Genre: Drama, action-adventure, wildly … nay … happily AU.
Rated: PG-13. Some mild language, adult situations, and some dark tones. Nothing darker than ROTS, though. I think.
Summary: Episode II of The Unseen War. More isolated than ever, Supreme Chancellor Leia Organa-Solo's destiny unfolds while Jedi Knights Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade investigate troubling rumors that a Sith Lord has been reborn. AU, 12 ABY, L/M
Disclaimer: I own it ALL! Okay, maybe not...
Author's Note: Begins 6 months after the end of Tyranny Reborn.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
THE UNSEEN WAR
Chaos threatens to engulf the galaxy. Although a newly declared cease fire has ended the war between the New Republic and the Second Imperium, simmering tensions between the two governments threaten to explode into open conflict once more.
Obsessed with bringing order and stability to the galaxy, Chancellor Leia Organa-Solo embarks upon a dangerous new initiative to open peace talks with the leaders of the Second Imperium against the counsel of her advisers.
At the same time, Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade continue their desperate search for the elusive Dark Lady of the Sith, Lumiya who has enlisted a deadly new ally no one is expecting...
THERE was no response.
Bathed in a halo of silver light from the ceiling illumination fixture, Xamuel Lennox stood silently in the cockpit of the Sentinel-class landing craft, his hands clasped tightly at the small of his back and his face creased in the stern frown of a patrician as he watched the co-pilot attempt to make a com-check once more. The uniform he wore was tight, almost too tight, but revealed a body yet unravaged by time despite his age. Though the cabin was already hot from re-entry, he did not sweat – another sign of his excellent physical conditioning – and only the slow rise and fall of his chest was proof that he was not an illusion or a hologram.
The lander spiraled down from the orbiting star destroyer Resilience and Lennox fought the urge to close his eyes. It had been a long journey for him and he was feeling every day of his forty-five years. Eighty days had passed since the Admiralty presented him with this latest task and he had spent nearly all that time on the command deck of his destroyer as they tracked the renegade force spreading chaos through the quadrant. Sleep had been a luxury for lesser men and now, exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him. By force of will alone, he managed to push it back.
"No response, Commodore," the co-pilot announced, as though Xamuel did not already know this, and Lennox gave him the slightest of nods.
"Final approach now," the pilot declared, glancing once in Xamuel's direction. The commodore ignored him, instead maintaining his stance and focusing on appearing as the all-knowing, all-powerful being a flag officer should be.
Flanking the shuttle as it continued its rapid descent were six TIE Interceptors. Built more for vacuum flight, they wobbled uneasily as the planet's atmosphere threw them around, but the pilots managed to adjust admirably. Xamuel would have preferred to have dedicated planetary assault fighters on an approach like this, but the Resilience wasn't equipped with such a need in mind. Two of the Interceptors peeled out of formation, accelerating rapidly, and Lennox nearly smiled. Either the quarry had been sighted or the flight commander was more effective than anticipated. In any event, it was a good omen.
As the Sentinel dipped through the atmosphere, the landing sight – a snow-capped mountain pass – came into view and Xamuel's breath caught slightly. Destruction was everywhere. Immense craters dominated the landscape and dark smoke climbed into the sky from crashed starships. Over a dozen snubfighters – all of a design Lennox hadn't seen since the Clone Wars – were on the ground, flames rapidly consuming them, and debris from twice to three times that number of TIEs were scattered over dozens of kilometers. A single Strike-class cruiser was half-buried in the mountain, its hull bent and distorted from the impact.
"Elites," Xamuel said softly, his voice not rising above a whisper, "stand ready." Through the open hatch behind him, he could hear them shift anxiously, the eagerness for the hunt momentarily overcoming their discipline. A darktrooper chassis merged with a living brain and nervous system, they were the pinnacle of Imperial war technology and Lennox was interested to see how they performed.
He had, after all, spent the last year overseeing their design.
