Chapter Nine - Loss

It took both Talon and Luke several minutes to calm down after what they had found out, passing the time with Luke healing Talon's bumped head and the abrasions that he had inflicted on his friend.

"Should we tell the others?" Talon finally asked but Luke shook his head.

"We still do not know if that cut was done by Mara or whoever attacked her. They might have cut the strap to dispose of ... her," Skywalker still could not bring himself to refer as Mara as the body.

"Both scenarios are possible," Karrde commented and rubbed his knuckles that didn't show the signs of their recent abuse anymore. "That Jedi healing is handy."

Both men smiled weakly then Luke hung his head in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry for striking out at you, Karrde," he murmured and felt Karrde squeezing his shoulder.

"You grieved for your loss, Luke. It takes a real man to stop where you did and not let anger overcome you completely," Talon said and grinned at his own insightful comment. "What we have to do now is to determine who is behind all this. We need to access Jade's astromech and retrace her most recent trade runs. If that draws a blank we, then we'll move further back. I'll put Ghent onto it."

"Good, and I'll compile a list of people and places where Mara made enemies on missions we were on," Luke replied, nodding.

"You better add individuals who are your enemies as well, Luke. The last time you and Mara showed up at a public event, there was a lot of animosity afterwards..." Talon Karrde commented and Luke's gaze clearly showed that he did not understand. "You might not have heard it but after you and Mara kissed at the Briem treaty festivity, the holo net went haywire with rumours and threats. Also, it was rumoured that you or Mara or both of you were responsible for one of the Briem's sudden departure. Some people, especially Borsk, were mentioned you should be removed from any official celebrations."

"We were," Luke answered quietly and met Talon's surprised look with a calm, steady stare of his own. "Briem representative Tovar tried to pull a stunt on Mara, but she swarted that."

"Briem?" Karrde creased his brow. "I got a request from a trading organisation on Briem ... they especially asked for Mara ..."

Luke rubbed his lips with his thumb and mused over this bit of information. "We should be open to all possibilities, Karrde. I just want to know what sense it would make to kill or kidnap Mara."

"Well some Ex-Imperials would love to get their hands on her," Karrde commented. "She was after all the Emperor's Hand."

Luke nodded to that and creased his brow. In his mind he was going through lists and lists of names, but something was tugging at his mind, something ... someone...

"I will give you a list of possible suspects," Skywalker said and stood. Helping his older friend to his feet as well, he looked around the disabled cockpit again. The sense of despair and hopelessness still lingered in the confines of the cockpit and for a moment Luke closed his eyes.

I have to know, he thought and his determination increased. I have to know why she died!

After Talon Karrde had left, Luke wandered the empty corridors of the Jade's Fire. He was still amazed how small the craft was as it sat in the hangar of the Wild Karrde. It had been a tight fit but nonetheless Mara's pride was sitting securely in the hangar.

Skywalker knew that he was straining the thin thread of his sanity and that the longer he stayed aboard the Fire, surrounded by Mara's things, he was sure to let the thin line snap any minute.

Sighing, Luke walked back to Mara's cabin and after rummaging through her things, he found a data pad with an unused data card. Sitting down on her bunk, he drew his legs up and started the list he had promised Talon Karrde.

"Princess, you are not coming with me, this is man's business," Han said again and threw his wife a scowl that was meant to deter her, but he knew he had lost the moment she had appeared on the landing pad of the Falcon a few minutes ago.

After she had told him that the children were safe with Winter and had decided to accompany him, Han knew it had been a bad idea to let her in on his plan to help Luke. Although there was not much he could do, he was determined to find the ones responsible for Mara Jade's death. But apparently his wife had the same idea.

Leia Organa-Solo was dressed in a tight-fitting flightsuit that hugged her still slim figure softly. At any other day Han would have just taken his wife for a spin in the old lady and had some fun but not today.

"Ha!" Leia retorted for the second time in as many seconds and advanced towards the ramp of the Falcon.

"Honey, please!" Han started again but was cut off by Chewie who made several sounds that sounded much like chuckles.

"What do you mean, I'm getting soft?" Han asked, his voice rising. "I'm NOT getting soft!"

Chewbacca growled again and followed Leia up the ramp and Han shook his head.

