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 II
~@~ So Alive
Artoo Detoo and See Threepio made their way through the Palace halls, each moving at top speeds.
"Slow down, Artoo." 3PO scuttled awkwardly through the busy traffic, attempting to keep pace with his counterpart, who was better built for this sort of thing, he thought sourly, and said so again.
R2, some would say, had the right idea by keeping just ahead of 3PO and his constant chatter.
"I understand that it's urgent, but Mistress Mara asked that I inform Mistress Leia, personally."
R2 beeped an objection at 3PO's self-centered evaluation of the circumstances.
What she'd actually said, when she'd contacted R2 through the code Master Luke had given her for emergencies, was that if they could get to Leia sooner, to do it. She would be relying on 3PO's access to the Senate as one of Leia's aids, to get Mara's message through.
Mara had never been overly impressed by droids, though Skywalker's astromech was an exception. More human than mechanical, it seemed. That was the only reason she even considered sending a message though him to Organa Solo.
She would much rather have gone to Skywalker or Organa Solo in person, but time was a factor.
"This is the Jade's Fire, requesting clearance to land," Mara stated, and punched through her landing code again. And again she cursed the overly stringent Coruscant landing officials. "I just left a week ago; how blasted hard can it be to run a code clearance?" she mumbled under her breath, and ran another attempt on locating Skywalker. He was still showing an unreachable code clearance. He was probably combing the record archives, still hoping to find something there in support of Dare's defense. She cursed again, more bitterly, and sat back to wait.
She hated waiting. Mara hoped that little droid lived up to its billing.
"I really don't see what could be so important that she won't simply go through the proper channels."
R2 gave his opinion of the protocol droid's overreliance on the proper ways of doing things. But that was his programming, after all. R2, on the other hand, was programed with a greater understanding of using the necessary means to accomplish what needed to be done. But that didn't give him access to the Senate, unfortunately.
He beeped an extended instruction to his counterpart.
"I will tell her exactly as Mistress Mara said," Threepio insisted impatiently, "you over-charged short circuit."
He got in the unreturned insult as he entered the Senate Chambers, leaving R2's resulting raspberry to echo uselessly off the Grand Corridor's high ceiling. The little droid finished his insult and began to beep nervously to himself as he rolled across the Corridor to wait. Artoo may not have had access to the Senate, but he did have access to the archives.... Abruptly, the little droid spun on his wheels and headed off at top speed for his master's last reported location.
"Any luck, Luke?"
"Ah – we'll see," Luke answered, standing to shake hands with Allad Perril.
"I wish I could do more for you," the NRI agent persisted.
"No, you've already done a great deal, letting Mara and me wander around the archives at all hours. Thanks again, for the access."
The younger man shook off Luke's thanks, just as he always did. "I wouldn't be here at all if wasn't for you, Commander. You know all you have to do is name it, and anything I can get for you is yours."
Luke grinned. "I know. Thanks, Allad."
Allad nodded and playfully saluted the Commander-turned-Jedi Knight before he walked away. Luke returned the smile and a partial salute as he watched Allad return to his post in NRI headquarters. It seemed like only yesterday that Luke had been a young commander in the Rebel army, and Allad an even younger Imperial defector.
Luke smiled as he shook the past away and returned his thoughts to several suspicious prisoner transfer records, all from the Executor and a handful of other ships at times when Lyra had been on board. Nothing was blatantly amiss in the actual transfers; each had followed procedure, and the extra entries into the ships' command grids could have been a result of any number of system glitches, but it could also have been a smart way to cover up an unauthorized prisoner transfer. Luke wanted to ask Lyra about that.
"Artoo! Hey, take it easy. Tell me what's wrong," Luke said, placing a hand on the little droid's spinning dome as he came to a hurried stop beside his master. Luke waited for R2 to plug himself into one of the archive's display units, but Artoo didn't bother with the translator. As soon as the droid stopped his beeping Luke saw what was the matter. A holo image of Mara Jade had appeared on the table, standing in front of Luke.
"Our surveillance units have gathered several minutes of skirmish footage taken in the Tritis borderlands. They appear to be testing a new weapons-grade fighter shielding there, but the real problem is developing outside the Aci system...."
Luke glanced around cautiously. "That's enough for now, Artoo." Luke stood. "Finish up for me here; save those records I marked and add them to the other Imperial timeline files for Lyra to review." Luke would have to ask her about the transfers later. "I'd better find out in person what the rest of this message is all about."
"If the information is accurate, this could be a considerable problem," Senator Jutex proclaimed worriedly to the assembly a short while later. "Aci is a highly industrialized system. We were a high technology trade sector under the Empire, and that occupation is something that the entire sector is just now fully recovering from," the Senator from the Aci sector was sure to point out. "Any kind of blockade or sabotage could set us back to the point of crippling our reemerging economy."
"That is the danger assessment," Mon Mothma noted, giving the Senator's concerns for his sector just weight and carefully turning the debate toward more productive matters. "Intelligence expert Wakiem, what is the current situation?"
"We have just gotten positive conformation of a fleet massing off the Aci rim. Their light fighter escort matches up with the skirmish footage that Informant Jade has provided from Tritis space." The Senate's intelligence liaison paused heavily. "These ships also appear to employ the same high tech shielding capabilities," he finished grimly.
"What is our fleet doing to combat this threat?" Councilor Fey'lya asked in Ackbar's general direction.
"We will send our forces into the sector," the Calamarian General responded, "to prevent hostilities," he accentuated. "But first we must get a reading on these weapons' capabilities.
"Councillor Organa Solo, you've fully reviewed the information," he prompted.
Leia suppressed a grimace as she launched into a summery of the bad news. "Several small hit and fade attacks have been reported in the immediate sectors adjoining the planet Rhaci, at the outskirts of the Aci sector."
"Sounds like they're gearing up for something bigger," one of the senators near her surmised darkly.
"The footage that Mara Jade has provided captured one of those attacks, in addition to the footage that was provided from the Tritis skirmishes," she continued. "The defenses on the fighters in question are like nothing we've seen before. These are small fighters that appear to be impenetrable to blast power that would normally disable a ship up to three times its size."
