AOH :: KTARAH2.TXT|
Star Wars: Child of Darkness: Part I - by Genevieve Williams.
(Copyright 1994, Genevieve Williams. All rights reserved. Based
on characters and situations created by George Lucas. All other
elements are the author's creation. Any resemblance to real or
fictional persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This
piece may be distributed freely with the inclusion of this notice
and written notification to the author.)
Star Wars: Child of Darkness - Part I
by Genevieve Williams
K'Tarah stood by the large picture window in her apartment's
main room, her narrow features harshly defined by the bright
lights of Coruscant's night. Her long, dark hair was tousled,
although she had tucked it casually behind her ears. Barefoot,
she wore a long, dark-colored robe of some rough-woven fabric,
and the expression on her face was a combination of fear and that
slightly surprised, sleepy look of one who has been abruptly
awakened. But her eyes, as Luke Skywalker could see even from
across the room, were clear, and held some starkness in the face
of the city lights.
At length she spoke, although she did not turn from the
window. "You, too?" she asked, her tone one of inflicted calm.
Luke's fingers tightened on the armrests of the chair in
which he sat, in a corner off to K'Tarah's left. "Yes," he said
quietly, watching her with some concern. Once before, in the
scant time they'd known each other, this had happened; both of
them awakened suddenly by dreams of some deadly, impending
disaster. The last time these dreams had been washes of another
Jedi's memory, as they had slept in a forest permeated by the old
Jedi Master Hane's presence. This time, there was no such obvious
K'Tarah nodded slowly, the exhalation of her breath a soft
sigh in the silence. "Yes. You came from the Imperial palace?"
Luke leaned forward to follow her gaze out the window, saw
the palace's gargantuan structure rising high on the horizon like
the flexing of some hulking winged beast. The old-fashioned chair
creaked beneath the shift in weight, an oddly comforting sound.
He looked back at K'Tarah and nodded, even though she wasn't
looking at him.
At last K'Tarah turned from the window, her dark eyes
studying Luke until he was tempted to fidget. With some effort he
stayed still, waiting for her to complete her thought.
"Your sister felt nothing?" she asked at length.
Luke dropped his eyes at that, considering. At last he
looked up again, shook his head. "When I awoke, I knew I should
come here. I would have felt it if the same thing had happened to
Leia - she was much nearer to me, and of course I've known her
longer. Whatever's going on here, it seems to only involve the
two of us." And I know her far better, he thought but didn't say.
K'Tarah turned away and slowly began to pace the floor, the
cloth of her robe rustling against her ankles with a soft
scratching sound. For a long moment neither of them spoke.
"What did you see?" Luke finally asked.
She stopped, then, but did not turn. Beneath the tangled
mass of her hair her back was stiff and straight as a wall, but
Luke saw her hands, hanging loosely at her sides, tremble
slightly. He realized she was terrified.
And well she might be, if her dream had been anything like
his. He stood, and walked across the room, his boots sounding
uncommonly loud in the silence. He stopped beside her, turned
toward her. "K'Tarah, you musn't give in to fear," he said
softly. We need to find out what's going on, why this is
happening." She was still, silent and - separate. He could feel
her shutting him out, as surely as if she had physically shut him
out of her way.
He looked her in the eye and spoke again. "K'Tarah," he
said, his voice still quiet, "you are a Jedi, and the Force is
Her hands moved, rose from her sides, fingers interlaced.
She examined one of the rings she wore - a private vanity, those;
nothing a Jedi found useful or necessary - and looked thoughtful
for a long moment. Her fingers were long, thin, graceful; they
did not look to have ever wielded anything harsher than the
stringed musical instrument she had played on Terron. Luke knew
differently, from their sparring practices together; a grip like
iron she had, and wrists so flexible that most of his attempts to
disarm during such sessions failed.
"There was a child," K'Tarah said at last, stepping away
from him to look out the window again. The words and movement
startled him, momentarily; they had seemed a tableau, save the
nervous working of her hands, and suddenly she stepped from it,
out of silence and shadows cast against the city lights of
"A girl," she added, her words coming in brief outbursts, as
if she found speaking to be suddenly difficult, a foriegn
activity. "Very young, I think, and pale, with dark eyes."
Luke nodded, still standing where he had been when she had
moved, now behind her and looking over her shoulder at the moving
lights of repulsor-vehicles. "As I did," he said, meaning, go on.
