Luke sat alone, cross-legged on the stone floor inside the Jedi council chamber. The room itself was round and sat atop the main spire of the temple, the wide windows looking out towards every direction. Luke could see far behind the Forest of Ood, the academy grounds and out towards the deserts. Ossus’ sun had set, basking everything in a silver hue allotted from the small moon, except for the little orange glow lights that glittered sporadically throughout the grounds. It was dark and quiet and peaceful.
Here, alone inside the council chamber, Luke could think. He thought on the recent events that had occurred within just a matter of weeks. It was only a few weeks ago when all he needed to worry about was his relationship with his son Ben. Mara would not approve, of course, of their growing distance. This made Luke smile a little, thinking of his late wife, and watching a little glowfly float outside the chamber window. If Mara was still here, things with Ben wouldn’t be so difficult.
But he couldn’t keep falling back on that thought. There was no way to move forward without letting go. Still, there were nights where he feared sleep, feared he would relive feeling his wife fade from the Force, her life taken by his nephew Jacen, and the dark journey he would follow after. All the while, his love for Ben, his fear of losing him too, had now become a problem in of itself.
Sitting against the cold stone floor, gazing at the barely visible reflection of himself against the window opposite him, he realized just how old he’d become. The creases lining his brow, the corners of his eyes, the sides of his mouth were deeper now than they’d ever been. And he was alone. More alone than he realized.
He needed Ben, needed to fix what had come between them. But he didn’t know how. And now a new enemy threatened the galaxy, once again, and was somehow related to the strange golden-haired woman with the diamond-shaped scar. Whom Ben despised and the other JedI avoided. Whom remained a blank spot within the Force and was not human nor Yuuzhan Vong, but an unidentifiable alien unaware of her invisibility to the Force and the fear that fact created? Jacen was the only JedI he knew of that could remain hidden within the Force enough to be non-existent for long periods of time. But Lilliya knew nothing of the Force.
It occurred to him that if there was another invasion or war outbreak connected to whatever it was Lilliya said had attacked Endor, Luke didn’t know how much longer he could survive it. He wondered vaguely how his sister would fair as well, being the leader of the galaxy’s government once again.
At the point, his comlink beeped at him and he knew immediately that it would be Leia.
“I was just thinking of you,” Luke answered with a bland smile.
“Yes, I know,” she responded, her voice tight. “Listen, we’ve got a problem. We’ve lost contact with TwinSuns. I can’t get a hold of Jaina and I can’t sense her presence in the Force.”
Luke frowned, concerned by the fact that he didn’t even notice her disappear.
“What do you want to do?” Luke asked.
“Whatever is going on, we need to stop it fast,” Leia said, her voice low and gruff, as if she hadn’t slept in days. “I don’t want another crisis on my hands and I can’t do anything from here. The Council wants to send warships to Endor, but we don’t know what we’re up against and I don’t want to send thousands of people blindly to their possible deaths. Sending a battalion will also scare a lot of worlds. Any news of our taking action will throw the galaxy in a panic.
“But I can’t just let Jaina’s team disappear. I can’t let Jaina…” Her voice dissolved into deep sigh. It was a minute before Leia spoke again, clearing her voice. “The Council is having a meeting in five hours. I want you to be there with a group of JedI. I’m going to propose for you to lead a small group out to Endor, find out what happened to Jaina and find that ship Commander Lilliya Tentle mentioned. But I wanted to ask you first if this was okay with you; if the JedI are up to it.”
Luke understood. Ever since the Alliance and Corellian civil war, JedI involvement in government business was a touchy subject. Leia herself was torn between her duty as a JedI Knight and the elected President of the Alliance. She had to put down her lightsaber once more for the better good and safety of the rest of the JedI, otherwise the Alliance would have declared JedI practice dangerous and illegal.
“I think bringing Lilliya would also be wise,” Luke said. “She has had first hand encounters with this ship. As far as we know, it hasn’t left the Endor system?”
“Planet Security has been put on a full range defense system alert. If anything enters their systems, doesn’t identify themselves or attacks, we’d know about it,” Leia said.
Luke nodded, standing from his seated position. “I’ll come now with a group. Ben and Lilliya included.”
“Thank you, Luke. I’m really worried about Jaina.”
“We’ll find her. I promise,” Luke said. And he meant it. The worst thing that could happen was for Leia to lose her last remaining child to another terror from the galaxy. It seemed as though death was always at their heals.
He contacted Ben, Sori, C’obin, and two other Jedi Knights named Tzahn and Kerri, making it a total of six, not including Lilliya. These JedI were talented in more ways than the Force and were well-educated in military ground tactics. Sori and C’obin were once black market trackers before deciding to join the academy, and Tzahn and Kerri were once with the Galactic Alliance Guard, but defected once Jacen had seized the galaxy.
