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
Turning Points Part I
~@~ So Alone
Deep into Coruscant's night, Lyra awoke. For a moment she lay still, blinking away the darkness. Her tired eyes worked to focus the city lights that cascaded through the room. Slowly, she followed them across the ceiling and back to the suite's small window where she had left the shades partly opened. It was something she would never have done before, meant to remind her of where, and when, she was now. Only a few hours removed from the Senate Inner Council's preliminary questioning of her, Lyra Dare watched the nighttime lights of Coruscant flicker and sway through her specially reinforced window, and she reached to remember what had woken her.
There it was. Lyra repressed a sigh. A heavy, aching weight returned to settle over her soul; the pain was a tangible thing, real, and close enough to drive the air from her body. She closed her eyes against it, forcing herself to breathe through the crushing pressure, and she wished numbly for escape where she knew there was none... then, in the midst of the familiar occupation, something strange occurred to her. The startling realization was followed by an even stranger impulse. She pushed back the covers and began to dress.
This was crazy. It made absolutely no sense.
Lyra fought with herself over every step she took, but the same inexplicable feeling continued to push back her logical arguments and keep her putting one foot in front of the other. She wasn't sure of anything – except what she was feeling. For what seemed like the millionth time, she pushed back her doubts and refused to listen to the inner voice that was telling her not to get involved. Instead, Lyra opened the Palace door and looked out onto the roof. In that one moment all the doubt and self-consciousness that she had been wrestling with left her, and the sight ahead of her became her only reality.
There, roughly twenty meters away, Luke Skywalker stood motionless, his back to the door, looking out over the city.
Luke hadn't been able to sleep. He often came up here at night when he couldn't find rest from his thoughts. Nighttime on Coruscant was never really quiet, but it was steady. From up here, you could see the ships set in motion against the night sky, and the stars far beyond the clouds. It was peaceful in its predictability. It was reliable. No matter how chaotic the rest of his life had become, that much was comforting to him.
Tonight his thoughts were dwelling on the Senate Inner Council, consumed by the turmoil of recent days... but there was always a part of his mind that remained alert and focused on his surroundings. He easily picked up on the sense of the being who had just walked out onto the roof behind him. Even though many of his previous thoughts had focused on her, he wasn't immediately pleased to find Lyra here. This place was his sanctuary, and he was out here because he wanted to be alone.
Luke winced. That was a selfish and thoughtless reaction. At least he had a choice in where he came and went; that was more than Lyra had right now. The roof of the building she was confined to was about as far as Lyra could go – and he was at least partly responsible for that. Despite what Lyra seemed to think, and regardless of everyone else's objections, he did have a responsibility to her. At the very least, he figured he owed her the courtesy of a civil conversation.
Lyra took a deep breath and crossed the roof slowly. She knew that the Jedi was aware of her presence, even though he did nothing to indicate it. He leaned against the chest-high wrought-stone railing at the edge of the Palace roof, letting his shoulders slope heavily across it. He looked every bit as forlorn and alone as she had expected, as she had expected to find him. She took one more step forward as she came within a few strides of the railing at the roof's edge. She would not mistake his silent awareness for an indication of welcome, and she instinctively left a safe distance between the two of them. Her every movement showed caution, but she was also determined to wait as long as it would take to gain his acknowledgment.
"The view is beautiful from up here," Luke offered. His gaze remained fixed on the city.
Lyra blinked in surprise as she processed his words. Even though she had been awaiting his attention, the casual tone of his response was unexpected, unexpected and a shade inauthentic. He didn't feel like talking, nor did he offer her more than a sliver of his full attention, but he felt the need to acknowledge her presence and this was what he offered. She slowly pulled her eyes away from the Jedi's strong back and sloping shoulders to study the night sky that stretched out in front of him.
"It's not just ships and buildings from up here," she agreed after a few moments of silent thought, deliberately looking past him and his pain. She could make an effort to appreciate the sentiment he offered, even if it meant placing her own thoughts and questions aside temporarily. "It's all light and motion... like it's something more than itself. Almost alive."
Luke turned to face her, unexpectedly captivated by something that he hadn't expected to hear in her voice. The words offered agreement, but there was a deeper touch of understanding in the softness of her voice, along with a hint of surprise in finding that understanding. She said nothing to acknowledge either fact. Luke didn't know exactly what it was he was feeling, but he felt a connection between the two of them that he couldn't explain. He knew that he no longer wanted her to leave.
She could sense him turn toward her, but Lyra continued to watch the skyline. "That's what gives it its beauty," she concluded heavily. A puzzled expression came over her face. "I wonder why I never saw that before."
"Mara once told me that she'd never noticed it either. Never really stood here and just looked at the city...." Luke took a deep breath. The mention of Mara's name managed to bring them both more squarely back to the day behind them. "You know, when Mara first told me what you had done for me, I wanted very much to find you." He paused. Luke's gaze returned to the Coruscant skyline as he carefully chose his words. "I thought that, when you stayed with me after Endor, that it may have been out of loyalty. And I hoped that there was something you could tell me." He trailed off, considering anew the things he most wanted to ask her. He'd sensed, several times today during the questioning, that Lyra had been holding back. It had not been noticeable to most, but he'd seen it; he knew that Leia had too.
Leia hadn't been happy that Lyra had chosen not to volunteer the facts of her connection to Vader or the extent of her abilities when she had gone before the Senate Inner Council. Those things had only been vaguely alluded to by the woman who had once used her Force talents in the service of Darth Vader. Luke knew, as Leia did, that the truth wouldn't remain secret for long, but neither had it come out today. Leia had remained quiet, not for Lyra's sake but out of respect for her source; the Senate Inner Council would have to discover what Luke already knew in its own time.
"I hoped that again today," Luke finished quietly.
"Okay," Lyra offered, waiting for him to continue.
"Vader," Luke suggested, searching out her reaction. "What can you tell me about him?"
She took a deep breath and tried not to let herself frown. "I'm afraid not much," Lyra conceded, but she gathered herself to try anyway. "I know that he believed in the Force and served the Emperor, in that order. But I can't say that I knew any more than that." She paused to consider it again. "I don't know if anybody did," she stated with even certainty in her voice. "His reputation was the real thing. If you did what was expected, you were rewarded. If not, well, if not, it didn't much matter." She trailed off, trying not to dwell on those dark things. "But if you didn't cross him, and you could pull your weight–"
"Then you lived to see another day," Luke finished coldly.
