Renewal: Chapter Six
"We use it when needed, do not abuse it when it is not. Just as we would not use the Force to fetch a drink when we have two legs and can walk, we would not forget that marbuk root is just as effective for a cold. If we did everything sitting down, we would soon be physically useless, deteriorate from inactivity, and as such we should not forget the gifts found naturally that the Force provides us with because it is faster our way. The body is a living organism, which possesses its own memory, its own capacity for healing. We do not do what it can on its own, only what it cannot. The Force is not just a part of our existence, it is our existence, present in every molecule of our bodies, no matter how minute it might seem. Hence respect is shown by using what the Force in nature provides us with first. As fighting is a last resort, so is using our powers when there are other means available."
And Sarin stressed, "Just as Jedi are taught that we cannot allow evil to take place by failing to act, the Jedi healer cannot allow pain and suffering, death to occur by refusing to assist. Even if it means aiding those we consider our enemy."
Luke flicked a guilty gaze his sister’s way. There had been no shortage of conversation that evening, though being subjected to non-stop Force related discussions all night was likely wearing on her. He hoped she wasn’t wondering again who Sarin meant by enemy, though since they’d awoken, she’d appeared to have relaxed, or at least set aside her suspicions. At any rate, the weather beaten Jedi had been rather amused by her antics, patting her shoulder when she awoke and saying it had been the most excitement he’d had here in decades. Leia had been dutifully apologetic.
Sarin, as it turned out, had been raised from boyhood to be a healer. He was as skilled with medicinal treatments as he was with the Force, but his strengths within the Force all revolved around healing. It was a beautiful compliment to an existing art form, the perfect combination of two types of natural energy, which together, provided a wealth of both exhaustible and inexhaustible resources. The apothecarial achievements of many ancient cultures had progressed to the point that they were as essential to their people as modern medicine and technology. Like the revered Uukaablians, the Yashuvhu had dedicated centuries of study to medicine, had progressed so far that their achievements nearly equaled those of galactic modern medicine and technology.
The Jedi healers of Yashuvhu knew how to cleanse the blood of infections and toxins, fuse bones without laying a finger on the broken limb, stop internal bleeding, help skin regenerate over burns without scarring, heal the lungs of methane breathers ravaged by oxygen, heal the lungs of oxygen breathers exposed to any of the thousands of chemicals that salted so many atmospheres. Even the New Republic, who by far had the most advanced medical technology in the galaxy, couldn’t do many of the things he claimed he could, and while Luke had heard tales of Jedi healers, their abilities had rarely surpassed modern medicine.
When Luke was injured, he drew on the Force to replenish his body’s regenerative powers, accelerated them. His body already knew what to do. It wasn’t as simple when treating another person. Though he could suppress another’s sense of pain, increase their strength, stop blood flow, it wasn’t healing as Sarin practiced it. The Force’s relation to his physical self was a part of his everyday life; a subconscious symmetry. In another it had to be guided, had to be told where to go. Focusing on the individual self was entirely different than channeling, externalizing the Force and commanding it to heal another.
Even with all that he had learned, he could never have healed another as had been done to him that afternoon.
Luke was infatuated, engrossed and asking rapid fire questions throughout the meal. He barely tasted anything (though it was real meat, a much needed addition to their diet of late), doing his best to curb his excitement. He had given up hope of finding anyone alive on Baskarn, been distracted by the recent events, and here he was, discovering a philosophy reminiscent of Yoda’s teachings. It had never occurred to him that the teachings were flexible, adaptable, that separate standards had existed to allow some Jedi to serve a different calling. The awakening made him feel as though he’d been viewing his future dream of a praxeum through one narrow perspective, black and white, seeing the grains of sand rather than the dunes themselves.
Leia, who’d looked to be a thousand light years away, fixated her attention on Sarin’s last remark, suddenly on edge again. "What of the station?" she asked bluntly.
"I was there. I let them die, against all I was taught, yes," Sarin nodded. "I was forced to choose between the moment and the future." He paused. "It’s ironic really. When I first left Yashuvhu I visited the Council. I knew the peril the Jedi were facing, I’d heard stories. But I was young and optimistic, filled with dreams of the galaxy beyond the Outer Rim, craving adventure and the exotic. I thought, given the turmoil of the Republic, if I stayed far enough away from Coruscant I would attract no attention. Me, a Jedi who’d had no formal training beyond that of a healer."
"But you did," Leia said quietly.
"We all did, last I heard."
The solemn affirmation crushed the spirit of the conversation. "There were a few exceptions," Luke murmured on behalf of Ben and Yoda.. "But they’re gone now." One glaring oversight returned. "We found a cave nearer to the station, a lightsaber ... There were others who escaped with you, weren’t there?"
"Yes. He was an old man -- a Jedi Master from Chandrila who thought that if he called out long enough, one of the others would hear him, find him. Delusional at times. He refused to go further, wisely. His health was too feeble to have made the journey this far. I did try to convince him but to no avail."
Mon Mothma’s homeworld. An old man who stayed close enough to one of the few places a rescue shuttle might have landed. There had been no one left to hear him, no one to come. By Luke’s calculations Sarin had been in hiding here since the end of the Clone Wars. He reflected on that bitterly for a moment. It was almost worse in a way, to have hoped so hard he was willing to wait, only to end up dying alone.