"I'm NOT getting soft," he mumbled again to himself as he boarded his craft. "This is just ridiculous."

He started when he entered the cockpit, Chewie was sitting in the co-pilot's seat while his wife was occupying the pilot's seat, his seat. Now this is going too far, the ex-smuggler told himself and walked over to his wife in a determined gait.

"Okay, Princess, I give ... you can accompany us, but you are not taking the lead. I'm in charge here," Han growled and stopped when Leia turned around to give him her most seductive smile.

Oh those eyes, those lips, Han thought and groaned inwardly.

"But of course, husband of mine," Leia said and stood up. She squeezed herself around the seat and sidled up to her husband and smiled innocently, when she heard her husband gasp. "You are in charge, smuggler-boy."

"Yeah ..." Han nodded and swallowed hard. Sliding into his seat he tried to suppress the tightness that was increasing in his pants. "And don't you forget it ..."

Chewbacca who felt the dramatic change in his friend from Leia's charms made a sound that again sounded like a chuckle and Han's head snapped up.

"This is not funny, Chewie!" Han snarled which elicited another set of growls from his furry friend. "No, I'm not a hen-pecked husband. She is just ... very persuasive."

The bridge of the Wild Karrde was deserted and only Aves was on duty. He started when the proximity alert went off, but before he could check, the commlink whistled to life and the bearded face of Corran Horn appeared on the holo projector.

"Horn," Aves acknowledged coolly, not in the least surprised to see the CorSec. After recent events, Aves thought. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Princess and Solo arriving here as well.

"Aves," Corran replied just as coolly. The two men seized each other up silently, until Aves broke the silence.

"I better inform Karrde that you are coming aboard, Horn. Who is with you? Antilles, Janson? Klivian?"

"Antilles," Wedge's head appeared at the side of the holo projector. "Good to see you, Aves. How is he holding up?"

All three knew who he was and Aves shook his head. "Skywalker and Karrde are on the Jade's Fire. We are still determining who is responsible for all this."

"Well, then, we are offering our services ... from one smuggler to the other." Corran said and for the first time since the communication had been established the tension eased.

"You are welcome aboard the Wild Karrde." Aves said and cut the commlink.

Wedge frowned when the projector went black and turned around to Horn. "What was this all about?" he asked.

Corran horn shrugged his shoulders. "Old habits never die. Despite what he wants the NRI to believe, Karrde is still a smuggler at heart. He and his men are careful and it is a good thing. The organisation wouldn't have survived this long, if they hadn't been careful."

"Sounds much like the Rogues, with this code of honour and all," Wedge mused and Corran had to grin.

"In a way Karrde's organisation is like Rogue Squadron. They both have good leader and second in command."

Both men smirked at that and started to prepare the ship to dock alongside the Wild Karrde.

Talon watched his image in the mirror and was still dumbstruck at how easily the Jedi Master had healed him. He had seen it innumerous times, but to experience it himself still left him in awe.

Aves had commed him just before to inform him the Rogues were coming. Talon smirked at that. Of course, he had known that Antilles and Horn would come to Luke's aid. There was still a lot of friendship and loyalty between the old Rogue members. And if I'm not mistaken, we'll soon see Her Royal Highness and Solo tagging along as well, Talon thought and chuckled.

The Skywalker help gene ... I guess it extends beyond the blood ties. With a sigh, Karrde turned away from the mirror and entered the corridor to the bridge. He was sure to find the two Rogues around Aves, even if his officer didn't like it.

Turning around a bend just in front of the bridge, Karrde had to chuckle when he heard Aves' voice.

"No, Antilles, this is NOT an old smuggler's code. Now leave your paws off!"

"Aves, you know those Rogues are always inquisitive," Talon commented and three heads turned away from the comm console and stared at him.

"Karrde," Horn and Antilles nodded into the direction of the smuggler.

"So will you leave my temporary second in command alone and tell me what brings you here?" Talon answered casually and watched as the two men came over to him.

"We are here to help Luke...," Corran started and watched the worry lines in Talon Karrde's face. "Solo contacted us, we want to help find Mara's murderer."

"We still have to determine if she was murdered," Talon said, his voice hesitant. "The damage on the Fire is extensive, and before we haven't assessed all we cannot determine whether it was murder or not."

