Chapter Eight - Invisible Enemies

Coruscant - Solo residence
The beep of the com was loud in the silent room and Leia Organa-Solo flinched from the sound. Rushing over to the com unit, she answered the incoming transmission before she had even seated herself.

"Organa-Solo," she replied automatically and gasped when she saw Kyp Durron's face appearing on the holo imager.

"Ma'am," Kyp greeted and from the evident distress in the man's face, Leia knew her earlier restless feeling had been right.

"Luke?" she asked, a feeling of dread creeping into her heart. "Kyp, what happened?

Kyp cast his eyes down, trying to find the strength to tell his Master's twin what happened.

"Mara Jade is dead," he blurted out and tried to face the Senator. "I'm sorry, I ... I tried to stop him, but his Force signature… it felt so strange ... like the time I ..." He fell silent and for a moment Leia felt sympathy for the young man.

"Like the time you turned?" she asked softly, trying to register all the information she had just acquired. Mara dead? it screamed into her head. Mara? It can't be!

She almost missed the other man's nod and Leia clamed herself with a Jedi technique. You have to be strong for Luke now, she admonished herself and straightening visibly, she raised her chin up a notch.

"How did it happen? Was Luke with her?" she asked and saw that Kyp shook his head.

"She was en route to Yavin when she was brought up by pirates or some others. The Jade's Fire was left abandoned and highly damaged in space," Durron answered. "We don't know more details until the Master comes back..."

Leia frowned at that. "Where is he, Kyp?"

"He went away with Talon Karrde. He asked Streen and me to take over his classes. He was quite determined and ... and ..."

"And he walked dangerously close to the dark side," Organa-Solo resumed for him.

"Yes ... Streen and I, we were afraid ... I never had seen him like this ... and his Force-signature," Kyp shook his head and gnawed at his lower lip. "I had never suspected that the Master and Trader Jade were this close. But thinking about it ... it was only feasible ... their Force-senses are unique and stronger than any of us."

"I know, Kyp. And yes Luke and Mara were close to each other ... perhaps closer than we all thought," Leia replied softly. Her subconscious registered the soft hiss of the door and when she felt Han's hands on her shoulders, she smiled at Kyp and nodded her head.

"Thank you, Kyp, for letting us know. I will try to contact Luke."

"Thank you, Madame Senator," the image of Kyp Durron said before it flickered out as the transmission was cut off.

Silence stretched in the small office room and Leia leant back, resting her head against her husband's stomach as he gazed down on her.

"Yes I know ..." Leia replied softly and turned around to face him while she stood up. "Bad news travels fast."

"Yes," Han nodded at that. "It is already all over Coruscant that Mara Jade is missing and supposedly dead. There are impromptu celebrations staged even as we speak." He added sarcastically.

Han Solo caressed his wife's cheek softly. Even without the Jedi sense, he knew Leia was afraid and he knew he had to ease the tension that was almost visible in her small soft body.

"Luke needs us now, or we will loose him forever," Han said softly, bending his head as to brush his lips over Leia's mouth. With a sob Leia buried her face at the crook of his neck. "Oh Han, I felt him ... I felt his despair when he got the news. It was as if he had removed himself from the Force."

"Shhhhh, wife of mine, we will sort out this mess. And we will find those responsible, believe me. Luke has enough friends who will support him. No one meddles with the Skywalker-Solo family like this."

Leia was amazed how quickly her husband always took a liking or a dislike to persons. And I should have known that he liked Mara., she thought with a sad smile as she buried her head in his chest and wished that the information of Mara's death was wrong.

When Han had made sure that Leia was sleeping peacefully the ex-smuggler's mind went into overload. He knew his brother-in-law needed his help ... in fact he needed all of his friend's if Luke had to come clean from this ordeal.

Using his clearance codes as General of the New Republic, Han slid down onto the chair in front of the com unit and was determined to rouse the old gang to help the Jedi Master through this ordeal. But first he had to make sure if they were dealing with an accident or in fact a case of murder.