"Hope is the last emotion we cling to," he heard someone murmur. Luke started and looked back up.
"Isolation breeds hypersensitivity in the strangest ways," Sarin explained.
He tried to shake off his discomfiture at being listened in on. He was used to being the one who overheard, not the other way around. It didn’t sit well with him. "But were there others?" He looked up at Sarin hopefully. "I’ve been searching for artifacts, anything to do with the Jedi off and on over the past two years."
"Have you had much success?"
"Coruscant has a great deal of material - a museum and repository even - buried away beneath the Emperor’s palace, but it’s ... " He faltered, dry mouthed. How did one describe a trophy showcase dedicated to Palpatine’s victims? "It’s very ... dark there, tainted," he finished.
"I expect it would be." Sarin shook his head. "Everything the Emperor touched bears his mark."
Once there had been a Master for every Apprentice or Padawan, records, holograms, libraries, Jedi who possessed boundless knowledge. Yoda had been near nine-hundred years old -- he’d known so much, but Luke could fill only one day of meditations with all that he’d learned. Everything else was lost. "There’s no history," Luke went on. "Nothing to tell me how the Jedi lived or taught. You’re the first one I’ve found since I began my search."
Sarin stroked his graying brow thoughtfully. "Hmm." Then he turned his attention to Leia. "Your aura is rather extraordinary, my dear."
"My what?" Leia readjusted her blanket self-consciously.
The Yashuvhi native held a few fingers several inches from her shoulder. "It radiates off of you, much more powerfully than even ours ..."
As her child grows so must the Force around her.
"Because of her daughter," Luke murmured.
"Yes. Those of us who are Force sensitive are surrounded by the blue energy that comprises the Force, though most Jedi believed it was not a visible entity."
Leia was holding up her arm, searching for the mystical field Sarin was describing. "I can’t see it. Is this how you knew Luke and I are brother and sister?"
"Twins even, I might add."
"Twins?" Luke repeated.
"It’s quite simple. Auras are distinctive, like a palm print, or your genetic makeup. Yours are nearly identical. The phenomenon of twins was not uncommon on Yashuvhu; I’ve seen this before. You were conceived together. Your first sense of touch would have been of each other, your heartbeats would have been the first sound. You shared blood, oxygen. Some say twins even possess their own way of communicating without speech in uteri."
The romanticized description rendered him speechless. No, he’d never thought of it that way.
Leia laughed, good naturedly. "I can’t believe you tell all that from reading energy around us."
"Many don’t. Even foreign Jedi. in my limited experience, underestimated how much could be revealed." Swift as a stinging asp his fingers locked about Luke’s wrist, digging deep into the point at which his hand ceased to be his, the point at which his father’s blade had taken it. "Here. The outline of your right hand, blazes crimson until here. It tells me that it was lost in a violent manner."
Luke suppressed a shiver. "Did all the healers of Yashuvhu have this ability?"
Sarin shook his head sagely. "There were few my equal. I imagine I am the last."
The last, Luke thought abjectly. "You said you were not the only Yashuvhi who was held at the station? What was it? We thought it was some sort of research facility."
"And tell me," Sarin asked, grim disgust pinching the corner of his mouth, "What did you feel when you walked through those halls, saw the cells, the laboratories."
The memory of the ancient anguish, the pit of evil he had encountered in the cell block evoked more visceral horror, deep in his gut. "Its purpose was ... terrible."
"And now tell me," he said, in a deeper tone, addressing Leia specifically. "If the Death Star had gone on to destroy ten more worlds, a hundred more worlds, and ultimately it came into your possession, would you destroy it or send on to your best technicians, scientists for study."
The hypothetical question was so cold, so chilling, Luke’s skin puckered anew. Leia’s derision was palpable. Her chest caught mid-breath, and then continued, and the pulse along the side of her neck jumped so forcefully he could see its rapid motion. "Destroy it," she breathed. "Destroy it so no one could ever duplicate it, recreate it."
"Then you will understand why I cannot answer your questions, why even the New Republic must never learn of what was here." Sarin turned to Luke again. "You seek to recreate a new order, yet all you have discovered here are the keys to the destruction of the old. If the Empire were to learn of this place, and I imagine Palpatine did all he could to erase it, along with abandoning his own staff, you will drive a stake through the heart of all you hope to accomplish in its infancy. Baskarn is a graveyard for the last of the Jedi, nothing more. We are not gods who have the right to fashion the universe to suit us. It isn’t the will of the Force, nor is it the will of nature. If you abuse either, they return the favor in kind. Palpatine chose to manipulate both, and suffered the fate he deserved. In whatever realm his blackened soul is trapped, he surely is watching his Empire crumble to pieces." He grimaced "It’s almost poetic, depending on your point of view."
"Watching," Luke repeated. "No. He’s dead. I saw him die. I was there."
"You saw his physical body die," Sarin said, touching his fingers to his forehead, tapping. "But not what was in here, not the intangible consciousness that made him Palpatine, makes you Luke, her Leia. The Force cannot be reduced to matter, nor can the spirit."
Twenty four years of accumulated weariness descended upon him like blasted ferrocrete. The concept of facing the Emperor again –ever- made marooning himself on Baskarn not without its appeal. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter, Yoda had lectured. However Luke had equivocated luminous with light and good, not with darkness and hatred, never conceding for a heartbeat that both were part of the Force, that both could go on ...
