Luke and Mara entered the main floor lobby of the Senate Apartment Complex from the airspeeder parking garage. This lobby was beautifully decorated with objects and columns of graceful elegance but nearly informal compared to the Imperial Palace’s architecture. Access to the turbolifts to the higher floor was guarded by a long counter manned by five workers. The doors to a tapcafe were wide open to the lobby and they saw people inside enjoying their meals. The center of the lobby was dominated by a large fountain that had water splashing over the white stone carved into an abstract undulating shape. The seating surrounding the fountain was pushed into smaller clusters for conversational ease.
A beautiful building full of gentlebeings living their lives, no Dark Side taint, and it doesn’t match any intel found about those fortress he now owned, Luke thought. Why had his father seized this building? Luke didn’t spend much time thinking of the monetary wealth Anakin Skywalker had accumulated while living as Darth Vader. Information to fill in what Luke didn’t know would have been so much more valuable than what he bequeathed to Luke.
What really happened between winning the Bootna Eve Classic and returning home to find Grandmother Shmi dead since you weren’t learning astrogation off planet? Luke had come to terms with the lie Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had told him to keep him safe from the Empire. Their last years together may have been less bitter if they had told him something of the truth: Anakin Skywalker was a Jedi and the Empire will probably kill you too. It may have prepared him better for the heroic tales of General Anakin Skywalker he had heard in the Rebellion. He couldn’t blame them, but he still resented the lack of answers and the lack of trust he had in the details he had been given as a child.
Aunt Beru said you must have married the beautiful offworlder who came to the homestead with you. She did admit when he got older that Luke was the only proof of a wedding that the Lars hadn’t been invited to. That was before he found out Jedi didn’t marry, before he found out that the Organas hadn’t told Leia any details about her birth family, before he found no traces of any records of a Padmé Skywalker on Coruscant. There was no reason to believe that was his mother’s name. Obi-Wan never said her name and it was possible it wasn’t the same woman at all. Except what Aunt Beru had said still felt like the truth.
Whoever Mother was, did you love her? He’d be happier with only his military pension to have some answers. Luke gave himself a mental shake to dislodge the melancholy. This wasn’t about him. The apartment was empty and Mara needed an apartment, and nothing else mattered. No Dark Side taint present answered the last of his concerns. Mara could have it and be safe.
An older woman broke off from her quiet conversation with the Zeltron behind the desk and briskly headed to them. Her black hair was streaked with gray and pulled back from her smooth face. “Jedi Skywalker? I’m Irella Tarask.”
“I’m pleased to meet you at last. This is Trader Mara Jade, my friend who needs a place to stay.”
Tarask nodded at them as she ushered them toward the turbolift bank. “I’m glad you’re finally taking an interest in the penthouse apartment. It has three bedrooms, three full and one guest refreshers, kitchen, laundry, office space, oh and fully furnished. The furniture and appliances belong to the unit. Of course, any tenant is welcome to replace them with any of their own choosing, but most don’t bother.” She focused more on Luke. “If you wish for this space to remain an apartment, it’s best to offer it furnished. Easier to rent.”
The clerk at the front desk pressed a button at Tarask’s nod to him and the door in the transparisteel wall in front of the turbolifts slid open. “Residents’ bio-metrical markers are on file for the complex. The door would slide open without delay for one. All guests must check in with the front desk, who confirm with the resident that the guests are expected before they are allowed entry. Those three turbolifts,” she waved a well-manicured hand at the row on the wall in front of them, “lead up to all other floors. The penthouse is only accessible by this one.” She turned to the right and a fourth turbolift opened. It hung on the outside of the building and the view out of the curved transparisteel wall was dizzying. “The only other entrance to the penthouse is a private airspeeder dock and security of that is left up to the tenant. The entire complex is covered by an airspeeder deflector shield, which nothing has hit yet.”