Wedge Antilles shook his head and snorted. "If I were you, I would put my whole crew onto the Fire to determine what went wrong."

Talon's intense gaze bore into the Rogues' commander's eyes. "Luke is on the Fire ... he needs to be close to Mara and ..." his voice trailed away and he shook his head.

Corran inhaled sharply when he picked up on the emotions coming from Karrde and for a moment both men stared at each other.

"Mara was pregnant?" Corran asked in shock and Antilles' head snapped up.

"Now wait a minute ..Jade and pregnant? We saw her only a couple of weeks ... ago," Wedge's voice trailed away. "Gods, no!"

Aves' breath exited his throat in a sharp hiss. Mara was pregnant? he thought. Now I know why Skywalker behaves the way he does.

"How do you know, Karrde?" Aves muttered. "Did Mara ..."

Talon shook his head. "Luke found out .. he did .. did a Jedi thing on the Fire. So it is a double loss ..."

All four men fell silent, all of them deeply engrossed in their own thoughts, but all mourning not only the death of the beautiful trader but also the loss that Luke Skywalker had yet again received.

The data pad lay discarded beside Skywalker's slumped form on the bunk. After he had put down all the names he could think of, he had put his head against the bulkhead and closed his eyes.

Now in the silence of the room, he let his mind wander. Again and again he replayed the Force vision he had earlier, focusing his mind on certain details here and there. Silently, he relived the events, saw Mara racing to fire her pulse canons, relived her despair when the realisation dawned on her that she was about to die.

Luke gasped and clutched his chest as he relived the oxygen lack Mara had experienced. Moments stretched into minutes as he lay on the bunk, his limbs thrashing.

"Gods, no!" Skywalker gasped. "Please, not again ... Mara!"

Suddenly, the vision shifted and another vision replaced the one he was experiencing. He saw Mara floating into space, her hands outstretched and her beautiful eyes looking straight into his own. Pleading, tear-filled.

*Luke!* he heard her call out. *Luke, don't leave me ... My love ... I'm scared ...*

"MARA!" Luke gasped as he was jolted out of the vision painfully. His arms and legs hurt and tears were streaming in abandon down his face. Gasping, forcing great mouthfuls of air into his lungs, Luke Skywalker shivered, clutching Mara's sleeping shift to his chest.

Ignoring the sounds coming from outside the cabin door, Luke stretched out his Force senses towards the fading image of his lover. Painfully gathering the Force around him, his mind raced after her, ceaselessly trying to grasp the bond that had been established so long ago between them.

*Luke,* Mara's voice was now clearly inside his head and for a moment a soft smile curled the Jedi Master's lips.

*Mara, my love, where are you?* he asked and suddenly his vision cleared and Mara was standing before him. Or so he thought. In fact in his vision she was floating, and so was he.

It felt calm and peaceful, their surroundings a soft hue of greens and browns, like the sands of Tatooine and the deepest forests of Yavin.

Floating slowly towards each other, Mara smiled when her eyes met with Luke's and hands immediately intertwined when they had reached each other.

*Luke, I'm here,* Mara's lips weren't moving but he could hear her voice clearly inside her head. *I missed you ... am I ... am I ... dead? I don't feel like I'm dead.*

*NO!* Luke called out and pulled her closer, drawing her against his chest. The shock of her incorporeal body touching his was imminent. *No*, Luke said again this time concentrating on keeping his and Mara's body materialised long enough, he drew her slowly back into his arms and hugged her close.

*No, Mara, you are not. You are alive,* he whispered into her ear, the memory of her hair tickling his nose making him feel as if the wispy strands of her floating hair were doing just that.

They floated there, just hugging each other until Mara raised her head and looked deeply into the intense blue eyes of her lover.

*I miss you, Luke*, she whispered, imagined breath fanning his face. *I don't know if I can take care of our child like this ... I need you ...*

*I'm here with you, Mara, I'll never leave you ... ever,* Skywalker responded, drinking in the sight of her. For the first time he noticed she was wearing Jedi robes and he was wearing the soft brown robe of the Jedi order as well.