"Therein lies the answer to what you encountered out there," Sarin added.
Which, until now, their host had been reluctant to explain. Luke might have used the term haunted but haunted seemed to limiting a description. It was more than that. Haunted and alive. "Can you sense it?"
"Why can’t I?"
"It didn’t choose to make itself known to you," Sarin replied, giving him yet again one of those cryptic answers that begged another question in return.
The steely resolve in his eyes warned him not to press. This was weird, Luke decided. Weirder, because Leia had sensed it that night. It had reached out to her, tried to harm her.
Leia stood up and made a stiff circle around them. "I don’t want to sense it again," she murmured. "I don’t know why you would want to." Then she ducked beneath the netting draped across the doorway.
Sarin watched her go, humming softly under his breath. "She’s part of the Provisional Council, is she not?"
"Their number one diplomat."
"Bail Organa would have demanded no less of his daughter, I imagine."
"Bail Organa? You knew him?"
"I knew of him. He was quite a power to be reckoned with in the Galactic political scene, very outspoken for his time."
"So is she." He envisioned the many events he attended with her, most of which he’d spent fumbling through mental lists of alien etiquette -- was a handshake this culture’s invitation to a fight to the death, or a bow? If the protocol 'droid offered ambiguous translations, how did you smooth over the potential misunderstanding? Leia breezed through all of them with a grace and dignity that dumbfounded him.
"She’s gone up against more heads of state in her lifetime than I can remember -- and won. Trust me, she can spin any debate around so fast I have no idea how I end up agreeing with her half the time, watched aliens and humans alike start off as adversaries and end up eating out her hand. I don’t know how she does it? I guess ... she listens to them so intently, starts off by trying to see things from their side, and then mid-way through she’ll offer her thoughts -- they’re never opinions, just a thought she has -- that make them pause. The next thing you know the official will be addressing his group, saying "well, I think we should proceed in this manner," which is more often than not exactly what she’d hoped for. It’s incredible." Luke felt his face warm, finishing softly. "And I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her."
"And vice-versa?" Sarin asked. "I do recall hearing about the now legendary rescue that occurred a few years ago."
"Well that too," Luke agreed. He perused the inside the cabin carefully, seeking evidence of modern technology. Sarin must have taken the crates from the station, but other than that nothing in his dwelling that looked like a communications device. "Your guests must talk nonstop. Are you sure you don’t have a Holonet viewer stashed around here?"
Sarin chuckled. "I must admit to asking about you. I heard about the Emperor’s apprentice, Darth Vader, and later that you battled him as a novice and survived. That caught my attention."
"Bespin," Luke nodded, holding out his prosthetic limb. "That’s where I lost this." He skirted a glance at the doorway. He didn’t really want Leia to wander back into a discussion about Vader, particularly after the other night.
Either Sarin sensed this or he too had no wish to discuss the dark lord. Instead he tipped his head in the direction of the doorway. "She carries the first of the new Jedi. You will train her and her children? She’s not trained as of yet?"
"I hope to," he said quietly. "In the future."
Luke skirted another glance at the doorway. He should be happy, right? Leia had all but agreed that she would train with him the other night but ... "I don’t know," he admitted. "It’s ... just that ... ." What exactly? Had his purview taken an abrupt shift two days ago? No, I haven’t changed my mind, he thought, but still ... to her it was a duty and after everything she had told him doubts were worming their way through his mind. What was he supposed to do if she wasn’t ready? What did he do if her not being ready put her child’s life at stake? What sort of precedent was he setting for the future?
"I detect a note of reluctant indecisiveness," Sarin commented. "Myself, I’ve always found that our emotions are complicated. They tend to cloud our ability to make decisions. All the while, lingering just beyond our meditations is the knowledge that if we don’t, they will be made for us. Isn’t it always that way?"
"They also say, on the other hand, that if the path is uncertain we must stop until we recover our bearings, that’s it foolish to continue in the wrong direction."
Luke wasn’t so sure he liked the healer’s ability to get inside his head, resolving that if his next words were, ‘patience and waiting,’ he might have a day long session working on his mental defenses as soon as they made it to the base. This was extremely unnerving.
Sarin sipped from his mug. "I do not envy the road you have set out for yourself, but sometimes, even I find the platitudes we adhere to merely aren’t as reassuring as they were meant to be. They make our troubles that much more complicated."
Luke smiled inwardly, relieved. Master Yoda and Ben would never have been so honest. Ben is gone. Yoda is gone. I finally have a chance to learn. "What will you do now?"
"What will I do?"
"When we leave? You could come with us? If you like we could find you safe transport back to Yashuvhu."
"It wouldn’t be a problem at all. I can arrange it for you."
With what sounded to be exaggerated consideration, he murmured, "hmm," again.
Luke sighed. He’d expected Sarin to exhibit more emotion. Of course, Master Yoda and Ben had also lived alone. Maybe he was underestimating the allure of solitude, for though the man radiated an air of peacefulness, there was an excursary feel to it, as though he had accepted his exile with gratitude, even welcomed it. But he thought, reassuringly, that he now knew where he would be.
