"No, we can't do that, Master Skywalker, Streen can't handle the load. See? Here and here," her finger moved along the datapad, it's red rimmed letters floating on the LCD page. "He's due to help the newer students with meditation....."
"I thought Kam could do that," Luke put in, a little irritated.
She shook her beautiful head, her hair falling in generous waves down her back. "Kam's no good with the newer students, he just intimidates them." Her voice was light and musical, although right now it held a disconcerting matter-of- fact tone.
Luke sighed. "Right. I remember now, he had them all comatose last week..."
Tionne smiled, but it was a tight smile, as if someone had told an off color joke and she was trying to be polite about it. "Jedi survival trance is not what these particular students are ready for. What I don't understand is why he did it."
Luke sighed and a slight smile lit his face. His fair eyes closed in weariness and, perhaps, boredom, as he brought the incident to mind. "Perhaps he sensed something, some mental gesture of readiness...." he began.
She made an impatient movement. "I'm sorry, Master, I know that's what he told you, but I don't buy it. I think it was just carelessness. In less than a second they were all in over their heads. You yourself had to pull them out."
Luke Skywalker sighed and stood. "I remember clearly," he said, boredom stilting his surprisingly young voice. But the face that held it was neither young nor particularly entertained. He yawned and stretched his hands out in front of him, his simple tunic pulling back along his arms. "I talked to Kam about it, Tia, don't worry."
"If that's meant to be reassuring, thank you," Tionne replied, just a shade sarcastic.
Luke smiled at that, this time genuinely. "Okay, I'll make a point to talk to him again." He gazed at her fragile face, right now full of concern and what he discerned was a slight bewilderment. "Really, I know you're serious," he went on, realizing that she needed reassurance. Tionne had a responsibility streak the size of a river in flood, which made her perfect as the administrator of the Jedi Academy. Sometimes, though, he just wished she was more gifted in the ways of the Force, then it would be so much easier to communicate with her. As it was, all the explanation she required was wearying. He yawned again.
She stood, sensing the end of the discussion. "Okay, well then I'll talk to you later," she said, somewhat stiffly this time. The data pad disappeared into a neat fold of her dress and she moved off gracefully, as if she were walking on air.
Luke looked after her for a moment, wondering at the grace so carelessly applied to the ancient stones beneath her feet. Her dress swayed over the flagged shapes, her footstep unheard in the echoing chamber of the crumbling temple. Her hair was combed to a shiny brilliance, lightscale on a dark tunic, her shoes were immaculately maintained. Luke grinned wryly. Tionne was probably the only being on the whole planet who cared what her shoes looked like. He watched her leave, his mind drifting with the pleasant thoughts of a long, hot afternoon. But just as she rounded a corner, just as the swaying dress was pulled from sight, he thought she turned back to him, just for a moment. Her flashing eyes pulled at the low light of the doorway and then she was gone.
Shaking his head, he shifted his weight and made for the other direction. A stray guilt pulled at his heart, for he knew what Tionne felt. He was a Jedi Master. Lately, it seemed, he knew everything. His face fell into the usual dispassion as he moved away from the small, incongruous table that served as a workspace. He too, moved with silent ease, gracefully flowing across the floor, a spirit in the huge place, belonging for a moment to the stone, as if he were only some ancient ghost come back to see what ravages time had dealt to a precious place long since deserted. The displacement in his heart showed, briefly, on his features. But then it vanished, as Kam Salusar entered through a painfully bright doorway, several young students in tow.
"Master!" Kam's voice was paced and respectable.
Luke nodded, dispassion reaching back into his facial features as he gazed on some of his newer students. They gazed back with dumbstricken awe. "Good afternoon, Jedi Salusar, " he said, his voice unconsciously taking on a measured tone. "Students," he added, nodding slightly.
"Good afternoon, Master," they replied in a ragged chorus, too tongue- tied to even giggle.
Luke regarded them from under hooded eyes. They all looked terribly young. He wondered, suddenly, if any of them had been alive when he fought his first space battle, in the very skies above the fecund planet.....
"I was 10 standard years old, Master," came a light, but sure voice from the rear. A silent moment of astonishment greeted this utterance.
Kam turned back to his students. "Torwan?" he said quietly.
A tall humanoid stepped forward, dressed in the plain robes of a novice student. His face was of a pale bluish tint, and his eyes shone with a red glow. He stood in front of Master Skywalker without undue pride or even much self- consciousness.
Luke smiled, feeling his face crack as he did so. He realized that he smiled too rarely these days. "Very good, Torwan," he said quietly, amused. "I was careless to be so undisciplined."
"I am sorry to have intruded," Torwanl replied, very formal and dipped his head a little in something like apology.
Luke's smile broadened a bit. "No, I think I will have to be more careful in future," he said, giving the boy his due. "You have a very powerful mind. Use it wisely."
Torwan turned his glowing eyes to Luke's fair ones and nodded quietly. "I will, sir." he replied simply, his hands and feet still, perfectly self-possessed.
Kam started as if someone had poked him with something sharp. "Uh, well, Master Skywalker is very busy," he said, rubbing a stinging place on his forearm. "Please, we will continue to the holocron room....." he gestured toward a side room. The students moved quietly away, still awe-struck, although a bright bell of delighted, if stifled, laughter could be heard as the group rounded a corner. Kam waited until they had disappeared and turned back to the Master. "Luke, whad'ya do *that* for?" he asked, still rubbing his arm.
"I'm getting too old for this, Jedi Salusar," Luke replied, grinning widely. "Just putting you in your place...."
