Chapter 2: A Delay
On Qiilura, en route to the Mahra compound
The old Imperial transport crawled on its treads back into the wooded area at it's fastest speed. Mara knew she was getting along in age and her agility wasn't the same as it had been when she was the Emperor's Hand. She still figured she could run faster than this ancient PX-7 transport. It did have its advantages. Whereas a repulsor lift would have a hard time running over fallen tree limbs and thick grasses, the PX-7 would simply climb over them with its huge treads. With the terrain made up this way, it made the trip very bumpy.
Mara and Jaina sat on the port side bench. They each had one hand on one of the support beams that held up the tarp. With each bump, Mara and Jaina would struggle to hold on. Trogan Eclane merely sat on the opposite bench with his arms folded against his chest. His body moved with the bumps as they happened. It was used to it.
For what seemed like the longest several minutes, they were all silent. Jaina started fiddling with the end of her lightsaber hilt. At a point when there were no bumps to shake them, Jaina finally broke the silence and said to Trogan, "You're really talkative."
Trogan gave a small shrug. "I thought you two would have more questions. Didn't think you'd be afraid to ask them."
"We're not afraid," Jaina snapped.
Mara placed a hand on Jaina's shoulder and followed by saying to Trogan, "What my apprentice meant to say was that fear has nothing to do with our silence. When you're guests of a new territory, it's best to let the host speak first."
Trogan scoffed and flashed a crooked smirk. "Whatever."
Seeing how he needed a push, Mara started to let him open up. "How long have you been the Head of Security for the Mahra pirates?"
"Ah, seems like forever. I guess I joined up with them when I was barely eighteen."
"Pretty young," Mara commented.
Trogan nodded in a way that Mara couldn't tell if it was in agreement with her or if he was reacting to the latest bump. Regardless, he muttered, "Young and stupid."
Jaina expressed, "Those two don't always go together."
"Maybe not for Jedi like you," he shot back with sarcasm.
Jaina looked down at the floor. "I'm not a Jedi, yet. But I will be soon."
Trogan reflected, "Wish I had your confidence when I was your age. Before I came here, I was lost."
"But the Mahra pirates saved you," sneered Mara with the same amount of sarcasm as he displayed before.
He seemed to ignore her patronizing and warned. "I'd be careful about calling them pirates."
"That's what they were back then," said Mara.
"No, that's the label the Empire gave them back then. Whatever the Empire said then was magically true for the galaxy."
Mara noted, "I sense you have the same distaste for the Empire as the Mahra pirates."
"More than you know. The difference now is that the Mahra have let go of their hate of the Empire. I haven't."
"How altruistic of them," Mara said with skepticism.
Trogan ignored her again to state, "For all of their violent acts in the past, the Mahra have been relatively peaceful for more than a thousand years."
Mara furrowed her brow when she questioned, "A thousand? I figured the Mahra were primarily formed during the Empire."
"And that's how little the galaxy knows about them. Which is how the Mahra wants it anyway. The handfuls of followers only find out through the word of mouth. Or from a selective network on the HoloNet. That's how I found out about them years ago. Once they arrive, they have to proclaim themselves a part of the Mahra."
Jaina interjected with, "Which is how the gurlanins allow them here."
Mara followed to remark, "I always thought that the ones who came here simply signed up to fight the Empire. Or whatever else pirates go after these days."
Trogan asked Mara, "Did you ever ask yourself about who the ones who signed up were?"
Mara shrugged. "I figured they consisted of mercenaries, ex-bounty hunters, and fugitives."
Trogan laughed. "I figured you of all people could see through the Empire's propaganda. That's exactly what Palpatine wanted you to think. The Mahra compound consists of repressed citizens and their families. They're the kind of people and aliens who wanted to escape the galaxy's politics over who has control over them. They formed their own government out of their own religion. They weren't forced into a society ruled by one man or by a group of squabbling politicians. When they were called on to fight the Empire, they volunteered to fight. The ones who died in the process were considered patriots."
Jaina growled, "I think the dead members of the Rebellion deserve that title."
Trogan countered, "The Rebellion went against the Empire so they could have the Old Republic back. The Mahra did it because it was the right thing to do. In the end, the New Republic won its old traditions back."
Jaina spat, "You put down the New Republic, yet you want to join them in an act of peace?"