"Pretty much, yeah," Lyra agreed. Her simple acceptance of the harsh truth played at glossing over the disdain that came through in Luke's voice.
He shook his head in frustration, at himself, for expecting something that wasn't there.
"Not what you were hoping for," she empathized softly.
Something in the way she regretted that made him realize – she knew the truth.
"I know," she finally said simply, acknowledging Luke's surprise as readily as the reason for it.
"If you didn't learn from Vader, then how do you know?" he asked. For the first time there was a hint of suspicion in his voice, suspicion of her. This truth wasn't common knowledge, and in the wrong hands it could be damaging, even dangerous, for Luke and the rest of his family.
She answered him calmly, unshaken despite the change she recognized in him. "If I knew one thing about Vader, it was that his loyalties were to the Emperor above all else. I knew that there must have been some extraordinary circumstance to make him go behind the Emperor's back, to send me against the Emperor's Hand." She paused, letting it sink in just how important Luke had been. "Then there was Endor," she continued. "Vader and the Emperor were killed, and Luke Skywalker survived." More quietly she added, "Even pulled Darth Vader off the second Death Star before it blew."
"That wasn't common knowledge," he said softly.
She smiled gently, shrugging it off. "I knew intelligence. I followed up."
He nodded for her to continue.
"There weren't many surviving eyewitnesses and very few of those understood what they had seen, or heard. After that it was all guesswork and rumors, some rumors more reliable than others. Eventually I stumbled across the right puzzle pieces, put them together, and the truth became clear."
Luke was quiet for a moment, taking in her explanation. He could sense no ulterior motive and no deception lurking beneath her words. She had risked herself to save his life more than once. He was willing to believe that she had learned the truth, just as she said, and he didn't think that she would use it against him. If Lyra Dare sought his destruction, she certainly could seek it by more serious means than revealing his family secret.
Luke turned his attention back to the city, his thoughts shifting. Family. He had been thinking more than usual about the importance of family since he had met Lyra and discovered that she too had lost her home and family in the wake of the Empire.... The desolate feelings that Luke had been wrestling with earlier started to return.
"Luke," Lyra said very softly, "are you sure you're all right?"
His stare remained distant, searching the Coruscant skyline. "Sometimes I come up here for hours at a time, just to stand and look out at the city and the stars, as far as the eye can see... to try to make some kind of sense out of how I got here, how so much was lost on the journey, and how to keep going."
Lyra lowered her eyes; the familiarity in that sentiment was painfully hard-hitting. She struggled to get a grip on her own emotions as Luke turned toward her, watching her just out of the corner of his eyes. He knew that she understood this. They shared a common experience of loss, and of survival through difficult times and harsh circumstances– but what he sensed from her was something more than that. He hardly knew Lyra Dare, but he felt oddly reassured by her presence. Something about her made Luke feel able to speak to her, confident that she would understand what he needed to say.
Lyra caught herself watching him too, waiting for him to continue. This was what had brought her up here. The former Imperial agent knew a great deal about the young Jedi's past, but she had not realized that this much of the past's pain still wore on Luke Skywalker. Maybe it shouldn't have been so surprising. There was never time to dwell on your losses from within the storm; only when the chaos had passed did you start to realize the enormity of what you had been through and begin to take account of the cost. Hadn't she been feeling that very struggle since her return to Coruscant?
Lyra let the silence hold for a few heartbeats, considering. It surprised her when she heard herself ask, "How much did you lose?" Her voice came as an unexpectedly soft whisper.
Luke looked down, leaning restlessly over the rail as a grim smile played on his face. "When I'm feeling sorriest for myself," he whispered the leading words, "I'd say that I've been orphaned three times in my life." The coolness in his tone of voice abated some of the self-pity that rose up underneath it, but that answer still surprised him. Luke wasn't comfortable feeling sorry for himself; he didn't ask for pity or expect anyone's sympathy. To his way of thinking, everyone had suffered. The entire galaxy had lived through difficult times and been forced to make hard sacrifices. What right did he have to wallow in the pain of the past when he was alive and well? So many had lost so much more. It was a waste of time and energy, feeling sorry for himself... but whether or not he acknowledged its hold, the pain remained.
Lyra could feel his discomfort, and she could feel the depth of unspoken hardship behind his words as Luke continued to look distantly out at the city. She was surprised by how strongly she identified with him. She understood the struggle that he kept hidden, and the need to hide it. She had felt that same overwhelming depth of pain and loss, felt the guilt and confusion that came with simply surviving what so many others had not. He deserved her compassion. And somehow she knew that he needed her understanding. Luke needed to express the loss as best he could in words and allow himself to feel the pain. She could feel him struggling to find words that would express it.
"My aunt and uncle raised me," he began slowly. "I never knew my mother or father. I was barely out of my teens when my aunt and uncle were killed by the Empire. Just before they died, I had come to know Ben Kenobi. He had been a Jedi Knight, the same as my father." Luke smiled at the familiar words that marked a vivid memory. "That was the beginning of this incredible adventure, that and finding R2-D2 carrying the readouts of the Death Star."
Lyra smiled in return, caught up in his remembered story. She knew these facts already, but his face and voice were far more engrossing than data files she had once collected on him and studied nearly constantly, back when tracing the Rebellion had been her responsibility, and Luke Skywalker had been her boss's obsession.
"Ben took me under his wing," Luke continued, "showed me the Force, made me believe. Before I knew it, I had thrown in with a crazy pirate and a Wookie, and rescued a princess off the Death Star." Again he smiled, but that smile faded against another memory. "But Ben," he paused, the words becoming difficult, "was killed too, by Darth Vader." He fell painfully silent. "It's hard to explain what he meant to me," Luke finally offered, glancing up to her. "He was my family, after my aunt and uncle. Father figure... protector... teacher...." He trailed off, trying out each description without finding the one that completely expressed his feelings. "I only knew Ben for a short time, but he believed in me in a way that changed me, that made me believe in myself. And when everything was in chaos, Ben was at the eye of the storm."
