepted transmission that had taken him to Myrtle proper. He told them about the run in that he'd had there with a group of mercenaries as he was trying to get a meeting with a local leader, and how that perilous encounter had caused him to hastily leave system, escaping with the help of another local.
"The good news," he concluded firmly, "is that now we have a name and a location to work from."
"But you didn't actually meet with this, Laus," Ackbar observed. "Can you be absolutely certain of his identity?"
"Yes," Luke answered solidly. "I believe so. My source knew his reputation as a local power, and that the men who attacked me worked for him."
"Source?" Ackbar questioned carefully.
"The local I spoke of, who helped me to escape."
"We cannot rely on second hand accounts to–" Fey'lya started in objection.
"You don't have to," Luke stated. "You can ask her yourself."
"This source, she is on world now?" Mon Mothma asked.
"Yes." Luke took a deep breath, his eyes carefully scanning the faces around the table before he spoke again. Now was the time to tell them. "My source – well, I should tell you that at one time this person was an Imperial agent, and one of high ranking," he added.
The room seemed to explode into an immediate uproar.
Luke had expected surprise, even suspicion, but nothing like this. Stunned by the knee-jerk reaction, he looked to Leia for a second opinion. She could only lift her eyebrows in sympathy against the sea of turmoil that he'd unexpectedly stepped into.
"If you are certain–" Mon Mothma's voice cut through the chaos.
"Certain of what?" Fey'lya objected adamantly. "He admits to bringing an Imperial agent into our midst. This could all be an elaborate guise to get a spy or saboteur on world."
"My brother's own judgement says that she is neither of those things."
"I agree with Councillor Organa Solo." Mon Mothma quieted the room again. "Jedi Skywalker's source will be questioned," she conceded to Fey'lya. "Until then we will trust his judgement."
The silence only lasted for a moment before Fey'lya spoke again. "Then I must ask that this person be placed under house arrest until we can be certain that there is no threat in her presence here."
Another roar emerged, but it was mostly in favor this time.
"That's not necessary," Luke stated. "I'll take responsibility–"
"I am sorry, Jedi Skywalker, but I'm afraid we cannot take that risk," Ackbar stated emphatically. Then he added in a more resigned tone, "I must agree with Councillor Fey'lya in this instance. Strong security measures must be taken until we are certain of with whom we are dealing."
Luke looked between Leia and Mon Mothma as Mon Mothma brought the matter to a vote.
Only she and Leia stood with him.
Luke cast a lost and disappointed look toward his sister, only to find that her disillusionment matched his own.
Almost immediately, the previous turmoil resumed. This time it was over the accountability of the information given on Laus. In the wake of things, it seemed that none of the Inner Council members wanted to be known as the Senator who would believe Luke's "Imperial informant" without the benefit of a thorough questioning.
Luke suppressed a heavy sigh. He was used to dealing with these sorts of doubts and suspicions. Perhaps no one understood better than Luke Skywalker the dangers of the Emperor's New Order, or the kind of fear that the Emperor and Darth Vader had once inspired (and willingly welded, in order to subdue an entire galaxy). But Luke had to remind himself that the past was not so far behind them all when he saw firsthand the effects that a generation of fear and terror could still have on those who had survived it. They all still carried the scars of a past that haunted them, even the leaders who would be called upon to shape the future.
Still, he had come to think of the New Republic as a place where those wrongs would be righted and those wounds would be healed... if only they could find the strength and courage to move forward. That thought was foremost in Luke's mind a short while later as Luke made his way over to where Leia was gathering her things.
"Not quite what you had in mind?" he tried.
"You sure made things hard with this one," she admitted warily.
Luke grimaced. "It's not what I had in mind either."
She smiled up at him sympathetically. "Come on, we'll talk."
Neither noticed before they turned to leave that a small gathering of security officials was quietly meeting across the room with Admiral Ackbar.
Lyra walked out the spacious quarters newly afforded her once more before lying down again. Too restless to really relax, she stretched an arm behind her head and stared up at the ceiling. Her mind echoed with the same question over and over again. Why?
Why was she here? She still had no real answer.
