The Beginning
By: Miss Jade

I have decided that I don't care if Mara and Luke are married or not in the books. I still wanted to write a story about it to go with my set of stories. So this is a Mara/Luke romance.

Basically, when Luke got all the Jedi records from Mother Rell on Dathomir, there was something there about the Outbound Flight Project. Luke didn't see it until he returned to the Academy after the Corellian fiasco. But it leads to a series of adventures that bring Mara and Luke together.

This is sort of an on-going story. This is Part 1. There should be at least 3 parts, but don't hold me to that. The other thing about this story is that, though I keep the characters to many of their original characteristics, I have added several twists and turns that you might not expect from them.

BIG thanx to Emma for being a diligent beta tester of this story. Thanx, sis! Also big thanx to all my other beta testers, Danie and Jen B. and to everyone who reads this piece of junk. I love you all!

Disclaimer: All situations and characters belong to George Lucas, the ALMIGHTY ZAHN, etc. except my own creations, of course. I'm receiving no money for this work and wouldn't want to be paid for it anyway, since I wrote it for pure enjoyment.

E-mail me with questions, comments, etc at: jaded_destiny@yahoo.com

Now, here's the story:


Prolog:

Sometime a few years before the downfall of the Old Republic.

The ship came out of lightspeed about 10,000 kilometers from the huge distortion. Jedi's Faith, a small, but well armored light transport slowed and came within 9,000 kilometers then pulled to a stop. The . . . thing loomed large in the viewport, and the six beings aboard the Faith studied it with calm eyes, reaching out with their senses to try and get an idea what the thing was. One of them sighed heavily. Yet another dangerous mission. Wasn't fighting off the remnants of the Sith lords and the constant pressure of the Trade Federation enough?

The Jedi Council of the Galactic Republic had ordered the six Jedi to do the job. Jedi Masters, more accurately, just to be safe. The Council had chosen a young human named Melanyah Dar, a middle-aged human named Jorus C'baoth, a young Twi'lek named Jas Daringer, an older Centaur named Lessa (centaurs have no last names, only clans), a soft-spoken Gotal name Illarya Kaiser, and a towering Wookiee named Kabaalow to undertake the mission.

Their mission was to travel beyond the core worlds and into a strange "hole in space" that would supposedly take them into another galaxy.

Or so the scientists at Coruscant thought. They had been studying this "hole in space" for quite some time, and now that they felt they knew what it was, or at least what it did, they needed someone to give it a test run, then live long enough to report back to Coruscant.

Melanyah was the youngest Master. She was barely seventeen standard years old, but had been training since she was four standard years by Jedi Master Yoda himself. She had been on more missions than she could count, starting when she was just ten standard years old. It was her life. She knew of no other way she would want to live. To her, this was just another mission.

"No Mel, this isn't. We could discover thousands of new species, thousand more worlds," Jorus reminded her quietly. "This, young Jedi, will be the most important mission you will ever undertake."

She nodded. This was true, she knew. She could feel it. Jorus probably felt it too. Along with the other Jedi on board, no doubt.

Lessa turned to the other Jedi. "I feel nothing dangerous. Shall we proceed?"

Nods all around, as the Jedi went quickly to find their places in the chairs around the bridge. They all felt calm, felt the Force flowing through them.

They all strapped in, and when Lessa, who was serving as pilot for the trip, got acknowledgments all around, she pulled back gently back on the hyperspace levers, they shot forward into the "hole in space".

*Entering the 'hole',* Lessa called threw the Force. The mottle sky of hyperspace turned pinkish, then green then into an almost kaleidoscopic patter--

And suddenly, all the Jedi felt a sudden surge of pain, anger, and fear all mixed together in a huge concentration of Dark Side power.

Just when Melanyah felt as if she were going to be torn apart, she was washed over with an amazing surge of happiness, kindness, and an underlying note of confidence. The emotions of the Light Side.

Then, all of a sudden, they were through the "hole". For a long moment, no one spoke. Finally Kabaalow murmured, <What was that? >

"Never mind that," Jas said, softly. "Take a look out the viewport."

They all looked. There just shy of directly ahead, was a small round object, bluish, with a spots of green as well.