Onboard the Jade's Fire
Talon Karrde felt at a loss. As promised, he had kept in the background, he had even not accompanied Luke into the cockpit but had instead leant against the cold durasteel walls of the corridor leading to the cockpit of the Jade's Fire. When he had heard the Jedi Master's whispered words, his gut clenched and despite his apprehension to go into the very room where his friend had obviously met her fate, he forced himself to push away from the wall and walked slowly, like an old man, into the cockpit.

As soon as he saw the young Jedi lying on the floor, he rushed forward and knelt beside him. Strong hands clenched around the Jedi Master's shoulders and brought him into an upright sitting position. But Luke strained against the older man's grasp. Caught in his own living nightmare, the young Jedi Master did not know who was friend or foe anymore.

With a surge of energy he tried to rush to his feet, pushing Talon out of his way by doing so, but the ex-smuggler held on tight. He ignored the flailing arms of the Jedi Master and winced more than ones when a strong fist connected with his ribs. Both of them fell back onto their knees, scuffling around on the floor as Luke blindly lashed out at Talon as if to fend off unseen enemies.

But Talon Karrde had not survived many of his adventures for nothing and so he was dealing out as many blows as he was receiving from the Jedi Master. He groaned when Luke's head connected with his stomach and for a moment, he felt all air knocked out of him.

"Luke!" Talon gasped and ducked a vicious blow to his head. Growling like a mad Rancor, Talon twisted an arm around Skywalker's neck and yanked him around into a deadly chokehold. "Now listen to me you stupid, stubborn headed Bantha, I'm not your enemy!"

Skywalker struggled against the hold of the smuggler as he was yanked to his feet from behind and momentarily he even considered to use the Force but a brush of something or someone inside his mind made him pause. *Luke!*

Blinking, Luke exhaled softly. "Mara??" he asked in surprise and tried to reach out with the Force, but the familiar presence was nowhere to be felt or sensed. Slumping to his knees, taking Talon almost with him, Skywalker let out a tear-jerking sob.

"Mara, no ... please ... stay..." he whispered and forced huge mouthfuls of air into his burning lungs. Talon had sat back on his haunches and dragged air into his lungs as well, his head hanging between his shoulders, and when he heard Luke's whispered words, he reached out and put a hand on the younger man's shoulder carefully.

"Come," Talon simply said and they moved out of the middle of the room towards one of the walls off the entrance. For the first time in a long, long time Talon felt not embarrassed by another man's emotion and tears and in silence they settled against the bulkhead, sharing the silence and their loss.

Cha Raaba System
Corran Horn watched the data pad wearily. He hated this inaction, waiting was the main characteristic of a secret agent but he had never grown accustomed to the fact that being a special agent meant one had to sit and wait. Sighing, Corran placed his legs onto the console before him and tried to return to the information on the data disk, but it was no use. This waiting really ground down on his nerves

Throwing the data pad onto the console in front of him, he stretched his arms above his head and counted to ten loudly. He could have used a Jedi relaxation technique but he decided against it. I can do without it, I just have to try myself! he thought grimly

Corran was still angry that the pirates had been able to make a run a couple of days back. They had been on the space station after weeks and weeks of back to back patrols. Antilles and Horn both were frustrated that they hadn't seen it coming. The pirates had been too silent and inactive and both should have known it wouldn't last any longer.

He started when the holo com flickered to life and he was glad to see Han Solo.

"Hey, General Solo," Corran greeted him cheerfully but sobered instantly when he saw the worry-lines on the ex-smuggler's face.

"Horn," Han Solo said solemnly and Corran's danger sense flared up.

"What is it?" he asked, a queasy feeling settling into the pit of his stomach.

"Mara ... she is dead," Han replied softly and was appalled to see the other man's face on the holo image falter, then drain of if natural tan.

"How? .. She can't be dead .. I .. we saw her only a couple of weeks ago ..." Corran Horn squeezed his eyes shut.