What she had told Skywalker at the beginning of their journey here had been true. She did understand the need to atone for the past, to answer for what had been done. But as Coruscant had grown closer, her feelings of disdain for her past had also grown stronger. It was almost overwhelming, to realize how much she had left forgotten in the wake of the past two years. She had always drawn a sharp line between the person she had allowed herself to become then, and the reason she had allowed it. Here and now, Lyra found it impossible to reconcile the two sides.
She looked around herself though strong memories, but through different eyes. The passing of time and regimes had brought relatively little change to Coruscant. As much of Palpatine's influence as possible had been removed, and the general volume of the place was less than it had once been, but most of the sights and sounds were still familiar. She was different. And it was eerie for Lyra to realize that what had once become familiar to her here – that set of experiences – belonged to another person, a person she no longer recognized. She had once been proud to have survived this place. Now she wondered if she truly had.
She had come here headstrong and idealistic, knowing nothing of subterfuge, and manipulation, and destruction... the things that would become her survival. Lyra took a deep breath to try to clear her head, and she consciously pushed the difficult memories away, wishing that she could do the same for the guilt. Survival wasn't all it once was.
Lyra Dare got to her feet. She placed the last of those nagging memories and their accompanying feelings aside as she stood and walked to the door. Her brief respite was over. Now she would need to concentrate on the present, and ready herself to meet her coming fate.
"I'm sorry, Luke," Leia apologized, moved by her usually hopeful brother's solemn dismay. "It's just bad timing," she added as they entered the Grand Corridor and began walking toward her office. "The Senate is already painfully divided over the Pellaeon Agreements. It's not a good time to have Imperial connections on Coruscant."
"But that's exactly my point, Leia," he argued passionately. "She has no connections to the Empire. She was conscripted. She left after Endor. End of story." Luke hesitated, almost wishing that it was as simple as that, as he tried to restrain the growing sense of helplessness that he was feeling. "And she saved my life," he finished.
Leia grimaced in sympathy. "The investigation is just a precaution," she assured him. "Surely, she knew this." Something in his face made Leia remember the earlier feeling she'd had, that her brother was holding something important back. "If she has nothing to hide, it will be short," she added simply.
Leia closed the door to her office behind them, and waited for him to tell her.
Luke shook his head and sighed. "I'm afraid it won't be," he said knowingly.
"Why not?" she asked, suddenly dreading his answer.
He sighed again as he sat, and his gaze rested uneasily on her. "I was hoping to break this to the Council gradually, but obviously they have no intention of taking this easily."
Leia sat too, her mood growing even more serious. "What are they gonna find on her, Luke?"
"She was a second to Vader."
His sister's shock quickly turned to disbelief, and both were aimed at him.
"I know how it sounds, Leia–"
"She served Vader," Leia spat in disbelief, laced with disgust.
Luke closed his eyes, feeling the sting of her words.
"Not by choice," he said softly. Then he spoke more urgently. "Leia, do you remember Aci? The person I told you about, the one Vader sent? This is her. Lyra Dare."
"Luke." Leia spoke softly now, and also urgently. "Don't you realize how dangerous this is?"
"For whom?" he asked gently.
Leia only looked at him in amazement.
An aid knocked on the door, to report to Leia that the woman under Council investigation was now being transported to the high security wing. After a few uncomfortably silent moments, the man excused himself.
The door had hardly closed behind him when Luke stood and turned away, his gaze downcast.
Leia also rose from her seat. "Luke–" she objected, prompting him to turn back to her.
"I have to go. I have a responsibility to her, Leia," he tried to explain. The words didn't seem to work. "I'm sorry," he said regretfully. Then he turned to leave.
Leia dropped her gaze to the floor as she listened to the door slide closed behind Luke, and she worked at bringing her emotions under control. She could have accepted that Luke had returned here with a former Imperial agent. Leia had been fighting for tolerance within the Senate when it came to dealing with the Remnants, and she had learned time and time again since Endor that many beings had fought the Empire from within – conscripts and defectors whose secret struggles had been every bit as dangerous and courageous as any Rebel offensive.
Leia believed that those who acted in good faith against the Empire, even from within, deserved the sympathy and the gratitude of the New Republic. The problem was that she was no longer certain which camp this Lyra fell into. Far beyond just stumbling across an Imperial conscript and bringing her here, now it seemed that Luke had formed an allegiance to this woman who had once taken her orders directly from Darth Vader, and that idea was troubling to Leia for many reasons.