K'Tarah's shoulders moved; perhaps hunched just a bit. Her
hand reached up; slender fingers played with long, dark hair,
gently drawing tangles out. "She stood in a dark place - it was
night there, I think. She was not frightened." K'Tarah's head
turned; he saw the thoughtful frown in her profile. "And I
worried that she was not frightened. I thought that she ought to
be, that something waited in that place for her, that it would
consume her if it could..." Her voice roughened, as if this were
something she had witnessed rather than dreamed, and relived it
in this dark moment. "I wanted to take her hand and take her away
from there, I wanted to scream 'Run!', I wanted to fight whatever
waited there...but I could not move. Something held me back from
the child, and then she looked at me. A shift of eyes from some
point behind me to my face, and suddenly I was afraid of her. She
K'Tarah trailed off, crossing her arms, willing away the
vision that came upon her again as she spoke of it. The child's
smile had not been pleasant, a baring of teeth as the eyes
glittered, hard malice and ill intent. "I knew she wanted me
destroyed," she said, conscious effort keeping the tremor from
her voice. "I held my lightsaber in my hand, but I could not
strike. My will was my own, but it would not permit me." She
sounded almost puzzled at that, and paused. When she resumed, the
look on her face was not entirely pleasant. "Then something dark
closed around me, around my mind, and offered the means to do
away with this threat before me. And when I refused, the child
advanced, and there was laughter..." She stopped speaking,
astonished to discover tears welling behind her eyes. She forced
them back, refusing to cry over some child she didn't even know,
here, in the middle of the night with one of the few people whose
opinion of her she valued standing behind her and listening.
"Pride," he said mildly, and she set her jaw and looked
away. Peace, she needed peace, and calm...
A step disturbed her meditation, but it was only Luke,
crossing the room again and disappearing into the apartment's
tiny kitchen. She stood very still, staring at the city lights
and very carefully not thinking, until he returned and placed a
cup in her hands - Terron kvi, from the smell. She drank, and
relaxed, the sharp scent of the drink clearing the cobwebs from
her mind. She glanced at Luke, nodded thanks, and he smiled.
"Well," she said, all business again, that quiet confidence
that was her casual manner. "What now?"
He sobered, settled on the window seat and studied her a
moment. The sharpness of her face had relaxed into something
calmer - not peace, not while this hung over their heads, but
"I saw - something a lot like what you did," he said
quietly, saw her eyes darken and brow furrow - thoughtfulness
this time, concern for him, directed outward. That was good, for
her at least; worry held inside did little good, ringing around
inside the mind until it burst out, usually at time and place
least convenient for dealing with such things.
"Except," he continued, "I could see you, as well as the
girl; you were holding out your hand to her, and she looked
frightened, then - angry, I guess. She wouldn't go. She looked
behind you then, but I couldn't see what she was looking at. But
when she looked back at you, you - changed. You ignited your
lightsaber, as if you were going to attack, and I wanted to stop
you. But you stopped yourself," he added, watching her frown
deepen. "And just stood still. Then the girl stepped forward, and
I knew unless I did something both you and she would die. And
then I woke up."
He had not looked away from her as he said this; he saw her
close her eyes briefly and take a deep breath, then look up to
meet his gaze again.
"Well," she said, draining the cup. "We have our work cut
out for us, don't we?"
It was Luke's turn to frown. "What do you mean?" he asked,
although he thought he knew.
"We have to find this child. Something dark seeks her, Luke;
it mustn't take her. The Force knows why it's up to us - "
"We are Jedi," he reminded her. "Right now, we're the only
Jedi. That's why; you know it as well as I do."
She gestured half-helplessly. "Where do we start? We have
the whole galaxy to search in."
He smiled ruefully, but there was peace in the look he
directed at her. "We trust in the Force," he said. "And we wait."
For a moment it looked as if she might argue the point -
until she remembered to whom she spoke. A Jedi Master. Like Hane.
"Yes," she replied hoarsely, nodding assent.
Luke yawned and stood, stretching. "Meanwhile, I don't know
about you, but I'm beat. Will you be all right?"
She nodded, her gaze travelling past him, out over the city
again. "I'll be fine," she said, that calm self-assurance she
cloaked herself with settling over her again. "Get some sleep,
He nodded in return, headed for the door, touching her
shoulder on the way out.
Likely she would be all right, he decided as he left. As all
right as she could be, until whatever path the Force had set on
them reached its destination.
His sister Leia was down in the vast traffic-control room,
surrounded by monitor screens, control panels and the technicians
to work them, and the steady hum of inbound and outbound com.
When he joined her, she pointed to one of the screens. Scan
images already minutes old showed a strike force, just out of
hyperspace and going through first V dump at system edge, a rapid
deceleration that wore on the nerves and ship systems alike.
"That's Han?" he queried to her unspoken statement, and she
"Just back from Trask, in fact," she said. "Now we find out
how far that Imperial governor out there's willing to bend."
"Trask," he murmured, more to himself than to her. Something
about the name had struck up a resonance, somewhere inside.
"When's debriefing?" he asked, louder.
Leia sighed. "As soon as he's landed," she replied,
fingering the sleeve of her Jedi robe. "I know he'd rather get
some rest. But the Council wants that sector, and Trask looks
like the best key we're going to get."
Luke raised an eyebrow. "You've been asked to go." It was a
statement, not a question.
She nodded. "I'd rather not, to be honest. But we don't have
many with the right kind of training, and most diplomatic
personnel are still involved with that skirmish over in the Holan
system. So it looks like I'm it."
Luke didn't reply; glancing at him, she caught the
thoughtful look on his face. "What is it?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I'm not sure," he answered. "But once
he's through debriefing, both of you come by. There's
Leaving the thought incomplete, he turned and headed out the
door. Leia looked after him a moment, concerned, then shrugged
and went to ask one of the techs to open a line to the Millenium
Falcon. Whatever was on Luke's mind, she'd learn soon enough.