With the six TIEs providing air cover, the lander touched down unmolested, its boarding ramps curling open for the Elites. They exited without hesitation, surrounding the Sentinel with a ring of living steel. Glints of blue sunlight reflected off their hardened armor as they sprang into formation and another smile nearly touched the commodore's lips as he watched their calculated deployment. Few could match their speed, their strength, their power.
"Inform Resilience we have arrived," Lennox ordered as he turned and strode toward the boarding ramp, well aware of the surprised stares of the lander's crew. It was unthinkable for a man of his stature to enter a hot combat zone, but in the years since Xamuel's failure at Hoth, he had cultivated a mystique of invulnerability. Everywhere he went afterward, he heard the rumors, heard officers and crews whisper how the Rebels managed to disable only a single destroyer in the rout and how Xamuel Lennox had let his pride get in the way of his duty. He became obsessed with proving his value, so much so that he would venture into combat zones even a stormtrooper would fear to tread. And still, the whispers continued.
Failure was a difficult label to shake.
As if he were not stepping onto a contested world, Lennox strode down the ramp and onto the soft soil. The smell of smoke and burning metal was thick in the air, causing him to unconsciously wrinkle his nose in distaste. One of the Elites, a Ground-Captain by his rank scheme, pointed toward the Strike-class.
"One life sign detected there," the Elite said, his electronically modulated voice harsh, and Xamuel let his eyes drift in the direction indicated. He nodded slightly, a signal for the Elites to proceed, and they surged forward as one, leaving only the Ground-Captain and another to provide protection for Lennox. His expression resolute, Xamuel began picking his way across the hellish landscape, his eyes open and his every sense straining for a hint of danger. It would be unfortunate, he mused darkly, for one of his rank to be killed on this nothing of a world.
Abruptly, the Elites altered direction and angled sharply away from the smashed Strike-class. Lennox frowned slightly, wondering what they had detected, when two of them suddenly sprang forward, covering ground in huge, ungainly leaps achievable only by technology. They landed lightly near an impact crater and a crashed snubfighter; one of the Elites batted the broken ship aside and both of them vanished from sight as they descended into the crater.
The wait was a long one, far longer than Xamuel would like, and he shifted slightly in place as he waited for the two to return. When they did reappear, one of them was carrying a still form and they covered the ground easily in that odd, lurching jump of theirs. The figure was manacled, Lennox noticed, and he suddenly understood the delay. He smiled tightly.
At his nod, the Elite carrying the figure lowered it to the ground and Xamuel blinked away a momentary sense of déjà vu. There was something strange about this man, something familiar though Lennox knew he had never met the man before. The prisoner was tall, perhaps a meter-nine in height, and dressed in an obsolete flight suit. His hair was dark blond in color and trimmed short. Livid scars marred his otherwise youthful face and electrical burns had scorched away much of the human's protective gear.
With a suddenness that caused Xamuel to take a step back in surprise, the prisoner snapped awake and scrambled awkwardly to his feet. Two of the Elites – the pair that had sought him out – quickly grasped his arms and held him fast. He struggled against them for the briefest of moments, though there was no chance of him breaking free, before turning his eyes – so cold! – to Lennox.
"You should let me go," the man snapped, his voice quivering with fury. The Elite Ground-Captain reacted instantly, striking the human with the back of his gauntleted hand.
"Speak only when spoken to, scum," the half-droid, half-man ordered. Spitting blood, the prisoner speared the captain with an expression so fierce, so deadly that the Elite took an involuntary step back.
"You are now in the custody of the Empire," Lennox said calmly. He gestured toward the destruction around them. "We have many questions to ask you about what transpired here."
"You should let me go," the prisoner repeated. His words were powerful, and for the briefest of seconds, Xamuel was tempted to do that very thing. His duty, however, overwhelmed the momentary urge. Failure, after all, was a difficult thing to shake.
"I think not," Lennox replied. "You may very well be responsible for the deaths of every Imperial citizen who died here and will face judgment of your crimes."