Any person who had served that close to the Dark Lord and lived to tell about it must have been cunning, or ruthless, or both.... It was well known that Vader had no tolerance for anyone who failed him. Sometimes Leia wondered if Luke tended to forget that.... Her brother had forgiven Darth Vader a long time ago, but Luke's feelings toward their father were still complex, and largely unresolved. The young Jedi was still hungry to solve the mystery that was Anakin Skywalker. Luke had told Leia on many occasions that he needed to seek out the truth about the Jedi (and their knowledge of the Force) if he was to start their religion anew. But maybe somewhere underneath there was still a boy longing to know more about his father.
It all made Leia wonder if Luke truly did understand what he was doing. Luke had told the Senate Inner Council today that his source had held a high rank within the Empire. She did not envy him their reaction when they learned just how highly placed Lyra had been. But it was not her fellow Senators' reaction that worried Leia the most – Luke could weather the political turmoil – it was her brother's welfare that Leia was concerned for. At best, Leia feared that the woman's connection to Vader would affect Luke's assessment of her. At worst, if she learned the truth of Luke's relationship to Vader, that knowledge could give her a dangerous amount of leverage over Luke. Slowly, Leia sank back down into her seat. She still felt stunned. She wondered what kind of hold this person might already have over her brother.
Luke stepped off the turbolift into the hall of the Palace's high security wing. Two guards stood to each side of the lift's entrance, the normal complement. There was a group of five guards further down the hall. As Luke neared them he could see that an officer was programing in a security code for the door in front of him. Two more guards stood, one to each side of the closed door, and an additional two stood a step behind them. Those two each extended a hand to rest on each of Lyra's shoulders. Her hands were bound in front of her. Luke took it in with a pang of guilt.
"All this isn't necessary," he stated. "I'll take responsibility for her."
The officer turned to meet Luke, and cautiously nodded his approval. "Very well. I'll allow it, Jedi Skywalker." He nodded to his men, and they each took a half step away from their prisoner while their commander finished programing the lock. A moment later the door opened in front of them.
"The binders," Luke prompted.
The officer glanced between the Jedi and the prisoner, still wary of his charge and his responsibility. Then, moving very cautiously, he leaned toward Lyra to place a release clamp over the binders. With a clank, they fell away, and he returned them to his belt.
Lyra stood there, unmoving.
"Go on in," he said curtly.
She obeyed without so much as a sideward glance.
"Thank you," Luke said with forced civility as he followed Lyra inside. It didn't escape his notice that two men had remained outside to guard her door.
Lyra rubbed her wrists from the energy binders as she surveyed her new surroundings.
"It's not their fault," she said, turning back to speak to Luke. "Or yours," she added before he could apologize.
"I didn't think it would be this way," he struggled to get out the words.
"It's all right. I've seen worse," she said pointedly. "When will they question me?"
Luke was thrown by the sudden change, in subject and in her demeanor. "They didn't tell me. Soon, I guess," he answered reflexively.
"So I'm under house arrest until then."
"For now. I'm going to try to get it lifted."
"As I said, I've seen worse."
Luke felt himself flinch. Under her even voice and calm eyes, something had grown sharper, harder, more unforgiving.
"This doesn't bother you at all?" he questioned, astounded, and unable to make sense of her reaction.
"I said that I'd answer for my past. That's what's happening here," she stated.
"They don't know anything about you yet, except that you were once an Imperial."
"A high ranking Imperial," she corrected him warily.
"Yes, a high ranking Imperial," he amended without weighting the words. "You don't want me to defend you. Are you at least planning to defend yourself?" he asked the rhetorical question with increasing intensity.
"From my own actions?" she challenged him.
"I don't understand, Lyra. You were conscripted into the Empire. That's a terrible crime, but it's not your crime."
"Listen to yourself," she said incredulously. "What? I was just following orders? You know what the Empire was," she breathed. "You know how relentless Vader was."
"Yes, I do know," he answered her. "That's why I know, you didn't get a choice in the matter."