"So that's it, then?" Luke sounded mildly disappointed.
Han shrugged. "I told you, kid, it's nothin' but some old
washout making a fuss. Trouble is, he's got enough military force
on that miserable heap of a planet to hold the entire system
against us, which means that whole sector. Only other known
routes out that way would take more time and resources than we've
got right now."
Luke glanced at K'Tarah, who was sitting to his left, hands
pressed together in her lap. "Is that all he's got?" she asked,
her voice sounding strained.
Han glanced at the young woman in his turn, studying the
oddly intent look on her face. He hadn't quite gotten used to her
yet; she'd barely arrived on Coruscant when he'd had to go off on
this mission to Trask, and it seemed like every time he turned
around she and Luke were having another sparring match, or else
some bizarre conversation about the Force that only seemed to be
half-spoken. It was a little disconcerting, even to an old
smuggler - not old, he could almost hear Leia admonishing him
teasingly, just weatherbeaten - who thought he'd seen it all in
his galaxy-roving days.
But he only grinned. "What else were you expecting?" he
asked; but at the same time, Leia asked, "What is it, K'Tarah?"
He looked at his wife, who now seemed pretty tense herself.
Jedi, he thought, remembering, as he did at such times, that
there were some things he'd likely never understand. Well, that
was life, he thought with healthy irony. Just when you think you
know the universe...
Luke spoke up again. "We think there might be some dark-side
presence there," he explained.
Han frowned, knowing that wasn't the whole story. He
shrugged. "Well, now that you mention it...some of the com-
chatter we picked up - had a hell of a time decoding it, I'll
tell you - said something about consulting a wizard or some such.
I'll have to get the transcription - but maybe that's it. Smells
fishy, though, if you ask me."
Luke hesitated, then nodded. "Probably nothing. Thought I'd
ask, though." And he changed the subject.
But Leia caught the sideward motion of his eyes, saw K'Tarah
catch that gaze and hold it a moment. Evidently, whatever it was,
they weren't going to discuss it in front of Han. Why? To protect
K'Tarah, perhaps, if she's involved with this, she thought
doubtfully. What else? We've known each other too long for this
kind of subterfuge.
They spoke awhile longer, catching up; then Han got to his
feet, saying he wanted to check on some repairs Chewbacca was
making and get cleaned up. Leia glanced at Luke and K'Tarah a
moment longer, wanting to know whatever it was they knew; but
Luke met her gaze, then: Later. Deliberately linking her arm with
Han's, she led him out of the room, not without a worried
backward glance at the two figures remaining within, alike in
their black-robed stillness.
K'Tarah was the first to speak after Han and Leia left.
"It's a trap," she said, loosening her hands' white-knuckled grip
on each other. "Consulting a wizard?"
Luke smiled ruefully. "Of course it's a trap," he said, and
she relaxed, almost smiled in return. "It's too convenient," he
said. "I don't like that kind of convenience. I'll tell you - if
Trask is it, and I'm almost sure it is, then someone sent us that
dream. Someone who wants us, and us in particular - I don't know
what for. Nothing good."
She sat still, considering that. "Why not your sister?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. If it is someone strong in the
Force who's baiting us, perhaps he knows Leia'd be going anyway;
she's been the New Republic's official envoy for the past few
years. But you and I don't go on diplomatic missions; I've only
been sent when it looks like the presence of a Jedi Knight would
work in our favor, since I resigned my commission." He didn't add
what they both already knew: that the Council hadn't decided how
the three known Jedi in the entire galaxy were supposed to figure
in their governmental system, especially when only one had any
K'Tarah stood up, paced the floor restlessly. Luke's
apartment in the old Imperial palace was even more spartan than
her own, almost ascetic. Clearly he, like herself, had learned to
travel light over the years; or perhaps it was simply that the
Jedi had little need for possessions.
"Patience," old Master Hane's voice whispered inside her
head, a gentle brush of otherworldly breeze; she relaxed,
somewhat comforted by that presence here, where everything - even
her own quarters - was dreadfully foreign.
Well; one had to get used to such things, if one were in her
Luke said Trask, and said it was too convenient, too
obvious, this news of Han's they'd both known would come, by what
agent of the Force she preferred not to speculate, right on the
heels of that shared dream.
"We go to Trask, then," she said quietly, and Luke nodded.
Governor Jacon Kantwel was evidently a man who combined
business with pleasure. He conducted most of his dealings from
his home near the center of Trask's capital city, which managed
to be at once both stately and sprawling. The house itself was
older than Imperial rule, and elegant, with its colonnaded
covered walkways and tended gardens. It bespoke civilization and
civility, like its owner, although he possessed in addition a
fair supply of stubborness and testiness.