A fleeting thought came over him ... Are we both dead? he asked himself silently, almost loosing touch of the vision when his concentration wavered.

*No, Farmboy, you are as real as me,* came the soft response.

Clinging to Mara's image, he gasped when he felt her soft touch, her fingers slowly tracing his face, first stroking his brows, her thumb rubbing over the rich texture of the small hair, then lower, over his nose and the scars that had been inflicted upon him by the Wampa on Hoth.

He closed his eyes and drank up the feeling of peacefulness that settled over him as Mara continued her ministrations, gentle touches flitting over his skin as she caressed his cheeks, the corners of his mouth, the chip in his chin. Touches as soft as the butterflies of the gardens on Kuat danced over his skin as Mara caressed him and for a moment he let himself drown in the feeling.

*I love you, Luke Skywalker,* Mara whispered softly and a shudder of happiness and despair ran through Luke's whole being. His eyes snapped open, seeing her image wavering slightly.

Cupping her face with his hands and leaning closer, their lips met. Force lightning sizzling slightly as mouths opened, lips and tongues teased until they were only one being, one mind, one soul.

And then she was gone.

The room was only dimly lit with indirect light coming from some hidden fixtures that seemed to grow out of the walls. But the man standing at the window, had his back turned towards the room and stared out the window. A few minutes ago he had received the call that his associates were in orbit.

And bringing the goods, the man thought and rubbed his clean shaven cheek unconsciously. Ever since he had returned from Coruscant, he had made plans, and when he had them all thought out, he had put those plans in motion. It had taken him three standard months to gather all the information he needed and he knew that in order to succeed in this plans he had to get rid of the Jedi Master.

Too bad, those dung-filled Mynocks let him and Jade escape, the man thought and before his mind's eye flashed a short image of what exactly he would inflict on that business associate of his.

But then again, I have what I wanted, and not even the Jedi Master will look for her, he grinned slyly. Ever since the Cha Raaba pirates had sent him the holo projection of how exactly they had taken over the Fire he felt ecstatic.

They had done what he had planned, with almost little to no collateral damage. Of course, the pirates had been adamant in taking the complete ship but in order to his plan to pan out, he had needed the Fire left in space heavily damaged.

Rubbing his hands together gleefully, he paced the room. Soon, he thought. Soon!

Talon, Corran and Wedge had heard the muffled sounds coming from beyond the cabin door and for a moment they hesitated, until Corran exhaled sharply. In one fluid movement he buttoned the door open and rushed in, closely followed by Karrde and Antilles.

Luke lay on his side, a garment of Mara's clutched to his chest and he was breathing in great gasps. Corran was right by his site, putting a hand on the young man's shoulder and after he had sent forth a tendril of the Force towards the Jedi Master to check upon him, he gave a sigh of relief.

"He is alright," Corran explained to his friends and looked around the room. Even with his fledgling Force abilities he could feel the strong aura of the woman who had once inhabited the ship and this every room, but what surprised him even more was the feeling as if she was right there with them.

The Jedi Master stirred beneath his hand and Corran helped him up as Luke scrambled into a sitting position. Focusing his eyes, he watched his friends one by one and felt his cheeks heat up.

"How ... how long have you been here?" he croaked out and rubbed his eyes tiredly. The use of the Force had left him feeling completely drained.

"Not long, we just came in to check on you," Talon replied and suppressed a shudder. He had felt as if Mara had been in the room just before the door had opened and he was still shaken from the experience.

"What happened, Luke?" Wedge asked and sat down on the other side of the Jedi Master and his former Commander.

Luke watched his friend and saw the worry plainly inscribed all over his friend's face.

"I ... I met Mara in a vision ...," he explained slowly and his head turned to look at Horn. "I felt her, held her ... it was amazing."

Corran frowned slightly, as everyone else in the room apart from Skywalker.

"Luke," Talon started and pulled a chair near the bed before he settled into it. "I cannot imagine what you are going through ... but ... we have to face the truth, Mara is gone."

Luke shook his head, his whole countenance like that of a stubborn child. "She is not, Talon, I felt her. The vision was quite strong, other than what I have experienced with Ben and Yoda after they had died. Mara is not dead!"

Mara woke up on the cold floor and when she came back to consciousness, for a moment her mind reeled. The dream had been so real that she could still feel Luke's hands on her face, or so she thought.

