Star Wars: Unexpected Consequences Title

Chapter Three

Luke blinked at a ceiling he didn't recognize. Sunlight streamed over his face, and the breeze was balmy, damp, and filled with unfamiliar odors. His back was flat on a bed rather than a ship bunk, and his mouth was parched. He remembered being stunned and, judging by how badly he wanted a shower, someone had kept him under with sedatives. His head was clear now, so he lifted it.

He was lying on a bed in a small but furnished room. Directly across the room from the foot of the bed was an open window, and beyond the transparent material was a forest edge fifty meters away from this building and a yellowish-orange sun hovered over the green trees. The furniture didn't look like those used in prison cells.

"Finally awake, are you?" A familiar woman's voice said from the side.

Luke jerked his head toward the voice. His first startled thought was that he had missed sensing her; and his second told him he was ridiculous, and the voice must have come from an intercom or comlink.

Mara sat in a high-backed chair, her arms draped over the arms. A compact but deadly looking blaster lay in her lap. The nine years had changed her, but not much. She was still slender, but her breasts and hips had grown curvier in a way Luke found very appealing. Her red-gold hair gleamed as it curled around her shoulders, and her brilliant green eyes still bore straight through him and took his breath away.

But he couldn't sense her in the Force at all.

"Karrde thought you'd appreciate a friendly face," she continued.

"A friendly armed face." He swallowed and wished for some water.

She only looked amused at his sarcasm. "Work with me, Skywalker. You are a prisoner."

"That much is obvious." He reached out further. His adrenaline surged as he realized he couldn't sense people, droids, or even the forest outside. "How did you do this?" It was like going blind.

"That's not my secret to tell. If Karrde doesn't…." She shrugged. "Let's see how his debrief goes. I can't jeopardize my job with the appearance of divided loyalty."

Luke swung his legs over the side of the bed. He still wore his flight suit, minus the flak vest and the suit system controls. The protests from his muscles from having lay still for so long were not as bad as they could have been, and he didn't appear to have any cramps. The effort still made him breathe harder. "Thank you for finding me, but you could have left me there," he said while trying not to wheeze. "That would have avoided questions of compromises."

Her green eyes hardened. "Do you believe that I would leave you to certain death? Do you think so little of me?"

Luke grimaced as he leaned his forearms on his thighs and curled his back. What he had said reeked with ingratitude. "I'm sorry. I'm just so very finished with being imprisoned, being chased for capture, and having my loved ones threatened to get to me. These last few months…." His voice trailed away as he shook his head. He looked at her, memorizing her features to last for another nine years if need be. "This is worth seeing you again," he said with a smile.

She blinked as her head drew back. "You—" She cut herself off with a headshake. "That's not the drawback I would have assumed you'd have for becoming an all-important Jedi Knight. Other than that, is it everything you had thought it would be?"

"It's nothing like I thought it'd be." He chuckled. "But that's true about everyone's life. I don't regret becoming a Jedi, though."

"I'm glad you got what you wanted. If you're up for it, Karrde wants to see you."

He remembered the previous conversation with Karrde and straightened his back. "Blast it. I told Karrde about your enslavement. I didn't name Grakkus, but I asked if Karrde considered you his property."

"How did Karrde even have time to push that button?"

His face heated. "Sorry if you were hiding how you took back your freedom."

She shrugged. "I hadn't told him, no. But there are plenty of people working for him who ran into trouble with the Hutts. He probably won't care about that, not when you're offering a much more tantalizing mystery."

"Is that a hint on how to play this?"

"Just be yourself." Mara chuckled as she stood, moving her blaster to her hand. His lightsaber was clipped to her belt. She glanced down at it when she caught his expression. "I was not letting anyone else on board the Wild Karrde hold on to it. They'd cut off their own heads or breach the hull. Besides, it's yours, isn't it? Not your father's." Luke nodded, and her expression softened as she glanced away. "I thought so. It felt like you."

He patted down his pockets as he headed for the room's door. They had removed all the equipment he had stashed, including his comlink. He hadn't expected to find it. "Do you have my comlink?"

"Not on me, Farmboy. How does the New Republic train guards?"

He shrugged because that wasn't why he brought it up. "Copy down my comcode. You can comm me instead of bumping into each other in deep space."

"I'll keep that in mind." She fell in behind him in the long hallway with identical doors spaced at regular intervals along its length, looking like she was marching him at blaster point. It reminded him of barracks. They exited that building into a large grassy clearing surrounded by forest. The gentle breeze rustled the grass and the leaves, and he didn't find it humid after stopping on Dagobah again.

