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"You've had worse ideas, Luke," Mara Jade Skywalker
reluctantly admitted, nodding her head back so the sunlight fell on her face and her deep red-gold tresses
trailed behind her. Posed that way, eyes closed, framed against the blue line of the sea, her beauty closed
Luke's throat for a moment.
Mara's green eyes opened, and she looked at him with a
sort of wistful fondness before arching a cynical brow.
"Getting all fatherly on me again?"
"No," he said softly. "Just thinking how ridiculously
lucky I am."
"Hey. I'm the one with the hormone swings. You aren't
trying to one-up me, are you?" But she took his hand
and gave it a squeeze. "Come on," she said. "Let's walk a
"You sure you're up to it?"
"What, you want to carry me? Of course I'm up to it. I'm
pregnant, not hamstrung. You think it would be better for
our kid if I spent all day lying around sucking on oorp?"
"I just thought you wanted to relax."
"Absolutely. And this is relaxing. Us, all alone, on a beautiful
island. Well, sort of an island. Come on."
The beach was warm beneath Luke's bare feet. He had
been reluctant to agree to going shoeless, but Mara had insisted
that's what one did on a beach. He found, to his surprise,
that it reminded him pleasantly of his boyhood on
Tatooine. Back then, in the relative cool of early evening
one of those rare periods when both blazing suns were
nearly setsometimes he would take his shoes off and feel
the still-warmsand between his toes. Not when Uncle Owen
was looking, of course, because the old man would launch
into an explanation of what shoes were for in the first place,
about the valuable moisture Luke was losing though his
For an instant, he could almost hear his uncle's voice and
smell Aunt Beru's giju stew. He had an urge to put his shoes
Owen and Beru Lars had been the first personal casualties
in Luke Skywalker's battle against the Empire. He wondered
if they had known why they died.
He missed them. Anakin Skywalker may have been his
father, but the Lars had been his parents.
"I wonder how Han and Leia are doing?" Mara wondered
aloud, interrupting his reverie.
"I'm sure they're fine. They've only been gone a few
"I wonder if Jacen should have gone with them?"
"Why not? He's proven himself capable often enough.
And they're his parents. Besides, with half the galaxy after
him, it's better he stay on the move."
"Right. I only meant it makes things worse for Jaina. It's
hard on her, doing nothing, knowing her brother is out
fighting the fight."
"I know. But Rogue Squadron will probably call her up
"Sure," Mara replied. "Sure they will." She sounded far
"You don't think so?" Luke asked.
"No. I think they would like to, but her Jedi training
makes her too much of a political liability right now."
"When did the Rogues ever care about politics? Has
someone said this to you?"
"Not in so many words, but I hear things, and I'm trained
to listen to the words behind the words. I hope I'm wrong,
for Jaina's sake."
Her feelings brushed Luke in the Force, running a troubled
harmony to her assertion.
"Mara," Luke said, "my love, while I'll believe you
when you say picking up parasites on a strange beach is
"Nonsense. This sand is as sterile as an isolation lab. It's
perfectly safe to walk barefoot. And you like the feel of it."
"If you say so. But I forbid any more talk about politics,
Jedi, the war, the Yuuzhan Vong, anything like that. We're
out here for you to relax, to forget all of that for a day or so.
Just a day."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You're the one who
thinks the whole universe will collapse unless you're there
to keep it spinning."
"I'm not pregnant."
"Say something like that again, and I'll make you wish
you were," she said, a bit sharply. "And by the way, if we do
this again, it's your turn."
"We'll play sabacc for it," Luke responded, trying to
keep a straight face but failing. He kissed her, and she kissed
him back, hard.
They continued along the strand, past a rambling stand
of crawling slii, all knotted roots and giant gauzy leaves.
Waves were beginning to lap on the beach, as they hadn't
earlier, which meant they were on the bow side of the
It wasn't an island at all, of course, but a carefully landscaped
park atop a floating mass of polymer cells filled with
inert gas. A hundred or so of them cruised the artificial
western sea of Coruscant, pleasure craft built by rich merchants
during the grand, high days of the Old Republic. The
Emperor had discouraged such frivolity, and most had been
docked for decades and fallen into disrepair. Still, many
were still in good enough shape to refurbish, and in the
youth of the New Republic, a few sharp businessmen had
purchased some and made them commercial successes. One
such person, not surprisingly, had been Lando Calrissian, a
longtime friend of Luke's. He had offered Luke use of the
craft whenever he wished it. It had taken Luke a long time
to call in the offer.
He was glad he had done itMara seemed to be enjoying
it. But she was right, of course. With everything that was
happening now, it was hard not to think of it as a waste
But some feelings could not be trusted. Mara was showing
now, her belly gloriously rounded around their son, and
she was suffering from all of the physical discomforts any
woman did in that situation. Nothing in her training as an
assassin, smuggler, or Jedi Knight had prepared her for this
compromised state, and despite her obvious love for their
unborn child, Luke knew physical weakness grated on her.
