Power Lust: Lust for
Chapter 11: New Plans
The transit back to Avenger's location took a
little under ten hours, which Mara spent studying
maps of the Empire while she fought her temptation to
simply return to the intriguing young man who had
finally managed to wink out in a healing trance.
However, aware that her every gesture was being
closely watched by her dubious but powerful
subordinates, she resolved to wait it out while she
tried to come up with a new way to beat and kill
That alone proved to be a tough-enough challenge
to keep her busy till they reached their hidden
"We've entered the Roche system, Madam,"
the pilot informed her, cutting in her twisted
thoughts of new plans.
"Good. Contact Avenger and tell them to
deactivate the cloaking device. Authorization code
Turning around in her seat until she was facing
forward once again, Mara was just in time to witness
the reappearance of the huge star destroyer as its
millions of microscopic mirrors stopped reflecting
the nebula that was surrounding them.
Even though 'she' had brought this technology with
herself when she had joined the regrouped,
disgruntled imperials, she still felt awed every time
that she witnessed the withdrawal of the flawless
cloak of invisibility from around their mobile
The noise of clacking heels attracted her
attention behind herself. She swiveled her seat once
again. Veers was standing at the entrance of the
cockpit, obviously waiting for her orders. She
reluctantly gave him the duty to bring Skywalker out,
ordering him to take him to her private quarters
before locking him up in them--- then quickly warned
the concerned Jedi about how they would have to play
their arrival if she didn't want to have to send him
back in a real cell.
Luke was barely exiting his healing trance, having
felt a change in the movement of the shuttle, when
Mara's senses invaded his once again.
*Luke, forgive me,* she sent quickly. *I have no
choice but to let Veers handle your transfer from the
shuttle to my quarters. If you don't give him any
trouble, he shouldn't harm you.*
Still slightly disoriented thanks to his trance,
the young Jedi tried to make sense of what the other
was telling him--- when the door of the medbay
opened, allowing access to a grim-faced general.
As if disgusted by what he was seeing, the man
grimaced, then wordlessly tilted his head in his
direction; two troopers walked forward and roughly
pulled the young man into a sitting position before
they slapped binders on his still slightly sensitive
wrists. Then, before Luke had had time to shift his
legs so that he would be able to stand on his feet by
himself, they viciously pulled him off the bunk and
onto his shaky legs.
"What's the matter, Skywalker?" the
high-ranking officer sneered in his face as he took
hold of his hair and forced him to look up at him.
"Not happy to see us again?"
Luke forced himself to not answer the other,
playing the part of a brainwashed, subdued prisoner.
"Take him away. Commander Jade wants us to
lock him up in her quarters. I think that she's
planning to make 'much' thorough use of him," he
sneered contemptuously at his 'unaware' prisoner.
The two troopers didn't react to his mean joke;
Luke, for his part, didn't pay attention to the angry
man. The other could think what he wanted, he
reminded himself, he himself knew that Mara wouldn't
harm him again.
Whatever that there was between them, it had
'killed' that part of her former personality.
It only left her burning hatred for his father, he
admitted glumly, wondering yet again how he would be
able to keep her from killing his father... although
he had promised that he would not intervene in her
mission for her late master. In time, he figured as
the troopers dragged him out of the medbay, he would,
hopefully, find his answer. Or perhaps the Force
would give him the answer.
Except for the fact that the troopers offered him
very little help to carry his still aching body, the
transfer took place without any unpleasant
Naturally though, they couldn't simply leave him
in their chief's quarters and be gone. It would have
been too kind, Luke sneered inwardly as he tried to
recover from the unceremonious shove that had gotten
him inside the well-furnished quarters. Behind him,
the double doors were already sealed, leaving him
alone to pick himself up from his rough landing on
the hard, carpeted deck.
Had Mara not been in need to keep up appearances
and go on the command deck with Piett, Luke knew that
she would have been with him and the others wouldn't
have acted like this, but, well, he painfully sighed
to himself, what was done was done.
He freed himself from his regular cuffs, then
slowly rolling on his back, he brought his left hand
to his forehead and gently rubbed it where it had
impacted with the floor. That, he grumbled inwardly,
would leave a mark for a while. Not that it would be
his first one since he had left Yavin 4, he then
reflected as he noticed the fainter but still visible
marks that were marking his left forearm.
Careful to not add to his slight headache, he
slowly pushed himself to a sitting position, then
checked the rest of his bare chest. As it had been
for his arm, his healing trance had done quite some
good to his remnants of injuries, but they were not
gone completely yet.
As he studied himself further, he belatedly became
aware that he was quite hungry, having been deprived
of food for... a while.
Still moving slowly thanks to his general
exhaustion, he pulled himself to his feet, using the
nearby furniture to do so, then began to study his
surroundings to find a way to get food delivered to
him. Since he was aboard yet another imperial ship,
he suspected that what was true about the internal
workings of Executor would also be true aboard that
ship, imperial standards oblige.
As if the ship itself had read his thoughts, the
back wall suddenly pinged in warning, then a delivery
chute opened to reveal a bowl of fresh fruits with
what looked like water and something more sustaining
while light to digest.
*If you need more, let me know,* Jade sent him
through the Force, then was gone just as fast as she
had gotten in touch with him.
He answered her nonetheless. *Thanks,* he told her
gratefully as he walked closer to the chute; he
smiled despite himself when he saw that the meal had
also come with clothes that would help him to warm
himself up a little. Even though Mara's quarters were
well temperate, they were still slightly too cool for
him to remain bare chest forever.
Sending a new feeling of gratitude to his new,
unexpectedly kind companion, he pulled everything out
of the chute, put on the long-sleeved shirt, then,
sighing as the instantaneous feeling of warmth
invaded his body, walked toward the nearby desk where
he sat to take advantage of what she had given to
Not far from there, Mara Jade sighed inwardly in
relief as she felt the Jedi's gratitude. She still
couldn't understand what had pushed her to act as she
had, but the moment that she had been in her main
office, she had keyed in a request to send light food
and warm clothes to her quarters.
Even stranger, she hadn't been aware of what she
had done until she had authorized the sending.
However, as she felt the other's gratitude for her
unexpected kindness, she conceded that it was a good
thing that her subconscious had picked up on
Skywalker's silent needs.
She truly felt good about what she had just done
for him... and herself, she admitted truthfully as
she became aware that with her recent actions, she
had ensured that, when she would go back to her
quarters, her new companion would not remind her
'too' much of what she had done to him before.
He would stop to unconsciously torment her with
the fact that her reaction to him was still totally
illogical and that he should be in a cell, or dead,
but certainly not in her quarters and free. Yet she
wouldn't change anything about this situation
"There will be a major change of tactic,
gentlemen," she began when she noticed that the
few men who were standing around her had finally
quieted down. "We can't use Skywalker as
leverage against his father as I thought we
"Why not?" Piett inquired instantly.
"Through him, we did break that Sith demon, back
in the Hoth system."
"Only because he knew that Solo and the
others were coming to his rescue," she reminded
the other with a barely concealed sneer. "As for
harassing Vader through the destruction of his bases,
it only proved to us that they did not change
anything to his invulnerability."
"His only vulnerable point his is family
then," someone observed seriously. "I say
we kill the brat and send his body back to his
father," Piett suggested hatefully.
"No," Mara objected adamantly.
"That, and ambushing Vader, would be the most
stupid things that we could do against such an enemy.
With the youth in our grasp, Vader can't retaliate
against us and he knows it. Otherwise, 'he' will kill
the Jedi. He can't attack us anymore," she
stated with finality, then punched in a few commands.
"I've been thinking about which angle we had
left with the Sith Lord, and I think that I found one
which even 'he' never considered as a possibility for
us to use," she said maliciously before she
activated the information that she had begun to
compile about her targets.
Five pair of eyes locked themselves on the far
wall as the information appeared there. She explained
to them what she was beginning to consider as their
next targets against Vader, then, when they agreed
with her, dismissed them to study their part of the
plan so that their victory would be insured this
time. Vader, she sneered as she gazed out the huge
bay windows that were behind her desk, would never be
able to recover from 'that' one... and then, he would
be ripped for her final revenge...
Then she would return to his son and...
Stopping once again on the very unusual settings
of her new plan, she wondered yet again if she were
Or if she were truly falling in love with the last
possible man in the whole galaxy.
Luke was checking out what would probably be his
new, luxurious but locked cell for the time being.
But it had been his choice this time, he reminded
himself. Mara had not forced him in any way to come
with her; he, himself, had chosen to go with her
instead of staying behind with his staunchest
He had chosen to leave Han and Chewie's side in
order to stay with the woman whom had unexplainably
captured his heart... yet his feelings for her were
not 'only' unexplainable, he thought seriously.
He knew that, in spite of her tough appearances, his
new girlfriend was kind, compassionate, and able of
greatness if she were able to break free of the late
Emperor's grip on her soul.
Perhaps, he thought, that was why their paths had
crossed when they had, and how they had: so that he
could help her free her real self from the assassin
persona that Palpatine had forced upon her. Even
though he didn't know her very much, he was acutely
aware that the real Mara Jade had yet to reveal
herself to the rest of the galaxy. She had begun to
take cautious, if definite and passionate, peeks when
around him, and she was marvelous; now, he could only
hope that she would want to do it more often, and in
As he wondered how he could help her assume her
gentler, more human personality without being afraid
of the consequences, Luke dimly realized that
training her in the Force could help him to help her.
At the moment, she was only sensitive to it, not
really able to use it for more than sporadic and
limited actions, like talking with him, and yet,
every time that they had been in touch that way, he
had felt that her skills could be limiteless if she
could learn how to properly harness the Force. He
could also feel that his girlfriend was slightly
frustrated by her Force limitation.
So, he mused seriously, if he were able to train
her, although his chances of being given such an
opportunity were slim given her dislike of Jedi
Knights... but if he were able to teach her how to
follow her heart and her compassion in her usage of
the Force, and how to open herself to its flow... the
real Mara would most probably spring free of the last
remnants of the Emperor's Hand... and he would have
saved her... and his father...
His father, he paused, who had abandoned him
before Han had found him...
Leia had obviously enrolled the Republic to find
him, but his father... After checking whether he was
still alive or not, he had not come after him at
He was considering trying to find a way to tell
him how he felt about his desertion when the doors
slid open; he turned around just as Mara stepped
inside. He waited for her to join him near the main
viewport of the room.
"We're waiting for the rest of our units to
regroup," she informed him as she walked closer;
her jewel green eyes never left his blue ones.
"Shouldn't you do something while waiting for
the others to arrive?" he inquired
half-seriously, half-worriedly as he studied once
again her once hard features.
Whoever she had been when they had met, he
reflected once again as he brought his right hand to
her forehead and shyly brushed a stray strand of her
fiery hair out of her forehead, she was not the same
woman anymore. He couldn't even detect any sign that
she was lying to him or playing a part; instead, he
could feel her genuine confusion and attraction just
as he could feel his own.
"I do," she smiled softly at him,
closing the remaining distance that was still
standing between them. "I said that I wanted to
'grill' you for information," she
half-whispered, half-smirked even as she leaned
closer and closer to him, as if drawn by a magnet.
Luke, who had been hoping to talk to her again and
try to figure out with her what was going on, was
unable to resist her 'magnet'; he unconsciously
shifted his head slightly even as his arms wrapped
themselves around her slim, strong body, gently
pulling her closer and closer.
Then their lips met once again in a sweet,
heart-melting kiss. Like previously, neither of them
could put an end to it.
However, unlike previously, nobody interrupted
them either. Their continued kiss allowed their
mutual resistance and confusion to melt away, giving
way to the consuming love of two soul mates who had
finally found each other.
------Two days later, on the other side of the
galaxy, the crew of the Executor was getting ready to
welcome its Emperor.
When the approaching shuttle reported in, Han Solo
was on the bridge. He was standing in his
father-in-law's favorite place near the main
viewports of the bridge, looking at the stars.
Although he was aware of the similarities between
himself and the lord, he didn't try to consciously
mimic him. In fact it was more sort of an accident.
After his meeting with the Republican pilots, he
had let his feet carry him wherever they wished. He
had been in need of thinking; since he usually
thought better when walking, he had gone for a short
walk on the ship. When he had come out of his
pondering, he had found himself standing in 'Vader's
spot', as the place was called by the crew of the
At first shocked, he had considered leaving it,
then he had calmed down and had realized that it was
indeed an ideal place to indulge in long thinking.
For one thing, he was as close to the controls as he
could be on this ship. He also was in a position of
authority which allowed him to not be disturbed in
his thoughts, and he could see the stars. That, the
pilot in him admitted as he briefly longed to be back
aboard the Falcon and into 'his' piloting seat, made
it a most wonderful place to stand still and ponder
He briefly wondered if Vader perceived the choice
of his place this way. Understanding his
father-in-law was always hard. He rarely had any
insight in the razor-sharp mind of the Dark Lord.
However, he had to admit that he liked working with
his Darkness. He sometimes wasn't aware of that
aspect of their relationship as a 'family', but he
truly enjoyed the challenge that the Dark Lord
brought into his life, either as his father-in-law,
or as his overall officer.
What he particularly enjoyed was that he never
knew what Vader would need him for. Sometimes, he had
to involve himself in Coruscant's politics,
sometimes, with the fleet, and sometimes, he had to
coordinate the former rebel troops with the imperial
Compared with his new tasks, being a general under
Mothma had been laughingly easy. Back then, he had
had practically nothing to do.
Now though, he held no formal rank, merely was the
husband of his beloved Leia, but the amount of work
was just unbelievable.
The power that his informal rank have given him
was also enormous. In fact, his position was
extremely close to the one that Vader himself
occupied under Palpatine's rule.
Han felt uneasy about that, and especially because
he 'liked' this job. Oh, he didn't like the power
itself, nor the control that he had over other's
lives, but he truly enjoyed the challenge that this
situation presented, the difficulties that grew only
greater with each passing moment.
That was surely what had pushed Leia into
accepting her father's offer to become his heir and
second-in-command. Like him, she enjoyed the trill of
real, incredibly difficult challenges.
Her choice though had been difficult and painful.
She had been torn between the Empire and the
Republic. He could still remember how she had been
pale, thin, and nervous when she had been unable to
delay the decision of her allegiance anymore.
One morning, he had woken to her smiling, and
crying. She had chosen the Empire, the power, the
impossible challenge. As he had gazed into her pained
eyes, he had known that something inside her died
And he remembered all too well his coward relief
that he himself would never have to make this choice.
How naive he had been back then, he smirked
At the moment, as he stood in 'Vader's spot', he
understood very clearly how stupid he had been to
believe that he could balance at the edge of the
choice for eternity.
The meeting with Wedge's team had been tricky. The
team of Executor had expected him to represent them,
while Wedge, of course, had expected him to
understand his old friends...
Friends, Han sighed.
Between friends and the challenge of power, he had
already chosen. In his heart, the challenge of power
dominated, which now left him with the question about
how he was now supposed to live with his
He had to ask Vader to give him some formal title,
he decided. That way, he wouldn't have to explain his
decision to Wedge and the others...
... and the crew would stop addressing him like
that!, he sighed in annoyance. "Yes?" he
turned toward the Executor's commander.
"Lord Vader's shuttle just exited hyperspace.
They will land in the hospital bay in twenty
Han blinked. "Hospital?"