Melanyah gasped. "A planet. Man, we really hit the jackpot."

Lessa's hands flew over the controls. "Let's go in for a closer look, shall we?" Agreements followed this announcement. They moved closer. "Massive life form readings," Lessa breathed. They'd found it. Another inhabited planet in another galaxy. "However, I'm not finding any signs of space ships or even orbital bases. Can't sense any, either. I'm thinking we land on the planet's moon so we can get better readings of the people of this planet."

* * * * *

The Jedi's trip was short. The stayed long enough to learn the language from an orbiting station they located three days into the trip, then get as much info as they could on the planet from the station. All the information they obtained was put into a Jedi holocron that Illarya was composing and an information chip they were creating for the Republic Council.

In a month's time, they had obtained all the information they were going to get, including a solid enough word base for them to learn one of this world's main languages on the trip back.

A day or two later, the were off, heading back to their own galaxy, or area or space, if they were, in fact, still in their own galaxy.

They all used their ability in the Force to enhance their learning capabilities enough for them to learn the language and read all the info they had obtained before they reached Coruscant.

* * * * *

Epilogue to the Prolog (that doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?).

The Jedi and Republic Councils did receive the information, and ordered the Jedi out to investigate the strange anomaly again. However, this time they did not return. Before a search and rescue mission could be attempted, the Republic was thrown into chaos, the Jedi Council destroyed and the Jedi were forgotten.

However, one Council member survived long enough to collect the records of the Jedi and flee to a planet in the Rim Worlds called Dathomir on a ship that had once served as a Jedi Academy, the Chu'untha. Upon reaching the planet, he encountered a group of 'Witches' (whom, he discovered later had Force powers of their own) who had taken him prisoner. In exchange for his freedom, he gave them the box containing the reader disks containing all the records of the Jedi, in hopes it would stay hidden from the Sith long enough to teach the new generation of Jedi, if one ever arose.

In a vision he had had, which he told to the head of the Witch clan Singing Mountain before leaving the planet, a young Jedi from the stars would travel to the world, and the leader of the Clan, Rell, was supposed to give the records to the Jedi (he put a code on the box so the Witches could not get hold of the information). Then he had left for the planet Degobah to live out the rest of his life.

* * * * *

Chapter 1:

The Jedi Academy, just after the Corellian fiasco, New Republic era.

"Walking in sinking sense

Flying with no place to land

Oh, I'd be lost

Searching for you

Heaven would be out of reach

My sole left incomplete

That's where I'd be

Without your love."

Without your love, SheDaisy

Things had more or less settled down around the Jedi Academy, the students returning to their studies, the teachers to their teaching. Yavin's fourth moon seemed more relaxed than Luke Skywalker could ever remember it being before. He stood now on the roof of the Great Temple, gazing out at the wash of stars that lit the night sky.

Maybe everyone else was relaxed and calm and tranquil, but Luke felt a deep sense of unease. Though he was trying vainly to deny it, he knew the reason. He was no longer needed at the Academy. The senior students--Kyp, Tionne, Streen--could easily continue the training of the younger students. All Luke did, even now, was supervise.

"But where can I go?" he asked the night around him in frustration.

"How about home?" a quiet, but very familiar voice said from behind him.

"Han!" he cried, crossing to his friend and giving his "old buddy" an enthusiastic embrace.

"Hey, kid!" Han returned, stepping back to run a critical eye over his brother-in-law. Luke looked tired and strained, with virtually none of that boyish charm that Han had enjoyed before Endor. Now he saw only tension and quiet grief, and a small amount of relief at seeing his friend again.

Luke saw Han's worried expression, and gave him a crooked smile. "I'm fine, Han. Really I am . . . "

But Han wasn't buying it. "This Jedi Master stuff is really getting to you, kid. I've come to take you back to Coruscant to see Leia and the kids again. It's been at least four months, and you need some civilization to perk you up." He took Luke by the arm and led him to the roof door.

"But what about the Academy, Han? They need me here . . . " but even as he said it, he knew it was no longer true.

Apparently Han did too. "Forget the Academy, Luke. You have a life to live, and you're sure as hell wasting it here. Besides, you're due for a visit home. Certain people have been asking about you, ya know," and he got a meaningful look in his eyes.

