Mandalorian Jedi, prologue - Mission to Dathomir

By: Gabe Z.

By Gabe Z.



GL owns Star Wars and all related things. Boba Fett owns the Mandalorian armor and his visage was the inspiration for this story. All the young Jedi Knights belong to Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. Aric is mine, though.

This takes place during the Young Jedi Knights series, in various places throughout the story arcs. This prologue introduces out hero, Aric Jaro, telling about his past, and ending with a mission he is undertaking. Future chapters (if I continue - I only will if some people like it) will probably contain some New Jedi Order things.

Aric Jaro sat confidently in the cockpit of his small Kuat Drive Yards AX-16 light attack ship, the Nightwolf. He took a long look out the forward viewport at the obstacle in front of him. Here, in the Corporate Sector, Aric had run afoul of the local law by disrupting the remnant of a highly illegal slavery ring, and they just weren't about to let him off the hook. His hands flew over the controls of the twenty-five meter long ship and received trills and bleeps of confirmation from his astromech, R2-A1, also known as Chirpy. He glanced at the translation readout. "Primary and secondary shields - Online. Quad laser turret - Slaved to cockpit and online. Heavy ion cannon - Online. Concussion missile tube, online. . ."

He nodded in approval as all combat systems came up functional in a matter of seconds. Chirpy was a damn quick little droid, when he wanted to be. The little astromech shrilled in alarm as he detected the Authority cruiser powering up its own weapons and shields. Aric knew he had to act fast, or else the larger Espo cruiser would tear his own craft into space dust. He quickly obtained a target lock on the cruiser and locked the dual ion cannon battery onto the cruiser. He depressed the trigger of the control stick and watched as the sizzling, crackling blue bolts of ionized energy shot towards the hulking brown ship. Upon impact, the bolts sent ripples of electricity shooting across the hull of the Espo corvette. He smiled grimly and unleashed another ion barrage and sat back, arms crossed, in satisfaction, as the target data readout on his screen indicated the cruisers shields down, as well as hyperdrive damage, and weapon systems. He thought about launching a concussion missile into the ship to finish it off. But that wasn't the way of the Jedi, to kill needlessly. Proud to have remembered that, he activated his sublight engines and plotted a course away from the Espo cruiser. Outside of the Corporate Sector's jurisdiction, he set his hyperdrive for Dathomir, where he was to meet with an old acquaintance and perform a task that had hung like a storm cloud over his friend's life since his teenage years. Chirpy issued a whistle as the stars blurred into brilliant white lines, and the Nightwolf shot into hyperspace with a rumble of engines.

- - - -

In hyperspace, Aric had ample time to meditate and reflect upon his situation. He placed his right hand over the lightsaber that hung to his left on a belt clip. The smooth cylinder was cool and metallic in his hand. He drew the Jedi weapon from his belt and held it aloft, igniting it. A sulfurous yellow-white beam of light shot out from the silver housing and hummed hypnotically as Aric held it there for a moment. Chirpy swivelled his dome to watch, issuing what could be considered an introspective moan. "Chirpy, run program Beta fifteen."

That was a remote program he liked, and even as he thought, the small, grey cylinder emerged from a tiny compartment in the bulkhead just beyond the cockpit. He relaxed his muscles and closed his eyes, letting the Force flow through him. He heard the hiss of the remote as it contemplated its next move. He sensed a disturbance and maneuvered his lightsaber just in time to catch a bright yellow stun bolt from the remote on the tip of the saber. He returned once again to attack stance and tracked the remote with the Force, not trusting his eyes to tell him where his adversary was. The remote fired several beams in a row and Aric slashed with his weapon, catching all but one of the flashing yellow blasts. He dodged the last one and rolled to the ground, coming up on one knee, his lightsaber ready. "Chirpy, end program."

The little droid hooted an affirmative and the remote moved quickly into the compartment from whence it had come. That was enough combat practice for now. Aric walked slowly to the small but comfortable lounge area of his ship and sat in his meditation chair. Chirpy followed close behind, beeping softly. Aric spoke to the droid, his sole companion in these dark times. "Chirpy, keep an eye on the ship. If anything goes wrong, wake me up. Otherwise, wake me when we reach Dathomir."

The droid whistled an affirmative and set down its third leg, rolling away to the cockpit and jacking into the Nightwolf's computer. Aric reclined in the large, comfortable chair and shut his eyes. He began to breath deeply as the meditation commenced. His thought drifted to his home, on Ord Mantell, where his parents owned a public transportation company. They had long since retired and were, to the best of his knowledge, enjoying the benefits of retirement on a large sum of money earned during their lives. A montage of images drifted through his mind as he meditated. He saw mother and his father, going about their lives, with happy expressions on their faces. He would have smiled if he wasn't half-comatose.

His thoughts wandered next to his Jedi training. On Ord Mantell, his parents had a friend who was Force-sensitive, but not a Jedi. She always said that around him, she felt the Force flowing freely, and she felt that he had enormous potential as a Jedi. She knew of a Jedi Master, one of the few who had survived the extermination, and his parents reluctantly agreed to send him to learn of the Force, at the age of eight. He had traveled to a world just inside the border of the unknown regions to a bluish-gray planet, named as M-012 by the partially recovered logs of the Outbound Flight Project. She had taken him to the region where the Force felt strongest, and sure enough, there was a humanoid Jedi Master. He was not human, that much was sure. He was powerfully built, but had bluish-black hair, blue skin, and piercing red eyes. He had no idea what his species was a the time, and was startled to find that he was a Chiss. He had trained there for almost eleven years, until he was nineteen. Jedi Master Kos Orpak granted him the title of Jedi Knight, stating that his training was complete. He left the planet on one of the rare star liners that came through the border of the Unknown Regions and ended up in the Koornacht Cluster, in the Core.

He was awakened shortly thereafter by Chirpy's loud whistles and hoots. "I'm up, I'm up! Calm down."

Chirpy blatted indignantly at him and rolled back into the cockpit. Aric followed close behind and sat in the left pilot's chair and gazed out at Dathomir. A green-blue, lush world, he knew of the rich warrior tradition of the world. He also knew of the local women, who treated men as if they were nothing more than a commodity. He shivered at the thought of being caught by one of the warrior women, but it also sent a tingle of curiosity through him. Would it really be that bad to be caught by one? He smiled and keyed up a set of coordinated into the nav computer. The ship began to descend through the clouds, and within moments was on the planet's surface, at least a hundred klicks from the nearest settlement, according to the nav computer. He looked down at his armor and chuckled softly. He had bought the Mandalorian armor from some old junk dealer on a small moon in the Koornacht Cluster, who was only too happy to be rid of the cursed stuff, he had called it. However, it had server Aric well, inspiring either awe or fear in whomever he happened to pass on the street. In combination with the lightsaber dangling from his side, he was an imposing presence wherever he chose to be. He stood and walked to the hatch of the ship as the boarding ramp lowered. He checked the contents of his pack and issued some commands to Chirpy. "Keep watch on the ship. If anybody tries to get in without my voice authorization, give 'em hell."

Chirpy tootled a happy affirmative and set to work arming the complex security features of the Nightwolf. Aric was proud of the security measures that he had installed in the ship, among other things. If he armed the system and an intruder tried to pry their way into the ship, a light blaster cannon would emerge from the top and bottom of the ship, spraying the area with fire. It had saved his skin several times, as it could give covering fire by voice command, also. The boarding ramp touched the damp ground and he walked down. Chirpy whistled a farewell and blatted an interrogative. "When will I be back? Shouldn't be more than two days, assuming all goes to plan. And I don't get caught by some warrior woman."

Chirpy whistled staccato in what might have been considered droid laughter. Aric walked down the ramp and turned in time to see the camouflaging of his ship being initiated. That was another modification he was happy with. The ship could extended netting all over itself, in whatever color and pattern was required. That too had saved his skin more times than he cared to count.

He marked the position of the ship with a marker beacon and began to hike in the direction of the coordinates Lars had sent him not three days earlier. The air was cool and crisp, and damp vegetation sloshed beneath the black boots that went with the armor. He was eager to see his old friend, but was apprehensive about the urgency and despair in the transmission. Calming his nerves with the Force, he continued his walk through the wilderness, drawing ever closer to his old buddy's location.

- - - -

Lirkana Tai watched the mysterious man intently from her vantage point in a tall tree, almost twenty meters from the ground. She was intensely intrigued by the mysterious armor that he wore. He looked like that bounty hunter she had heard about, Bob Fat, Bobo Fret, something like that. But he wouldn't be coming to Dathomir to hunt, would he? Dathomir was not a place for fugitives to hide, due to its lack of cities and relatively open wilderness areas. She watched closely as the man continued confidently on what was apparently an errand of some kind. She swung down from the tree on a think vine and hit the ground with a damp thump. She carefully and quietly continued following him, until she noticed a glint of silver, from an object hanging from his belt. A lightsaber! She was taken aback by this new discovery and suddenly felt vulnerable. If he was a Jedi, there was no guarantee that he hadn't already spotted her! She was a bit shaken, but was determined to have him.

- - - -

Aric froze. He sensed another being near him. It wasn't just another pack of the small rodent-vermin that he had seen on his trek. It was definitely another person, shadowing him, tracking his every movement. He could sense no malicious intent from the being, but definitely felt desire and curiosity rise up from the stalker's mind. He adjusted the light filters in his Mandalorian helmet to see in the infrared. He turned around three hundred and sixty degrees, and froze when he saw a blotch of heat in the otherwise dull infra-red landscape. He nodded to himself, satisfied. So he did have a shadow. Well, he would just play it cool and act like he didn't notice. But when his stalker made their presence obvious, he would be ready. Oh yes, he would be ready.

- - - -

Lirkana cautiously parted the foliage obscuring her view and gazed at the Jedi who was now walking between two rock faces. She decided that it was time. She hurriedly, but quietly, dashed to the other side of the left rock face and withdrew her fibercord lasso. She hurled the rope upwards and caught it on a solid pillar of stone jutting from the top of the rock. She firmly pulled it tight and scaled the cliff in little more than a minute. She quickly recovered her rope and stood at the edge of the low cliff to observe the armored man. She watched as he removed his helmet and attached it to his belt. She held her breath as she saw his face. He was indeed handsome. He had shoulder-length jet-black hair, and piercing blue eyes. He surveyed the cliffs for a moment, but seemed to decided that there was nothing of consequence there. He continued on his way, and Lirkana jumped down the with her rope, shooting towards the Jedi. . .

- - - -

Aric stopped and felt something coming towards him. He rolled away at the last second as a figure flew down from the cliff and landed hard on the ground. He rolled and drew up on one knee, reflexively drawing his lightsaber and igniting it. The yellow-white blade filled the dim pass with bright light and he stood, observing the figure.