"Is it possible that this could be an illusion of some sort?" Ackbar questioned.
"That was my first thought too," Leia acknowledged, nodding the floor to the intelligence expert.
"Intelligence is placing very high odds that the footage is authentic and accurate," he verified. "Right now, we're working up a combat approach."
"What about a trace?" Fey'lya demanded next. "Do we know where these ships are coming from, how many could exist?"
"Our people are swamped just in coming up with an analysis of the things," Wakiem gestured helplessly.
Leia met Fey'lya's gaze. "Informant Jade's sources have begun work on tracing them."
Fey'lya started to argue, but his well-known disapproval of the Coalition's involvement in such matters was cut off as Mon Mothma spoke up.
"Admiral Ackbar. Organize a force to send into the Aci system. We cannot underestimate this new threat," she stated gravely. "Councillor Organa Solo. Oversee the investigation, and organize a diplomatic team to accompany the military presence."
A few hours later Luke had been briefed and was prepared to lead his team. A little different team from the old days, he thought to himself as he made his way through the high security wing, but still bringing with them the same strength of intensity and purpose for the task. He came to a stop and knocked at the door of Lyra's suite; he regretted the timing of all this.
"Hi, Lyra," he greeted her. If she had picked up on the turmoil in his emotions, she didn't show it. She only stepped back to let him in and waited patiently to learn the reason behind his visit.
"I wanted to tell you in person," he explained, pausing as he stepped inside. "There's going to be a delay in the hearing. Something's come up, a situation. Intelligence is scrambling to get a handle on it."
She nodded her understanding and refrained from asking for details.
"I'm going to be leaving to help, the investigation, public relations, whatever they need."
She studied him as he spoke. His mood was as serious as she had seen it. "You look like you're taking this personally," she observed after a moment.
He winced a bit at the assessment. "It's part of a larger problem, but it's something I'd hoped my mission to Myrtle would help us begin to solve." Luke studied her face. Under other circumstances he would have liked to tell her exactly what all this was about. It was Mara's hunch to run surveillance on Laus' territory along the Tritis borderlands that had turned up that skirmish footage; Lyra might know something more about Laus' possible involvement....
Luke decided to find out. "We've been having problems with small-time warlords selling ships and supplies to the Remnants. Laus is one of the largest operators in the Myrtle rim area. Do you know anything about Laus being a weapons dealer?"
"No, not specifically," she answered, "but he does have a reputation as a bit of a technology junkie; he likes being able to collect the latest shiny new toys. I wouldn't put it past him to try to turn a quick profit at the expense of a handful of desperate Imperial officers."
Luke nodded, considering. Then he smiled. "Thanks for the input; I'd better get going."
She nodded in return, but something didn't feel right. "Luke– hang on. If this is about more than the sale of a few ships, you need to be careful. Laus is dangerous, and things won't be what they seem where he's involved."
"I understand," Luke answered solemnly.
Lyra suddenly felt like all the air had been knocked out of her. Luke Skywalker had made a career out of succeeding where all the odds were against him, but didn't the odds have to win out, eventually?
"Don't worry. If Laus is involved in this, we'll get to the bottom of it, and we'll shut him down," Luke promised.
Lyra nodded, but she found it hard to look into his eyes. She could feel patience and determination in him, alongside the deep confidence that she could hear in his voice. He knew that the situation was serious, but failure was not an option for this man – not when everything depended upon his success.
That much was reassuring. The rest of what she was feeling was not. Luke stood in front of her but other faces swam in her mind, the faces of the people who had been alive until Laus– until Laus had set his sights on her. There was nothing she could do to change that, not any of it... and she didn't know when, or even if, she might see Luke again.
Luke dipped his eyes to meet her gaze, and he gave her a reassuring smile. "Hey," he said softly, "It'll be all right. I'll see you when I get back," he added.
Lyra felt the weight of her worry lift, and she breathed easier as Luke turned to go. They both knew there were no guarantees that he would be able to keep his word, but that didn't keep her from believing.
"Luke," she called.
He turned back.
"Steer the shore."
The Jedi stood watching her, patiently waiting for an explanation.
This time Lyra smiled as she met his gaze. There was something a little playful, almost teasing, behind her eyes as she watched his puzzled expression. "It means good luck," she finished.
Luke smiled back at her. "I'll have to remember that."
By the time Luke arrived in the Aci system, things had already gotten worse. The Rhaci sector was armed to the teeth and bristling with firepower. If the objective of showing off this new weaponry was to raise defenses to the point of paranoia, it had succeeded.
Luke's eyes flickered across the bridge to where he could see the Rogues in escort formation alongside his flagship, and he fought down the nostalgic wish to be out there with them. A Jedi did what was needed of him, he reminded himself. And today, that was leading a diplomatic mission from aboard the Valiance.
He hailed the planet Rhaci and requested their official permission for a New Republic peace force to enter their airspace under an investigation-advisory status.
Focus. Her eyes were searching the city, following the steady flow of ships as they slowly passed between the skyscrapers of Coruscant's massive skyline... waiting. There. That ship; that's the one. Aim. Hold focus. Execute!
Lyra held her stance, balanced precisely, keeping all her weight on one foot as she stared out the window. One second passed, two, before she picked up the same ship. It was more challenging than just picking a spot on the wall to use as her target. She repeated the side kick and dropped face down to floor. Leg sweep. Pivot onto hip, into a front kick. Nip up to guard. Find your target again. Force back flip.
Her feet hit the floor halfway across the room and Lyra assumed a ready stance. She blinked. The ship forgotten, suddenly Lyra was only dimly aware of the high security suite around her. She was wielding a lightsaber, twirling the blade before her, waiting for Mara's attack to come. Then there was only defense and counterattack as red blade met red blade. This had been called an exhibition; there were high-level dignitaries from all over the galaxy present to watch the display. But exhibition or not, Lyra had a cold certainty in her feelings that Mara Jade would go in for the kill if given the chance... and there was no guarantee that she would allow her opponent to remain alive in defeat. The Empire was an unforgiving place.