Before Luke got a chance to ask him what he meant by that, he realized they had reached the Millenium Falcon's boarding ramp. "At least let me tell Kyp I'm leaving--"

"Already taken care of. Incidentally, he agrees that you need a vacation."

"Nice to know I'm needed," Luke muttered, a little sarcasm poking through the calm in his voice.

"That's my boy," Han chortled, leading him up the ramp. "You'll be glad you came home, Luke."

* * * * *

Coruscant was at its midmorning peak of bustling activity, and the Senate was no exception. The meeting had lasted for a good five hours, and was just now breaking up.

With a noise halfway between a tired sigh and a disgusted snort, Chief of State Leia Organa Solo exited the Senate Chamber, and made her way down the Grand Corridor towards her suite in the Imperial Palace. She'd have a few hours of nap time and a couple with her children before she had an appointment with a Gotal senator and a multitude of other little things to finish up.

Her train of thought jolted to a halt as she noticed two figures coming down the corridor towards her. The shorter had her red-gold hair twisted up into a tight knot of coils atop her head. She wore a golden robe that made her look quite elegant. The figure standing next to her wore an expensive tunic of silver and blue and seemed to be consulting a data pad of some sort. He glanced up, noticed Leia, and smiled sardonically at her, heading in her direction.

"Madame Chief of State," Talon Karrade's voice held an actual note of respect. He took her hand in his and kissed it.

"He hasn't been the same since Corellia, Leia," Mara Jade quipped from beside him, giving Leia a quick hug. Leia smiled at Mara's characteristic sarcasm, then frowned suddenly.

"Wait a second. What are you two doing here anyway? You're the last people I'd expect to see in the Council chambers."

Karrade nodded his head towards Mara. "Her idea, not mine. I just agreed to come along for the ride."

Leia turned her gaze on Mara, surprised. Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand and self proclaimed "independent" trader was the last person in the galaxy she would have expected to want to speak to the Council about anything.

"Actually, Leia, we're only here to speak to one Councilor about a certain, shall we say, 'business proposition' we came up with," Mara said, throwing her former boss a warning look.

"Well, I have to get home to the children, but would you two like to come to dinner tonight?" Leia asked, thinking to herself, Also a good way to get her and Luke together again. She'd noticed the long looks they'd been giving each other during the Corellian incident and she was quite eager to find out just what was going on between them.

It wasn't as if she didn't trust Mara anymore. Mara had proven herself enough times at Corellia, and in the past, and Leia of all people should know better than to judge people by their less-than-savory pasts.

"We'd love to, Madame Chief of State," Karrade said, not bothering to ask Mara whether she would, if fact, love to or not.

"Great, see you tonight, Talon, Mara," Leia said, smiling at the pair before turning to head for home--

When she felt a surge of fear and panic coming from . . . her home. The children were in danger.

Leia turned back to Mara, saw her own horror reflected there. Saying nothing, Mara grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the suite, both women running with all their might.

The were almost to the turbolift when Mara pulled her to a stop at a pair of double doors that supposedly led into the library, but said "please use other entrance" in several different languages on them. Mara pressed a seemingly featureless spot on the door. A 3inch section of the door slid back and under it was a keypad. Mara punched in a long combination. The library doors slid open--

To reveal yet another of the Emperor's secret passages. I should have known, Leia thought, as the door slid shut behind them, and Mara led her up three flights of stairs.

When they stepped out into the hallway of the Presidential suite, Mara grabbed her and pulled against the wall. They slid along the wall towards the front door at a Hutt's pace, every atom of Leia's being urging her to run into the suite and help her children and Winter. But she also knew the trouble that could cause.

Suddenly, Mara cursed and dove at a figure moving toward them from down the corridor. The masked figure turned and Leia saw, to her utter horror, that their assailant had Jaina clutched in one arm and a stun blaster in the other. As she and Mara dove towards him, he fired.

There were Jedi techniques for overcoming stun blasts and Leia was sure that Mara knew at least one of them, but they all took a few seconds of preparation. A few seconds that Mara did not have. The stun hit her head on, dropping her like a sack of cement to the ground. Leia made it only slightly farther before a similar blast dropped her.