The JedI confirmed to meet by Luke’s ship, the Jade’s Fury, named for his wife, and Ben thankfully didn’t argue, Luke knew, due to the fact they were going after Jaina.
Luke made his way to the infirmary where Lilliya still lay resting. When he entered, Uhala pointed him towards one of the med center’s private bedrooms where Lilliya slept.
Luke stepped inside, the door hissing gently behind him. She laid in a bed near one of the windows, the moonlight flooding the room in a silver glow. Her hair was silver again, glistening brighter by the moon’s light, and she looked so calm, her features empty of any sign of frustration, sadness. He was used to seeing her deep in concentration, or deeply angry. But never peaceful, even when she tried to meditate. Luke hated to wake her, tell her she was needed to find the ship that destroyed her home and family and possibly fight another battle.
But these things needed to be dealt with. Lilliya needed to face her enemy.
As he neared her bedside to reach out and wake her, he realized her body, the cuts and bruises that had littered her arms and hands, were all gone. He wondered if that was the work of Uhala or if Lilliya’s body had a natural ability to heal quickly. He was tempted to reach out and pull at the bandage that dressed the bite wound to see if that too had healed entirely.
As his fingers brushed the skin of her shoulder, he felt a shock of electricity and then heard something. It was a whisper somewhere far away. He thought maybe he was hearing things, but as he touched her shoulder again, he heard another whisper, as though a pair of lips were barely brushing his ear.
Luke stood in silence, staying perfectly still, keeping his fingers against Lilliya’s skin, and listened. This was the first time Luke had any physical reaction or connection with Lilliya through the Force. Or, at least, he assumed it was the Force. And he didn’t want to lose it. Every moment around Lilliya was a new discovery, one that made him feel only more curious and drawn to her.
Closing his eyes and holding his breath, he listened. There was barely a voice, but it was there, a word, he just couldn’t make it out. He wanted to grab Lilliya’s shoulder as if that would make the connection stronger, but stopped himself. Opening his eyes, he looked down at Lilliya’s sleeping form. She wore only a night sheet and her crystal necklace.
Luke cocked an eyebrow. So she still hadn’t removed the necklace like he’d asked. Maybe the necklace had everything to do with it. After all, JedI did build their lightsabers from very rare Kaiburr Force crystals. Maybe her necklace was the key to the mystery. Even now, when he touched her and felt the shock of electricity he noticed the crystal glow slightly in the darkness.
There wasn’t time, of course, to investigate it any further. Luke gently shook her awake, whispering her name.
Lilliya’s eyes popped open as if on automatic. She glanced at her surroundings, then at Luke.
“I’m alive?” she said, her voice cracking.
Luke smiled down at her, and then it quickly faded. “You were attacked by an android,” he said. “We don’t know why yet.”
Lilliya frowned, then tried to sit up. Luke attempted to help, but realized she was fully capable of doing it on her own. She touched the bandaged bite wound with her fingers and looked as if she didn’t remember.
“Ben saved me?” she asked.
“Yes, he found you. The android appeared to have injected you with some kind of paralyzing venom. But your body was able to fix itself without any assistance,” Luke said as he grabbed a thermal robe to wrap Lilliya in.
“Hmm, interesting,” Lilliya murmured. “I have in the past been a fast healer. I don’t bruise easily.”
Luke nodded, pretending not to be too interested.
“Why did you wake me?” Lilliya asked as she wrapped herself in the robe.
“I’ve spoken with Leia. She says they lost contact with Jaina’s team as well. Leia wants us to rendezvous with her to Coruscant. The Council is holding a meeting as to what their next plan of action is. Leia wants the JedI to go in after Jaina.” Luke said.
“What makes you think she’s still alive?”
Luke stiffened. “Because I’d feel it if she died, and so would Leia. So far, her presence has just disappeared.”
Lilliya frowned. “So who’s us?”
“Me, Ben, four other JedI Knights, and you.”
“I assume I am to act as advisor to you,” Lilliya said, a twinkle of disdain glittering in her left eye. Or maybe it was the diamond scar reflecting oddly in the moonlight. “Considering I’m not too talented with a lightsaber.”
“More than that,” Luke frowned. “Your military expertise and your experience with this ship makes you the best chance we have at finding Jaina and possibly combating the assailants.”
“All the more reason why I should have been first pick on the investigation team. I still don‘t understand why I got sent here to an academy I don‘t belong at.” Lilliya’s demeanor was colder than he’d ever seen it. “I can sense the other students disapproval of me. Especially Ben. He acts as though I’m a walking parasite.”
Luke frowned distractedly. “You can sense?” He seemed to be drawn to her specific word-choice.
Lilliya huffed in annoyance. “What I mean is I can see it in their eyes. I can’t sense like a JedI. But who can miss the obvious glares I get anytime I walk past a student?”