"Yes, it seems that Lord Vader has sustained
a minor injury."
Aware that his father-in-law qualified a loss of a
limb as a minor injury, Han couldn't help but worry a
little. "I'll go meet him," he informed the
other. "No other meeting party is
The commander nodded sharply and returned to his
station. Han spared a last, longing look at the
stars, then left 'Vader's spot'.
By the time that he reached the medbay, he was too
late to talk with his father-in-law. The medics in
charge of his case had already knocked him out and
taken him for an emergency surgery.
Thus, Han spoke with the Jedi trainees who had
accompanied the Dark Lord, then returned to his
duties. While he waited for news from his superior,
he tried to motivate the intelligence teams to come
up with more information to deliver to the Dark Lord
of the Sith when he would wake up.
Aboard Avenger, days went by the two lovers, who
were barely disturbed by outside interruptions as
Mara's team waited for the others to regroup.
They took advantage of those days to get better
acquainted in thoughts, feelings, bodies, and through
When Mara woke up from her latest nap, she was
still laying on her stomach, partly wedged against
her lover's chest and pelvic while the weight of his
head was resting on her shoulder blades. While
it was a relatively strange position, they had been
sleeping that way for the past two days, aware that
it allowed them to be as physically close as they
could while not putting any weight on Luke's healing
injuries... nor her persisting shame at her past
actions toward her first and only lover. She
closed her eyes as she listened to his steady, gentle
breath that was right by her right earlobe. So
warm... like her lover himself...
Lover, she thought in remaining bemusement. Had
someone told her that she would ever call Luke
Skywalker by that word, she would have shot that
person dead before he would have had completed his
However, after analyzing the situation in depth
with the concerned party, she had come to understand
that the events of the past few days had brought
about several changes in her, changes that would
never be undone ever again.
For one thing, she had discovered that she could,
like every other being of the galaxy, care and love
When she had faced the pain of abandoning Luke to
his drowning fate, she had been forced to accept that
the Emperor had been wrong about that part of her
Right on the heels of this shock, she had then
realized that she already cared so much about the
Jedi that she truly didn't want to be separated from
him ever again.
However, her cooler self had been stronger at that
moment and she had reluctantly given up on the one
love that she had ever had in her life.
Then, to her unforgettable surprise, her chosen
companion had not only returned from the dead, which
he had never joined, but he had also saved her life!
When that had happened, even her cooler self had
failed to keep her more caring self from asserting
herself. What had begun to strengthen her
during her visits to the Jedi's cell had simply taken
root in her heart and her love for the
farmboy-turned-Jedi had finally settled in her heart
While she had been aiming for Solo's heart, she
might have still managed to deny what she had been
feeling for the handsome, intriguing youth, but he
had fouled her aim, then his eyes had then met
And their fates had been sealed forever.
Through that soul-baring gaze, she had seen all of
him, body, heart, and soul, and so had he her, and
she had understood that she would never want or find
a companion that would complete her more than that
selfless, kind-hearted, strong-willed young Jedi.
And vice versa, she smiled softly as she
remembered what Luke had shared with her the emotions
that he had felt at that moment. While she had
expected him to admit that this had also been his
no-return point, she had been greatly surprised when
he had used similar qualities to describe her.
Compassionate? Her? An assassin who was planning to
shake the galaxy in order to get to her target?.. Who
had hurt his son as if he were the father??..
Still deeply sorry for what she had put Luke
through before it had been almost too late, she had
tried to deny his words, but her boyfriend had
explained that she was perhaps negatively selfless,
yes, but that she was still devoting her current days
to serving someone else instead of her own
interests. After all, he had wisely pointed
out, she was not planning on taking Vader's throne
once she would beat him. So, in a way, he had
continued seriously, she was selfless, but she had to
perhaps reconsider the goals and people that she was
serving with her skills.
Although she had reflexively glared at him as he
had indirectly attacked her imperial life, another
part of her mind had been pondering his words ever
True, she admitted to herself, she was not
planning on ruling over the galaxy. On the other
hand, she pouted unhappily, she did not really want
to see either of her subordinates take over the
throne either. Their ascension would only
result in bloodbaths on all the resisting planets
while the powerful men would vie for power between
No, she shuddered slightly, she did not want this
to happen either.
However, she thought more grimly as her
deep-seated hatred overwhelmed her rationality once
again, she did not want to let Vader's crime go
unpunished either. The traitor had to pay with
A life for a life...
Then she would be able to truly enjoy her
relationship with his son... with whom she had
willingly bonded herself forever. Even when
Luke had explained to her what the consequences of
their physical actions would have on their Force
bond, she had not changed her mind about wanting to
be forever with him. She had not been able to
ever imagine not being with him.
Now that they were one, would always be one, she
could barely remember 'why' she had hated him so much
before she had met him. Oh, she conceded, she
remembered that she had thought that he had been an
arrogant, haughty and self-centered brat who had
helped his father kill the Emperor, but now that she
was thinking about it, she had somehow known, even
then, that it hadn't been true.
She had heard about Luke's unique personality, had
even seen him help people after she herself had
injured them while trying to test his
abilities. Back then, she had always tried to
convince herself that he had been pretending, playing
a role to gain political power over the populace, but
deep down, she had simply been unable to accept that
she had been wrong about him.
She hadn't been able to accept that such a gentle
Then, he had apologized to her while in her claws,
and she had known.
From that day, it had only been a matter of
discovering more of his personality, and her
relationship with him had been sealed.
What greatly surprised her though was how 'he' too
had fallen for her. After all, she had hurt
him, had even made others hurt him for her, and
The object of her thoughts stirred slightly
against her shoulder blade, then shifted his right
arm and pulled her slightly closer to himself.
"So it wasn't a dream," he breathed against
her ear, then kissed it gently.
"A dream, or a nightmare, farmboy?" she
inquired uneasily, then turned around until she could
face him once again.
For a long second, Luke met her worried gaze with
his soft one, then leaned slightly closer and
compassionately kissed her forehead. "It would
have been a nightmare turned dream, Mara," he
reassured her warmly.
The ex-Emperor's Hand closed her eyes in relief
and gratitude and pulled him closer to herself,
feeling tears of regret and sorrow fill her
eyes. "I'm so sorry, Luke," she
choked out of her suddenly constricted throat.
"I should never have---"
"Ssshhh," he soothed her, then shifted
his head to hug her more tightly. "It's
all right, Mara. We all make mistakes in our
lives, but what is important is that we learn from
them and use them to evolve, to change. You did
so; it's the only thing that matters to me."
"But not to me, Luke," she argued,
looking up once again to search his eyes with
hers. "I knew who you were before I
captured you," she admitted out loud to
him. "I knew that you were unique and
kind, but," she hesitated slightly, "I
couldn't believe it. I couldn't imagine that my
childhood's dream could come true, that I might still
be able to fall in love despite everything that I had
been taught by the Emperor. I chose to ignore
my feelings, and I..." she paused, then
carefully searched his back with her fingertip.
"I gave you those and the memories of how you
"That one came from my father," he
countered matter-of-factly, then slightly leaned up
on his left elbow to gaze down at her. "As
for what you thought and could not accept, you can't
blame yourself for being overwhelmed by the Emperor's
manipulations. I accept that he might have done
some good for you," he added quickly when he
noticed the reflexive narrowing of her eyes,
"but you said it yourself, he also taught you
many things that aren't true about your feelings, the
others, and the galaxy as a whole."
"And the Jedi," she nodded in
understanding, then lowered her gaze to stare at his
pillow. "So many things are not so clear
cut anymore," she sighed glumly.
"Yeah," he sighed too, then leaned back
on the mattress and stared at the ceiling.
"Tell me about it."
"Do you resent your being here with me?"
she asked him, then raised her head from her pillow
and propped it against her right hand.
He slightly turned his head toward her and smiled
softly. "Not in a million years, my
love," he reassured her. "Besides,
it's kind of too late to resent our current
arrangements, isn't it?"
"How can you love me, Luke?" she frowned
at his gentle smile. "I mean," she
continued, "I understand now why I fell in love
with you. Who wouldn't unless they're insane,
but you," she paused slightly, "how can you
love the woman who tortured you?.."
He sighed heavily in answer, his lighter mood
turning more serious, then he gazed up at the ceiling
once again. "I guess its exactly like how
I came to love my father," he answered glumly.
He sighed again. "Because of the
changes, because of the other sides of both of your
personalities that you and him suddenly presented to
me... Because of the heart that inhabit so much the
two of you that you can overcome even your personal
Dark Sides," he finished earnestly, locking his
gaze with hers this time.
While she didn't like, yet couldn't deny what he
was referring to, her turning to the Light Side of
the Force... to the path of the Jedi Knights, she
also smirked slightly as an image of the hated Dark
Lord came to her mind. "Somehow, I have
the feeling that Vader doesn't appreciate when you
talk about him like this."
Her lover smirked ruefully at this. "He
doesn't. Still, the facts are there; he cares
more than anyone could give him credit for. As
do you," he added, leaning slightly closer to
her. "You might think that I gave you your
feelings," he continued more seriously,
"but your heart has always been part of your
personality, Mara. You just hadn't explored it
before. I guess that I was some sort of
catalyst, nothing more."
"Just some sort of catalyst, huh?" she
smirked as she too leaned closer, then pecked his
lips. *I think that 'ultimate catalyst' is more
Even though it still pained her to hear his
comments about how her old life had not been good for
her well-being and happiness, she could not berate
him anymore about them. He was right.
The Emperor had molded her into a certain type of
being, but it had not been 'her' mold. She had
not been Mara Jade, only his top secret agent... and
she had never been as comfortable with herself as she
was at the moment, sharing a 'weak-hearted' moment
with her chosen lover, a 'weak-hearted' Jedi Knight
who was what had always been missing in her life yet
she had never been aware of it before now.
Of course, her old life had not only been negative
either, just like the Luke's life had not been only
positive, but all in all, she was only beginning to
discover that large chunks of her life had been
eluding her up to now.
But no more.
She refocused on her companion, who was gazing at
her yet didn't seem to see her in front of him.
"What are you thinking about?" she prompted
him, pulling him out of his fixation.
"My father," he half-muttered.
"Even though he didn't save me from your Dark
Side, I..." he hesitated slightly, then brushed
his right eye with the back of his hand, "I
still love him. I can't hate him... but I just
don't want to see him at the moment."
While she did not share his feelings in regards to
his father, she could understand that there was much
more to Vader than what she had ever been led to
believe. "Can you tell me about him?"
she queried gently, leaning closer to her boyfriend.
"About what?" he frowned, refocusing
completely on her. He slightly pulled away from
her, silently reminding her that they had agreed to
not use him against his father.
"I'm just curious about how he became so
powerful," she shrugged in genuine
curiosity. "I mean, we can't attack him
directly because he always kills his assailant, he
seems impervious to any other attacks that we mount
against him, and," she finished more gently,
"he can earn the love from even his son and
daughter, whom he almost destroyed at a certain
It was Luke's turn to shrug as he turned back on
his back. "To be honest with you, I don't
know the answer to those either. All I know is
that you assessment of him is quite accurate.
My father is a very powerful Sith Lord, but not only
that," he shrugged. "He just keeps
that other part of himself very secret, even from
"Still, you seem to know him more than
anybody else; otherwise, he wouldn't have managed to
earn your care and love."
He barely quirked his lips at that, turning his
head back toward her. "I could say the
same thing about you," he commented, then rolled
back on his side to face her.
"That must come from being in the business of
secrets, farmboy," she teased him
He grimaced at her moniker. "Don't call
me that," he groaned boyishly.
"But you are a farmboy," she returned
teasingly, pulling him closer to herself.
"Well, why not calling me flyboy?" he
Mara couldn't help but chuckle at his discomfited
face. She ran her hands up his well-muscled
back, then into his hair to tease him further.
"Because you're not as arrogant as regular
pilots are, my dear farmboy... and that's what I love
in you," she finished as she leaned up toward
his descending head.
They kissed anew while their uninhibited hands
begun a new round of sentimental exploration.
As he pulled her slightly off the mattress and
closer to him, Mara pulled away from his kiss to
allow him to ravage her neck with his sensuous
lips. While she did so, she considered her
previous comments about having been misinformed about
the Jedi and she became aware that she did not resent
the Jedi anymore, let alone hate them. However,
she was kind of envying her boyfriend for this part
of his life. She too wanted to be able to use
her special skills as easily as he had told her he
could... then she belatedly remembered that she was
now the master of her life.
'She' could decide to train further in the
Force, if not to become a Jedi, then at least
to satisfy her desire to fulfill that other part of
herself. "Luke?" she breathed while
she enjoyed his delightful ministration.
"Can you do one thing for me although it might
be construed as treason from your father?"
As she had expected, her lover interrupted his
activities and leaned away from her before he gazed
down at her. "What do you have in
mind?" he asked her uncertainly.
"Can you train me in the ways of the
Force?" she asked him earnestly, baring her
already bare soul to his to show him that she was
only interested to do it for her personal experience.
As if unable to believe her request, her boyfriend
gaped at her for a few three or four seconds, then he
smiled brightly at her and leaned down once again.
"Anytime," he finally answered her before
he captured her lips in a new, searing kiss of
Aware that he enjoyed to teach about the Force to
people who were ready to devote their time to their
studies, Mara chuckled at his boyish enthusiasm, then
silently promised him that she would try to not
They deepened their kiss, becoming oblivious to
the surrounding world once again.
Chapter 12: Organizing the
A day later, aboard Executor.
Dr. David Forester wasn't happy at all.
Even though he was maintaining an unreadable
"Sabacc" face, Vader could read his
emotions without even accessing the Force; the jerky
movements of his fingers were betraying his actual
"My Lord," Forester said seriously.
"You're barely coming out from an
"A minor one," Vader countered coolly.
He was sitting in bed, attached to external life
supports. Except for his faceplate, he had foregone
his armor to wear the hospital blues.
"Still," the medic objected, "you
can't disconnect from the full life support for a
minimum of three days. Your body is extremely tired.
You need complete rest."
"I fail to see a counter-indication to
"Reading?" the other almost sputtered,
"You're not reading, you're working!"
Vader smirked under his mask. "It's still
just reading reports. I'm not a fool, Forester, I
know my state and its implicit limitations."
"And one of these limitations is the absolute
necessity to sleep for 'more' than five hours per
cycle. Not meditating but sleeping. Are you aware of
Vader sighed. Forester and sleeping cycles, he
grumbled inwardly. "Yes, doctor, I'm aware of
"I must warn you, my Lord," the other
stated gravely. "If you don't respect the
regulation this time, I'll sedate you for the next
"With what?" the Dark Lord challenged
him acidly, focusing his full attention on him.
"Have you uncovered some miracle product while I
was on Yavin 4?"
From past experiences, they were both aware that
every known soporific had a very limited effect on
him, three hours at the most. It had always been a
problem when he had had to go through long surgeries.
Dr. Forester smiled thinly. "Perhaps. It's
still undergoing tests, but I won't hesitate to use
it if you do not cooperate, my Lord."
Vader stared at him, than used the Force to
ascertain the other's words. Forester wasn't lying
about the new medicine.
"I'm willing to test it as soon as I'll be
physically capable," he nodded seriously.
"We'll see about that," Forester
tempered him, then frowned and looked at the
communicator on his wrist. "It seems that you
have a visitor, my Lord. Han Solo."