Lyra shivered and lowered her head. The flashback had passed, but she was sweating and her concentration was shot. Lyra walked to the kitchenette to splash some water on her face. That was surprising – not the unexpected flash of memory; Lyra was used to being haunted by her past – the back flip had surprised her. Lyra hadn't used the Force in her daily workouts, not in years. There was no need, not against Laus' men. Fighting skills and raw tenacity had been enough to ensure her survival there... she had been able to retreat into the mountain country and forget everything she ever knew about using the Force. She had done her best to turn off all of her emotions, even those that had once worked to keep her safe. She hadn't cared, until one day she had returned to the low country for supplies and stumbled over Luke Skywalker, surrounded by a dozen of Pracos' men.
Just like today, she hadn't intended it; she hadn't even thought about it when she had reached out to the Force and jumped onto that wood-worked wall. It had just come to her.... She had let everything go calm, waiting for the right moment, and without thinking about what she was doing she had launched herself into the midst of Pracos men... into this.
I wish you could see this as I do.
Lyra straightened and reached for a towel to wipe her face.
Skywalker. He was wrong this time. There was no way to correct the past; there was only an unending list of wrongs that could not be righted, and the sacrifice they would demand to appease them. It seemed a fruitless exercise to try to see otherwise, but a part of her kept at it. Part of her remembered all that Skywalker had once represented, remembered that somewhere along the way he had become part of her conscience.... Lyra had watched him, all those years as she had watched over him. She knew that he was a man of honor and compassion, and she respected those things. Maybe she respected them a little more, now that they were so lost on her, or to her.
She shook her head against the familiar feeling that there was something just out of her reach. I wish you could see this as I do. That was what he had said, and she could not see his point that what she saw as her fate was somehow unfair. Again, she wondered why she couldn't. Agree or disagree, what was keeping her from being able to see this from his point of view?
Lyra walked back to the living room, picked up a data pad and began keying up the day's news. It had been a long time since she had bothered with outside news... but information had once been her obsession, essential to her survival. The old habit still died hard. Plus, there would be no visits from Skywalker or Jade to help break the monotony of the days here, no reading bits of intelligence intercepts and recovered ships' records, no feeling Skywalker's hope that something there might make a difference, might link her to the other side in this battle. Lyra knew that it wouldn't; there had been no heroes in the Empire, only survivors, and Lyra no longer even counted herself as one of those.
She began to page through her heavily edited versions of the daily news reports, pausing once in a while to read through a story that caught her attention. Then there was a little inkling in the Force as she paged across one that described a standoff at a planet called Rhaci, some kind of mysterious new fighter ship design.... She knew that was where Luke was. Lyra looked away from the data pad, uncomfortable with the worry that was beginning to creep into her emotions. She stood. Tossing the data pad back onto the sofa, Lyra began to go through her exercises again. They would require all of her concentration, but she had a nagging feeling that it still wouldn't clear her mind.
Intelligence expert Wakiem stood before the Senate Inner Council, ready to give them this week's security briefing. He waited while the room quieted and Mon Mothma brought the session to order.
"Jedi Skywalker and his team have arrived at Rhaci," Mon Mothma stated. "He reports that the system is still on high alert, but there have been no hostilities exchanged. Mr. Wakiem, tell us what they can expect out of these new ships."
He swallowed hard. "We're still running analyses, trying to get a breakdown on their shielding capabilities and formulate a weakness. In the meantime, I'm afraid that those ships are going to be bad news. Highly maneuverable, with formidable weapons systems. And the defenses – so far, they appear to be nearly impenetrable."
Mon Mothma repressed a sigh. "We haven't found any weaknesses in their design?"
"I'm afraid not."
The leader of the New Republic only nodded. "Keep on it, Mr. Wakiem. Hopefully there won't be any hostilities at Rhaci, but if it does come to that, our people will need a line of attack to use against those ships."
"And what about the investigation into our Imperial informant? Is there anything new to report there?"
"We're still coming up empty on the pre-Endor trace. Her story checks out; for the most part Lyra Dare doesn't exist."
Mon Mothma nodded again. "Then I suggest that you shift your investigation to post-Endor, as soon as your people are able to handle the work load."
Wakiem nodded. He was tempted to ask if the Senate Inner Council realized that this search would be even less likely to produce results than the previous one, but from the quiet buzz that had fallen over the room, he suspected that he didn't have to say it.
When Luke finally finished his diplomatic rounds he had talked to seemingly every planetary and local official, trying to calm the same fears and make the same reassurances of the New Republic's ability to protect them. Meanwhile the enemy fleet remained massed just outside Aci space, and Rhaci still held its armed vigil.
Sometimes it felt as though nothing ever really changed. He sat heavily, feeling the conforming chair in his quarters move to enfold his tired muscles. It was like he was right back at the same place he had been three years ago: making the same series of reassurances to nervous planetary leaders, and hating the uncomfortable feeling that lurked beneath each exchange... the unconscious waiting for the next attack to come.
Luke jerked awake with a start – he hadn't realized that he had fallen asleep – and he stretched out with his senses, instinctively searching for what had woken him.
He could sense a great deal of turmoil nearby.
A second later an alert siren began sounding outside his room. At least the waiting was over.
Considering the heavy armament that stood ready in defense around the sector, Luke hadn't expected any assault to be a straight-forward offensive, but he hadn't expected this either. An explosion had just rocked one of the planet's major industrial centers; by all accounts it was an on-world attack.
Not an easy task, considering that the whole system had been in full battle mode for some time now. Assuming that the attack hadn't been a local job, someone had gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this, and Luke suspected the latter.
"I don't know how a saboteur could have gotten through our security," the Ground Controller stated emphatically as he apprised Luke of the situation.
"We can't worry about that now," Luke directed. From the readings on the display that was filling a large portion of the control room, he could see that they were already deploying ground forces to secure the area. "What forces are being sent?"
"All from sectors ten and eleven, those nearest the blast." They watched the movement on the display as a large section of the adjacent hover and ground forces moved into the indicated zone. "That will cordon off the area; we'll capture the assailants in short work," the Ground Controller assured him.