She was obviously a warrior woman, but she didn't look at all roguish or violent. In all of his twenty-two years he had not seen any woman so beautiful. She wore black armor which looked to be made of some kind of lizard scales. It covered only her torso, revealing her well-muscled legs and slender, long arms. She wore a headband which was made of the same lizard-skin as her armor. She had bright red hair, down to the middle of her back, in several braids. She had black eyes which struck him with their fiery determination and strength.

He rolled to the ground as the woman brought up what looked to be a lasso and cast it at him. He was a fraction of a second too slow, because the lasso caught his left ankle and jerked him to the ground. He dropped his lightsaber and it fizzled out, lying on the wet ground, a mere meter from the end of his arms. He quickly drew it to him with the Force and turned to see the warrior woman striding towards him. He thumbed the switch and the yellow blade once again ignited. In a second, he activated the dual-phase mode of his saber, doubling the length of his blade and changing its color to a bright silvery-white. The tip of the extended blade tapped the woman's armor and she drew back, stunned. He cut the rope that bound his leg and hopped up. He eyed the woman suspiciously. "What do you want?"

She looked defiant, and seemed poised to try to attack him again, but she apparently thought better of it. She kept her lips closed tight in defiance, but eventually answered. "I am Lirkana Tai, of the clan Tai. You are to become my mate."

Aric drew back and adopted an incredulous expression. Oh boy, now you've done it, Aric. He realized that the Dathomiri women captured men in the wilderness and they basically owned them. Or sold them to other warrior women looking for men. He narrowed his eyes. "No, I don't think so. I'm on a mission here and it's very important."

She seemed to regard the answer for a moment, but then she responded. "No, I have captured you. You will accompany me back to my village."

"Captured me? Hardly."

She shot him a vicious glare. He was taken aback by her expression. "Okay, okay, I'll make you a deal. Come with me to complete my mission and I'll go back to the village with you. Maybe."

She looked for a few moments as if she was going to refuse and force the issue, but she agreed. "I will accompany you on your quest. What do you seek."

Aric pondered how best to phrase his answer without telling her too much. "I'm looking for an old friend. Someone I've not seen in a long time. . . a long time."

Mandalorian Jedi, chapter 1 - A Chance Meeting
By: Gabe Z.

By Gabe Z.



Disclaimer - George Lucas owns Star Wars and all related subsidiaries. I, however, own Aric, Lirkana, Lars, Chirpy (R2-A1), and some other characters that I'm probably going to make up.

Description - Aric continues his mission on Dathomir and meets some familiar faces. It takes place sometime between the Diversity Alliance arc and the last trilogy. Yeah, I know the joke has already been told, but it's new to Aric and Lirkana.

Note: I would have gotten this us a few days ago had it not been for school starting. I have to hit the sack earlier so I can't write as much at night, but rest assured I'll keep 'em coming, just be patient!

Snap! Aric froze instantly as the twig snapped beneath his heavy boot, and the pieces sloshed onto the ground near him. Lirkana paused just behind him and listened, eyes narrowed, an air of concentration boiling off of her. Satisfied that she heard nothing out of the ordinary, she motioned for Aric to continue. He reached back onto his backpack and unfastened his helmet from its place on the pack. He pulled the final piece of the armor over his head and clipped the chip strap secure. He stood for a few moments to adjust to the switch in fields of vision, but he was used to it and adapted momentarily. He continued to walk softly along his course, and Lirkana followed close behind, alert.

- - - -

Jacen was shaken by what he saw through the macrobinoculars. Boba Fett? No way! What would he be doing on Dathomir? His curiosity was further compounded when he noticed what looked like a lightsaber dangling from his belt. So he wasn't Boba Fett, he just wore the armor. And he was a Jedi? If he had his lightsaber, he must have been fully trained, but Jacen didn't know of any Jedi besides the ones trained by Luke Skywalker's academy. He shot a glance beside him to look at Tenel Ka, whom he had accompanied on a visit to her homeworld. She also held a pair of macrobinoculars, and he assumed she had already seen what he had seen. Just to be safe, he asked her. "Did you see. . ."

"Indeed, friend Jacen. I also know the warrior he is with. She is Lirkana Tai, and was one of my friends during my childhood here."

Jacen just nodded and continued to observe the two figures. They began to fade from his view and he increased magnification to maximum. He could now see the Jedi and warrior in detail, but was shaken when he saw the Jedi stop, and nod at him.

- - - -

"Lirkana, I think we're being watched."

He deftly reached into his pack and withdrew a compact pair of macrobinoculars and handed them to Lirkana. She quickly activated them. Aric poked his elbow in the direction where he suspected their watchers to be. She pointed the magnifiers in that direction, and Aric detected surprise when she spotted them. "One of my friends is up there." she said.

"Really? Why are they watching us, then?"

"It is my friend, warrior Tenel Ka, who is a Jedi, at least in training. She has a man with her, possibly another Jedi."

Other Jedi? Here? "Where do they. . . train?"

Lirkana Tai paused for a moment and thought. "I believe that it is a moon in the Yavin system."

Yavin, eh? He made a mental note to make his next stop on the moon to see what a Jedi training institution was like. After all, he had never known any Jedi besides his master, and had only trained one-to-one with a master Jedi. He was eager to meet others, but at the same time, very apprehensive. He figured, with a wan smile on his face, that if he was being watched, the armor was giving the observers some amount of nervousness.

The two continued walking and covered about three klicks before stopping to rest in a small sheltered area beneath a huge tree. Aric unstrapped his pack and laid it down on the damp ground by the rock Lirkana was sitting on, sharpening a wicked-looking knife with an equally wicked-looking rock. Aric started and stood up, senses alert. He removed his helmet and tossed it to the ground. He unhooked his lightsaber and held it in a passive position at his side. Lirkana noticed his behavior and stowed the sharpening stone in a little lizard skin pouch at her side. She brought the knife to the ready at assumed a combat stance a few meters from Aric.

Aric felt the tingling of his danger sense, but sensed no harmful intent, just challenge mixed with some curiosity. He whirled to his left, igniting his lightsaber just in time to parry with an electric violet blade. He delivered a flurry of blows and performed a Force-assisted backflip to see his assailant. Probably the Jedi-in-training that Lirkana had spotted with the other warrior women. He wondered where Tenel Ka was; probably waiting in ambush. The Jedi recovered and ran towards Aric. Aric thumbed the dual-phase button on his saber and the yellow blade extended into a double length white blade, stopping the charging teen mere centimeters before he speared himself on the extended column of energy. The teen Jedi drew back in surprise, but Aric saw an expression on his face that belied his situation. Aric whirled in time to catch the warrior woman Jedi in mid-jump. He slashed with lightsaber and she fell out of the air, rolling to the ground and leaping up in a defensive position. Aric decided that even though he was extensively trained in lightsaber combat, two foes, even if they were potential allies, it would be better to end it quickly. He closed his eyes and projected visions in the other two Jedis' minds.

The two Jedi that attacked him were immediately calmed and put away their sabers. Aric switched his back from dual-phase mode and deactivated it. He clipped it to his belt and crossed his arms. "And you two are?"

The man who had attacked him offered an answer. "I'm Jacen Solo, Jedi Knight. Looks like you are, too."

"That's true. I'm Aric Jaro, Jedi Knight, not it training."

Aric glanced over his shoulder and saw Tenel Ka and Lirkana Tai conversing. He figured that they had recognized each other and had decided that there was nothing worth fighting over. He overheard some snippets of conversation. "Handsome one. . . yes. . . take him back."

He shook his head and smiled. "So, Jacen, what brings you here? And what in the name of Lieutenant Kettch are you doing following me? Us?"

"I was just here with Tenel Ka on a visit. I just got sort of suspicious when someone wearing Mandalorian armor showed up."

"Yeah, I seem to have that effect. So, Lirkana Tai over there was telling me about a Jedi academy that you train at? I didn't know it existed."

Jacen looked a bit surprised. "It's on Yavin 4, a moon in, well, the Yavin system. Abandoned Rebel Alliance base."

"Yes, I've heard of it."

"So if you don't know about the academy. . . how did you become a Jedi?"

Aric closed his eyes for a moment and decided to keep it short. "Well, I was born shortly after the destruction of the first Death Star. A friend of the family felt that I had Force potential, and at age eight I was shipped off to some planet in the Unknown Regions, and I was trained by a Chiss Jedi Master."

"Chiss?" Jacen replied, a shiver visible throughout him.

"Yeah, I know all about Thrawn and such, but he was nothing like that murderer. He was, well, a bit eccentric, but was Yoda not eccentric?"

Jacen replied with a nod and put his fist to his chin to ponder all that Aric had just told him. "Let's see. . . first Death Star would make you, what, twenty-two?"

"Yeah. You're about sixteen, if I have my years correct."

"How'd you know that?"

Aric smiled a thin smile and replied. "I know my history. You and Jaina's birth wasn't exactly secret."

Jacen reciprocated the smile. "Yeah, I suppose not. Well, what are you doing in this place, anyway?"

"I was supposed to meet an old friend here to help him do. . . a few things."

Jacen nodded and turned to the two conversing warrior women. "Tenel Ka, meet Aric Jaro, fellow Jedi Knight."

"I am pleased to meet you, Aric Jaro."

"The pleasure is all mine."

Aric turned to address the minuscule assembly before him. "Well, Lirkana, shall we?"

Tenel Ka spoke up. "We wish to go with you."

Jacen added his approval to her idea. Aric was pleased that they would have help. "Well, glad to have you on board, Jacen and Tenel Ka."

"Lead on, Aric." said Lirkana Tai.

- - - -

The four came within five klicks of Lars's location by nightfall, and they set up camp around a small rock formation protruding from the ground. Aric unpacked his ration kit and handed out the tasteless ration bars and water packets to each traveler. "Sorry about the lack of gourmet, but it'll do."

Jacen replied. "Yeah, we're used to these tasteless little pink cubes. Hey, want to hear a joke."

"Uh, whatever."

"What's the difference between an AT-AT and a stormtrooper?"

Aric rolled his eyes. "Beats me. What?"

"One's an Imperial walker, the other's a walking Imperial!"

Aric groaned and put his hand to his forehead. Tenel Ka remained mirthless, as did Lirkana Tai. These warrior women just didn't laugh, did they? Aric popped the remainder of his ration bar in his mouth and lay down on the soft, wet ground. Moments later, he was asleep, soon followed by the others. Lirkana was the last to lay down, and before she did, she gently kissed Aric on the forehead. "Good night, Aric." she muttered.

