Luke Skywalker was flying to the remote area of Farelssi; a system that while not on the Outer Rim, it held enough intrigue to cause a suspicious rumor to start. According to what he had heard, someone was passing himself off as Luke, and he had come to either stop the rumors, or stop the man.
This had happened before; obsessive fans or people with no lives of their own would try to pass themselves off as him with the latest cosmetic surgery, and using technology to simulate the Force. The crackpots were taken down easily enough; It was just a time-consuming hassle.
He left hyperspace and before him appeared the surface of the planet, Farel 2. White clouds swirled over blue seas and brown terrain, and after a few seconds, he was hailed by the planet's one spaceport. "Unidentified craft, please state your purpose, destination, and cargo," a woman's voice asked eagerly, the tone formal and pleasant.
"This is Luke Skywalker, a citizen of the New Republic." He almost added that he was a Commander, but that was no longer true; Instead, he satisified himself with stating that he was a Jedi Knight. "Request clearance to land my X-wing at coordinates 10.4, 34.2, and 67.19, over."
"Ah, yes, we were told that you'd be arriving," the woman continued on pleasantly. "You may continue at your present course, and you have clearance to land." She sounded a little star-struck.
"Thanks. Hopefully I won't be staying long. Skywalker out." The transmission ended in static, and he flipped the comm off.
Guiding the X-wing smoothly to the launch pad, he landed with ease and hopped out of the stifling cockpit. Techs were disengaging Artoo from the cubbyhole and lifting him out, while Luke surveyed the area. Clean and efficient, it radiated everything that Mos Eisley did not; Safety, security and a laid-back ease. He soon found himself smiling at passersby, and warmed at the fact that they smiled back. This was not a metropolis like Coruscant, or a dangerous wild like Dagobah. He wondered how anyone crazy enough to pretend at being Luke Skywalker would find himself here.
Soon, Artoo was tagging along behind him, and Luke struck out for a local bar, knowing that if the rumor started anywhere, it had to be there. He walked through the streets, the grime and trash growing exponentially as he navigated to the nearest bar--and the only one, according to the locals. The light in the place was dim and dreary, pretty close to what he was expecting.
Patrons were the usual lot; Disheveled, drunk lower class men with families to support and time to waste. Luke began by asking the bartender if he knew anything.
"Only bits and pieces. I wasn't on duty when the fellow came in, but Zeth there," he pointed to a burly man at the end of the bar, "he actually talked to the guy. I'd suggest asking him."
"Thanks," Luke replied, and made his way over to Zeth. Luckily, the man had only one empty glass in front of him, and one half full in his hand. A puffy eye gave a once-over to Luke, and the man nodded in satisfaction. "You're not him."
"That guy, what says he's you. Dressed all in black, and as depressing as a Monday morning. Talked like he'd never had a conversation with someone before. Overly formal." The man took a sip.
"And this guy, he looks just like me?"
"Yeah, pretty much. His face, though," the man shuddered, "he's too creepy. Dark and moody all the time."
"Most copycats are. They have an over-romanticized view of me, for some reason. They like to think I'm the long-suffering hero, when I've never been happier." He still hadn't figured why he was so happy, though. He'd given an heirloom away, to a woman he barely knew, but thinking of her caused his heart to lighten and he smiled without realizing it. The man caught Luke's reaction, and smiled knowingly. "You're obviously not like that."
"Hmm?" Luke said distractedly, and Zeth changed the subject. "This impersonator has been keepin' a low profile, but he can't stay cooped up forever. He drunk himself into a stupor and I found out where he's stayin'--some dive on the outskirts of town, called Laundra's."
"Much obliged, Zeth. Hopefully, he'll still be there." Luke bade the man farewell, and got directions to "Laundra's", supposedly a shack if there ever was one. Obviously, the man didn't have much money. Artoo followed along, riding smoothly over the cracks in the pavement as they came down the alleyway and towards their destination.
Paint peeled off the front of the hotel, and the sign was broken, flashing only "L UND A'S" repeatedly, failing in its attempt to beckon customers in. When Luke came in, the clerk gave a start, then realized who was standing in front of her. "You're...really him, aren't ya?" The older woman's reddish-brown hair was curled tightly and piled on top of her head, with beads hanging limply from her neck. Her clothes were at least ten years out of date.
"Are you Laundra?" He asked politely, and she nodded. "I know who you're lookin' for. He's up on the second floor, in room 15. Odd, but he even said he was expecting ya." The woman's brain tried to puzzle this out, and failed. She shrugged, "Well, he was off a few days, so who knows?"
Luke had turned his attention from the woman to the stairs. "Wait here, Artoo. This shouldn't take long." So the guy had known; he probably knew his mistake once he'd gone to the bar, and was waiting to meet his idol. Disgusted, Luke climbed the stairs and was soon outside the man's door. He knocked, and noticed the door wasn't locked. Pushing it open, he walked inside, searching through the Force for the man's mind. Suddenly, a buzzing, crippling sensation filled his brain, and before he could turn to its source, he felt a blow land on the back of his head, and everything went black.
He awoke to find himself stretched out on a hard floor, dark except for a sliver of light coming up from high above. Great. Now I'm trapped, he thought to himself, seeing the walls now, and a large, heavy door. He began to reach out with the Force, and realized to his horror that it wasn't there. Ysalamiri. It had to be.
Groaning, he sat up, and noticed his clothes were on him, but not exactly the way he remembered. His shirt was half buttoned, and was hanging outside, rather than being tucked in. His lightsaber, comm, and ID were gone. He stood up, and tested the length and width of the room; it looked as if it had been a warehouse once, but had been abandoned for a short time, maybe several months to a year. The door was impenetrable, and he quickly looked for another way out.
As he combed the opposite wall, the door opened and quickly shut, sealing in the visitor. The figure was clothed all in black, with a cloak falling from his shoulders. Luke peered through the darkness at the man, and called out, "Who are you?" His voice echoed mockingly through the complex.
"Who am I?" The man answered back, and on hearing the voice, Luke felt his blood freeze in his veins. The figure stepped forward until he stood in the thin beam's light. He pulled back the hood of the cloak, revealing a face that mirrored Luke's own, with the same dark blonde hair and blue eyes, and said matter-of-factly, "Why, I am Luke Skywalker."
"No," Luke replied defiantly to his doppleganger. "You're not me. You're just someone so deluded that you'd have surgery to look and sound like me. If you're planning on keeping on with this charade, you'd better reconsider. My sister knows me as well as I know myself, and if a man in a bar who knows me only from holovids can tell us apart, then she'll have no trouble rooting you out. You can't use the Force, and you don't know me as well as you think you do. You'll slip up, and whether or not you keep me alive, you'll be dead."
The other Luke only smiled tolerately. "Haven't you figured it out by now? How someone who cannot use the Force could capture a Jedi Knight so easily, then get him off planet without raising an eyebrow? Think! Don't you remember what you felt right before you lost consciousness?"
Luke did just that, and recalled the buzzing sensation. But that only happened with..."No. It can't be. Mara killed you."
"Correction; I wasn't on Wayland. That woman named Mara killed the first clone. I was the back-up, waiting in stasis if the first one failed. When he died, I was awakened, but Master C'baoth died soon after. I could feel it.
"I have been planning on what to do ever since then, for the past month. You see, I don't want to die. But, I cannot kill you, or else I'll go insane, like C'baoth--and you cannot kill me, either," the clone smiled. "Or the same fate will be yours. Nevertheless, there can be only one Luke Skywalker, and that will be me."
Luke smirked, "It still won't work. You have no memories, only facts. And even though you can use the Force, it doesn't mean you have the skill. You don't even talk and act like me!"
The clone continued to smile. "Actually, I have your memories. I copied them while you were unconscious. In fact, I know everything that you know--even that disgusting bit about you and your sister--"
"Okay, okay--that's enough. Let's not go there," Luke cut him off before he went further. No one but he knew what he felt for his sister, before he discovered they were related. How could the clone know about that? Unless he's been telling the truth, Luke thought dismally.
"You'll never get away with this," Luke seethed, feeling the anger welling up. "They'll know you're a fraud, and then they'll find me. It's just a matter of time."
"We'll see. I would love to stay and chat more, but Leia must be missing me by now. Good-bye." He turned and headed for the door.
"Wait!" Luke called out after him. "Where am I? Are you leaving me here to die?"
"You are on Myrkr, in one of Karrde's abandoned storage units. Don't worry; I have no intention of having you die on me. Wouldn't be good for this," he tapped his forehead. "I'll be back soon." With that, the door opened and closed, and the clone was gone. Luke had thought about attacking the clone, but realized that it had probably already thought of that. Looking closer at the ceiling, he saw small holes where sensors and lasers could fit in very nicely. Besides, he had noticed his lightsaber hooked on a belt around the man's waist; If he had attacked, the clone might have killed him, insanity or no.