"That *hurt*!" Kam protested, but quietly grinned back. "Smart kid, huh?"
"An understatement, as usual," Luke replied, his grin fading a little. "A relative of the Grand Admiral?"
"I don't think so. At least, he won't admit to it. We haven't done any real mind-to-mind work yet, so I don't really know," Kam replied, speaking quickly, looking a little worried.
"Kam, are you afraid of Torwan?" Luke said, grinning again.
Kam grinned back. "I'm a little afraid of *all* of them, Master Skywalker," he replied in a serious tone.
"Very good, Jedi, you're learning," Luke said, moving beyond Kam. "You'd better get in there before they find something in the Holocron we've never been able to access before."
"The vote of confidence is flattering, Master," Kam replied, wincing. They moved past each other, and the room once again held only slight echoes, rustling animals and silent, patterned sunlight. Suddenly, Luke shook his left forearm, his right hand reflexively grasping it. A spot of burning pain pulsed once and was gone. Luke grimaced, smiled resignedly to himself and made for his quarters.
He hadn't been there ten minutes when there was a knock on the door. Using the Force, he pulled it open, not bothering to rise from his seated position. He did not have to look up to see who was standing there.
"Hello, Tia," he said, his voice calm and gentle. "Something important? Sit down."
She smiled at him, her best smile, he knew. He watched as she floated in. She took his invitation and sat on a nearby chair, but only allowed herself to sit on the edge, as if she were intruding. She knew he usually meditated about this time of day, after lunch. Generally, he taught some of the more advanced techniques in the latter part of the afternoon, after Kam and Streen were finished with the more basic ones. He realized that everyone was feeling a little overloaded because Kyp was not here. But then, he knew the Academy could not rely on Kyp anymore. Kyp was a full fledged Jedi and as such, he had obligations to the New Republic.
She sighed and he knew, without surprise, she had been looking forward to this conversation. His face held no sign of his thoughts, it was perfect and peaceful and her eyes flicked away. "We received a message this morning, although I was not aware of it until now. It was on a diplomatic encrypt." She held out a small cube and watched as it floated over to a small, plain table where it came to rest as if some invisible person had physically taken it from her hand. She looked down, ready to stand and take her leave. "And, I wanted to know when you wanted to get together about the new job allocations. Some of the older students have shown some promise, maybe they could be assistants, or something, at least until Kyp gets back."
He did not move, but remained where he was, sitting as still as rock in running water. He smiled at her, a genuine smile, soft, as friends smile at friends. "Kyp is leaving us, Tia," he said quietly. "He's fully trained now. He has duties elsewhere."
Tionne gave Luke a hard look, which fell away almost immediately. Her beautiful eyes, wide and intelligent, flashed again, much the same way they had in the deserted audience chamber that morning. "Oh," she replied, a little dumbfounded. "I'm sorry, I didn't know...."
"No one told you, I understand," Luke put in for her, suddenly pitying her. She was a human with very little Force sense. She had only her human intuitions to guide her and often it was not enough when dealing with the rising Force sensitives all around her. She began to rise. "Tia," he began, his tone changing. "Please stay. We need to talk."
A sudden whisp of joy flew into her eyes which was immediately replaced by wariness. She drew a breath and felt her heart suddenly pound. Her mind immediately went into a relaxation exercise, but it did little good. She clasped her hands together and held them, one in the other, as if by holding on she could avert whatever was coming.
"It has become apparent....," he began, clearing his throat a little and folding his eyes away from her. He thought for a moment and felt her pulse race as he turned his gaze back upon her. Something inside winced in sympathy. "That, well, I seem to be making you..... uncomfortable..... lately," he said, wondering why everything always sounded so lame when you finally voiced the words. He looked away, trying to spare her. "I was wondering if you needed some time away from here. I could arrange to send you to Coruscant. Perhaps you could do some research there. Or maybe the library at Obra-skai...."
Her eyes became masked, almost hard. "But, Master, I'm happy here," she said quickly. "Besides, you need me here. As the Academy grows....."
He nodded, a little impatient. She was not going to go easy. "I understand your concern," he put in, interrupting her. "But I'm concerned about you, Tia, not the Academy right now. I feel you're under a great strain. You have not left Yavin in years. Don't you wish to go somewhere else, just for the change in scenery?"
A silence took hold as she grappled with several uncomfortable feelings. He stood, turned and gazed out through the room's only window, a long, narrow one, cut about man-height into the thick wall. A rustling noise came and went as the feelings roiled and asserted themselves, finally dividing into separate, distinct parts. He turned back, expecting to see the calm face of a Jedi. Instead, he was faced with a woman rapidly breaking into tears.
"Why are you sending me away?" she asked simply, now gazing directly into his eyes. Her face held knowledge and the hurt that comes with it.
He sighed and came to stand beside her. A callused hand took hold of her shoulder, sending her pulse racing yet again. But he did not remove it. "Because I can no longer bear your hurt, Tionne," he replied as gently as possible. "We both know I don't love..."
"I know, I know!" she cried, interrupting, her voice rising in uncharacteristic frustration. "I have been awake nights wondering, thinking, if I could only be more in tune with the Force, if I could only become a Jedi, things might be different." She moved suddenly, reaching up to clasp his hand. "I have tried, I have tried, but I remain always with the novice students. I cannot progress any further." She choked back something like a sob and kept going, as if afraid of his objections. "I thought, maybe now that Callista... now that Callista is gone..."
The hand was instantly removed. "Do you mean because I promised Callista that I would love her whether she was a Jedi or not, you hoped it would apply to you too?" He strode away from her, his voice falling in something like anger. He did not see her cringe.