Pracos made it back to his ship just as the blast went off. Soon the place would be crawling with security. He scanned the air nervously, waiting.
His cover should have been here by now.
Luke felt the familiar warning sensation tickling at the corner of his mind a moment before things started to unravel. "That sector," Luke said knowingly as he motioned to a newly emptied area on the display. Most of the ground and hover forces had already moved out in their rush to cordon off the adjacent sector, leaving only a skeleton crew behind. "We need to get an air defense force there."
It was already too late. Luke let go a deep breath as the ships came in from hyperspace side by side: two mid-size crewers, with AB fighters swarming from their hangers upon entry.
The dangerous jump had allowed them to enter the system at close range, unscathed by the massed forces in wait at the sector's edge. And that same distance would now stand between Rhaci and any hope of aid from the heavily armed ships that were in place for their sector's defense.
The agile ABs wasted no time in cutting through Rhaci's bulky orbital defense stations, and headed in toward the planetary defense systems that had been left momentarily undefended on the ground.
The Ground Controller swore at his oversight.
"Rogue leader," Luke called into his comm link.
"I see them, Boss," Wedge's voice answered. "We're on our way up."
A few minutes later the Rogues and Rhaci's own Air Defense Corps had been able to put a considerable dent in the attacking AB fighters, though not before they had been able to create a clear pathway to the planetary defense systems.
Luke had started to direct some of the Rogues to find a way to get that hole plugged when the alert sirens changed over to alarm warnings once more.
"We just had another blast," one of the ensigns reported.
"Get a force in there," the Ground Controller ordered, starting to show the first signs of strain under battle conditions. "I want the culprits found," he barked.
"Ground One," a comm patched through. "We just caught one trying to blast out of the wreckage area."
"It was a small transport craft, sublight, it appeared to be signaling to the AB force for cover," the message crackled through, beginning to break up.
"Were you able to capture it?" the Controller asked.
"Negative. It self-destructed just after the transmission–"
The comm broke off into static.
"That must have been the explosion we just picked up," Luke noted.
The Ground Controller cursed under his breath. "Spread out," he ordered. "Make sure no more explosives have been left behind, and that no one else gets out."
Luke turned his attention back to the display, following the air-space portion of the battle.
They were steadily forcing the attackers back, but something was off.
"Rogue Leader, watch that opening on your port side," Luke advised.
"Will do, Boss," Wedge acknowledged. But almost before he had a chance to respond, the space in question flared with hyperdrive psudomotion.
Luke heard Wedge utter a curse as he pulled up hard to avoid the incoming craft's trajectory. "Look out Rogues, here come our mystery fighters," he spat.
The light fighter design of the high tech shielding-capability craft they had been briefed on was easy to recognize as the ships came in from light speed.
Luke gritted his teeth. They were heading straight for that corridor that they'd never quite been able to close up, making a straight-line attack on the planetary defense systems. And there was nothing that could be done stop them.
"Don't waste your fire on them," Luke instructed tightly. "Just keep on those ABs."
" 'Fraid that won't be a problem Ground One," Wedge returned.
Luke looked back to the display.
Wedge was right. The fighters had swept in to make an initial run on the defense systems, a costly one Luke would guess, despite only taking the one pass. Now they were running an escape cover for the ABs. The heavier crewers had already jumped out ahead of them.
Luke watched the attack force pull away until the entire formation had jumped to the safety of hyperspace. Then his eyes moved back to the status readouts that were gradually taking the place of battle reports on displays all around the control center. The planet was shifting out of its alert status, and the damage reports were beginning to come in.
Severe damage on the ground. Long range planetary defenses were badly impaired.
"Pack it in, Rogue Squadron. You've done all you could," Luke said heavily, hardly hearing Wedge's equally heavy acknowledgment.
Luke took a deep breath and wondered where to start cleaning up.
If the first month's investigation had been slowgoing, the standstill of next three months had been excruciatingly so. There was not much to do with the time. Mostly Lyra had measured the days by seeing how much more grueling a workout she could put herself through today than she had yesterday, and the luxuries of being able to walk the halls or go to the roof for fresh air quickly became welcome lifelines; she made a mental note to thank Skywalker for that. More recently Lyra had turned to keeping her mind occupied with literature along with whatever news and recent history she could get approved on data link up, but she found herself making her way up to the roof more often, finding that she had less and less patience for the same walls and floors.
Today it was nearing twilight when Lyra stepped out onto the rooftop, but today there was a different reason for her being here. Luke Skywalker turned to meet her, and she felt an unexpected wash of relief come over her. It was a little silly; after all, she had already felt his presence and known that he was here. But seeing her friend back, safe and well.... That was something more than relief. It was joy.
"Hi, Lyra." He greeted her with more enthusiasm than he felt, and Lyra felt her own feelings quickly turn more subdued as she walked toward him.
"How did things go?" she asked.
He sighed. "Not well."
An understatement. She could see that he was distressed.
"I wasn't able to solve much on this one," he offered reluctantly. "We put in a lot of time, but not much positive result. I'm beginning to think Wedge was right to call them mystery fighters," Luke mumbled half to himself.
"Wait a minute," Lyra started curiously. She paused, putting a hand to her forehead as she searched her memory for something illusive. "I think I read something about those ships; they won't give me anything current that's not heavily edited, but the basic story gets through.... These are like, short range, light escort-type ships?"
"Exactly like that," Luke confirmed, watching her curiously. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a data pad.
Luke waited while she keyed something into it.
"Run this code through the old d class files," she said, handing the pad to him.
"d class," he repeated, scanning over the page. "Developing technology?" He looked up from the data pad, unable to read the change that he sensed in her emotions.
She blinked, consciously pushing it away. Lyra could see that he was anxious to get moving on something that could help the New Republic.
"It's okay," she ushered him away. "Go."
"We'll talk more later," Luke assured her before he turned to go.
She stood looking at the city for a long time after he'd gone. It had never occurred to her that her knowledge, her past, could help anyone, much less the New Republic. The thought hit her like a stun bolt. The past couldn't be changed, but maybe the future could.