He sat down on the cold, hard floor and furiously thought of a way to escape. Unfortunately, he didn't realize that any idea he could think of, his doppleganger had already thought of, and anticipated.
Fuming, the clone strode away from the building, muttering to himself. "He's wrong--they'll never find out. They won't even suspect!" He walked over to the shuttle and paused at the entrance, pondering over every angle. He'd taken care of everything, including the droid and the X-wing--he changed the memory of the R2 unit, and programmed it to fly to a meeting place, where he could swap the shuttle for the X-wing, and apologize to Leia for the delay. "I'm sorry, Leia," he would say,"This imposter took longer than normal. Let's get started on your Jedi exercises." Yes, that would be perfect.
His hand was another matter. Unlike the real Luke, his right hand was intact--and any bioscan would be able to detect that. He knew a place where he could get a bionic hand on the black market, but he'd have to get rid of the real one first. Igniting the lightsaber, he raised it above his head with his left, and it arced down to his wrist.
The scream jolted Luke, and his thoughts flicked from escape to what that sound was. A man screaming--no, not just a man; the clone. But what had made him scream like that? He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
The severed hand was carefully gathered up and burned, then the ashes scattered to the winds. "It is done," the clone uttered nervelessly, and headed for the Outer Rim--his next step from clone to host.
He knew that the prisoner couldn't be kept there forever; eventually someone might come by from Hyllyard City to loot the place, or take up residence. A prison would have to be built soon, but not now; too many absences might be suspicious. But the prison would be constructed, even if he had to do it himself.
A week passed, and the clone came back, with pallet, blanket and pillows in tow, amid other amenities--though nothing that Luke could use to escape. Droids had been posted for security and for giving Luke food, though it was irregular at best. He had exercised constantly to keep in shape, and stubble graced his chin, giving him a more haggard appearance.
His eyes were fixed with hatred as he looked on his captor. "It's only a matter of time," he said again, one of the few things that he clinged to, aside from his escape plans.
"Doesn't look like they suspect much, to me," the clone gloated. "And you better be careful; hatred leads to the dark side."
"Like that's going to happen, with me cut off from the Force?" Luke responded bitterly. "It doesn't matter, anyway. They'll find you out."
The clone only smiled, then left.
More time passed, and the clone came back occasionally, either to gloat or to inform him of what was going on. According to the clone, he'd proclaimed himself a Jedi Master, of all things! And to top that, the Emperor had come back, and tempted the clone. "It was so hard to resist, but I remembered Leia and the twins, and the new baby..."
"What new baby?" Luke asked, horrified.
"That's right, you wouldn't know--Leia's pregnant again, with a boy. They're planning on calling him Anakin."
Luke smiled. So, Leia had finally accepted their father after all. "What else?"
"Well, the Emperor died, then came back--and I fell in love, I think. The woman, Jem, died, unfortunately," he frowned. "She made me feel something I haven't before..."
"Please tell me you didn't sleep with her," Luke said mournfully.
"Of course not! I barely knew her." Luke breathed a sigh of relief. "What about Mara?"
"What about her?"
"Is she okay? If the Emperor came back, he'd certainly go after her for betraying him."
"I wouldn't know. I haven't spoken to her. Besides, she can take care of herself."
Luke wanted to strangle the man. "You mean you haven't even checked up on her?! She could be hurt, or worse!" He didn't want to think about that possibility.
"She's fine, I'm sure. I have more important things to think about." His eyes sparkled as he talked about finding new Jedi, and the lore that he'd found. "It's glorious! All that knowledge..I can start an Academy, and train all those young minds!"
Luke shook his head in disgust. "Right. You and all three of them, sitting in a classroom while the Empire carves out a new chunk of the galaxy as its own," he said sarcastically.
"I am doing something you could never do; the rebirth of the Jedi."
The clone scowled, "You'll see. Everyone will revere me much more than they ever did you. I'll have power, prestige, and respect."
"This is what all this is about? Power?" He laughed mirthlessly. "You don't know what you're asking for."
"I don't need your approval."
"Then why ask?" This caught the clone off-guard, and he left hurriedly, never giving Luke an answer.
After several months of secrecy, the prison was complete. Set deep in the forest, its walls rose as high as the treetops, encasing within a square acre an atrium of trees inside. A wide border of scrub grass followed the interior, in order to keep the prisoner from jumping over the fence by way of a branch. Inside the trees was a hut filled with basic amenities, though no modern tools. At the four corners of the walls were security devices set to detect sound, movement, and heat. If Luke strayed too long into the area between the trees and the wall, an electric current would course along the area, incapacitating him for hours. Droids covered with a force field entered in with ease, and supplied him with food and other things he needed to survive. Vornskrs kept any potential interlopers away, and an added reason for Luke to stay inside.
Luke never felt the transfer; his food was drugged, and his body dropped unceremiously inside the hut. After several hours he awoke to find his new dwelling, and saw that the clone had installed a holonet viewer, with a note pegged on it--"So I won't have to keep you informed."
He quickly searched for a way to send messages out, but knew it was futile; that was the first thing the clone would have eliminated. If Artoo were here...
He felt tears well up in his eyes; the first he'd allowed himself to have. Artoo's not here, and neither is Leia, or Han, or even Lando. No one knows where I am. No one even knows that he's a fraud. For a long time, he sat there and cried, releasing the frustration of his situation out until he was drained. After the tears stopped, he felt the anger grow; at the clone, at life, at the damn ysalamiri who cut him off from the Force, the planet, his friends and family...everything and everyone he could think of. How could they do this? Is this how little they knew me? He felt like throwing up.
Exploring the new prison took longer than he thought, and he reveled and took comfort in every new sight. The sound of leaves rustling in the wind, the glow of sunlight and clouds and sky...it was almost too much. Darkness fell quickly, and he headed back to the holonet, to find out what was going on outside his prison walls.
"Today, in the news," the exotic woman broadcaster was saying. "Jedi Master Luke Skywalker announced earlier today that he was establishing a "Jedi Academy" on the former Rebel base moon of Yavin. Insiders say that several of the new Jedi he's discovered will be joining him there, although that doesn't include his sister, Leia Organa Solo."
"Thank goodness," Luke added.
The report continued on, showing a clip from the speech, "--Now we have a New Republic. The Empire appears to be defeated. We have founded a new government based upon the old, but let us hope we learn from our mistakes. Before, an entire order of Jedi watched over the Republic, offering strength. Now I am the only Jedi Master who remains." Luke rolled his eyes, revolted at what he what hearing. How could anyone think that was him?
It continued on, and Luke could feel the bile rise in his throat as listened further. "My sister is undergoing Jedi training--" That filled him with dread, and he lost focus on the speech, catching only that he planned on recruiting the children as well; another thought that tightened his stomach.
"In recent years I have come to know a woman named Mara Jade--" that caught his full attention,"--who is now unifying the smugglers--the former smugglers--into an organization that can support the needs of the New Republic. She also has a talent for the Force. I have encountered others in my travels."
That was all? Just "She also has a talent for the Force"? And then he dismisses her, like that? The clone continued his pompous speech, and Luke was repulsed by the man's arrogance. The recording cut to the end, where he proposed the idea of the academy, and the Senate accepted it, Mon Mothma saying herself, "I give you my hopes for the rebirth of the Jedi Knights. We will offer what help we can." At that, Luke's own hopes sank. They had no idea. No idea at all of what he was, or what he was planning.
"He isn't doing this for the Republic," he yelled at the holo of the woman broadcaster. "He's doing this for his bruised ego! All he wants is power!"
The holo, though, couldn't hear him; only the trees and the walls could. His head sank in his hands, and he numbly listened to the rest of the transmission.
A year came and went, with sporadic visits from the clone. To his horror, Luke found himself anticipating the clone's visits, waiting anxiously for someone to talk to, even if it was someone he hated passionately. The clone rambled on now, talking about how well the academy was going, even though he was still visibly shaken from his brush with death several months ago, with Exar Kun. "I have a soul," he said mostly to reassure himself, but Luke was only happy at not being abandoned. The clone sat on the only chair, his leg propped on his knee.
"I'll be leaving for awhile, my friend. The Ithorians are having their Time of Meeting, and I've been invited." His eyes were shadowed, but his ability to duplicate Luke's speech patterns were improving, chilling Luke to the bone. The clone was already starting to believe that Luke was the clone, and he was the real Luke, and that all of this was in mercy, to keep him from killing a sentient being.