"We don't know any particulars but Luke is already on to it with Karrde. I need you and Wedge here, forget about those pirates. We need to find out who is responsible for this ..." his voice trailed away and the unspoken words came through just as loudly. Luke needs his friends ...

"Yes, of course .. so you are cancelling our mission, General?" Horn asked and Solo nodded.

"Consider the mission null and void. I'll fire up the Falcon and I meet you on Yavin, from there we can plan what we'll do."

Horn thanked Solo and cut the connection. Deeply in his thoughts, he almost missed the flicker of light that caught his eye. When he investigated it, he saw the proximity alert was on. Rushing to his feet, he yelled for Wedge. Tracking the small ship that accelerated from the planet's surface.

"Antilles!" Corran shouted again as the smaller man entered the cockpit. "Get here, we have company."

Antilles slipped into the pilot's seat and switched on the tracker.

"Ship's not heavily armed ... seems to be a skipray of the newer XP series, hyperspace capability," Wedge murmured as he watched the ascend of the craft.

"I don't care if this is the new Imperial Star Cruiser, Wedge, I want to know what they are up to!" Corran growled. "Last time they sneaked in we couldn't follow them."

"What do you ask me for? I'm not a Jedi!" Wedge snapped back. "They will be able to hyper jump in ten standard seconds," Wedge said and threw Corran an exasperated look. "Come on Corran, we need to get after them!"

"No we don't!" Corran cut in and Antilles raised an eyebrow at him.

"Our mission operative was clear, Horn," Wedge reminded him but the Jedi turned his head.

"The operative has changed. Solo wants us on Yavin .. we have to investigate a murder ..:"

"A murder?" Antilles asked with a lump in his throat. "On Yavin? Is it ... Luke?"

Corran shook his head then took a deep breath. "We need to find the murderer of Mara Jade."

Skywalker felt numb. All he could think of was what he had lost and that he had almost lost another friend as he tried to kill Talon in his blind rage.

Makers, what have I done? he asked himself and shot Talon a sideways glance. The left eye of the older man was swelling already and various cuts and abrasions were visible on Talon's cheeks and hands. I could have killed him easily, and he is my friend. Luke shook his head.

Gods, I need to calm myself or I'm quicker on the dark side than I thought, he told himself and remembered something his old Master Yoda had told him almost twelve years ago. The Dark Side - forever will it dominate your destiny.

Luke had to admit that Yoda had been right ... this past day he had never felt as close to the dark side as this and he knew that he had to work hard to root himself deeply in the light side of the Force again.

But it's hard, Luke thought silently. Without Mara what is there to my life? He closed his eyes and imagined his life when all this was over. The monotony and loneliness of his Jedi life stretched out before him, long days of teaching and tedious dealings with NR officials, then long nights solitary and lonely. That's not what I want ... not anymore, he told himself and deep down he knew he could not continue with this life. Not without Mara's help, her fiery temper and her constant reminder of the oh so not so great farmboy and Jedi. She kept him rooted, she was the reason why he still kept on going, even when his heart was not set on the Jedi Academy anymore.

After he had drawn in several breaths, he felt remotely calm enough to face his friend.

"I'm sorry, Talon ... I didn't ...," Luke hung his head and inhaled deeply. "I was out of line ... I ..."

Karrde shook his head and rubbed his bruised knuckles. "You are hurting, Skywalker, you needed to clear your head," He exhaled sharply when he felt a bump on the back of head. "And probably I needed mine straightened out, too," he added with a grimace.

"I'm sorry, Talon," Luke offered again and Karrde just waved his hand at him dismissively.

"It's okay, Luke," the ex-smuggler said and stretched his legs out in front of him. "But tell me what got you to stop? It surely wasn't me..."

"I felt her ..." Luke said slowly, his voice broken like that of a man utterly defeated. "She ... did you know she was pregnant?"