Leia just looked at him for a moment without speaking. "I don't have to ask where you got this from, or should I say whom?"
Luke only lifted his eyebrows. "The information is clear," he said simply, "it's the same high tech shielding that was used against us at Rhaci."
"She must have known that the d files were one of the few sections that survived the transition nearly unscathed. It makes for an easy bargaining chip, at best."
"The prototype shows several vulnerabilities," Luke persisted.
"If they haven't been plugged by now," Leia said, not trying to hide the implication.
Luke only shrugged. "One way to find out."
She scowled at him. "You're not going to face what this is really about, are you?" she finally accused him impatiently. "Luke, you know I don't trust her."
"I know," he answered quietly, meeting her eyes. "I don't want to fight this round, Leia," he admitted, keeping his voice calm. "I don't think she has any hidden agenda, and the Inner Council will make the final decision on whether or not she's a security risk. What more do you want?"
"I want you to be careful," Leia answered bluntly. "I don't like this, Luke."
In the back room of a shady cantina on the small planet of Marnia, two business associates were meeting again.
"I see that you've been having a little fun with your new toys," Imago prodded his associate.
"It's no concern of yours," Laus brushed him off. "As long as I don't find any embarrassing reoccurring flaws in the design, that is," he amended. "In that case–"
"I have assured you, repeatedly, that won't be a problem." He paused. "In fact," Imago hinted shrewdly, "anything Dare might know about those ships won't be a factor, unless of course you intend for it to be."
The following morning Leia handed the information Luke had given to her over to the Senate, and New Republic Intelligence began testing the prototype against their battle data to determine if it could be used to plan an offensive combat approach.
That afternoon, in the wake of the revelation that Lyra had provided the information leading to the prototype's discovery, the Senate Inner Council barreled forward into her hearing. They started, predictably, with an in-depth line of questioning about her knowledge of the information from the old Imperial files.
Lyra explained, patiently, that she had had access to all Imperial intelligence files, and that this was one of the prototypes being developed during her service tenure. She assured them that, to the best of her knowledge, there had never been a working model; she had only recognized the premise of the design when she had seen a related news report on data link.
With that controversy put to relative rest, they returned to the thick of the questioning.
For nearly five months Lyra had been on trial. They were calling it a hearing, but she knew the truth. This was her trial. She should have better endurance than this, Lyra thought bitterly to herself, turning to walk the hall once more. She was fighting the feeling that the walls grew smaller and tighter with each pass, but it wasn't the narrow halls that were bringing on the bought of claustrophobia. It was her; she wasn't being honest with herself. It was more than the trial and being on Coruscant that was making her feel so on edge. Those were only distractions, and only brief interruptions in the pain and guilt. Everything else just skated around the edges; deep down at least, that was how it still felt.... But it was much easier to blame her unpleasant disposition on the distractions, on Skywalker and his meddling.
Skywalker. When she had come here, she could never have expected this; it was weird enough to have Skywalker so determined to fight for her, then he had enlisted Mara Jade in her defense as well.... Lyra shook her head, fighting off a surreal feeling of disbelief. Who could have imagined that this would be her defense? Certainly not her. It was entirely too strange to believe that she was putting her fate into the hands of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade.
Lyra sighed, feeling drained. Her footsteps had returned her to her own door, and she let herself inside. Several days had passed to the Senate Inner Council's newly resumed, in-depth questioning. Dates, times, systems, missions, and mission objectives.... She had remembered most of them. They were working now to pinpoint her whereabouts and actions for specific events, controversial timings. And they were also concerned about her knowledge of the intelligence and security systems that were still in operational use.
She started pacing again, despite the weariness that pulled at her. All the specific questioning, in such detail – it brought the past too close. Still, they had only asked if she had had "no contact" with the Empire after Endor. That was beginning to make her nervous. Skywalker had told her once before that he assumed they would split the hearing into two parts as a way to ease the intelligence load. Once they had exhausted their concerns about her Imperial service, then he expected them to begin the difficult work of tracing the post-Endor years, when she and Mara had lived as shadows among the fringe. He must be expecting the shift to happen soon. When they had last spoken, briefly, before today's session, Skywalker had told her that Mara would be returning to Coruscant in a few days. Then the three of them were going to begin discussing the fringe time, as Luke called it.
Speaking of him, Lyra heard a knock at the door, and she knew it couldn't be anyone else but Luke Skywalker.
"Hi," she greeted him and stepped back to wave him inside.
"Hi," he answered as she turned her back on him; she looked agitated, and after the last couple of days he couldn't fault her for that.
"What's bothering you?" he asked without further pretense.
"Do I need to worry that they haven't questioned me further about what happened after Endor?"
"I don't think so," he answered. "Your actions after Endor are fairly clear-cut. Mara can account for your actions and movements over the first six years. After that you went home."
It sounded perfectly logical, but something about it continued to nag at her. Lyra put those feelings aside. Worrying wouldn't gain her any control over this.
"Listen, I promised you we'd get a chance to talk – and I wanted to thank you for your help, for the information you gave me about the d files."
"The records were there, then?" she asked reflexively
"I know. You can't say," Lyra retracted the question.
"No, but your lead could really help us."
Lyra nodded, and Luke recognized that same faraway look and feel that he'd picked up in her sense a few days ago, just before he'd left her on the roof. She looked distracted, worried, and he could only think of one thing that might be worrying Lyra Dare.
"I know it didn't happen at Rhaci, but if Laus is involved in this, we will get him," he assured her, and he felt a twinge in her emotions. She only nodded again, but Luke saw a change in her face.
"What?" he asked cautiously.
She shrugged it off. "Laus, and the Myrtle system," she smiled half-heartedly. "I've been so caught up in being here... it just hit me that I've been away, for a while now."
The underlying emotion was more vivid than she wanted to let show; Luke could see that. He reached a hand to brush her arm and gave her a supportive smile. "You miss it," he surmised easily.