Her comment about Jaina might just as well have been
And there were other worries, too, and a pocket paradise
wasn't likely to help her forget them, but at least they could
take a few deep breaths and pretend they were on some distant,
uninhabited world, rather than in the thick of the
biggest mess since before the Empire had been defeated.
No, strike that. The Empire had threatened to extinguish
liberty and freedom, to bring the dark side of the Force to
ascendance. The enemy they faced now threatened extinction
in a much more literal and ubiquitous sense.
So Luke walked with his wife as evening fell, pretending
not to be thinking of these things, knowing she could feel he
"What will we name him?" Mara asked at last. The sun
had vanished in a lens on the horizon, and now Coruscant
began to shatter the illusion of pristine nature. The distant
shores glowed in a solid mass, and the sky remained deep
red on the horizons. Only near zenith did it resemble the
night sky of most moonless planets, but even there was a
baroque embroidery of light as aircars and starships followed
their carefully assigned paths, some coming home,
some going home, some merely arriving at another port.
A million little lights, each with a story, each a spark of
significance in the Force that flowed from them, around
them, through them.
No illusion, here. All was nature. All was beauty, if you
had eyes willing to see it.
"I don't know." He sighed. "I don't even know where to
"It's just a name," she said.
"You would think. But everyone seems to believe it's important.
Since we went public with the news, you wouldn't
believe how many suggestions I've gotten, and from the
Mara stopped walking, and her face reflected a sudden
profound astonishment. "You're afraid," she said.
He nodded. "I guess I am. I guess I don't think it's 'just a
name,' not when it comes to people like us. Look at Anakin.
Leia named him after our father, a gesture to the person that
became Darth Vader, as a recognition that he overcame the
dark side and died a good man. It was her reconciliation
with him, and a sign to the galaxy that the scars of war
could heal. That we could forgive and move on. But for
Anakin, it's been a trial. When he was little, he always
feared he would walk the same dark path his grandfather
did. It was just a name, but it was a real burden to place on
his shoulders. It may be years before we learn the full consequences
of that decision."
"For all that I admire your sister, she is a politician, and
she thinks like one. That's been good for the galaxy, not so
good for her children."
"Exactly," Luke said reluctantly. "And whether I like it
or not, Mara, because of who we are, our child will inherit
part of our burden. I'm just afraid of placing an extra one
on his shoulders. Suppose I named him Obi-Wan, as a
salute to my old Master? Would he think that means I want
him to grow up to be a Jedi? Would he think he had to live
up to Ben's reputation? Would he feel his choices in life
"I see you've thought a lot about this."
"I guess I have."
"Notice how quickly this takes us back to the things you
said we weren't supposed to talk about?"
"Luke, this is who we are," Mara said, stroking his
shoulder lightly. "We can't deny it, even alone on an island."
She dipped her foot in the wavelets lapping onto the
beach. Luke closed his eyes and felt the wind on his face.
"Maybe not," he admitted.
"And so what?" Mara said, playfully kicking a little
water on the cuff of his pants. But then her face grew serious
again. "There is one very important thing I want to
say, now, before another second passes," she informed him.
"I'm really hungry. Really, really hungry. If I don't eat
right away, I'm going to salt you in seawater and gobble
"You'd be dissapointed," Luke said. "It's freshwater.
Come on. The pavilion isn't far. There should be food
Luke and Mara ate outside at a table of polished yellow
Selonian marble while the blossoms around them chimed a
quiet music and released fragrances to complement each
course. Luke felt ridiculously pampered and a little guilty,
but managed to relax somewhat into the mood.
But the mood was broken during the intermezzo, when
the pavilion's protocol droid interrupted them.
"Master Skywalker," it said, "an aircar is approaching
and requesting admittance through the security perimeter."
"You have the signal?"
"Transfer to the holostation on the table."
"As you wish, sir."
A hologram of a man's face appeared above the remains
of their meal. It was human, very long, with aristocratic
"Kenth Hamner," Luke said, a sense of foreboding
pricking up his scalp. "To what do we owe this pleasure?"
The retired colonel smiled briefly. "Nothing important.
Just a visit from an old friend. May I come aboard?"
That's what his words said. His expression, somehow,
conveyed something altogether different.
"Of course. Link to the ship's computer, and it will land
you somewhere appropriate. I hope you like grilled nylog."
"One of my favorites. I'll see you soon."
A few moments later, Hamner appeared from one of the
several trails leading to the pavilion, accompanied by the
"You two make me wish I was young again," Hamner
said, smiling, looking them over.
"We're not so young, and you're not so old," Mara
Hamner offered her a short bow from the waist. "Mara,
you're looking lovely as ever. And my deepest congratulations
on your upcoming event."
"Thank you, Kenth," Mara returned graciously.
"Have a seat," Luke said. "May I have the droid bring
"A cold drink of a mildly stimulating beverage perhaps?
Luke sent the droid off with those rather vague instructions
and then turned to Hamner, who was now seated.
"You didn't come here just to congratulate us, did you?"
Hamner nodded sadly. "No. I came to give you a heads-up.
Borsk Fey'lya has managed to secure an order for your
arrest. The warrant will be served about six standard hours