She looked away from him, shaking her head. "I had a choice," she argued. Every day of my life, I chose. I could have refused."
"And you would have died."
"Yes. Instead of someone else."
This had to stop here, his feeling sorry for her. Push him away now. She had seen it earlier on the approach, and she saw it again now. He would sacrifice too much if she let him take on a life debt to her, and the thought of more loss on her behalf was sickening. He didn't understand that nothing the Senate could decide would be worse than what she would give herself.... But Skywalker had faith in the Senate; he believed that they would grant her reprieve. Lyra Dare didn't believe that was possible; but the harsher truth was that she didn't want reprieve.
"Those were innocent lives," she challenged him, "and brave beings who were fighting against the Empire. I could have refused to take part in their destruction, but I didn't. Where is there defense for that?" She had no defense for the wrongs that she had inflicted. Why not be punished? Why not here, where the dark past was so close at hand? Push him away now.
"You did what you had to do to survive the Empire. And you helped me when you didn't have to. What about that?"
She shook her head again. Of course he couldn't see it that way; she should have known that. Skywalker was all compassion and honor... something about the honest feel of his conviction made her almost want to consider the Jedi's point of view.
"I told you. That doesn't change the rest."
"It does for me. It shows me that you have compassion. You're not cruel, and you don't take joy in others' suffering. I saw that much in the way you fought. There was no aggression, no will for dominance, just defense – a means to an end. All of that tells me that you did what you had to in the Empire, even though it went against who you are. And you would judge yourself more harshly for that than anyone else ever would." As soon as he spoke those words, he knew that he had hit on the truth. "That's what I don't want," Luke finished quietly.
Lyra heard him out, but her expression remained defiant. "What lets you decide?"
"What about your family, then? Would they want this for you?"
"You leave them out this," she whispered. Her stare and her voice had turned to pure ice, pushing him back.
He made a slight surrender motion, feeling very much as if she was armed. Whatever window of insight he'd had into her a moment ago was completely lost now.
"You can't save me, Luke," Lyra challenged him, the edge of her voice turning harsh on him for the first time over the heated exchange. "No matter how you see it."
"Maybe not," he conceded with an even strength in his own voice. "But that doesn't mean you're not worth saving."
Luke went before the Council again the next day, and he argued hard that Lyra be treated as a conscript. There was strong objection, but in the end they agreed that she would be viewed as such, until overriding evidence to the contrary was presented. This ensured that she would not be tried for crimes of war, that she couldn't be, under the conscript codes.
Still, her status as an informant and her presence on Coruscant would require a through background check. On Luke's request, her security status during that time would be reduced to Secondary Security Restriction, meaning that she would be confined only to the Palace's high security wing and not monitored within those walls. The additional restrictions were added that she was to have no access to the planet's computer systems, or to any other means that could compromise Palace security.
And all this, of course, was ultimately dependent on the outcome of her investigation. That investigation would determine if she was a security threat to Coruscant and to the New Republic, and if she had deliberately kept ties to the Empire after Endor.
It was not all that Luke had hoped for, but it was a partial victory. As the meeting was coming to a close, he received notification that Mara Jade had arrived on world.
"You cannot be serious. But I know you are," Mara stated her disbelief and then corrected her statement of it, almost in the same breath. "They're holding her as a possible security threat, and investigating her for Imperial connections–" She fell silent, shaking her head at the unexpected and illogical turn of events.
It was one of the few times Luke ever remembered seeing Mara Jade at a loss for words.
"It looks suspicious to them," he explained, clearly unconvinced himself, "that she just turns up here, and now of all times."
"This Pellaeon thing," she murmured the understanding. "Are they decided yet?"
"No," Luke answered, "and that's part of what worries me."
"What don't I know?"
Luke sighed, giving a rare outward display of frustration. "She's been through hell, and she doesn't want anyone's help," he said wearily.
Mara snorted and grinned at him. "She hasn't changed a bit then."
Luke turned to greet his friends. "Hi, Han. Chewie."
Chewie bellowed his own greeting from behind Han.
Luke couldn't be surprised that the two of them were skulking around the landing platforms. Whenever they had the time to spare, Han and Chewie were rarely far away from the Falcon; the two of them could usually be found nursing the ship through some state of disrepair. But today Luke suspected that Leia had informed them of Mara's arrival, and, like Luke, they were anxious to get Mara Jade's take on the situation.