“Your security measures are excellent,” Mara said as they whisked up the building. Luke glanced at a tall building further away. Anything closer caused his eyes to hurt trying to focus on it at the speed they were going. “There’s only been one incident of someone getting past them since the complex opened.”
“Bounty hunters,” Tarask said in a tone Luke usually heard reserved for mynocks. “The shield also deflects spy droids. If you have a personal droid, we have scanners built into all the turbolifts including this one. Should its internal structure not match what is on record with security the turbolift will be stopped before it reaches any destination.”
“Have bounty hunters used droids to get to the occupants?” Luke asked. “Unless that’s a measure to stop that droid bounty hunter that’s out there?”
“Actually the problem was rather senators spying on other senators. That was bad enough so the scanners were installed. I shudder to think what chaos the Imperial Senate would have had if one of them had decided to blow up a rival.”
“I’m glad I don’t own a droid,” Mara said. “One less thing to worry about.”
“Per Lord Vader’s instructions, only housekeeping and maintenance droids have been allowed inside the penthouse.”
“Mistress Tarask,” Luke said, because he had to tell her one time in person. “I don’t need to keep ownership of this building.”
“Nonsense, you need the income. No Jedi Temple treasury to take care of you now.”
He felt a bubbling of mirth from Mara. She bit her lower lip and her green eyes danced. Amused was better than how she felt last night. He looked back at the older woman. “As long as you know you can have the physical property that the Empire took back.”
Tarask smiled. “Some conglomerate would get the building after I’m gone. I’d rather you take care of the complex and the residents.” The turbolift slowed to a gentle stop. “Here we are, the penthouse,” Tarask said as she ushered them into a circular foyer.
“It’s blue,” Luke blurted out. The walls were a deeper blue than was used in the Imperial Palace. Light strip baseboards separated the walls from an almost purple blue carpet that outlined the room and the interior gray circle. Large vase-like scones hung on the walls flanking the turbolift door and the doorway into the rest of the apartment, but they didn’t appear to be hiding lights inside them.
Both women stared at him. Mara turned to Tarask with an apologetic shrug. “He doesn’t decorate. I don’t either, but I like blue. It’s a lovely color; carried throughout the apartment?”
“Yes, the last occupant was very fond of blue. She said it reminded her of the seas on her home world.” Tarask led them through the only doorway to another foyer, but this one had deep blue chairs and glass side tables close to the walls and a doorway directly ahead of them and another off to the right. Tarask took the right hand turn. “The light well on the left brings daylight down to the lower floors as well as forms a scenic backdrop for the parlor and dining room.”
“She?” Mara matched Tarask’s brisk steps. “I’m sorry I thought the last occupant was Darth Vader.”
“No, he never leased from me. The last tenant to live here was the senior senator for the Chommell sector during the Clone Wars before the Old Republic fell. Such a pity.” Luke frowned. Most of the building’s residents were politicians or rich enough to afford Coruscant prices. What was so special about this politician that her home here had to be sealed away? Before he could ask, Tarask continued with the tour. “The first space on the left here is the formal dining room.”
They moved past the rounded corner of the light well and the hall became one with the dining room. A gleaming pale wood table with twenty chairs around it was as long as the transparisteel wall of the light well. “How many people lived with the senator?” Luke asked.
“Oh, this would be for formal parties for people you need to impress. There’s an informal eating area in the kitchen.” Tarask led the way to the reformed hallway on the other side of the dining room. The first door on the left slid open in the promised eating area of the kitchen. A round table with four chairs sat in the center of the space. The spacious counters and appliances of the kitchen stretched beyond it. Tarask strode to the cabinets and waved her hand at the appliances. “Everything has been well maintained, but these appliances are nearly thirty years old. I’d recommend testing everything in case you need to replace anything. The door behind you, Jedi Skywalker, leads back into the dining room for serving the meal, and this door,” she opened the one directly across the kitchen from him, “is to the laundry.”
“Same thing applies to these appliances?” Mara asked. She looked over Tarask’s shoulder and Luke felt her surprise in the Force. “I’ve only seen machines that big in commercial settings,” she added.