Well; one did not get to be Imperial governor by being
pliant, especially if one were Kantwel's age. That was, at least,
Leia's thought as she walked with him along one of those
walkways, their respective entourages filing behind them and no
doubt bored to tears with this odd charade called diplomacy. It
was something Leia herself had almost forgotten, in the years
following the destruction of Alderaan, living outside the law and
among guerillas who favored action over fancy speeches. The
complexity of Governor Kantwel's extended monologues was enough
to make her nostalgic. Must be all that time spent with Han.
Thinking of that, she hazarded a quick glance behind her.
Han walked there, looking fidgety and suspicious and entirely
displeased with the situation. She couldn't really blame him.
Surrounded by Kantwel's aides, with Luke and K'Tarah chased off
on some mysterious mission of their own, Chewie down at the
landing bay with the Falcon - a nod to Imperial specieism, that -
Han was probably wishing for a little more backup just now. She
was inclined to agree.
Ignoring, for the moment, Kantwel's enumeration of Trask's
benefits from Imperial rule, she extended her thoughts outward,
seeking her brother and his companion...
K'Tarah piloted the modified landspeeder, which had been
crammed into the shuttle she and Luke had landed in, both
vehicles borrowed from the Mon Calamari star cruiser that was the
only vessel of such size in Leia's escort.
That had been a sudden change in plans, made almost as soon
as they'd arrived in the Trask system, Han and Chewie working
braking thrusters to dump velocity, pulling at once with and
against the gravity well, the heart- and gut-wrenching V dumps
seeming to yank them every direction at once - and Luke and
K'Tarah looking at one another with sudden, terrible
Here it was, certainly. They had felt it, before even
landing, a certitude absolute and immediate, while Chewbacca
pulled scan images already minutes old, insystem updates that
showed ships where they'd been instead of where they were, and
Han sent com transmissions that had to reach planetary sensors
before they could be picked up, let alone considered and replied
to. Transmission sent, and Han had leaned back in his chair,
patient with the necessity of waiting, while behind him was felt
a patience-shattering urgency.
Leia had felt it, glanced at her brother who stared at the
cloud-enshrouded planet below them much as he had stared at
Vader's flagship - so long ago now it seemed - with that at once
shocked and eager attentiveness. Attention, and special
knowledge. And then he had turned, looked as the cockpit door
slid open and K'Tarah stood there, leaning against the doorframe
as if for support, her face a mirror of his own.
Now they sped over grassy hills, sometimes on the road that
wound through them, sometimes not; following that presence that
beckoned like a navigation buoy in the darkness and uncertainty
of system entry. No knowing what waited for them at the end of
this journey; but that they would go was not questioned. Even by
Leia, who had looked as if she would rather go with them to
whatever they faced, than stay behind, and play the game of
diplomacy, not knowing for certain where they were or if they
were dead - or worse.
But Governor Kantwel was expecting her, even if only to
attempt to bend her ear in his favor; even should he do the
unexpected and join the New Republic without a fight, no doubt he
wished to remain in a position of authority here.
And Leia would have to let him, or else ensure his exile
from Trask. At the very least. Deposed Imperial governors were
dangerous, even if the military might of the Empire that had once
supported their rule now suffered a broken back, even if what
amounted to a strike force was slewing through planetary orbit
overhead, a little extra incentive on the part of the New
Luke closed those thoughts from his mind; galactic politics
were not the province of the Jedi. Not yet, with so few of them.
And now they risked it all; of that he was certain. Whatever
Beside him, K'Tarah glanced at him, a quick flicker of eyes
before her attention returned to the terrain before them. If she
had any worries, she did not show them now; that was K'Tarah,
utterly; to keep her own counsel. Unless he were to ask her,
pointedly. Peace, he thought. Not now.
K'Tarah breathed deeply of this place; another planet,
another scent to the air. Hereabouts was mostly grassland; they
hadn't seen much in the way of trees, after leaving the city.
That departure might have excited some comment; they weren't
sure. Leia would know, if Kantwel ever got the upper hand and
decided to ask her about it.
She cleared her mind of such considerations. There was only
what lay ahead, and that, at least, she could fight; she was a
Jedi, the Force was her ally, and politics were a game she had no
desire to know.
The distance slipped away beneath the speeder's repulor
field, the wind whipping through their hair at the speeds they
were reaching; not haste, not yet, but something pushing at the
edges of both their minds, urging them on.
It was, therefore, hardly a surprise when Luke glanced
westward, then pointed; K'Tarah slewed the speeder around a wide
arc, curving gently in the direction he indicated until the plume
of black smoke lay directly ahead of them, boiling out of the
gentle wrinkle of hills off to the west.
"Something's afire," K'Tarah shouted, as the ground below
them sloped, the landspeeder rising and falling as it followed
the gentle grade of the hills. "Smell it?"