"They attacked me first!" the prisoner snarled. A strange yellowish tinge washed over his eyes, wiping away their natural blue color, and Lennox felt the first stirring of fear.
"You were trespassing in Imperium space," Xamuel said as he began to inch away from the man, gesturing discreetly as he did for the Elites to stand ready. "By law, I am empowered to execute you here." He gave the man a frown. "It would seem I have two options: kill you here or kill you after we have the information we seek."
"You have another option," the prisoner said, his voice dark. Something rolled over him then, something terrible. "You can die with everyone else."
With a wordless shout, the two Elites holding him released their grips and staggered back, their hands opening and closing at crazed, random intervals. Sparks exploded from the Elites' armor and the pair toppled, their armor suddenly ripped asunder. The prisoner looked down at his binders and – to Lennox's horror – they snapped open even as the Ground-Captain was bringing his rifle to bear. Bluish lightning exploded from the man's fingers, lancing out through the sky to envelop every living creature within two meters.
Xamuel shrieked in agony as the lightning wrapped around him, burning into his flesh and causing him to collapse. The Elites within the range of the unexpected attack uttered inhuman screams of anguish as their delicate nervous systems exploded. They fell, like suddenly deactivated droids, but the man wasn't done. He gestured once, and two of the falling Elites flashed through the air, smashing into the pair who had not been touched by the lightning with impacts that shattered armor.
And still, the monster wasn't done.
He turned to face the Sentinel-class lander and raised a hand toward it. With a fierce expression, he closed the hand into a fist and the sound of metal rending echoed through the mountain pass. Face-down in the snow, his nerve endings on fire, Xamuel could just make out the distorted shape of what little remained of the lander's cockpit and horror surged through him.
"I warned you," the Jedi – for he had to be a Jedi with this sort of unnatural power at his fingertips – growled as he stalked toward where Lennox writhed on the ground. The man gestured once more and Xamuel felt invisible arms lift him off the ground to hold him there, spread-eagled and suspended a meter from the snow.
Soil erupted around them as the TIE Interceptors looped around and opened fire. With a single wave of his hand, the Jedi sent Lennox flying through the air toward one of the impact craters even as he made an impossible leap in the opposite direction. Xamuel hit the ground hard – he felt ribs break and liquid fire lanced through his shoulder – and he fought to remain conscious. Waves of fire washed over the crater as one of the Interceptors exploded and spinning debris tumbled through the air. Gritting his teeth, Lennox crawled to the edge of the crate and pushed himself up to see what had happened.
Two of the Interceptors were already down, miniature explosions cooking off the power cells, and in the moment Xamuel peeked over the edge of the crater, a third smashed into the ground and threw up a geyser of dirt, rock and snow. Standing in the very center of the pass, the Jedi was unhurt. A hurricane of debris – corpses, rocks, and shattered starships – wailed around him. He pointed with his left hand and the armored corpse of an Elite shot forward as if launched by a railgun; it punched through the cockpit of one of the Interceptors approaching on a strafing run, killing the pilot instantly.
Even as the dead TIE began to nosedive, the Jedi made a slapping gesture out with his right hand and the Interceptor reacted as if it had been struck by a forcefield. Tumbling out of control, it spun into another of the Interceptors and both vanished in an explosion of fire. The sixth TIE instantly abandoned its attack run and began climbing rapidly in a desperate attempt to get away.
"No, you don't," the Jedi growled as he threw both of his arms forward. The spinning debris around him suddenly darted forward at impossible speeds and all of it – all of it – slammed into the fleeing TIE.
His breath coming heavily and sweat pouring down his face, the Jedi turned glacially cold eyes toward Lennox and gestured. Once more, Xamuel felt the invisible grip lift him.
"What are you?" he rasped as he floated before the yellow-eyed man. His captor barked out a laugh, ragged and bitter.
"A weapon," the Jedi said darkly. "My mistress," he continued, his words angry and bitter, "named me Darth Torious because there can be only one Vader." The monster stepped closer to Lennox and narrowed his eyes. "But you," he said coldly, "can call me master."