Mara directed him onto a path worn through the short grass that wound its way between all the buildings in the clearing. They headed toward a large, high-roofed building closest to the pair of barracks they were leaving. Four small buildings were grouped together across the clearing from the largest building. They looked like storehouses.

A servicing hangar and over a dozen starships clustered around it filled the other end of the clearing. Two bulk cruisers like the Wild Karrde and several smaller craft; whatever Karrde's business was, it was profitable. Luke saw the nose of his X-Wing tucked away behind one of the bulk cruisers and under the tree canopy and hidden from the clear sky. Should he ask Mara what had happened to Artoo? No, it was better to ask Karrde and hear what answer Karrde would give him.

They reached the large central building and Mara brushed against him to slap the door annunciator. "He's in the great room. Straight ahead." Luke continued down the hallway, gratified that its length gave him time to compose himself again. He wasn't a raw adolescent grateful for any attention from a woman. They passed a pair of medium-sized dining and recreation rooms to reach a large door at the end of the hallway that slid open as they reached it.

Luke stopped in the doorway and stared. The spacious room ahead of him was larger than Han and Leia's quarters back at the Imperial Palace. A web of carved rafters held up a translucent ceiling that filtered in dappled sunlight. Dark brown wood that composed the walls had been whittled down to hand-wide strands that covered light sources as a rigid mesh holding a deep blue glow. Chairs, couches, and large cushions were arranged in well-separated conversation circles with other luxuries scattered about: a small sculpture here and an unrecognizable alien artifact there.

But Luke missed the relaxed, almost informal attitude of the space by focusing his full attention on the tree growing through the center of the room. Ch'hala trees lined the Grand Corridor of the Imperial Palace, but this one was a meter in diameter at the base and grew from a section of plain dirt floor through the translucent ceiling and beyond. Sunlight penetrated the leaves dancing in the breeze to reach the room below. Thick limbs started about two meters from the ground and stretched their way across the room, some of them nearly brushing against the walls. The saplings grown indoors didn't compare.

"Ah, Skywalker," a voice called from in front of him. It took effort, but Luke shifted his gaze downward to find Karrde sitting in a chair at the base of the tree. Two long-legged quadrupeds crouched flanking the chair, and their muzzles pointed in Luke's direction. "Come and join me."

Luke started toward him. The animals continued staring at him as he got closer.

Karrde didn't pay them much attention. "Welcome back to the land of the living," he said as Luke closed in. He picked up a metal pitcher from the low table next to the chair and poured a red liquid into a pair of cups. "I must apologize for having kept you asleep all this time. But I'm sure you appreciate the special problems involved in making sure a Jedi stays where you've put him."

"Of course," Luke said. The animals hadn't blinked yet and continued staring with predatory intensity. "Though if you'd just asked nicely," he added, "you might have found me willing to cooperate."

Karrde's smile flickered on his lips. "Perhaps. Perhaps not." He gestured to the chair across from him. "Please sit down."

Luke moved to circle around the chair. The animal in front of the table rose on its brown haunches, making a strange choked purr. Luke froze. He wasn't familiar with these predators, but recognized carnivorous teeth in their snouts and claws on their feet.

"Easy, Sturm," Karrde admonished, looking down at the animal. "This man is our guest."

Lots of beings kept carnivores as pets, Luke reminded himself. The quadrupeds would remember their symbiotic relationship with Karrde and back down.

Sturm's pointed ears flattened against his skull and he bared more of its teeth.

"I don't think it believes you." Luke remained still to not trigger any attacks. Without the Force, he couldn't calm the animals or make them ignore him.

The second animal made the same sound as the first had.

"Perhaps not." Karrde wrapped a hand on each of the animal's collars that were obscured by the darker brown mane of fur covering their necks and shoulders. He glanced around the room. "Chin!" he called. "Come and take them out, will you?"

"Sure." A middle-aged man with a Froffli-style haircut hurried over from the other two men in one of the conversation circles. "Come on, fellows." He grunted as he gripped the collars and led the animals away. "What hai we go for a walk, hee?"

"My apologies, Skywalker," Karrde said with a frown as he watched his pets leave. Mara stepped past Luke and took up a position next to her employer. Karrde frowned at her with thoughtful eyes. "They're usually better behaved than that with guests. Now, please sit down."

Luke sat and accepted the cup Karrde offered him. Mara had holstered her blaster on her left forearm, as accessible as it would have been in her hand.

"It's just a mild stimulant." Karrde nodded to the cup in Luke's hand. "Something to help you wake up." He took a drink from his own cup and returned it to the low table.