"Hopefully it won't keep me away from my students long. I'll see the droids take good care of you while I'm gone." Then he rose and left, dark cloak billowing out behind him, giving the illusion that on sheer will power alone, he could fly to the tops of the trees, and beyond.
The droids let go of Luke's arms, and he stood up, stretching to relieve cramped muscles. Ever since he had lunged at the clone two months before, the maintenance droids held him in check until their master was gone. Several escape attempts had gone awry, and he had gotten plenty of shocks for his trouble. Many items had been confiscated, and the holonet privilege had been taken away, until recently. He had not attempted anything since, so the clone was merciful and allowed him to have his one link to the outside world back, even though it was more torture than pleasure.
Almost a week passed, and the society news revealed something he had been dreading since day one. "According to close friends of the Jedi Master, it's reported that he's finally found the right woman," the portly female smiled slyly, her bouffant twitching. "There has been no confirmation yet from Skywalker himself, but only yesterday was he seen with this blonde on his arm, shortly after the skirmish with the Eye of Palpatine." The holo showed a tall, beautiful woman with hair cut drastically short, arm in arm with his doppleganger. She was alright, he guessed...although blondes weren't really his type. He was sure to hear all about her, once the clone came back.
What does Leia think about all this? he wondered. Hell, what does Mara think? he added, having realized his feelings for the former assassin while in his imposed solitary. Thoughts of her helped get him through the days, while he kept fit, waiting for the time when someone--or something--slipped up. Sometimes he daydreamed about her, and having the Force back. Looks like Ben was wrong--again, Luke thought sourly, thinking of the old man's words from long ago.
Other society news poured in, but he only caught the mention of Lando and Mara forming some sort of partnership, having to do with Kessel. What was all that about? Mara didn't hate Lando, but she wasn't exactly seeking his attention, either. She had treated him like she would a harmless bug; swatting him aside and out of her way. If this was true, it must only be for the profit involved, he assured himself.
A long time passed before the clone came back, his eyes sunken and hollow. "I don't believe it," he mumbled, and quickly sat down in the chair, leaving Luke standing freely. He was so distraught that he had failed to enact normal security measures. Luke's body tensed like a coiled spring. He realized this was his chance, and adopted a look of sympathy. "What's wrong?"
"She's gone," he said sorrowfully, wringing his hands in despair.
"Callista?" he prompted, saying the name he'd heard from the holo, and the double nodded. "She left me to regain her Force powers, but I don't care about that. She's the only one who knows what I've gone through."
Luke couldn't imagine what that could be, but the clone elaborated, "The universe has changed, and she no longer fit in--she was alone, without a place. Like I was, before we switched." Luke forced himself to release his clenched fist. He makes it sound like I agreed to it!
"She was waiting for me, and I, her. We were made to be together."
"I don't get it."
"Our lives parallel each other; She was given new life by Cray's sacrifice, and I was, through you. We're so much alike."
"Sacrifice? What do you mean?" Concern came through his voice.
"Cray died so that Callista would live; Callie took Cray's body."
Luke struggled to keep from looking physically repulsed, though he couldn't stop his insides from churning. "Took the body? Then Cray was dead?"
"Well, no. Cray transferred herself into the computer, and Callista took her body. When the Eye exploded, well..."
Luke grimaced. He had known about Callista being in the Eye, but he hadn't known about this; "So, you've been living with a woman who's inhabiting the body of a dead student?"
"Yeah," the clone replied, "and your point is...?"
"Cray could have lived. Did you ever think of that?"
"Not really," he said sheepishly. "I was more concerned about Callista."
"Callista had no body, correct? Essentially, she was already dead--only a spirit haunting some ship, and now she's walking around in the shell of a woman who still had a promising life."
"So did Callista!" The clone said defensively.
"Cray was only twenty-six!" Luke heard his voice break, for a woman he hadn't had the chance to meet. "Callista had existed for, what? 60 years?" He guessed the number from the information given by the holo, and the clone flinched. He'd guessed right. "Cray was a doctor, right? She could have done so much good, and now it's all gone to waste."
The doppleganger stared at Luke with barely contained fury. "How dare you? I love her more than life itself!" The clone raised the lightsaber from his belt and ignited it, the crackling green blade scything the space between them. Luke waited patiently, waiting for the blade to fall. If he couldn't escape physically, he decided, then he would leave his prison by spirit.
Unfortunately, the blade stopped short of its mark. "No, I don't think so," the clone said as it pulled the lightsaber back, and it hissed into nothing. "It was a nice try, at least--I'll give you that. But, I have no intention of losing everything now, not after all these years."
The clone smiled. "If you lunge at me, I'll only hurt you...not kill you. I wish the universe had room for two Luke Skywalkers, but alas, it doesn't."
"Too bad there aren't two Callistas; maybe one of them would have actually stayed."
The other's eyes narrowed, and he pivoted out the door, cape swirling in the air. Luke reveled in striking a nerve, but knew he wouldn't be back soon. And he was proved right.
Luke was punished for that remark by being deprived of companionship. A year passed before he saw the clone again, and he rambled on once again, no longer as sullen as he had once been, after Callista had left. He thought of Luke as a twin now, and divulged many of his hopes and fears to the unwilling participant.
"I'm afraid of falling to the dark side of the Force," he confessed, and Luke wasn't surprised. According to what the clone had been telling him, he had grown in ability and skill, but still struggled with anger and aggression. Luke's taunting of him was proof of that.
"Sometimes I find myself looking for the easy way...the quick path."
"Which is the most seductive," Luke finished, and the clone nodded. "I want Callista to come back so badly, but she won't until she regains her abilities in the Force. If I could find a way..."
"What?" The double looked up, startled. "What do you mean by that?"
"You can't use the dark side to find a way to the light. You know that as well as I do."
"So what am I supposed to do? Just sit around and wait?"
"If you want to," Luke shrugged. Personally, he didn't care one way or another whether Callista came back. She could stay away for as long as she wanted.
"Some help you are. Of course, you're pining for a woman who's shacked up with another guy."
"What?" Luke asked, confused and angered at the remark. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, that's right...I never told you!" The clone said brightly, realizing his opportunity to inflict pain. "Mara and Lando were 'an item' a few months ago...though I'm not sure if that's still going on. Apparently, whatever you felt for her wasn't mutual."
"Only because of your lack of interest, idiot!" Luke was deeply hurt by this. Lando, of all people! He ran his fingers through sun-lightened hair, trying to keep his anger in check. Several curses came to mind, but none were as satisfying as a punch to the nose right then. Unfortunately, he couldn't take his agressions out on the clone.
Sensing a victory, the clone headed for the door, to keep Luke from spoiling the moment. "I'll be back."
Luke barely noticed the man leave, focusing solely on his pain. He wanted to blame Mara, but in all honesty he couldn't. The clone had been dispassionate at best, where she was concerned; She had no reason to fall for him, certainly. He hoped she was happy--if not with Lando, then someone else--but he didn't stop thinking about her, even now. He would see her again someday. This struck him suddenly as fact; He would see her face, hold her hand, and talk to her, just like he had been hoping and wishing.
When, he couldn't say. Maybe it was just a silly idea, dreamed up by a man in grief. Still, the thought made him smile, and after four years of solitary confinement, he no longer cared if he went insane.
The days blended together faster now, and before he knew it, six months had passed, with no sign of his captor. Not really caring, Luke passed time by building additions to the hut, starting a garden from some seeds allowed to him, and trying to secretly tunnel through the ground.
Every day for the past year or so, he'd gone out to the edge of the forest, and dug with a small wooden spade he used for planting seeds. Careful not to set off the alarm by spending too much time by the edge, he carried away small amounts of dirt each day, until now the hole was wide enough for him to stand in, and almost deep enough to start tunneling forward. Only a little farther, and he'd have enough ground overhead to prevent it from collapsing.
He dug deeper and deeper, and shoved the spade in once again, only to hear the dreaded sound of the alarm. What--?
He jumped out of the hole, and saw the two droids heading this way, stun guns forward. How did they know? he thought frantically. How? He felt the stun beam before he saw it, and his world fell into darkness.
He awoke to see the face he'd been hoping he wouldn't see. "Hello there. Tried escaping again, hmm?" The clone tssked, shaking his head disapprovingly. "I thought you'd try digging out. After all, we think alike." Luke snorted, but the action caused his head to ache more. He looked around cautiously and found himself on the floor of the hut, with the clone towering over him. He shifted himself to a sitting position, and the room swayed and buckled for a moment, before settling down again.
"There's a sonic gridwork that's channeled through the ground; that's what you hit, at about a meter down. On top of that, the wall goes down about two meters, in order to keep the vornskrs from digging under the wall after you." That caught Luke short. "They've been digging?"