Lyra took a step forward to stand beside him. "I can understand that," she offered, glancing toward him as she folded her arms across the railing in front of them. His words made sense. His pain and his struggles made sense. Oddly, his life felt familiar to her, not because she already knew so many of the details, but because the underlying emotion so closely shadowed her own. Her earlier caution had vanished completely, and her defenses had lowered somewhere in the ease of listening to his story, feeling his honesty in the hard-fought words. Lyra felt needed and, for the first time since all this had begun, she actually felt grateful to be here.
"After Ben, life was in fast forward. I didn't have time to think, let alone grieve. "We had to rescue Leia, then there was Yavin, and after that we were on the run from the Empire." He sighed, again feeling a loss for words. "My best friend died at Yavin. It was unreal." His face screwed up, as if the memory was something foreign, incomprehensible. "Suddenly my entire past was gone. Han, and Leia, and Chewie became my family, and keeping the Rebellion going was all that mattered."
He looked at her, searching her face to see if she understood. She did. There was an unwavering depth of compassion in her eyes. Luke gave another grim smile before he continued. "Finally, my own father. He saved my life; he was the one who killed the Emperor," Luke explained, feeling for Lyra's reaction as his eyes flickered over hers. He felt no surprise or disbelief from her, only that same unwavering compassion... and his voice dropped lower when Luke spoke the last of it. "But it cost him his own life," Luke admitted. "I helped him to save himself, but I still lost him," Luke whispered, and again the feelings of desolation washed over him.
"I'm sorry," Lyra said quietly, gritting her teeth against the utter inadequacy of the words, just as she tended to do when they were spoken to her.
Luke was amazed at the way something in her eyes had created a solid place against his turmoil, amazed that she remained standing here beside him, and amazed that he had been able to say these things to her so easily. She'd heard it all, and she offered only a sad sigh in response... no reflexive, empty attempt to ease the heavy weight of his burdens; there was just an honest sense of deep reflection that Luke couldn't help but be surprised by. The hard-nosed warrior who had given no quarter when it came to her own battles, and would give even less to the troubles that awaited her from her own shadowy past, had turned out to be a patient and understanding listener in the face of another person's troubles.... Without words spoken between them, he knew that she realized the gravity of his losses and recognized the difficulty in his struggle to bear those losses.
"But now I understand," she whispered. "That's why I found you here."
Luke held her gaze. He was puzzled by the last of her statement, and he didn't like the caution that had crept into her eyes.
"I hope you don't feel that I've misled you. They asked me straight-out today why I was chosen for conscription."
Luke nodded. He remembered her answer. Myrina was so far out on the outer rim that it hadn't warranted Imperial occupation; the planet's population was so small it hadn't even warranted a planet-wide conscription effort. The Council had done their homework and they knew all this. Naturally they had wanted to know why Lyra alone had been taken into the custody of the Empire that day.
"I didn't give them the whole answer," she admitted. "I didn't tell them that I was taken on Vader's orders, or that he had chosen me because he knew I was strong in the Force." Almost before she had spoken the words, Lyra could tell that Skywalker already knew those things. "I only told them what I was told that day," she continued, "that I was considered of importance to the Empire, and that I would be expected to comply."
"And if you didn't, there would be suffering," Luke guessed at the rest of what she had left unspoken, and Lyra nodded in response. She hadn't said that to the Inner Council either, but knowing the workings of the Empire it wasn't hard to put two and two together. And knowing what he did of Lyra, Luke didn't doubt that that threat had played a big part in her decision to leave her home and family. Though she seemed to be trying not to let the Council see it, she had conducted herself with honor and bravery in the face of circumstances she had had no control over.
"I know that the Council will likely learn the truth eventually; if you feel the need to tell them, I won't hold that against you," she added. "But they won't learn those things from me. I'll tell them the truth as best I can, but I won't give them weapons to beat me with. Maybe that doesn't make much sense," she admitted, "but I've spent most of my life guarding certain secrets, and I'm not prepared to reveal them before a Senate investigation."
"I understand," Luke offered. "Everyone has secrets, and a right to protect them."
"You already know my secrets," Lyra confessed reluctantly, "but I haven't been completely honest with you either," she admitted, the caution beginning to return to her emotions. The rest would be harder to say, and much harder for him to hear, especially now. "Luke, my natural ability in the Force is somewhat– different," she explained herself a little guardedly, already bracing for his reaction. "It works off of emotion." She saw surprise flicker across his face first.
"You feel empathy?" he asked carefully.
"Yeah," she nodded, also carefully. "Something like that."
Then his face changed as he understood the implications of what she was telling him. She told him earlier that she had found him here, but the truth was that–
"You knew I was up here," Luke breathed, stopping as he tried to reconcile her motives with his own sudden sensation of vulnerability. Suddenly what she knew of him was more than he had realized. And she had come here, already knowing, without his awareness or his permission.
"Yeah," she repeated again, her voice uneasy.
Luke's thoughts were abuzz. Had this strange sensation of closeness, this ease of sharing he'd felt with her, been nothing more than an illusion? Could she have used her talent in the Force and her past connections to him as a means of manipulating his trust, taking advantage of his emotions and tricking him into giving away more than he would have otherwise? He quickly calmed his thoughts and brought those suspicions under control. He had no reason to suspect those things of her, and he couldn't jump to conclusions before he took time to learn the truth. Besides, if her intentions truly were ominous, why would she choose to give away her advantage now?
Lyra swallowed hard, unsure of how to handle herself in the face of his discomfort. "I'm sorry for that," she whispered. "I didn't intend to deceive you," she offered evenly, honestly.
"If you didn't intend, then how?" Luke's expression was still questioning, and his quiet voice fell on the edge of accusing. He knew that she was strong in the Force and very well trained in the use of that strength. Luke also knew that it was very difficult to reach into another person's mind without that person becoming aware of your presence. For the average person, that slight awareness could be easily dismissed as an unimportant feeling, and for the weak-minded, it could be suppressed altogether in the form of a mind-trick. But from the limited bits of training that he had done with Leia, Luke had found that the same tasks became nearly impossible when the other person also had awareness of the Force. Lyra shouldn't have been able to intrude on his mind without his knowledge, no matter how strong or well trained she was... unless perhaps this was some trick of the dark side.