"I asked for him. Allow him to enter."
The medic shook his head in annoyance, but obeyed.
Han entered the room.
"You have one hour," Forester warned
them both, "and don't you dare take more."
He then strode out of the room.
Solo looked at the medic's back and shook his head
in mocking disbelieve. "Now, that's a man who is
certain to be obeyed."
"He has an habit of being bossy," Vader
smirked, "He is a very self-confident
"I've heard," Han nodded as he walked
closer to the Dark Lord's bed. "Why did you ask
"While I was going through records, I've
found something extremely puzzling. I'd like your
opinion on it."
Han sat by the bed, doing his best to cover his
curiosity. If Vader asked for his opinion, the
problem had to be *really* interesting. "I'll be
happy to help, your Darkness," he answered,
unable to not tease the powerful man. Now that he
knew that he couldn't kill him anymore, it was one of
his favorite mental exercise with the Dark Lord of
The Sith, as usual, ignored him. "I've found
this record..." Vader tapped some combination on
the board that was set in front of him, then turned
the screen towards Han, "...particularly
interesting, don't you think?"
Han looked at the screen and blanched. 'oh, Sith!'
On the screen, an extremely familiar figure was
armed with a practice wooden sword and going through
a simple fighting routine.
"Care to explain... Captain?"
"You're paranoid, " Han retorted
defensively. "Monitoring your own training
"Quite so," Vader smiled under his mask.
"So, what is the meaning of this, Solo?"
"Your learning how to use a saber," the
other answered, pointing toward the ongoing images.
"Well... I was curious," the pilot
explained truthfully. "At first, I only wanted
to try it in order to understand why you and Luke
were so crazy about it."
"And then I liked it," Han shrugged.
"I know that I will never have access to your
mumbo-jumbo Force and that I'll never be a match for
any of you, but... well, it's just ... like
A silence ensued this revelation. Slowly, the
black mask nodded. "Indeed."
"For you too?"
Vader laughed a little; it came out as a rasped
sound since it was almost impossible to laugh when he
was attached to external lungs. "Yes, Solo, it
is so for me, as well as for Luke. By the way, you do
have some talent."
Han couldn't help but gape at the unexpected
praise. "Are you kidding?"
"No. You'll never be a great fencer, nor will
you ever be a match for myself or Luke, but, should
you train a little, you can become a decent
Befuddled by his father-in-law's statement, Han
gaped further at him. "Surely," he began
hesitantly, "you're not talking about what I
think you are, are you?"
Vader shrugged. "After the operation, I'll
have some spare myself for a while, but I can't
afford cutting down on the practice."
Han blinked at his father-in-law in utter
"I prefer to fence against a living opponent
than against a droid," Vader finished
"Huh, ah, very! Thanks," Han nodded
earnestly, still unable to believe that Vader had
just offered to train him in lightsaber techniques.
"Good. Now that this is settled, what have
you found on Jade's group?"
'And back to work,' Han thought wryly, getting
used to his father-in-laws abrupt change of topics
and moods. At least though, he was now on a familiar
territory. "Long version or short, your
"Nothing," he answered. "While you
were getting some beauty sleep, your best technicians
crunched through all the information that was stored
in the captured computers. Their conclusion is that
it was not their main base of operation. We could not
find any information about their real base."
"What's your own opinion on its
"Huh, I don't do divination, remember?"
he frowned at him. "That's 'your' specialty. You
found their previous base, didn't you?"
"Only because Leia was capable to indicate
the system. I don't have this type of power,"
Vader informed him calmly.
"Ah, so there 'is' something that you can't
do," he smirked playfully.
"Evidently. I can't kill you for your
insolence, for example."
"Too right you can't," Han smirked, then
sobered. "All right, if you want to know, I
don't think that they have a stationary base. I
Vader nodded. "Avenger then."
"Most likely. However, that means that it
will be damn difficult to corner them."
"Yes. They have an advantage on us."
"First strike?" Han queried.
"Precisely. We can only sit here and wait to
see what strategy they will choose."
"Wonderful prospect," Han commented
sarcastically. "I hope that she won't use Luke
"I doubt that she will," Vader
interrupted him harshly.
Han narrowed his eyes at the sudden change of mood
in the darksider's voice. "What is on your
"Consider the possibility of her
success," his father-in-law advised him.
"If she manages to destroy me, she will also
destroy the political fraction that supports Leia and
the Coalition. Without its support, Leia will never
ascend to the throne due to her past in the
Rebellion. Not only will the war most likely resume
itself, but if she manages to marry Luke, the Empire
will be at her disposal, him being the only legal
heir left. So no," he concluded, "I don't
think that she will hurt him again."
Han swallowed hard. "What a pleasant plan.
You really do think that she is after the
"Perhaps not now. She never was a very
political person," Vader shrugged. "For the
moment, she is after her vendetta. However, the power
is stronger than any drug; it corrupts. I doubt that
she will be able to resist, hence this scenario is
"Great. Well, we have to win then, that's
"Indeed. Sounds easy, Solo, listening to
you," Vader quipped humorlessly.
"Huh, no, not necessarily, but... we'll find
something. We always do. Perhaps Luke's trainees will
find something. They want to help, so why not use
them? Perhaps they will feel where the Avenger will
"Perhaps," Vader said, non-committal.
"I'm quite skeptical on this matter, but you can
propose it to them. If they agree, assign them to
"All right," Han agreed. "There's
one other thing I want to talk you about."
"I want some formal military title. Anything.
I don't care what it is."
"Any particular reason?"
"Yes. I'm commanding the Empire's fleet
without even being in the military! People don't know
how to address me, or else their title doesn't fit me
"I commanded the Fleet under Palpatine and I
never needed any military title."
"Yeah, but you're a Sith Lord. That 'is' a
"And you're my son-in-law. I fail to see a
"I don't want to command them based on your
authority," Han replied, adamant.
Vader shook his head. "Surely you aren't so
blind as to not see that you're obeyed because you're
trusted and not because you're in my family. You are
a good commander, Solo. I wouldn't leave the Fleet in
your hands if you weren't, and all the officers of
the High Command know that. So what's the real
Han sighed. "I have authority problems with
Han sighed in exasperation. "I don't know
where the hell I am with them! I know almost
everybody, and everybody knows me as a damned hero of
the damned battle of Yavin 4! Hell, I hated the
Empire- and now I'm a third man in the Empire! They
don't understand that it's for real. They still see
in me their old-good-pal-Han-Solo-the-smuggler, just
in a very amusing situation. Which 'is' quite
amusing, by the way."
"I'd qualify it as 'ironic', " Vader
amended," but continue."
"Well....The problem is that they continue to
treat me as their old-good-pal-Han-Solo-the-smuggler,
their friend 'against' the Empire 'cause this
'ironic' situation he is in couldn't change him
'that' much. And the 'real' problem is that their pal
Han-Solo-the-smuggler is... well..."
"Dead," Vader finished calmly.
"I do understand."
"I thought you would."
"But I won't give you any title."
"What?!" Han gaped at him in disbelief.
"Because it won't resolve your problem. It
will just increase the humor of the situation."
Han considered the others' words, and dimly
smirked. "Yeah, you're right... But what should
I do? What have 'you' done in my situation?" It
was very awkward asking the Dark Lord for an advice,
but well... this whole discussion 'was' very strange
"I stopped playing the role of Anakin,"
Vader replied after a small silence. "You should
stop your acting too."
"Easier said than done..." Han sighed
"You are merely afraid for your image of
Rebellion hero," the Sith stated, merciless.
"Some will label you as a traitor, and they
won't be totally wrong. But if you are as different
as you imply, not acting on it is an even greater
Han stared at his father-in-law. The Sith's tirade
hurt, but the Dark Lord had a point.
He slowly nodded. "All right," he
finally yielded. "I got it. And if my friends
get hurt in the process..."
"If they're your friends," Vader
corrected, suddenly tired-to-the-bone," they
will understand. If they aren't, you don't need
After this, the Dark Lord slowly lowered himself
in a lying position----
Han mentally slapped himself on the forehead.
Throughout the discussion, he had completely
forgotten that Vader was just coming out of an
operation. The man might appear like having an
unlimited amount of energy, but the reality was
The Sith had to be really exhausted to show it in
somebody's company, 'especially' in his presence.
"Sorry, your Darkness!" he apologized,
jumping to his feet. "I better go, before the
Doc uses me as organs donor. See you tomorrow?"
He got no verbal reply, just a dismissive movement
of Vader's scarred left hand. "Till tomorrow
then!" Han said quickly, then almost ran out of
the medical bay.
Behind him, Vader fell almost instantly asleep,
Hours later, Kyp Durron timidly entered the med
chamber. Lord Vader was once again sitting on his
bed, studying at the screen before him.
He slowly approached the bed and stood there,
waiting for the other's acknowledgement.
Five minutes later, Vader addressed him. "Sit
Kyp obeyed. Now that the Dark Lord was his master,
he really didn't know how to behave in his presence.
There had to be a ceremonial of some sort in his
presence, he thought uncertainly, but which---
"Before we begin," the other began
seriously, "I have to clarify one point: I may
be your teacher, but I'm not your Master."
Kyp blinked. "B-but..."
"I am not a follower of your chosen god
myself, so I can't lead you in the ways of serving
him. What I can do, on the other hand, is to teach
you to hear his voice and enabling you to tame your
strength in the Force. But for the moment, you must
understand that the Force itself will not be your
priority; not the Force, nor the ways of the physical
world for that matter."
"Then what will be?"
"People. The world of their thoughts and
opinions. In your case, those linked with the law and
justice so as to change them."
Kyp slowly nodded. "You mean that if Jedis
change the world, the Sith change people?"
"The Sith," Vader said calmly,
"change and preserve the way the people perceive
the world, which in turn influence the world in an
Kyp considered those words for some time, trying
to combine everything he knew in one image.
"Then...," he hesitated, "can a Sith
be not Force-sensitive?"
A rasped, short laugh answered him. "Very
good. Yes, they can. But it's very rare that a person
who can hear their god can't feel the Force. It's
like being colour-blind. Usually, people either see
all colors or they are blind. But indeed, some of
Sith Lords of old were blind or very weak in the ways
of the Force."
"Lord of the Sword wasn't
Force-sensitive," Vader replied coolly.
"There're similar parts in Jedi's and Siths
trainings, and for Force sensitives, they're
completely identical: those areas are the skills of
illusion and the ability to read minds. However, this
ability for a Jedi is limited only for his own
species. He doesn't understand a completely different
"It's different for Siths?"
"Yes, there are no race restrictions for
Siths. A Sith is restricted only by the way of his
"So, if I understand right, it's like two
different languages...one to speak with the world,
and one to speak with the mind..." Kyp mused.
"Very good," Vader complimented.
"Yes, it's a good analogy."
"So... healers can only be Jedis, a Sith
can't be a healer 'cause he won't be able to change
"Only a Sith with Jedi's training can,"
Vader corrected. "One who can speak both
languages. But, of course, he won't be a real healer,
and his range of abilities will be very restricted.
However, a Sith medic dealing with the illnesses of
the mind will be much more effective than a Jedi
"Ah. I think I understand..."
"Good. Now, by choosing to serve the Lord of
the Sword, you've decided to follow the way of law,
of how the persons perceive the law and justice. Do
you accept this?"
"Yes," Kyp nodded. He began to feel
"Do you think that you have enough knowledge
to judge their perceptions?"
"Of course not!"
"I must study?" Kyp offered timidly.
"At the very least. You will do your law
studies in Coruscant University." Kyp's jaw hit
"Either you do it, or you break your Sith
"But, my Lord, how can I?! I'll never be able
to pass the entry examination!"
"At the moment, no, you can't. But in a year,
I don't see why not."
Kyp tried to imagine himself entering the most
prestigious teaching center in all the Coalition---
and shook his head. "I... it's impossible!"
"I never ask for the impossible," was
the cold reply.
"But I know nothing, absolutely nothing! I
have no formal education whatsoever!"
"It can be remedied. If you work hard,"
the other countered implacably.
For a moment, Kyp considered his promise versus
what he had to do in order to fulfill it. But his
decision was already made. He couldn't go back; he
knew it in every fiber of his being. His Destiny was
only moving forward now. "All right... I'll
Kyp waited for Luke's preferred expression
"there's no try", but received only a calm
"Good. Now, concerning your Force abilities, I
hereby forbid you to use the Force at all until I say
otherwise. You will take an ysalamir with you and
always keep it on you."
Kyp paled but nodded.
"It's not a punishment," Vader
clarified, looking at him. "It's the beginning
of your training."
"If you want. Now, go. You study program must
be in your computer now. In four days, you will come
to my training chamber and we'll speak again."
Kyp rose, and bowed. "Good night, my
Vader nodded in answer, then turned back to his
Three days later, Vader was finally allowed out of
the medical bay. Despite Forester's warnings, his
first destination was the training rooms. Han wasn't
surprised in the least.
The pilot stood near the door, leaning against the
light-grey wall, studying Vader's slow dance with the
The Dark Lord moved carefully through a sequence
of medium difficulty. Despite his lack of training,
Han knew that one; he had tried it once in a burst of
overconfidence. He had also realized quickly how
arrogant he had been.
He realized it even more as he watched his
father-in-law at work.
Damn, he thought in reluctant awe, that man's body
was a mess of prosthesis and scars, and he had been
operated three days ago, yet he still managed to move
with feline grace.
It was somehow painful for his ego to accept that
he himself, a younger man, would never reach this
"If you train each day for four hours during
twenty years, you will be surprised to see what level
you can reach," Vader replied to his thoughts .
He completed the final movement and stilled.
"I'll try," Han smirked, then approached
him. "Sorry to disturb you."
"I am finished for today." Vader
switched off his blade, then came near the wall and
slowly lowered himself in a meditation pose.
"However, I'd like to see you train."
Han smirked. "All right, your Darkness. But I
warn you: the sight 'will' hurt your eyes."
Selecting a simple exercise, Han went through the
sequence that he liked the most, the one that gave
him the feeling that he was a flying bird. Or rather
a bird learning how to fly, but anyway, it gave him
peace and joy.
When he finished he was smiling.
"Not bad," he heard from the black
figure near the wall; he stared in disbelief. Had
Vader said "not bad"?!
"Your sword technique is awful, but you have
the right state of mind. That is the most
"It will be interesting to work with
"Huh, won't it be too tiring for you? I mean,
you've already got work with young Durron, and I can
wait, you know?"
"First, Solo, I'm not ill," the other
replied in almost irritation. "I'm just tired,
and that will pass soon. Second, young Durron won't
seriously train in fencing for at least six
"If he wants to be a Sith, he first has to
work with his head, not with the saber."
"Can't argue against that," Han smirked,
sitting down near the Sith Lord. "What about
Luke's trainees? They could also use some training in
the 'work with the head' domain."
Vader tilted his helmeted head. "Anything the
matter with them?"
"Well," Solo scratched his neck, as he
always did when he was about to talk about a subject
that was beyond his personal experience, "They
are too 'feel the Force' approach to my taste,"
he finally shrugged. "I mean, there's absolutely
nothing to feel in the present situation. So... And
the worst is that they don't know anything else! They
don't know how to analyze data, how to build models
or plans. Nothing. They are just Jedis, and right
now, they are useless."