He did. Something burning - a sudden flash, skimming across
the dunes in a speeder much like this one, topping the crest and
seeing - he closed his eyes a moment, opened them to look at
K'Tarah. Her face bore a closed, set expression, and he recalled
that she had memories of her own, tales told by the fireside,
from the Jedi Master who'd trained her, old as the hills and
They topped the last rise, saw the fire burning in the bowl-
shaped valley below. It had been a township of some kind; they
could see crop fields, heavy automated machinery that crawled
over the land in mechanical ignorance of the thing they
K'Tarah touched the brakes; gradually the landspeeder
slowed, coasting to a gentle stop some distance from the little
settlement. She killed the engines, reached under the seat for a
medkit and drew out a pair of filter masks, wordlessly handed one
to him. There was a starkness about her eyes, and he saw that she
felt it too; the dark presence here was as palpable as the acrid
odor of the smoke that mushroomed into the sky, to be carried off
by the wind.
They climbed out of the speeder, pulling the long-nosed,
head-covering masks over their faces, the least precaution when
going into smoke of a fire of unknown fuel. The smoke billowed
around them in curling tendrils, as if seeking to draw them into
its suffocating embrace.
Luke could see through the mask's goggles, when a trick of
the wind cleared the air a little ways ahead. Small buildings of
some synthetic material, looking like they'd melted rather than
burned; some taller structures that were probably storage silos,
with smoke pouring from every aperture. Whoever was responsible
for this was making things expensive for Governor Kantwel...he
stopped. Only a few dead could be seen from here, their bodies
blackened and still smoking...
"Not much left, is there?" K'Tarah asked beside him, her
voice hoarse through the mask's filters. It disturbed the moment
of shocked silence; he went on. They could hear the crackling of
what was left of the fire now, but no voices, and no one moved in
that dense cloud of smoke. K'Tarah poked at one or two of the
little dwellings, melted and collapsed from the intense heat,
then turned to him and shrugged. He couldn't see her face, but
there was disgust and horror about her stance, in the set of her
shoulders, that such things still happened in the galaxy. That
darkness itself could not be defeated entire.
He had seen it all before. Perhaps she guessed, from his
silence, for she said nothing more for a long moment, only made
her way through the smoke. He followed, to keep her in sight. It
didn't seem good for either of them to be wandering around here
He stretched out, then, felt beyond the smoke and the
lifeless hulks of twisted plastic and metal that had once been
homes, however cramped and manufactured. The fire was almost out,
except for the silos, but what there was seemed to growl like a
thing alive against the questing tendril of the Force that he
brushed it with. He cleared his mind against that - for now, at
least, he had other priorities. Ahead of him, in the direction
K'Tarah had gone, he could detect a faint glimmer, unremarkable
except that here, it was an anomaly.
Then he heard K'Tarah's voice, muffled by her mask but still
audible, calling his name. He quickened his stride, moved
unerringly through the shifting smoke until he found her,
crouched on the ground near one of the collapsed structures.
"Here," she was saying, as the twisted hulk of melted
material tilted off of the ground, freeing something that seemed
caught beneath it. Luke saw what she was about, reached out and
seized the still-hot stuff and hurled it aside, while K'Tarah
darted forward and lifted something in her arms. Luke carefully
dropped the ruined hovel some distance away, then pulled off his
cloak and handed it to her. She carefully wrapped it around her
burden, then headed off toward the speeder, rapidly disappearing
into the clouds of smoke.
Luke made to follow her, then paused and looked at the
ground where the melted structure had stood. Gobs of plastic, and
even metal, were still stuck, and the grass was charred where
fire had melted holes in the stuff - so much for fireproofing, he
thought - but there was a small area, a kind of pocket in the
ground, where the grass was still whole and nothing had melted.
He hurried after K'Tarah.
The unofficial part of the meeting was over, and now the
official part could begin. Instead of walking through Kantwel's
expansive gardens, Leia and her contingent - which consisted of
two aides and Han, since it would be bad form to bring armed
guards to a diplomatic meeting - were seated in a small,
comfortable council chamber, at a rectangular table with Kantwel
and his assistants sitting across from them.
Beside her, Han was still. He'd fidgeted on that long tour
through what could almost be considered an estate, but he
recognized the importance of this meeting; it would mean a lot
less work for all of them if Kantwel was willing to bring Trask
to the New Republic now.
She returned her focus to the governor. "...So you see," he
was saying, in the manner of politicians everywhere, "I cannot
with good countenance simply turn the administration of this
system over to the New Republic. It is not that I oppose your
goals, my dear" - Leia bristled at that, but the man was thirty
years her senior, she supposed he'd earned the privilege - "but I
well recognize the key position that I hold here. I have a dozen
star systems at my back whose administrators were Imperial
appointees and greatly enjoy the power they hold. I would not
appreciate having the military forces they are capable of
throwing in my direction brought to bear."
Leia was tempted to sigh, but held her peace. Jedi training
had taught her that much - patience was more likely to win the
day in this sort of conflict. But Kantwel had been edging around
this same argument all day, and she had nothing but the same
answer to give him.