"Luke," she began, using his first name, something he had never heard her do before, "Luke, I love you... "A small fright followed this forbidden statement, but she swallowed, cast her soul to the winds and moved on. "I've loved you for over a year now. What would be so wrong with us? We could spend our lives together here, on Yavin, teaching Jedi..."
He turned back to her, and taking her hand, guided her so that she was sitting on the asture sleeping pallet. Then he sat down beside her, still holding her hand. It was his left hand, she noticed, her mind alive with trivia. She noticed how his clothes were old and frayed, and how his face seemed more lined than before, and how the blue eyes seemed faded, old beyond their years. The hand squeezed hers and she, suddenly not knowing how to react, blushed deeply.
A still silence reigned and then a small movement fell into it. The handclasp tightened. He did not draw nearer to her, only held put the other hand up to hold her face. She gazed at him with a sudden joy mixed liberally with sinking sorrow. "I can't hurt you, anymore," he said, after the silent time. "You must go."
"I don't want to go," she whispered. "I belong here."
Not really intending for it to happen, Luke took her face and pulled it toward his. The lips touched, the beginnings of passion burning back to the passionlessness that he so diligently strived for. His mind, forcing through her pitiful barriers, planted a picture in her mind, a hopeless one. Her mouth moved on his and then she withdrew, head bowed, tears trickling down her face.
"Now, do you understand?" he asked, his voice gentle and quiet, just like it always was. "You are not Callista. I still love Callista. I like you, Tia, you are loyal and strong in your way, but I don't love you. I can never love you." His face fell for a moment, the mask of dispassion uncharacteristically deserting it. But it was only a moment. Then it returned, settled firmly over the open features. "There is nothing you can do to change that."
She gazed at his features, almost desperate. Somehow, she had always known it was thus. Still, she had to try. And he was right. He was hurting her. "I understand," she whispered, defeated, her voice failing her.
He rose and stepped back, watching as she stood, trembling. She put her hands together again, and moved away from the pallet and back toward the door. Silently it opened for her, held ghostly and strong as she moved through it, and then it closed carefully behind her. It was only then that Luke sensed Tionne give way to the urge and begin running down the stone hall. The footfalls, uncharacteristically noisy, fell away. He knew she was headed out, to the jungle, to be alone.
He stood staring at the closed door for a long time. A shaft of light pushed itself through the slit of a window, and then began to pool along the floor, moving as the day progressed. After a motionless time, he sighed and moved a stiff leg. A passing thought faded into his mind as he moved back to his customary meditation position. "If only she were..."
It turned out to be a very long night. Tionne remained away from the Academy for most of it, returning only just before Yavin's rainbowed dawn. A short rain shower had soaked her hours ago, and she shivered now in her sopped dress. It was the quiet hour, the place held perfectly still in the deep silence of meditation and sleep. Shivering, she stepped onto the flagged, stone floor of the main audience chamber. No one was there. Quickly, she turned, moving slowly like an old woman into the night-filled halls, finding her chambers. To her surprise, a light shone from under the door. And as she approached, it pushed open of its own accord. She halted, stopped in mid-stride.
The light was low and inviting, and the chamber left an unmistakable imprint ........ warm and dry, that's what it was. She put a shivering hand up to her wet hair, which clung to her head, pushing it back. Her steps were small, hesitant but something pulled her forward, something irresistible. She found the threshold and there, standing in a low light, she saw Luke. He was dressed in his customary black, but his face seemed somehow lighter, an aura was about him, one of light and power. He smiled at her.
"You've been gone most of the night," he said quietly, extending a hand.
She merely nodded, a rush of confusion and joy pummeling through her veins. "I... I needed to think..." she began tilting her head down, not daring to glance up at him.
"I understand," he said, his beloved voice a balm. "But, you're home now," he gestured to a chair. She noticed that the pallet was unmade, even though she had not left it that way. She glanced up at his face, her eyes wide and unbelieving.
"How long have you been here?"
"That doesn't matter. What matters is that you're home now..." Luke moved toward her, pulling at her hands. Softly, willingingly she let him. He pulled her across the room, her increasing joy turning oddly aside. He turned. "Here, I thought you might want to change..."
She blushed. "Uh, well, I would...." she stammered, but feeling strangely unsettled. A red light began to course through her eastward window and a birdsong erupted. Her head lifted, but joy was still muted, quite distant. Something felt wrong. But what could be wrong? she asked herself. This was everything she wanted, everything she had ever hoped for. Finally the Master, the beloved Master, so full of hurt, so scarred, would come to her...
Smiling, he turned his back as she changed. Hastily, she tied her hair with a stray ribbon and turned to face him. Sensing her movement, he moved away from the window. A gentle caressing movement pulled her into his arms and he leaned his chin on the top of her head. His hands slid to her back, pressing gently. Willingingly, she let herself be pulled into him. She felt the sharp edge of his chin in her drying hair.
The birdsong became stronger as it was joined by others. In passing, Tionne heard the stirrings of the other students outside her door. Another day was beginning at the Jedi Academy. A small, dark stirring of the Force held her standing, but she wanted to ignore it, wanted to push it away. He loved her, she told herself, searching for delight, with or without the Force, it made no difference. But something tapped insistently, pushing, a weak probing. She felt a tendril from Luke, a dark, shoving image. She moved her head as if to see his face. "Luke?" she asked, her voice low, afraid to break the spell.