Lyra shook her head, taken a little aback as she realized what he had logically assumed. "I don't always have control over it–" she hesitated, looking down, "especially with strong emotions. They just, crowd in," she tried to explain, but Lyra found herself grimacing against her own increasing discomfort. She looked up at Luke warily. His face was still troubled and undecided, considering the implications of what she was telling him.
Luke had many questions about the specifics of her talent. He had never heard tell of a strength in the Force being specifically centered on emotional contact, but there was much about the Force that remained a mystery to Luke. He dismissed those thoughts; other matters had to come first if he was going to trust her explanations.
"What made you keep it a secret?" he asked.
"From the Senate?" she considered. Her voice was still a little strained, but at least she felt like she was on solid ground again. She could defend herself from here. "I don't want to be the subject of a witch trial. If they think I have an unfair advantage over them, they'll start looking for ways to even the odds. I'm not willing to put myself in that position." She paused. "From you?" she tried cautiously. "Well, it's been a long time since I cared what anyone felt. I didn't expect that being here would change that."
"But," he prompted easily.
"But," she answered him, far less easily, "an hour ago I was sound asleep, and I woke up with a pain that was so heavy it felt like it would drown me." Luke suppressed a shiver at her description, but Lyra hardly hesitated to the strength of that remembered emotion. "And I didn't think anything of it, at first," she admitted, "because I've felt that pain more times than I like to think about." She closed her eyes, briefly, gathering herself. "Then it took a few minutes for me to realize – I didn't think it was possible."
Luke knew exactly what she meant. He had never spoken of those feelings to anyone, and he still didn't fully understand how she was able to know what he felt... but he understood what she was telling him now. She felt the same pain, and she hadn't thought it possible that another person felt what she did.
"Then I came up here, and I saw you. And I couldn't leave."
Luke nodded slowly, accepting her explanation along with the honesty and concern he sensed behind it. Neither was enough to explain to him how it was possible, but Luke was no longer suspicious of harm or deceit in her motive. There was just one thing he needed to know.
"So where did that fit with the Empire?"
"Ironically, this talent wasn't of much help to me in the Empire," she answered him. "Most of what I did there was intelligence, and nothing that would have been unique to me."
Luke felt his brow furrow.
"Vader wanted me for my abilities in the Force; I have no doubt about that," Lyra clarified as she felt the cool shadow of suspicion cross over Luke Skywalker's emotions for a second time. "He wanted me to carry out sensitive, top-secret assignments, and he wanted to have someone whom he could keep track of doing that kind of work."
"Then your relationship to him was similar to Mara's as the Emperor's Hand."
"Somewhat, but there was never that level of direct mental contact that existed between Mara and the Emperor. I don't think that Vader wanted me to have that kind of access to his mind. It was always the physical skills that were more important; the physical skills that I was learning were essential. What came naturally to me was secondary."
Luke nodded. It made sense that Vader wouldn't want anyone to be privy to his feelings. Lyra had been brought into the Empire following the defeat at Yavin. Vader had just learned the name of the young Rebel pilot who had destroyed the Death Star. He would spend the next several years looking for Luke, and when he found his son he would try to enlist Luke's aid in overthrowing the Emperor. Those conflicted feelings might have made Vader vulnerable to Lyra's emotional knowledge, and it gave Vader sufficient reason to direct her away from that talent and concentrate on building her physical skills in the Force. Without knowing it, Lyra had given Luke a good deal of insight into Darth Vader.
"In all honesty, for the first couple of years I constantly wondered why he had picked me. That uncertainty became part of the driving force that pushed me; I knew that my survival depended on making sure that I was up to whatever role Vader would require me to play. So I learned skills in the Force, I went on reconnaissance missions, I researched the Rebel Alliance relentlessly, and I made sure that I was able to match blow for blow with Mara Jade whenever the occasion arose." She paused. "Once Vader made the decision to send me up against the Emperor's Hand, for real, then a lot of things started to make sense for the first time, but as for why he had chosen me.... I don't know if that ever made sense.
"And as for bringing this talent into the Empire– " she hesitated, her face turning dark with memories. "If anything, I would have liked to have turned it off at times," she finished, her voice falling to a whisper.
As a Jedi Knight, Luke was accustomed to sensing things through the Force – sometimes warnings, sometimes visions of other events, and sometimes insight into what others beings were thinking and feeling – but from what Lyra was telling him, her insight into the Force was far more direct, at least when it came to emotional contact. She was able to receive strong emotions from other beings, without her having complete control over the process. Luke, remembering what he knew of Imperial interrogation and detention procedures, winced in sympathy. Several heartbeats passed before he spoke again.
"But it wasn't common knowledge, that you were strong in the Force," he prompted carefully, curiously.
"No," she answered, coming back from the past.
"How long have you had those abilities?"
"From a young age," she answered him deliberately, a hint of her previous aloofness returning. "Limited at first, then stronger as I got older."
"And at home," he asked, "was it common knowledge there?"
"No," she answered. She could see where he was going now, and some humor returned to her voice. "I'm afraid my status as a local legend is a more recent declaration. When I was growing up only my family knew, but Myrtle is a pretty small system and it's hard to overlook an Imperial strike force. The official tag line was that they were looking for Rebel bases, but everyone knew there were no Rebel bases on Myrina. Beings in the Myrtle system wanted escape from clashing politics of any kind – they took pride in it. And of course it was no secret that they took me," she finished.
Then she grew reflective, her thoughts shifting to a different time. "I'd bet there were a score of amateur bounty hunters camped out after Endor, just waiting for me to reemerge. Everything had changed by then," she amended off-handedly, "and all that mattered anymore was the highest bidder. An Imperial strike force meant that I had been valuable to someone. It was an easy payday for whoever could find out why, and then deliver to one of the Remnant leaders or the upstart warlord factions."
"With no strong Imperial presence on that part of the rim, that would make Laus the highest bidder."
