"Captain Solo, are you certain there is nothing we can do to help Master Skywalker?"
Han Solo had lost track of how many times he had heard that same question since arriving on Coruscant twenty or so hours ago. He felt his tolerance nearing its end, but managed to calm himself and give the same, civil answer he had given all the other times.
"No, Dorsk," Solo replied. "There's nothing you can do. Just wait. Leia and Mara are taking care of everything."
"I bet she is," grumbled Kam Solusar.
"Do you have a problem with that?" Solo inquired gruffly.
"As a matter of fact, I do. I don't trust that Mara Jade. She shows up at the Academy suddenly, then up and leaves without completing her training. She has no commitment to becoming a Jedi. Why is she the one who gets the opportunity to help Master Skywalker instead of one of us, his loyal students? On top of that, I've heard that she wanted to kill him."
"Listen, Solusar, you don't know what you're talking about, so I'd recommend keeping it to yourself," Han replied, his grasp on his temper slipping.
"No, Solo, you listen. We have all shown the commitment to our Jedi training. We gave up our daily routines and left our homes to move to Yavin 4 to study the ways of the Force. Then, here she comes, staying just long enough to pick up a few pointers, then leaves. But then, when Master Skywalker is in need of help from one of us, she shows up and takes over."
"You should never have let her near him. You've kept us away from our Master ever since we got here. Who knows what she could have done to him for the past day? He needs all of us, not just her."
"Uh, Kam, there's more involved than you think there is."
"Of course, I guess I shouldn't expect you to understand, Solo. You're not a Jedi. If Master Skywalker dies, it would be no great loss to you. But to us, he is everything."
Han had heard enough. His temper took hold, and he viciously grabbed Kam Solusar by the collars and shook him violently.
"Listen, scum, Luke is my brother-in-law and also my friend. So maybe I'm not a Jedi, but us 'lesser folk' have feelings, too. I don't want to hear any more out of you. And it just so happens, pal, that Mara Jade is ...is..."
Han stopped short, catching himself just before completing his statement. He took a deep breath to try to calm down.
"Never mind. I'm through talking to you. Go back to wallowing in your self-righteousness."
Han let go of Kam and walked toward the door of the suite. The trip to Coruscant had been horribly cramped aboard the overcrowded Millennium Falcon, but at least the Jedi students were quiet most of the time. The long hours spent in the Coruscant City suite Leia had gotten them had made them irritable and noisy. And if Han couldn't keep them quiet, someone might take notice, which Leia insisted must not happen. She had said that with Mon Mothma's mysterious illness, the news of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker's condition could shake apart all confidence in the New Republic. Han had grudgingly agreed to keeping the students out of sight, but regretted it very quickly.
The suite door opened before Han had gotten close enough to trigger it. Leia Organa Solo entered the room in a calm, regal manner. The Jedi students in the room became silent as they awaited her news. Han walked over to her and stood by her side.
"I am pleased to inform you that Luke has recovered..."
The murmur of the students overpowered Leia's voice. She held up her hand to signal them to be quiet. When they finally did, she continued.
"He will speak with you all very shortly. He has a very important announcement to make. He wants to tell you first. Han, Mara, and I will be told later. But for now, we will leave. Luke should be here shortly."
Han noticed a bit of curious satisfaction on Kam Solusar's face just before leaving the room. Strangely, the students were still quiet when the door slid shut.
"You know, for a bunch of Jedi students, they sure are..."
A quick jab in the ribs by Leia's elbow cut off Han's statement.
"That's enough of that. I'm proud of you. You didn't lose your temper."
"Now that you've handled Luke's students for a day, I guess you're prepared to deal with your children."
When the door to the suite opened again, and the robed figure of Luke Skywalker appeared, the conversations that had begun after the Solos left ended. The Jedi students turned their full attention to their teacher, eagerly awaiting his words. But the words that came were a shock to all.
"I've decided to disband the Jedi Academy."
Though he hadn't expected him, Han was not surprised to find Lando at the door. Immediately, Lando asked the obvious question.
"Well, is Luke okay?"
"Yes, Lando, he's fine. Come on in. Have a seat."