There was no answer. He only pulled her closer, pushing his lips into her hair, down her forehead and finally, tilting her face up to his. He kissed her, his lips moving against hers, his face surprisingly young and smooth in the low light. But the persistent tapping resumed, resisting all attempts to shove it away. It grew, surrounding by something, surrounded by.....sunlight, no, that wasn't it. Maybe the stray, everyday thoughts of a novice or two, still untrained.....but no, that wasn't it, either.
Reluctantly, she pulled away from Luke, her discomfort becoming palatable. "What's wrong?" he asked softly, caressing her hair. He ran an experimental finger down her nose. His hand was surprisingly smooth.
She resisted him. "Luke, it's late. Perhaps we should wait....." she began, her voice in half tones.
"Why?" he was insistent, the insistence of her dreams. "You want me, right? Why not now?"
She pushed him away, barely able to believe what she was doing. A part of her mind shouted 'no!' But another part was dark, scrambling, lightless, acting only on unexplainable impulse. "Luke, I just don't think we should do this right now. Besides, what about the students?"
This produced a frown, and Luke's face studied hers for a moment, his silence suddenly quite terrible. Slowly, as if making a decision, he pushed her away. "I see," his voice was cold, his sense brooding and dark. She had never felt such anger before. "You are a liar, Tionne. A liar and a tease."
Her face paled, but she stood her ground. "How.....how can you say that?" she put in, her voice rising in spite of herself. She wanted words, any words, but instead all she got were feelings. And the feelings were horrible. First there was anger, then fear, then fright, finally a rising aggression, pounding through the air between them, a blackness overtaking bright noon, a coffin closing, dirt clattering on wood. She stepped back, involuntarily holding her arm over her face.
Luke started toward her, pulling at something at his waist. She closed her eyes and heard the dreaded sound; the lightsaber came alive. Wincing, she stared in disbelief, contemplating in one long second the end of her life at the hands of a beloved friend. But something strange registered in her mind. What was it? What was wrong? Then it hit her, as if the red lightsaber had already cloven its way through her heart.
She backed away, her face contorted. Just at that moment, someone began pounding on the door. A strong, male voice penetrated through the artificial quiet. "Tionne! Tionne!" It was Kam, raw panic in his voice. "Tionne, are you alright? Answer me!"
Luke pulled the blade up and away. He made as if to strike and Tionne, frozen in her place, made no move to save herself. Vaguely she could hear the door begin to give in its new hinges. To her surprise, the lightsaber shut down in mid-flight. He wavered, opened his mouth and a horrible scream issued from it. The shattered sound battered her bones and she stepped back as he began to dissolve as if made out of the very molecules of the air itself. Seconds later, as Kam finally splintered the door with a Force blow, the figure of Luke had completely disappeared. The only light left in the small room was that of Yavin's rainbows, signaling the start of another day. And the only sound left was that of exuberant birdsong, mixed with Tionne's quiet weeping.
Luke was dreaming. It was raining, the water a heavy, pouring rhythm on the stone walls. There was a sour odor over everything, like mold, or perhaps, old blood. The sharp smell of ozone reminded him clearly of his days with the Rebellion, fighting in fragile ships in deep patches of void. He turned on his pallet, sweating in the thin cloth. Still, he did not awaken, like one who is drugged. He tugged on a coverlet and settled to sleep. But the vision would not let him go.
He glanced around. He was no longer in bed. Instead he was in a small, sleeping chamber of some sort. It was perfectly dark, but somehow he could see as clearly as if it were noon. He gazed around, searching for an identifying marker of some sort, searching for a clue. There.....there in the corner. There it was. A small black case. He moved toward it, his footsteps making no sound on the floor. Rugs moved underfoot, first warm then only cold stone. A hanging splayed over one ancient wall, softening the bedchamber. He knelt beside the case.
His fingers touched it. It was made of warm wood, an ancient instrument, but well-maintained. He ran a surprised hand over the wood, searching for the textures, for the shapes of the instrument. He wondered whose it was. Slowly he stood, describing a complete circle, but there was nothing remarkable about the place. It just happened to be someone else's bedchamber. Making a decision, he made for the door, all the better to find his way back.
But as he moved toward the door, a dark force pushed him away. A low light began to grow, almost as if it were organic to the floor. It acted as a barrier, filling the floor with a light that illuminated nothing, with a barrier that blocked everything. Stymied, he backed away and gazed around the room. There had to be a way out.
The pallet was made, and he glanced out the slitted window, very much like the one in his bedchamber. It had to be after midnight. Surely, the resident of the room would arrive soon. He took a step back toward the window, wanting somehow, more than life, to escape. This presupposed that there was something to escape from.
That's when he heard it. A low, rippling laughter, beyond the edge of animal hearing. It was a low voice, mellow and in any other setting it would have been attractive and mysterious. It all sounded somehow familiar. It described a story in his mind, wordless and brutal. The images were ghastly but he could not pull his thoughts away. Taking a deep breath, once again he moved toward the illumined door. The light pulsated warningly, and a raw power in the flagged stones stopped him in his tracks. No, it was too strong. He gritted his teeth and concentrated, but even with the Force there was no way to penetrate the barrier.
The story repeated itself, the images replaying in his mind's eye like an abominable fairy tale. Tionne, that was it. This was Tionne's room.
His eyes flicked around, suddenly recognizing various articles scattered here and there. Tionne, who was heartbroken. The images portrayed a weeping woman in the jungle just beyond the lights of the Academy, shivering after the rain. He was waiting for Tionne. His mind quieted, but then a single thought froze his blood. Why? He pitied her, certainly, although he hated himself for doing it. That was it he hated......but what did he hate? Why would he hate Tionne? No, no that wasn't it. He sat down on the pallet, thinking. The slow images resolved themselves in the heavy air. He loved her, that was it. He loved Tionne.