Jaina, she cried through the Force, before the universe darkened around her.

* * * * *

The Millenium Falcon was just pulling into its assigned docking bay, when Luke felt it. A disturbance in the Force, coming from Leia.

No, not Leia. Luke stretched out further. Jaina, he realized with a jolt of shock. Something was wrong.

"Hey, kid, you okay?" Han asked as they pulled into the bay.

"Something's wrong with Leia and the kids," Luke said, straining towards them. Leia was . . . unconscious? Yes. Jacen and Anikan were, too. But Jaina was . . . awake, and terrified . . . and leaving the planet.

"Han, someone's kidnapped Jaina," Luke cried. "They're leaving the planet. We have to go after her. It's . . . " he stared hard at the ships visible on the Falcon's readouts, "that one," he finished, pointing out a heavily armed Corellian Corvet moving swiftly towards atmosphere level.

Han was already pulling the Falcon out of the bay and had her climbing steadily towards the assault craft. But even at full speed, the Falcon was too far away to reach the Corvet before it made the jump to hyperspace.

Luke stretched out with the Force again, hoping to get control of the pilot's mind or stop the craft itself, but ran smack into a wall of . . . what was it? He knew that feeling of nothingness.

Ysalamiri.

He glanced over at Han helplessly. Han looked back with understanding and a grim determination in his eyes. He hit the accelerator and the Falcon shot towards the Corvet which had just cleared the atmosphere. Bare seconds after it cleared the gravitational pull of the planet it jumped to lightspeed.

"No!" Han cried, hands dropping into his lap in utter despair and defeat. Jaina. His daughter. His eldest, just 11 a few weeks ago. Why?

He felt a reassuring hand on his arm. "We'll find her, Han," Luke said quietly, and Han somehow felt better knowing his brother-in-law was in on the case.

Sighing, he took the Falcon back down to the planet

* * * * *

They reached the infirmary just as Leia, Mara, Jacen, Anakin, and the Leia's honor guard hurt by the stun blast were beginning to recover. Han rushed to his wife and kids. They were all fine and well, but all of them worried about Jaina. Luke went to Mara.

"Been a long time," he said, giving her a brief hug. "You okay?"

She looked troubled, the first sign of emotion he'd seen in her in years. "Sure, fine." She paused for a moment, then added almost reluctantly, "I just can't believe they got Jaina that's all. I could have stopped them, Skywalker."

Luke shook his head. "It wasn't your fault. Don't focus on the past. We need to figure out how we're gonna get her back."

A whisper of smile graced Mara's mouth. "Thanks. You know, you're getting pretty smart for a farmboy."

He smiled in return. "No charge." He turned to Leia, who was crying into Han's shoulder. Luke gently touched her shoulder and she turned to him, throwing herself into his strong embrace. Luke held her until she finally calmed down enough to say, "Why Jaina? What do they want with my daughter?"

Luke held her. "I don't know. Let's get back to your place and get a council of war together."

* * * * *

They all sat quietly around Leia's office, waiting patiently (or impatiently in Han's case) for Tendra and Lando to arrive.

Mara sat at a computer terminal, studying some data she'd pulled up meditatively. Luke stood behind her, hand on her shoulder, watching the screen with interest. Chewie sat with the thankfully silent droids by the door, as if to guard it from any further assault. Jacen sat with his mother on the couch, so excited to finally be included in the grownup group, he'd fallen fast asleep with his head in Leia's lap. Leia sat distractedly stroking wisps of unruly brown hair off his forehead, and stretching out with the Force to Jaina.

Anikan stood with his uncle and Mara next to the computer terminal, studying the screen and occasionally making suggestions. Han stood by himself off in a corner of the room, a frown creasing his forehead.

The ringing of the door buzzer made them all jump, and Chewie stood, bowcaster held at the ready, and went to answer it.

A few seconds later, Chewie came back in followed by Tendra and Lando.

Leia stood, waking Jacen and went to then, giving them each a long hug. Lando stepped back from her and sighed.

"I'm so sorry about Jaina, Leia."