Leia sat outside Sarin’s cabin, leaning against his doorframe, for hours. Her coveralls had dried overnight and she had shed the blanket. Now she sat with her arms drawn inside, trying not to itch the nafen bites on her calves and neck. It wasn’t working particularly well. Scratching them felt so good, and when she stopped they only itched a thousand times more terribly. It was enough to make her say ‘to hell with it,’ and rip her legs to shreds.
With a frustrated groan she withdrew her arms and resumed untangling the section of her hair she’d been working on. If she kept her hands busy long enough she would forget about the bites.
Sarin had told them last night that the Yrashu had sent him images of several scout teams headed in this direction. If she’d known the comlink frequencies used at the base, she would have scaled the highest point near her and called for a pick-up. But that wouldn’t work. It would have taken Artoo or any computer system nearly two days of running random numbers to crack the codes. It was a fact the New Republic guarded against by frequent changes.
Luke wasn’t ready to leave. She’d fallen asleep after dinner listening to the two men speak in hushed voices about healing techniques. And more quietly later on, Luke’s efforts to persuade Sarin to come return to the base with them. Then today, he had said, I thought we could stay for the morning. And really, what are a few hours. The scout team will call for transport and we’ll save ourselves the trouble of hiking. Translation: Luke hadn’t convinced him yet and wanted more time. Both men had disappeared after breakfast, and she’d been keeping an impatient vigil since then.
Knowing the scout team was on their way had reopened the concerns she had not had the mental energy to dwell on for days now. They must have found the Razion’s Edge, realized they weren’t on it, and found their escape pod. A full investigation would probably be underway. Depending on how you looked at it, that was good or bad news. Finding out who was responsible was urgent; the New Republic was hanging onto Coruscant by a ragged thread. Mistrust and grumblings that the government was on the verge of losing its slim margin of control over the Empire couldn’t withstand the shadow cast by treason from within their own. On top of that, Luke’s friend who’d sliced into the medical files and found the connection between Vader and Anakin Skywalker may have been forced to release the information, precluding their plan to announce it beforehand.
Damage control, she thought. Months of damage control and then I have to leave to sort out my own life.
She smoothed her hands across her face, trying to ease away what Han affectionately called her ‘worry mode’ expression.
Sweetheart, just relax. Han said it so often she heard it in her head now, as though he were with her.
Sweetheart, it’ll be all right ...
"But it’s not," she said aloud to herself, wondering again if he was with one of the rescue teams. The temptation to ask Luke if he could sense him was worse than the bites begging to be scratched, but there hadn’t been time for her and Luke to speak in private, not for more than a few minutes since they’d arrived at Sarin’s.
If he was with the team, she didn’t know what she was going to do when she saw him. Fall on her knees and beg him to stay? Tell him she loved him? Tell him to go?
Deep down, she’d always known how difficult it would be for him to change, knew that men who led solitary lives, moved constantly from one place to another, found it impossibly hard to settle down. She had no idea if he could change, if he truly had changed, save that for five years he’d been in one place - near her. But it wasn’t like him to speak in terms of permanence, of creating bonds that would forge their tumultuous relationship into a union more substantial. In the innermost recesses of her heart, she’d always feared one day his restlessness and wanderlust would lead him away from her. Fearing that, as all creatures prone to self-preservation, like all who have lost more than they can bear in their life time, she could need him, but she couldn’t rely on him, couldn’t allow herself to become too dependent. She wasn’t the type to be overly dependent on anybody.
It wasn’t enough when it should have been enough and she didn’t know how to explain it. It might have been more her than him. She’d thought that sometimes, in those first weeks after he had gone.
The heavy fog was lifting, smoky wisps interspersing with the cool air, letting patches of sunlight filter down. She tipped her face back, let her skin drink it in, parched after days of rain and fog. It lifted her spirits. Letting the steady hum of her own senses soothe her, she reflected on Sarin’s fearsome imprecations.
If the Death Star had gone on to destroy ten more worlds, a hundred more worlds ...
She closed her eyes and pictured the two adjoining fountains on her father’s estate, miniatures of the killik castle architecture on the plains -- one of her father’s favorite places, and the D’ian Orchids that grew in his garden. She pictured the T’ill, the arallutes, the flame lilies that were resplendent in spring when their silver and crimson blossom appeared afire. From behind the gardens she’d been able to see the grass field that Alderaan was so famous for, merging with the horizon in every direction, yielding to the soft breezes with rustles of pleasure, ocean upon ocean of grass and flowers. She could picture this without the piercing ache in her heart, places, not the faces of her loved ones, of everyone she’d ever known.
No, once was more than enough ...
The New Republic must never learn of what was here ...
Though Sarin’s amiable nature and generosity had robbed her of her suspicions, she shivered in the oppressive humidity. Whatever Palpatine had been doing here, she was no longer sure she wanted to know, and whatever it had been, Sarin was not going to tell them.
The New Republic must never learn of what was here ...
What was now a familiar growling and grunting broke her train of thought.
A very young Yrashu entered Sarin’s encampment carrying a sealed basket. The creature made a beeline to where she was sitting, set his basket down and joined her. Just as the female had the other day, it picked up her hands and inhaled, touched her hair and face, softly urring at her.