- - - -

Aric was also the first to wake in the morning mist. He rose and shouldered his pack and waited for the others to wake. One by one, they arose, and within ten minutes the party was ready to go. Aric checked the coordinates on the rangefinder in his helmet. "Looks like we've got about four and a half klicks to Lars."

Tenel Ka had a slightly puzzled expression on her face. "Lars?"

"Yeah, Lars. Old friend of mine, I'm supposed to meet him here."

She nodded and continued on. The four were at the coordinates Aric had received from Lars within three hours, and Aric surveyed the area. He was baffled by the lack of, well, anything, where they were. Then he realized what he needed to do. He switched on the infrared vision in his helmet and was greeted by the faint, but obvious outline of a small spacecraft, not twenty meters in front of them. "Ah, there it is. Follow me, please."

Jacen looked surprised. "How do you know."

Aric tapped his helmet and said one word that made him understand. "Infrared."

They came up to the ship, and Aric found the hatch. He thumped the door with his gloved fist, and was greeted by the muzzle of a blaster rifle through a hole in the hatch. "Who is it?"

"Lars! Aric Jaro!"

"Aric? Is that really you?"

"Yeah. Now what did you want to talk about?"

"Oh, right, right."

The blaster withdrew from the port in the door and a series of beeps followed as the door slid open. Lars eyed the two warrior women and Jacen suspiciously. "Who're they?"

"Don't worry, they're just friends. Met them all here, in fact."

Lars's frown turned to a wry smile. "Almost got captured, did ya?"

Aric chuckled. "Yeah."

"Well, come on in, and have a seat."

The four followed Lars into the small ship and were seated in the passenger lounge. Lars addressed Aric. "Well, the reason I brought you here is my latest venture. You remember the undersea mining operation on Mon Calamari?"

Aric shook his head. His friend, nine years older than him, was always getting into some crazy business venture. But this was a new thing; Aric had never known a time when he had needed help. "Yeah, the ore mining station?"

"Right, that's the one. Well, you know how the Remnant surrendered about three years ago? A rogue contingent of Imperials took over my station and are diverting all production to help rebuild the Empire's arsenal."

Aric's eyes narrowed. He hated the Imperials for all that they had done, and it had just become personal. "Well, do you just want the Imperials off the station? Or something more?"

"Well, getting them off would be nice. And I think your armor would provide sufficient fear for them to not come back. Right?"

Arid nodded. Yet another use for the old, unused Mandalorian armor he had picked up in the Koornacht Cluster. "Well, I have a few things to do, a moon to visit, before I can help. I think that I can be there within a week. That alright?"

"Hey, as soon as you can is fine with me."

"Well then, we'll be going. May the Force be with you."

Aric rose, followed by Tenel Ka, Jacen, and Lirkana Tai. They walked down the ramp. "You too, Aric." replied Lars.

- - - -

Aric had forgotten all about the supposed 'capture' by Lirkana Tai. Jacen and Tenel Ka had went back to her ship to depart for Yavin 4, where the Jedi academy was, he had been told. Jacen left him a set of hyperspace jumps that would get him to the moon in less than a day. They were gone, and now Aric had to accompany Lirkana back to a tiny village not five klicks from Lars's ship., as her 'prize.' The nav computer must not have recognized this in his scan for encampments when he landed. He sincerely hoped that it would have no lasting implications. He was bound at the wrists and led into the village. Several guards atop domesticated rancors turned to stare at Aric, admiring Lirkana's 'catch.' One even offered to buy him away from her, but fortunately, she decided to 'keep' him.

She led him back to her hut in the village and sat him in a chair. "I'm sorry to put you through this. I do not really enjoy this historical custom, but it is important to remain in good standing with the elders. Besides. . ." she trailed off as she unbound his wrists and straddled him on the chair. "I don't think you mind being captured all that much." she teased as she ran a finger lightly over his jaw.

He replied, trying to sound witty. "No, I don't, I suppose."

She shut him up by pressing her mouth to his. His wrists were sore from the cord, but he managed to get them around Lirkana Tai's waist. She backed away from him and set about gathering some things from shelved scattered about the room and then threw them into a cloth sack. He sat, reeling from the kiss she had just given him. He was relieved to not have to act as a slave. And he was happy that the red-haired warrior woman found him attractive. And he found her attractive. Oh yes, he found her attractive. His lips still tingled from the kiss as he observed her moving quickly about the room. "What are you doing?"

She paused momentarily in her task. "I wish to accompany you to Yavin."

Aric sat back in the chair, a bit stunned by her sudden decision. "Um, really? How did you know. . ."

"I observe and listen well, Aric."

"Yes, I suppose so. Wait. Won't just leaving like this affect your status or something?"

She sighed and offered a heavy shrug. "It will, true, but I have no desire to remain in this place. I do not enjoy the traditional customs of the world, though I have adapted rather well. I want to see the galaxy, to not be grounded on Dathomir."

Aric put his hands to his chin and pondered for a moment. "I guess I see where you're coming from on this. Okay, you can come with me. Just one question: how are we going to leave this place undetected."

"We wait until night, but that will most likely not be sufficient to cover our escape. I was under the impression that you could provide some cover."

He frowned. "I could provide a Force illusion. . ."

He didn't like using the Force to twist the minds of others into believing something other than reality, but sometimes circumstances called for more than usual methods. She interrupted his thoughts. "It is dusk. We will be able to leave in a few hours. Tell me, where is your ship?"

"About, say, ten or twelve klicks from here. Should be able to reach it by morning if we hustle."

She adopted a thin smile and nodded, satisfied. "So it shall be. But before anything else, please tell me about yourself."

"Well, I was born on Ord Mantell, about a month before the first Death Star. . ."

- - - -

Night had fallen. Aric quietly placed his Mandalorian helmet on and paused for a moment to adjust the scanners for night vision. Lirkana followed close behind. Just outside of the hut, they could both see several rancor guards keeping watch on the perimeter of the village. Suddenly, Aric caught a flash of movement. Just a flare in the otherwise dull green landscape of his night vision. He also felt a vicious presence. After him. He turned to Lirkana and whispered. "There's someone out there on the horizon."

"I see. Do you know who it is?"

"Not exactly. But I have a bad feeling that if it is, there won't be a village left here. We've got to do something."

The shape moved closer, now accompanied by another dozen. A sinking feeling built up in Aric's gut as his danger sense tingled violently. Espos. They must have followed me here, and they'll stop at nothing to have my head on a stick. He looked to his right and saw that Lirkana was no longer by his side. A second later, he heard a monstrous clang as the village's alert gong was sounded. The rancor guards immediately picked up and scanned the horizons. Spotting the intruding Espos, the guards charged them. Good. They should have a fighting chance, even if the Espos have blasters. He saw flashes of fire and the glinting silver of spears in the distance, as a furious battle raged. Lirkana came running to him and pointed in the direction of the battle. "Come, we must assist my clansisters."

Aric was torn between what to do. He knew he should stay and protect the village. It was, after all, him that the Espos we searching for. He drew up his lightsaber and ignited it, its yellow glow giving the two an ethereal radiance. They charged into the fray.

Aric arrived first, to be greeted by a hail of blaster bolts. A rancor bellowed in pain and fell heavily to the ground, throwing its beleaguered rider to the ground. The dozen Corporate Sector troops had been reduced to five, who were still blazing away with wild abandon. The warrior women were faring no better. Three of the four rancors had been slaughtered, along with as many women. Aric decided that it was time to change the balance of the fight. Lirkana was already in the fracas, and was going hand to hand with one of the troops. She stabbed her wicked knife into his gut and he doubled over, coughing up blood as he slumped to the ground. Aric charged the nearest troop, lightsaber at the ready. He deflected a small rain of blaster fire and slashed the nearest troop cleanly across the stomach, bisecting him. The last rancor went down, spouting blackish blood from a dozen wounds. Aric decided that the battle was not going well, as the Espos were turning the tide quickly. Time for drastic measures.

He reached into his pack and withdrew a beckon call. Quickly activating it, he yelled. "Chirpy! Get over to. . ." he paused as he transmitted a set of coordinates. "Power up the antipersonnel guns and be ready to fire!"

He heard Chirpy blat back a series of affirmations. Aric prayed to the Force that his reliable astromech would arrive with the Nightwolf in time to save the village. He slashed another Espo as the familiar roar of ion engines filled the sky. He yelled. "Lirkana! Get down!"

He dived and rolled to the ground and Lirkana did the same, just as Chirpy opened fire with the lower blaster cannon, lighting up the area with a hail of antipersonnel bolts. Two more Espos went down, clutching various wounds. Aric yelled, hoping that the ship's security measures were functional. "Chirpy! Open up shop!"

He was more than a little relieved when the boarding ramp lowered. Lirkana leaped in, followed quickly by Aric. The hatch sealed shut with a hiss and the ramp retracted. "Chirpy, give me one pass at that Espo vehicle!" he yelled as he sprinted into the lower gunwell. He powered up the quad laser cannon with Force-assisted speed and drew a bead on the troop carrier that was slaughtering the village. He let the Force flow through him, and when he felt the time was right, he let loose a hail of yellow-orange laser bolts, and was rewarded by a yellow-white explosion as the troop carrier met its maker. The last trooper was flung almost twenty meters by the explosion, and hit a tree, falling to the ground, unconscious or dead. Aric, let out his held breath and slumped back in his gunnery chair, powering down the powerful laser battery. He ran a hand through his sweaty hair and loosened the catches on the now constricting armor. He climbed up the short ladder to the passenger hold and found Lirkana sitting in a chair, trying to tend a nasty-looking wound on her thigh. "Lirkana! You're hurt badly. Let me help you."

He quickly keyed open a compartment in the wall of the rear of the ship, the wall that divided the rest of the ship from the compact though powerful engine assembly. He grabbed a medkit and hurried back to the passenger lounge. She was beginning to look pale and tired from loss of blood. He tore open the kit and removed a large pad of fiber gauze and applied it to the wound. He suddenly felt a little nervous, looking at her thigh that way. No, no, he told himself. You need to do this, she might die if I don't! He shook his head and stopped the flow of blood eventually. He removed a field cauterizer to close the wound, and then removed a bacta wrap from the kit, depleting the small canister of the miracle medicine into the empty bandage. He wrapped the bandage around her leg and elevated it onto the small table to keep it from bleeding any more. She was almost unconscious from dizziness and loss of blood, but he distinctly heard her say one thing: "Thank you, Aric."