"In the beginning, yes. Now, they've excepted that it's futile, but some keep trying--like a certain stubborn twin of mine." He frowned, puzzling out the punishment this time.
"No more seeds, for one thing. And your gardening tools are gone, as of this moment."
"That's all?" Luke smirked, as if it didn't faze him at all. Inside, he could feel his heart turn to lead.
"For now. If I think of anything more, the droids can take care of it." The clone chatted some more, sharing news outside of the holonet. Leia and the children were going on vacation, kind of, on Munto Codru--wherever that was--and he and Han were going to Crseih Station, to escape the lull and peace that had descended recently. The clone was hoping desperately that he'd find more students, or more knowledge--both had been drying up as of late. Maybe he would find some there.
"Why?" Luke asked, not really curious, but eager to keep the conversation moving. Now that his double was here, he was reluctant to let him go.
"I need students in order to have an academy, and new information to keep them there. If they leave, where will that leave me?"
"How about, getting a life?" He couldn't resist, and got a glare for his troubles.
"Ha ha. Very funny."
"I thought it was."
"Anyway," the clone continued, "This is a good opportunity for me. I'll miss my students, but this needs to be done." His face turned melancholy, and added, "I just wish I knew more." Then he left silently for his waiting shuttle.
Only a month passed before Luke saw him again, more troubled and disturbed than ever. Luke had been trying to tend to the harvest, but had little success without the proper tools. A small clearing allowed sunlight to beam across a rough twenty meter square, as good a place for a garden as any, and he'd thrown his sweat-soaked shirt to the side, to allow for easier movement. His skin had darkened from the sun, and had lightened his hair and growing beard, now that he had decided to let it grow and trim it back as needed. His doppleganger appeared from the forest, having landed in the strip of land protected by the defense systems. "Here you are," the clone called out, his face as pale as ever, though a darkened expression crossed it now. "I thought you'd be at the hut."
"I'm always out here during the day," Luke countered, and the clone shrugged, letting it pass. "What brings you here so soon?"
"Troubles, my friend." Luke visibly chafed from that word, 'friend'. "I nearly died."
Luke looked up from the plant he was tending to, surprised. "What?"
The clone explained everything that had happened on his trip with Han, including the being called Waru and its ability at healing. "I came to him, hoping he would cure my illness, but he refused. I insisted, but he wouldn't listen. Finally, he accepted, and I entered in eagerly, hoping to either die or be saved. I didn't know at the time that he was a leech from another universe."
Luke raised an eyebrow at that, "Another universe, huh?"
"He tempted me with power, and I was intrigued."
Luke gave a short, bitter laugh. "More like you were eager to get your hands on it."
The clone sighed, "I suppose so. The illness, as it turned out, was caused by the star's resonance in the Force; It disturbed it enough to make me physically ill."
"How horrible for you."
He gave Luke a reproving look. "Either way, I've found more students, and found out more about the Force."
"Then why aren't you clicking your heels and jumping for joy?" Luke asked sardonically. "I thought that was your goal in life."
"I don't know." That was all he said about that topic. He went on discuss the recent events, how Luke's family was doing, and finally the goings-on of a certain Ms. Jade.
"It seems she and Lando broke up some time ago--not quite a year. I mentioned it to Leia, and she was surprised I hadn't noticed that. As if I'm supposed to care..." Luke hastily motioned him to go on. "Well, she's bought out of the Kessel deal, and has started up her own trading company--clean and on the level, so I'm told."
"Is she seeing anyone?" He felt his heart in his throat. He tried telling himself that it wouldn't matter, but he had an overwhelming desire to know.
"Not that I know of. She seemed alright, the last time I talked with her."
Luke let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. There was no one else.
The clone bade him farewell, and Luke had the sudden urge to run and tackle the man, lightsaber or no. There were no droids here, no security devices...but he let the moment slip away, without knowing why.
After dinner, he climbed to the top of the tallest tree, and watched the sunset. He steeled himself mentally, and climbed back past the crown, and stood on a carefully chosen branch; one that had a clear view all the way down to the ground. If he landed just right, it would snap his neck instantly, killing him.
He'd tried commiting suicide before, but had always backed out; He'd had the noose he'd made looped around his neck, but he could never summon the strength to jump. The blade he fashioned rested lightly on his wrist, but never deeper. No poisonous plants were here, and he had no blaster. Now his legs were trembling; he had to end the suffering. No one would rescue him, and he couldn't escape. Days of loneliness heaped up on him, and threatened to break his spirit. His gardening tools were gone...his one escape mentally from the drudgery.
He stood there for a hour, waiting for his nerve to build and for his legs to leave the security of the branch. After awhile, his legs started to get tired, and he nearly slipped. He latched onto the trunk for dear life, and realized dimly that he didn't want to die. What am I doing up here? he thought to himself, and slowly climbed down.
What if Leia came, and found his lifeless body? Or, even worse, Mara--he would never be able to tell her how he felt. He'd never meet his niece and nephews, or all the Jedi the clone had gathered. Someday he would leave this place, he knew suddenly...be it a year or another five, it would come eventually. The clone wasn't perfect; he'd let something slip, make people suspect, and that would be enough. He smiled, something he hadn't done in several months, and began to wait.
Visits came and went, and the years blurred into one another. Crops grew and flourished, and withered and died. The temperature didn't change much on Myrkr, so his winters were spent easily, and the summers without too much worry of the heat. Three years had gone by when Luke looked up into the sky, and saw the shuttle once again, its fourth visit that year.
The clone came by more and more often, and had less and less to talk about. Leia and Han were fine, the children were fine, and things were going well on Yavin. The holonet had little more; the Empire was nursing its wounds still, after the battle with the ship known as Darksaber--or rather, the anti-battle. Rebuilding had occupied most of the double's time, at first, but with no Callista and the students going out on their own, he had little left to do besides chat with his prisoner.
The next year was more eventful; but Luke didn't know about most of it because of the transmission blackout around the Corellian system. When he heard on the holonet about Leia, Han, the kids, and Mara being in the middle of that, he nearly broke down. They were in danger, and there was nothing he could do. Lando and Luke's clone were supposedly in the same area, but had managed to come back safely.
He watched the holo every day, waiting for updates; Over time, he had become accustomed to watching the news rather than being in it, but just then he would have given his soul to be in the thick of it, doing something instead of sitting it out.
A month passed with little news, then several more days went by. Then, finally, the silence was broken and the news spread to the edges of the galaxy; Thracken Sal-Solo had been defeated, the Corellian system was free, and the New Republic had won--but unfortunately, not without cost.
Luke listened mournfully as Gaeriel's name was listed among the dead, as well as her Admiral, Ossilege. Why did she go with them? Why? He moaned to himself, trying to understand her senseless death. She had left behind a daughter, who now had to adjust to being an orphan. His spirits sunk to an all time low, and started to wonder why he hadn't jumped all those years ago.
A visit by his captor followed soon after, explaining Gaeriel's death dispassionately and focusing on his own problems, for the most part. The talk with Mon Mothma had really shook him up, and had him wondering what to do next.
He decided to stay for a while on Yavin to sort things through, and left, leaving Luke to sort through his own problems.
Luke's clone arrived at Yavin IV, the shuttle slipping into its usual place on the launch pad. The students hadn't seen him for quite a while, and greeted him enthusiastically, like a favorite uncle who'd been gone for a year and brought back presents for everyone.
Tionne approached him, carrying an armload of files to sort. "More applications from rich families," she smile wanly, and he smiled back. It was suddenly in vogue to have your child enrolled in the Jedi Academy--a declaration that you were superior to those around you. Nearly all were sent away, but he had found a handful with some skill. Their parents insisted on certain abilities to be learned, and balked at his regimen, but he waved any and all arguments aside; this was his academy, and ran it as he chose.
He climbed up the stairs to his room, and saw the message indicator flashing, but ignored it. He was exhausted from the flight back, and had little patience to deal with irate parents and his own family right now. I can put them off for another week, he thought as he slipped under the covers, and fell fast asleep.
The message had been sent off, and Mara Jade relaxed into the nearest couch, preparing to watch the stock report. I've been meaning to do this for some time now, but it seems I never get the chance to-- The alarm in the kitchen buzzed, and she went to retrieve her dinner. She planted it on the table in front of her and took notes; what was rising, and what was falling. She'd have to break this habit once she got to Yavin, she realized, and sighed as she switched the channel. Children's programming, Comedy, something called "Tales of the Jedi", which she had heard about, and some long-drawn out soap opera she turned on occasionally. She caught the tail end of a movie she liked, about a man who finds his lost love after years of searching for her through danger-strewn paths and planets. The end was corny, sure, but ultimately satisfying. The hero gathered the woman in his arms, and they headed back to his home in the swanky section of Coruscant.