She raised her hands to her cheeks, mimicking the gesture that Luke had done in her dream and she immediately bit her lips when she moved. Her body hurt like hell. Every sinew, every muscle screamed as she moved herself into a sitting position, as she tried to open her eyes.

Darkness engulfed her. She was not even sure if she had opened her eyes or not so she felt her way towards her face. With a groan she realised she was either blinded or the room she was in was pitch black. Moving slightly, pain shot through her lower abdomen and up her spine. She felt dizzy and nausea threatened to choke her up.

Stilling all movement, she slumped against a wall behind her. Desperately she tried to catch her breath and gain control over her mutinous body but try as she might, her body hurt as if she had had several turns with a Rancor.

And the retching ... nausea washed over her and Mara toppled over, her throat hurting from the gagging as her stomach wanted to turn itself upside down.

"Sith," Mara gasped when her stomach had rid itself of what little she had still inside after a while. "Death is better than feeling like this," she murmured and clutched her stomach and lower abdomen when another wave of pain shot through her.

For a week now she had felt sick in the mornings, but she had dismissed it. After all, she was Mara Jade, Ex-Emperor's Hand. A mere upset stomach didn't impair her in any way, she had gone through tougher illnesses than that. But the sickness had continued, starting in the morning shortly after getting up and then lasted till mid day.

Groping around in the darkness, Jade tried to push herself to her feet. Her head bumped into the ceiling and when she rose her hands to her head she felt the smooth, cold feel of durasteel plates beneath her fingertips. After she had inspected her surroundings in the dark, she realised she must be in some sort of detention cell, similar to the ones the Emperor had had on his star cruisers.

Two by one meters, Mara recalled. More of a coffin than a cell. Slumping back into a sitting position, she drew her knees up to her chest and buried her head in her hands.

"Great, Jade, just great," she murmured and tried to remember how she had ended up here.

Reaching out with the Force, she immediately discovered that Ysalamiri had been placed nearby. From the void she resumed that they had been placed all around her detention cell and she cursed beneath her breath.

"Just what I need," she muttered and her head slumped back against the cold durasteel plate behind her. "Well, you really managed to get into the Rancor's pit just nicely."

Rubbing her stomach, the unconscious movement brought back the last memory before she had blacked out. The baby! Groaning, Mara's eyes snapped open only to stare into the blackness. But it can't be true ... the Emperor ordered to have that operation on me. I can't be pregnant.

But then again you have all the signs of a recent pregnancy, Mara Jade, the little voice inside her mind nagged. You have morning sickness and the Force told you to protect the child.

Closing her eyes again, Mara Jade tried to filter through recent events and when she was honest to herself all made sense now in a way. She replayed some of the more intimate events on Cha Niem, like the time in the cave where Luke had removed the little device that had been revealed when she had been shot, their frantic and ardent lovemaking afterwards. Luke's hot kisses and lovemaking, his seed spilling ... Mara closed her eyes with a groan.

"Oh Sithspit!" Mara growled and her fists connected painfully with the steelplates of the floor. " Skywalker, I will kill you! How can you do this to me? You should have used ... we should have ... oh gods ..." Mara's temper subsided uncommonly quickly and tiredly she hung her head.

Rubbing her eyes tiredly, trying to force more clarity to her memories, she pursed her lips.

"I can't be pregnant, the Force must be wrong. I have the scar from when the Emperor made sure I couldn't bear children," she reasoned with herself. "I underwent the operation, I know I can't get any children. I just can't ... if I do, then I would have been pregnant long ago ..." She remembered the night with the Farmboy on Tatooine, that had been Luke as well. "The Force must be wrong!"

But shortly before she had been captured, she had felt the truth, had felt the flickering little spark of life that was safely nestled away in her abdomen.

Unconsciously she hugged herself, her right hand stroking over the spot where almost a month ago Luke had removed the tracker. Frowning, she twisted her arm to inspect the small scar that had healed just nicely.

"The device!" Mara exclaimed, her own voice sounding dull and metallic to her ears in the small confinement.

The device wasn't a tracker at all, she mused. But what ...?