Living flame seared through Xamuel's mind and he closed his eyes.
She opened her eyes.
At first, Mara wasn't sure what had woken her and she instinctively reached for the lightsaber she had taken to keeping hidden beneath her pillow. As her hand wrapped around the weapon, she realized she was alone – Luke had obviously gotten up some time earlier and she hadn't noticed it – and she came fully awake. She stretched out with the Force cautiously, consciously maintaining as small a psychic profile as possible, and let her senses expand. Luke was easy to find – his Force signature burned brightly in the room on the other side of the bedroom door – but there was no other living creatures present.
Frowning, Mara slid off the bed and padded silently to the door. She paused there and listened for a moment. A low buzz, indicative of a hologram in use, caused her to relax slightly as she realized Luke was back at work. She started to smile at his work ethic before making a face. They were on vacation, for kriff's sake. He was supposed to be relaxing. She carefully eased the door open – it was an ancient, hinged slab of wood that opened soundlessly – and carefully glanced over the room beyond.
As expected, Luke was hunched before the holo-transmitter, an intent expression stamped upon his face as he watched the events before him unfold. He had a thick blanket wrapped over his shoulders to help him ward off the cool night air, and his hair was wildly unkempt. As Mara silently watched, he bit his lower lip in an unconscious gesture before scratching his ear. Despite her best efforts to hold it in, she found herself smiling at the air of distraction surrounding him. It was, she decided fondly, unbelievably cute.
With their hunt for this Lumiya woman entering its sixth month of no results, Mara had put her foot down and insisted they take a break. Talking Luke into agreeing hadn't been too terribly difficult; all she'd had to do was point out that he had skimped on her knighting ceremony and then imply she was a little hurt over this fact. Mara doubted Luke actually believed her – he knew her well enough to recognize she didn't play silly games like that and usually just told him what she wanted – but he had agreed nonetheless. After promptly dumping the Noghri off onto Karrde for a few days, they had snuck onto Mon Calamari under assumed identities.
Luke abruptly stirred and glanced in her direction, his eyes widening slightly at her state of undress. She tried to hide her smile at his reaction as she walked across the room.
"You're awake," she accused him, and Luke finally glanced up to meet her eyes.
"And you're naked," he replied. Mara smirked.
"You're the one who took my clothes off, Farmboy," she reminded him with a naughty grin as she dropped onto the couch beside him and reached for the blanket he had wrapped over his shoulders. Her lightsaber went on the small table before them, next to Luke's. He responded immediately and shifted to give her more space. Mara wiggled closer, sighing contently as he wrapped his arms around her.
"I meant you're really naked," Luke said a moment later, and Mara tensed slightly at the meaning behind his words. In the two months since she'd taken him to her bed, she'd become so accustomed to his presence it hadn't even occurred to her that she wasn't wearing the flesh-toned skinsuit she usually wore. Specially designed to give her complete range of motion without impairing any of her normal physical functions, it had originally been developed for burn victims and concealed the myriad scars she'd acquired throughout the years in her service to the Emperor. She had worn the skinsuit for so long, most of the time she wasn't even aware of it anymore. He was, she realized, the first lover she'd ever had who had truly seen her naked in the light of day, scars and all, and she suddenly felt a surge of fear: what if he was repulsed? What if he was disgusted by what he saw?
"Stop that," he said as he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. The fingers of his other hand began tracing one of the larger scars across her lower stomach affectionately. "You know I'm not."
"Stay out of my head, Skywalker," Mara ordered half-heartedly, even as she relaxed deeper into his embrace. It was an unusual feeling, knowing someone had seen all of her blemishes – both physical and emotional – and still wanted her.
She liked the feeling. A lot.
Luke chuckled and moved slightly on the couch to make more room for her. His fingers continue to stroke her skin, though Mara suspected he wasn't consciously aware of doing it. Peace seemed to radiate from him and she drank it in greedily, as if it were water and she was dying of thirst. Having not known him when he was in the Rebellion, she wasn't sure if the aura he projected was due to his Jedi training or something instinctively him, but it was so soothing, so relaxing, she felt herself sliding towards sleep once more. Through the hazy fog of a drowsy mind, she glanced at the flickering hologram Luke had paused.