Vader slowly nodded. "Yes, I have considered
this... I think that forcing all Jedis and Siths to
have at least a professional education will be a plus
for both the individuals and the collectivity."
Han thought about it and laughed. "Now,
that's a cool plan! If you do that, the situation
with the Jedis in the Old Republic will not be
possible anymore. They will never be just
"Yes. And it will also help their integration
in the society."
"Yeah, if they work and not just mess with
people's lives, and correct 'the evil ways'," he
said the last words with an exaggerated pathos,
"the people will be much more tolerant, that's
for sure. I wonder if Luke will agree though."
Sudden silence followed. Vader stood up. "I
await for your report on the search, Solo," he
commented harshly, all signs of cordiality gone as if
they had never been there in the first place.
Han's smile faded. "It will be on your screen
in an hour."
The Dark Lord left the room. Han sighed.
What the hell was the boy doing?
------Vader stomped inside the small sanctuary of
his chambers, sat on the floor and paused, looking at
the silver Sathed signs that was on the black wall.
His emotions were by far too powerful now to attempt
any kind of meditation, he admitted to himself after
a moment of consideration. And why?
Because Solo had mentioned Luke's name.
"Am I so out of control?" the Sith Lord
asked the Circle sign. "Is it normal that the
mere mention of Luke sends my greed for
He stopped himself. What he felt now definitely
wasn't greed for revenge. It was not hatred either.
In fact, his feeling wasn't directed toward Jade
at all. Instead, it was centered on him... and
Luke..., or more precisely Luke's absence.
It was not even his absence itself, he then
amended, but the fact that Luke had left combined
with the fact that he had excused himself...
Vader stopped on that thought.
His son had apologized to him through the Force...
and then had erected a block, the block that he
himself had taught his son when they had been on
The only explanation to that sequence of events
was that Luke was willingly blocking out their bond.
But why did this bothered him? Vader wondered.
Luke was under Jade's mental control, not
willingly hurting him... However, he frowned again,
if the boy really was brainwashed, then how could he
decide to excuse himself?..
That apology, he thought seriously, didn't make
any sense. Hence, he didn't believe that Luke was
It thus only left the option of betrayal, and the
thought that his son had betrayed him was... hurting
Vader shook his head.
How stupid. How stupid of him to believe that his
son could have betrayed him, and how stupid to feel
hurt because of that possibility.
Brainwashed or not, Luke had every possible
reason, every right to take his revenge on him.
Vader closed his eyes and forced himself into the
Circle, in the past, in the very precise moment of
He forced himself to look again at Luke's torture,
forced himself to remember. It had been him who had
done that to his son.
Luke had every right to distrust him.
Bespin came alive around him. Luke's jump, his
missing hand waiting for him at the bottom of the
abyss, as if calling out to him...
Solo's pain while under the torture, then when
Needa, collapsing on the floor.
Tie pilots, dying in the asteroid field.
Men dying on Hoth, rebels and imperials alike.
Burning cities, "cleansings", the Death
Star; his own people, who he hadn't known how to
Alderaan, the memories of the death of its people
piercing him like a spear---
The Jedi Purges. Slowly, face by face, all the
details of each death returned to him.
If no-one could remember, he would. The way of the
Circle was a never ending, never fading, absolute
memory. It was the acceptance of your past for what
it really was. It was the acceptance of himself for
who he really was.
And he was a monster.
How dared he to feel hurt if his son saw him for
who he was? he pondered, long into the night.
Chapter 13: Plot and Counterplot
Throughout the following three months, Han always
gave the same report to his superior: nothing.
Despite their teams accurate researches, they
didn't find anything. The searches, the interrogation
of the traitor from Dantooine, the Jedi trainees'
scanning; nothing produced any result of any kind.
Executor returned to Coruscant, then departed
Slowly, days went by, punctuated by a complete
silence from either Jade's group... or Luke himself.
Vader didn't know what disturbed him most.
He couldn't feel Luke at all, nor could he reach
him through his dreams. Once again deep in
meditation, he tried again to reach for the line of
their Force bond, but as previously, found it
completely blocked from Luke's part.
He paused before his son's solid black wall of
Before his battle with Exar Kun, he might have
been able to break through it, but now, he couldn't
anymore. His refusal of his status had made him
much weaker in the Force, and he was a lot less
confident where his son was concerned.
Before then, he had been certain of one thing: his
son had been extremely loyal to those he cared for.
Now though, he was beginning to doubt it.
In a way he didn't want to break Luke's wall; he
wanted to give himself time, to prove wrong these
growing disgusting doubts. He also wanted to
give Luke time to come to terms with whatever was
causing the rift between them. After all, he
would find him sooner or later, and when that would
happen, their encounter would be better and much
easier if by this time, Luke understood his errors.
Vader turned from the wall that was separating him
from Luke's mind, and, still in a meditating status,
lightly scanned Executor, verifying, as usual, if
everything was all right.
It was the middle of the 'night' for the high
officers. Admiral Tachta was asleep, and dreaming of
revenge. He had been third officer at the time
of Piett's betrayal and Piett had been his hero
then. He still couldn't forgive his fallen hero
for his actions. In fact, no one of the ancient
crew did. They didn't care much about Jade, about
rumours surrounding Palpatine's death, and they even
respected the former rebels for their sheer tenacity
if nothing else, but they couldn't stand a betrayal
from one of their own.
Especially if this one was Thomas Piett, the one
they admired, respected, loved. They had been loyal
to him as they were loyal to Vader himself. When
Piett had planned his desertion, he had planned well,
but he had obviously forgotten to take one fact into
consideration: when he had challenged the loyalty of
the Executor's crew, they had not accepted his
betrayal and had chosen to give their utter loyalty
to their Emperor.
The only indulgence they had been given to Piett
that day had been to allow him to escape.
On Avenger Veers had been much more
successful. He had deserted with the whole ship
While the loss of Piett had not been part of the
highlights of the recent months, Vader had considered
interesting how much more tolerant his crew had
become toward republicans after the man's attempt of
mutiny. They easily accepted Solo's current power and
influence. Former rebel or not- he was loyal, and on
Executor it was everything that mattered these days.
Speaking of Solo, he thought to himself, the man
was yet again in the training room, his febrile mind
buzzing dimly in the background of the Force. Even
without scanning his son-in-law, Vader was aware that
the ex-rebel was overworking and lacking sleep.
Something was clearly on his mind. Perhaps his
'act' was finally beginning to wear him down.
It would be the end of a difficult time for the
man, he sighed as he left him to his callisthenics.
Vader remembered his own time of changing.
It had been painful and restless then... he had
finally, openly proclaimed his loyalties. It
had been a difficult task, yet the only way out of
his self-imposed tragicomedy.
It all came back to loyalty, he sighed to himself,
then turned his focus on the Force. He gazed at
the black wall that was still severing his bond with
Luke--- and abruptly ended his meditation.
It wasn't a pattern of thought that he wished to
pursue. After three months of chase, it 'had'
to come to an end. Whether he was after his
arch-nemesis, or his son.
As she read the reports of her different teams,
Mara Jade smirked in content.
At last, she sighed to herself. It had taken them
almost three months to prepare their assault on the
rebels of Balti, but at last, they were ready and
would strike against Vader's second most important
weakness: his dream to pacify the universe.
While she had first been frustrated by the Dark
Lord's ability to survive anything that they could
throw at him, then at his lack of vulnerability
through either harassment of his units or even the
disappearance and torture of his own son, she now
understood, as her boyfriend kept telling her, that
everything happened for a reason.
In this case, her previous failures had led her to
this precise moment of impending victory.
Soon, she promised the hated, unseen man, his
'true' intents toward the Rebels would be known by
the 'whole' galaxy, and he would lose whatever
control he had on it.
So Vader liked secrets, she smirked to herself in
self-satisfaction, well she would make sure to twist
them so much in his grip that he would learn to not
play with secrets ever again.
Then he would die, and her master would be
And she herself would be free...
"Begin," she ordered Piett and her other
subordinates, who were standing at attention behind
On Coruscant, Leia Organa-Solo, second-in-command
of the Empire and future mother of twins, refrained
herself from sighing in boredom as she listened to
yet another string of comments about how helping the
farmers of Tatooine would not be as useful as
assisting in the reconstruction of the shipyards of
Since the man was imperial, Leia knew that his
choice was not impartial, but then, the rebel
negotiators, who had come in the name of Tatooine,
were not selfless either.
She herself felt as if she were pulled in two
directions at the same time. On one hand, she wanted
to agree with the Republic and assist in the creation
of the irrigation system on Tatooine, thus turning
the desert into an arable planet, but on the other
hand, such a project needed considerable resources
and while farmers on Tatooine managed to live quite
stably, social situation on Byss due to lack of work
was quite disastrous... ----
A worried noise suddenly came from outside of the
double doors, then an aide rushed inside.
"Princess," Alole called even as she ran to
"Alole," she scolded her wearily,
"I had said that I didn't want to be---"
"Interrupted, I know, but you must come
quickly. It's an emergency! The Republic has been
Feeling her blood freeze in her veins, Leia stood
up as quickly as her bulging stomach allowed her,
then followed her friend outside. Behind her, the
republican negotiators excused themselves and left
the room, leaving the Imperial representatives to
wonder what was going on.
Aboard Executor Kyp Durron wasn't sleeping either.
He was studying the laws of Ancient Republic and
wanted to finish his chapter before going to bed.
On his shoulder was an Ysalamiri. While reading,
Kyp absentmindedly stroked its fur; the creature gave
a hiss of contentment.
The creature was a female, which he had named
Lila. She had been his companion throughout the past
three months. Thanks to her nutrient, portable
frame, she had never been farther than five meters
away from him. He never had had a pet before, but it
was turning to be an interesting experience.
She was much smarter than any biology book
suggested, even though it was known, that the
insect-eating ysalamiri species were more intelligent
than the tree-bound ones. She could understand easy
commands, such as "eat this" and "get
off me!", and she adored to hear him praise her.
She had a beautiful leather body, a dark-forest-green
fur, and was apparently quite aware of this. It had
to be a special, female ability, he smirked to
himself as he stroked her fur again.
"Good girl," he whispered in attachment.
At first, it had been difficult for him to live
without his Force-awareness. He had been even a bit
lonely, but he had still had the feeling of his god's
presence. Now, he also had his books and Lila
All his life he was sure he was a fighter in
heart. It took three months of Force-blindness and
intensive studies to discover the astonishing truth:
he wasn't a fighter, he was a scholar.
He didn't miss his saber lessons at all. In
fact, he cared about them so little that Lord Vader
had ordered him to continue his training
sessions. Vader had warned him to not lose the
physical shape that he had acquired while training
with Luke, that 'this' too was part of a Sith's life.
Thus, Kyp had regularly trained with Solo, who was
becoming a lot better with a saber than him. Of
course, if he could feel the Force, Kyp would
probably beat the former smuggler without breaking a
sweat, but then again, he admitted to himself, Solo
might also surprise him.
And the wonderful thing was that it didn't bother
him at all.
He was a scholar, and it was fine with him. He was
forbidden to use the Force and it was fine too. He
had a purpose now, which became clearer with every
day that he spent in studying; he didn't need
Kyp shut the book, relaxed, closed his eyes and
entered a brief, non-Force meditation. He
thought of his god, of what the path of his Sith had
to be. He thought of justice.
The sharp and painful feeling pierced through his
The voices cried in his head.
"Why? Why us? Why?"
"Find them. Punish them."
"See that justice is done."
Pain broke the trance, but it didn't put an end to
his pain. Voices didn't stop either. Kyp cried,
clutching his head in his hands.
"See that justice is done."
"Find the responsible."
"See to justice..."
"I will!" Kyp cried in despair. "I
will, I promise!!!"
Heavy silence fell on him. He slumped in his
chair, shaking all over, then he belatedly realized
that something horrible had just happened, somewhere
in the galaxy. He ran out of the room.
Lord Vader had to know about it.
------Half an hour later, Lord Vader, Kyp Durron
and Han Solo stood in Vader's meditation/control
chamber as they listened to the early reports that
were coming in from Balti.
"We estimate the number of victims to
hundreds, my Lord," the captain trooper reported
on the screen.
"Who did this?" the Dark Lord inquired
"We don't know yet, my Lord. We will search
the ruins as soon as we gain access to them, but at
the moment, the Republic will not let us
"Put me in contact with the man in charge of
the operations there," Vader stated.
"Yes, my Lord."
The moment that the communication system went on
standby, Han whistled lowly in grim awe.
"Whoever did this made quite a cartoon."
Before Vader could reply, a calling signal
attracted his attention once again.
"What is it?"
"Incoming call from Coruscant, my Lord,"
came the response. "It's your daughter."
"Patch her through."
He had barely finished to give his order that
Leia's distraught face appeared on the big screen of
his communication system. "Father, what
happened? Why did the Empire do that?"
"I don't know," he answered her, then
paused on her second question. "Why do you think
it's the Empire?"
"Well," she began, then turned around
and ordered someone to transmit something up to the
Executor, "take a look at what they just found
in the ruins, with plenty of reporters to catch sight
of their incriminating proof."
Solo, who had already stepped inside his
meditation chamber look at Leia's sending, gasped in
shock as he obviously saw what was upsetting his wife
so much. Vader calmly turned around and took a
look at the communication.
"I have a very bad feeling about this, your
Lordship," his son-in-law told him, once again
unnecessarily, as he gazed at the imperial-marked
remnant of the bomb that had already been exposed to
more eyes than he could imagine.
"I believe you that you didn't do it,
Father," his daughter told him in the heavy
silence, "but someone, somewhere, has just made
sure that the rest of the Republic would not believe
And that someone, Vader thought darkly as he felt
his anger boil within him, was Mara Jade.
His mortal enemy.
Aboard Avenger, Luke was exercising, as he often
did when he was alone in his and Mara's
quarters. As usual, the Holonet was turned on
but without any sound coming from it.
As he did every then and again, he flicked a gaze
in its direction as he sat up yet again, then laid
back down before pulling himself in a sitting
position once again. His fingers were laced
behind his head, his breath was ragged, and his torso
was bathing in sweat, but he kept straining, feeling
that he could continue his chosen exercise for a
Besides, he shrugged mentally, he wasn't that----
His thoughts came to a sudden halt, as did his
exercise, as he caught sight of the new images that
were now shown on the vid. Instead of the
beautiful landscapes of a chosen planet, he could now
see all-too-well-known images of war.
He reflexively reached out and raised the volume
of the vidset; the voice of the twi-lek reporter
"We do not know how many victims are still
trapped under the debris of the Republic building,
but we estimate that there were no less than three
hundred souls within its walls when the bomb went
While the other tried to explain what they could
see behind her, Luke gaped in horror as he recognized
the architecture of the surrounding buildings. The
images were coming from Balti.
"Wait a second, I'm receiving a message from
my colleague. I will transfer you to him,"
the young woman explained, then the images changed to
that of an aged human. "Thank you,
Liee. The research teams have just found
remnants of the bomb, and if we can get a little
closer," the other was saying.
A shiver of foreboding slowly ran throughout
Luke's body. All of a sudden, he understood
that the act of terrorism had not been a mere act of
"I..." the reporter suddenly stopped
talking as the images of the pieces finally became
available. "We had only heard rumours
about people seeing imperial troops around the
building minutes before it went up, but we now have
the indubitable proof that the Imperials truly
attacked the Republic once again."