Lyra nodded. "Less than a year after Endor, he had set up an operations center out of that cantina on Myrina. Either he got wind of what had happened there or someone decided to go to him with what they knew, take the info payoff rather than risk getting beaten to the catch by another bounty hunter."
"Or common sense won out," Luke observed with a crooked smile.
A small smile played on Lyra's face as she studied him. Luke had seen her fight through a half dozen of Laus' men, and he meant the observation as a complement. She appreciated the show of respect there, but the sentiment made her feel a little sick.
"There are a lot of things I'd rather have than this dangerous reputation," she said softly.
Luke swallowed hard. The previous touch of humor and mutual respect was replaced by something more grave as he realized the truth in her words. He let another moment pass before he ventured to speak again.
"You agreed to go," he stated gently, "didn't you? So that your family would be safe."
She smiled, but it was a hollow gesture. "Didn't work out that way," she said. Her voice remained soft and low, but it was clearly a dismissal.
He watched her with a curious sadness. The eyes that had been so compassionate on him a few minutes ago were cold now, an icy shade of blue-grey, as she shut down, trying to avoid the pain. Luke didn't want her draw away again, didn't want to let her disappear behind her own defenses. Lyra had spent too much time alone with her own pain. Even if she didn't know it, she needed the kind of understanding and support that a friend could offer... the same kind of understanding and support that she had offered him....
"How old were you?" Luke asked, trying to hold her attention, just wanting to keep her talking. Every moment that he could keep her attention focused here, on him, would pull her a little further away from the paralyzing hold of the pain she carried.
"Seventeen," she remembered, and she felt a ripple of surprise from him.
"I thought at least eighteen was the minimum conscript age," Luke murmured, disgust in his voice.
Lyra only shook her head slowly. "Seventeen, eighteen. Still too young," she offered the blunt admission, giving another dismissal to times and things that she didn't want to remember. She turned to look out at the city. It had already been late when they had begun this conversation, and the lights were considerably fewer now.
"How long ago was it," his voice asked gently, "that you went back."
"Almost two years ago," she answered without looking to him. "Two years," she repeated softly, finding the words hard to believe. She shook her head and looked at him from the corner of her eyes. "A whole other lifetime," she corrected miserably, toughly. But this time she didn't try to shut those emotions down; she looked out over the city and listened to the sounds of the Coruscant night.
Luke felt himself nod slightly, remembering the first time he had seen her at Aci, that mysterious vision in the Force... the way the bright blue of her eyes had stayed with him during the months he had searched for her, and how the difference had been so terribly obvious at Myrina. But now he understood the change, he was beginning to understand the depth of the pain that had caused it.
Once again he looked back to the city lights and the stars as far as the eye could see. But now the two of them stood side by side, breathing in the cool night air and listening to the steady background noise of Coruscant's deep night. For a few moments Luke waited, expecting the familiar loneliness to wash back over him. But it didn't. For the first time in a long time Luke realized that he felt more alive and less alone, instead of the other way around. He had expected the feel of her pain to add to his own. Instead, both had lessened.... They stood together, keeping the silence, not wanting the novelty of those emotions to wear away.
"What have you gotten me into this time?" Mara complained as she met Luke at one of the Palace's conversation alcoves the next day.
"I don't know, what have I done now?" he asked, making an effort to hide his amusement.
She leveled her piercing green eyes on him. "They called me as a character witness." Luke looked at her, stunned. "Yeah. That was my reaction too," Mara quipped.
"This morning. I went straight in. They just finished with me."
Luke sat back against his seat.
"I still can't believe it," she said. "When they asked me to stay around yesterday, I figured it was to try to back up whatever information she had given them, maybe for my opinion on her security status, but that's it. A character witness?" She shook her head.
"I didn't expect that either," Luke mumbled.
Mara laughed in amazement. "You realize, the only difference between her and me is that I came in when the New Republic needed help against Thrawn," she stated her accusation a little harshly. "And then there's that little thing about my wanting to kill you," she couldn't resist adding. "Of course Lyra was on the better end of that one, from your point of view. Not that anyone asked me about that."
Luke shrugged in concession. "Amazing what a difference two years and a common enemy can make."
"And I had my connection to Karrde standing between me and the Empire," she pointed out. "I take it she doesn't have anything like that."
"No. She went home after she left you, probably hoping to disappear."
"That's understandable, but it's not much of an alibi. Anybody–" She ended the thought almost before it had begun. Something in his sense gave her pause, and Luke shook his head in answer to the abandoned question.
"Not much, period, when she went home."
Mara shook her head heavily. "That's doubly rough," she admitted, her voice a raspy drawl.
Luke shook it off. "How did the questioning go?" he asked.
"I basically told them what I've already told you, that she was conscripted for her Force talents and that she served under Vader."
Luke felt himself grimace. It looked like everything was out on the table now.
"It didn't go over too well," Mara admitted, "but c'mon, coming from the Emperor's Hand? How hypocritical."
Luke grinned in spite of himself at Mara's candor.
"I told them what I knew about her duties and missions – her work in intelligence – stuff they already knew from her, but they still weren't too happy about it. Then they wanted to know what their odds were like to find proof in the records to back all this up. How's that?" she sidetracked, miffed. "They want my expert testimony, then they want proof too."
Luke tried to hide another grin. "So?" he prompted through it.
He could see her thinking it, that cursed Jedi calm, and he had to grin harder.
Mara thought about telling him, again, how truly annoying that was. "Imperial? None," she answered instead. "I already spilled everything I knew after Tantiss and it never turned up so much as a side note to point to me. But I did give them a few key mission names and codes that might cross-check with intelligence records from the Rebellion period." She stopped short, realizing the enormity of the task she was describing.
Luke remained thoughtful. "I know some people in New Republic Intelligence. Maybe they'd be willing to let us comb around the archives on our own, see if we can turn up anything that might help her defense," Luke thought out loud.
Mara Jade's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. She didn't object to being included in Luke's plan, but if there was information in the archives relating to Lyra's service in the Empire, those things weren't likely to paint her in a positive light. However, it was far more likely that the search would turn up nothing, just as it had with Mara Jade years earlier.
"Just what are you hoping to find?" Mara asked.
