Outside Corellian Space Star Destroyer Anakin Solo
It wasn’t exactly guilt that kept Jacen awake night after night. Rather, it was an awareness that he should feel guilty, but didn’t, quite.
Jacen leaned back in a chair comfortable enough to sleep in, its leather as soft as blue butter, and stared at the stars.
The blast shields were withdrawn from the oversized viewport of his private office, and the chamber itself was dark, giving him an unencumbered view of space.
His office was on the port side, the bow was oriented toward the sun Corell, and the stern was pointed back toward Coruscant, so he’d be looking toward Commenor, Kuat, the Hapes Cluster, the length of the Perlemian Trade Route . . . But he did not try to pick out these stars individu- ally. Astronomy was a lifelong occupation for people who spent their entire existences on only one planet; how much harder must such a study be for someone like Jacen, who traveled from star to star throughout his life?
He let his eyelids sag, but his mind continued to race, as it had every day since he and his task force had rescued Queen Mother Tenel Ka of the Hapes Consortium from an insurrection, instigated by treacherous Hapan nobles aided by a Corellian fleet.
In the midst of all those events, believing that Han and Leia Solo had been part of the plot, Jacen had ordered the Anakin Solo’s long-range turbolasers brought to bear against the Millennium Falcon. Later, he had heard compelling evidence that his parents had played no part in that plot.
So where was the guilt? Where was the horror he should have felt at an attempted act of patricide and matricide? What sort of father could he be to Allana if he could do this without remorse?
He didn’t know. And he was certain that until he did know, sleep would continue to elude him.
Behind his chair, a lightsaber came to life with its characteristic snap-hiss, and the office was suddenly bathed in blue light. Jacen was on his feet before the intruder’s blade had been fully extended, his own lightsaber in hand, thumbing its blade to life, gesturing with his free hand to direct the Force to sweep his chair out of the way.
When it was clear, he could look upon the intruder—she was small enough that the chair had concealed all but the tip of her glowing weapon.
On the other side of the desk stood his mother, Leia Organa Solo. But she did not carry her own lightsaber. Jacen recognized it by its hilt, its color. It was the lightsaber Mara Jade Skywalker had carried for so many years. Luke Skywalker’s first lightsaber. Anakin Skywalker’s last lightsaber.
Leia wore brown Jedi robes, and her hair was down, loose. She held her lightsaber in a two-handed grip, point up and hilt back, ready to strike.
“Hello, Mother.” This seemed like an appropriate time for the more formal term, rather than Mom. “Have you come to kill me?”
She nodded. “I have.”
“Before you attack—how did you get aboard? And how did you get into this office?”
She shook her head, her expression sorrowful. “Do you think ordinary defenses can mean anything at a time like this?”
“Perhaps not.” He shrugged. “I know you’re an experienced Jedi, Mother, but you’re not a match for any Jedi Knight who’s been fighting and training constantly throughout his career . . . because you haven’t.”
“And yet I’m going to kill you.”
“I don’t think so. I’m prepared for any tactic, any ploy you’re likely to use.”
Now she did smile. It was the smile he’d seen her turn on political enemies when they’d made the final mistakes of their careers, the feral smile of a war-dog toying with its prey. “Likely to use. Don’t you know that the whole book of tactics changes when the attacker has chosen not to survive the fight?”
Her face twisted into a mask of anger and betrayal. She released her grip on the lightsaber hilt with her left hand and reached out, pushing. Jacen felt the sudden buildup of Force energy within her.
He twisted to one side. Her exertion in the Force would miss him—
And then he realized, too late, that it was supposed to.
The Force energy hurtled past him and hit the viewport dead center, buckling it, smashing it out into the void of space.
Jacen leapt away. If he could catch the rim of the doorway into the office, hold on there for the second or two it took for the blast shutters to close, he would not be drawn out through the viewport—
But Leia’s own leap intercepted his. She slammed into him, her arms wrapping around him, her lightsaber falling away. Together they flew through the viewport.
Jacen felt coldness cut through his skin and deaden it. He felt air rush out from his lungs, a death rattle no one could hear. He felt pain in his head, behind his brow ridge, from his eyes, as they swelled and prepared to burst.