- - - -

Aric was extremely relieved at not finding any Espo cruisers waiting in orbit to ambush him. Even so, he slaved his two gun turrets together and kept them online, as well as the heavy ion cannon array. Lirkana slept quietly in the single bed of the Nightwolf's cabin, and he checked on her every few hours, inspecting the wound. It looked ugly at the time, but with the bacta wrap, it should be good as new in a few weeks. Chirpy rolled into the cockpit and swivelled his dome to face Aric, and blatted a series of questions, but first and foremost expressed his worry. "Yes, yes, Chirpy, I'm just fine. Glad you care." he chuckled.

"Who's who?"

The astromech hooted indignantly in a kind of 'don't play stupid with me' kind of rebuke. "Oh, her?"

Chirpy whistled excitedly. "Oh, yeah. That's Lirkana Tai. She's one of the warrior women from Dathomir."

The droid beeped sarcastically. "Oh, yes, I'm sure you knew that." Chirpy whirred and beeped. "What? No! I'm not in love with her. Where in the name of the Force do you come up with this?"

The astromech emitted a sequence of high beeps, obviously smug laughter. "Oh yeah? Well, keep acting like that and I might just scrap you, huh? Or have your memory wiped. How'd ya like that, pal?"

Chirpy blatted exactly what he thought of that. "Hey, hey, don't get touchy. I'm just kiddin' around."

The droid swivelled its dome as if shaking its head. Chirpy rolled to the other side of the cockpit and jacked into the main computer, content to converse with the computer until they reached Yavin 4. Aric checked the nav computer. About eight hours to the moon. "Chirpy, keep us on course. If anything happens, let me know."

The droid gave a hasty acknowledgment and shooed him away. Aric sat in one of the small lounge's chairs and removed his torso armor. He pulled on the shirt he wore underneath, as it had become damp and hot with sweat. He stripped off the rest of the light armor which had become so heavy since the fight on Dathomir. He removed his sweaty shirt and tossed it into the fresher's laundry bin. He turned the shower to full blast and let it run for several moments before stepping in. Before he did, however, he poked his head in the cabin to check on Lirkana. She appeared to be sleeping, but the fact that she rolled over just before he came in and was wearing a broad smile on her lips, belied the fact that she had been enjoying watching him remove his clothing. He stifled the urge to laugh but could not help feel a bit self conscious as he closed the fresher door, stripped the rest of his clothing away and stepped into the shower.

Fifteen minutes later, refreshed and invigorated by the hot shower, he stepped out into the small but complete fresher, tying a towel around his waist. He regarded his stubbly self in the mirror, lamenting on the fact that he hadn't shaved in close to a week. He withdrew a razor and lopped off the excess hair, leaving only a trace of stubble. He dressed quickly and opened the fresher door to find Lirkana up and about, limping, but trying determinedly to walk. He quickly ran to her and helped her sit in one of the three chairs scattered about the lounge. "You really need to rest, you shouldn't try to put much pressure on that for at least a day or two. We'll have the people on Yavin take a look at it when we get there."

"No, I have to recover myself. Tradition demands it."

"I thought you hated traditions."

"Not all of them. Why do you think I still wear this armor? Or keep my hair the way I do?"

Aric paused and smiled. "Well, I can think of several reasons, right off the top of my head. . ."

She giggled and he was about to make a much more suggestive comment before Chirpy poked his dome around the corner from the cockpit and blatted loudly. "He says we're in the Yavin system. We should be dropping out of hyperspace in about ten minutes."

"All right. Wait, what was it that you wanted to say to me?"

"Erm, nothing. . ." he trailed off, suddenly feeling very self conscious. They sat in awkward silence for a while, and she was just about to press the issue when the hyperspace warning indicators beeped. Glad to be out of such a situation, Aric hopped to his feet, pulled on the rest of his armor and walked into the forward area of the ship. Just as he walked through the low door into the cockpit, Chirpy shrilled in alarm. Aric hustled into the cockpit and saw just what was making the little droid so agitated. As soon as he sat quickly in the pilot's chair, he knew what was wrong. An Imperial Star Destroyer hung in low orbit over the green moon of Yavin 4. Muttering a string of vile curses under his breath, he quickly ran a sensor sweep on the Destroyer, then proceeded to power all shields and weapons. Chirpy let out a low, mournful moan as if anticipating the potentially deadly skirmish that might occur. He yelled back to the passenger lounge. "Lirkana! We've got trouble. Buckle in and sit tight, this might be a wild ride."

He was slaving the quads, the ion array, and the concussion missile tube together when he received a transmission from the moon. It was an extremely attractive woman, with silvery-white hair and slightly pointed ears. It was a wide band distress call. "This is the Jedi academy on Yavin 4. An Imperial Star Destroyer is in orbit and is bombarding us! We need help! Anyone. . ." the image fizzled out as the battleship's turbolasers flared to life, sending a withering hail of fire down upon the Jedi moon. Aric knew the situation was desperate; even at maximum hyperspeed, the New republic couldn't get even a Corellian Corvette to the system in time. Aric, knowing the odds were extremely stacked against him, decided that he needed to protect the academy. Even if he knew only two if the people staying there.

"Chirpy, calibrate weapons systems to the T. I need a full status report on monitor five-two, stat."

The droid hooted and a schematic appeared on a monitor to his left. Good, all systems ready to go. He let the Force flow through him. It felt even stronger than normal, probably since he was in close proximity of so many Force users. He brought the engines to life and set an evasive attack pattern towards the bridge of the huge ship. No mind was paid to him on the first pass; no TIEs were deployed, either. A good sign. He depressed the trigger for the first time, sending a barrage made up of orange laser fire, electric blue ion pulses, and red-pink concussion missiles. As he swung the Nightwolf around for another pass, he looked back to see if any damage had been caused. Sure enough, a small explosion and fire burst from the white hull of the command tower. Now things were heating up. The Destroyer turned some of its turbolasers on his ship as the previously dormant ion cannons flared to life. Aric pulled the ship into a tight downward loop and made a pass at on of the spherical shield generators on top of the bridge. Letting loose a barrage of six missiles, he pulled the ship away just as it was rocked by a stray turbolaser blast. The ship rumbled violently, but the shields held and the Nightwolf veered away as the ball-shaped shield generator exploded in a brilliant flash of yellow-white, showering the area with debris.

The ship now had all of its turbolasers and ion cannons tracking Aric's ship, hoping to get lucky and score a hit. Aric veered around stray bolt after stray bolt and decided that it was time to stop taking needless chances. He veered away from the Star Destroyer his computer had just identified as Eliminator, a ship commanded by one of the rogue moffs hoping to regain a foothold in the galactic chain of government. He was gratified to see a Mon Cal cruiser come out of hyperspace near the destroyer and begin to engage it. The firestorm stopped for a moment, and Aric let his guard down. He was jolted as an ion burst hit the ship, full on, frying all systems and rendering the engines nearly useless. Chirpy let out a long wail, then shut down, falling to the floor with a clunk. Aric flipped the switch for a cold start and prayed to the Force that he could keep them in the air long enough for the engines to reboot. He knew he couldn't keep the ship in the air with his own power. He just wasn't that strong.

He glanced quickly at a diagnostic panel to his right and saw Lirkana sitting in the seat to his right. He hadn't even noticed her in the heat of the battle. "Didn't I say to sit tight back there?"

"I've never been a very good listener." she replied flatly.

"Well, that and a lot of other things aren't going to matter in three minutes unless this flying junk heap can get a cold start running. If it doesn't well. . . let's not talk about that."

Lirkana Tai's cool composure seemed to melt ever so slightly at his grim speculation. He glanced at the nav computer. One minute until impact. Forty seconds to restart. It would be a tight squeeze if he had ever been in one. It would take ten seconds after the reboot to kick the engines and five or more seconds to pull away, if the sharp break didn't completely destroy the repulsors with its sudden shift. . .

He tried to focus as the seconds ticked away. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead and dribbled onto his armor, running down the polished green as he kept stoically confident. It was almost time. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. . .

The roar of the engines was deafening, but Aric didn't hesitate to slam them to full power and pull hard up on the rudder. . . there was a screech of metal as the bottom of the Nightwolf scraped heavily with the tarmac of the academy's landing pad. He pulled up and around, setting it into a steady, slow approach pattern. Breathing heavily, he wiped a thick film of sweat from his forehead, and swiped away some strands of hair that were stubbornly clinging to his damp face. Lirkana looked as if she was doing her best to kept her stern facade, but the relief that she felt was plainly evident to Aric as he used the Force to calm his writhing nerves. Five minutes passed and he broke his quick meditation. He keyed into the diagnostic computer to find that most everything was shorted out, but was repairable. Chirpy was recovering from his jolt, swivelling his dome about wildly, bleating and blooping, confused.

Aric laughed a bit as he flipped the gear switch. The ship's three landing legs extended from hidden slots in its belly. A moment later they were on the ground. The landing gear gave a loud hiss of compressed air being released, and the ship settled onto the landing pad. Lirkana looked relieved to be on the ground. Aric wondered if it was her first time traveling through space. If it was, well, he had given her a hell of a show, by all means.

He looked out the large forward viewport and saw several figures standing on the landing strip about fifteen meters from the ship. He recognized Jacen and Tenel Ka and saw an older man, whose figures gave him the appearance of a man wizened beyond his years. There were a few others there whom he didn't recognize. He rose from his seat and stretched, to a symphony of popping joints and sore muscles from sitting tensely for so long. Chirpy moved to followed him, as did Lirkana. He wiped the condensing moisture off of his armor and keyed open the landing ramp. He didn't bother to engage the security protocols; he could sense no danger or harmful intent anywhere in this place. He walked to the hatch and breathed heavily. He started down the ramp.

He walked out onto the tarmac and glanced in the direction of the welcomers. They were walking to him, joined now by a golden droid and a short, stubby astromech that looked much like Chirpy. The older man arrived first and greeted him. "Hello, Aric. I am Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Jacen and Tenel Ka have told me much about you."

Aric felt vulnerable and exhilarated at the same time. He wasn't sure what to say, so he stuttered a bit. "Well, uh, nice to meet you too, Master Skywalker."

The younger Jedi approached and greeted him in turn. Last to arrive were the droids, who eagerly conversed with Chirpy. The golden droid, obviously a protocol unit, greeted Chirpy. "I am See-threepio, human-cyborg relations, and this is my counterpart, Artoo-detoo."

Chirpy blatted what was obviously a greeting, and Threepio appeared surprised. "An A1 model? How exciting! I have never met a droid such as yourself! I am pleased to make your acquaintance, R2-A1."

Threepio's companion echoed those thoughts. The three droids ambled off, Threepio in the lead, the two astromechs rolling behind, excitedly exchanging whistles and beeps. Jacen and Tenel Ka walked off in the opposite direction, followed by Lirkana, who was talking with Tenel Ka, about Dathomir and how life had been since she had last lived their. That left Aric and Luke Skywalker to talk. Aric felt a bit nervous in the presence of a Jedi Master whom he didn't know, but he calmed himself and prepared for any questions that the Jedi might ask. "Aric, may I examine your lightsaber?"