"As I have pointed out, Governor," she said quietly, "if you
were to peacefully join the New Republic, Trask's garrison would
remain intact. In addition, the New Republic military would lend
support, for the Traskan system would then officially be under
She could predict his next question; either the Force or
years of haranguing on the Senate floor enabled her to answer
before he even asked. "We seek to establish representative
government in every system that joins us, Governor Kantwel," she
said. "That means an electoral system. Whether or not you have a
place in the resulting structure depends on several factors, not
the least of which is how the Traskans view your representation
of their interests thus far. The means by which Trask is brought
into the New Republic is one of those factors, Governor, as I am
sure you're aware." She let him think that one over for a moment,
then continued. "The New Republic has grown almost exponentially
of late," she said, "and most of those systems which have joined
us did so voluntarily - a diplomatic corps was necessary only to
ensure a smooth transition of political and military power. I'm
sure I don't need to remind you that the majority of the star
systems in the galaxy are now under our jurisdiction. Against
that, Governor" - and here she focused her gaze on him, seeking
not manipulation but understanding - "the military might of one
sector is a minor consideration." She held her breath; that
statement had been a risk, and Kantwel was testy enough to take
offense at it. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Han sit up
Kantwel's eyes narrowed, but his voice, when he spoke, was
still calm and unperturbed. "Excellent point. But I am concerned
with who, exactly, would be present to effect this transition of
power. And who would be responsible for the garrison that is, at
present, still under my jurisdiction."
She regarded him narrowly at that, but detected no
hostility, only concern. He did not intend to threaten her; the
point was legitimate. Point for point, she thought wryly; perhaps
he was only countering her previous statement with a potentially
challenging assertion of his own.
She glanced sideways at Han, saw his eyes sliding to meet
her own. There was suspicion there, suspicion of their gracious
host, developed over years of evading the law and, too often,
confronting it from the wrong side. But if Kantwel was stalling,
what was it he had to hide?
She thought again of K'Tarah and Luke, sitting so still in
Luke's apartment on Coruscant. Of K'Tarah's quiet question, and
Luke's equally quiet warning to her. A dark side presence. Here,
on Trask. And that transmission Han had picked up on his earlier
When Luke arrived at the speeder, K'Tarah had pulled off her
mask and unpacked the medkit. A blanket was spread on the ground,
a small, huddled object curled up on it.
She looked up as he approached, handed him his cloak. He
drew it over his shoulders, smelling smoke and burning plastic.
And a sudden, strong wave of fear, from the huddle on the blanket
K'Tarah turned back toward that; she felt it too. "It's all
right," she said in a soothing voice. "He's a friend."
Luke peered over her shoulder. A girl, humanoid and no more
than ten, was curled up on the blanket, regarding them both with
wide, frightened eyes. K'Tarah placed a hand on the child's
forehead, and she relaxed a little. "She's not hurt," his
companion murmured. "But frightened half out of her wits. She
He nodded, rose and went over to the speeder. There was a
water bottle under the other seat; he fetched it, brought it
back, and settled quietly next to the child.
"Here," he said, meaning, Peace.
Dark eyes followed his movements fearfully; a thin, bird-
claw-like hand reached out and snatched the bottle away from him.
He looked up to find K'Tarah's gaze meeting his.
"What do you - " he began, but she held up a hand: Later. He
nodded, sat back, as K'Tarah spoke softly to the child, her voice
strangely accented. The girl answered, a thin, wavering voice,
too quiet for him to hear what was said. He rose, walked a little
ways away, disturbed by implications that were beginning to
This child was afraid. Afraid of him. He looked back,
remembered wide dark eyes in a smooth, unscarred face.
Unharmed by a mass of melted plastic and metal, that should
by rights have crushed her.
A dream he and K'Tarah had shared. This child, laughing
mockingly, with the power to kill the very person who now tried
to help her. And darkness, in the dream and in this place.
His blue eyes searched the horizon, followed the swirls of
smoke that was at last beginning to dissipate, carried away on
gusts of wind. And he felt, absurdly, that they were observed.
A footstep behind him; he turned. K'Tarah stood there, her
face calm. "She says her name is Andra," the woman said quietly.
"She - lives here. Or did. Her parents were farmers. I can't get
much else out of her, understandably; but it sounds like the
whole place just went up in flames. Suddenly."
She stood there, watching him while he watched the huddle on
the blanket behind her, thinking.
"Darkness," he said, and she nodded.
Leia sighed and rubbed her temples; it had been a long day,
and only now, having returned to the suite of rooms allotted to
her and Han by Governor Kantwel, did she have any privacy.
There was a large main room, with a window looking out onto
the inner courtyard of Kantwel's home, which consisted of some of
the elaborate gardens they'd walked through that day. Looking at
them relaxed her, but only somewhat; a vague disquiet hovered at
the edge of her awareness, not so defined that she could get a
fix on it.
Putting that from her mind for the moment, she turned. Han
half-sat, half-sprawled on the room's long couch, watching her
with some concern.
"You all right?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I'm not sure. How do you think it went?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Hey, you're the one with diplomatic
training. But if you ask me, he's just being stubborn for the
hell of it. And he's a bureaucrat to boot."
She had to smile at that. "I agree. Mostly."
"Mostly?" The other eyebrow went up.
She clenched a fist. "I can't help thinking he's stalling.
We've given him plenty of reasons to join the New Republic, and
pretty much knocked down everything he had to say in return.
There's something else going on that he's not telling us."