And all the while Leia’s mouth was working as though she were still speaking. For one improbable moment he wondered if she would talk forever, rebuking her son as they twirled, dead, throughout eternity.
Then, as in those last seconds he knew he must, he awoke, once again seated in his comfortable chair, once again staring at the stars.
A dream. Or a sending? He spoke aloud: “Was that you?” And he waited, half expecting Lumiya to answer, but no response came.
He turned his chair around and found his office to be reassuringly empty. With a desktop control, he closed the blast shutters over his viewport.
Finally, he consulted his chrono.
Fifteen standard minutes had passed since the last time he’d checked it. He’d had at most ten minutes of sleep.
He put his booted feet up on the desktop, leaned back, and tried to slow his racing heart.
And to sleep.
Coruscant Galactic Alliance Transportation Depot, Near the Jedi Temple
The Beetle Nebula settled down to a landing on an elevated docking platform adjacent to the blue, mushroom-shaped transportation depot. The maneuver was smooth and gentle for a craft so large—at two hundred meters, the Freebooter-class transport was an awkward-looking vessel anywhere but in space. From above, she looked like a crescent moon bisected by a knife blade, the blade point oriented in the same direction as the crescent tips, and her wide, curved stern put observers in mind more of fat-bottomed banthas than of sleek, stylish vessels of war.
But that wide stern could carry large volumes of personnel and matériel, and in the moments after the ship settled onto her landing pylons, a dozen loading ramps came down and began disgorging streams of uniformed soldiers—many on leave, others, riding repulsorlift-based medical gurneys, being guided to hospitals.
From a much smaller platform fifty meters from the Beetle Nebula’s starboard bow, Jedi Master Kyp Durron watched the event unfold. At this distance, he could barely see facial features of the new arrivals, but could distinguish enough to see faces light up with happiness as they recognized loved ones in the crowd below.
And through the Force he could feel the emotion of the day. It swelled from the Beetle Nebula and her surroundings. Pain radiated from shattered bones and seared stumps that had once been connected to organic limbs. Pain flowed from remembrances of how those injuries were sustained and of how friends had been lost forever to battle.
But more than that, there were sentiments of relief and happiness. People were returning home from battle, here to rest and recover. They were veterans of the extraordinary space battle that had so recently been waged in the Hapan system. Some of the veterans knew pride in their role in that battle, some knew shame or regret, but all were glad it was over. All were glad to be here.
And for a few quiet moments, Kyp relaxed, letting the emotions from the other platform wash over him like a cool, refreshing stream in summertime. The muted nature of the sounds of welcome from that platform, of Coruscant air traffic not too far away, of transport and commerce from the adjacent depot, allowed him to stay comfortable, detached.
Then he felt new presences in the Force, specific presences for whom he had been waiting. He glanced away from the depot and up, toward the origin of that sensation, and saw the Jade Shadow on an approach angle straight toward him.
The craft approached the depot at a speed slightly faster than safe, then rapidly decelerated and dropped to a smooth repulsorlift landing atop the platform, mere meters from Kyp. He grinned. Whoever was piloting—probably Mara—had either playfully or maliciously made the approach as intimidating as possible, the better to spook him into sudden retreat. Of course, he hadn’t budged. He waved a hand at the shapes within the cockpit, indistinct behind its viewscreens, and waited.
Soon enough the boarding ramp descended and down trotted Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade Skywalker. They were dressed simply, Luke in black, Mara, for once, in the standard two-shades-of-brown Jedi robes.
Kyp offered a smile and extended a hand to Luke. “Grand Master Skywalker.”
Luke took it. “Master Durron.”
“And Master Skywalker.”
Mara gave him a nod of greeting, but Kyp detected a trace of irritation or impatience. “Master Durron.”
“That’s a new hand, I take it.” Kyp released his grip. “I heard about your injuries. How does it compare with the old one?”
Luke held up his right hand and looked at his palm. “The neural matrix is more sophisticated, so it feels even more like flesh and blood. But—you know how a droid whose memory is never wiped tends to become more individual, more idiosyncratic.”