Luke sipped, and it tasted all right, a chilled herbal tea not as strong as caf. Besides, if Karrde wanted to drug him, he wouldn't have to use such subterfuge. And it was refreshing down his throat. "Would you mind telling me where my droid is?"

"Oh, he's perfectly all right," Karrde answered. "I have him in one of my equipment sheds for safekeeping."

"I'd like to see him, if I may."

"That can be arranged. But later." Karrde leaned back in his seat. "Perhaps after we've figured out just what we're going to do with you."

"What are the options?" Luke glanced up at Mara, but her face was sabacc-blank. "Maybe I can add another to the list."

"The Imperials want you or we can remove you from galactic equations." Karrde picked up his cup for another sip. "And you're presumably more enthusiastic about the third option that we send you back home."

"With due compensation," Luke said. "Say double whatever the Empire would offer?"

"You're very generous with other people's money," Karrde said in a tone that could match Leia's driest delivery. "The problem, unfortunately, doesn't arise from money, but from politics. Our operations extend rather deeply into both Imperial and Republic space. If the Empire discovered we'd released you back to the Republic, they would be immensely displeased with us."

"And vice versa, if you turned me over to the Empire," Luke pointed out.

"True," Karrde said. "Except that given the damage to your X-wing's subspace radio, the Republic plausibly has no idea what happened to you. The Empire, regrettably, does."

"And it's not what they would offer," Mara interjected. "It's what they have offered. Thirty thousand."

Luke pursed his lips. "They put out a bounty that large that quickly."

"You could be the difference between solvency and failure for numerous marginal operators," Karrde said. "There are feasibly dozens of ships out there, ignoring schedules and prior commitments to hunt for you." His smile was predatory, considering them. "Operators who haven't given even a moment of consideration to how they would hold on to a Jedi even if they caught one."

"Your method seems to work pretty well." Luke swallowed more of his drink. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell me how you've managed it."

Karrde smirked. "Secrets of that magnitude are worth a great deal of money. Have you any secrets of equal value to trade?"

"Probably not. But, again, I'm sure the New Republic would pay market value."

Karrde sipped from his drink again, watching Luke over the rim of his cup. "I'll make you a deal." He put the cup back on the table beside him. "You tell me why the Empire is suddenly so interested in you, and I'll tell you why your Jedi powers aren't working."

"Why don't you ask the Imperials?"

Karrde smiled. "Thank you, but no. I'd just as soon not have them wonder at my sudden interest. Particularly after we pleaded prior commitments when the request came in for us to help hunt you down."

Luke frowned at him. "You weren't hunting for me?"

"No, we weren't." Karrde's smile slipped into a smirk again. "One of those little ironies that make life so interesting. We were returning from a cargo pickup when Mara dropped us out of hyperspace on the spur of the moment to do a nav reading. And after she had reminded me of all our good reasons to remain neutral too."

Luke kept his face as stoic as possible, ignoring how his heart sank. He never enjoyed thinking of how he was a public figure now, but he couldn't deny he had been findable for years. She hadn't wanted to find him. They were allies of the circumstances while both prisoners of Grakkus; and she might not wish him death or ill, but she hadn't wanted to see him again. He couldn't blame her for that, considering everything. She took her freedom, and he was not hypocritical enough to deny her free choices. Just a heart-rending wish that they had been different choices. Her expression was just as stoic. "How fortunate for you," Luke said to Karrde.

"Perhaps," Karrde said. "The net result, though, was to put us in the middle of the exact situation I'd hoped to avoid."

Luke held out his hands with the palms up. "Then let me go and pretend none of this happened. I give you my word I'll keep your part in it quiet."

"The Empire would find out." Karrde shook his head. "Their new commander is extremely good at piecing bits of information together. No, I think your best hope right now is for us to find a compromise. Some way we can let you go while still giving the Imperials what they want." He cocked his head. "Which leads us back to my original question."

"And from there, back to my original answer," Luke said. "I don't know what the Empire wants with me." He hesitated, but Leia should be out of Imperial reach with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk. Maybe Karrde's operations had a detail of the why they hadn't been able to guess. "I can tell you, though, that it's not just me. There have been two attempts on my sister Leia, too."

"Killing attempts?"

Luke cast his mind back for the details. "I don't think so. The one I was present for felt more like a kidnapping."

Mara's stoic expression cracked as she bit on her lower lip before asking. "And she is pregnant, or is that something the HoloNet made up to talk about?"