And that's why he was here, he reasoned. But he felt as if something was missing, some crucial clue or circumstance. Still, Tionne, with her ethereal voice, her light, brilliant hair, her graceful glide, her devotion. She had offered herself to him, that very afternoon. How could he have turned her down?
A compulsion moved him, made him stand. Quietly, as if he did this everyday, he pulled the sleeping cloths down, invitingly. Then he went to wait by the light barrier, all the better to explain it all to her when she finally arrived.
He felt her presence as she entered the temple. Her steps were wounded, almost as wounded as her soul. He felt her shiver and longed to throw a warm blanket around those cold, slender shoulders. He felt her hesitation as she stood outside her door. To make her comfortable, he opened the door himself, the Force working effortlessly this time. She stood on the threshold, shivering, her hair plastered flat on her head. He smiled, he felt the smile, and felt Tionne's shocked reaction.
She began to talk, he began to answer. Quietly her touched her hands. They were cold, shivering, trembling. He waited as she changed. His soul felt at peace, somehow, now he could sleep. But no, now he was holding her, feeling her fragile body under his hands. Everything was perfect, a perfect dawn. But then, her felt her hesitate.
A dark, brooding rage flew through him, melting his peace. The light flickered as she backed away from him. A rippling laughter was heard again, that voice, that low voice... this time there were words there. It was an odd inflection, not one he had heard in a long time. He strained, pushing Tionne away. 'The lightsaber' the voice whispered, just on the sleep-edge of hearing. 'Use the lightsaber.....' The inflection again..... a kind of clipped accent..........
He felt the lightsaber at his belt, pulled it out and activated it, all in one easy, practiced motion. The blade ran up its length, lethal and beautiful. He gazed at it, and realized, all in one cold, falling vision, what was happening. Luke screamed in his sleep, screamed through the Force, screamed at the scarlett, hovering blade.
He saw Tionne freeze as he lifted it. Red light shimmered in the cold light of the stones. He felt himself begin the swing downward. Tionne made no move, neither screamed nor even uttered so much as a murmur of resistance. She only gazed in blank shock at the blade. A sickening downswing began to build in his back muscles, even as he tried to halt the momentum, to pull the blade back.
But then, something in the Force blindsided him, pulled him away. A great noise fell all about him, like an ancient temple crumbling in an earthquake. Laughter greeted him again as he struggled through the terrifying darkness. He reached out with the Force, but found it only boomeranged back at him with triple momentum. He stumbled in the darkness and fell to his knees. The laughter became louder. Where before it had been a hum in his mind, a slight pause in the chain of reality, now it was an actual sound, identifiable and perfectly clear.
'Luke,' the laughter murmured. A chain of orange letters floated as words into his mind. There were words there, words he used to know, a voice common to his aching ears, a beloved voice. The humming began to fade and he felt very strongly, Kam Salusar's presence in the Force. A pure, white light shone around the Jedi, blanching the stones. Luke screamed again, tried to say the name, but words would not come, only a terrifying feeling of abandonment. Kam's figure became brighter, his face melting into Luke's sleep-scarred consciousness. The murmuring fell.
But just before it hummed itself back into the molecular structure of the Universe, just before Kam grabbed him physically through the Force, a note, a linguistic tag, a word ending, reverberated, clipped and unusual. It reminded him of something. His overloaded mind slid into the light. Something about water and a farm, salted waves blowing freely into his face. It was an ocean..... vast, light, free.....
Luke sat up in his sweat-soaked pallet, wide awake all in one terrifying instant. His mind was shaking with white-light clarity, his soul completely frozen. He opened his eyes, able to see organically for the first time. He saw Streen standing over him, fright showing plainly in the old man's lined face. A far away pounding reverberated through the old stone walls and he heard a wooden door break under incredible force.
And then something vanished. A humming not noticed until it was gone, a voice, a way of laughing, familiar and strange. Orange letters shaping into whole words...... There was a dark, smoky ship, and a low light on a staff. He could feel the hot wind in his face as Beggar's Canyon flew beneath him; he was late and he took the familiar corners with risk, flying over blurred scrub. And then there was water, a heaven of blue water all around. A breeze ruffled his hair and he glanced around, but he was alone. There was a name there, a name he should remember. But, as he closed his eyes to think, all sound vanished. He awoke to utter darkness, complete silence. Weakness seized him and, unable to struggle any longer, he closed his eyes and gave himself to it.
Kyp glanced up as Leia Organa Solo entered the room. She had been up all night and it showed. Her long hair, usually so impeccably done, was pulled into a lose tail down her back, as if left by swift, busy hands. Her small figure was dressed in a clean tunic and pants, but her face was haggard and pinched, almost gray. She sat, a determination settling over her like so much sunburn from a day at the beach. He straightened.
"Have you heard from Yavin, yet?" she asked, her voice weary.
Kyp nodded and turned to face her. "Master Skywalker tried to kill Tionne last night, or early this morning. Kam and Streen stopped him." Although the words were brutal, his voice remained neutral.
Leia sighed and dropped her head into her arms. "I know, I know. But there has to be more to it than that," she said, her voice muffled. Why would Luke try to kill Tionne? What possible reason could he have?"
Kyp thought an answer but chose not to articulate it. His small face, still boyish, registered no change, but she glanced up at him, not at all fooled.
"Don't try that with me, Durron. You forget, I'm a Jedi too."