"And who might you be?" she asked. Unlike the first encounter, she wasn’t worried that it would harm her, decided to give in to her curiosity too, reaching out to touch the long green hairs. Its fur was surprisingly silky, thick - the type of pelt galactic hunters would love for their collections, that poachers would sell for a steep price on the black market. That the Yrashu were intelligent, peaceful, and gentle, would be of no consequence to them. Leia vowed to herself that if the Elrood Sector was ever freed from Imperial control, she would make sure Baskarn was kept well protected from colonization and exploitation. There were a number of environmental statutes which could be used to designate the primates as a protected species.
The Yrashu continued his rapid guttural grunts and began making hand gestures in what appeared to be an elaborate form of sign language, his long leathery fingers graceful as a bird’s wings. Each time she tried to duplicate his gestures he grabbed her hands and guided her, then emitted several low rolling growls she suspected were laughter. He was still laughing when Sarin appeared.
"I see you’ve met the resident trickster."
"Trickster," she repeated, eyeing him. He was parodying Chewbacca’s inane habit of staring straight above his head and pretending he’d had nothing to do with why Han’s beverage had magically evaporated when he went to find a hydrospanner. Maybe hanging around a Wookiee all these years had made her more perceptive than she’d thought.
"Let’s see ... " He signed to him several times, listened to Trickster grumble back. The exchange was nothing short of impressive, and she studied the healer’s body language, watched how he mimicked the Yrashu’s pose, wondered how long it had taken him to learn. Apparently the man’s talents were not restricted to healing; it would have taken most exobiologists decades to memorize and pattern the slight nuances and inflections of such a primitive species’ speech, and even then they would have relied on sophisticated auditory diagnostic computers to assist them. Sarin caught her watching him and smiled warmly. "I’m asking him what he was teaching you to say," he translated.
"This?" she asked, trying to remember the sequence of gestures. They both burst out laughing at her. Sarin, with a rumbling chuckle, Trickster with deep throated rolling oor, oors.
"You’ll be pleased to learn you’ve identified him as the mightiest of his tribe, which he may be in another twenty years or so when he reaches adulthood, but he is far from it now."
"They have a sense of humor," she murmured.
"And a great sense of love and compassion, respect for all life," he added. He signaled again, and Trickster disappeared into the jungles without so much as a goodbye. "He was in the area and wanted to see the others who he’d heard were staying with me." He pointed to the Yrashu’s offering. "On the pretense of bringing a gift."
"Did you live with them?" she asked. "You seem to understand them well."
"For a few years I did. However they have no concept of personal space, find the idea of a creature wanting to be alone antithetic to their social structure, and I ... " He hugged his head in his hands. "They drove me absolutely mad. The youngest ones ate everything I gathered, even medicines, broke everything I’d retrieved from the station ... one even tried to pluck out my eye because he liked the color."
That made her laugh. "They don’t discipline their offspring very well I take it."
"No," he agreed. "It’s especially dreadful because their life spans are so long ... thus their children are children for what would be half my life time. I found it simpler to set up my home far enough away that they could come to me if needed, but where I had abundant peace and quiet."
How could I have thought he meant us harm, she wondered again.
He lifted the lid off of the tightly woven basket. Inside were half dozen fist-sized purple orbs. "Brrka fruit," he noted. He looked back up. "Your brother has been telling a little about your work. Quite impressive for one so young."
"He tends to exaggerate," she breezed, arching an eyebrow at him.
"Well ... " She felt vaguely uncomfortable. "I don’t know what he told you."
"Oh ... he sang a few praises, said you’re very effective at what you do."
"He did?" She felt of a ripple of elation run through her. Luke?
"It was very different on my homeworld," Sarin told her. "Women did not hold positions of authority, though they were revered as the bearers of our children. When they married they left their father’s care, and their wealth, property, even children if they already had them became their husband’s property."
The corners of her mouth turned down. That was nothing new. "Many worlds persist in treating women as the weaker sex," she told him, "be it in regards to their intelligence or strength, but there are also those where men are seen as inferior, such as the Hapes Consortium."
"And that pleases you?" Sarin queried.
"I should be above saying ‘yes,’" she responded, "since my home planet was a staunch advocate of equality, not only the equality of the sexes, but of class and culture. But ... at the same time, I do find it less offensive." She smiled to herself. "I should be able to help it, be completely impartial, but I must admit I’m not. I’ve been stuck too many times in conference rooms with men obsessed with furthering their power, and I can’t help thinking how much simpler the galaxy would be if their presence was forbidden for a day."
"Would you have your brother forbidden as well?"
"Of course not," she hastened. "Unless he christens himself Borrsk Fey’la ... "
"One of the aforementioned males you’d like to forbid?"
Sarin sobered. "I wish I’d spent enough time in the Core to see it all, as they used to say. Women had very different roles in our culture, particularly women such as yourself. On Yashuvhu our women who were Force-sensitive were highly prized and valued. They were often selected to carry the children of our Jedi."
She tried not to let her disgust show. Morality and traditions went hand in hand, as unique to each world as the language or dress. She’d long learned that what she considered to be repugnant was perfectly acceptable in other cultures and she’d read the pro Imperial literature on the Jedi, painting them as kidnappers of young children. Stirpiculture - genetic manipulation - was not recently charted territory, though among the human population of the galaxy it was scorned. "Stacking the odds in your favor?"