Luke's arms fell to the deck as shock took hold of
his whole body. What?? His father had
attacked the Republic?? No, he shook his
head--- then an even worse possibility occurred to
This was what Mara had been talking about for the
past weeks, he realized. This was how she had meant
to attack his father this time: by black-mailing him.
However, unlike any of her other attacks against
his father, this one had taken innocent lives!
Unusually disgusted and upset, he called the remote
control to his hand and checked the other channels
that he could catch.
Every single frequency of transmission was talking
about what had happened on Balti, and every single
one of them was now openly, if informally, accusing
his father of betrayal.
Had they still been under the Empire's old rules,
he knew that no one would openly accuse his father of
anything or else risk his or her very life for it.
However, now that his sister had instilled the
Freedom of Speech and Thought in the very laws of the
Empire, the reporters were not afraid for their lives
Thus, his father was not protected against their
sarcasm and negative comments.
If that had been Jade's plan, he reflected grimly,
then his girlfriend had sure pulled it off
nicely. In a matter of minutes, she had managed
to generate in the galaxy so much unrest and distrust
toward his father that open resistance to his new
rule were now springing up everywhere.
Luke watched everything, and wished that he could
put an end to it.
Now that her strike teams were away from Balti and
on their way to Coruscant, Mara left her jubilant
officers to their next preparations and returned to
Her plan was working better than she had ever
hoped for. The eyes of the whole galaxy were now
riveted on Balti, understanding it as proof that
Vader was truly turning back against the rebels now
that he had weakened them, or so most pro-rebels
At the moment, people were only raging at the dark
Lord and trying to establish some sort of contact
with either him or his daughter, but after Coruscant,
she thought meanly, they would ask for his blood.
The door of her quarters slid open upon her
arrival. She stepped through them.
Ah, she sighed in contentment, sweet...
Her triumphal sneer died in her mind as she caught
sight of her boyfriend's face.
"How could you?" he asked her the moment
that the doors had closed behind her. He walked
around the nearby couch in order to meet with her.
She turned away from him, locking her gaze on the
images on the vid that were still coming from
Balti. "I thought that I had made it
clear, farmboy," she reminded him as she walked
away from him. "I hate your father.
I will make him---"
Luke's hand suddenly took a firm grip on her
forearm, then the equally strong man pulled her
around and closer to himself. "I am not
talking about my father, Jade," he scolded
her. "You killed hundreds of innocents
today. Not my father."
Angered by his scolding attitude, she pulled her
arm free of his hold, then stepped slightly away from
him and glared at him. "They were only
Rebel sympathizers. They were expandable to get
She expected him to glare back at her, or to defy
her again, but instead, he gazed long and hard at
her, then he turned away from her. "I
thought that your Jedi training would have helped you
change those perceptions, Mara," he commented
glumly, then turned back toward her.
She couldn't help but take a deep breath in shock
when she saw that his eyes were filled with tears.
"They were living beings just like you and
I. They had lovers, children, hopes and
dreams. They had a role to play in the Force
just like we Jedi do, but," he finished sadly,
"you killed them because you hate my
For a long, very long moment, their eyes met in
silence. She didn't know what to answer to his
comment. While she had taken his Jedi lessons
to heart, she had never considered them when she had
been preparing her strike against Vader.
"Luke...," she began hesitantly.
Her companion shook his head in answer, then
Force-pulled his shirt to his hand and turned his
back to her. "I can't train you
anymore," he told her forlornly. "You are
not ready to accept the responsibilities that come
with your gift."
Although his voice had been gentle and devoid of
aggression or despise, his words felt like a vicious
slap in her face. She had just managed to
strike an important blow against her enemy, and his
son was telling her that she was not ready to harness
her Force powers??
For a brief moment, she felt the urge to jump him
and teach him to not treat her like a nobody ever
again, but as an image of her hurting Luke came to
her mind, she subsided. She did not want to
assail him ever again.
She closed her eyes to recover her cooler
When she re-opened them, her companion was gone
and she was alone in the living room of her quarters.
On the side wall, the Holonet was still displaying
images of her first victory against her enemy.
She watched them for a long while, Luke's words
running through her mind every time that they talked
about her victims.
He had been right, she finally, reluctantly
conceded to herself.
In the 'fresher, Luke leaned back against the wall
that was beside the door. How could he have not
foreseen what Mara would try to use against his
father?, he rebuked himself. How could he have
forgotten that she hated him so much that she would
kill innocents in order to destroy him?
His only comfort was that she had not used the
Force to do this, that she had still used her more
usual means of destruction.
Still, he conceded to himself, he could not teach
her more than she already knew or else he would
probably risk the creation of another dark
Jedi. He could not be close to her anymore
either. She was too much of a monster...
At the moment, he truly felt as if he too had
betrayed his father with his latest choices.
He slumped down to the deck and sat there for a
long, long while.
On Coruscant, Leia walked bristly down the
official corridors of the Palace. "Everyone is
there now?" she inquired to Winter.
"Yes, your Highness. They are waiting
for you, but I must warn you, they are here to
informally incriminate your father," she
informed her matter-of-factly.
"No kidding," the five-month pregnant
Leia sighed in wariness, then stopped by a nearby
mirror to check on her gown and braids one last
time. She then took a deep breath and let it
out slowly. "Right," she heartened
herself, "let's do this."
She stepped into a transition corridor, then,
adopting her most regal and confident attitude,
walked into the media-crowded room and headed toward
the waiting microphones. "Representatives of the
media," she began solemnly, "citizens of
the Empire and Republic. What has happened
today on Balti is tragic," she continued
sombrely. "We do not know yet who has
planted this imperial bomb in the new installations
of the Republic on Balti, but I can assure you that
it was not the Empire."
As expected, voices of disbelief rose instantly.
"As the Republic knows," she continued
coolly, "Lord Vader had personally authorized
the new installations. He did not come back on
"Do you really expect us to believe that the
Dark Lord of the Sith is not trying to draw the
Republic out to destroy it more easily?" an
indignant voice suddenly rose from the back of the
group. "Please, Princess, don't play us
for fools. We know your tricks."
"Yeah," other voices agreed while more
heads nodded in agreement.
"If you need a guarantee that Lord Vader is
not fomenting a treason against the Republic, then
pick me as your proof," she challenged the
other. "I can read my father's mind, just
like my brother can. Neither of us felt any
deceit when we agreed to help in the unifying of the
two former armies into one, two-sided
"Unless he lied to you and that you weren't
powerful enough to feel it," the same arrogant
Who said that?, she frowned while she noticed how
the rest of the reporters were taking notes of the
"What about the confirmed rumours that Lord
Vader is currently using the whole fleet for a
private matter?" another, more subdued voice
inquired from the front rows. "I'm sorry
to bring it up, Princess, but it does seem to support
the theory that Lord Vader is preparing
"I can assure you that the joint Fleet is
only searching for someone at the moment. They
are not preparing to strike any of the planets of the
system. Once again, the officials of the Republic are
aware of this and are helping us."
More grumbles and mumbles welcomed her statement.
"Who are they looking for, Leia?" a new
voice inquired, overlapping another, more diffuse
For a brief moment, Leia pondered whether to
reveal or not that her brother had disappeared, then
decided that keeping the secret any longer would not
serve them at all. "They are looking for
my brother's, who's been kidnapped by---"
"Like you yourself has been kidnapped shortly
after Lord Vader became Emperor, correct?"
"Did your father feel threatened by the new
Jedi Order?" another voice inquired before she
could refute what the other had just said.
"There are rumours that the Jedi Academy of
Yavin 4 is deserted nowadays. Has Vader killed
Suddenly feeling as if the control of the
situation had slipped out of her fingers, Leia
finally understood what was Jade's plan this
time. She meant to make the populace of the
galaxy kill her father for her, or at least turn him
back into their enemy.
Well, she resolved adamantly, she for one would
not let the other tear her father apart like this.
"My father," she interrupted the ongoing
sharing of theories, extending her hands forward in a
silencing gesture, "did 'not', I repeat, did not
do anything of what you are accusing him of. A
woman named Mara Jade, who has been harassing him for
the past year, has kidnapped my brother and is now
trying to blackmail the new Emperor. I am aware
that at the moment, it sounds a lot as if we're
trying to deny what you saw, but you can ask for
confirmation about all those details to the
Republic. Their main committee has been
informed of both events the moment that they
occurred. Hence, I ask you, all of you, to give us
time to investigate. We will provide you with
all the proofs that we need to ascertain my father's
public innocence regarding Balti."
Even though more questions and indignant comments
welcomed her statement, she ignored them and walked
out of the stifling room.
Whatever she said now, she knew that the worst
would still be said about her father until they
could, indeed, prove his innocence.
Aboard the Executor, Han Solo cursed under his
breath as he and his father-in-law watched the
conclusion of Leia's emergency press
conference. "The poodoo has really hit the
fan this time," he commented derogatorily.
"Indeed," the black-clad giant commented
coolly, then turned back to the main holo transmitter
through which he was holding a conversation with
General Dodonna and Ackbar of the Republic.
He had been discussing with them about Jade's
actions when the younger man had returned to his
superior's room, warning them to turn their attention
to the holonet for some major head bashing from the
Almost as fast as Vader re-entered his
transmission range, the Republic side returned within
the receiving field of his communication
device. "Leia has done the best that she
could, my Lord," Dodonna commented grimly as he
locked his aging features on his counterpart's mask,
"but I'm afraid that Jade's plan has worked all
the same. Even though we can confirm that we
knew about her and that she is indeed trying to get
to you, the seed of doubt has been sowed now."
"We can only assist you in your search for
her team and your son, but we cannot stop in any way
what is already transpiring throughout the
galaxy," the alien military genius agreed
"That is why we will not try to stop
it," Vader answered coolly.
As he had thought, neither his son-in-law, nor the
Republicans, had expected him to drop this matter
without any further fight. The two humans gaped
at him as if their jaws were not supported by bones
anymore. Ackbar nodded slowly.
"Trying to fight the inevitable will only
scatter our energies and troops," Vader
explained rationally even as he tried to second-guess
his cunning adversary. "Our only hope to
expose the traitors is to capture them. For this, I
request authorization to access the destroyed complex
"Are you hoping to discover a new lead?"
"Yes," said Vader. "But it's also
possible that she will try to attack me there, and
thus give us a chance to capture her. She has an
advantage- I have no choice for a moment but to
comply to her rules."
"The access to Balti's complex is
authorized," Ackbar stated gravely. " In an
hour, I will make an official statement about the
attack, and will confirm Republican full support of
"Thank you," said Vader.
"We don't need a war," said
Ackbar," so I hope you will get out of this
alive, Lord Vader."
"...no matter your personal thoughts of the
matter," completed the Sith ironically.
"Exactly. Surely, you appreciate the irony of
"Without doubt," said Vader, "Thank
you for your assistance."
Ackbar bowed at little. "Good luck in your
Vader bowed in response and the communication was
"So we're going to Balti?" asked Han.
"Yes," Vader replied shortly.
"And if it's a trap?"
"Then all the better."
The younger man shook his head in disbelief.
"You're nuts, your darkness, you know
that? And what if she organizes an attack on
you under Republican disguise this time?"
"Nobody will believe it."
"And why is it so?"
"Because, Solo," Vader replied
patiently, "I will go there under Antilles' team
protection. No republican will attack their
Han gaped in awe; he didn't recover his composure
for a minute or so. "And... and how exactly do
you plan to make them accept it?" he finally
"Me?" Vader looked at his son-in-law in
apparent surprise. "You will order them,of
"Ah," said Han intelligently. "I
"Great," Han thought while walking to
his quarters. "Just great."
Till now, he had managed to avoid Wedge and his
team, and they hadn't tried to find him either. After
the mixed meeting that had taken place three months
ago, there had been an uneasiness between them, a
And now, after this disaster, he had to meet with
the Republican team and make them accept to protect
Vader down on Balti?!
He didn't know at all how he was supposed to
behave. He just couldn't pretend to be the 'good old
pal Han Solo' with them, that would be plainly
disgusting. However, the new Han Solo was a
complete stranger to him, he had no idea of what he
was capable of.
He had to meet him one day, Vader was right about
And he himself was just a coward, delaying this as
much as possible.
He entered his quarters, closed the door and
paused. So what? How could he meet this stranger that
was himself? How?
Well, he said to himself, like he would with any
other stranger: looking him in the face. He walked to
the mirror and looked in it.
It was as if the time had stopped: the "old
pal Han Solo the smuggler" looked at him from
the mirror: a grin, white shirt, black jacket, pilot
pants and all. There was something almost obscene in
this, in seeing a dead person.
Han stared at his reflection, pondering what he
should do next.
Chapter 14: Turnabouts
Hearing that Mara had finally gone to sleep, Luke
left the 'fresher and retreated in the living room,
on the couch.
He could leave now, he thought glumly as he gazed
sideways at the closed double doors that separated
him from his old life. His soulmate wouldn't hold him
back... yet she would still come after him someday if
only to resume their bond.
Their bond..., he thought forlornly, which was now
hurting him; for the first time since joining his
soul to hers, he wanted to shut it down instead of
Darn it, he finally scolded himself openly. How
could he have been as blind as he had been? As naive
as he had been?! It hadn't been the first time that
he had tried to save a Darksider, thus he should have
'known' that Mara's hatred for his father would ruin
whatever goodness that he could bring into her life
She had already been
consumed by her dark emotions before they had met. He
had been too late. As he was now too late to correct
his latest mistake..., he admitted glumly.
Kreth, he sighed in
annoyance, he was just a naive fool who only saw in
people what he wanted to see.
Up until now, he had
only wanted to see Mara as a good-hearted deceived
young woman whom he could save by his love, so he had
only considered that aspect of her personality.
Really, he rebuked
himself sternly as he mentally went through all the
moments that they had shared since their first
'meeting'. All the necessary clues of darkness had
been there, he reminded himself. All the ugly,
destructive facts of her corruption had been present
in her from the beginning, so he shouldn't be so
Worse, he 'should'
have understood what she was up to a lot earlier...
Yes, he finally
accepted even though he was breaking his heart with
his admission, he had made a mistake when he had
accepted to train her as a Jedi.
He had been so naive, thinking that he could
change her like he had seemed to slightly change his
dark father. He had been wrong.
Hence, instead of
changing her, he had put her more in touch with her
untapped potential, had helped her, in a way, to
scour her own mind in order to free it from its
beliefs of limitation. He had helped her visualize
what she 'could' do with the assistance of the
Then she had used her
absence of limits to come up with a plan that
attacked his father in his only remaining vulnerable
spot: his public image.
While he knew that his
stoic father would not care about those at all, the
destructive potential of such an attack was still
worrying enough that Luke felt truly bad about what
he had tried to do with Jade.
He had tried to change
He had only
transformed her into a more dangerous woman than
Now, instead of being
a personal danger for his father, she had become a
threat of galactic proportions.
Tears started to slide down his cheeks, but he
didn't notice them. He was too ashamed of his current
status, for despite his previous reasoning about her
He still loved her
with all his heart.
How could it be, he
grimaced in frustration. How was it still possible?
