Chapter Seven - Serendipities Unfolded

Talon Karrde watched with anxiety as Luke Skywalker methodically filled his flight bag with clothes and a few personal items. Ever since the Jedi Master had greeted him outside on the landing pad, Talon had been surprised to see Skywalker so deadly calm, his only reaction to the sad news he had brought being the moon shattering cry earlier.

Karrde knew that the Jedi Master had to feel the loss twice as hard as he did but this behaviour was frightening. Ever since that cry of pure agony and despair, Luke Skywalker had turned inward, his cool demeanour only betrayed by the tick of his jaw, when he had returned to his room.

Once there, the Jedi had started packing and had posed the question Talon had feared. Will you join me in tracking down Mara's murderer?

"Luke," Talon addressed the black clad man and he noticed that the Jedi did not even falter in his packing. "Luke!"

"What is it, Karrde?" Luke whirled around and the Master Trader sucked in his breath audibly. This was no more the calm Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, the man who was soft spoken and kind. An aura of menace surged around the man that was almost visible and Karrde suspected that Skywalker was nearer to the dark side of the Force than ever before, perhaps even nearer than he was during his dark side episode. The normally blue clear eyes were shadowed, haunted and showed a cold anger that surpassed anything Talon Karrde had ever seen. Even in the eyes of Joruus C'Baoth, he had not seen the dark whirling shadows that he now faced in the eyes of Luke Skywalker. Talon swallowed and crossed his arms over his broad chest.

"You have to let go, Luke," he said slowly, willing himself to calm down. "Mara wouldn't want you to ... to turn ... not after this ...And we don't know if it was murder or not. After we have examined the Fire more closely we'll know for certain. Perhaps it was a freak accident..."

Luke watched the man in front of him and for a moment he lowered the shields he had held in place with a steely grip. He felt the anxiety and care for himself and the deeply felt pain over the loss of Mara coming from Talon and for a moment, his resolve wavered a bit before he clamped down his defences again and turned his back on the Trader.

"I appreciate your concern, Talon, but I have to do this ... are you with me or against me?"

Talon started at the coldness in the voice of Luke Skywalker and for a moment he was tempted to just tell him to get lost. But Mara had been his friend too, not as intimate as she had been to Luke Skywalker, but he had known the beautiful trader even longer than the Jedi.

"I'm with you, Luke. But how will we know who is responsible for this? And even if we find the culprit, it would be better if the NRI will deal with it. We cannot go on a rampage of lynching!"

The Jedi turned around and eyed Talon closely. "Since when does the ex-smuggler care about the government? And I doubt the NRI will put all their resources into the investigation of Mara's death. She was after all the ex-Emperor's Hand."

Talon swallowed. "I know that, but we should play by the rules. Mara ..." he was cut off by Luke who had whirled around to face him again, in his hands an oblong object that looked much like the saber Talon had given Luke. Mara's saber, the very one that had once belonged to Anakin Skywalker.

"Mara!" he growled and pain was evident in Skywalker's voice. "Mara would have wanted to track down the murderer. She wouldn't have stopped till she had a name or the person responsible." His voice was hard and for a moment Talon suspected that Luke wanted to strike out with the saber in his hand but he was relieved when he saw Luke hooking it up to his utility belt.

"So I ask you again, Talon, are you coming with me? I tell you now that I won't stop till I have the bastard who did this to Mara." And to me! Luke added silently and watched as Talon slowly nodded.

"I'm with you, Luke. We'll hunt that bastard down, together!" Talon promised gravely, and from the look on the Jedi's face, he suspected that at the end of this quest there would be more deaths littering their way.

Every one at the Academy, from the newest, inexperienced student to the teachers that were just about to start their classes, had picked up on the distraught and very dangerous thoughts of their Master. Kyp had blanched when he felt Luke's deadly determination and for a moment, the young man had thought that Luke had actually turned.

Jogging down the corridors of the former Rebel Base, he came to a skittering halt in front of Skywalker's quarter where Streen and Tionne were already waiting outside.

"Oh Kyp, please, someone has to do something. Ever since Master Karrde arrived, our Master is like this," Tionne wrung her hands and shivered.

"Tionne, didn't you hear?" Kyp asked and both Streen and Tionne looked at the young Jedi Knight with blank faces. "It is Mara Jade, she has been found dead .. or better her craft is what Karrde has found ... she is gone ..."