Details never existed in these movies, but she was in a mood where she didn't care too much. She was going to Yavin to finish her training, and see Luke again.
It was a hopelessly odd dream, she knew, but one she couldn't help pursuing. He had ignored her for most of the past ten years, and now she was planning on forcing his hand, so to speak, to see if he felt anything for her at all. The odds were slim, but it was better to get it over with now than spend any more time on him than need be.
She'd be arriving in a week, whether or not he responded to her message. If he wasn't there, then fine. But, she knew he wasn't on Coruscant, and no one had seen him recently, so she guessed he was hiding away on Yavin.
"Ready or not, Skywalker, I'm coming."
The week went by quickly, the clone managing to dodge calls of "Master Skywalker!" and "Luke!" as he walked past students and collegues alike. He quickly grew restless, and planned to leave again, back to Myrkr, where he could hopefully find some advice from his twin. He didn't know what to do with himself, aside of training Leia's children, and had no desire to move on romantically. If Callista and he were fated to be together, then he would wait until death and beyond for her.
Over the years, his security measures went from strict to lax. Before heading to Myrkr, he would plot intricate courses through hyperspace, ensuring that no one could follow. In time it waned from eight different destinations, to five, then two, and now just directly to Myrkr, no deception involved. No one had ever followed him, so he never bothered to check anymore.
As his shuttle floated in orbit around Yavin, Mara's ship, the Jade's Fire, entered from hyperspace. She caught the glint of sunlight off the metal of the ship, and identified it as Luke's just as he took off into hyperspace.
"Where in the galaxy is he going?" She said aloud, and triangulated his possible destinations from the direction he was heading. Several names of planets and systems popped up, but one name stood out from all the rest: Myrkr.
Why would he go there? She wondered, and called down to the academy's control room. "Where is Skywalker going?"
"What--who--" came the befuddled reply. Mara quickly surmised that they hadn't gotten her message after all. "This is Captain Mara Jade, of the Jade's Fire. I came here to visit with Luke, but it looks like he just took off."
"You're right, he did...but he didn't tell us where he was going. He never does." The young man's voice radiated disapproval.
"You don't find that a little odd?"
"It's always been like this."
Mara frowned at the response, and set coordinates for Myrkr. "I think I know where he's going. If I don't find him, I'll be back. Make sure to tell him that."
The man affirmed this, and ended the transmission. A couple minutes of course correction and preparations, and Mara was on her way to a planet she had been sure she'd never see again.
Luke was surprised to see the clone again so soon--it had only been what, a week? The dark figure filled up the entryway to the hut, blocking out the few rays of sunshine that filtered through the treetops.
"Back so soon? You couldn't possibly enjoy my company that much."
"I'm not in the mood, Skywalker. I need advice."
That response took him aback. He couldn't remember the last time the clone had addressed him that way. "You want advice, from me?" Luke laughed, struck by the absurdity of such a notion. "You'd be better off talking to a shrink; I can hear it now...I'm filled with anxiety and self-loathing, because I've imprisoned my host on a remote planet for ten years," he smirked bitterly. "My advice? Let him go, and take his place."
The clone only stared at him. "Are you through?"
"I think so...yes."
"Well then. I need to know what to do with my life."
Luke stared at him in shock. "You don't know?"
"I've done everything I set out to do. I have power, respect...and more students than I know what to do with. I've learned plenty about the Jedi, and the woman I love is nowhere to be found. What's left?"
Luke sighed deeply. This monster wanted advice on his life? He was tempted to tell him to kill himself, but that would leave Luke with no food supply and little to no chance of ever leaving. "Have you considered finding another woman?"
"I have, and I won't. Callista's waiting for me, and I'm not betraying that trust."
"Fine. What other interests do you have?"
"The same as yours, I'd imagine. That's why I'm asking you."
"But we aren't the same!" Luke said, exasperated. "You're my clone, but you aren't me. You have memories, but no real ties to those events--Mara and Gaeriel meant nothing to you, but they are or were important to me. You remember loving them, but you weren't in love with them; I was. And I don't love Callista; you do. You wanted this academy...I didn't."
"But I care about Leia, and Han."
"I'm glad you do, but that's only one of a few things we have in common."
"This isn't helping me very much," the clone sulked.
"Too bad. It's the truth." Luke paced around the room, then said at last, "Why don't you write your memoirs or something? Or join something useful, like an activist group."
"Memoirs...that sounds pretty good." Leave it to him to settle on the most ego-stroking idea, Luke thought derivitively. Muttering something about finding a good ghost writer, he spun out the door and to his shuttle.
"Good riddance," Luke said to the clone's back, and headed out towards the garden, to do some weeding.
Star lines disappeared quickly into pinpoints as the Jade's Fire came out of lightspeed. The sensors scanned the immediate area, the shadowed half of the planet, but found nothing. Mara was setting a course for the other side when she caught a gleam of metal shooting away from the planet, and it quickly entered hyperspace. There wasn't time for the equipment to get a fix on the ship, but through the Force she could tell it was Luke.
So, I was right, she mused, and headed for where he had left the planet's atmosphere. Shortly, she felt the smothering effects of Myrkr's ysalamiri, and used the last of her intuition in guiding her towards whatever spot he had just vacated. The ship glided over Hyllyard City at a reasonable height, and she scanned on, looking for any signs of anything out of the ordinary.
Karrde's base came into view, and Mara headed for it, skimming over the treetops in a simulation of her last flight here. Her and Luke's ships had crashed over to her left, and she flew over the base, melancholy at the sight of it in disrepair.
She landed not far from the sheds, and walked past tan buildings, looking for clues while her mind traveled back through memories. Luke was held prisoner in that shed over there, and that's where they had kept supplies...though the door to it didn't look the same. She sauntered over, and found it had several more bolts and locks, and the ventilation shafts had been sealed shut. Puzzled, she walked back to the ship and lifted off once again.
Maybe it was chance, or the fact that the warehouse looked different that had peaked her observation skills, but either way Mara noticed an odd formation out deep in the forest, and flew by to get a better look.
It appeared to be a whole square acre walled in, and her sensors confirmed security defenses around the perimeter. The odd thing was, they were pointed in, not out. Which meant it was created to keep someone, or something, in. What would Luke have to do with something like this?
Extremely curious, she decided to check it out. Landing as close as she could to the edge of the forest, she grabbed survival and climbing gear, along with anything else she might need--including her blaster and lightsaber. Vornskrs usually only hunted during the night, but traveling through this forest once already had taught her not to take anything for granted.
Most of the trip was dull and uneventful; she started to believe that maybe this wasn't worth it after all, until she saw the vornskrs. Sleeping peacefully, they were circled around the walled area in a wide band, stretching as far as she could see. Why would they be here, and not elsewhere? Her curiosity peaked even further, she scaled up the nearest tree and hopped from branch to branch the rest of the way, ending up at the edge of the wall.
A large, bulbous sensor protruded from each corner, and it pointed inward, toward the walled in trees. Mara landed easily on the lip of the wall--a good half meter wide--and walked carefully over, to deactivate it. She noticed several lines where rocks or sharp pieces of metal might have been thrown at it, and wondered again if she were doing the right thing. Maybe whatever or whoever was held here was here for a good reason. Then again, she'd never know that until she found out for sure.
Pulling the panel next to the sensor off, she saw it had a common set-up; definitely not on the high-end market. There were modules for sound, movement, and infrared, and some other power grids she wasn't familiar with. Pulling back wires, she found what she was looking for; the loop heading for the sensor itself. There weren't any tripwires around it, which surprised her. Again, it showed that this was set-up for keeping people in. It wouldn't expect someone to come from the outside.
She cut off some extra wire and connected it parallel to the circuit, just short of the sensor itself, in order to keep the power levels equal; If she simply cut the wire, the power drop would certainly alert some sort of security system. After the parallel circuit was established, she cut power off from the sensor, praying this would work. No alarms went off, and she conducted her last test; waving her arm in front of the sensor head. Again, no response. The sensor had been bypassed.
With a self-satisfied smirk, she anchored her grappling hook to the edge and shimmied down the rope, the end barely reaching to the ground. She headed diagonally from the corner and into the small forest, hoping that the sensors didn't overlap too far.
A few minutes later, she came upon a fairly large hut, made from wood and thatch. Surprised at the primitive living arrangements, she nevertheless went inside, and found a handful of personal items, mostly handmade. A holovid stood to one side, opposite a chair--the only one, to be accurate. Someone was living here, but who? She left the hut and traveled farther, anxious for that question to be answered.