Kyp dipped his head in respect. "Of course, I am forgetting," he said, clearing this throat and moving nervously in his chair. "What do you want to know?"
Leia turned in the chair, so that her face was away from him. She seemed to be studying the daylight that was beveled through a far window. It all appeared so plain and everyday, so ordinary. She held a silence, momentarily thinking, assessing. Then she turned back to him, looking him directly in the eye. He began to realize why this slight woman was considered one of the toughest bargainers in the galaxy.
"First of all, is there anything going on between them?" Her question was forceful, almost too blunt.
He flushed. "I don't think so, Your Highness," Kyp replied, a little flustered. There had been rumors, of course. But he never really thought.....
"Don't call me that," she said evenly. "And I have heard several things to the contrary, from reliable sources. Sources who never lie," she went on, rather relentless. "I hear they've been close for over six months now. She visits his room at night, things like that."
"What of it?" Kyp replied, rather offended at her seeming intrusiveness. "I think she's the one who's in love, not him. I think he's still waiting for Callista."
A small gesture of contempt greeted this opinion. "Callista!" The word was a curse. Kyp was astonished. Leia was good, very good. Only someone strong in the Force could have been so successful in hiding her true feelings about Luke's time with Callista. A new respect snaked a small tendril into his mind, breeding uncertainty and, maybe, a little fear.
"That's what I think, Ma'am," he said quickly, standing his ground.
Another sigh, another forehead in hands position. For a moment, she replied nothing, only thought. Kyp kept his mind to himself, waiting. "I suppose you're right, though," she put in after a time, her voice breaking a little. "Callista is in his heart, if not his bed."
Kyp gave her a hard look. "What are you saying, Ma'am?
She smiled at him this time, now an adult addressing an overcompliant child. "'Leia' will do, Jedi Durron."
He winced. "I understand," he replied. "And what do you mean?"
She moved in the chair, her hands making an aimless design on the table. "I realize that he's still pining after Callista. I'm not stupid, you know, nor as easy to block out as he thinks. I'm not really concerned about that right now. What I want to know," and here her words became rather hard, even intimidating, "is Tionne sharing his bed?"
This produced a full, standard minute of silence as Kyp thought and she looked. The young Jedi licked his lips, which were suddenly quite dry. "I only know what I see. I have never witnessed her in his rooms. I have heard a great deal of rumor, most of which is pure speculation," he said quietly. He could not lie to a Jedi so strong as Leia Organa Solo, nor could he, in good conscience, lie to the beloved sister of his Master.
But a thought popped into his mind. She grimaced. "I know, " she replied to it, even though it was unspoken. "This would provide a good reason for his actions." Here she shook her head, "Although, it's so unbelievable......." She choked a little, a small sound rising from her throat. He looked away. Her pain, so well camouflaged, was roiling as a storm tossed ocean, ready to break down her careful barriers.
Kyp turned back to the small woman. "A lover's quarrel?" he asked, verbalizing a question that Leia could hardly bring herself to think, much less say.
Leia stood. "Yes," she replied simply, glad she had not had to voice the words. "Still, he must be brought to Courscant." She hesitated, gathering strength. "This matter must be investigated," she said quickly, covering whatever disgust she might have felt.
Kyp's brows knitted with an unspoken question. She glanced at him and smiled sadly. "I am the Chief of State, Kyp. My brother and I cannot be seen as above the law. The last regime had far too much of that sort of thing. And it's been established, even at this early date, that he attempted to murder Tionne, in what appears to be cold blood." She stood and turned back toward the beveled light. It was dim and unhelpful. "By the way, where is Tionne?" she asked casually, as if they were speaking of a relative's new baby or a new hairstyle.
"Kam put her aboard the first transport out. She'll be here tomorrow."
"What kind of state is she in?" Leia asked, her voice careful.
"She fell into a coma about ten minutes after Kam broke down the door. She's been that way ever since."
Leia frowned. "I don't suppose there's any way I could talk to her when she arrives," she said, as if thinking aloud.
Kyp stood. "Maybe Cilghal can help," he said, his voice rising with a small hope.
Leia smiled quickly at him. "True, I was forgetting about her. She's here, now, isn't she?"
Kyp smiled back, but his face was sad, weary with no sleep and worry. "At the medical research facility. She's been doing research on Jedi healing techniques."
Leia glanced toward the door. Kyp could see Han Solo there, standing back, waiting for his wife. He wondered if her husband had come to take her home. She smiled again. "You're broadcasting well, today," she said, a little amused. "Yes, he's made me cancel all the rest of my appointments today, much to the dismay of the Delortorinian delegation," she replied, rather flippant, he thought. "He maintains he's going to knock me out himself, if he has to, just to get me to go to bed." There was a wry smile for that.
Kyp smiled back at her, catching the feelings that went with the words. "You're very lucky, ....Leia..."
Leia smiled genuinely this time. "No kidding," she replied, not sarcastic at all. And with that she moved toward the door.
The news spread fast, especially since one of the tabloid, net reporters got a hold of it before the Solo household was able to release anything official. Han released a short statement, but it mattered nothing against the raging speculation that now flowed through the government at Coruscant, much as a flash flood pushes its way through a dry canyon. Kyp, now holed up in his quarters, kept trying to reach Kam, or Streen, or even the Master himself. But he was the blocked. The Force was dark. Daylight paced through the windows, becoming afternoon, then evening. He stood from his sitting position, his legs stiff and hobbled toward the door. There was a soft knock there, or at least he thought there was.
"Glad you can still hear," Han Solo said, inviting himself in.