"But," Tionne inhaled shakily. "But that can't be true, Kyp, I talked to her only yesterday when she called the Master. She seemed fine ..."

"I don't know much details, but what Ghent told me, the Jade's Fire has been found adrift in space and no trace of Jade. There must have been an explosion and Mara sucked into space," all three lowered their heads at that. "Not a nice way to go..."

Streen who had been silent all this long, shook his head. "She would have become a very good Knight, if she just had tried," he whispered and Kyp shook his head sadly. "May the Force be with you always, Mara Jade!"

"Do or do not there is no try," he reminded the older man softly. "...but this is exactly what Mara Jade always said. I guess that is why she never resumed her training."

The three Jedi started when the door to their Master's quarters was opened and two very determined men strode out into the corridor. Tionne, not as Force strong as the other two looked at Streen and Kyp in horror when the two men gasped in unison. The Force signature of their Master had changed considerably. There was a black aura around him and if they didn't know better, they would have assumed he had turned. But the black aura was laced with pain and despair and agony ... agony over the death of Mara Jade.

Kyp Durron watched his Master and for a moment he, too, felt the pain deep inside of himself over the loss of Mara Jade. I never knew they were that close, Kyp told himself silently. But then both of them are very private people. I wish I could help him.

Durron closed his eyes for a short time, recalling the last time he had seen Mara Jade which was over three years ago. She had been vivacious, full of energy and Master Skywalker had been dragged out of his natural gloom he had fallen into after that Jedi woman Callista had left him. Yes, he thought. They were in love. If we had all cared to look we would have seen it then.
Kyp opened his eyes again and smiled sadly. I will miss her ... even if I have only seen her a couple of times.

Good-byes and fare thee wells were exchanged quickly, Luke didn't want to linger and he knew that Streen and Kyp were more than capable of taking the share of classes, he normally held. He needed to know, needed to confirm what his heart had trouble acknowledging ... Mara Jade was gone.

Skywalker followed Karrde to the Wild Karrde, the yard a brilliant glow of glistening gold and greens as the sun shone brilliantly from a flawless sky. For a moment, Luke Skywalker paused and turning his face toward the Sun of Yavin, he closed his eyes and let the Force calm him. For a fleeting moment he felt a light touch in his mind, as if someone tried to reach him, but before he was able to grasp that presence it was gone but the calm and soothing feeling remained. Sighing deeply, Luke resumed his walk toward Talon's ship, walking toward what he saw as the final step to his relationship with Mara.

Cha Niem
The holo com flickered as the connection was established.

"Was your little endeavour successful?" The image of the holo wavered slightly and the man who was shown seemed to twist involuntarily.

"Yes, mission was accomplished. The goods are in one of our speeders and I don't think the Smuggler's Alliance will suspect anything. We cleared everything away. But we lost one ship which is beyond repair and just made it barely to the planet. We also lost three men."

"File it away under collateral damage, Yenko. I will replace that ship and more," the man on the holo com replied and a smile that didn't reach his eyes spread upon his face. "When will you reach the Consortium's space port? I'll give you clearance so that no one will bother you."

"In two days, if we do not run across any more trouble."

"Do you expect trouble?" the question was simple enough, but the underlying threat in the man's voice was clearly evident.

"No, sir, we won't," came the clipped reply.

"Just as I expected," the holo image flickered and died and Yenko rubbed his unkempt beard deeply in thought.

Coruscant - the Solo apartment
Leia paced impatiently in her small office. Since the middle of the night she had felt restless and sad. For a short fleeting moment during the night she could have sworn to feel anguish coming through the Force bond she shared with her twin, but when she had tried to reach out, she had not been able to make the connection.

She had been too sleepy then and had gone back to sleep, and this very morning she had tried the Jedi Academy but due to the gas giant transmission was out for at least ten more standard minutes.

Sighing, Leia just knew something had happened and it incorporated Luke. What she did not know was if he was in the center of it or if he was only partially involved. The Senator hoped it was the latter.

The Wild Karrde - ten hours out of Yavin IV
The rec room of the Wild Karrde had always been a boisterous affair but tonight the mood was subdued as the crewmen met for a drink, a game of Sabacc and something to eat. Only two who had not known Mara Jade had engaged in a game of Sabacc while Talon Karrde and Luke Skywalker sat apart from the rest, sharing caf with Ghent.