How could he still feel something for her after
seeing firsthand what kind of monster she was turning
into? How could he still feel that he could make her
see what she had done because of the lies that she
had been told about his father? It was ridiculous!,
he objected before he could formulate any kind of
explanation. He 'couldn't' love her anymore.
Nor could he try to
convert her to the Light anymore. He could not
influence her in any way, except strengthen her.
Thus, if he were not
careful, he could now see himself at the basis of a
new Emperor, although she would be an Empress this
time, but no less cruel... and he would be trapped
within her claws because of his illogical reaction to
No, he moaned in
growing despair, no. He threw his arm across his eyes
to block out his most unpleasant reality.
The image of his Mara
ever turning into a true monster was physically
painful, impossible to contemplate. No, he objected
to what his mind was showing to him at the moment:
Mara, consumed by the Dark Side, a cruel and cold
monster. No!, he repeated with conviction.
He would not let this
happen. He would fight this with his last breath...
As he had once vowed
to do against his father...
How he missed his
father all of a sudden.
For the first time in
months, he felt the almost unbearable desire to reach
out and contact his father; to call for his help and
ask him to forgive him for his foolishness.
Knowing his father,
the reunion would not be pretty, and he might even
regret for a while that he had returned to his side
after months of desertion, but between him and being
responsible of the creation of a new dark Jedi, he
chose his father.
No matter how angry
and, he swallowed, perhaps even vengeful the other
would be.... He should have contacted him much
earlier, before Balti, perhaps that way the tragedy
could have been avoided... That thought was
horrifying. He should have understood, he really
should have alerted his father...
But his contact alone
would surely have not been sufficient, came the cold
and cruel thought. Vader would have requested the
access Mara's memories by their bond, to verify the
information, he reminded himself, would have wanted
to find real facts - and Luke couldn't allow this to
He had promised Mara
to not betray her trust in him just as he had never
betrayed his father's trust with her.
Besides, he reflected
next, there was no telling that his father could have
an even more horrifying demand for him if he were
ever given access to 'his' bond with Mara. No, there
was no telling at all that the dark Lord wouldn't
want to damage Mara's mind through 'his' bond with
Even though he was
thinking about his father, Luke had no doubts that
Vader wouldn't even hesitate to hurt Mara that way.
Recent events had finally allowed him to see him as a
person and not as a long-lost-and-found-beloved
father, and the person he saw now wasn't a very
This person wouldn't
hesitate to remove his enemy by any means possible,
no matter if it would hurt his lost son in the
Instead, Vader would
think that he himself was delusional, under Mara's
influence, and that he would be grateful once her
mind manipulations would be cleared out of him...
"Yes, after my
love will be cleaned out of me, I will be
grateful..." thought Luke, closing his eyes
tight. He pulled the pillow from under his head and
pressed it hard to himself with both arms, breathing
It was soft and warm,
and was getting wet with his breath and tears. He
felt lost and broken.
Both people who
defined his existence were hurting him, without
meaning to harm him, that was true, but neither even
considered this possibility. And he - with all his
love - was incapable to change it, to change them.
And all this love - for both of them - was tearing
By choosing one side,
he betrayed the other, and he could not chose - but
he had to. He had to, that he understood with
increasing clarity as the time passed.
'But I can't!' he
cried silently. 'Oh, Force, please help me to
understand what to do!'
No revelation came.
Nothing, just silence.
Exhausted, he wasn't
aware when he slipped into black, dreamless sleep.
Mara was lying in a
lone bed, not sleeping, aching for Luke's presence
near her but with all her will forcing her body to
lay still, and her breath to come out calmly and
regularly. Go to him, cried her body. Go to him, make
him forgive you, force him back into your arms, you
can do it!
Yes, I can, she
thought in response, and that's exactly why I can't
He was right. She had
killed innocents, not Vader.
Not her target.
Or at least not
physically, but she was destroying him in every other
way that she could, even through his children, who
were currently feeling the effects of her actions
against the father. Yes, it was satisfying, it
justified the actions that she had to take against
the dark-clad traitor.
It was justified.
According to their spy
on Bespin, Vader would be in transition to Balti for
the next four days. They would strike both Coruscant
and Bespin during that time... and the populace would
kill Vader for her.
And then, she would be
Then all the cost will
be justified, when the mob would tear the traitor
apart, limb by limb.
She was imagining the
scene, like she did hundreds times, but Luke's
choked, unbelieving face always appeared before her
inner sight. He will understand, she tried to
reassure herself. In time, he will understand; he
will see what a monster was his father, he will
understand that I had no choice.
'He will understand
and we will be together', she continued more
determinate. Right now, he simply needed some time
alone, but he would understand...
Gradually she relaxed,
and slipped into sleep while thinking about them
But then, her dream
She was in her office;
the day of the attack on Coruscant had finally come.
She watched with
rapture the images of the holovid as it relayed holos
of the ruins that she had just created on the
surface, the destruction, the crying people/victims
of her attack. She smiled sweetly, savoring the
hatred that was directed at Vader in the
commentator's voice----- when an invisible, strong
hand suddenly gripped her and pulled her forward
until she fell 'into' the holovid screen.
Gasping in pain, she
brought her hand to her chest--- and suddenly saw the
surface of Coruscant... as well as the destruction
that she had once again wrought on a Republic
installation. Unlike the holovid images though, she
did not see only ruins and smoking remains.
Instead, she saw and
felt the 'pain' that she had just inflicted upon
first her victims, then their families... then to her
continued horror, she saw how her hatred was not only
hurting her victims but also her very spirit, making
her rot from the inside until there would be nothing
Before she could throw
up in aversion and thorough disgust at the sight of
where her cruelty was leading her, she forcefully
freed her mind from this horrifying vision.
No!!!!!, was her
first, conscious thought even as she jumped to her
feet, at her office, no!. She had to stop it! She had
to contact her team and---
As if to mock her own
attempt to fix her new, unforgivable mistake, the
news vid came alive once again, confirming that 'she'
had just killed another six hundred or so people in
order to get to her sole target, the man against whom
she had a grief.
'I have to change it,'
she thought frantically, 'I have to!'
She ran out of her
office, firstly not noticing that something about her
Then she suddenly
became aware that just outside of her office, there
was a large place, filled with people.
Friends and parents of
her victims, she realized in horror.
The place was somehow
When the mob encircled
her, she suddenly understood.
It was Balti; the main
place before the governor's palace.
Without warning, a man
so filled with grief that even being near him was
painful, suddenly shot at her. She felt a dimmed
pain, unbelievingly looked at her body - and saw
It was the same scene
she had envisioned so many times, she realized.
An enraged mob tearing
Vader apart--- Tearing 'her' apart for she had become
Vader, and now she had to die.
Another shot came, she
fell to her knees.
No, no, no... No!
She woke up with a
cry, bathed in sweet.
She was alone in the
darkened room and she was alive.
And Coruscant's attack
hadn't taken place yet. While relief flowed through
her, spasms of tears shook her.
Not yet, not ever. She
could still stop the madness, she 'would' stop it. It
must couldn't be allowed to happen.
Her plan had been
simple, she reminded herself: turn the galaxy against
Vader, get him, kill him. It had been easy, the only
way that she had had at her disposal to beat Vader at
his own game of invicibility. It had been a perfect
plan, an infallible, flawless, not too costly plan...
but she had never considered its living price in the
equation, nor how it would affect her.
In fact, she had
never, ever taken into account the number of lives
that her troops, and herself, would remove in order
to achieve their goal, nor the fact that 'she' too
could fall victim to her own dark feelings...
She had never
considered that the Republicans that she had targeted
had been human beings, not droids... That they had
been as alive as she was...
As her lover and Jedi
She had never adapted
her plan so that she would only hit the monster who
deserved to die, a monster that she only kept alive
with her current actions, and even strengthened, but
By the Force what had
she done?, she soundlessly whimpered. She had turned
herself into a monster...
Into a new Vader.
Into the creature that
she still hated, not only for what he had done to her
life, but also for the pain that he had caused to
countless souls... Luke's included.
As had she.
What had she done?..,
she whimpered as fresh tears of guilt broke free from
her eyes and slid down her cheeks. How had she
reached this point in time, where she had completely
lost track of her initial goals?..
Where she had killed
innocents, not only outlaws, and certainly not her
Were the Emperor
alive, she suddenly scolded herself viciously, he'd
punish her most severely for this unforgivable
blunder. Of course, he would not mind about the
people, only the lost resources, but still, she
rebuked herself, he would not be happy.
She was a monster...
and she wanted to die...
*Luke,* the deep,
familiar voice called in the darkness of Luke's
*Go away, I didn't
decide yet!* almost cried the young man. Then he
realized that maybe, just maybe it was the response
of the Force for his plea.
After all, he
reflected drowsily, his father 'was' its Chosen
One...The one of darkness, he then reminded himself
meaningfully, but still his Chosen one.
He decided to respond.
*Father,* he sent in
answer through the Force---- and suddenly
materialized in a room that greatly reminded him
Of the Temple of the
Sun on Sacorria, where they had forged their truce,
he identified. The dark form stood in the middle of
Vader saw him and
"Don't come any
closer, Father," he instantly warned him as he
had upon their first meeting.
me," said the deep voice.
I know, the young Jedi
thought glumly, that was the problem. As he thought
so, he dimly felt a careful probe of his mind. He
strengthened his shields.
No, he warned his
father silently, he would not be able to gather any
information from him, let alone influence him
"What do you
want?" he instead asked him out loud. "Why
are you seeking me out this way again? Why today of
all days?" he continued resentfully. "Did
you feel that I was broken and tired, and hesitating
- and came to push me to the right side? I'm sure you
did," he finally accused him.
"I am looking for
you, Son," the older man placated him gently,
refuting all his accusations with a feeling of care
directed at him. "I am 'always' looking for you.
I have left Yavin 4 as soon as I could and have been
scouring the galaxy for you ever since."
"As soon as you
could, sure," Luke retorted, his resent still
coloring his voice as his memories of the previous
months haunted him once again. "You didn't even
came to free me yourself. Even in sleep you didn't
contact me after that first time. I'm not that
important to you, am I?" he finally challenged
him. "Then what am I to you, Vader?"
In front of him, the
Dark Lord's image slightly fluttered upon hearing his
words. "Why do you doubt my love for you,
son?" he asked him, and Luke had the strange
feeling that the other had really been shocked by his
"I don't doubt
that you think it's love," Luke retorted with a
shake of his head, "but I doubt that what you
call love... really is love. I...," he hesitated
as he avoided his father's invisible gaze, then
dadred meet his hidden eyes once again. "I think
that you are only experiencing 'a mad desire of
possession', as you so adequately put about your
relationship with Mother. Remember? You once told me
yourself you don't know the difference between the
two emotions. So, I don't think that you love me,
Vader," Luke placated more meanly than he meant
to. "You might think that you do, but you don't.
You're only using me in some obscure way that is not
clear to me, yet... I know that you are, and now that
I'm not with you anymore, you just want to ----"
Vader began---- then suddenly materialized right in
front of him.
Before the youth could
react, he was ensconced in the circle of his father's
Dark Lord said again in an almost pleading voice,
"please, think. Jade has obviously scrambled
your thoughts and feelings, Son. I'm not lying about
how I feel about you. See it for yourself if you
must; scan me, I'm opened."
Caught unprepared by
his father's actions, Luke hesitated for a moment.
Vader really opened his shields - as far as he could
tell. But really, how much could he tell? Vader was
much more expert on shielding that he ever will be.
His father wasn't lying, but was he telling all the
In the end, he
accepted his offer of opening and scanned him.
"I can tell you missed me," he finally
"Very much so,
yes," Vader nodded too.
Upon hearing 'and'
feeling how his absence was affecting his father,
some of Luke's defiance and insecurity faded away to
be replaced by his own undying care for the man.
"I... missed you too," he admitted out
loud, feeling tears of regret form in his eyes.
It was very hard to
not relax in the embrace that followed, so hard to
not forget what he had learned... Still, the next
question did hurt him - but also freed him from an
"Can you tell me
where you are?" his father inquired seriously.
"What are her plans next?"
Traitor!!! Luke almost
cried in pain. So, all this tenderness had been meant
to lead to this?! Finally, he knew where things stood
between himself and his father. Vader's care was a
lie; he didn't care about 'him... He didn't love
At last, everything
was clear. Sad... but clear.
resisted as he pulled himself free from his father's
arms. "I don't want to, and don't contact me
ever again. I don't want to see you again."
He then concentrated
and broke the dream - but still heard Dark Lord angry
I have chosen now,
Luke thought to himself as he opened his eyes.
His loyalty now lied
with Mara, but his heart ached at his father's
now-revealed betrayal... He had really believed that
he could have a good, loving relationship with the
Then, as he became
completely awake, he slowly realized that something
Right about his
Mara was ebbing
further and further away from him now, as if---
that something had happened to her which he wasn't
aware of, and that this something was currently
destroying her very will to live, he jumped to his
feet and run into the bedroom and stopped short
as he saw her slumped crying figure.
Even though he had not
known her for a long while, he knew that unless
asleep at night, the proud Mara Jade never, ever lost
even a minimal amount of composure.
Hence, upon seeing her
sobbing, weeping form, he understood that something
crucial and potentially destructive had happened to
her. He hurried to reach her side, then propped her
up to a sitting position.
tried to rouse her, "what happened? Talk to
She avoided his gaze
and shrugged his helping hand off from her shoulder.
Unlike the usual glare
that would have accompanied such an action though,
her eyes filled with visible tears once again. This
was not Mara, Luke thought to himself even as he
tilted his head a little to the left in order to see
She turned her head
completely the other way around, avoiding his gaze
No, he shook his head,
not at all like the Mara that he knew. For a brief
moment, he debated whether to give her her space like
she was wordlessly telling him to, or if he should
press the matter with her, then an idea struck him.
He quickly reached out
and opened his bond with the young woman, allowing
her to fill him as completely as he could take her
in. As he had expected, she had not thought that he
could use such a tactic to draw her out.
Within an instant, he
was her, and she was him... and they both knew
everything that there was to know at the moment about
Thus, Luke enfolded
her in his arms in comfort when he understood that
the Force had taken matters into its own hands once
again and that it had taught Mara a lesson about how
far Hatred could lead her.
The false Mara, the
one that he had first met, had completely dissolved
under the assault, and the real Mara, the one whom he
loved, had emerged for real... forever.
All of a sudden, his
lover was no longer the assassin that she had been
taught to be. Instead, she had become once again the
little girl that had been forced into submission by
an evil tyrant, and who was now faced with the
results of what she had done while under his blind
She had killed, had
hurt, and had even sacrificed innocents in order to
eliminate her target.
Only to become like
"I'm so sorry,
Luke," she sobbed against his chest, having
finally given up on freeing herself from his comfort
and accepting that he still loved her. "I,"
she whimpered, "I want to die... I should
Luke soothed her knowingly, his own problems
forgotten in the wake of her existence crisis.
"You should not die. Not when you have to live
in order to change your Destiny."
she frowned at him unhappily, looking up from his
shoulder, "What Destiny, Jedi? I'm nothing
anymore, and I only know how to destroy and hate. I
Luke gently shushed
her with his index finger. "You know more than
you think, my love," he implicitly reminded her
of their mutual feelings. "You only need to
develop self-confidence in those ways too."