That was a question he wasn't expecting. But he obliged, and handed the metal cylinder to the Jedi Master. "Interesting," he mused as he ignited it and the whitish-yellow blade slowly extended with a hiss. "Dual-phase. I know of only one other Jedi who built a dual phase lightsaber, and he was instructed by a Jedi Master of old. Tell me, how were you instructed in the Force?"

Aric sucked in a deep breath. "It's a long story. . ."

"I have plenty of time."

Aric took another breath and began. "Well, I was born on Ord Mantell, and when I was eight, a friend of the family took me to a world in the Unknown Regions, and I was trained by a Chiss Jedi. . ."

"Chiss?" Skywalker shivered visibly at the mention of the race. Just the name seemed to be able to send a chill down the spine of just about any sentient being in the universe. Aric continued as the two Jedi walked towards the temple. Luke returned the lightsaber, and the two walked along, discussing all things of the Force.

- - - -

Aric laid down on the firm but comfortable sleeping pallet in the guest room that had been afforded to him. He had been hesitant to accept such hospitality; years of experience had taught him to always look for an ulterior motive. However, he had sensed nothing but warm, friendly thoughts throughout the temple, so he decided to accept. Lirkana Tai was in the room directly across the hall on the lowest floor of the ancient Massassi temple, the history of which Master Skywalker had been more than happy to enlighten him on. He was tired, but it was a good sort of tired, the tiredness one felt at the end of a productive day.

His tiredness was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. "Yes?" he called.

"Aric Jaro? Jaina Solo, Jacen's brother? Mind if I come in?"

"Sure, come on in."

Jaina stepped through the door. Aric looked up at her and was momentarily stunned by her beautiful features. He lightly shook his head and motioned to the lone chair in the room. "Please, have a seat."

She looked down and fidgeted for a moment. "It's, uh, nice to meet you."

Aric smiled softly. "You too."

She smiled back. "I, urm, heard that you were pretty good with a lightsaber. . ." she trailed off, sounding hopeful, her voice a bit soft.

"Why? You need some practice?"

"Well, yeah," she replied nervously.

Why was she so nervous? Must just be jitters, he thought. She probably wasn't attracted to him. "Well, do you really think you could take me on?"

She smiled and replied. "Well, never hurts to try, hm?"

He shook his head and laughed. "No, I suppose not. I'll try to be careful."

She hopped up from the chair and walked to the door. "I'll meet you out at the landing pad, in, say, fifteen minutes?"

"It's a date." Did I just say that?

She smiled broadly and left his room. He shook his head again and sighed. Is this why he was here? To be lightsaber practice for a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears Jedi trainees? No, no, don't underestimate them. Still, he was afraid that his vast lightsaber skills, combined with his dual phase saber, could be a deadly combination, even in practice. Especially in practice. He rose from the bed, his hope of catching a short nap shot for the evening. He slipped the breastplate of his Mandalorian armor over his head and secured the leg, arm, and crotch plates, then slipped on his white gloves with black backs on. He double checked all the fastenings and then clipped his lightsaber to his belt, patting the comforting shape of the cylinder at his side. He walked out the door and locked it. Starting down the corridor, a figure ran to meet him. Jacen Solo. "Hello, Jacen."

"Hey, Aric. What'cha up to?"

"Just going to meet Jaina for some lightsaber practice."

"Really? Sounds like fun. You could give her a run for her money, I can vouch for that. Hey, mind if I watch you guys practice?"

An odd request, but Aric couldn't see the harm in it. "Yeah, sure, why not."

Jacen grinned and headed in the other direction. "Okay, I'll be there."

- - - -

Aric groaned and shook his head as he waited at the landing pad for Jaina. Jacen and a dozen other students had gathered a the place to watch this new arrival take on the supposed lightsaber ace of the academy. Others arrived by the minute, until Jaina showed up. All told, about fifteen students had showed up for the practice session. "Quite a crowd, eh, Jaina?"

She laughed. "Yeah, looks like it."

Aric looked around and saw Jacen, Tenel Ka, and a dozen others he didn't recognize, including a huge ginger-furred Wookiee, a pair of Trandoshans, a human in some gaudily colored robes, among others. Aric drew his lightsaber and held it at ready at his right side. "Ready when you are."

She drew her own lightsaber and ignited it. A green shaft of light appeared and she tensed in concentration. Aric wasn't sure if this was such a good idea. He had the dual-phase saber, and was infinitely more experienced. But it couldn't hurt to take practice wherever it presented it, right? He narrowed his eyes and let the Force course through him, and he could feel it take hold of his body. Jaina charged at him and thrust her saber at his torso. He blocked low and parried high, the green and yellow lightsabers crashing together and making a crackling hiss. Aric muscled his saber lower towards Jaina and she strained with exertion as beads of sweat dripped down her brow. She rolled away and Aric drew away and shook his head, sending little drops of sweat flying from his hair. He held the ignited weapon and his side in a passive position and watched as Jaina recovered. He sensed her ready to try something, and just as she began to charge, Aric thumbed the second button on his lightsaber and the extended white sword extended. Jaina's eyes widened and she dived to the ground to avoid a collision with the weapon. She rolled to the ground and her lightsaber clattered to the pavement and sputtered out as she hit the tarmac hard. Aric stretched out with the Force and drew her saber to him. "Had enough?"

She grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I think so. Looks like the lightsaber champ of the academy has been defeated."

Aric laughed and handed her saber back. She holstered it and walked away. Murmurs of approval and excitement arose from the crowd as Aric used the Force to calm himself. He was just about to walk away to a fresher when who should appear, but Luke Skywalker.

The Jedi Master, clad in black, circled him. The onlookers tensed, as if anticipating some epic battle. The Jedi Master withdrew his weapon and ignited it, the greenish-white blade producing the low, hypnotic hum that lightsabers were famous for. Aric drew his saber and turned it on, bringing it to a ready position. The two circled for a moment, talking. "So, Aric, it appears that you are quite a fighter with a lightsaber."

"Well, I suppose so, hm?"

The Jedi Master nodded and Aric moved to parry in a lightning quick motion. Luke, surprised, back off a bit and eyed his opponent. "You're a quick one."

Aric appeared not to hear the comment, his face taut with exertion and concentration. He slitted his eyes and prepared for another attack. Luke came at him from all angles, slashing and cutting with blinding speed and precision. Aric parried successfully, but he had become trapped against the temple's exterior. Evaluating his options speedily, he used the Force to jump and ricochet off the wall, landing behind Luke. The Jedi Master turned around and slashed at Aric. He was still recovering from the jump when Luke's blade hit his chest armor at the perfect angle to bisect him. Instead, what would have been the killing blow was defused as Luke's saber sputtered out against the armor. Luke deactivated his saber and said, with a knowing expression on his face. "Cortosis ore."

"Right. The planet I trained on had loads of the stuff. When I got my armor, I made a side trip back to pick some up and stuff it in the armor."

Aric punched the button on his weapon and the shaft of yellow energy vanished into the saber's handle. He returned it to its position on his belt and wiped his face with the back of his left glove, removing most of the sweat that was blurring his vision. He sat heavily on a bench near the area and proceeded to unstrap the restraints of his armor. "You are unwise to lower your defenses," said Luke with an ominous tone to his voice.

"Really? Do you think I'm not defending myself right now?"

Luke smiled. "No, I suppose not. I wouldn't want to catch you in a bad mood, though."

Aric chuckled as he removed the torso plating. A couple of catcalls and ooh's were heard from the female members of the crowd as he relaxed and set the armor on the ground by his feet, his undershirt stretching almost uncomfortably taut against his chest. Luke smiled and laughed again. "Looks like you've got a fan club, Aric."

He stood from the bench and retrieved his armor from the tarmac. "Looks that way, doesn't it?"

Luke chuckled and began to walk the other way. Aric headed back to his ship, to use the fresher. On his way there, some of the female spectators crossed his path, giving winks and more suggestive gestures. He wearily trudged up the ramp on the Nightwolf, where Chirpy was waiting, fresh from his chat with C-3PO and R2-D2. He even looked clean. They must have given him an oil bath or something. Chirpy shrilled in happiness at the sight of his master. Aric laughed. "Nice to see you, old friend."

Interesting, that. Calling a droid an old friend. No harm done, thought. No rules that say that humans couldn't befriend droids. "Anyone try to get in?"

Chirpy blooped and activated the security monitor. There was Jaina, looking over the exterior of the ship. Jacen had told her that she was a whiz with mechanical things and ships, so he guessed that it was just good-natured curiosity. A later log showed Lirkana climbing up the ramp, looking tired and worn out. Must have been on a run or something with Tenel Ka and Jacen. Aric opened a storage closet and placed his armor inside, leaving him in his undershirt and shorts. He headed for the fresher and shed his shirt into the clothing receptacle by the shower room. He caught a glimmer of movement in the corner of his eye and felt a presence moving through the room. He was immediately suspicious. He was knocked off his feet as Lirkana tackled him from behind, slamming him to the ground and pinning him to the cold deckplates with her muscular legs. "Now I've captured you."

Aric laughed. "I guess so, hm? So, now that you've caught the great Jedi Aric Jaro, what do you intend to do?" he chided in a mockingly cutesy voice.

She smacked him playfully across the forehead and pressed her nose to his. She rotated her head and closed her eyes, pressing her lips to the Jedi pinned underneath her. He reciprocated and deftly slipped his tongue into her mouth. He was glad that she didn't call the whole kiss off at that. If fact, she returned the favor, and their tongues met in a twisting duel, wrapping around each other. He wrapped his arms around her thin waist and pulled her closer. They locked lips again and she shifted position. Abruptly, she jumped up and yelled, "Ow!"

Aric sat up, concerned. "What? What's wrong?"

She began to turn bright red and nudged her head in his direction. He was confused until he looked down at himself. "Oh. He he." he chuckled nervously and began to redden himself. "Um, sorry, couldn't, er, help it."

She giggled softly and returned to the cabin. He stood and winced at a pain he felt. "Ow! Geez, she coulda gone a little easier on the gear!"

He laughed aloud as he walked into the fresher. Things weren't shaping up so bad here at the academy. He chuckled as he stepped into the shower. No, they weren't bad at all.

To be continued, of course.

Mandalorian Jedi, chapter 2 - A Favor Returned
By: Gabe Z.

By Gabe Z.



Disclaimer - Argh, here we go again. George Lucas owns Star Wars and all the stuff related to it. I created Aric, Lirkana, Chirpy, and Lars. I used A Guide to the Star Wars Galaxy, second edition, by Bill Slavicsek to learn the sabacc rules.