"Skywalker!" she exclaimed aloud and her anger was back. "That bantha-brained Nerf herder!" She had heard about long-term implants to prevent pregnancies but she had never thought about them. She never needed them as the Emperor had made her believe that she was infertile.

I bet that bastard of an Emperor never intended on me finding out that the med droids had placed a long term prevention implant into my arm, she thought angrily. He let me believe I could never have children of my own, that spawn of a Sith bastard. But why to go to all those lengths? Why deceiving me?

Because he was devious and basked in the knowledge to wield such power over you.

Shaking her head, Jade unconsciously traced the small scar underneath her tunic. It was small, almost invisible to a casual gaze. It ran just beneath her right hipbone and reminded her of a scar Talon sported. When Mara had started out in Karrde's organisation, he had fallen ill all of sudden and when he had been rushed to the med center, the med droids there had to remove his appendix. Mara's thoughts jarred to an abrupt halt.

"I'll be Kesseled!" Mara exclaimed and bit down on a sarcastic laugh that threatened to rise in her throat. "That bastard had those droids remove my appendix while I thought I was infertile!"

Anger at her former master threatened to overwhelm her and with what little strength she had left, she tried to calm those feelings. Anger is of the dark side, she reminded herself, as her fist clutched together. But she was angry, so angry it almost choked her.

"You vile son of a Sith!" Mara choked out, hurting her fists while she unleashed her anger against the durasteel plates of her confinement. "You mean, ruthless son of a Sith!"

Hugging herself, she fought another wave of pain shooting through her and for a moment she shivered.

"Shush little one, we'll get out of here," she whispered soothingly, smirking slightly when she realised how easily it came over her lips.

A Baby! the thought raced through her mind but the expected shock never came. Luke and mine ... the thought actually calmed her. Hadn't she always thought about how it would be to have a child? But not like this ...not with Skywalker ..., Mara thought. How could I have been so careless?? I should have checked if I was indeed infertile as the Emperor had claimed. But ever since the first day she had made love to Skywalker, it had never crossed her mind. She was safe, or so she thought and now she had not only lost her heart to the Farmboy all over again but also bore the child of him beneath her heart.

"Stupid, Jade, really, really stupid!" Mare whispered to herself. "How did I end up like this?"

Because you love him, you love the Farmboy turned Jedi Master, a small nagging voice added and Mara knew it was true.

Forcing herself to breathe more deeply and letting her exhaustion take over, Mara Jade slipped into a light sleep that was immediately disturbed when the door to her cell swung open and glaring light flooded her small refuge.

"Well, what a surprise," a male voice said and ducked his head to step inside the small space. "The great Mara Jade. I trust you are comfortable?"

Mara lay back on one elbow and held her other hand up to her face to shield her eyes from the bright light. All she could see was the shadow of the man.

"Who are you and what do you want?" Jade croaked out, trying to hide the fear well that crept up in her. She mentally chided herself. Mara Jade does not feel fear! but she knew that this was only partially true ... now she had to take care of the baby that was growing inside of her and she felt fear, not for her but for the child.

She heard the man chuckle and something in his voice reminded her of someone but she could not place the voice.

"Isn't it a bit late for the Imperials to take revenge on me?" Mara gritted out, frustrated to no end. If she only had herself to consider, she would have long jumped to her feet and beat the crap out of her captor, but now she had to bide her time.

"Imperials? My dear Mara, I'm not an Imperial, far from it. I just wish to enjoy your wonderful company and perhaps more when you seem to be more willing."

"Willing?" Mara yelled and drew her knees up to push herself into a half-crouch. "You abducted me, placed me in a coffin with Ysalamiri nearby and you think I'll be willing??? You must be a greater fool than I thought!"

The man clucked his tongue and took a step forward. "I told you once and I will tell you again(.) Mara Jade, you will be the mother of my children and as soon as we get over your unfortunate resentment towards me, I'm sure we'll be happy together, especially as that Jedi Master of yours is not helping you with his magic tricks."

Mara's head reeled. Who by the Emperor's dark soul is he? she thought and tried to think. Suddenly, something clicked into place.

"Tovar?" she croaked out as realisation washed over her in a cold wave. The image of the vicious looking Tal-tch'iym blade still imbedded in her mind.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13