He shrugged, unbiased. "It was considered and honor and it was a better system than the old Council had, seeking infants for their schools, taking children from their parents."
"I thought those were rumors?"
"It was done," he replied boldly. "Not discussed openly but condoned in private. We knew of it. It was their own fault that they resorted to such measures. I always found suppressing the urge to mate, to reproduce, what many call a genetic drive as powerful as thirst, much more ignominious. It didn’t do for adults to live that way, Jedi or not. We made allowances."
"Where you came from... Were they forced to give up their children as well on your world?" She heard the shrill tone of her voice and forced herself to calm down. "I’m sorry. My feelings aren’t very objective under the circumstances."
Sarin let out a sigh and stared blankly ahead of him. "I never knew my mother if that answers your question. But I didn’t suffer for it. It was the way it was. There were also those who went against the train of conventional thinking. It was tolerated and accepted."
She hesitated. "Luke never knew our mother. I have few memories of her ... and I find the idea that any woman would allow their body to be no more than a vessel, to create a life without love, utterly despicable." But no sooner had she said the words than she wanted to take them back. Sanctimonious moral outrage aside, who was she to lecture anyone on how life should be created out of love? Who was she to lecture?
"Many thought that way." Holding out his age-stiffened hands in a gesture of harmlessness, he sat and picked up a piece of the Brrka fruit, peeling back the rough pockmarked skin. "The future will be different for you and your children Leia."
"Yes," she said quietly, wondering if Luke had talked to him about her, about her reluctance to train with him. "Where is my brother?"
"Nursing his disappointment a little ways off."
Oh. "I take it you’re not coming with us?" Sarin continued peeling pulpy strands of rind off the Brrka fruit. "What remains here very nearly did destroy you. I cannot leave." Again he knew somehow. She thought of what Luke had told her at the deceased Jedi’s cave, that evil contaminated, that Yoda had told him places where the dark side was overpowering were often guarded by protectorates of the innocent. Tenuous pieces of a puzzle tumbled into place and she began to understand, or thought she did. "Were you there? Is that why he let me go?" Sarin lifted a finger to his lips. "You’ve been ... shielding us haven’t you? The Yrashu were sent to physically protect us from anything on Baskarn, and you’ve been doing the same from whatever was out there."
He gave an imperceptible nod.
Why wouldn’t he have told Luke?
The question had not evolved into spoken words when Sarin set down his fruit and seized her hands. "You understand why I must stay here," he told her severely.
No! No! She wanted to shout at him. The intensity in his eyes frightened her off. "Why?"
Sarin shook his head harder and tightened his grip on her fingers. "Destiny calls and we answer, no matter what sacrifices we make along the way. I made my peace with that long ago. Believe me there’s nothing more I’d rather do than follow your brother, but I can’t. I don’t trust him to understand."
More of Luke’s words flooded back. Bound until death to prevent trespassing. Was he trapped here? If he couldn’t leave then Luke could help him.
The pupils of Sarin’s eyes became pools of black with gold edges. "Tol’hi’denata," he murmured. "You must listen to me. A Jedi who walks knowingly into danger walks alone. That is how it has always been. If he returns I cannot help him. Even I have limits to my capabilities. Your brother has learned his lessons the hard way in the past, I know that."
Leia sank into a dazed stupor. How did he know that? Yes, Luke had foolishly rushed to confront Vader on Bespin alone and nearly been killed. It was Vader who had saved him when he confronted the Emperor over Endor, but still he had prevailed, both times. She chewed her lower lip. "My brother ... as inexperienced as you may believe him to be is quite powerful," she told him. "I’ve seen what he can do. He won’t give up so easily on you."
"You must convince him then."
"As it stands, he believes I will take a few days to consider his request. When he arrives at the Base I will send him a message. Until then I’m asking you to do everything in your power to prevent him from coming back."
What sort of message?
"All right," she whispered.
Sarin nodded. "Good. Now ... " he shook her hands lightly. "Relax for a moment."
She surprised herself by obeying, despite the fact that she felt confused, saddened, and uncertain all at once. He wouldn’t come with them ...
It was a familiar pose, the one Luke used at the beginning of his lessons. Usually she tensed up, braced her elbows rigidly against her sides.
This is a simple meditative technique between two people, he would sigh, as though that fact could change anything.
Her brother’s expectations of her tended to make her so nervous she couldn’t concentrate, but Sarin didn’t have the same effect on her. Her breathing and heartbeat slowed, until her being coursed with tangible awareness of life and energy humming around them like a thick and heavy static field, layered between the trees, the ground, and the plants, the insects. It touched and connected all, so that they were pieces of the same all-encompassing and awe-inspiring energy. It swept through every molecule of her body, making her suffuse with peacefulness and the vital force of life.
Sarin said, "This is my home and where I belong. Within this realm, know that you are safe."
"I do," she whispered.
"And if for any reason your brother will not heed you, do not follow him. You know what will happen."
What will happen? What will happen?
"Search your heart and promise me."
Han tugged at his ear, half listening to the voices speaking to him, mostly focused on the jungle straight ahead of him. The Duro whose charmed opinion of New Republic superiors mirrored his own, Private Raniss, stood next to him holding a pair of electrobinoculars that did nothing more than allow one to view the webby veins of the leaves a hundred times close-up. Great for a myopic botanist, not for much else.