Up ahead she saw a small clearing, and was surprised to find a garden growing there. Neat, orderly rows held various vegetables and fruits, and she saw someone bent over, pulling weeds out with their bare hands. Why would someone be doing that when there were droids for that sort of thing? She took only one step closer, but the figure heard it anyway and whirled around, looking confused for the most part.
She could barely contain her gasp. He had a beard for some reason, and his hair was lighter, but that was definitely..."Luke?"
He was positive that he had finally gone insane. Here was Mara standing not five meters away, looking at him in great consternation. Well, if it was a hallucination, at least it was a nice one. "Hi," he said feebly. Is that the best you can do? he berated himself. "Hi?"!
"It's nice to see you, even if you are a hallucination." There, that was better.
"What are you talking about, Luke?" Okay, so she was going to play dumb; He could deal with that. "You see, you're not supposed to be here. No one knows where I am."
Now she was really confused. "Wait a minute. If you're here, then who's...?" A horrified look crossed her face. "Who are you, really?"
"I'm Luke Skywalker. The original one, not the clone."
"Clone?" She was looking pretty pale. He attempted to clarify, "Joruus C'Baoth created two clones of me, not just one. The second one was elsewhere, for safekeeping--in case the first one died, as it did. You took care of that.
"About a month afterward, I went to investigate rumors that someone was impersonating me, and I was right." His tone became bitter, as he explained his capture and subsequent imprisonment on Myrkr. "And so I've been here for the past ten years."
"How do I know that you're not the clone?"
"Please. I'd think I would know that much, at least. Besides, I can't prove it to you with facts from the past; the clone has all the same memories as I do. Not to mention the fact that you're just a figment of my imagination." She was starting to get annoyed at being reminded that she wasn't really there. "Luke, I am real. Here, touch my arm."
She held out her arm, and he took hold of her hand, reveling in the touch of another human being. Sadly, it wasn't real. "This is some hallucination. I think maybe I've been out in the sun too long. I remember getting sunstroke so bad on Tatooine that I thought Biggs was my Uncle Owen for a whole day."
He fixed his eyes on hers, daring the apparition to vanish. When she didn't, Luke started to become concerned. "Why are you tormenting me? I know you're not real."
This caused something to snap inside her. "Come on, we're leaving."
Leaving? Now he knew he'd gone insane. "And how are we going to do that? Fly over the wall?"
He shook his head, but followed after her anyway, relucant to let the vision disappear. He would follow her for as long as it lasted.
She wanted to scream, cry, yell, and throw up all at the same time. If what he was saying was true...that for the last ten years, the person they'd thought was Luke Skywalker was actually a clone...
'"I'm so sorry, Luke. I had no idea." Words could not begin to describe how she felt, but it was a start. Anger, certainly, but also a sense of betrayal, plus sadness, loss, and disgust that was aimed directly at the assumed clone. How could he...? She felt like crying again.
"It's all right," he said, far too lightly. He still wasn't taking this seriously. Well, he would soon enough.
"You want to grab anything? I don't imagine you'll want to come back."
He thought this through, then answered, "No. I don't want any more memories of this place than I already have." She nodded in agreement.
Shortly they were at the trees' edge, facing the wide expanse to the wall. "Well, end of the line. Can't go through there."
"It's okay. Watch," she walked into the grassy strip of land, and he cried out, panicked. When he saw she was all right, he shook his head, muttering something about "hallucinations".
"Come on, let's go," she urged him, and he responded, "Oh no, I'm not going out there--I'll get fried again."
"There's a sensor system that activates an energy field whenever anyone or thing enters that space. Knocks you out cold for a few hours."
Seeing that he was going to be stubborn, she grabbed his arm and yanked him into the supposed field. "See? No energy field; I deactivated it."
He stood there for some time, stunned, until he murmured, "I must be unconscious."
Sighing, Mara took hold of the rope and gestured him to climb up. "That is, if you have the strength."
"I've been climbing up those trees for years," he grinned, allowing himself to enjoy the moment, and scurried up the rope faster than Mara would have believed. She followed after, and soon the both of them were balanced on the top of the wall.
"We'll have to jump for the tree," she explained, indicating the one she had used. Still smiling, he jumped easily over to the branch, and clung expertly to the tree. She followed suit, but nearly slipped on the rounded branch, and Luke's strong arm reached out to balance her. "Be careful," he cautioned, and she heard fear in his voice. For her? Odd, he had never really cared before--but then she realized she'd been thinking of the clone, not the man who stood in front of her.
Jumping from tree to tree proved to be no daunting task, and soon they were on their way to her ship. As they walked, Luke commented how nice it was to see new trees and walk without fearing of stumbling into the open. She grimaced at the thought of what he had gone through, and vowed that the one responsible would pay dearly.
The sun was setting as they arrived at Mara's ship, and Luke recognized Karrde's base from the distance. "Guess I can't stop getting stuck here, can I?" he joked, and Mara smiled sympathetically. When they boarded, he started to think that maybe he wasn't dreaming after all. "I don't recognize any of this."
"This is the Jade's Fire--my ship."
"Ah." He took a quick tour while she warmed up the engines. A bedroom, privy, game room, and storage hold took up the middle, with the engines in the back and the cockpit up front. I hope this is real, he thought, I don't think I'd be able to live in that prison after having freedom again.
He walked back into the cockpit and sat down in the co-pilot's seat, savoring in the feel of the metal. Please, let this not be a dream, he begged to any cosmic being listening in.
"We're ready to go. Would you...?" she trailed off, and gestured to the controls in front of him. Did he still remember how? His hands touched the controls, and it came back to him, slowly. He flipped switches and pulled back on the flight stick, and they lifted off, bound for the darkening sky above.
Mara's hands returned to the controls--albeit lightly--as they ascended, knowing what was to come. As they passed the ysalamiri's point of influence, she heard Luke inhale sharply, and caught herself sighing in relief at her own return of her abilities. She looked over, and saw tears forming in Luke's eyes.
"It's real," he said in a heart-breaking voice, and she nearly started crying herself. "It's been so long."
"It sure has," Mara said softly, and he fled the cockpit, not wanting to fall apart in front of her. She set the coordinates as fast as she could, and soon as it was safe, made the jump to lightspeed.
She found him sitting at one of the game tables, his head in his hands. She sat down next to him and put a comforting arm around his shoulder. "Everything's okay now. You're free."
"I know, I'm just so glad it's over." He wiped his eyes quickly, and looked away. "I can't thank you enough, Mara. You even put up with my ramblings, and that's not an easy thing to do."
"I wasn't going to leave you there," she smiled softly, and Luke turned to her, his eyes still red. "You know how long I've been waiting for this moment?"
Mara thought he was talking about being free, but at that moment he was thinking about something more personal; telling her how he felt. Should I do it now, or later?
"Do what, 'now or later?' "
He heard himself gasp lightly--he'd forgotten that she could probably read his mind now, and all his barriers were long gone. He stood up to get some distance between them, but Mara followed after him, concerned. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." His eyes were drying up now, and he chanced a look at her--and almost lost his resolve. She was older, but so was he; Age hadn't dimished her beauty in the slightest. Her grace was echoed in every movement, and her eyes sparkled just as brightly, if not more so. He wanted wrap his arms around her and never let go. "Nothing's wrong."
"You're lying," she said reproachfully. "I know you're holding something back from me. What is it?"
He stopped and turned to face her, wishing he had never said anything, while his mind screamed for him to make his move. This is what you've been waiting for, isn't it? Tell her!
His words came out haltingly at first, unused to expressing anything but sarcasm and bitterness for years. "I know this'll sound odd, and a little crazy..." he trailed off, losing his nerve and thought. She was really here; he still couldn't believe it. She came closer and took hold of his hand, urging him to continue. He'd never seen her so open, so concerned. This wasn't the Mara who'd pointed a blaster at him in Karrde's base. This Mara was like the one he'd given his lightsaber to all those years ago, who had taken it in astonishment and surprise. The woman before him had no hint of bitter in her eyes, no twist to her mouth, and no snarling comments to make in response.
As if hearing his thoughts, she smiled and said, "I won't bite; I promise."
He laughed, letting her mood wash over him. "I have your word on that?"
Luke grinned, wondering if she was using Karrde, Lando or Han as her example. His mood turned quiet as he realized that he was losing the moment. He continued on, "I've been wanting to tell you something for a long time. I don't know if you'll want to hear it, but I can't stall it any longer." This wasn't how he had planned on saying this. He'd run through the moment in his mind and out loud thousands of times, but now, when he needed it most, he couldn't think of a single phrase or sentence that he had practiced out. "I...love you, Mara. I have since...well, I don't know when, but it's been awhile. You were the one thing that kept me going, the person that saved me from suicide when I was desperate enough to try." He realized dimly that maybe she didn't want to hear something like that. Too bad, it was true.