"Mara," Han acknowledged her.
"Solo. Chewbacca," she returned the same acknowledgment.
"I hear you've brought some trouble back with you," Han said to Luke, typically, cutting straight to the point.
"It's looking that way," Luke admitted tiredly.
"Got the Council's attention," Han noted lightly. Then he asked, "Are you sure about this?"
"You'll just have to trust me on this one, Han," Luke shrugged.
"Funny," he said without humor. "That's what Leia said too."
Mara looked between the two of them. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" she grumbled.
Luke stood nervously outside the Senate's Inner Council Chambers. The Grand Corridor was busy, filled with Senators and their aids. Mon Mothma had granted Luke permission to be in audience for the hearings, as they were being called, but he wanted to wait for Lyra to be escorted in before he went inside.
Leia and Han were having a hushed conversation off to one side of the Chamber's entrance, and Mara Jade was seated across the hall, waiting impatiently. She had been asked to remain on hand, and Mara was not thrilled about that.
"Did you remember anything more on that name I gave you?" Luke asked as he crossed over and sat down beside her.
"Laus," she repeated. "I just can't connect it." Mara gestured impatiently to the data pad she'd been studying. "I wanted to review the new infor–" she broke off.
The hall had suddenly quieted as Lyra was escorted in by Palace Security. She saw Luke first, her blue-green eyes flashing over him and quickly past him as she recognized Mara.
The intensity between the two women filled the short distance between them with a strained electricity, and several lifetimes passed between them both in the space of a few heartbeats. Only the mutual respect remained.
Luke stood quietly in the back of the room, listening as Lyra was questioned. The Senate Inner Council members questioned her at length about her conscription, her duties under Imperial service, and about the information that she had given Luke regarding Laus and his status in the Myrtle system. She answered the Council with the same straight honesty she had shown Luke, but there was an edge to her voice and in her eyes that hadn't been there before.
Luke wondered briefly if it came from training to not break under interrogation, or from her own single-minded determination to face her past, or simply an ingrained sense of defiance in her character. No matter the cause, the effect was obvious. The serious eyes and aloof demeanor made her unintentionally intimidating, at best. He could see it leading to distrust among some, mostly among those who would be reluctant to admit fear.
Another failed cross search. Mara tossed her data pad down on the bench next to her. "There are easier ways to do this," she complained, exasperation filling her voice. Traffic in this part of the Grand Corridor had quieted to a slow trickle once the hearing had gotten underway a short while ago, and there was no one to hear her complaint except for Solo, who sat across the hall from her.
"What are you looking for?" he asked, walking over to pick up the data pad.
"A name Luke mentioned."
"That's the one, how did you know?"
"I've got my sources," he confirmed evasively, quickly scanning the results of her search before he handed the pad back to her. "What do you make of all this?" Han asked casually, motioning to the closed Chamber doors.
"I don't think she's a spy, or a loyalist," Mara answered shortly, and without hesitation. "You?"
"When Luke says to trust him, I usually do."
"But?" Mara prompted.
"But," Han answered, "there's a lot of room for suspicion here. The timing is awful, we've only got her word on her motives, and the connections speak for themselves."
"I didn't figure you to fall for this Imperial paranoia," Mara spat.
Han only shook his head. "I'm not taking anyone connected to Vader lightly," he responded.
They both looked to the Chamber doors as a few aids began to emerge. This session was only a preliminary proceeding, basically meant to confirm the need for further investigation. As expected, it had been short. Mara wasn't surprised by that, but she was a little discouraged; she knew that a swift decision at this stage did not bode well for Lyra's case.
Luke emerged a few moments later as the hearing began to break up in earnest. Mara stepped into stride beside him, casually making conversation. His expression gave no cause for her to doubt her earlier assumptions regarding what had gone on behind the doors of the Senate Inner Council Chamber.
"I found where I knew Laus from," Mara said under her breath a few strides later.
He looked to her briefly.
"You're not gonna like it," she warned him pessimistically.
"From a source on the outer rim, near the Tritis sector."
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004