"You still think we should head directly south?"
Han nodded, tugged his ear harder. He kept expecting Luke and Leia to magically materialize out of thin air.
Come on Luke, he thought. I know you’ll have gotten the two of you this far. And then ... things aren’t looking so good but we’ll worry about that later.
It was hard to forget. SpecForce had sent out an officer with each six-man team. Their token annoying black and crimson suit (yes, it came in ground wear, there was only a thin line of red near the collar) was always hovering in his peripheral vision. The medtech accompanying them was also a grim reminder that they were willing to subdue Luke by any means necessary.
Han mentally rattled off Admiral Ley’kel’s list of conditions.
When they found them he was not to reveal anything about the impending charges. Not one little word until they’d been questioned, lest he be charged as an accomplice after the fact. If Luke put up a struggle, along with everyone being set for stun, both the medtech and the SpecForce officer were armed with sleep-inducers, the close range jabbers favored by Twi’leks. He would be unconscious before he knew what had hit him. Two air-ambulances were on standby to pick them up. If Han intervened he would, once again, be charged for impeding an arrest.
The only reason he had given his word at all was that Ley’kel had assured him Leia was to be taken in with kid gloves. "I say we keep heading south," he said, loud enough for the others to hear him.
Agent Batille concurred, speaking into his earband receiver. "We’re going to maintain our current course as planned. We’ll be in contact. Out."
They moved forward. A puffed-up bird lurched into the air and cried out, visibly distressed by their trespassing. A quick perusal of the nearest giant provided a glimpse of its nest, along with several speckled beaks poking hungrily above the rim. Han watched the mother flip and dance above them, screeching to protect her young, then said, "I take it no one else has found a trace of them yet?"
Batille shook his head. "Nothing."
The pair of stun cuffs dangling from the officer’s belt caught his attention again. Maybe he would merely ask Luke to surrender and escort him to the rescue shuttle. That was if they could even find a place for the shuttle to land. Baskarn’s forest was not proving to be technologically accommodating, not on their sensors, not on their enviro-analyzer, not on their portable power generator. Moisture was seeping in through the hermetic seals on their delicate electronics and frying the circuits. One more day and they’d need to replace the sensors. Han had a hard time imagining what Luke and Leia had been up against over the last two weeks.
Batille swiped at his glistening forehead with his sleeve. "I haven’t said this before, but it’s good you’re with us General," the agent told him. "I know how difficult this must be for you."
Han lifted an eyebrow. "Sure."
"No really. You know Skywalker -- he’ll listen to you. We’d all prefer for this to go as smoothly as possible."
He glanced at the stun cuffs again. "Keep your toys and weapons away from him if you mean it. Luke will want to clear this up."
Batille regarded him as though he’d lost his mind. "Clear this up Sir?" He threw a glance over his shoulder at the team. "Are we ready to go?"
"I think we should turn back," Luke said, stopping for the fourth time and turning behind him.
"You promised," she reminded him sternly. "He asked for a few days to think about it and you agreed."
"But it doesn’t make any sense," he argued. "Why?"
"Let him decide."
Luke regarded her warily, briefly allowing his consciousness to rage against her own, ripe with unfiltered irritation. It was more than a feeling. It was the way Sarin had looked at him when they said their good-byes; mournful. Unless he was mistaken he had also interrupted a conspirative conversation between Leia and Sarin, the subject of which Leia was as a tight on as the lid of a gambler’s profit box. "Did he tell you something, anything at all this morning?"
"It wasn’t anything important."
"Let me decide. Tell me."
"Luke, come on."
"If it wasn’t anything why won’t you tell me what you talked about?"
"Why does it matter now?" she pleaded. "We’ll reach the search party within an hour, right? Luke we’re so close-"
"He could have come with us today," he argued. "I don’t know why he wouldn’t. No one at the base has to know what he was doing here, where he came from. We could say he crashed years ago, that we found him just after we went down. They don’t know there was a base here."
"Luke, if he decides to follow he will. You can’t force him to. He’s a grown man who’s lived here for decades. Give him time."
"I just... I have this feeling he’s not going to come." He sighed again and kicked at a wayward root. "And then... I have this feeling I’m not going to see him again, that if I don’t turn back now..."
"Of course you’ll see him again," she reassured him.
... no you won’t ...
Unknowingly, he’d opened himself to hear her inner reaction. It drowned out her response. She was deceiving him, purposely. "Sister, your thoughts betray you," he said.
She flinched, swallowed. "I don’t know what you’re-"
He squared his hand on her shoulder and caught her chin when she tried to look away. He touched her emotions again. She was doing a better job of concealing them, but still, he sensed grief and uncertainty. "Yes you do," he hissed. "What did he tell you and when were you going to tell me?"
"Please don’t do this," she begged softly. "He asked me not to say anything and it’s not fair of you to trick me into breaking my word."
"Leia he might be the only Jedi I find, ever."
"You don’t know that ... " Regaining a semblance of that well-honed control, she straightened her shoulders and tightened her small hands into fists. "If you respect him, you have to respect his wishes."
"He assured me he would send a message," he mumbled bitterly.
"He will. He told me he would."
Plain as day, he knew whatever contact he received was not going to be Sarin in person. That decided it for him. "I’m going back," he told her, removing his pack and dropping it by her feet. "You go ahead and find the team. I’ll catch up later."