A few days after arriving at the academy, Aric journeys to Mon Calamari to help Lars out. But in the process, something happens that changes his life.

Aric flipped the ignition switches on the control console of the Nightwolf and he sat back as the ion engines roared to life. He pressed a sequence of buttons and the ship lifted off the ground. The landing gear retracted into the belly of the craft with a clank and hiss. The ship rose higher and higher into the air, and Aric pondered what he was doing. Lars had requested his assistance about five days ago, to help him regain control of his ore mining facility on Mon Calamari. He went alone, but no one had seemed to protest, apparently sensing the personal aspects of his errand. However, his new acquaintances had seemed a bit nervous at his insistence at leaving alone. He hadn't even brought Chirpy, much to the little droid's dismay, but he would be in good hands with C-3PO and R2-D2.

The ship rose through the atmosphere and cut a trail through the thick clouds of Yavin 4. He brought up his navigation display and patched in a series of hyperspace coordinates that would take him to Mon Calamari with little delay. He engaged his hyperdrive and the stars blurred to brilliant white as the Nightwolf broke into hyperspace.

- - - -

Ulek Sool watched the ship jump to hyperspace from his hidden vantage point in the mass shadow of the gas giant Yavin and used his hyper-advanced sensor suite to track the ship's hyperspace jumps and then prepared to follow it. He was going to capture this Jedi, and the Corporate Sector Authority was going to pay quite handsomely for his head on a stick.

- - - -

Aric rose from his chair in the cockpit of the chip and walked into the cabin to get some sleep. It had been a good day and half since he had been able to get a decent amount of sleep, and this two day hyperjump was the perfect chance to catch some sleep. He set his armor on the floor beside the small bunk and plopped down, hitting the mat with a light thwack. He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep within minutes, but he did not sleep well. Dreams of death and destruction on Lar's underground station clouded his mind and he slept fitfully. He awoke in a cold sweat and looked around the cabin in panic. He had, in his nightmares, seen someone following him, radiating evil thoughts, and he had seen this mystery foe kill him and collect a bounty on his head. Aric rose nervously and slipped into his armor. If indeed it had been a vision of the future, he considered himself warned, and he set about preparing for such circumstances.

He took the remote computer access pad from its socket on the wall and sat on the table in the passenger lounge. He keyed into the ship's main computer with the pad and set to work. The ship's computer was competent and occasionally impressed him with its efficiency and logic, but it was definitely no substitute for having Chirpy on board to assist in everything from diagnostics and routine maintenance to weapon calibration and firing. He momentarily felt a pang of guilt for not having brought his droid companion on his mission, but he suppressed the feeling, telling himself that this was a mission that he himself needed to do, as a friend, on his word as a Jedi.

He ran a routine diagnostic on the ship and ascertained that all systems were working perfectly well. He went on to more pressing and possible dangerous matters, preparing the weapons and shields for combat. He brought up the shield control matrix and adjusted the deflection field to have a rotating frequency, to keep any ships from getting a fix on weak spots in the shields. Satisfied at the shield configuration, he initiated weapon startup and configuration. Since he had no one to gun for him, he, as he done so many times in days past, slaved the top and bottom quad heavy laser turrets to fire together. He added the ion cannon and concussion missile tubes to the setup and then configured the top and bottom antipersonnel guns to fire even at ships, to distract them. He felt a little more secure, having set his ship up to fend off any attackers. But his sense of tentative security was tarnished as a red light and accompanying buzzer sounded from the sensor console. He ran to it and punched a button by the display. It was a ship, in hyperspace, following him! A know tied in his stomach. The vision had been correct, someone was out to get him. The hyperdrive signature was extremely faint, but it was there. Or was it? Was his ship being twitchy, was he becoming paranoid? He shook his head and deactivated the display. No, that was silly, no one could be chasing him. Could they?

- - - -

Ulek held his breath for several moments as his sensor board indicated that his quarry had spotted him. He let out a heavy sigh of relief as the sensor lock faded and the ship he was tracking ignored him. He set his craft, the Blood Hunter, to autopilot and walked into the weapons locker behind the cockpit. He was not prepared to attack the Nightwolf, even though he was certain that his ship's complement of weaponry would be able to take down the pursued ship. But he didn't want that. No, it was personal, he was sure of that much. After all, this one had killed his brother on Dathomir. He grabbed a blaster rifle, a belt of powerpacks, a pair of ten-inch vibroblades, with which he was an expert fighter. Sure, it made him just a little jumpy that a Jedi had killed his younger brother, but that didn't matter. He had been very close to his brother, but when they were eighteen, they went separate ways, Ulek becoming a bounty hunter, and Jek becoming a soldier in the corrupt Corporate Sector Authority. Ulek never liked his brother's decision, and had tried to persuade him to become his bounty hunting partner, but had nevertheless respected the decision.

He shivered. Had Ulek joined the Espo force, he might have also been killed in the raid on Dathomir. For a fleeting moment, he wondered what they had even been doing on the distant world, but it was of little consequence. A grim smile came to his lips. That Jedi was going to pay. Oh yes, he was going to pay.

- - - -

Aric grabbed the hyperdrive levers on the console in front of him and pulled back. He watched as the brilliant starlines faded back into the faint glow of distant stars, surrounding the watery blue world of Mon Calamari. He quickly ran a scanner sweep and came up negative for any ships in pursuit, of within a hundred-thousand kilometers, for that matter. He engaged his stealth mode, essentially cloaking the Nightwolf from normal sensor methods. With the kind of security Lars had described for his captured outpost, Aric didn't think that the Imperial loyalists would have anything but outdated, overused pieces of equipment. He couldn't be sure that they wouldn't detect him, but he crossed his fingers and stretched out with the Force to further cloak the ship. He kicked in the realspace engines and sped down into the moist, humid atmosphere of the water world. He keyed in the coordinates which Lars had given him and was just crossing into the stratosphere when a jolt ran through the ship. Ion burst, he thought in a panic. Blue flashes of electricity snaked through his consoles and he watched helplessly as the systems shut down, one by one. Resigned to panic, he frantically scrambled to get his engines and weapons working, but to no avail. He sat back in his chair and fought down panic as another jolt hit the ship. Not an ion beam, it felt more like a tractor beam. So he was going to be captured, but by who. He jumped from his chair and held his lightsaber at the ready as a shadow filled the viewport of his ship.

He ignited his saber as the Nightwolf came to a shuddering halt in what he presumed was an Imperial cruiser. He tensed and stretched out with the Force, trying to sense who they were and if they were going to try to attack him. He sensed a down lifeforms outside the hatch to the cabin, but as he sensed another lifeform approaching, he could no longer sense them. A Ysalamiri? They were supposedly extinct, but apparently the rogue Imperials had procured one. He panicked and offered to resistance as several men clad in black, wearing large helmets, charged through the door, stun beams blazing. He felt hit after hit course through his body and a strange tingling sensation ran through him. Aric collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap, and the blackness enveloped him.

- - - -

Back at the academy, Lirkana was worried about Aric. He had promised to send a message as soon as he got to Mon Calamari, which would have been a two and a half day trip at the worst of times. It had been five days since he had left, and she feared the worst. Lirkana walked around a corner and found Jacen walking to her. "Morning, Lirkana."

"Hello, Jacen. Have you heard from Aric?"

"No, I haven't. Was he going to write or something?"

"Yes, he said he would contact me as soon as he arrived at Mon Calamari, which should have been three days ago. I am afraid to think. . ."

Jacen stopped her and replied. "I don't think so. But if where he's going is really controlled by Imperials, he's going to have his hands full, but I think he's capable. Hell, I know he's capable. But even so, he might have been captured. If so, I don't know what to do."

Lirkana smiled thinly and replied. "I do."

- - - -

Aric awoke from his stun-induced sleep and sat up. He clanged his head on the low durasteel ceiling and cursed foully in a dialect of Corellian. Combined with a splitting headache, the lump on his head began to swell and made him feel worse. He blinked little white flecks out of his vision. He saw that he was in a small room, a sterile silver color, from the durasteel plating the walls. He looked beyond what looked like an open door to his cell, but he knew better; there was definitely a force field surrounding the cell. He saw no one guarding the cell, but he again knew better. There was a ysalamiri outside the cell, on a cobbled-together nutrient frame. Aric laid back and sighed resignedly. There was no way to escape for the time being.

He idly wondered where he was. He could think of only two possibilities: either the patrol ship that had captured him and his ship, or the captured mining facility on the ocean floor. He heard no roar of engines or repulsors, and occasionally the cell slowly rocked side to side, so he figured that he was being held on the mining facility. They had taken all of his weapons, his saber, everything, but they didn't take his boots. He began to formulate a plan. He smiled thinly. They would never see it in time.

- - - -

Jacen pulled back the hyperdrive levers of the Rock Dragon and the starlines abruptly reverted to realspace. Tenel Ka looked out the viewport at Mon Calamari. "Such a beautiful planet."


Jacen adjusted his sensor board to the Lightning Rod's sensor frequency as it came out of hyperspace. Jacen keyed up the comm and sent a message to the other ship. "Jaina? Zekk? You there."

Zekk's voice came back. "Yeah, I gotcha. You ready?"

"Yeah. . . wait a sec. I have something here on my scope. Unidentified."

Jaina's voice interjected into the conversation. "Yeah, I see that too. What do you think?"

Jacen replied, an ominous tone in his voice. "I don't know. We'd better be careful."

- - - -

Ulek almost panicked at these two new complications in his hunt. First, some fanatical Imperial loyalists had captured his quarry and was holding him somewhere in the depths of the Mon Calamari oceans. And now, there were these annoyances, some Jedi wannabes looking out for their Jedi friend. He smiled and laughed evilly. He charged his laser turrets and loaded up his proton torpedo tube. These Jedi were going to regret coming to look for their friend. Oh yes, would they regret it.

- - - -

Zekk looked at the sensor display on the control console of the Lightning Rod. "Jaina. . . looks like he's powering up weapons. . ."

"I saw. Lasers coming online. Ready to fire."

Zekk smiled. Such an efficient person, Jaina. "Okay, good. Get to the top turret and hold him off."

She smiled and nodded, apparently eager to do battle. She clambered up the ladder to the upper gun turret and he watched as she disappeared into the gunner's compartment. He turned back to the controls and watched the rangefinder beside the wireframe display of the approaching ship. It got within weapons range and Zekk raised shields. He braced himself, but stayed put, hoping that the ship had no hostile intention, but his hopes were not well founded, apparently, as the unidentified ship breezed past, opening up a laser barrage, rocking the Lightning Rod with low-power blasts. Zekk flinched and brought the ship into a tight corkscrew loop and brought it around to line up parallel to the attacking ship's pattern. "Jaina! Get ready!"