She nodded and smiled forcefully. "Me too. But we got her back from Hethrir, and I think we have a chance now as well."

Tendra nodded too. "Of course we do."

Han cleared his throat and the rest of the war council commenced without delay. It was decided that Leia would stay on Coruscant and keep the whole incident quiet, while searching the flight records at the main docking control offices for any clues. Mara, Luke, Han, Chewie, Lando and Tendra would follow the ship's known trajectory and look for some base, Luke and Mara aboard the Jade's Fire, Han, Chewie and Artoo-Detoo aboard the Falcon and Lando and Tendra aboard the Lady Luck.

With the Fire's new docking clamps, it was possible for the Luck and the Falcon to dock with it, therefore creating a rendezvous point and debriefing area for them all.

This settled, they headed to begin their respective searches.

* * * * *

Mara sat alone in the cockpit of the Jade's Fire, getting the preflight checks taken care of. Han and Lando were checking out the Falcon and Luck with docking control and Tendra was doing exterior checks on all three vessels. Luke was checking their supplies to make sure they had at least a month's supply of everything.

Luke. For a moment Mara let herself become lost in thought. What was their relationship like right now? Were they just friends? It almost seemed to Mara as if they were something more . . .

She shook the thought away. No, definitely not. She didn't care for Luke Skywalker like that and never would. Would she?

She was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of Luke's voice coming down the corridor. Mara sighed inwardly. Whatever her relationship with Skywalker, it was anything but comfortable.

"Everything set, Mara?" he asked now, coming into the cockpit with Tendra on his heals.

"Yeah. Get Solo and Calrissian in here and we'll get going," she told him, deliberately turning away from him.

"Right," Luke said, turning to the door. He stopped and turned back. "You know, it's gonna be a long trip, if the ship's trajectory is anything to go by. You might want to consider getting some saber practice in. I'd be a willing opponent."

Mara forced herself to meet his steady gaze. "Sure. I've got nothing better to do."

He gave her a strange look, then smiled slightly. "Great. I'll go get Han and Lando." He left.

Tendra seated herself in the copilot's seat, throwing Mara a sideways glance as her fingered played over the controls before her. "What's up with Luke, Mara?"

Mara hesitated. Ever since Lando had brought Tendra to Coruscant, and introduced her as "my fiancée", Mara had taken a liking to her. Smooth, calm, and professional, she was someone it was quite easy to get along with. But to talk to her about something as fragile as the subject of Skywalker . . .

"What do you mean?" she asked carefully, keeping her eyes on the control panel, and, for good measure, adding a note of surprise to face and voice.

"Oh, come on, Mara," Tendra said, giving her a look of wounded pride. "I can see right through you. I'm not that dense."

Mara sighed. "I don't really want to talk about it right now."

Tendra glanced over at her. "Sure, that's fine. But if you ever need to talk, I'm right here."

Mara smiled. "Thanks."

Tendra stood and stretched. "I'd better go see what's keeping Lando and Co," and she headed out of the bridge, leaving Mara alone to deal with preflight checks.

But that was all right. She had a lot to think about anyway.

* * * * *

Han and Lando took longer than normal to do the checks because both had one thing in mind: what was going on between Luke and Mara? Both had noticed Mara's increasing testiness toward the galaxy at large and Luke's absentminded behavior towards his family and friends, Mara included. They also seemed to have been clashing quite a bit as well. Han finally voiced the thought aloud and Lando answered slowly,

"Is it just me, or does this remind you of you and Leia around the time of the Hoth evacuation and the Cloud City incident? The whole beating each other and keeping your distance, then inviting each other to dinner. You know, the constant uncertainty as to exactly what was going on."

Han nodded thoughtfully. "You might have something there. It seems unlikely, since Mara wanted to kill Luke at one point, but I can't really prove that that means a whole lot anymore. They've formed a strong friendship at least." He paused. "I'll ask Leia about it. It might be one of those crazy Jedi things."

"That sounds good," Lando agreed. "Meanwhile, maybe we could talk to them separately or something. See if they want to add anything." He smiled slyly. "You care to take Mara?"

Han groaned. "Maybe it'd be easier to shoot myself now and save pain later." But he agreed, and the two headed into the Fire.


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