"You told me that Vader trained her in the Force, but she didn't embrace the dark side. She was a high-ranking intelligence agent in the Empire, but it's obvious that she didn't want to be there." Luke gave a shrug. "Good people in bad situations will find ways to act for good. I'd bet anything that Lyra was no different. There may not be evidence to support it, but I'm sure she did things she wasn't supposed to, working against the Empire, somehow."
"You're reaching," Mara told him.
"I've seen it happen dozens of times before. Imperial conscripts and defectors became some of our best informants during the Rebellion, and have remained some of the New Republic's strongest supporters."
"But we're not talking about the average low-level conscript here, Luke. Maybe a kid on the front lines can get away with some bad aim under fire, but you're talking about big, classified, security leaks. Good person or not, Lyra's not stupid. Those kinds of things get discovered eventually, and when they do they get you killed."
Luke nodded, tugging at his lip. "Right. She would have to have covered it up," Luke said under his breath.
Mara shook her head. His mind wasn't going to be changed. "And you think that NRI will just let you walk into the archives and start collecting evidence – and even if they do let you, how are you going to turn up evidence where they can't?!"
"New Republic Intelligence is impartial; their only function in a case like this is to gather the information the Senate requests. The Senate Inner Council will use that information to help them decide whether or not Lyra is a security risk. Anything that we might find in the archives isn't directly admissible. We would hand what we find over to NRI. Then, if it checks out with them, they submit it into evidence at the hearing and the Inner Council considers it."
"That's assuming we can find anything in the first place," Mara reminded him. The Coruscant information archives were massive by themselves, and since the New Republic had taken over the planet, NRI had had a team working almost constantly to integrate the planet's archives – which had stood for thousands of years – with data files from both the old Imperial archives and Rebellion intelligence.
"When I was researching the history of the Jedi I learned that whenever they do a search, NRI runs wide sweeps through the archive bases. Then the search gradually narrows as leads are uncovered and followed."
"They have to run wide sweeps. The files are too massive – the amounts of information involved are incomprehensible otherwise."
"But sometimes wide sweeps miss things," Luke pointed out. "No data program can do the job of a sentient being, or even a higher level droid. I know it's a long shot, but for someone with the Force to guide them, it's possible."
Mara was tempted to tell him that it hadn't worked for him before, but for once she chose to hold her biting comments. Understandably, the extinction of the Jedi was a sore subject for Skywalker, and Mara knew from bitter experience that needling him over that fact wouldn't get her anything but a guilty conscious.
"Fine," she gave in. "Good. We'll search the archives," Mara decided – as if it were the single worst idea she had ever heard. Skywalker only shook his head at her; his amused grin proved that he knew better than to take her sarcasm seriously. He was right about one thing though. It was a very long shot that they might actually be able to find something useful. But as long as she had to be here anyway, Mara really didn't see the harm in trying. Sure, Karrde had other things for her to do, but he wouldn't object to having her skulking around the archives.... Mara fought off a tight grin at that thought. For a man like Talon Karrde, having the head of his Smuggler's Coalition searching the New Republic's collective archives was akin to putting a kid in a candy shop.
"Lyra has an intelligence background; maybe she could help us figure out where to start..." Luke continued his thought. He had gone back to tugging thoughtfully at his lip and was paying little mind to Mara's continued presence.
"They asked my opinion too," she said flatly. Luke looked up. Not only did she now have his full attention, Luke Skywalker was watching her intently. "I told them there's no way that I would suspect her of having any connection to the Empire now."
About a month passed before Lyra was questioned again. This session was called a follow up to the first. By now the Council was sure to have a lock on how much New Republic Intelligence could tell them of that time period, both from their own records and from any leads that Mara had provided them with from the old Imperial files. The challenge would be in checking Lyra's testimony against the archive records. But it wasn't the Council's questioning or Lyra's testimony that had stuck in Luke's mind throughout the hearing today; it had been her.
Luke looked up from the stacks of data cards and other assorted records that surrounded him in his little corner of the archives. He hadn't expected this to be easy but it had surprised him to run into so many obstacles. Much of Coruscant's own records had been destroyed when the planet was taken back after Endor, if not by the Imperials themselves, then inadvertently by the planet's revolting citizens. Like most of the galaxy, Luke had heard those stories, but he was learning that Coruscant had done a good job of keeping the extent of that damage a secret. The archive files were still massive, and following the Empire's defeat they had been reinforced by an influx of information from Rebel worlds, but many significant time periods were missing altogether from the records, wiped by those seeking to avoid repercussions when the Rebellion took Coruscant back from the Empire.
Back in those early weeks and months following the transition, Luke had learned his way around the archives somewhat. He had never had as much time to devote to it as he would have liked but he had searched the Old Republic era files often, looking for records of the Jedi and hoping to learn something more about his father. Slowly, sadly, he had come to believe that those records no longer existed.
Luke was beginning to worry that due to Imperial saboteurs this search might eventually prove the same... but as Mara had said, it was not likely that even the intact records would have given them anything on her or Lyra. Both women had served many functions within the Empire, everything from intelligence to special forces. The truth of their existence had been deeply buried, and their orders had come directly from the highest levels. Their true identities and functions within the Empire were never meant to come to light; that exposure would have compromised their effectiveness and endangered their lives.
A soft twittering noise drew Luke's attention. "Hi, Artoo," he greeted the droid, who then gave a mournful wail in response to his master's greeting. "I know," Luke tried to sooth him. Artoo was terribly obstinate; Luke no doubt owed his life to R2-D2's tenacity on multiple occasions, but after a month of unsuccessful searching through the archives, even the eccentric little droid was starting to show signs of sullen moodiness. "There's just been nothing to find so far, but we have to keep looking." Artoo's beeping gradually became more hopeful. "Yes," Luke smiled, "you're a big help, Artoo; I couldn't do without you here."
Luke watched Artoo Detoo roll away. The little droid was beeping a little easier to himself, having gained some reassurance, but Luke's eyes hardly settled onto the data pad he was holding before he looked up again. It was hard to stand by, just waiting for a decision to be made. Maybe it was nothing more than a feeling of helplessness that was making a hopeless search seem like a good idea.... Luke knew the truth, but he was powerless to influence the opinion of the senators; even his own sister was on a different side of the issue from Luke. And Lyra.... He was having a hard time forgetting what he had seen from her this morning in the Inner Council's chambers.