Han smirked. "Tell me something new. You show me a
politician that ain't got something to hide, and I'll show you a
Leia shook her head. "I don't mean that. I" - but she
couldn't explain it. How to describe this feeling, which was
nothing more than a vague sense that things weren't quite right?
"I don't know. I wish I'd gone with Luke and K'Tarah."
Han frowned, looked at the lengthening shadows outside.
"Where are those two anyway? That must be some sightseeing trip
they went on."
She shivered, none too reassured by Han's badly concealed
worry. "Maybe they found what they were looking for." At the
moment she said it, she knew it was true. She curled her fingers
around the lightsaber she'd attached to her belt once she'd
gotten back to the suite. And wished acutely that she'd gone with
Governor Jacon Kantwel prepared to retire for the night,
dimming the lights in his chamber and darkening the tint on the
room's one large window. Slowly the light in the room grew less,
and his eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness.
It had been a long day. A long day of dancing diplomatically
around this princess-turned-envoy, unable to explain to her why
he could not accede to her wishes, and the wishes of the
government she represented. There was, quite simply, too much
risk. Not that he particularly feared for himself - he was an old
man, he'd held the reins of power in this system for too long,
and he greatly wished that someone else were being pulled in two
directions at once on this issue - but rather for Trask. He had
lived here his whole life, or at least as much of it as counted,
and although he sometimes felt that he wouldn't care what
happened to the planet after he was gone...nonetheless, he cared
"Enough to risk your life?" The voice was low, quietly
mocking. "Or are you prepared for that final step, Governor?"
He turned, his face a thin mask of calm, although such masks
never worked. Not with him. "You know I do not sanction this," he
"Careful, Governor," the voice admonished. Softly, so very
softly. "Your usefulness is not infinite. You may yet get what
you wish - when my end of our bargain is secure."
Kantwel only nodded.
"It will be soon," the voice added, now taking on a tone of
anticipation. "The snare is laid, the quarry approaches. Make no
The barest whisper, and the darkness in the corner that was
not a shadow melted into the night, the room seeming a little
colder for its passage.
Kantwel sat down on the bed, sat a long while, collecting a
fresh set of arguments for the morrow. He did not think they
would convince her. Three Jedi loose on Trask, and one that might
guess, in their face-to-face dealings, what he was hiding.
But he might yet salvage something, even if he was no longer
sure whether it was for Trask's sake - or his own.
They camped in a small gully; scant cover, open to ambush
from any number of points, but all that was available. And little
could pass a Jedi on watch unobserved.
That was Luke's duty, just then; K'Tarah was endeavoring to
get their small guest comfortable for the night. Andra could not
seem to relax around him, which concerned him more than he cared
to admit. He thought on it, nonetheless, although the conclusion
that he kept circling back to eased his mind not one whit.
He turned; K'Tarah rose from where she had knelt by Andra
and came toward him. "She's asleep," she murmured. "Would she
stays that way."
Luke nodded, went back with her to where their efficient
camp was set up. "What do you think?" he asked quietly as they
He heard a faint exhalation that might have been a sigh. "We
need to find out who attacked her settlement. It must be
whoever's been trying to lead us by the nose all this time. This
was a rather obvious move on his part."
He nodded again, wishing he could see her face. "She is
strong in the Force," he said. "And made a pawn because of it."
"Yes," she replied. "And - I think she can lead us to
whoever did this. She's terrified, Luke - I can feel it."
He considered that. Careful, K'Tarah, he wanted to say.
Careful of your motives. But memory arrested his voice, and he
She leaned forward, a movement he sensed more than saw. "My
destiny, perhaps," she said then. When he didn't reply, she moved
away, rolled herself up in her cloak, near the child whose
protector she had become.
And Luke stood, and paced, thinking, I didn't need that.
Memory washed over him then, of times when he had stood on a
similar threshold, and thought himself ready for the challenges a
Jedi must face. And he wondered if K'Tarah thought herself ready.
True, she was not as impulsive as he had been. Not nearly so
You must do what you feel is right, of course...Decide you
must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you
could, but...If you choose to face Vader you will do it alone. I
cannot interfere...Come with me. It is the only way...Then, only
then, a Jedi will you be...You cannot escape your destiny. You
must face Darth Vader again. The echoes of the past seemed to
pile up into the present, spilling out another memory: old Master
Hane, K'Tarah's teacher, sending her forth to face her final
challenge, her test to become a Jedi Knight in full: I think the
time has come for her to make her way beyond Terron for good and
all. And: My past will haunt you no longer...your future is yours
Did you foresee this, Hane?
There was no answer, save the breezes that ruffled the grass
all about, whispering in voices that spoke nothing
Troubled, he settled down to wait out the night.
He awoke to the sound of young laughter, high and clear as
crystal shards. Coming on the heels of his dream as it did, it
gave him pause, the dark-eyed child of the vision still seeming
to mock him from the depths of unconsciousness even as he
returned to the waking world.