She shook her head, a little mystified at the sudden onset of nostalgia. "How it used to be," she conceded softly, turning away. She had to remind herself that the times and the place she remembered so vividly hadn't existed for many years.
"You grew up there, didn't you?" Luke asked easily. Her expression stayed unreadable, but measuring of him somehow. "Tell me about it, then," he encouraged.
She studied him. Again she seemed caught a little off balance, and again he got the impression that she was measuring him, measuring how much of herself she wanted to expose and if he was asking for too much. Luke understood her hesitation. Guarded was a word that described Lyra well under most circumstances. And, as usual, it seemed, he was asking her to drop that guard, if only slightly. But this request was more than it seemed; it was a serious request disguised as a lighter one. He knew he was asking her to talk about something that was precious to her. And he was asking it because he wanted a deeper glimpse into the circumstances that had shaped her.
Lyra took a cautious breath. "Marnia was a beautiful place then. Sprawling hills and valleys, towering mountains, peaceful waterways." She trailed off from the brief, wishful remembrance, but her eyes stayed quiet as she remembered. "Myrtle attracted most of the commerce in that part of the system, but Marnia possessed the milder climate, and the peacefulness of its scenery was a magnet for drawing in wealthy tourists and vacationers. That was the only real on-world industry, and it only existed along the waterways. There was just the one spaceport, and the locals preferred to keep it that way.
"Most beings on Marnia had come to the outer rim to build new lives, lives of their own. That was how our family arrived," she added quietly. "Our father had been a successful businessman back in the core, but he had grown tired of the chaos that went along with his business, and wary of the Empire's growing demands: ever-increasing taxation and regulation. So he and our mother sold most of what they owned, took what savings they had, packed everything up, and bought passage to the Myrtle system in search of something simpler.
"A plot of land and the freedom to do with it what you wish." Lyra remembered her father's words fondly. "That was how he saw it, at least," she amended. "It wasn't really so free as all that; the outer rim came with its own share of complications. But it was far from the reach of the Empire, and that was his definition of free. Both he and our mother were happy settling there, and a few years later my brother and I were born."
Luke started to ask, just in small talk, but he stopped short over the question. Lyra felt a twinge of sympathy betray his understanding, and the discomfort of her own memories and emotions started to fade a bit. She was thankful that she didn't have to try to explain to him how close they had been; Luke understood the bond that twins shared.
"We were inseparable," she finally offered, "for as long as I can remember. My twin brother was my best friend." Her voice trailed off again. The earlier hesitancy had faded a bit, but it was still painful for her open up those wounds, especially when it came to her brother. "For the most part our childhood was normal, happy," she continued, coming back to easier ground. "Our parents raised us to be confident and independent, and with a lot of love," she said softly. "They told us we could do anything, and they meant it. That wasn't always true on Marnia, especially if you were female, but my parents' belief in me was something I always wanted to live up to. I got into more than my share of trouble as a kid trying to prove myself to anyone who'd tell me otherwise," Lyra added with a smile.
Luke smiled back. He could more than imagine that. Even now, there was a light to her face when she spoke about her home. Her low, even voice contrasted the strong, defiant set to her chin, her eyes blazed, and Luke would have been the last to bet against anything that she set her mind to.
"Naturally I set my sights on the one thing that seemed most out of reach," her voice lowered, "but it was the only thing I wanted. Asteel. The pure." Lyra pulled her thoughts back to the present only to find Luke watching her patiently. "Asteel," she explained, "were native creatures first bred to carry settlers across the mountains: terrain much too demanding for landspeeders, and winds far too dangerous for airships. Without them the ranges would have been impassible and whole sections of the planet would have remained inaccessible.
"Within a couple of generations the Asteel became the most valuable possessions of Marnia settlers, often treated more like members of the family than beasts of burden. They were the key to survival in the wildness regions, bartered in times of peace, trained for battle in times of war. Once the handful of settling tribes had taken root and established their own territories, they held great races among themselves for status and honor, grueling tests of stamina and endurance where enormous wagers hung in the balance.
"The Asteel formed the foundation of Marnia's settlement stories, and the old legends remained the subject of childhood reenactments. But the Asteel were more than legend. The animals were very real – called 'the pure' because they were descendent from legendary ancestors. Fleet and strong. Elegant and fearsome. Beautiful, intuitive creatures. Very much real, and extremely valuable. There were dozens of farms in the hills nearby, serious businesses raising expensive animals. Almost all of them had chased me off at one time or another, no matter how hard I tried to stay out of the way."
She trailed off, bringing herself back from something that had become difficult to remember. Luke understood that, the way even good memories could become too intense; he could see it in her eyes. He stayed quiet for a long moment, just letting her find her place again.
"So one summer my brother bartered for an apprenticeship in return for work at a farm. Mark knew that I wanted more than anything to be a part of that world."
She paused again. The pain of his loss echoed in her voice when she said her brother's name, and Luke realized that she had never spoken of him by name before. Luke hurt for her, and with her....
"The farm owner was this rather eccentric lady," Lyra remembered with a faraway smile. "At least that was how she was thought of. Only an eccentric, and considerably wealthy, woman would pursue what was a male occupation on Marnia. In reality, she was one of most thoroughly grounded people I ever met, and an incredibly loyal friend," Lyra added softly.
"Mark never specified who would fill the apprenticeship, merely allowed her to think it would be him. But when I showed up, she didn't back down from their agreement. A bond was forged between the three of us, and it was like the whole world opened up in front of me. She taught me in secret – it would have made things more difficult for both of us, to have it known – but I didn't care about that. I loved it. It was all I wanted as a kid, an escape as a girl.
"Once she saw that I was serious about learning, Moranda took a liking to me, and we became fast friends. Eventually the pretext of Mark's working in return for my time was dropped, and I started to help her with training the animals. It was wonderful work. I learned so much about communication, and instinct, and how to handle myself." Lyra stifled a laugh. "My first day there, she told me pretty bluntly that I was going to get myself killed if I didn't slow down and learn how to listen. I was always rushing in headlong, something to prove, wanting to do things my way and bend the world to my will... an attitude that couldn't work in that setting." She taught me to think before I acted, taught me that wise action had to come with deliberate caution.