Luke pulled himself away from those thoughts. "They've given you permission to leave?" he asked as Mara Jade came to a halt across from his data station.
"Finally," she affirmed, her relief evident.
Mara had worked diligently with Luke over the past month trying to plan Lyra's defense and preparing her for the Council's line of questioning. But Luke knew that this wasn't solely an act of philanthropy for Mara Jade. Her presence in the archives had allowed her to follow up on a handful of matters for the Coalition, and the time she had spent with Lyra had allowed Mara to ask some important questions about Laus and his operation in the Myrtle system. Even so, there was no mistaking that Mara Jade wanted to get moving. The New Republic's reluctance to follow up on Laus irked Mara greatly. She had had Coalition members keeping a watchful eye on his movements over the past month but Mara wanted to be there herself, investigating Laus' interests and connections in the Tritis system.
"Good luck, Mara," Luke offered. "I hope you find something we can use against this Laus."
It could pay off huge for Karrde and the Coalition if they were able to get the jump on Laus while Coruscuant was still debating whether or not they believed him to be a danger, determining whether or not they could trust Lyra's word... but hopefully finding the truth about Laus would help Lyra's credibility as well, maybe even go toward clearing her name.
Mara knew that by "we," Luke meant both the New Republic and Lyra Dare's defense. The misplaced hope in his voice made her cringe; he was clearly thinking about Dare, wishing that things were different. Lyra had gone along with their coaching, answered their questions, directed their research, and listened to the painfully dull results that came from of hours of intensive eyestrain under the archives' dim lighting, but she seemed to do so only to humor them, to humor Skywalker. When it came to the turmoil surrounding her fate, Lyra's attitude could only be described as stoically disinterested. That had surprised Mara, and she knew that it worried Skywalker. But to Mara Jade's way of thinking they were already doing all they could. Changing Dare's outlook on life was well beyond what Mara or anyone else was capable of – and Skywalker should have realized that too, she thought bitterly. Even without that little whisper from the Force to tell her of it, the worry in his expression was hard to miss.
"Grief does things to people, Luke," Mara spoke plainly to him. A mystified shake of her red hair gave grim punctuation to the thought. "It's possible that she just doesn't care."
"About her own fate?" he wondered skeptically.
"About anything," came her cryptic response.
Luke looked at Mara in silence for a long moment before shaking his head.
He knew that wasn't so. True, Lyra was aloof, cool, and unwilling to lower her defenses. Plus, she had adopted some sort of internal code which was causing her to face this hearing as though it were a death sentence... but it wasn't because she didn't care. Luke knew that her grief and guilt hadn't yet pushed her that far. She had shown that on the roof. She had cared very much about him, at a time when he had needed it most, and in a way that no one else had been able to reach him.
But that had been a month ago. In the time following that exchange, their relationship had fallen back into something similar to what it had been on the trip here. Polite, honest, even friendly, but with no more depth than an average acquaintance. It was a little disconcerting to Luke. Aside from that exchange on the roof, it was almost as if she were trying to keep him at a distance. He worried that her intent was to protect him from the negative outcome she expected this hearing to reach.
"You know what I think?" Mara's voice cut in on his thoughts. "I think this hearing is a cross circuit for her."
Luke was puzzled by the expression.
"Her guilt is real enough," Mara offered. "But I think she's channeling the guilt she feels over her family's fate into guilt for her actions within the Empire."
"Into this hearing," Luke finished the circuit. And he considered the theory. He wanted very much to understand. He wanted very much to help her.
Today's session had been a seemingly endless series of information that the Council had asked of her: mostly times, dates, and locations. Information, Lyra knew, to be used to get a general idea of her movements and actions so that anything suspicious could be singled out. The investigation would take a long while to finish. She was growing more aware of that fact, and the slow passing time, with each day spent within the same small suite. And with each passing day it became harder to keep herself focused against feelings of being trapped here. This was preferable, she supposed, to a short trial and a quick execution, but not by much.
So far they'd hardly touched on her actions and whereabouts after Endor. And from what Skywalker had told her, Mara's only session had been fairly short and not at all in depth. It still felt strange to her, to list Mara Jade as an ally. A cautious amicability had joined the mutual respect between them in the handful of times they had spoken over the past month. And during those meetings Skywalker had always been nearby – as if he was having visions of them reverting to their old lives and trying to kill each other with lethal data pads, or so Mara had ribbed him over his nearby hovering.
She'd never pegged Mara Jade for showing a sense of humor, even a very dry one, but Skywalker seemed to enjoy her ribbing and it did force him to relax his guard a bit. He had looked far more uncomfortable during those meetings than either of them had felt. Given, it was as odd a working relationship as you would ever find, but it was one they both understood. They didn't expect to ever call each other friends; there was far too much shady history and dark emotion between them for that. Lyra guessed it was that understanding that made Skywalker so uncomfortable. Her thoughts broke off as there was a knock at her door.
"Hi, Lyra," Luke greeted her when she opened the door to find him standing there. "I wanted to talk to you." The words sounded casual enough, but his expression indicated that the visit was not a social call.
"Come on in," she responded, stepping back.
"How are you doing?" he asked, almost as an afterthought.
She shrugged. "Not my idea of quality entertainment, but tolerable."
Luke went inside. "Do you expect Intelligence to find anything in the records?" he asked, deliberately changing the focus of conversation. He didn't like the nonchalant tone that had returned to her voice, or the unpleasant weight that descended upon his own conscience in the wake of it.
"The Rebellion's records, I don't know about," she answered, following him into the living room and watching him sit down. "But there won't be anything to find in the Imperial files. My name would never have existed, same as Mara's. Espionage permeated everything under Palpatine. It would have been too dangerous for us to have been known, even at the highest levels."
Luke suppressed a shiver.
Lyra only shook her head, a slight grin coming through. "I warned you," she stated appraisingly. Then Luke felt her sense abruptly turn serious again. "The Senate will see me as a danger to the New Republic."