Then full awareness cleared the cobwebs of dream away, and
mingling with the laughter was the sound of K'Tarah's voice, the
deep clear resonance it had when she sang. Lacking a stringed
instrument such as the one she had played on Terron, she sang
unaccompanied in the fresh cold of the day, and Andra - he
remembered the name now - laughed in delight.
He opened his eyes and sat up, looked at the pair who sat a
small distance away. Such was K'Tarah's power, that she could
ease the wounds of family death with her song, one he had heard
before beneath the trees of Terron's forests, with a blazing
bonfire offering warmth and the peace of the hearth. He smiled,
remembering the tale of the ballad; a Jedi of the ancient past,
trained by a recalcitrant Master, whom the apprentice had coaxed
out of his retreat to fight a dark lord that had overrun his land
and killed the apprentice's family. That was the ballad, anyway;
K'Tarah had confided to him at one point that the political
mopping-up that took place afterward had required a planetary
tribunal and half-a-dozen Jedi Knights, back in the days when a
Jedi was a more common sight in the galaxy.
A frown creased his forehead at that, and he wondered again
at the forgotten wisdom such songs contained. For K'Tarah to sing
that song now, with the confrontation yet ahead of them, and
Andra now without family or home...
He put it aside, stood as K'Tarah finished the song and
smiled at him. She seemed more at ease today; not resigned, but
prepared. Not at peace, but calm.
"I think we should be gone from here soon," she said. "I do
not think our presence has gone unnoticed. And I have work still
That stopped him cold, in the act of stowing some of what
they'd unpacked the night before in the speeder's storage
compartment. After a moment, he turned, searched her expression
for what she must be feeling.
Her face was smooth and calm as a mask. There was a
certainty there, and something about it chilled him. Not naive,
no - but strength of will there, such that he wondered if she
blinded herself to what she faced and why.
He put her to the question. "What are your motives,
K'Tarah?" he asked her. "Do you know?"
She placed a hand on Andra's shoulder; the gesture was
protective. "Why her?" she asked, in a voice barely audible.
"When all the rest of her people are dead?" She tilted her chin
toward the ruined settlement, and Andra looked up at her, dark
eyes growing still darker with fear. "She is a target in this, as
much as we are. We could take her with us, protect her, hide her
- or we could end it here. He will hunt her, you know."
That cut deeply, but he did not turn away. It was not, he
thought, at all fair for her to dig into his own past - the more
so because he had told it to her. To help her prepare, perhaps,
for her own battle.
But the question itself was just, and if she was cruel it
was not for him. He put the example she'd chosen aside, asked
another question instead. "Whose battle are you fighting?" And
when she looked away, across the windblown grasses of the Traskan
plains: "Is it yours - or hers?"
"You have likewise fought," she said, and her voice was
hoarse. She wouldn't look at him, but he persisted.
"I knew my goal," he replied. "I knew my father could be
saved - and in turning him away from the dark side, I rejected it
It wasn't enough. There was no way to explain it to her, not
until she had faced her own challenge - but he wasn't sure that
this was it. "Vengeance is not our way," he told her, wishing he
could see her eyes. "Redemption, yes. Mercy, justice. When we
must consider such things at all."
She whirled to face him then, with such a look that Andra
drew back with a startled cry, looking back and forth between the
two of them as if trapped. K'Tarah ignored her.
"And is it not justice to seek out whoever has done this?"
she demanded. "Is it not right to seek retribution for her sake?"
He went forward then, Andra darting out of his way, and
seized her arm, made her look at him. "Redemption, K'Tarah," he
reminded her. "Not retribution."
For a long moment they stood like that, while the winds rose
and Andra stared at them both with wide eyes. He looked down, at
his hand on her arm - that was wrong. Then he let go, and she
moved away, her back to him.
"Do you understand now?"
She stood rigid, her dark hair wind-whipped in abrupt
contrast, fists clenched at her sides.
For another long moment, she didn't move, while he counted
his heartbeats and feared that he'd lost her. Ben, did you ever
question your wisdom? Did you ever question the things you said
Of course. There was a time you thought you would lose me.
And you let me go.
"K'Tarah." He spoke the name gently, trying to mend things.
If they could be.
Something in her seemed to relax at his tone, although she
didn't turn around. But she was listening to him, now.
"Do as you must," he said to her then. "I won't interfere. I
She did turn, then, and something in her face spoke of
release. Perhaps this was right, after all. Perhaps she could
feel the darkness in herself, and knew only one way it could be
resolved, in this time, with the odors of scorched plastic and
scorched flesh still heavy on the wind, and Andra, who stood lost
and alone, watching with dark eyes.
"Very well," she said quietly. She looked to Andra, reached
out a hand. The child came forward, took it, her look one of
trust and hope and something else, vague and unidentifiable, and
unrelated. And something in Luke overturned at that look, as
K'Tarah turned from him, and walked away without a backward
If you choose to face Vader you will do it alone. I cannot
The wind picked up, as K'Tarah and her small charge reached
the crest of the hill and disappeared over the top. It whipped
his cloak around him, ruffled heedlessly through his hair, burned
his eyes as he stared at the spot where he had last seen her.
He hoped she did understand.
He hoped he had done right.
To be continued...
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