Zekk strained his Force sense and maneuvered to get behind the attacker. The ship juked and rolled, but Jaina opened up with the laser battery and a flash of yellow exploded from the top of the Lightning Rod and scored a hit, as the ship's starboard engine caught fire and began to list to one side. "Nice shot, Jaina."

"No problem," she replied with a satisfied tone to her voice.

- - - -

Ulek couldn't believe it. These blasted Jedi-in-training had managed to disable his ship and he was on a collision course with the planet, spiraling down rapidly towards the blue-green seas. His frustration quickly turned to anger and he decided that if he was going to die, he should take some of his killers down with him. He smiled evilly as he initiated a reactor overload, and waited for his engines to overheat and explode, sending a devastating shockwave through space.

- - - -

Jacen glanced at the readout of the dying ship and the hairs raised on the back of his neck. The ship would have a core breach in less than thirty seconds. A blast of that magnitude would completely obliterate the Rock Dragon, as well as the Lightning Rod. He got onto the comm and yelled. "Zekk! It's going to have a reactor meltdown in twenty seconds! Get as far away as you can!"

He received no reply, but figured that he had understood as the Lightning Rod did a one hundred and eighty turn and shot away from the planet. Tenel Ka followed suit by taking the Rock Dragon on the same course. Five seconds to explosion. Four. Three. Two. One. Zero. . .

Kaaaaabbbboooooom! The explosion could be seem from a million kilometers away, a brilliant, sustained flare of white, yellow, and orange. The shockwave impact was felt by both ships, which rocked violently as the explosive wave rolled past. The comm of the Rock Dragon buzzed to life. "Jacen! Tenel Ka? You guys alright?"

Jacen was never happier to hear Jaina's voice. "Yeah, we're alive. Ship got a little cooked, though."

"Good. Glad to hear your voice."

"You don't know how glad I am."

- - - -

Aric glanced around his small cell, waiting. He hoped that a guard would arrive and open the force field, for even three seconds, if just to give him some food. He removed both of his boots and laid them conveniently by his arm. He sat back on the metal bunk and waited. Hours passed, until finally someone came into the isolated cell room. It was a guard, dressed in the khaki colored uniform of an Imperial lieutenant. He carried a rickety tray with a bowl of something that looked anything but appetizing, as well as a little pitcher of a bluish liquid. Aric tensed and reached for his boots. The guard set the tray down on a little table and spoke to Aric as he punched a deactivate code on a control panel by the cell. "Don't try anything funny, buddy."

Aric almost smiled. If he had any idea. . . The cell's force field came down and in a lightning quick display of reflexes, Aric grabbed for his boot with his right hand. He threw it forcefully at the guard's head. It hit his skull with a dull thwack and he slumped to the ground, clutching his head. Aric, satisfied, stood from the bunk and put his boots on. He grabbed the guard's blaster pistol and went over to the ysalamiri's nutrient frame. He checked the power pack in the pistol, armed it, and fired it.

The Force-inhibiting creature fell from the white-pipe frame, a black hole it its side smoking. It hit the metal floor with a wet smack and a puddle of blackish liquid pooled around it. Instantly, Aric felt the Force, coming back to him. He could sense numerous life forms trapped in cells similar to his. He decided that just ridding this facility of the Imperials was no longer enough. He hated the Imperials, and especially despised their non-human bias. He would free the prisoners and destroy the station, sending a message to whatever rogue moff was controlling the faction that their insurgence would not be tolerated. He found his lightsaber in a compartment in a wall in the room. It hadn't been tampered with and it worked fine. He also found his armor in a large supply closet adjacent to the cell room. He strapped it on and checked all the connections. It was undamaged, it just felt a bit heavy, since he had been weakened by his imprisonment. He channeled the Force into his strength and felt a renewed burst of strength course through his veins. He hoisted his lightsaber in front of him and held it at the ready. He breathed deeply and walked to the door. He opened the door and walked through, unsure of what would come next. . .

- - - -

Jacen and Tenel Ka set the Rock Dragon down on a landing pad at Crystal Reef, provided by Ambassador Cilghal. Jaina and Zekk followed suit, and the four Jedi were soon on the tarmac of the landing pad, discussing how they would get into the mining station. The Mon Calamari ambassador approached the four. "Hello, ambassador." greeted Tenel Ka.

"Hello, Tenel Ka, Jaina, Jacen, Zekk."

They exchanged greetings, but then the tone became much more serious. Cilghal spoke. "I know the location of the mining station you need to get to. And I have the means by which you can get there. I don't know how you will get in, but I wish you luck nonetheless."

Lirkana had come on the mission as well, but she had slept in the cabin of the Rock Dragon, since she hadn't slept out of worry since they speculated that Aric had been captured. Tenel Ka walked back into the cabin as the other conversed with Ambassador Cilghal and woke her. "Lirkana, we have arrived."

Lirkana opened her eyes and sat up. "Thank you."

She rose as strapped on her knife belt. She followed Tenel Ka out onto the landing pad as Tenel Ka filled her in on the situation. Lirkana became angry inside at the thought of Aric being captured, but she kept het calm, collected exterior intact, even though she wanted to kill something. Lirkana and Tenel Ka joined the other Jedi and Ambassador Cilghal as they walked to the submersible docking station. Ambassador Cilghal took them to a lone submersible docked in a large berth. "This is the submersible you will have to take. It's small, but you five should be able to fit in alright." She paused and handed Jaina a datapad. "Here's the last known coordinates of the mining station. Be careful."

Jaina smiled and replied. "Don't worry, we will."

- - - -

Aric brought his lightsaber down on the guard and slashed through his chest before he could even draw his blaster pistol. A dark black pockmark filled his chest, followed by a pool of red blood on the floor. Aric stepped over the limp guard's body to the first prison door. He carved open the durasteel door with his lightsaber and a large chunk of the door fell away, smoldering. He hunched down and slipped into the room.

It looked almost exactly like the cell he had himself been in not ten minutes before. He looked into the cell and saw a Bothan woman, with snowy white fur, and grey streaks on her face and hair. She was quite attractive, but as he contemplated that, Lirkana came to his mind. He shook his head and went over to the force field control panel. The field flickered and shut down. He went to the pretty Bothan and put a hand on her shoulder. She looked away, obviously scared. He took off his helmet and clipped it to his belt. He asked her a question. "Are you alright?"

She nodded ever so slightly and he asked her another simple question. "What's your name?"

She paused for a moment as if trying to remember, but she replied. "Lyra. Lyra Sy'kra."

"Nice to meet you, Lyra. My name's Aric."

She smiled shyly. "Nice to meet you, Aric."

Aric withdrew one of the blaster pistols that he had taken from the dead guards and handed it to her. "Here, take this. If you see any guards, don't hesitate to shoot."

She nodded, but she appeared puzzled. "What about you? Don't you need a weapon?"

He drew up his lightsaber and an understanding look appeared on her face. Aric stretched out with the Force and detected several guards on approach to their location. "We've got trouble. Take cover."

The snowy fur on the back of her head flared up and she let out a low snarl of contempt. Lyra kneel behind an overturned greel wood table and aimed her procured blaster pistol towards the still-smoking hole in the door. Aric slid up beside the door and activated the dual-phase mode of his lightsaber. He could feel the guards getting close. A khaki-uniformed figure appeared in front of the door and Lyra opened fire, again and again. About ten blaster bolt hit the guard in the head and chest, and he fell limply to the ground, bleeding from a dozen wounds, smoking holes in his upper body. More guards came through the door and Aric went to work, slashing with his saber. Two guards went down, smoking, charred holes in their chests. Lira let another volley fly and another guard went down. The remaining guard tried to flee and it appeared he had succeeded, but Lyra dove through the door into the hallway. She came up on one knee and let fly one blaster bolt. It caught the fleeing Imperial neatly in the back of the head. His khaki hat flew off and he bounced off the left wall before he tumbled to the ground. "Nice shot, Lyra."

She just nodded, satisfied. He took the initiative. "Come on, we need to get out of here."

"I couldn't agree more."

- - - -

The minisub approached the mining station quickly, with Jaina and Zekk at the controls. Jaina activated the signal masker on the craft, broadcasting an Imperial frequency to fool the station into believing that they were an Imperial submersible. The drab brown armor of the station grew in the viewport and a bay began to expand in the bottom of the ring-shaped station. Zekk maneuvered the ship under the station and rose into the bay, slowly. "That was easy," he remarked. "No questions asked."

Jacen replied. "Well, they probably can't afford it. They're pretty short on everything these days."


The minisub shuddered as a clawgrip grabbed it roughly and set it on a docking rack inside the remarkably dry landing bay. "Hey, there's Aric's ship." remarked Zekk.

It was indeed the Nightwolf, sitting unmolested on a surface elevator, that would take it up a shaft to the top of the mining station, above the surface where it could take off. The submersible clanked down onto the docking hold and shuddered to a stop. Jaina shut down all of the systems, but left the engines in quick-access mode, should a quick escape be required. Tenel Ka opened the hatch and poked her head out into the bay to see if anyone was watching. "No one is guarding the bay." she stated.

"Good," remarked Jacen. "Okay, let's find Aric."

- - - -

Lyra shot another troop cleanly between the eyes and he fell face first to the ground. The control center was secure and she moved to guard the single point of ingress into the auditorium-like control bridge. Aric slashed a security monitor above the security console. He used his lightsaber to slash open the security computer and then he pulled all the wires out of it, completely destroying the computer. Lyra took down two guards that came charging down the access corridor with two clean blasts.

Aric quickly hacked into the main computer, silently cursing and wishing that he had brought Chirpy on this mission. Things would have been much faster hacking into the computer, but he had adequate skills. Within minutes he had located the Nightwolf, as well as the system that made the whole station rise to the water. He had a plan; and it involved both of those factors. He figured out a quick route to the hangar and called to Lyra. "Hey, we need to get to my ship. Come this way."

"Right." she replied in a deadpan voice as she shot another Imperial in the gut. Aric lingered over the controls for a moment as he activated the repulsors in the station, and he felt it begin to move through the water. He looked up and rushed out into the corridor and blocked a stray blaster bolt from an automated defense blaster. He ran through what seemed like an endless maze of corridors for what seemed like an eternity, with Lyra providing expert cover fire. The two ran and ran, avoiding guards and slowly making their way to the lower hangar bay. Aric ran around a corner, and hearing sounds, he expected several guards, but to his surprise, it was Jacen, Jaina, Zekk, Tenel Ka and Lirkana. Aric saw a group of troopers rushing after them. "Get down!"