He wasn't sure why that was important, but he answered truthfully. "She is expecting twins."

Mara didn't comment on his answer but looked at Karrde. His eyes unfocused as he thought, and his voice dropped to a murmur. "Interesting. Leia Organa Solo, who is in training to be a Jedi like her brother and is expecting the next generation of Jedi. That could explain… certain recent Imperial actions."

After a few moments, it was obvious that Karrde wasn't offering that explanation. "You spoke of a compromise," Luke reminded him.

Karrde brought his thoughts back to the room. "Yes, I did. It has occurred to me that your privileged position in the New Republic might be what the Empire was interested in—that they wanted information on the inner workings of the Provisional Council. In such a case, we might have been able to work out a deal whereby you went free while your R2 droid went to the Imperials for debriefing."

Luke's stomach tightened. "It wouldn't do them any good," he said as calmly as he could manage. The idea of Artoo being sold into Imperial slavery made him sick and angry. "Artoo has never been to any of the Council meetings."

"But he has a great deal of knowledge of you personally," Karrde said. "And of your sister, her husband, and various other highly placed members of the New Republic." He shrugged. "It's a moot question now. That the focus is exclusively on the New Republic's Jedi and potential Jedi means they're not after information. Where did these two attacks take place?"

"The first was on Bimmisaari, the second on Bpfassh."

Karrde nodded. "We've got a contact on Bpfassh; perhaps we can get him to do some backtracking on the Imperials. Until then, I'm afraid you must remain here as our guest."

That sounded like a dismissal. "Let me just point out one other thing before I go," Luke said. "No matter what happens to me or Leia, the Empire is still doomed. There are more planets in the New Republic now than there are under Imperial rule, and that number increases daily. We'll win eventually, if only by sheer weight of numbers."

"I understand that was the Emperor's own argument when discussing your Rebellion," Karrde countered. "Still, that is the crux of the dilemma, isn't it? While the Empire will wreak swift retribution on me if I don't give you over to them, the New Republic looks more likely to win out in the long run. At any rate, I thank you for your time, Skywalker. I hope we can decide without too much of a delay."

"Don't hurry on my account," Luke said. "This seems a pleasant enough world to spend a few days on."

"Don't believe it for a moment." Karrde's brown eyes grew sharp as he gave his warning. "My two pet vornskrs have an abundance of relatives out in the forest. Relatives who haven't had the benefits of modern domestication."

"I understand." Luke considered the odds. They were about a meter smaller than womp rats, and if he could leave Karrde's base and get clear of the strange interference blocking his access to the Force, there had to be other settlements.

"And don't count on your Jedi skills to protect you, either," Karrde added in a bored tone. "You'll be just as helpless in the forest. Assumably more so." He looked up at the tree towering above him. "There are considerably more ysalamiri out there than there are here."

"Ysalamiri?" Luke looked past the leaves as well and noticed the slender, gray-brown creature hanging onto the tree limb over Karrde's head. "What is it?"

"The reason you're staying where we put you," Karrde said. "They seem to have the unusual ability to push back the Force—to create bubbles, so to speak, where the Force doesn't exist."

"I've never heard of them," Luke said. Was it true at all? Neither Yoda nor Ben had ever mentioned the possibility of such a thing. He grimaced inwardly, thinking of everything else they didn't mention to him.

"Not very many have. And in the past, most of those who did had a vested interest in keeping it that way. The Jedi of the Old Republic avoided the planet, for obvious reasons, which was why a fair number of smuggling groups back then had their bases here. After the Emperor destroyed the Jedi, most of the groups pulled up and left, preferring to be closer to their potential markets. Now that the Jedi are rising again—" he nodded at Luke "—perhaps some of them will return. Though I dare say the general populace would doubtless not appreciate that."

Luke gazed around the tree. Several other ysalamiri wrapped around and across various limbs and branches. "What makes you think it's the ysalamiri and not something else that's responsible for this blocking in the Force?"

"Partly local legend," Karrde said. "Mainly, how you're standing here talking with me now. How else could a man with a stun weapon and a nervous mind have walked right up behind a Jedi without being noticed?"

Luke's gaze returned to Karrde. "You had ysalamiri about the Wild Karrde."

"Correct. Purely by chance. Well—" Karrde looked up at Mara. "Perhaps not entirely by chance."

Luke glanced at the animal above Karrde's head again. "How far does this bubbling extend?"

"I'm not sure anyone knows." Karrde poured more of the red drink into his cup. "Legend says that individual ysalamiri have bubbles from one to ten meters in radius, but that groups of them have larger ones. Reinforcement, I gather. Perhaps you'll do us the courtesy of participating in a few experiments regarding them before you leave."