"I still think it is a stupid idea that you want to board the Fire," Talon said and looked Skywalker straight in the eye. "You won't find anything there. I told you she was open to space and any clue must have been sucked into space..." the smuggler's voice trailed away as he realised what kind of image he was creating.

All three men fell silent and Luke tried to breathe deeply and calmly, trying to expel the image of Mara Jade being sucked into open space, dying of asphyxiation and the intolerable vacuum of the black void. But he could not get rid of the image and for a moment he thought that he could see her eyes, deep green, pleading, begging with him...

"I will board the Jade's Fire," Luke stated firmly after a few more minutes, then pushed himself to his feet. "If you excuse me now, I'll turn in."

Ghent and Karrde watched the stiff back of the Jedi Master as he weaved through the crowd of crewmen and when he had exited the red room, Ghent shook his head.

"Where will he sleep?" he asked and Talon moved uncomfortably in his seat.

"I have assigned Jade's cabin to him ... in fact he demanded it from me," Karrde replied with a frown. "I'm afraid I really didn't want to make him more angry, not after what has happened these past days, but I don't think it is such a good idea. Mara and Luke were lovers or something close to it but I think it is too painful for him to be surrounded by her things. Even I couldn't enter her old cabin without feeling nauseated."

"And you weren't even her lover, boss," Ghent said, trying to lighten up the mood the two men were in.

"But not by not trying, Ghent," Talon grimaced and his face showed the resemblance of a twisted smile. "But Mara made it quite clear. Either business partner or lover... and while she emphasised that she'd rather be a business partner, she had one of her blasters pointed at my more valuable parts of my anatomy."

The Ex-smuggler chuckled as he recollected the scene. "Jade is ...," he paused as he caught himself. "...was one hell of a woman. And somehow I always knew that she and the Jedi Master would end up with each other. The were orbiting each other like Yavin and that gas giant, circling closer and farther away, but both held in thrall by this strange attraction they had for each other."

"I always thought those two were quite similar," Ghent replied softly. "I know a lot of people think the Jedi Master is a man of calm determination, but I saw him once when Mara made him mad. I think he is the only man alive that I can think of who never backed down from Mara when she was in one of her moods."

"Yeah Luke has a fiery temper that matches Mara's if he has to ..." Talon bent forward and rested his head in his hands. "Gods, Ghent, she is not even dead for two days and I already miss her like she is gone for more than that."

Both men fell silent after this confession from the hardened smuggler and Ghent wondered if the Jedi Master in Jade's cabin did not feel the same ... but a thousandfold more deeply.

He had never been inside the cabin ...
Mara wouldn't have wanted it even if he had asked. But then he had never stayed aboard the Wild Karrde long enough to actually pose such a request. Luke sighed and moved further into the small room, the hydraulic door sliding shut with a hiss behind him.

Skywalker took in every detail of the cabin. It was on the small side, Spartan and it held just enough warmth and private knick-knack as to not make it too sterile and cold. The walls were bare apart from a small holo-image that hung above Mara's small, narrow bunk. He knew the image ... it was a smaller exact copy of the one that still hung in his spare room the one Mara had vacated so speedily over three months ago after he had foolishly kissed her for the first time.

Had it only been a quarter of a standard year, that my emotions for her had gotten the better of me? he thought and tried to suppress the emotions her quarters instilled in him. Perhaps if I hadn't acted upon the powerful images the Force had sent me this day, she might be still alive. I should have known ... it is like a death touch ... I always lose the ones I love...

Quickly, Skywalker stamped down on the thought. No, he told himself. I will not desecrate her memory by ever thinking that. Our kisses, our lovemaking was special, it was unique and I will never regret that it happened ... just that I took so long to finally face my true feelings for her.

For the first time since Karrde had arrived this morning, Luke let go of the tight barriers he had erected around his emotions and now, staring at the small picture, hot tears came forth and with a strangled sob, he collapsed onto her bunk.

Everything around him reminded him of her ... his sense were filled with Mara, her scent, her neatness, even the sleeping shift that lay beneath her pillow ... all was so frighteningly real and bespoke of Mara, that Luke could not think straight again any more. His control slipped away from him and vanished quickly as if he had never had any power over it.