He shook his head heavily. Luke didn't understand this side of her. He didn't like the self-destructive determination that showed in her voice, and it frustrated him to see that grim coldness return to her eyes.
"I don't see the honor in this, Lyra," he finally spoke aloud.
"The honor in what?" she asked, sitting down opposite him.
"In reconciling yourself to this idea that the Senate will decide your fate, that they should find you guilty."
"It has nothing to do with honor," she said. "This is retribution."
He met her gaze solidly, but he didn't understand. Lyra grimaced at the need to explain it. "That time in my life shames me," she said quietly. "Nothing I can do now can change that.
"Honor," she repeated, as though disappointed in the word. "When I first went in, I thought I was doing something honorable... but I was trying to take honor and idealism into a place where there was none." A tired bleakness showed in her voice and in her eyes when she looked to Luke. "And in those first few days most of it was stomped out of me," she admitted. "When the ideals began to fail me, I told myself that I was accepting my fate; I was making a sacrifice so that others wouldn't have to be hurt because of my decision. I wanted to believe that I was still in control, but my life was in no way within my own control at that point. Believing that it was only gave me a false sense of control in a place of forced conformity."
She took a deep breath. "So I learned to bury what mattered down deep. I built walls and I got hard, before I even realized it was happening. I thought I was protecting myself, the only way I could... but eventually everything around me had become something more that I had to survive, in order to get home. That was the worst mistake I could have made," she whispered, "because it wasn't just my home that I was waiting to return to anymore. I was waiting to return to myself, to the person who couldn't exist within the Empire." She fell silent for a couple of heartbeats. "It took a particularly dark day to make me to step back far enough to look at what I had become, and I didn't recognize the person I saw staring back at me," she trailed off, haunted by the thought. A moment of remembered clarity and strength came through the sadness and regret that filled her now. "I realized then that I was on the verge of losing myself completely, and that thought terrified me. What would it matter to make it home? What would any of it matter, if my family couldn't recognize me anymore?
"After that I started to try harder. Instead of just trying to block out the viciousness and insanity around me... I made it a point feel more, to listen to myself, even to help where I could." She shuddered. "But there were still times, always times, when none of that was enough. When things were at their worst, all I could do was hold on to the hope that at the end off it all I could go home again... that there really was a place where all I was and all I had to be was a daughter and a sister." Her eyes fell away, her brow furrowed with the pained simplicity of how much that hope had meant.
"I put everything there," she whispered. "All of my honor and idealism, every ounce of compassion and love left in me. My life and my humanity went into that dream, that need." She looked back to Luke. "You, at least, had a purpose. The Rebellion gave you the opportunity to do something of value with your life, with your grief... but I put everything into my family. And I wasn't prepared for what happened. How can you be prepared to loose everything?"
Luke grimaced in sympathy, but he remained silent as Lyra looked away again.
"What's left now?" she managed. "Only the things that I've done, whatever survival I've managed to pull to myself, and the cost. Always the cost."
Luke remained speechless for a few moments before he nodded solemnly, then he spoke gently to her. "You know, they're not trying you for those things."
"In a way, they are," she responded distantly, certainly. "They're trying me for my loss of humanity, for all that I gave up, and for all that I made possible."
Again, he redirected her with a calm and gentle statement. "They're holding you as a threat to the New Republic, present. Not for anything past. Not for anything else."
"They'll see what they want to see," she challenged him, her soft voice unchanged.
"Just like you do?" he asked.
Her eyes flashed. "I see what I've survived," she bit out. Her eyes glanced restlessly over the room, but in her mind she was elsewhere, remembering other times and places among the Palace's decor. "What I've done to survive it. And it makes me sick," she grated, finding the truth hard to speak. "Conscription or survival, those words don't justify anything anymore."
"They're more than just words," Luke offered, matching her tone with his own measured intensity. "I think they're good reasons, and I think that does matter," he finished before she could object again. "The fact that your family didn't survive doesn't change how much you wanted to get back to them," he stated quietly. "And I'm not saying that to hurt you. I'm saying it because it's what I see," he finished softly.
Her defense faded, and Luke saw her take a slow breath, letting it go. He had known that he was touching something off-limits with her family and he had expected her to push back. Instead, she had seen that his intentions were not hurtful and she deliberately let it pass, both the comment and her instinct to push him back. It wasn't in her nature to fight uselessly, but her restraint and self-discipline surprised him.
"You told me on the roof that you didn't want to be the subject of a witch trial," he continued. "To be tried for what, your talent? How is this different, Lyra? You feel guilt. They're not trying you for that." He paused to shake his head, feeling his own returning confusion. "I wish you could see this as I do. What you're doing to yourself – holding yourself responsible for things that you didn't intend, and couldn't control – it's not fair, or right. Why should you consign yourself to that guilt?"
How can I not?
Lyra looked away. The answer that had come easily to her mind was not the one Skywalker wanted to hear. Something important had been lost, missed in the gap between their two points of view.
"You're right, in part," she finally said regretfully. "I don't see it. Maybe I should, but I don't." When she met his eyes again it was with a familiar expression of strength, an underlying sense of defiance. "This is where I stand. This is where I see my fate."
Luke took a deep breath. His gaze was penetrating, and his eyes were sad. "If it's not something you would fight for," he finally spoke, giving a shake of his head, "then it's still just survival."
Half a galaxy away, on the outskirts of the Aci system, Pracos was putting the finishing touches on the plan Laus had outlined for him. All the pieces were in place; his mission was nearly completed. Laus would see that he had redeemed himself well.
Back in the Myrtle system, Laus reviewed the latest updates from his network of informants and then looked over Pracos' previous report. Things were coming together nicely. This month had moved everything into place, and this would be just the time to shake up Coruscant.
The comm on Laus' desktop sounded an alert on its high security frequency. He settled himself behind the desk and put Pracos' transmission through.
"Is everything in place?" Laus asked.
"Just like you wanted, Boss." Pracos assured him confidently.
"Should we head back now, or do you want me to stay here and supervise?" he asked, resuming that confident smirk that had always annoyed Laus.
"Neither," Laus grated the word with a devious smirk of his own. "You can send the rest of the team back, but you're not done yet. I have something else in mind."
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