Kyp smiled, the first genuine smile he had given to anyone in what felt like an eternity. "I've been trying to reach the Academy...." he began, gesturing slightly.
"No luck, huh?" Han replied, knowing not to ask why Kyp wasn't down in communications. "You think they're still there?"
Kyp shrugged. "There's no way to tell. Kam only said that they'd try to get him here as soon as possible. That was yesterday."
Solo's heart blackened. This was a tremendous blow, to Luke personally of course, to Leia and the children, but perhaps it was most damaging to the New Republic. A great deal of the government's sense of integrity was tied to the revived Jedi Knight movement. And now this........ He sighed.
Kyp studied his old friend's face. Han's handsome features were lined and pinched and the pleasant contenance he had begun to acquire over recent years had vanished. Now, more than ever, he looked the rogue, the scoundrel, the pirate, a loner. "You need to talk?" .
Han nodded and Kyp closed the door. Han settled himself into one of the chairs in the suite and Kyp sat in another. Han studied the curtained windows for a moment, as if drawing his thoughts together. "Leia's frantic," he said finally, after paced silence.
"I know," Kyp replied.
Han smiled wryly. "I forgot. She saw you first chance she got......a lot of good it did though....."
Kyp shrugged. "Jedi aren't infallible," he said, neutral.
"Why can't you get through to Yavin?" Han's voice took on an edge as he looked up from his clasped hands.
Kyp frowned and Han could see that this disturbed him. "I'm not too sure. It's not something I can really explain. It's as if Yavin doesn't even exist in the Force....." A hesitation overtook the young man as he sought the words.
"You don't think it's been destroyed, do you?" Han said, half rising, a startled edge of panic beginning to rise.
Kyp shook his head. "Don't worry, I think I'd know if Yavin were destroyed. It's just......blocked, somehow."
"Uhmm, " Han said, for want of anything better. He glanced around again, and then down at the clenched hands. The knuckles showed white as he moved his thumbs, one over the other. He frowned. Kyp waited.
"Uh, how do they plan to get him here?" It was a general question. And it was rife with a number of uncomfortable assumptions.
Kyp's voice remained neutral and his expression did not change. "They wanted to use Ysalamiri, but they were not able to locate any nearby. There was talk of an enforced trance....."
Han looked up, scowling. "What does that mean?"
Kyp sighed and felt the other's despair. "It means that either Streen or Kam puts him into a trance and is in control of it until they arrive....."
Han stood up at that, unable to bear it any longer. "And what then? How are they going to control Luke, if he's really crazy?" He raised his hands, looking at them, as if seeing them for the first time. "What am I saying? How could this happen?!" he said, his voice angling under the strain. "To Luke, of all people! And Tionne! I know she's never been strong with the Force, but still, she's got a little ability, she must have....."
Kyp remained where he was, quite still. "She has a great deal of ability, more than most. She's just in an environment where her abilities are washed out by the greater abilities of others. In an other place, she'd be considered quite strong....."
Han began to pace, his long legs swallowing whole sections of the room as he turned and turned again. "Do you think they were......?" he asked, as if he really wanted to know.
"Your wife didn't put you up to this, did she?" Kyp's voice held no humor whatsoever.
Han gave Kyp a flat smile. "Believe me, if she could, she would, although I'm sure you're aware that she doesn't trust you."
"Well, would you, if you were her?"
Han stopped moving and gave Kyp a hard look. "You've grown up a lot haven't you?"
Kyp smiled, but it was a sad smile. "Yes I have, and I have a lot to answer for. And it's mostly through the Master's efforts that I was able to continue my training....."
Han nodded, giving in to something and sitting again. "We've received no transmissions from Yavin except the original one, the one about Tionne. They did ask for a Ysalamir but the only person who could possibly locate one would probably be Talon Karrde."
"Uhmmm," Kyp said. "Then somebody needs to contact Mara Jade."
"Actually, that's not too hard. She just happens to be here, on Coruscant. Something to do with the Smuggler's Alliance." Han gave Kyp a rather oblique look. "Listen, Mara's not exactly an open book, so I don't know if there's anything wrong with the Alliance or what, or even if this is one of the 'coincidences' that you.....Jedi...." the word fell from his mouth, almost as if he had never heard it before, "seem to experience so often."
Kyp's small facial features perked up, the mask of neutrality falling away. "Why didn't you tell me before?" he asked, feeling slightly foolish.
Han's voice, despite everything, held a glimmer of humor. "You never asked. Besides," he said, standing, "aren't you people supposed to be able to 'feel' each other, or however you refer to it?"
Kyp shook his head. "I didn't have a clue. I guess I was too focused on trying to get in touch with Yavin."
Han headed for the door. "Well, I've got to make sure Leia's still where I left her......Besides, I think there's somebody you need to look up." Han reached into a vest pocket, pulling out a small data card. "The information's here. She's staying in a room in the old wing of the palace. I figure she's there about now, if you want to give her a buzz."
Kyp smiled affectionately. "Thanks, Han," he said.
Han paused at the door. "Don't thank me. It was Leia's idea. Just find out what's going on with Luke." He flashed a farewell with his dark eyes and he was gone, the door closing quietly behind him.
Kyp stood, shaking his head. Then he rose from his chair pacing to sit at the computer console, keying up the information on the data card. He played with the idea of trying to raise Jade the Jedi way, but thought the better of it. If she was as temperamental as she was reputed to be, he figured he should play it safe. He keyed up the communications console and punched in the code.
