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The blast shields were withdrawn from the oversized viewport of his private office, and the chamber itself was dark, giving him an unencumbered view of space.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 idios...