Her presence was intoxicating; The scent of her hair, the warmth of her hands in his, and the color of fire against alabaster skin, giving her a radiance that seemed to echo from her soul. He lost his train of thought again, and acted on impulse alone now, drawing her closer by bringing her hands around his back, and lowered his head to meet hers.
The kiss was passionate and raw, telling by action what Luke could not describe in words. The need, the hunger for her nearly drove all caution from his mind as he let go of her hands, and pressed in closer, his hands moving around her waist and upwards. After a few seconds, it slowly dawned on him what he was doing, and he pulled back, to see Mara's shocked expression.
"I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking. It's just that, it's been ten years..." his voice trailed off, as he saw how lame that excuse was. He expected Mara to hate him now, after what he'd just done. To his surprise, she didn't seem to be angry in the least.
"I--don't know what to say," she stammered out, more flustered than he had ever seen.
"You don't have to say anything, Mara. I've been an idiot." She reached up to touch his beard, as if wondering for the first time whether it was real or not. "You're the real Luke Skywalker? Not a clone, or a simulacrum, or a shape-changing alien?"
His mood lightened, and he laughed at the question's point. "Yes, I'm real," he smiled, and then it was his turn to be surprised, as she pulled his mouth to hers. He drank her in, like a man who'd traveled across the desert for several miles, and at the very last had found his oasis. Mara's hands went from his face to his neck, and traveled downward as he embraced her tighter; she was swept up completely by his raw passion and love, and gave it back in kind. After several seconds, he pulled back again, to regain some semblance of breathing.
"Whoa," Luke managed to gasp, and Mara smiled breathlessly. "Now wasn't that worth the wait?"
"Yes." He moved in again, and this time explored other regions, letting himself go further than he would've dared a few moments ago. Mara accepted his attention at first, then stiffened slightly as she remembered something particularly unpleasant. After a couple of curses, she said, "We're going to have to put this off. We still have the clone to take of, remember?"
He'd forgotten about that. He let his hands drop into inactivity and replied, "So, what are we going to do? From what he's told me, he's gotten to be rather powerful. I don't think he'll comply with us if we ask him to give up his charade."
"I wasn't planning on asking him anything," Mara replied, and her hand fell unconsciously on the hilt of her lightsaber. Luke caught the movement, and to her surprise, did not reprimand her at all. "I wish I could kill him, but I can't. I couldn't--especially now, since I've got something to lose." He smiled at her, and she did the same. Then, the alarm for the lightspeed controls went off, signalling that they had arrived at their destination.
The clone was pacing restlessly in his quarters, trying to figure out what he should do. The student who'd talked to Mara had told him the length of their conversation, that Mara thought she knew where he was going, and would come back if she didn't find him there. Could she know it was Myrkr, however unlikely? What if she found the real Luke, and brought him back to Yavin? The students would revolt, and he'd most likely end up dead. Saying that the real Luke was actually the clone would still call into question why he would imprison anyone on a planet, let alone his clone. As soon as anyone met the real Luke, they'd know who was real, and who was the duplicate.
There was only one way to save this mess: Mara Jade and the other Luke would have to die. He risked losing his sanity, but if he could arrange it well enough, there would be little to no risk at all.
His call alarm chimed twice, and an energetic female voice piped up, "Mara Jade has entered the moon's atmosphere, Master. She should be arriving shortly."
"Did she say she had anyone with her?" His voice shook nervously.
"Not that I can recall. Sounded pretty discouraged, to me."
"Thank you." Discouraged? What would that mean? Had she found him, and simply hid his presence for now, or had she truly not discovered his prison? He stretched out with the Force, searching for both Mara's presence and that of his host. To his dismay, he sensed them both, heading straight for the complex.
He ordered the students away from the landing pad, and greeted the Jade's Fire alone, with his lightsaber ready at his hip. Already he could feel the buzzing pressing in on his mind, threatening to destroy his concentration. This had to work. It had to.
Mara Jade descended down the ramp, and as beautiful and graceful as ever--not that he noticed it much. Behind her followed the other Luke, a look of annoyance on his face.
"Hello, clone." Mara said coldly, emphasizing the now-acknowledged fact. Luke barely gave any attention to his double, focusing instead on the complex; seeing it in person for the first time. "This...is a lot bigger than I'd thought it would be."
"There's no need for this to be unpleasant, Mara," he tried in his most soothing, complacent voice. Her anger only grew, "Don't even think about trying any mind tricks on me, bastard. I'm angry enough as it is."
As much as he wanted to live, he didn't want to see Mara fall to the dark side. "Anger leads to the--"
"To Hell with the dark side; I don't care." Her lightsaber flared to life, and the clone found himself activating his own, in defense. This was going perfectly.
Luke was cautioning her, telling her to hold back, to not be goaded into anything--but Mara wasn't listening, and lunged forward, her saber arcing towards the clone's shoulder.
He blocked it easily, and parried the next blow, and the next. Students were now coming to see what all the noise was about, ignoring their Master's orders. To them, they saw Mara Jade attacking Master Skywalker, and he defending himself. Behind her was a figure that seemed familiar, but most couldn't pinpoint it further than that. Gradually, they filtered in closer for a better look, and noticed a faint buzzing sensation coming through the Force, from where Master Skywalker and the other two people were.
Streen felt the buzzing too, and came out of his room to see the fight. He knew what that was, from what Luke had taught him; There was someone's clone around, who could use the Force. He rushed down to the launch pad, hoping to stop the conflict before it elevated any further.
Mara wiped sweat from her brow with her sleeve, and started to regret this idea of confrontation. Luke--the clone--was exceptionally good at sword-play, and she was finding all of her thrusts and swipes being blocked and parried away. She decided to up the ante a bit.
Summoning the Force, she slammed a solid, transparent wall into him, sending him tumbling from the platform. She heard gasps from the side, and realized that the students were watching; The thought sent alarm bells through her head, but the constant buzz kept her from completely formalizing the warning.
The clone wasn't ignoring the crowd of Jedi; this was what he was hoping for--witnesses to the senseless attack of Mara Jade and her co-hort, his clone. He hadn't wanted Mara to die, and he couldn't kill Luke, but if the others did it for him, then his hands would be clean. Luke would die before anyone would have the chance to identify him.
Luckily for him, none of the students had ever met the true Luke, so none would recognize him as false, as Mara had done. The pupils came closer, some hoping to put an end to the fighting, and others wishing they could be at their master's side, defending him.
Meanwhile, Luke watched both Mara and the approaching students warily. She was coming dangerously close to the dark side, but his attempts to pull her back only suceeded in angering her further. "Let me go!"
"Don't you see? He wants you to attack him! This way he can claim self-defense!"
"I don't really care, Luke. He has to pay for what he's done!"
"He will, but not if we play by his rules."
She still wasn't listening. She jumped down from the platform, his own battle with the dark side coming vividly to mind as she did so. He glanced back at the students, and saw a white-haired old man push through the crowd, to the front. The name "Streen" popped into Luke's mind, culled from endless viewings of the holovid, and he sprinted over to the old man's side, hoping to talk some sense into someone with authority.
"We have to stop them!" Luke called out to Streen, and the man looked at him, surprised. "On that much, we agree. But, who are you? Master Skywalker's clone?"
The others gasped, realizing now what that buzzing was. A clone, here?
"No, I'm not--"
"Don't listen to anything he says!" interrupted the Master, still fending off Mara Jade. "He's fallen to the dark side!"
"I'm not the clone," Luke finished. "Your master is."
"Lies!" One person in the back shouted, and others joined in the cry. Streen, though, was not so sure. His ability at reading minds was unparalleled among the group, and he could tell truth was underlying the bearded man's words. "Let me into your mind, and I will see who is telling the truth."
"Don't!" The Master cried. "You'll be sucked into his madness!"
"Shut up, clone! You're only afraid of being discovered," Mara shot back, and lunged again, in order to keep his full attention.
Luke's mental defenses were nonexistant, so Streen slid into his mind with ease, seeing the past ten years with a mixture of sadness, horror, and anger. The clone--desperate to hold on to his life--threw Mara back using the Force, away from the students and Luke. He ran as fast as he could, and seized hold of Streen's mind. You will forget everything you just saw.
"I will...not do that." Sweat poured down his face, as he resisted the clone's mental grip. "You are an abomination!"