After several wrong turnings, Kyp reached Jade's room only fifteen minutes late. Stoically the door opened but no one stood next to it. Kyp smiled, his best smile. He'd met Mara before, of course, but outside of a few stilted pleasantries, had never had any real occasion to speak with her. She was dressed for an evening out, elegant in a showy thing of green, a sparkling jewel setting it off. Her green eyes were distant, wary and knowing. She signaled him to sit.
"Let me guess," she said quietly, glass in hand, coming to sit across from him. "Ysalamiri, right?"
Kyp, prepared not to be surprised, was surprised anyway. "Yes...." he replied hesitantly.
"Where is he?" she asked, leaning a little forward and putting both feet flat on the floor. It was an old fashioned room, the wooden floor shone quietly in the evening light, a precious and rare rug contrasting warmly with it. He did not have to ask to whom she was referring.
"I'm not too sure," Kyp replied, feeling very young. "Kam said they were going to get him off Yavin as soon as possible."
"Why?" she asked simply.
He glanced at her face and answered the question. "He tried to kill Tionne....
She made a gesture of contempt, snorting as she did so. "Do you really believe that?" she asked, incredulous. "That's a load of......" she glanced at him and swallowed the word. "You know damn well that Skywalker would never do anything like that, under any circumstances. There's gotta be something else to this."
Kyp gazed at her, at her lovely face, elegant and intelligent in the comfortable light. "Then, what's going on?"
"First, I have some questions," she said, leaning back.
He nodded. "Sure," he replied, quickly.
"First off, do you believe any of this......this....business about Tionne?" she asked, her face and voice hard.
Kyp slumped in his seat, feeling weary. Suddenly he was tired, tired of the questions, tired of the speculations, tired of trying figure it all out. "I don't know...." he began.
"That isn't what I asked," she interrupted. "I asked if you believe any of it."
He matched her gaze, his dark eyes to her green ones. "No, I don't," he said, with more confidence than he actually felt.
She smiled grimly. "Good. Because I don't believe it either." She looked away and took a sip out of an elegant glass at her side. "Would you like some?" she offered, as if his being there was the most natural thing in the world.
He shook his head. "No, I'm not thirsty."
"No doubt, some ascetic, Jedi thing," she said, a shade sarcastic.
He did not smile. She sighed. "I don't believe he was in love with Tionne," she said quietly, continuing. "I think, however, that she thought she was in love with him. Is this making sense so far?"
Kyp nodded, a little mesmerized.
"Good. Something happened, but not what everyone thinks happened. I really don't think the two of them had much to do with it."
He frowned. "How can that be?" he asked, confused. "He was there with her, in her room...."
She stood, a snap of impatience glinting in the green eyes. "No he wasn't! Don't you listen to the 'net?"
He shook his head, mystified. "No. Why should I?"
"Jedi!" she said, her usual curse. "Listen, Kyp, in order to know what's going on, sometimes you have to get your head out of the clouds and do what the rest of the galaxy does; listen to the news."
He only nodded. She could see he had no idea where she was going with this. She realized she had to change her approach.
"Listen," she said, settling herself back into the chair. "The only person in Tionne's room was Tionne herself. Luke was asleep in his room. Physically, he was never anywhere near Tionne."
"Then why did she see Luke?"
"Because who or whatever was masquerading as Luke wanted her to...."
"But, that implies a......"
"Set-up," she finished the thought for him, pulling another sip from her glass and leaning forward. "Follow me now?"
He frowned again, his brows puckered over his smooth nose. "But who would do a thing like that to Master Skywalker?"
Mara Jade studied the young face before him and resisted a very compelling urge to burst out laughing. She only smiled thinly, a great show of self control. "About half the galaxy, I'd say," she replied slowly.
"Then," he said in a low voice, "then....... Master Skywalker's not crazy...."
She leaned back in the chair and stamped one impeccably clad foot. "Finally, he gets it!" She gazed at him for a moment, the green eyes snapping. "What's wrong with you people? Is it written in the Jedi Code that you're supposed to believe everything you hear?"
He merely smiled sheepishly, shaking his head. A sudden light feeling came upon him, as if he had been freed of some burden he didn't even know he'd had. "I just assumed...."
"You should never assume anything," she put in quickly. "But, enough of this. We've got to figure out what's really going on here. Did Skywalker ever say anything while he was asleep, mutter something, a name perhaps?" she asked, leading him.
He glanced away, thinking. "According to Streen, all he did was scream, which was frightening enough," Kyp replied, shuddering.
"Hummm, pretty powerful stuff, whatever's going on...." she said, as if thinking aloud. Her gaze snapped back. "Anyway, still think you'll need those Ysalamiri?"
Kyp smiled, sincerely this time. "No, I don't think so," he said with new confidence.
She smiled back, an evil grin. "Good, because Karrde's incognito right now, so you'd have to go the Myrkr yourself if you wanted them." She did not say anything but the mental picture of a shipload of Jedi landing on Myrkr almost made her burst out laughing again. She glanced at a chron. "I'm gonna be late, so I'd better go. Tionne's ship's coming in within the next two standard hours. I think Kam and Skywalker will be right behind her. They'll probably put them in the med center, under restraints," she said, grinning again.
Kyp gave her a mystified look. "How do you know?"
She only winked at him. "Smugglers have their sources. And not all Jedi," she gestured to a half-hidden lightsaber, "are as naive as you are, Kyp."
He smiled back at her, suddenly liking her a great deal. "Thanks, Mara."
She waved him toward the door. "I'm late. I'm gonna lose money on this as it is. Get over to the port and meet those ships. I'll catch up with you."