"What?" Talon's head snapped up and watched the Jedi Master in horror mixed with disbelief. "How do you ... I mean ... how ... that is not possible ..." he trailed off, trying to control his jumbled thoughts. After several moments he opened his lips again. "How?"

A strange calm had come over Luke and for a moment he shrugged his head and flashed Talon a crooked smile.

"I think that the How is quite obvious, isn't it?" Luke asked and Talon blushed slightly.

Aye, Mara and Luke are quite similar, Ghent was right. They have the same sense of humour, Talon thought and exhaled softly.

"I meant How do you know she was pregnant?" The Trader demanded softly, watching the Jedi Master as he tipped his head against the dark durasteel board behind him.

Closing his eyes, Luke mulled over the question. How do I know? he asked himself silently. The ways of the Force are strange and how can I make him believe that I felt it just like Mara did when she reached out with the Force only to be pulled back into herself and finding that little presence in her womb.

"The Force showed Mara ... when she ... before she," Luke's voice was heavy with unshed tears as he tried to tell Talon how he knew. "A Jedi Knight can feel other Force-sensitives and that is how Mara and I found out. But," and here he looked at Talon out of dark blue eyes. "I knew. I had a Force vision when we returned from Cha Niem. I saw my daughter ... Mara's and my daughter..."

Talon stared at the young man with a mixture of both understanding and terror. "But why should the Force show you and Mara ... I don't understand ...I always thought the Force is benevolent."

"It is, Talon," Luke reached out to the man and put a soothing hand on his shoulder. "But the future is always in motion, we cannot stop or change the events as we want them to be."

"If you ask me, that sucks like a Twilek dancer in front of a Rancor," Karrde murmured and shook his head. "Bantha Bollocks, that is downright cruel. Did ... did Mara die knowing ..."

Instead of giving him a verbose reply, Luke only nodded his head and this plunged both men into a long silence again.

"What do you want to do now?" Talon asked after a long time.

Luke mused over it ... he felt as if all his strength had left him ever since he had realised how much this had cost him. "I'll track down those responsible ..." he simply stated, deadly determination evident in his voice.

Talon started at the sound of it and his head snapped up, staring intently into the younger man's face.

"Luke ... Mara and your child ... if what you say is true ... and I have seen a lot that you and Mara have done with the Force, then you should ... not ... I mean you are a Jedi Master and ..." he fell silent and creased his brow.

"I will not turn, Talon. I know that now, don't worry. If I let the dark side draw me into its clutches I forfeit my only chance to meet Mara some day again," he gave Karrde a crooked smile. "Besides, if Mara ever appears as a Force presence in my visions or dreams she'll give me a good clout over the head so to speak if she finds out I turned."

Both men chuckled despite themselves. Some of the tension left them and for a moment the chuckles turned into full-fledged laughter that died down as quickly as it had appeared.

"I miss her," Talon mumbled and rubbed his eyes awkwardly. "I never thought she would be gone like this ... perhaps I always ... I'm older than she is and I have seen a lot of action in my days ... I always expected to die before her."

Luke mused over this. He had to admit that he never had such thoughts. No that is not true, I have, way back on Wayland before our Force bond had been fully established between ourselves. After that I always have thought ....

"I always thought we would die together," Luke murmured aloud. "I never ... it never occurred to me that she could die without me." Skywalker let his eyes roam over the interior of the cockpit until his eyes caught on some glinting of red and gold. Pushing himself to his feet he quickly moved over to it and when he examined the glint, he realised that some strands of Mara's hair had been caught in the harness of her pilot's seat.

Reaching out with his left hand, he gently pried the glittering strands out of the snagged metal device. He was so intent on what he was doing that his mind almost missed to register what he was seeing.

Pausing momentarily, he remembered the Force vision. Mara had strapped herself into the seat ... Luke gasped and Talon was immediately at his side.

"What is it?" he asked concerned when he came to rest beside the smaller man.

Without words he held up one of the harness straps into the light. The unmistakable signs of a smooth vibro-blade cut evident to both of them in the soft but strong material.

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