"No," she exclaimed, grabbing his arm with an iron grip powered by sheer desperation. "I need you to come with me!"
A pang of guilt cut through him. "Cut it out. What difference is a few hours going to make?"
He shook her off. "Leia-"
"You won’t find him again," she burst out.
He narrowed his eyes angrily. "What do you mean I won’t find him? We’re barely two kilometers away."
"Okay hold it," the sensor analyst called, holding the pack’s antenna above his head while he studied the incoming data. "I’m getting a reading that is human about sixty meters ... " He edged his chin to the left. "That way."
NRI Agent Batille clicked his receiver on. "Come in." He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and frowned at the analyst’s sensor’s kit. The top-of-the-line kit was comprised of a spectrometer, a temperature monitor, a lifesign tracer, and had been modified to distinguish between an Yrashu and a human. Still, they’d been picking up false positives all day. Twice they’d caught sight of the emerald furred alien primates fleeing into the undergrowth after hapless pursuits. Nobody on the team was keen on sprinting when the readings came in at this point. "Are you sure?"
"I’m sure this time," the analyst assured them, rolling his eyes. "Two humans."
"This is the center team," Batille relayed. "We’ve got another lock on what may be Skywalker and Organa."
The analyst studied his datapad again and shook his head. "It’s one again. The second moved out of range."
Han took the lead and began fighting his way through the brush and vines in the direction he had indicated, calling their names. The pounding of stealthy footsteps followed him. Thirty steps later he caught sight of Leia, alone, lost in a sea of vines of leaves. Rather than facing the oncoming pandemonium, her back was to them. He shouted to her.
She turned slowly. "Ha-" Her eyes widened. "Behind you!"
He watched her hand drop to the blaster at her side and snatch it up and waved his hands frantically back at Batille -- the idiot! -- who was probably aiming his blaster at her. "Leia, no!"
A flash of green zinged over his shoulder and hit her squarely in the chest. A second followed, this time grazing his arm with a piercing sting, but Leia was already down. The tree behind her exploded into a shower of bark and smoldering wood. Han reflexively pivoted and drew his own weapon.
Everything erupted into chaos.
A roar sounded and a shadow dropped across his field of vision just as he was turning. Instinctively, he dropped back and rolled with barely time to fire a shot off at the snarling blur flying overhead. A somersault got him out of the way. There were two more blasts, and the deafening sounds of a man screaming, eerily strangled into gurgles and bubbling. Then quiet.
Han pushed himself to his feet, keeping his blaster ready and choking on the acrid scent of ozone and singed fur. Their team medtech lay wide-eyed and spread eagle beneath the bulk of the creature, with his neck snapped upward in an unnatural position. The feline’s half vaporized head stared back at him with one unseeing eye, pink saliva trickling from its open mouth onto the medtech’s collar. It took Han another moment to figure out why the man’s head was twisted into such an unnatural position. The horned snout had cleaved clean through the back of his neck and exited beneath his larynx.
Han tightened his grip around his blaster, reached out with one foot and gave it a kick. Neither beast nor man moved.
Raniss approached and dropped to a crouch. "He’s gone. It went through his spinal cord."
Leia. He scrambled to his feet and hurried over to her, felt his heart sink. He checked to make sure her pulse and breathing were steady, then ran his hands over her to make sure she was otherwise unharmed.
Batille strode over with the medtech’s EV pack, giving Command their coordinates. "We have Councilor Organa," he informed them. "One body." He listened to whoever was on the other end, then said. "No, not Skywalker. We’ll rendezvous with the other teams and go after him." He paused again. "He ran, Sir."
Ran, Han thought. Where did he go? He eyed the gaping hole blasted through the trunk behind where Leia had fallen, smelled that his clothing had been singed. Someone on this team had not been set for stun. "Who the hell fired that last blast at her?" he demanded. "She was aiming for that thing, not at us."
One of the younger officers stepped forward. "It might have been me. I was behind the tiger and saw it flying ... " He shrugged miserably. "I don’t know? It happened so fast ... "
Batille kept talking. "We’re not sure. Councilor Organa is unconscious. We can’t ask her. "You’ll need the pick up lines. There’s not enough room to land."
The other men were gathered around the carnage, in the gruesome process of prying the beast off the medtech’s body. Han eyed their weapons. Each one was flashing red, on vaporize, no doubt switched during the attack, except for the medtech’s ... The medtech had fired the stun blast and his haste had cost him his life.
"Batille," Han said harshly. "If these men can’t fire at a moving target at close range ... "
"He said it was an accident, General. Now Command wants to know if you want to head back on the air ambulance or come with us?"
Han took a deep breath. Accident or not ... why did he have a feeling it hadn’t been an accident? He looked down at Leia again, felt the eyes of everyone present watching him. If he didn’t go back with her there was no way of knowing if the guilty party -– if there was one -- would end up as her escort. He couldn’t risk sending her back unconscious, defenseless. And Luke could defend himself against anything, right? He grimaced. Luke also should have known that she was in danger, but there was no sign of him.
"Solo?" Batille asked again.
"I’m in the air," he said tersely, watching everyone’s faces and searching for the slightest sign of an assassin’s disappointment. There wasn’t even a flicker.
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