“Clothing styles have changed in thirty years. Back to the hallway.” Tarask led the way, pointing out the guest ‘fresher on the right. The next door on the left turned out to be a guest suite decorated in gray and blue. “This is the first of three bedrooms and it and the master bedroom both have a separate entrance to the veranda.”
Luke frowned slightly at the furniture in the room. The last tenant was scratching at his attention. “Everything here belongs to the apartment? Not to the last tenant?”
Tarask nodded as Mara looked into the attached ‘fresher. “I packed up all the senator’s personal items and returned them to her family on Naboo. Though you should know, if Trader Jade declines, this space doesn’t need to remain an apartment.”
“What else does the complex need?”
“I’ve been sitting on an offer to turn this space into a restaurant for about twenty years,” Tarask said. “A Naboo thought it was a good way to honor their former queen and senator. I didn’t even bother bringing it to Lord Vader’s attention, but it is a viable option for the space.”
“You don’t have to decide right this minute.” Mara told him as she moved to the wardrobe door.
“Why did Vader buy this building and seal this apartment off?” Luke grimaced. “I know he didn’t bother to explain himself to you, ma’am.”
“No, he didn’t explain and I doubt anyone on Coruscant would dare ask.” Tarask pursed her lips as she thought. “I always thought he bought the building and kept the apartment closed on the Emperor’s orders.”
That drew Mara out of the wardrobe. “Why would the Emperor want that?”
“They were both Naboo,” Tarask explained. “Palpatine was her mentor when she was elected senator and she had something to do with winning the Battle of Naboo which got him the Chancellorship.”
That made sense, Luke thought. Either this senator was an ally or deceived by the Sith lord like the rest of the Old Republic and Palpatine had used his father to hide secrets she probably had. And then his father had passed it along with all the fortresses to him; yes, that made sense. He didn’t sense anything dark or evil, but he couldn’t figure out why his anticipation was so high. Why did he want Mara to have this apartment so badly?
Tarask led them through the fourth door in this bedroom into a short hallway that descended a few steps and opened into the veranda and Luke’s breath caught in his throat. The outer walls fell back and white columns and drapes took their place holding up the ceiling. The colors changed to use a dark pink filling broad sections of the stone floor, making circles and curved shapes to match the curves of the veranda. Directly ahead of them was a balcony reached by a few steps. A pair of drapes were tied open creating a doorway to it and the end was defined with white balusters. He looked across the veranda at the matching balcony on the other side.
Mara headed to the center of the veranda, her steps reverent. The center door back into the apartment lined up with a circular sitting area created by two curved sofas built into the steps that gradually led to the landing platform jutting out further than the balconies. A golden-bronzium bowl fountain stood between the sofas and the landing platform bubbling water. Luke shook his head to not get mesmerized by the wealth on display decorating with free-flowing water. The fountain matched the female, winged humanoid statues that watched over the landing platform at the ends of the columns.
“The edge is guarded by a particle and energy shield, which prevents attacks and accidental falls,” Tarask explained. “A speeder garage for the penthouse apartment is between this level and the roof.”
Mara’s focus was on the open doorways that led into the apartment. “Is it coded? It must be if you dock here.”
“Oh yes,” Tarask said. “That’s why we haven’t worried about people using it as a free docking space.” She led them through the center doorway next and down a long hallway. It split into two but this time Tarask headed left. This branch moved around the other end of the light well and ended in a room of skylights that curved down to the floor. Bronzium etchings covered the ribs holding up the curved roof. The walls and the carpet underfoot were colored in shades of blue. Beyond the sand-colored sofas set facing each other in the center was the doorway into the foyers leading to the turbolift. “This is the main parlor for the apartment. And the transparisteel doors open to access the smaller balconies on this side of the building.”
“No place to hang a viewscreen,” Mara said.