Burying his face into the sleeping shift, he breathed in the lingering scent of Mara's unique fragrance. Deep painful sobs escaped his throat as Luke Skywalker mourned for his lost love.

The Wild Karrde - the next morning
Talon watched Luke from the corner of his eyes when his crew hauled the decapitated ship into the store hold of the Wild Karrde. Ever since their trip here and the resulting retrieval of the Jade's Fire, Talon Karrde had thought that he had seen any emotion possible this side of the galaxy but he had been wrong. Watching the Jedi Master closely, he had it never thought possible that a human being could radiate so much calm and suppressed anger as this man.

It is as if it is Darth Vader reborn all over again, Talon told himself silently. This must have driven Luke's father to the dark side. If not something similar what else?

Sighing inwardly, Talon followed Luke up to the ramp and when his friend paused, staring into the innards of the ship that were darkened, Karrde put a heavy hand onto the Jedi Master's shoulder.

"You don't have to do this, Luke ..." he said softly but forcefully. Luke's head snapped into his direction and Talon could feel the man tensing under his touch.

"I want to know what happened, Karrde. I have to know what happened. I owe it to Mara ..." Luke Skywalker replied softly and shrugged off the hand of his friend.

"Then don't go in there alone, Luke. I'll keep in the background, but you don't have to face this alone!"

It seemed as if the Jedi Master wanted to shake his head but then after a moment's pause he nodded and Talon let go of him. He watched as the young Jedi walked slowly up the ramp and after a few seconds, the smuggler followed.

Luke Skywalker stood in the small cockpit of the Fire, his eyes unfocused as they stared at nothing in particular. The Force around him was like a living being, swirling, heavy, painful with the despair that lingered here. The young Jedi Master shivered as he stretched out, his unseeing eyes slowly closing, and he let himself being drawn into the living Force.

The pain, despair, hopelessness was evident even without full-fledged Force-senses, but Luke got past that. He skimmed the walls of the cockpit, closing in on any residue of Mara's presence. He was momentarily shocked and his breathing caught in his throat when he felt that still so much of the woman who had owned this ship lingered in the ship. It seemed as if the Fire was part of her, of him and for a moment he basked in the presence of the fiery red-head. But this feeling was only for a fleeting moment, then the pain overwhelmed him.

Flashes of light seemed to engulf the cockpit as Luke experienced the last moments of his lover. Choking on the sobs that spilled forth he kept a close reign on his Force images that came crashing down on him. Skywalker groaned when he felt what had happened here ... the Force albeit benevolent showing him with brutal accuracy the last moments of Mara Jade.

He could feel Mara, saw the event through her eyes as she tried to overcome the two vessels that had engaged her in a space battle. Her grim determination was his as she set the automatic canons while her mind methodically calculated the situation. A surge of pride swept through him, mingling with her residual presence, as he got first hand knowledge on how skilled she really was as a fighter pilot.

She rivalled him in piloting and sharpshooter skills, her quick wittedness in such a tight and serious situation caught him in awe. He relived the impact on the ship through her eyes. Felt as she stripped herself into the pilot's seat and tried to veer the Fire away from the fray, for the first time trying to get away instead of making a stand. He felt her reaching out with the Force, only to momentarily pause as awareness crashed down on her and on him.

Suddenly, Skywalker felt her thoughts jumble, emotions - deep and painful - went through him though he suspected that she had experienced them even more intensely. Regret surged through him as Mara Jade had experienced it and with s sob, Luke tried to reach out to her, wanted to caress her but he knew that it was all in vain.

Another Force presence, small and vulnerable was with her ... still not fully fledged but strong like its nurturer. Realisation hit Skywalker with the full force of the knowledge of what exactly he had lost here. The little flicker of light bearing the signature of Mara and himself and yet amazingly new and unique.

Then all went black and for a moment Skywalker was unable to breathe. Nothing ... a deep black void was all he felt. Buckling over, his arms clenched around his midriff, dry sobs wrecked his body as he lost the connection.

"No, gods, no!" The Jedi Master managed to choke out and he fell to his side, the cold floor of the durasteel boards beneath his cheek. As the full meaning of his Force vision as well as the knowledge he had just acquired had hit him, all strength mentally and physically left him. Drawing himself into a foetal position, Luke let all his anger and sorrow seep through him, out of him as a new vigorous intention grasped his mind.

I will revenge my family's murder.

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