Lando did just that. Han sat down across from him in the living room.
"That's good to hear. I've been worried about him."
"We've all been worried, Lando, in case you haven't noticed."
"I didn't mean it that way, Han."
"I'm sorry. It's just been pretty tough on everyone."
"So, where's Luke now?"
"He should be with the students. He said he had something important to tell them, and he'd tell us later. I figure Leia must have told him about the way they seem to think he's playing favorites."
"Favorites? Mara was the only one who figured out how to save him. It's not like he had much of a choice in the matter."
"By the way, where is Mara now?"
"I'm not sure. Why? Lando, if you're trying to..."
"Its just that she's been in Luke's room for the past day putting him back in his body. Now that it's done, I want to know where she went. I want to thank her personally for saving Luke's life. He's my friend, too, you know."
"Well, you'd have to ask Leia. I was busy babysitting his students at the time."
"Speaking of babysitting, where are your kids?"
"In their rooms. Grounded."
"It has something to do with them getting away from Threepio and Chewie again. As soon as I heard that, well, I didn't care about specifics."
At that moment, Leia entered the room, carrying a golden appendage.
"Han, what are we going to do with this? Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know we had company. Hello, Lando."
Lando took a good hard look at what Leia was holding as he returned the greeting. He then turned back to Han.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"Uh, yeah," Han replied, blushing a little. "Evidently, the twins talked Threepio into taking them somewhere when Chewie was asleep. When he caught up with Threepio, the kids were missing. And you know what Wookies are prone to doing when they're angry."
"Yeah, I get the idea. I assume Threepio's child care days are over?"
"Well, we made him erase all his child psychology programming and we intend to talk to Luke about him taking Threepio back, if that's what you mean. Maybe he can be put to use teaching Luke's students some manners."
"What about the arm?"
"I'll let Chewie decide when he wants to put it back on. It's funny. Threepio had all that fancy programming, but it turns out that what the kids needed to keep them in line was a grounding and a good spanking."
"But Master Skywalker..."
"No, it has to be this way. None of you are at fault. The blame rests completely on me. I thought that I could teach all of you at once. I thought I could bring back the Jedi overnight. Look what's happened. Gantoris is dead. Kyp turned to the Dark Side. I was almost killed. All because of my impatience and stubborn pride."
"But your intentions were good," offered Tionne.
"That doesn't matter. My good intentions cost me two students and almost my own life."
"But if you're not going to teach us, who will?" asked Cilghal.
"If this were the old days, I would have referred you to a real Jedi Master, who had trained Jedi for years. You all deserve that kind of dedication and experience. But this isn't the old days. The duty of teaching the next group of Jedi falls on my shoulders. I will train you. Just not all at once. I took on more than I could handle. And like a fool, I couldn't admit I was wrong. Beginning Jedi are very susceptible to the Dark Side. It requires near constant supervision from a Master to keep them away from it until they are ready to face it. I couldn't possibly be with all of you nearly enough to properly train you in an academy setting. I will train you one at a time. Maybe two later on."
"Who will be trained first, Master Skywalker?" asked Kam Solusar.
"I'm not sure. But no matter who is first, it means nothing of my opinion toward those who are not first."
"Then what do we do until you call us?"
"For now, you will stay here on Coruscant. I will make housing arrangements. Stay in this room until I tell you. After that, you may return to your homes, if you wish. I will contact you when it is your turn to be trained. If any of you change your mind about becoming a Jedi, I will understand."
There was a brief pause of contemplation before Dorsk 81 spoke.
"Should we continue practicing what you've already taught us?"
"No. I realize you are all eager to use the Force, but that is what happened to Gantoris and Kyp. In their eagerness to learn faster, they found the Dark Side. And I wasn't with them enough to prevent it. When I call you, the training will start over. I ask you not to dabble in the Force on your own. But you have my word: I will return to complete your training. Each and every one of you. Until then, remember: anger, fear, and aggression are of the Dark Side. Avoid them at all costs. And may the Force be with you all."
Luke left the suite and the bewildered stares of his students. The speechless Jedi-in-training remained silent long after Master Skywalker had left before settling into conversations about what they would do next and speculation as to who would be the first one called.