She leaned back
against his shoulder, silently pondering his words
while she drew strength and love from their still
open bond. Luke welcomed her effort to not let the
death of her old self pull her down in the dumps; he
sent her feelings of comfort and self-confidence.
They both remained
silent for a long, long while, silently communicating
and coming to terms with what had happened to their
couple within the space of a single day. In the end,
she agreed that she was better to not train as a Jedi
anymore, but Luke refused to let her face her new
life on her own and without the Force.
Hence, they settled
for maintaining what they had worked on so far.
"There is still a
problem though," she finally commented in the
"We're aboard an
Imperial ship, with a group of terrorists," Luke
agreed, then reassuringly kissed the crown of her
"And I still
don't like your father," Mara added without
fire, but without regret either.
understanding as well as remembrance of where 'he'
stood with his father too now, Luke pulled her closer
to himself. "We'll find a way to settle both
issues, Mara. I promise," he told both of them
earnestly, then shifted his head until he was huddled
Mara sought his
physical presence further.
They remained entwined
and silent for a long, long while.
Slowly, Darth Vader
came to his senses. He was sitting in his meditation
chamber, deep within its obsidian darkness. His head
ached and his body hurt more sharply than usual.
He slowly exhaled,
bringing pain under control. It was his own
foolishness that caused this; he made an error of
lowering his shields, thus permitting Luke's flare of
anger to pierce his mind.
But he wanted his son
trust him so badly that had judged the risk worth
Not that it helped
much. Luke didn't believe any of his words.
His son didn't even
bothered to scan his opened mind - as if he were
afraid that he would not get any trustworthy
information this way.
It was true that Vader didn't lower all his
shields, he couldn't take the risk that Luke would
discover some of his plans and transmit them to
"I don't trust
him," he thought suddenly. "I don't trust
his loyalty. Worse, I actually *do* believe he
transferred it to Jade."
This explained his
son's behavior well anyway. It even explained why
Luke didn't read his mind: he couldn't face the
eventuality that Vader's care and worry for him were
genuine. Obviously, Luke didn't want to understand
that he had become a traitor to his family and had
chosen to believe that it was Vader himself who had
broken their mutual trust.
If this mutual trust
had ever existed of course...
The Dark Lord sighed.
Somehow, dealing with Leia and Solo, who had both
seen him as only an enemy at the beginning, turned
out to be much easier than with his kind and
forgiving Jedi son. They, at least, didn't have any
illusions and expectations for him to fulfill, any
role for him to assume. No demands. They took what he
could offer, he did the same, and strangely enough,
it seemed to work. They became quite close with Leia
- and his relationship with Solo was slowly evolving
into sort of awkward friendship.
Luke, however, seemed
to have some fixated image of him, felt betrayed
every time Vader failed to conform to it, yet had
always forgiven him after some time.
exceptionally generous of him!" snarled the Dark
Lord. It was just a speculation, of course, but it
explained much, and it angered him. "So he
decided that his eternal love to Mara Jade was the
most important thing in the world, and my question
about her plans made me a traitor of his trust. How
indeed dared I to betray him in such an atrocious
He laughed shortly at
the evident absurdity of the situation, then sighed
in frustration. His anger lowered, changed itself
into tiredness, into heartache; he did catch this
feeling, examined it and banished without pity. No
time for such foolishness. He had a war to win.
Once 'Avenger' would
be controlled, once Luke would be found... then he
would authorize himself to feel it. Maybe. But by all
means not before.
He switched the lights
on and was activating the computer when he felt
Solo's presence near the door. Something had changed
about his son-in-law, his mind felt sharp and
determined. A smile slowly crept over Vader's lips;
he opened the chamber, lowered its walls and allowed
the young man to enter. At his sight he knew that he
had indeed deduced right, the phase of changing was
past Solo now.
It was strange to
observe how the change of garb altered his perception
of the man. The change wasn't that major; Solo was
only wearing steel-gray shirt and a black TIE-pilot
pants with black boots, but now, he definitely was
'Lord Solo'. Solo-the-former-smuggler had disappeared
without a trace.
His son-in-law stopped
before his seat, looked at him. Vader remained
silent. He felt that Solo was up to something, so he
waited for him to start speaking.
Solo seemed to
hesitate for a heartbeat, then knelt before him and
bowed. "My Lord, I pledge my loyalty to the
Empire and to you," he said, his voice hoarse.
That, Vader didn't
expect at all. "I do accept your oath, in both
the name of the Empire and my own," he managed.
Solo bowed again,
stood up and flashed him a grin. "Thanks."
necessary. I have no doubts about your loyalty."
Han, "I had to make it official. Now nobody can
doubt where I stand, me first."
"And I also
thought that whatever you say you could use some
assurance about the rest of our family." Solo
boldly looked at him, as if challenging his anger.
The anger didn't came. Instead Vader sighed,
melancholy snaking into his heart once again.
Solo looked at him
with evident concern in his eyes. "Are you
Vader smirked. Indeed,
he definitely wasn't known for expressing gratitude,
especially in such private matters. "Is that
"Well, no. Do you
still want me to speak with Rogue Squadron?"
"You question my
like to know what your decision 'is'. I looked at the
coordinates of our destination, and while it's
written 'Balti' near them, it's not true. I'd
recognize them in my sleep. We're going to
"Think about it.
If Jade kills Ackbar, I lose everything, and she
"Yeah, I've got
it," said Han. "But why now?"
"If she monitored
our connection with Bespin, she knows where we were.
From that point there's four days to Balti, so the
attack will be executed during that time, but not too
soon either. She has to make sure that we really
entered the hyperspace. However, she can't delay it
too much either or else the people's anger that she
has generated with her first attack will dissolve and
not be of anymore use to her. Thus, I assume she will
attack again tomorrow."
"So we are coming
out hyperspace near Bespin, straight into
battle," Han surmised with a slow nod of his
violating the treaty. Shouldn't we prevent Ackbar?
There has to be a way to pass a message without
bringing spies attention."
"No time. Also, I
think Ackbar understood my plan."
"How? He hasn't
this Force stuff."
smirked Vader. "But he fought against me, and he
knows that I 'never' play by the enemy rules. As for
Rogue Squadron, I leave it to your expertise. But I
want your conflict with Antilles to be over before we
go into a fight."
"Then I see you
in the morning."
"See you, you
Han saluted in
military fashion and exited the room. Vader turned to
the computer screen. He was smiling.
Han decided to meet
with Wedge on a neutral territory, in a one of the
small recreation rooms, communally used by
republicans and imperials. Since they were in between
shifts; the room was empty but for two TIE pilots
playing strato. At Han's entry they glanced at him,
calmly saved the party and got out, without any
apparent haste, yet rather promptly.
Han sat at strato's
board and idly scrolled through base game patterns.
All major battles of the last war were there; the one
of Yavin had an impressive difficulty rating for
playing Republicans. No wonder, the Death Star was an
incredible advantage, and he doubted that its
computer version included Luke with his Force-talent.
Luke, with his idealism, and easy smile, and light in
He missed the
"Kid", missed him a lot and he had the
sickening feeling that once they would find Luke, the
"Kid" would be long gone.
That was one thing to
see and accept the change within himself, but
completely different to admit that his friend would
most likely be completely changed too.
He then remembered who
he was about to meet with and realized that his own
change would probably be quite difficult to deal with
As if in answer, the
door opened with a low hiss and in entered Wedge
Antilles himself, wearing a pristine and tidy
official Republican Commander uniform, which Han had
never seen on him before.
Wedge's face was calm
and had that official-closed look Han had learned to
hate. Han stood up, and they shook hands.
happened?" asked Wedge, sitting down at strato's
board opposing Han.
said Han. "I just thought we had to talk."
Wedge remained silent,
the very figure of a polite, good mannered, distant
Han sighed inwardly.
He came prepared to this meeting, but it was much
more difficult to speak before his friend than before
any political council.
"Listen, I want
us to remain friends. I really do."
Wedge, looking straight at him. "Yes, Han, I
"Because you care
more for Vader's approval than anything else."
"I better care
for his approval," smirked Han, "he's the
Emperor, you know."
"It doesn't mean
that you have to act as if you've sold yourself to
"I guess, in a
way, I did."
Wedge stared. Han
offered, though. I swore allegiance to him.
Officially. I'm his third in command, it was a thing
I 'had' to do."
Took me an awfully
long time to understand it too, thought Han.
began Wedge. Solo raised his hand.
"No, let me
finish. I am Imperial now, you see. And that means
the Imperial crew passes first. It has nothing to do
with personal preference; it's my job. And, if my job
has to come in conflict with friendship I have to
choose the job. I *have to*, but I'd hate the
situation, and I'd rather avoid it. So... I want you
as my friend. The question is: what do you yourself
Wedge stared at him.
Then smirked. "Sith... Han Solo, the third in
command of the Empire. Who would've thought?"
said Han calmly.
"Look, I need to think it over. If you don't
changed," remarked Wedge.
"Must be the
shirt," offered Han.
"Yeah, have to
be. Good shirt, by the way."
Han, "whatever you decide, no hard feelings,
Wedge. "No hard feelings. I have a question,
"Do you think the
Empire's worth it?"
"If I didn't, I
wouldn't be here," said Han.
"I see... All
right. If you don't have other thing for me..."
Han shook his head.
"Then see you
Wedge stood up, they
shook hands again.
Chapter 15: Decisions
A day later:
Aboard Avenger, Mara
sat in her office, staring absently at the image of
Bespin, which was hovering above her desk.
Her attention was not
on the problem at hand though. Her head was still
feeling as if it were stuffed with cotton, thanks to
her sleepless night. After her nightmare, she hadn't
been able to fall asleep again.
Thus, instead of
sleeping, she and Luke had discussed the situation
throughout the rest of the night.
Now, she was back in
her office, preparing herself for her scheduled
meeting with her high officers to discuss the last
preparations for the next strike.
The problem, though,
was that she knew that there would not be another
strike. Never, ever.
After dealing with the
terrifying vision of her becoming another Vader
'because' of her hatred for the man, she had decided
to never allow this vision to come to life.
One Vader was enough
already for the galaxy.
Making that decision
had not been as difficult as it could have seemed,
but being faithful to it was a whole other matter.
She and Luke were still with her group of renegade
imperial soldiers, and she herself knew that her men
would not back down from their different private
agendas merely because 'she' was putting an end to
Thus, they were still
aboard the Avenger, and she was pondering how she
would manage her change of heart under the current
Luke had suggested
that they simply ran away, but she knew that it
wasn't so easy.
Leaving would be
tricky, but even if they managed it, it would solve
If she left, then
Piett, Veers, and the other blood-thirsty officers of
her group would simply take command of the group and
continue their planned attack on the innocents of the
Coalition. After all, she grimaced to herself, the
men were more aiming to regain control of the known
universe than to merely kill Vader.
They were out for the
throne, all four of them.
Were they to succeed,
she reflected glumly, a new civil war would ensue
since they would all turn against each other so that
only one of them would remain on the most coveted
seat of power. And she would be held responsible for
this bloodbath, because she let them run loose.
She had no other
option but to keep her group in control until...
Until what?, she
wondered. Until she surrendered to Vader?
objected with an energetic shake of her red-gold mane
of hair. No matter how much she did not want to be
responsible of anymore bloodshed, except for Vader's
blood, she would never call the Dark Lord for help.
So which other option
did she have a her disposal, she reflected, tapping
her index finger gently against her lower lip while
she absent-mindedly swiveled her chair from a few
degrees to the right, then the left.
A rap on her door drew
her out of her musing. Bracing herself for an
unpleasant discussion, she reluctantly reached out
with the Force and allowed her subordinates to enter
Careful to hide any
sign of distress, she slowly turned around until she
could face Piett and Veers. She did not stand,
wordlessly informing them that she still was their
leader and that she did not fear them in any way.
they both saluted her once the doors were once again
closed behind them. "Congratulations once again
on your first victory over Vader. The media are going
nuts. Crowds are gathering everywhere, asking for the
Republic to do something and fight against Vader once
has her hands full holding the masses at bay with her
stories about us. And the Dark Lord is still in
transition toward Balti. All is going according to
seems," she nodded briefly.
Piett stepped forward
and handed her a datacard. "While you were
having a private celebration, we have finished the
preparation of our strike on Bespin, as per your
The moment that she
took hold of the proffered card, Mara's skin crawled
in worry. Fighting past her sudden urge to throw it
back at the officer before putting an end to his
diabolical plans forever, she slowly inserted the
card in her desk's slot... and gasped as she noticed
that they had changed their plans and meant to
destroy the city completely, not just attack its
"If we were to
ruin the city," Piett began enthusiastically,
"this action would have a much greater
resonance. The crowd will undoubtedly tear Vader
apart with their bare hands."
'So will they me!'
wanted to cry Mara. Her face might have changed then,
because Piett's suddenly looked at her as if he were
perplexed by her reaction.
Damn, she thought. She
had just revealed to her officers that she did not
agree with their plans, which would have pleased her
just a few days ago. She needed to think something up
really quick, or they would lose their trust in her,
and that would be a dangerous turn of events, were
she Force strong or not.
If only her head
wasn't in a sleep-deprivation haze...
"To perform this
prolonged attack, Avenger will need to stay near
Bespin longer," she finally began as coolly as
she could. "This means that it will run a risk
of being identified, not to mention, a longer stay
increases the possibility of retaliation," she
said in disapproval. "I disagree with your
proposition. It puts us in an unnecessary risk."
said Piett, "if you would read my proposal
He made an emphasis on
a word 'carefully', and Mara felt her anger rise: his
tone was almost patronizing. "... you will see,
that it covers these issues too."
She didn't even bother
to look through the text, she was certain he was
right. It just increased her creeping feeling of
insecurity. Her anger grew too, feeding on her fear.
Why was he a so good officer, especially when she
badly needed him to be imperfect, to make some error
so that she and Luke could get out of this
If her subordinates
ever discovered her change of heart and mind, she
worriedly reminded herself, both she and her lover
would be dead before they could muster their
defenses, let alone counterattack.
she started, not quite sure of her words, her voice
not strong enough, and at that, Piett finally made a
so needed error. He dared to interrupt her.
began, his voice excessively patient.
Her anger flared at
this, and suddenly, she had a way out! "How dare
you!" she hissed, laughing in relief inside,
feeling this beautiful, glorious anger, letting it
color her voice, reaching with it to Piett's throat
and squeezing... "How dare you!" she
repeated as he struggled for breath making pitiful
sounds. "I'm in charge here, Piett, and your
life is in my hand, don't you dare forget it. You
will obey my orders if you want to live. Am I
clear?" She released him.
managed Piett in a shaking voice.
General?" she inquired, whirling around to glare
at her third in command.
clear, Madam," said Veers, who had turned pale
They got out of her
office. She waited for a couple minutes longer,
holding her proud stance, and then covered her face
with shaking hands.
She had to find a way
out of this imbroglio and fast, or else everything,
and especially someone she had come to care for would
be lost forever...
Meanwhile, Luke was
trying to clear his mind from worries. It was not
They were captives
with no-one to turn to, and there was no easy way
out. Running away wouldn't solve anything. Well, it
would, he amended, but only if they ran to his
And it wasn't an
option. It would mean Mara's death.
Worse, if he would
listen to his father again, then in time, he himself
'would' approve of her execution. Thanks to his
superior powers of persuasion, his 'dear' father
would somehow convince him that her death would be a
wise, necessary, and inevitable execution for the
deadly terrorist whom she was.