"Moranda always used to say, 'You have to gentle yourself before you can gentle another living creature. What can't be forced can't be rushed. Trust has to be built. Respect has to be earned'. So much of that crossed over... and it was never more true in my life," Lyra remembered. "It wasn't just about the work, she really taught me what kind of person I wanted to be."
"Sounds like a very wise lady. What happened to her?" Luke asked finally.
"She got off Marnia," Lyra answered. "Beyond that, I don't know," she answered softly. "I hope that she's somewhere doing what she loves.... For Mark, it was sailing. He loved the water, and sailing set him free. That suited him, the sun and the wind on the water.... He just hung around the stables because he knew I loved it. If we weren't at the stables, then we were somewhere out on the water," she finished. Again, she came back from the past, looking a little cautiously at Luke. "It was my home," she finally said with a little shrug, "but mostly, I guess it was just another outer rim world. Quiet, and more than a little backward, especially once you moved out into the countryside."
Luke nodded. He recognized from the tone of finality that had entered her voice that she'd shared all she cared to share, and maybe a little more than she had intended. Luke had discovered, with a certain fascination over the years, that every experience in life served to shape a being into the present moment. But there was something special about the place where you were raised; your point of origin was an inescapable pull that factored into the trajectory of your life... whether you wanted it to or not.
"Sounds a bit like Tatooine, where I grew up," Luke acknowledged. "Aside from the handful of major spaceports, it was very much outer rim. But the entire planet was desert," he contrasted.
"All desert," she stated, with some surprised amusement. Lyra remembered that Tatooine's climate had been inhospitable, but she hadn't assumed the entire planet to be so unforgiving.
"Completely," he nodded. A little of that outer rim pride in conquering the unknown and braving the elements showed through in his voice.
"Why did I think you had come from a farm?"
He grinned. "I did – a moisture farm."
"A moisture farm in the desert. That must have been different."
Luke shrugged. "It was the only thing I knew."
"Did you like it there?" she redirected.
Skywalker suppressed a groan. "I couldn't wait to get out. I wanted adventures, the whole galaxy over," he remembered with a wave of his hand. "Biggs was my best friend, since we were kids, and my uncle used to insist that our friendship was based on how much trouble we could make, or otherwise get into together. That was more than a little true," Luke conceded with a grin.
Lyra squinted her eyes, trying to picture the noble Jedi as a restless young farmboy.
"Biggs was a couple of years older than me, which automatically made him best at everything. And I wanted to be just like him, which was how most of our trouble started," he admitted through another smile. "He was a great pilot, always pushing the limit, and I had to be right there with him. He probably had me on skill, but he used to say I made up for it by being crazy, which was also probably true. I don't know how many speeders we wrecked or how many reamings I got from my uncle for smashing up the skyhopper," he remembered warily.
"Biggs stood out though," Luke stated strongly. "He was a natural leader, and he made the older kids take me in. Not always well," he conceded with a remembered grimace, "but nobody else's opinion mattered. Biggs treated me as an equal. He made me prove myself – but that was what I wanted. I knew I could do it if he could."
Luke fell silent. "It killed me when he left for the Academy and I had to stay behind.
"That was the biggest fight Uncle Owen and I ever had; it was the end of the world for me. For my uncle, I'd be going in another semester anyway. Or I'd go eventually, that semester when he couldn't keep me at home anymore.... I often think he would have kept asking for just one more season, because he knew I couldn't go that way, that I wouldn't leave against his wishes, not when he needed me there.
"I don't even remember what was said now," Luke continued. "That whole time I was arguing with my uncle, I just remember feeling, awful. It felt like I was abandoning Biggs because I couldn't go with him."
Lyra felt her stomach lurch.
Luke looked to her worriedly, sensing the change. She tried to shake it off with a half-hearted smile. "Mark probably felt that way when I left." She spoke the emotion with a lightness that didn't cover how much it hurt her to think about it. "Worse, because he was supposed to be the one to protect me," she said with another smile. This one recognized the irony. "We were very much alike."
Luke smiled in return, and he let the silence hold for another few heartbeats before carefully returning to his own thoughts.
"Biggs was a good friend, but Ben was the one who was always watching out for me. He saved my life more than once," Luke added, and a sadness mixed with the admiration in his voice as he spoke again. "He was one of the wisest people I ever knew. Just standing near him, you could almost feel it.... Growing up, my uncle always told me to stay away from him, and tried to keep him away from me. I never understood why. I never understood a lot about my uncle," Luke admitted with a false lightness. "Now I know he was afraid for me. I see that in a lot of the fights I remember between us, especially the bad ones. He was a man who would never have admitted being afraid, almost like he had forgotten how a long time ago." Luke smiled. "Classic rim toughness."
Lyra smiled too.
"Anything that might take me off the farm or after my father was avoided. I never really knew anything about my father, or about the Force, until I met Ben. He had been a friend to my father. Actually, it was Ben who trained him," Luke said, suddenly wary of her reaction, "before he turned to the dark side."
Lyra only waited for him to continue, and his expression lightened unexpectedly when he did.
"It didn't happen as I had imagined it," Luke admitted, "but I did get my wish. Soon Tatooine was far behind me, and I was at the start of an incredible adventure, one that would put everything I had ever imagined to shame." Luke only paused for a moment. "What about you?" he asked.
Lyra shook her head slightly. She knew what he was asking. "If I could have lived my whole life on Marnia, I would have been happy for that."
The last few moments of lighter conversation abruptly vanished. "You almost could have," Luke realized sadly.
She shook her head again.
"You loved it there," he said. Seeing anew how much she had wanted that, Luke had to ask. "Why didn't you go back after Endor?"
"I couldn't," she answered simply, with another slight shake of her head. "If I had turned my back on you, if I had pretended not to realize that Mara was more dangerous than ever, crazed with obsession–" She trailed off.
He watched her, not completely understanding. "What changed then?" But almost before he had asked the question, it clicked. Two years ago. After Mount Tantiss.