“Viewscreens and consoles were installed in the office.” Tarask led them back to the forked hallway, but continued down the shorter off-shoot that ended at a double door. She strode into the first door on the left. “Oh dear, I suppose this equipment needs replacing too.”
The window in the office shrank down from the dome-like ones in the sitting room, and the console desk was near enough for the user to enjoy the view. A large viewscreen hung on the wall between the office and the parlor with a blue sofa set to watch the viewscreen. Luke moved to the large desk for the console and raised his eyebrows. “This was cutting edge computing power thirty years ago.”
“You should have Ghent look at it,” Mara said. “He can tell if it’s still salvageable. Or just give it to him to build something new out of the parts.”
“Does he need another project?”
“He always needs another project.”
Luke smiled as he followed Tarask to the second door on the left. And the smile strangled on his face as soon as he entered the room. A floor-to-ceiling mural of Tatooine covered the wall shared with the office showing Beggar’s Canyon and the Stone Needle with a glimpse of the desert plains and Tatoo I and II shining in the bright blue sky. And underneath the suns positioned in the center of the wall was a baby bed with slatted and high sides to keep the infant safe inside and a mobile of starfighters dangling over it.
The Force sang out the truth and it sounded like a sandstorm howling in his ears. They were all wrong, all the theories were wrong. His father bought the building and closed off this apartment because it was HERS. It was his mother’s. This was their secret home and this room they had prepared for their baby.
“Jedi Skywalker?” He could barely hear Tarask through the sandstorm. He felt her concern and Mara’s crashing against his being. He closed his eyes and tried to focus. His mother, the beautiful offworlder who Aunt Beru had only met once; he had to remember how she described his mother. Very beautiful, kind but sad were Leia’s fragments.
Mara drew Tarask out of the nursery, taking their protrusive concern further away. If he could just calm his shock, to see past the old ache of abandonment, to move past the fresher twinge of deception; answers were so close now. Then his comlink sounded and he almost swore. Leia was happy with her fragments of memory and she didn’t need to interrupt his trying to find answers to the questions that plagued him. He ignored his sister’s mental brushes of concern, sat down in a sand-colored chair that matched the sofas in the parlor, and picked up the stuffed animal that had sat in it. He didn’t recognize the round, brown herbivore. He closed his eyes again and focused on the toy. Mother had picked it out and brought it to this room to this chair. The comlink sounded insistently.
“Skywalker?” Mara stepped up to him. Her shields wrapped tight around her, he should thank her for one less distraction.
Instead his fingers fumbled around his comlink. “I need… I just need….” He managed to get it free and held it out.
Her cool fingers slipped around his and took it. Then the chirping noise was gone. Leia’s mental concern retreated across the district. He shielded himself from any mental intrusions and sank into a psychometry trance. Mother? Mother?
The sandstorm died away under the trance. But the Force was equally silent on what the toy in his hands had witnessed. He stretched for a glimmer of something, anything, and only brought back emptiness. You guided me here for what? Tarask never even said her name!
“Luke?” Han’s voice broke through the trance. His hand seized Luke’s shoulder and squeezed. “Come in, Kid, you’re spooking the Fleet.”
That was Han’s code for Force demonstrations that were alarming people—him most of all—from when they both had military commissions. Luke released his trance with a sigh and opened his eyes. The light streaming in through the window behind him had changed angles. And from this corner of the room he saw the wall opposite the baby bed was also covered with a mural: a grassy meadow bordered by a shimmering lake that caught the water falling from the surrounding grassy cliffs. The two doors in that wall were painted so the mural would not break. “It’s too far back. I can’t sense anything of her.”
Han found a footstool that matched the chair and dragged it closer before sitting on it, eye-level with Luke. “You never said anything about wanting to know about your mother.”
“I figured everyone who could have told us anything about her was dead. So I tried not to dwell or meditated to find answers to what I couldn’t ask.”
Han frowned. “Jedi questions?”