Luke joined in the man's efforts, but felt a sharp pain ring through his skull at the attempt. He dropped to one knee, holding his head and clenching his teeth from the pain. "You won't be able to hide any longer, clone," he spat at the dark-cloaked figure hovering above him. "You've been discovered as a fraud."
"Have I? I can easily erase this event from my students' minds, and can explain away the events. It was sad, but unavoidable; an unprovoked attack, and poor Streen was in the middle of it. And it was all your fault!" He kicked the prostrate Luke in the stomach, and he crumpled further. "You just had to take my place!"
"I'm Luke Skywalker," Luke said, and received another kick, this time in the side. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Mara coming over gradually, lightsaber turned off. This clone was incredibly powerful, but if he, Mara and Streen could just link up, they could overpower him. He looked back to the students, hoping for some additional help, but their blank faces told him all he needed to know. They were in no condition to do anything; they were in some sort of trance.
He pushed back at the pain, and felt it relent somewhat, then drive down harder. "Trying to fight me? How pathetic." The Master tapped his foot thoughtfully. "Now, how to kill you? Oh, and Mara, you're not fooling me at all." Luke heard her land on the ground hard, slammed down by the Force, and her pain screamed at him despite her barriers.
Using that brief link through pain, he told her his idea. She wasn't crazy about it, but they had little choice. Streen was beginning to weaken under the strain, and the buzzing was getting to them all, including the clone. They had to strike while they still had the strength.
Streen heard their plan, and shifted his efforts from defensive to offensive, as Luke and Mara did the same. The clone had heard the idea as well, but there was little he could against three Jedi, even though he considered himself a Jedi Master. The attack on three fronts had him losing concentration, his grip on Streen's mind loosening, and the pressure put on Mara lessened to almost nothing. She picked herself up quickly and ran to the both of them, her proximity increasing their combined strength. Luke, however, was still doubled over in pain. The clone had pinpointed his main enemy as Luke, and focused on breaking him in order to weaken the link.
The clone's own strength and stamina were quickly running out, though, and he found himself stepping backwards, as if distance would lessen the onslaught.
"What do we do now? We can't kill him!" Streen said.
"Can't we?" Mara snarled, but Luke reached out to her arm, to calm her. "I--can't do that. But, we can punish him well enough to wish that we had killed him," he bit out through clenched teeth. The clone shook his head in horror, realizing what Luke was planning to do. "No, no, you can't! I won't let you!" He took Luke's saber and pointed it in front of his chest. His gaze at Luke intensified, and Luke screamed in pain. Mara decided that this little game was over, and started to run after the clone, but suddenly the saber ignited, slicing a neat hole through the clone's chest. He smiled in triumph, and collapsed dead to the ground.
The buzzing abruptly disappeared, as they knew it would, and Luke went over to the body. It had not disappeared. That also was expected, but for Streen and the students--just now coming out of the trance--it was a shock to see. He retrieved his lightsaber and turned it off, noticing how scarred and battered it had become. Another thing to regret.
His tormentor was dead, and though he was relieved, he was saddened to see what the clone had wrought. Unthinking pupils who wore drab, uniform clothing--why were they all wearing robes, for one thing?--and a complex that echoed the same uniform thoughts. Stocky grey buildings dotted the plaza and launch pad area, all the same height and width. It looked like all creativity was suppressed.
Mara walked over to him, and put her hand on his shoulder. "Hey, you all right?"
He looked up, "Yeah, I guess so. It just occured to me that I've really lost ten years--not to mention what the clone has done to these Jedi. I wonder if I hadn't been kidnapped, that I would have done the same things..."
Mara glared at him. "Are you done feeling sorry for yourself? And for the people around you, for that matter?"
He smiled, "You're not going to let me sulk, even a little?"
"There's been enough sulking for a lifetime by one Skywalker. I'm not about to put up with any more from another." He laughed, and the sound lightened the dark moment for the both of them. Shortly, a pearl-eyed woman came up to him cautiously, "You are the true Luke Skywalker, correct?"
"Yes, I am."
"Then you are now Master Skywal--"
"Oh no, no, no. You're not going to heep that title on me, especially when I don't deserve it. Half of these kids probably know more than I do." The realization was not a comforting one to him. "I've got a long way to go before I'm up that high. Though there is one thing I'd like to do."
"What's that?" The woman with the odd eyes asked.
He smiled, "I want to get rid of these buildings, and move three-quarters of the Jedi students off this planet."
"Are you kidding? Nearly all the Jedi in the galaxy are in one spot--an incredibly stupid tactical move. Plus, the Jedi need to be out in the world, learn their own lessons from the same school I went to; Hard knocks."
"Who will supervise?"
"It looks like there's a significant amount of adults in this group," he looked pointedly at Streen and the woman. "I think the adults can handle the younger students. And I expect to do my fair share, but I won't be your figurehead. The Jedi are a group of defenders, sworn to protect the galaxy and the Republic. If we're not doing that, then what good are we?"
The woman named Tionne nodded thoughtfully. He had a point; some had mentioned this to the--the clone--but he had rebuked them, saying that they needed to stay here, and finish their training. Now she knew he was just trying to keep them under his thumb.
"So, shall we get started?" Luke watched her eagerly, impatient to get things back on track. Mara nodded in agreement and Streen smiled as well. All the Jedi could feel it--a new era was coming to pass, and things would never be the same in the galaxy again.
"Okay. Let's go!" Some of the students cheered, while the others watched on nervously. The de-centralization had begun.
Explaining everything to his sister and Han had been hard. They refused to believe they had been duped, and when it sunk in finally, Leia broke down in tears and Han seethed in anger; If the clone hadn't already been dead, he sure would've been in a short period of time. Now the question of the moment was, should the public know?
In honesty, they had the right to know, but Leia knew that this might start a massive drop in the people's confidence of the New Republic. If Luke could be a clone, then who else might be a fraud? Chaos would ensue, as they hunted down imaginary clones and traitors.
Instead, Luke assumed the title of Jedi Master--only to give it up just as quickly, and explain to everyone his new plan for the Jedi. After that, he planned to travel from place to place and conflict to conflict, doing what the Jedi were supposed to do; Defend.
Mara gave up the trade business and followed Luke's example, becoming a Jedi Knight in full after confronting her anger with the clone. Luke was thrilled when she declared that she was coming with him, whether he liked it or not.
"I'm not going to let you out of my sight, Skywalker. Who knows how many clones there are, waiting to stuff you in some prison and take your place?"
"I hope there aren't any--more for their sake than mine," he had grinned mischievously, and she resisted the urge to punch him. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"You're welcome. You know, we never did finish that moment on the Jade's Fire..." his arms wrapped around her waist.
"Yeah, so?" She countered, her words contrasting with the signals she was giving him. He only smiled, and kissed her deeply. She returned the favor, and soon they were getting appreciative stares from passers-by.
After some time, they made it back to his apartment on Coruscant, the only place he could think of to live for now. Leia, Han and the kids were here, and so was Mara. Soon he'd be leaving, but he couldn't help soaking in the presence of people, and conversation. Besides, he'd been hoping that Mara would agree to something, and he'd prefer to have that taken care of now, rather than later.
He supposed they should have gone out somewhere, but his face was too recognizable in Coruscant--another reason to leave--and that would ensure that they would have no privacy. And privacy was what he wanted most right at this moment.
Mara was sitting on the couch, waiting for him to come out of the kitchen. "What's the big secret?"
"Secret?" His voice was all innocence. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I'm talking about--I haven't been able to read your mind all night. Something's up."
She couldn't turn off her intuition for even one night. "Nothing's up, Mara."
He came out empty-handed, and sat next to her on the couch. "All right, you've got me. The big secret is that I happen to be madly in love with you--"
"Ha ha, very funny--"
"--and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, as your husband." He pulled out a small box from behind him, and opened it, revealing a jeweled ring, more pricey than she would have expected from him. "Will you marry me?"
She was speechless for several seconds, then gradually her voice came back, "I--I don't know what to say."
"It's not that simple! What about the future? And finances?"
"And kids! What about that? And what if Leia and Han, and everybody else doesn't approve of us?"
He started to smile, realizing the answer hidden behind all the excuses. "Do you want to marry me or not?" He asked, hoping to interrupt her long list before it got any longer.
She sighed, "Yes, I do. I just hope I don't regret this." She smiled slyly, and he knew then that everything was all right. He kissed her lightly, and slipped the ring on her finger.
"How'd you know my size?" she asked in between kisses, and he replied, "A Jedi has ways of knowing."
"You're a real comedian, aren't you?" He only grinned. Yes, everything was definitely all right, Mara's thoughts echoed, and she kissed him back passionately.