It was Vader.
Or, more accurately, Anakin Skywalker. Based on his appearance, she guessed it was a recording of Luke's father from sometime during the Clone Wars prior to or immediately after the Battle of Coruscant. Mara frowned at the shortness of the holographic Anakin's hair; in her fruitless search for the identity of her parents, she had spent countless hours studying holos of the era in the hopes she would recognize someone from her fractured early memories, and had seen nearly every recording Luke had of his father so the incongruity of the hologram immediately caused her to give it a second look. Holo-Anakin looked to be in his early to mid-twenties, but the length of his hair didn't match with the era.
"Why are you watching old vids?" she asked, blinking away the lethargy robbing her mind of its usual sharpness. Instantly, Mara could feel Luke's Force signature flare with suppressed emotions. The muscles in his jaw tightened and he grimaced.
"I'm not," he said softly before gesturing slightly in the direction of the holo-reader. It resumed playing instantly and Mara's breath caught as holo-Anakin cut a swath through Imperial stormtroopers.
"A clone?" she whispered in disbelief. "She cloned Vader?" Too late, she realized she'd referred to his father as Vader instead of Anakin – it was still a touchy subject for him – but for the first time in a very long time, he didn't correct her.
"Yes," Luke replied. "Talon had this delivered a little while ago," he continued, and Mara didn't bother asking how Karrde knew where they were. Her old boss continually surprised her and she'd long since given up asking him how he managed to know as much as he did.
"And I didn't hear it arrive?" Mara asked, frowning at the implication she had lost her edge. "More importantly," she muttered, "how did you hear it?" Luke shrugged.
"I was still awake," he admitted, flushing slightly as he did. Mara smiled tightly as she suddenly understood why. On several occasions over the last few weeks, she'd caught him watching her sleep. It both flustered and warmed her at the same time, though she had no idea why. "It's from about a month ago," Luke said of the holo a moment later. His voice was flat, controlled and utterly emotionless. Had she not learned to read his moods, Mara might have even been fooled into thinking he wasn't affected by this discovery.
"So that's why they all used Djem So," she murmured.
"What?" Luke tore his attention away from the hologram as it began to repeat the clone's assault and gave her a questioning look.
"Didn't you ever wonder why the clones always used Djem So?" she asked, referencing the fifth form of lightsaber combat. "Even when they would have been better off with Ataru or Soresu?" She nodded to the hologram. "Now we know."
"I suppose," Luke said. His mental shields were up and Mara imagined she could hear the grinding of his teeth as his eyes were locked on the holo playing out for a third time. She leaned forward and half-twisted so she could look him in the eye.
"He's not your father, Luke," she pointed out in as non-combative a voice as she could manage. Knowing Skywalker as she did, Mara was worried he would get it in his mind to do something unbelievably noble.
"I know," he admitted before leaning his head back against the couch to stare at the ceiling. "I thought facing the clones of Ben was hard enough," he said calmly. "But this?" He blew out a breath and Mara winced at the rolling emotions she could sense simmering within him. "This makes me angry." His expression darkened. "What right does she have to do this?" he wondered, his voice tight. "It's hard enough knowing that my father was a mass murderer," Luke said through clenched teeth, "but cloning him so the clone can pick up where he left off?" Fury, hot and bitter, leaked through his mental shields, and Mara winced at the intensity of the emotion.
"We'll deal with it," she told him before stretching out with the Force to deactivate the viewer. The holo vanished in a flicker of static. "But not today." She leaned toward him, brushing his lips with her own. He returned the kiss softly, leisurely, and Mara felt his anger melt away, only to be replaced by an equally primal but far more pleasant emotion. Luke pulled her closer.
And then, the universe – and all of the darkness they were facing – fell away for a time.