Luke ran. He ran as fast as he could, ignoring the pain that began in his side, trying to outrun the questions and fears that had suddenly sprung into his mind. It was as if a thousand pieces that had been ready to coalesce, a thousand mysteries that had niggled at his mind for years had just been waiting for a single event in order to realign themselves into a clear, unassailable whole that made perfect sense.
His father was a Jedi. That much was obvious. There was the lightsabre, of course. But more than that it was the fact that he had bested the man Luke had seen on the floor, whose actions – throwing his father across the room – had proclaimed him a Jedi as surely as if he had been fighting a Sith. That meant his father was as well. Which also meant that, if everything he had heard about the Jedi was true, so was Luke.
Not really realising where he was going, Luke found himself running past the old Space port, long since closed, and into the warren of streets around Tyman’s Bridge, a nefarious part of the city where Luke had always been forbidden from venturing. He slowed, wondering whether he should turn back. Then again, he wanted to get as far away from his father as possible, to go to the last place his father would ever imagine he would go. This seemed to be the best bet.
Tyman’s Bridge was a nest of tenement buildings, gutted apartment blocks and modified ship docks, changed over time into clubs, bars and gang retreats. All around him, tabaat music, the new ‘sound’ that all the swoop bikers were listening to, echoed and mingled with the droning noise of swoop bikes. Every so often, blaster fire interrupted the music, but only for an instant – then the sound started again just as before.
Luke slowed to a walk as he entered the Bridge. He kept his head down avoiding the stares from passing bikers and petty criminals who were just looking for an easy catch. A few women leered at him as he past them, but he ignored them as well. There were a lot of people out in the streets, considering it was almost midnight, but he knew that this part of town lived to a different timetable than the rest.
He crossed to the far side of the street, keeping to the wall as he squeezed past humans, Rodians and Aqualish, and when he was sure no one was looking, he darted into an alleyway between two tenement buildings.
He stopped and looked around. The alleyway was narrow and ended in a metal grate that was covered in graffiti. The ground was so littered with rubbish that he couldn’t even see it. Boxes filled with abandoned clothes, food stuffed into bags that had long since rotted, letting the food itself spill out in piles that were rapidly decaying into manure. Luke picked his way to the end of the alleyway. He collapsed against the wall, allowing his body to slide down until he was sat on the cold ground. Then he dropped his head into his palms.
He couldn’t make any sense of it. Why hadn’t his father told him that he was a Jedi? What was he doing here? His father had always taught him about honour, courage, responsibility. But if he truly was a Jedi Knight, why wasn’t he out in the galaxy, fighting the Sith, holding the borders of the Galactic Alliance?
More than that, though, Luke wondered at what the other man had said. About his sister. Luke had a sister. She was out there somewhere. A cold ball formed in his stomach, like ice. His father had hidden her from him. He had kept them apart. Why?
There were too many things going through his mind. He just sat there, trying desperately to make sense of it all, until he felt the presence in the alleyway before him.
He looked up. In the night, he could make out two shadows. One was very tall, while the other seemed a little smaller than Luke. They were looking straight at him, and when they moved forward into the light, Luke recognised the taller one as a Wookie who sometimes did odd jobs for them on the scrapyard.
He scrambled to his feet. “Chewie? What are you doing here?” He wondered if his father had sent the Wookie to find him or whether it was just an unhappy coincidence.
The Wookie growled some garbled comment about payment, but Luke’s skill with the Wookie language wasn’t as good as his father’s.
“Did my father send you? You can tell him I’m not coming home. Never!”
At mention of his father, the other figure stepped forward. In the passing moonlight, Luke saw that it was actually a she, dressed in Sand People clothes, only her face unveiled. It was a beautiful face, Luke saw, though marred by a scar that ran down her left cheek. It was her eyes, though, that really scared Luke. Green as a Rodian’s snout, they were cold ice within. Dangerous eyes. He turned back to Chewie.
“What’s going on? Who is she?”
Chewie looked nervously from one to the other. It was the first real sign that something wasn’t right. He looked at the woman again. He had a moment to see something in her eyes, as if the cold fire had suddenly sparked a flame, and then he bolted, trying to dart past her. Chewbacca yelled, and there was a flash of red before everything went black.