"Perhaps," Luke said. "Though that probably depends on which direction I'm heading."

"It probably will," Karrde agreed. "I imagine you'd like to get cleaned up—you've been living in that flight suit for several days now. Did you bring any changes of clothing with you?"

"There's a case in the cargo compartment of my X-wing," Luke said. "Thank you for bringing it along."

"I try never to waste anything that may someday prove useful," Karrde said. "I'll have your things sent over as soon as my associates have determined that there are no hidden weapons or other equipment among them." He smiled slightly. "I doubt that a Jedi would bother with such things, but I believe in being thorough. Good evening, Skywalker."

Mara pulled her tiny blaster out again. "Let's go." She gestured with it.

Luke stood. "Let me offer you one other option. If you decide you'd rather pretend none of this ever happened, you could just return Artoo and me to where you found us. I'd be willing to take my chances with the other searchers."

"Including the Imperials?" Karrde asked.

"Including the Imperials." Luke nodded.

Karrde continued to smile. "You might be surprised. But I'll keep the option in mind."

The sun had dropped behind the trees and the sky was almost purple above as Mara escorted him back to the second barrack building. "Did I miss dinner?" He asked as they walked down the corridor toward his room.

"I'll bring you something." Mara's voice sounded like she was thinking of something else.

"Thank you." Luke took a deep breath. Maybe mercenary concerns would work if nothing else would. "Whoever is running the Imperial Remnant now is a sand churl."

"A what?" They entered his room, and he turned around. She slid her blaster into the forearm holster again.

"My price has gone down. The Imperials offered 60,000 for me right after the Battle of Yavin."

She looked confused. "Is this a Rebel—sorry New Republic bragging competition?"

"No." Han had won that years ago with the price Jabba had put on his head. "I'm telling you, that's a sure amount. I'm good for it, if you don't believe the New Republic is. It's classified how I am good for it, but I am." Davik Oligard would lecture him on how paying his own ransom was not sound fiscal policy with the Vader estate, but he couldn't do that if Luke didn't get out of this mess. "If you have any sway left with your boss, I'm good for it."

"I honestly don't know what Karrde's answer will be." Her green eyes flashed with exasperation as they shifted away from him. "You better get comfortable because more likely than not, he'll keep you until he learns why the Imperials have a sudden interest in Force users." She looked at him before her gaze skited away again. "Frankly, I've got a vested interest in that answer myself. If they just want to wipe out the Jedi again, why bother with kidnapping?"

"It suggests something to you," he said softly.

Her mouth twisted. "They have a way to exploit them, a way they are so damned confident of they'll risk going after the most famous potential Force users in the galaxy before they're even born."

Luke wasn't sure what made him shiver: her matter-of-fact assessment of the situation, the night breeze from the still open window, or her haunted, bleak expression that reminded him of times they had spoken of betrayal before. "I told no one about you," he said.

"I'm sure they have other sources of information besides who you know, Luke." She brusquely crossed the room, closed the window, and activated a sensor on the sill. "Didn't the Old Republic have a blood test?"

"They did, but I'm having a hard time finding information on the details. What it tested for to measure Force potential, how they administered it." He shrugged, not that she turned to see it. "Whatever Palpatine had done to the Jedi records makes the archivists cry over data loss."

Her fingers pressed down hard on the windowsill before she jerked her hands back. "Occasionally, I don't think you killed him hard enough." She turned to face him and continued speaking before Luke could explain—yet again—he had killed no one in the second Death Star's throne room. "The window doesn't lock, but it has an alarm. The wild vornskrs come close to the base. I don't recommend taking a chance with them. It took two solid months of daily work with Karrde's tame pair before they stopped stalking me, and I still don't trust them."

"I'll pass on meeting more of the local wildlife. Thanks for the warning."

She waved at a door in the wall behind her seat. "There are toiletries in the 'fresher if you need them. I'll go see about a meal tray and your things." She didn't wait for his response, and the lock on the main door engaged after it slid shut behind her.

The silence of the building was deafening.

He peered out the window. Lights were on in some windows of the neighboring barracks building. He couldn't see any more lights from the building he was in. He supposed that made sense; Karrde didn't want most of his associates knowing about this than necessary, no matter what he decided to do.

He sat down on the bed, acknowledging the fear clambering inside him. There is no emotion, there is peace. He released the fear into the Force. He'd find a way out of this predicament and give Mara the distance she wanted from him.

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