"Hello, Solo. Luke told me to meet him here."
"Of course, Mara. Come in. Have a seat."
Mara noticed Lando sitting on one of the couches in the Solos' living room, and promptly took a seat on another one.
"Well, look who's here," Lando commented. "I've been waiting for a chance to thank you for saving Luke. You know, it really speaks well of you the way you took care of him."
"Lando, what are you getting at?" she asked, clearly getting annoyed.
"Oh, nothing! I just make it a point to give special thanks to people who help my friends. Especially people like you."
"Lando, I'm not in the mood for this right now. So stuff it, okay?"
"Gee, maybe I should get zapped by some ghost Jedi. Maybe then she'd pay some attention to me," Lando said sarcastically in no particular direction.
"What was that?" Mara replied abruptly.
"Nothing, Mara. It's just Lando being his typical self. Don't worry about it," Han assured.
"I hope Luke gets here soon. I'm in a hurry."
"Leaving already?" asked Lando.
"I guess you've forgotten where I was going before Luke was hurt. I've already missed my meeting with Talon Karrde. I need to get back to the Smugglers' Alliance."
"Must you really leave so soon, Mara?" Leia asked.
"Yes. I don't have much choice. They need me there, and I shouldn't stay here for much longer. You understand."
"Of course," replied Leia.
Lando was about to ask what Leia understood when the door signal rang. Leia left to answer it, and soon returned with Luke.
"Luke, good to see you standing again!"
"It's good to be standing, Lando. I didn't expect to see you here, though. But please stay. Hello, Han, Mara."
"Whatever you're going to say, make it quick, Luke. I've got to get out of here."
"All right. I'll get right to the point. I've dissolved the Academy."
"Luke, why?" asked Leia.
"I went in over my head. Look, Ben thought he could train my father himself, and failed. He never attempted to train anyone after that, for fear of losing another to the Dark Side. Look at me. I've already lost two, and yet I still ran the Academy the same as I did before I lost them. Do you realize that it took my near death to open my eyes? I'm not ready to teach them! Especially not all at once!"
"But Luke, you have to teach!"
"I know, Leia. And I will. I've told the students that I will teach them individually, and I will call them when I am ready. My mistakes cost at least one life already, and who knows how many will be killed by Kyp. I can't afford to make any more."
"Oh, Luke, everyone makes mistakes," Leia said, walking over to Luke and putting an arm around him.
"Not like this, they don't. I may have doomed the galaxy. Kyp has the Sun Crusher."
Everyone except Mara gasped at the name of the superweapon.
"How? Wasn't it in the core of Yavin?" Lando asked.
"He pulled it out by using the Dark Side of the Force and the help of the spirit of an ancient Sith Lord. I tried to stop him, but I underestimated his power. I've got to stop him, but I'm not sure how."
"I'll help you. I'm responsible for him," Han said with determination.
"No, Han, it's my fault," Luke retorted.
"I really don't think it matters right now whose fault it was. The fact is, there's a Dark Jedi out there with the ability to destroy stars, and he has to be stopped. After that, you can decide whose to blame. Luke, Han: figure out how to catch him. Leia, hold the New Republic together," Mara commanded. "I'll send you any information that the Smuggler's Alliance can come up with. Speaking of which, I have to go. I'll make sure that all the smugglers understand the danger of this situation."
With that, she rose to leave. As she headed for the door, Lando stopped her.
"What should I do, my lady?"
"Help Han and Luke, I guess. What, do I have to tell you everything?"
Lando looked more than a little embarrassed when he returned to the living room after Mara had left.
Once her departure was cleared by Coruscant City control, Mara pointed her Z-95 Headhunter skyward. As she exited the atmosphere, she set the navicomputer to calculate a course to the planet Sacrota.
Might as well start by informing Aves, she thought. Most of the smugglers could be contacted from Aves' headquarters. Besides, there was always the outside chance that Ghent might have sliced a way to communicate with Karrde. And if Ghent wasn't with Aves, Mara was sure he'd know where to find him.
Once outside the planet Coruscant's gravity well, she pulled the hyperspace levers. The starfield became starlines, then the mottled sky of hyperspace.