Luke shrieked as he jolted awake. Something was wrapped around him, cutting off his breathing and in his panic he began to fight at it, tearing it as if it was a second skin. He ripped it off of his body and flung it away, a flash of red catching his eye. He was breathing in and out with hysterical speed, his lungs aching with the effort and sweat soaking his brow. He looked around.
He was in a room. Metal walls surrounded him, broken every so often by light panels from which emanated a soft white glow and, over in the far corner, a dark window. It must still be night out. The walls were bare apart from that, but a single door, exactly the same colour but slightly recessed, lay just in front of him.
Looking down he realised that he was dressed only in his white under shorts, and that he was sat in a bed. Around him rose four posts, reaching up to a canopy. There was a small table beside him with a lamp whose light was flickering in and out of existence every few seconds.
How had he come here? The last thing he remembered was Chewbacca and the strange woman, then the flash of red as he had tried to dart past her. Then blackness and the next thing he knew... he was here.
“Hello?” he called out tentatively.
Luke jumped off of the bed and ran over to the window. He had to move past the large empty table that sat next to it, then he pushed his nose up against the pane.
He gasped. It wasn’t night outside at all. Suddenly the low thrumming sound he had been hearing, subconsciously, ever since he woke up made sense. This wasn’t a room. It was a cabin. And he was on a ship flying through space.
Terror gripping his soul, Luke darted backwards, a scream dying on his lips. His heart beat so hard in his chest, it felt as if it might jump out. He moaned. “Where am I?”
“Welcome to the Jade’s Fire.”
The voice came from behind him. Luke swung round, dropping automatically to a crouch. Stood in the doorway was the woman from before. Now, though, she was dressed in a form fitting red pant suit that highlighted her lush curves. A lightsabre hung from the belt at her side. His first reaction embarrassed him. She was absolutely stunning! She seemed to exude sensuality, her long red hair falling down to her shoulders like a wave over ivory shores. Her eyes, thought, stayed the same, glowing like ice.
“Who are you?”
The choked sound of his voice reminded him that he hadn’t taken a breath in too long. He sucked in a gasp of air.
The woman stood and moved over to Luke. She had all of the grace of a dancer, yet also merged with the poised danger of a hunting cat. Luke backed up as she approached until she had him cornered to the wall. Her hands came up and blocked off any chance of escape on either side. Then she leaned close and whispered in his ear.
“My name is Mara Jade. I am one of the Emperor’s Hands.”
Luke moaned. An Emperor’s Hand. The Emperor’s Force-trained operatives, an honour legion who carried out only the most important missions. They were a little better than full-fledged Sith Lords, but not by much.
Jade had pulled back and was now staring into his eyes. Luke couldn’t break the gaze no matter how much he wanted to. She held him with those cold, ice green eyes and smiled.
“What do you want?” Luke whispered.
Her laugh took him by surprise. It was an ugly sound, like two ice cubes rubbing against one another. “Me? I don’t want anything. My Master, though... Well if I can’t get Anakin Skywalker through normal means, I will have to make him come to me.”
Her whisper sent shivers down Luke’s spine.
“And besides,” she began again.
She started to stroke the back of his neck, her lips pressing ever so lightly against his neck. It was like being kissed by a butterfly. Then, he felt one of her fingers taking on a new feel, a harder, sharper edge. She kissed her way up to his ear.
“You are the son of Skywalker. Who knows what uses we can put you to?”
Searing pain lanced down his spine as the finger seemed to pierce his skin and tap into his bones. He felt his body go into spasm, unable to stop every muscle from suddenly going rigid. His back arched backwards with the pain.
Just as quickly, the pain turned into pleasure, washing over him like a wave that relaxed his body. He fell backwards into the Hand’s arms. He found himself looking up at her through a veil of tears. She looked beautiful and deadly, a smile on her face. It seemed almost as if there was a halo around her head, framing her black hair.
Suddenly, her voice echoed through his head. Her lips didn’t move, but he heard her nonetheless.
“You will be strong indeed. A fine gift for our Master.”
Luke knew she was right. He was infused with a sense of well being, and then the darkness closed in and he slept.