The troops opened fire, and all of their blasts missed except one. A random bolt struck Lirkana dead on in the stomach and she went down, screaming in pain and clutching a smoldering hole in her stomach. "Lirkana!" cried Aric, panicked. Lyra precisely picked off the four guards covering their escape route. Jacen took charge. "C'mon, we know where your ship is, walk this way."

The seven ran towards the hangar bay and, to their pleasant surprise, there was only one guard in the whole bay. Lyra activated the laser scope on her pistol and picked him off of his catwalk vantage point and he fell from that height, crashing to the ground with a sickening snap. Aric gave the voice activation code and the Nightwolf roared to life. The hatch opened and the boarding ramp shot out. The seven clambered up the ramp as the pursuing guards shot hopelessly at the ship. Aric plopped hastily into the pilot's chair and ran through the startup sequence with blinding speed. Aric was close to tears as Tenel Ka laid Lirkana on the bed in the cabin and began to tend her wounds with the inadequate medkit. Aric activated the repulsors, and as if on cue, the doors above opened, and the Nightwolf shot out into the sky. Aric wheeled the ship around and, his voice cracking, asked, "Anyone want to blow this thing up?"

Jaina and Jacen each took to a gun turret as Aric powered up the ion cannon and missiles. He looped around and dived at the station, lasers and missiles blasting away. Numerous explosions and fires raged on the drab brown metal of the hull and it began to list to starboard. Aric, filled with rage, swung around for the killing blow. The gunners lined up and they opened a final barrage at the station. A dozen concussion missiles and several hundred laser blasts later, the station sunk below the waves and the fires fizzled out. Aric slumped in his chair and almost cried. He turned the controls over to the capable hands of Jaina and Zekk and walked back into the cabin where Lirkana lay still, barely breathing. Jacen and Lyra were sitting conversing in the lounge, but their expressions turned to sadness as they saw Aric on the verge of sobs. Tenel Ka left the cabin as he walked in. Closing the door, he kneeled on the deck beside the bed. Aric could no longer restrain himself, and he cried freely.

He felt Lirkana weakly put a hand on his head as he kneeled there, and he could feel that she was dying. Her imprint in the Force was fading fast, and Aric couldn't save her, not even with all the Jedi on the ship performing a healing trance. Her breathing shallowed as she tried to speak. "Aric. . . I. . . love you. Take. . . care."

She closed her eyes as Aric held her hand and rubbed it gently. Her chest stopped heaving, and Aric could feel the life pouring out of her. He lay his head on the bunk and sobbed, for hours.

- - - -

Back on Crystal Reef, Jacen and Zekk were apologizing profusely for the loss of the submersible, but Ambassador Cilghal was forgiving, stating that they had paid the debt by destroying the Imperial presence on Mon Calamari. They had been given free room and board for three days to recover, and had all accepted gladly. Aric reclined in a large, cushy chair in his room, brooding. He hadn't been the same since Lirkana had died; he was depressed and sad all the time, he never wanted to do anything with the others.

His dark, gloomy thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on the door. "Yes?" he asked in a tired voice.

"It's Lyra."

"Come in."

Lyra. She was the only one who could make me feel any better right now, he thought unhappily. The white-furred Bothan timidly entered and sat in a chair across from Aric. "Hello, Aric. I'm so sorry. . ."

He put his hand to his head. "No, really, don't. . ."

She moved and sat next to him. "I know you're still getting over her death, but ever since I saw you when you rescued me on the station, I thought you were so handsome and brave, but I knew that there was probably someone. . ."

His expression lightened ever so slightly. "Well, yes."

She smiled warmly. "I'm here for you, Aric."

He smiled, something he hadn't been able to do for the last two days.

- - - -

A knock sounded on his door. Aric looked up from his holobook. "Who is it?"

"Zekk. Want to join me and Jacen for a little sabacc?"

"Yeah, sure. Give me a minute."

Aric rose from his seat and threw on a semi-nice shirt over his undershirt and washed his face up. He inspected his face, seeing the great accumulation of stubble that came with not shaving for three days. Maybe he would cultivate the beard. Oh well, no time to shave. He opened the door to his quarters and Zekk was there, in a pair of navy blue trousers and a white shirt. Aric wore black pants and a white shirt and vest. The two men walked down the hall towards Jacen's quarters. They arrived and Zekk knocked. Jacen's voice came in over the intercom. "Yes?"

"It's Zekk. I got another hand for the sabacc game."

"Oh, good, come on in."

The door hissed open and Zekk stepped through, with Aric right behind him. Seated around a circular table were Jaina, Jacen, and Lyra. Jaina was using an automated shuffler to mix up the cards. Zekk took a seat across from her and Aric took a seat adjacent to Lyra. She giggled. "Nice beard."

Jacen chuckled. "Yeah, what's that, a 72-hour shadow?"

"Shut up. Start the game."

Jaina dealt the cards and Aric picked up his three. The six of flasks, the two of staves, and the three of coins. An eleven. Bets were placed, but no one had any intention of keeping anything. A small stack of credits piled up in the middle of the table and Jaina pressed a button and the cards shifted. Aric held his breath. The two and three stayed put. The six was shifting and shifting for what seemed like an eternity. It stopped to reveal. . . an idiot. Yes, he had an idiot's array. He could barely keep his excitement down as the betting commenced. Through four rounds of betting, Zekk, Jacen, and Jaina bowed out. That left Lyra and Aric to end their betting and see who would win the hand. A trail of sweat made its way down Aric's brow and dropped onto the table. "You first." he said.

Lyra grinned and put her cards down on the table. The Commander of flasks, the eight of coins, and the three of coins. A pure sabacc. Aric almost breathed a heavy sigh of relief, but he held it at bay. He placed his cards on the table and jubilantly announced, "Idiot's array!"

Lyra smacked the table and frowned, but then she smiled. "You're a pretty good player. Another hand?"

Nods of assent rippled through the assembled friends. Another hand commenced. Aric won again, with a twenty-one, against Zekk. He walked back to his quarters with a pile of credits that his friends insisted that he keep. He deposited the chits in his quarters and then went for a walk in the watery court of the Crystal Reef resort. Strolling slowly around the large circular courtyard, he saw a figure approaching him. It was Lyra, the Bothan. She quickly strode up to his and spoke. "Hello, Aric."

"Hi, Lyra. There's some things I've been meaning to ask you, but I never got the chance. . ."

He was surprised by her response. "Shoot."

"Well, you're an excellent shot. How did you get so good?"

"Well, my father was a spy back in the days of the Rebellion. . ."

"Did he discover the plans. . ."

"In fact, yes, he was one of the six who survived. He's still alive as far as I know, and I'm not all that certain because I've been locked up for the past three years."

"Why's that?"

"Well, following my graduation from the Bothan Martial Academy, in which I was near the top of my class in accuracy and target shooting, I joined New Republic Intelligence. The rogue Imperials, under a Moff Disra, I think, had a grand scheme to supposedly resurrect Thrawn."

"Yes, I heard."

"They captured me and held me in about a dozen places, the mining station being the most recent. Until you came along." she looked at him.

He could sense the presence of familiar eyes watching him. It was Jacen, Jaina, and Zekk looking at the two from a second floor window. Had he not sensed them through the Force, he would never have noticed them. He leaned his head down to Lyra's ear and whispered conspiratorially to her. "Don't look now, but we're being watched."

She giggled and stopped as they reached a wall on the far side of the courtyard. "Well, if we're being watched. . ." she trailed off as she wrapped her arms around him waist. He wasn't entirely at ease, she could tell, but she intended to make it that way. "Let's give them what they want."

Aric looked down at her in puzzlement but understood as she kissed him. He returned her affections, not just because his friends were watching, but because he was falling in love with the one he had saved from a life of Imperial captivity. He wrapped his thick arms around her waist and drew her close. He swore that in the background he could hear catcalls coming from the observers. He would have smiled, had it not been for Lyra's lips pressing against his own.

- - - -

The Nightwolf glided into Yavin 4's atmosphere with a smooth rush of air. Aric engaged the landing gear and within minutes, was on the ground, doing a post-flight routine. Lyra, who had been sitting alongside him for the duration of the trip from Mon Calamari, broke the silence. "There's something I need to tell you. A reason that the Imperials held me. . . was that I was Force-sensitive. They wanted me to become the first of a new order of Dark Jedi. And it would have happened had you not rescued me."

It was a painful confession for her, he could tell, but he was glad that she had. If she was Force-sensitive, she could train at the academy, and they wouldn't have to be apart! "You know, I think you've come to the right place."

- - - -

It was a warm day on the jungle moon as Aric and Lyra walked down the boarding ramp. A little entourage approached, including Chirpy, who blatted and tooted a great welcome. Zekk, Jaina, Jacen, and Tenel Ka were all there; they had left for Yavin sooner than Aric and Lyra had, and there was Luke Skywalker, also. "Master Skywalker. This is Lyra Sy'kra. She was being held captive on the mining station that I was forced to destroy. She is Force-sensitive."

"Is this true?"

Lyra nodded her head. "I wish to train here and try to reach my full potential."

Skywalker smiled benevolently. "Very well. Glad to have you as a student, Lyra."

"And I am glad that you accept me."

"Come, we will discuss your training."

Skywalker and Lyra walked off towards the great temple, and Luke was telling her all about what she would be doing as a Jedi student. Aric watched them walk off until he could no longer see them against the drab color of the Massassi temple. He turned around and Chirpy was waiting for him. He set an arm on the droid's dome. He blatted a question. "My adventures? Oh, no, not much to tell, really."

The droid hooted, knowing better than that. "Oh fine. I'll tell you later. There's something I need to. . . attend to."

He was, of course, referring to Lirkana's funeral, for which he had made no arrangements. He would bury her simply; he knew she would have wanted it that way, the simple warrior that she had been. He looked up from the black and white dome of the droid to the two couples who were looking into the sunset. Couples? He had never thought of Jaina and Zekk and Jacen and Tenel Ka like that, but it was obvious that they were made for each other. Could it be the same for him and Lyra? He would just wait and see.

Jaina turned and walked back to him, obviously picking up on his thoughts of Lyra. "If you really love her, don't be afraid to show it. Although you seem to be able to do that just fine." she winked as she laid a hand on his shoulder. "I really think that you two are right for each other. I really do."

"I'm glad you think so. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to. . . talk to someone."

Jaina smiled and walked back to Zekk's open arms. Aric smiled and walked back to the temple. She was right. He did love Lyra. He was sure of it. It was an interesting way to meet, on an Imperial controlled station, a prisoner and a rescuer. He had been glad that he saved her ever since their escape, and now he had all the time in the world to love her. And he was going to do just that.

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