Kyp nodded. “You’re not suggesting that a prosthetic hand does the same thing. It doesn’t have enough memory.”
Luke shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m suggesting. Maybe through the Force my brain developed a familiarity with the old hand that exceeded what’s normal. Regardless, this one doesn’t feel right yet.”
“Meaning,” Mara said, “that he’s dropped from being the most accomplished lightsaber artist in the galaxy to, well, still being the most accomplished, just a little less so for the time being.”
“Aunt Mara? Oops. Hello, Kyp. Master Durron.” The voice was Jaina Solo’s, and Kyp looked up to see the diminutive Jedi at the top of the boarding ramp.
“Jaina.” Kyp gave her a friendly nod. He steered his thoughts away from the time, years ago, when he had fixated on her, when she was still a teenager, when he was a younger, more self-centered man who hadn’t recognized that his interest in her was more about loneliness and self-appreciation than it was about anything else.
Here today, he pretended that she had never meant anything more to him than the daughter of his oldest surviving friend should. She, perhaps, didn’t have to pretend. Giving Kyp a brief smile, she returned her attention to Mara. “So can I take Zekk and Ben to the Temple now?”
Mara nodded. “I think so. Kyp, any reason to delay?”
“No.” He glanced to the left, where the nearby Jedi Temple was clearly visible just past the Jade Shadow’s stern. “Unless you’d like to save your engines—I can just pick you up and set you down over there.” He reached out with his hand, palm up, an overly dramatic gesture, and the Jade Shadow vibrated for a moment, moving under the pressure he exerted with the Force.
Jaina gave him a reproving look. She turned around, and the boarding ramp lifted into place, concealing her.
“How is Zekk?” Kyp asked.
Mara looked unconcerned. “He’ll make a full recovery. The surgeons on Hapes were very proficient. But he’ll be out of action for a while.” Her expression became concerned. “How many people know how it happened?”
“Just me, for the moment.” Kyp gestured to the far side of the platform, adjacent to the depot. “My speeder’s over here.” Once they were all moving toward his vehicle, he continued, “I was assigned the investigation on this one.” All lightsaber accidents that caused any harm to a living being had to be looked into, and any Master on duty at the Temple might be randomly assigned the duty of investigation.
Mara’s face set. “Everybody who witnessed it said it was an accident.”
Kyp nodded. “Of course, and Luke’s report makes it pretty clear what happened. So I should dispense with our customs, not investigate at all, take the day off?” They reached the platform edge and Kyp’s airspeeder, a long, narrow yellow vehicle with comfortable seats in front and a backseat that looked as though it were scaled for children. Kyp hopped into the pilot’s seat and extended a gallant hand for Mara.
She gave him an admonishing look and leapt past him into the front passenger’s seat. “No, of course not.” She sat. “I’m just a little touchy about it, I suppose. My son has a lightsaber accident. Suddenly I feel the eyes of all the Jedi in the galaxy on me.”
Luke stepped into the backseat and settled behind Kyp. “So what is this all about?”
Kyp sank into the pilot’s seat, activated the speeder, and pulled straight back in a speedy reverse that put them within meters of the nearest cross-traffic stream. “You don’t want to sit right behind me. Trust me.” He swerved so he was pointed in the direction of the traffic stream’s travel and accelerated, as though he were playing a Millennium Falcon simulator, to merge with the stream.
Caught by the wind, Kyp’s hair was pulled from where it lay within the hood of his Jedi cloak. Stretched to full length, its tips whipped mere centimeters in front of Luke’s eyes and occasionally tickled his nose.
Luke slid sideways to the center of the seat. “You’ve grown it out.”
Kyp reached up to give his hair an indulgent stroke, then grinned at his simulated display of vanity. “I’ve been seeing a lady who likes it long. And doesn’t mind all the gray in it.”
“Congratulations. So again, what is this all about?”
“Chief Omas and Admiral Niathal wanted to see you on your return from Hapes. They asked me to bring you. You can opt out if the timing isn’t good.”
Mara gave him a puzzled frown. “Is this about what happened on Hapes?”
“Sort of.” Kyp gave her a broad, trouble-loving smile. “This time, they want Luke to make Jacen a Jedi Master.”