Luke shook his head. “Not really. New versions of why did they die. Seeing everything you and Leia did to get ready for Jania and Jacen.” His chest tightened into a knot, but he forced the words out. “Sometimes I wondered if we were wanted. Were Anakin and our mother looking forward to having a baby, going to raise it no matter what? Or was it just a wartime mistake to be turned over to the Jedi? I don’t feel any Dark Side echoes here, so I guess that proves conception was before Anakin fell.”
“You should have said something. You shouldn’t keep stuff like that bottled up.”
“You and Leia were both so excited about the twins; I didn’t want to ruin that. And then you got sent off to recruit smugglers and the whole Thrawn mess started.” Luke shrugged. It wasn’t much of an excuse, and when Han had that expression on his face even he knew it wasn’t a good excuse.
“Leia’s gonna worry regardless. You might as well ‘fess up so she can schedule the worrying between meetings.” Han leaned back and swept the room with turns of his head. “You got an answer though, in the most roundabout way possible.” Luke frowned in confusion. “Kid, nobody makes a nursery for an unwanted child,” Han explained.
The knot of feelings that Luke disliked dwelling on loosened in his chest. He found he could breathe easier now. “That’s true, just the time and money spent on these murals. Do you know if that’s Naboo?” He pointed to the waterfall meadow wall.
“Never landed there. But it doesn’t look like they expected twins either. Jacen and Jania have separate cribs, even if they pitch a fit when we try to use them. Where does Naboo fit in?”
“Tarask, the manager of the complex, said the last tenant was the senator for the Chommell sector during the Clone Wars and said her home planet was Naboo. I’ll ask her for the name when I apologize for zoning out on her and Mara.” Luke stood with a stretch and studied the starfighters hanging from the mobile. They were built from model kits, three of two different types for a total of six. He recognized one: the ovoid pilot compartment between two flat wings design that the A-wings went back to and two vertical side flaps that eventually became the TIE-fighter signature look. “An ETA-2, the Jedi flew them in the Clone Wars. I don’t recognize this one.”
Han joined him and they stared at the second yellow and silver model. Its shape made it more of a T-wing than the actual T-wing. The twin engines sat on the ends of the wing at the front of the center fuselage and the pilot canopy and astromech droid socket sat at the rear before it tapered into a graceful point. “Oh,” he said. “That’s a Naboo starfighter; they stopped making them right after the Clone Wars. Naboo and Tatooine, Naboo and Jedi; it is like Leia and me finding Alderaanian and Corellian things for the kids. You should keep it.” Luke looked up at him disapprovingly. “They don’t make those models even as toys anymore, and we already have mobiles for Jacen and Jania. That’s all I’m saying.”
Luke nodded. “I’ll take it.” He needed packing materials though; the delicate ends of the models could break off by putting it loose in an airspeeder. “I wonder why it was left. Tarask said she packed up all the personal belongings and sent them to Naboo before my father bought the building.”
“I hope you didn’t spook her, so you can ask. Though I’ve got a question for you right now.” Han smirked, and Luke didn’t need the Force to warn him about the teasing to follow. “Why are you and Mara looking at apartments? Does Leia need to have the talk with her?”
“No,” Luke grimaced, “she won’t need to after Mara runs to the other side of Coruscant to get away from this.” He waved his hand at the nursery. “She’s probably packing up her clothes at my place right now.”
That derailed whatever Han was about to say. “Wait, clothes at your place?” He looked equally confused and congratulatory.
“She’s using my guest room. Her quarters got vandalized yesterday, all her clothes got ripped apart, and the vandal left a sashoba dancing outfit behind.”
“Is that why the Noghri and Palace Security are extra grumpy today?”
“I alerted the Noghri about it. The sleemo got past Palace Security somehow. Mara wants to move out of the Imperial Palace, so she’s responsible for her own security. I have an empty apartment with a nursery Leia and I never got to sleep in.” He grimaced again. “She won’t want it now, not with this baggage.”
Han frowned. “She was still here when I got here. Maybe this baggage isn’t scary compared to her own. Come on, let’s find her.”