“I can’t explain to you right now as to why the other students receive you so negatively.” Suddenly, Luke felt the urge to be completely open with Lilliya and spill out all the little secrets. “But I can tell you why you were really brought here. Do you remember the short but deadly insurrection we experienced nearly a decade back? My nephew, Jacen Solo, was the leader who tried to end that insurrection. He tried by slaughtering innocent lives believing he could control the galaxy with an iron fist and that that was the only route to peace.
“He could also be invisible to the Force and he could use his powers in ways no other JedI could imagine. He was dangerous. You remember what else was dangerous? The Yuuzhan Vong. They were invisible to the Force as well. These two foes were deadly to the galaxy and a difficult assailant to fight against because the JedI, who base most of their fighting skills on aura sensory, could not sense their auras.
“You, Lilliya, are invisible. No one can sense you. It is as if you don’t exist. But you stand in front of me breathing. I can physically touch you. But I can’t touch you.” Luke tapped his brow at this point gesturing to his mind. The expression on Lilliya’s face was a mix of wonder, confusion, and anger. But he couldn’t sense those emotions radiate in her life’s aura like he would in any other being. He could only guess what she was feeling.
“So,” Lilliya murmured, finally able to work her mouth into forming words, “you fear me.”
Luke remained silent, but offered her an apologetic look.
Lilliya continued, as she came to grips with this new and somehow irritating news. “You also believe I had something to do with the Raider Base’s attack. Because I am the only survivor, you think I’m a decoy or infiltrator. And the reason you believe this is because…I’m invisible to the Force.” She scowled at her own words. “That’s why you had YVH guard droids flanking my side night and day on Coruscant. That’s why I’m here. So you can watch me, surrounded by all the other JedI Knights, in case I decide to escape. I’m on the perfect secure planet because you…think I’m the bad guy.” A look of astonishment crossed over her face as she finished. She had no idea the Alliance thought she was a threat, a liability. And it frightened her, the idea that the most powerful government was now aware and scared of her, the same government she grew up in, worked and fought for. So much for hard, patriotic loyalty.
“What now?” she said, after a long silence between a Grand Master JedI and unnerved, young suspect of the Alliance. “Are you really taking me to this Council meeting, or is this a ploy to keep me under wraps? I know how paranoid and over-protective this galaxy can get.”
Now Luke felt bad. He felt as if he just tore a young girl’s already broken heart into shreds and scattered them. He could see how this revelation had broken her spirit. The sadness in her eyes was only sadder now. Her porcelain face a pale gray. And she couldn’t meet Luke’s face. Her gaze remained still and fixed on the med chamber’s door.
“Know that after these few weeks, I have come to trust you,” Luke finally said, taking her arms and urging her to stand. She stood without effort but continued staring at the door and away from Luke. “I believe you are not the enemy. If you had been, your real identity would have slipped up by now. However, that does not stop me from being suspi—curious about you and your strange abilities within the Force. In the next few months, you will feel very alone. After we find Jaina and intercept this mysterious ship, if you wish to return to Ossus and continue your learning, I welcome you. Maybe we can discover the answer to your own mystery.
“You are not alone, Lilliya. I will be here.” That last statement took Luke off guard. He hadn’t expected to give Lilliya that much hope and he certainly didn’t want her to think he was suggesting taking her in. Luke had enough problems as it was with his own son and trying to reconnect with him.
But maybe the Force was telling him something, although it wasn’t the same whisper he heard minutes ago even though he was touching Lilliya now. But the comment I will be here just spilled out of his mouth involuntarily. Of course, if Lilliya decided to return to Ossus after who-knows-what happened on Endor, then obviously he would be around to stay in touch with. He just hadn’t meant for his comment to sound so…promising. Especially one he wasn’t sure he could keep.
Lilliya was looking at him now, a little glowing hint of reassurance in her eyes.
“Just tell Ben to keep his distance,” she said, breaking the second round of awkward silence. “I know he saved my life and all, but he sure has a bad attitude.”
“He’s dealt with a lot in life,” Luke grumbled. This time it was his turn to glance away. The pain of Mara’s death had never quite left him and he knew it affected Ben ten times more. “But, that’s no excuse. I’m sure he’ll warm up to you sooner or later.”
Lilliya grunted in disbelief and headed towards the med exit. “I’ll get dressed then. I had packed a few clothes Jaina lent to me, so I’m sure I have something else to wear other than training jumpsuits and cargo gear.”
“Cargo gear I’m sure will be appropriate,” Luke said, but she was already out the door. He stood for a minute in the dim moonlit room amazed at how smoothly Lilliya had taken that bit of information about her non-existent presence. She seemed to be able to soak it up and bury it along with all the other agonizing thoughts she tucked away neatly. At least, he assumed that’s what she did. She was a professional, a military pilot bred to disregard all other mentally distracting and torturing feelings. She would make the perfect JedI, if only he knew how to do it. And he wish he could more now than ever, if only for the success of Jaina’s rescue mission and whatever horrors lie waiting for them on Endor.