Yeah, he grimaced
unhappily, his Sith father had such a mastery with
words, with how to present the 'truth' to the others
that given time, he could make a person believe in
whatever he wished him to.
Wasn't it like this
with Leia? he silently accused the other, yet
carefully remained away from their waning bond. How
else could he have convinced his sister, who just two
years ago had been opposed with all her heart to the
very idea of allowing an Empire to exist? She used to
be disgusted at the mere thought of ruling it, yet
here she was, finally accepting the position of
Vader's heir, of a second-in-command.
And what about Han?,
he pondered further. He too had somehow accepted the
command over Executor.
Were his best friends
and family truly free from any Dark Side influences?,
he wondered yet again. Did they make their own
choices nowadays, something that he himself did not
know how to do yet? or was the Dark Lord, who was so
much more powerful and skilled than he would ever be,
simply lying to them all? Was Vader manipulating them
all as he so blatantly used to do during the war?
While he knew that his
father cared about both himself and his sister, he
also couldn't help but remember a discussion that he
had had with Han back when they had begun to trust
Vader. Back then, his friend had told him that the
Dark Lord had admitted that his definition of harm
did not correspond to their own.
Hence, Luke wondered,
what if his father did not see corrupting them all as
harmful? Then, he would not stop himself from doing
it, and he himself, young foolish Jedi who had been
training under the wing of a Sith Lord for two years
now, would once again be falling for his Force
Darn, he suddenly
sighed even as he gave up on his new attempt to
meditate. How was he supposed to know what he had to
As if to answer his
silent whining, the door of the main quarters slid
open and in stepped Mara. Even though her composure
was as cool as ever, he could feel the sudden turmoil
of her emotions.
wrong?" he inquired the moment that the doors
were sealed once again.
She sighed, then
locked her worried gaze with his. Stricken by her
resurfacing fears, Luke looked into her mind--- and
saw that it was also touched by the remainders of
anger. She had once again used her anger to bend the
Oh no! More than
anything else, Luke wanted to scream, yet as he felt
something else in her heart, he managed to remain
He allowed her to
"I didn't have
any choice," Mara admitted shamefully. "It
was either that..., or an all out fight right there
in my office... or here."
gaped in unpleasant surprise.
that we completely destroy Cloud City next, and I
simply couldn't agree with them. They became
suspicious. I had to scare them into obedience, I had
to. " She searched his eyes, as if for
reassurance. "They served directly under Vader,
so I surmised that the strangling trick would be the
"All right. I'm not happy with it, but I guess
you really had no choice..."
didn't." Mara sat on the couch and massaged her
temples. "Damn, the attack is near and my head
doesn't work anymore..."
"I'd like to
help, but I can't even cure my own headache,"
said Luke dryly. "How much till the
"Are you sure
you'll be able to manage the battle right?"
Mara looked up sharply
at him, catching the slight widening of surprise of
his beautiful blue eyes. "Listen, farmboy,"
she bit out more vehemently than she meant to,
"don't tell me how to hold my troops, all right?
No, I'm not sure, but I will do it. And stop
Luke, who was visibly
shaken by her sudden loss of composure, looked at her
in silence for a moment. "You should sleep for a
while," he finally said. "It will not help
anybody if you will fall down in the crucial
"Can manage themselves for an hour or
Mara looked at the
so-tempting bedchamber's door, as well as the corner
of the bed that she could see through it.
Taking a deep breath
to calm down, she slowly looked at her lover once
again, a different set of emotions lighting her gaze
this time. "Only if you lie down with me."
she said with a soft smile.
grinned Luke, "but we'll still only lie
"I have no force
to seduce you at the moment, farmboy," Mara
smirked in return while she took hold his helping
hand to stand back to her feet.
In the monitoring
room, Piett's rage was barely contained within him as
he watched the two figures move toward the
bedchamber. She had 'lied' to them!
He knew it!
Behind him, Veers was
visibly hitching to send his troops inside the suite
of their former leader, and exact vengeance on her.
He sharply raised his
hand in silent warning, then increased the sound of
the monitoring device. He waited until the two Jedi
stopped making any sound before he finally made his
He turned back toward
his comrades, to whom he had just proven his theory
about the loyalties of their alleged leader.
"Send the sleeping gas in," he commanded.
"Do it very carefully so as to not alert their
Veers shook his head
in disbelief as he stepped closer to his new leader.
"She really is under his spell, isn't she?"
sorcery," another officer muttered in disgust.
"Jedi aren't wizards, Cal. Veers here was only
talking about the spell of love. Even the best of us
can become mad under it..."
"Why not to
simply gas them?" Veers inquired, his eyes
glowing with his desire to avenge himself of the
"The Jedi would
feel the danger to their lives," Piett replied
more calmly, his anger once again under his control.
"As long as we have no desire to kill them,
neither of them will feel anything. Besides," he
shrugged nonchalantly, "I don't mind to have
some bargaining chips with Vader. I'm not sure that
it will work with him, but we always can always use
them with the rebels if it comes to that. Vader's own
son is in league with Jade," Piett smiled,
machiavellian, "directing the attacks that
befell the rebs. How do you think they will like
"I had good
teachers," Piett answered, melancholy. On the
screen in front of them, troops had entered the
gas-permeated suite and were already putting the
sagged Jedi put into stasis containers.
Leia was sitting in
her father's study at the Palace, surrounded by
monitors. They were all tuned to so-called
independent channels and were showing Balti.
Everywhere she looked at, there were demonstrations
of angry, grief-strickened citizens and smug
reporters behaving themselves as if they were
suddenly elected The Conscience of the galaxy.
If one were to believe
these reports - the whole Empire was currently
expressing its contempt and were rising against
Vader. Everything was also presented as if Vader's
guilt was already proven, and that he was fleeing
"... What is your
opinion of Leia Organa's part in this affaire?"
'expert' graciously smiled, "I'm quite sure that
she wasn't in the Dark Lord's confidence. Most
probably, she is as manipulated as we all
I?" Leia calmly graced the 'expert' with a
chilling smile. 'Well, I 'did' show myself incapable
to manage the present crisis, thus proving to them
that I am merely a small idealistic girl under the
spell of her bad father/sorcerer, incapable of
thinking for herself,' she then admitted in
Darn, she wasn't
feeling well. Stress and pregnancy weren't a good
combination. She knew that she should rest, but her
mind just wouldn't stop. She was filled with that
cold, detached, black anger that she was sure
belonged to the Dark Side.
And she didn't care.
To think that she herself had made all this
possible, she groaned inwardly. She had dreamt for
countless nights about how to give back to the galaxy
the freedom of speech, had even managed to bring her
dream come true, but she had never realized that this
new freedom would bring forward all this... this...
journalists were making completely baseless
accusations merely to show how 'independent' they
were, how fearless of the Emperor they felt.
They naturally never
stopped to consider the possible consequences of
However, she promised
herself as the amber of her anger remained alive
within her heart, they would soon know the
consequences. No one could make so many insults and
false accusations and go unpunished. There were laws
about those, and she for one would use them as soon
as Jade would finally be apprehended.
will," she sneered at the unaware,
still-babbling reporters. "The more you talk,
the more evidence there will be, and you will be
lucky if you are not charged with
treason...----You're so darn stupid!! " she
suddenly exclaimed after hearing an especially
As she listened
further to the offender, she realized that the others
had somehow completely forgotten that her father was
'still' the Emperor and 'still' had all the power.
They also weren't aware that when he made a
democratic effort, it was the most blatant
demonstration of his good will that they would ever
get from the aloof man.
The ex-princess of
Alderaan turned away from the frustrating holovid and
focused her attention on her companion. "What do
you think, Winter?"
Her aide, who had
entered the room just moments ago, sighed. "I
think, your Highness, that you have to go to
sleep," the petite woman grimaced as she turned
away from her once again.
"Leia, you 'have'
to," her friend tried to argue with her.
placated her. "Tell me what you think of all
Beaten, Winter came
behind Leia's chair and contemplated the screens for
a moment. "I think that they falsely interpreted
Lord Vader's concessions as his defeat. I also think
that Mara Jade made the same error."
Leia turned the chair
and looked at her thoughtful aide in surprise.
"Can you explain?"
The wise woman brushed
a stray strand of snow-white hair out of her
forehead. "Lord Vader always presented himself
as a force of nature, completely unaffected by lesser
people opinions. He presented no weaknesses. However,
throughout the last year, he tried to accommodate the
germs of democratic structures you two began to put
in place, and suddenly, he is viewed as just a ruler,
a human who 'has no other choice' but to be
influenced by his people, vulnerable through his
public image of a peacemaker."
experienced diplomat nodded in understanding, "I
had never thought about it in these terms..."
understandable," Winter nodded agreeably.
"You know him too well to arbor such
"Yes. But I
should have been able to see the situation from the
ordinary citizen's point of view too...
Interesting," she mused.
"What is so
interesting?" the beautiful white-haired woman
inquired with a polite frown of perplexity crossing
Leia looked up at her
once again. "I'm just beginning to see how all
this mess could be turned to our advantage. To
strengthen the Empire..."
"Leia, you should
really go to bed," Winter rebuked her yet again,
as if suddenly afraid of what her friend had in mind
now. "We will wake you if there's any
development, have no fear."
Leia sighed and
allowed her coalescing plan to retreat to the back of
her mind once again. Winter was right, but she had no
desire to sleep. Still, she owed it to the twins.
They too needed rest from all her stress.
Just as she prepared
herself to rise from her chosen seat, one of the
screens blinked, and the face of Kam Solusar appeared
on it. The Jedi looked both extremely tired and smug.
Leia answered promptly. "Any news?"
them," the tall man told her grimly. "You
were right; they indeed tried to put explosives on
"Yes. They are in
"No leaks of
Leia nodded even as she minutely relaxed her
unconsciously tensed muscles. "Thank you, Kam,
and transfer my praise to those of clan Karedan who
pleasure," the Jedi grinned more easily.
"Good night, your Highness."
The screen changed
back to the talk-show that she had been watching.
Leia tapped a key on the keyboard and all the screens
went dark. She stood up, turned and smiled widely,
victoriously to Winter. "We have them now. We
absolutely have them."
Winter smiled too.
"The last thing
missing is Mara Jade."
"Yes. Jade, and
my 'dear' brother..." Leia hissed, her resent
about her twin coming forth once again. "We'll
have such a 'hearty' talk then, I can hardly
wait," she all but whispered in suddenly dark
anticipation. The thought of what Luke was putting
them all through--- it made her hackles rise----
her even-tempered friend gently interrupted her
current train of thought, "such anger ..."
"... leads to the
Dark Side," she snapped in irritation. "I
know, I know!"
Winter amended, "I wanted to say that it leads
to adrenaline dozes that surely are not good for the
unprepared by such a comment, Leia stared in shock at
her friend and aide, and then laughed as her intense
emotions dissolved into nothingness.
"All right, all
right," she smiled more easily than she had in a
long while, or so it seemed to her. "No anger,
no adrenaline. Just a good doze of strong sisterly
love. Right on his stupid head," she added with
a shake of her head.
better," smiled Winter.
On the bridge of
Executor, the hyperspace clock continued to count
down the remaining minutes of transition. In less
than ten minutes, they would come out in Bespin's
In less than ten
minutes, Vader reflected, feeling some of his anger
resurface at his thought, all this nonsense would
end, and he would finally recover his traitorous son.
Luke had betrayed him.
The thought hurt still.
Well, he promised
himself as he stood in the middle of the bridge near
the viewports, as he always did when he was on the
bridge, Luke would deal with the consequences of his
"We're ready to
exit hyperspace, my Lords" said admiral Tachta
from his right.
alert," commanded Solo. "We're exiting as
close to planet as possible."
It ends today, Vader
mused, looking at the silver lines of hyperspace.
condensed to small dots, and his danger awareness
jumped to their most alert status. They were indeed
very close to Bespin, he could see the shapes of
Cloud City far below- and a white spear of Avenger in
the darkness ahead.
" Fire at
will," he ordered quickly. "They must not
The battle was
immediately engaged. In the frenzy on the bridge,
only Vader remained unmoving and calm, apparently
communication from the Cloud City, my Lord!"
He then quietly
observed the battle, trusting his admiral and Solo to
direct it correctly. He, for one, simply waited.
He knew Piett well,
too well. In a such situation, when the loss was
assured, the former admiral could behave in any
Avenger is hailing us!"
Ten minutes, he
counted mentally as he analyzed the possible meanings
of such a time reaction. It was good.
There were no losses
on Executor yet.
here," he ordered, moving before the large
screen. Piett's face immediately appeared in the
receiving field; his image was disturbed by
Veers was standing
just behind him.
"Stop the attack
at 'once', Lord Vader!" Piett ordered
needlessly. He was visibly distressed, barely
controlling his panic.
Vader smiled under his
mask. "Are you surrendering?" he inquired
other man frowned uncertainly, then caught himself-
"Then why should
I obey you, Thomas?" Vader inquired surly.
"You're not in a position of power here."
"I have your
son," the other reminded him meanly. "If
you attack us, he is dead."
Despite his own
misgivings about Luke's behavior, Vader felt his what
was left of his blood boil within his artificial and
natural veins upon hearing the other's threat.
"If my son is harmed in 'any way'..." he
hissed coldly, "no one on Avenger will be taken
other objected, obviously shaken by his threat,
"you can't do that!"
outlaws," the Dark Lord stated the obvious.
"I can do as I please."
surrender, however, your crew will not be tried for
High Treason. You have my word on it."
"As if your word
can!..." Piett began, but there was a flush of
energy around him --- and he collapsed, along with
A lean, athletic hand,
then arm then entered within transmission range---
closely followed by Mara Jade's unmistakable body and
features. Her face was set, her muscles obviously
tensed as if she were battling with herself at the
For a long, very long
moment, both nemesis looked at each other straight in
the image of their eyes, a thousand emotions
streaking through the woman's uncovered jades, then,
she closed them, and dropped her weapon before she
met Vader's hidden gaze once again "I surrender,
Vader," she stated calmly, yet with resent.
choice," Vader commented coldly to the hated
woman. "Drop your shields - and await our
The young woman
signaled to her troops to do as they were ordered,
then turned around, her head bowed low to her chest.
She was obviously defeated but why had she given in
It would be
interesting to find out during her high-level
Vader instructed his
son-in-law to stop the attack. "Prepare the
boarding party," he ordered him next.
command," the former smuggler smirked grimly.
"Just hope that she isn't tricking us into
"The ion cannons
will make sure that she isn't," Vader stated
"Okay, but it is
still difficult to believe that she just surrendered
Vader didn't reply; he
agreed with Solo's feeling. The traitor's actions had
indeed been too sudden to really comprehend what had
really happened there.
Still, it was over. He
could feel her defeat even through the Force, but...
No, he warned himself.
It was not over yet.
It would only be over
when Luke would finally be aboard Executor, and Jade
locked in a Force-proof cell.
the communication expert signaled. "The
communication for Cloud City!..."
"Transfer it here."
"I'll go get
Luke," Solo commented as if he had read his
father-in-law's thoughts, "Only then will it
really be over."
"Be careful, Solo," Vader heard himself
Solo looked at him in
surprise and then flashed a grin. "Hey! It's