She looked at him evenly for a moment before her mouth twisted into a half smile. "After nearly six years and a stint in a Ruasel detention hole, I wasn't about to just slip away, without knowing."
"When?" he asked, his voice somewhere between amused and mystified.
"I caught up with her again on Wayland. I could sense a change in her there, and I knew that she had the chance to break free from whatever it was that was driving her."
"The Emperor's last mental command to her," Luke said slowly.
Lyra gave a solemn nod. "I couldn't interfere with that. And you didn't need my protection anymore. You knew what you were dealing with."
"So you were freed," he whispered.
"It was never like that," she said honestly. "Fighting her was the only completely good thing that I was able to do in the four years that I was trying to survive the Empire. In that way, you might easily have saved me. To leave you to Mara would have been to lose that too."
"Even now?" he asked cautiously.
She nodded. "Especially now. I told you. During those years, the thought of getting home was the only thing that I had. It became my life, my humanity, my conscience – because the Empire didn't allow any of those things to exist. And the harder I tried to survive it all, the more lost I became.... When Vader assigned me to you, it saved my life as much as yours. Here was a chance to protect instead of destroy, to spare instead of do harm." Her eyes glittered with remembered hope, and she smiled softly. "I needed that, more than I realized," she whispered, but a hint of regret still came through in her voice when she spoke again. "Even after Endor, I couldn't turn my back. I couldn't let that go.
"I knew they would understand." She paused heavily. "I never thought that they might have been in danger," she managed at a whisper.
"I know," he agreed. "If you had, there was nothing that could have kept you away."
She looked to him, to see that he was remembering too.
A moment later he spoke into the silence. "I had another teacher," Luke started slowly. "Most of what I know about how to use the Force comes from him." Luke smiled. "In his own words, I was reckless. I left my training too soon because I knew my friends were in danger, and I had to try to save them."
He grimaced, subconsciously flexing the fingers of his right hand as he glanced to her. Her eyes were warm, comforting, in a way that recognized his own discomfort and the pain of remembering the past's mistakes.
"Bespin," she said finally, acknowledging.
He nodded, only mildly surprised that she would know the name. He pushed his sleeve away from his right hand. As the fingers flexed, she could see the faint remainders of a skin graft at his wrist. Her eyes flickered back to his easily, steadily meeting his gaze.
"I wasn't ready, but I rushed to face Vader." He paused heavily. "That was when I learned that he was my father." He spoke the truth solidly, but Lyra could feel the lingering turmoil in him. That encounter had shaken him greatly, changed him. It still showed on him.
"When I returned to finish my training," he continued, "Yoda was ill, dying, and soon he was gone. Far too soon," Luke added a little absently, then he shook it away with a shrug. "I had to go, no matter the consequences or anything else. They needed me, and I could help them. That was all I could see."
"I hope I'd be able to see a little clearer now, but I don't know," he added quietly. And he hesitated, remembering something that he hadn't thought of in a long time. "That was one of the most powerful emotions I've ever felt. It pulled me in, against my better judgement."
He came back from the past now, looking a little awkwardly to her.
She watched him easily, without expecting or reacting. The awkwardness faded, and he held her gaze for a few moments longer. Her unabashed gaze. Her eyes were all there, with him as they had been on the roof. Those were the only times he felt like he had truly seen her, when she hadn't held back behind her defenses, the times when she was reaching out to him, to comfort him.
Luke smiled. "It's getting late. And I've got to be going," he added as he stood. That was the truth, but he honestly couldn't think of anywhere else that he would rather be.... "Thank you for listening to me," Luke finished, but he came to a pause in mid step, just as Lyra stood behind him.
"Lyra," he turned back to her, "I've been thinking about what you said to me, about seeing your fate here," he said. "Maybe, if you tell me how you see it, I could try to understand," he asked of her.
She held his gaze, trying to decide how to put it into words. "I've always felt fate very strongly, like duty or destiny, something that's coming that can't be changed. All you can control is how you choose to meet it: either with strength and dignity, or flailing vainly against the inevitable." She paused. "That's how it's always looked to me. That was how I saw the Empire, it was how I chose to stay with you, and it was how I chose to come here. Each was the only choice I could have made at the time."
"With the Empire, you acted to protect your family. After Endor you acted to protect me. I see the honor in both of those actions, but I don't see it in what you're doing now."
She sighed and gave him a half smile. "Honor, again. How I see honor has changed. The first was naive and idealistic, the second was hopeful that something good might come out of the first. This time it just feels like there's nothing else left, like this is all that remains to explain the last twelve years. This is what I've come to. Ironically, I guess, I always thought going home would be the end... but now I'm back here, where it all began, a full circle."
Luke nodded, understanding her point of view better this time, and he tried to put his own perception into words, hoping that maybe she might be able to see his point of view as well. "When you left Marnia with me, you traded in one certain fate for another. No better or worse, just different."
She nodded slowly. "Maybe that's true, but I made the decision to come here, and to accept the fate that would find me here.... I hope that there's still enough strength and dignity left in me, to see that decision through," she trailed off, sounding tired. "But mostly I just feel this bitter sense of resolution, the need to try to face up to something that I don't think can ever possibly be amended." On Marnia it had been more of a self-imposed form of penance. Here it was a simple matter of accepting retribution.
"You still can't see any way out from fate," he said slowly.
She didn't argue.
"When I was struggling with the decision to leave my Jedi training so that I could help my friends, Yoda, my second teacher, said to me, 'Always in motion is the future'. At the time, all it meant to me was that he couldn't say for certain that my friends would survive. But I've had a lot of time since then to think about it. And I've realized... I think what he really meant is that none of us can see all of our own destinies. No fate is certain."
Her mind wandered back to the memory of handing Luke that datapad: the feeling of possibility in that moment. Certain fate, or possible atonement?
Luke tried again, not sure if he was getting through. "Fate isn't a wall that you have to keep throwing yourself against, or a test of your strength. It's not about what you can survive."
She looked at him, seeing.
"Life is not how you meet fate. Life is how you live. Always in motion is the future, Lyra."
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