Trogan shot back, "It's not me who wants to join them. It's the Mahra. You'll get to talk to their leaders on the details. They'll want you to stay for a while and take tours of their compound. They want you to see how they live in peace."
"They? Not we?" Jaina noted, pretending not to see Mara's proud smile with her detection of his choice of pronoun.
Trogan grunted. "The Mahra have their own religion. I respect that. It's just not mine. And they respect that. They gave me a place in the galaxy when I lost my place. For that, I'm grateful to them. As far as their beliefs go…well, I just don't get into it. I just protect them when I can and make supply runs when needed." He started to stretch himself across the length of the bench and put his hands behind his head. "And that is what I do here. It may not be great pay, but at least I'm in control of me." He closed his eyes as an indication that he was done speaking.
After a few minutes of silence, Jaina peeled back a portion of tarp to see outside. She mentioned, "It got dark here quick."
Trogan mumbled from the bench, "Qiilura's got an oblong elliptical orbit, so the nights are shorter. It'll be light again in a few hours."
Jaina motioned outside. "Anything out there looking to make a meal out of us?"
"You mean besides other gurlanins?"
"Gurlanins attack people?"
"The wild ones do. Usually, the very young ones. They can't shape-shift worth a damn so they have to defend themselves in other ways. I've seen a wild 'lanin take on two vonskrs and tore them both apart."
Mara uttered, "Vonskrs. Those things again."
"Don't worry," Trogan assured, "Ruht up there can sense his wild relatives way before we can."
Jaina asked, "He can sense them? Like in the Force?"
"Don't know about that. I just know they have some weird telepathy with each other."
Mara teased Jaina, "Maybe you can talk to them like your brother talks to other animals."
Jaina bemoaned, "Oh, your sense of humor is so much more defined on this planet."
Trogan injected, "Hey, if you gals are done with your questions, which I'm sure you are, how's about you let me take my one nap of the day?"
Jaina pestered, "How much further is the compound?"
"Well, let's see…we've traveled a whole two kilos so far. That means we have eighteen more to go. And that better be the last question or I'll have Ruht take the long scenic route to the compound." He lowered his head down.
Jaina turned to Mara and muttered, "He's a real people person."
Mara offered, "Must be all of the Mahra followers. Can't wait to meet the leaders."
Jaina looked like she was considering something before she asked her mentor, "Mara, can you sense anything out there?"
"Nothing except the things surviving the night."
"No. Why? Do you sense anything else?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, it better not be another Sith lord. I've had my fill of them for two lifetimes."
"No. It's nothing like that. Believe me, I already know the difference."
Mara sighed. "Sometimes I wish you didn't."
"Me too. This…other feeling I'm sensing. It's faint, but it's there in the distance. It feels like a sense of…helplessness."
"Maybe it's from someone in the compound."
"Maybe. I'm tired of thinking about it. I think I'm going to take Trogan's cue and nap while I can."
"Knock yourself out. I'll keep a watch on your helpless mystery."
As Jaina sat back sitting up on the bench, Mara kept alert on her surroundings. She felt deep within the Force to find any semblance of what Jaina had felt. She could not. Luke had told her once that different people feel different things in the Force. It didn't mean that it wasn't there. Her thoughts of her husband brought forth his soothing touch in the Force. She sat there still awake but also in a state of calmness echoing her husband's across the galaxy. The sound of the engines drowned out any natural calls of the wild from outside. Minutes faded into hours. They traveled through the unknown forest. Mara began to feel the minds of several beings in the distance that had to be from the compound. She still could not single out one that felt helpless. Mara took a peek outside under the tarp. It was still pitch black. When she replaced the tarp back, she planned to feel within the Force more closely. And then...
The sound of the engines and their forward motion suddenly stopped.
Even before Mara could react, Trogan sat straight up from his slumber and grunted the question, "What the hell happened?"
Mara answered, "Looks like we've stopped. Don't think we've arrived yet."
"We haven't. Something must have happened to the PX."
Mara wondered, "Broken tread?"
Just then, Jaina sat up groggy and yawned, "Are we there yet?"
"No," Mara replied. "There might be something wrong with the transport."
Before Mara could speak to Trogan again, he had already climbed out of the transport. Mara began to follow him and prodded Jaina to come along as well.
Trogan walked up to the driver side to hear the frustrated growls of a gurlanin. "Calm down, Ruht! I hear ya! What happened?"
The gurlanin answered in a rumble of a reply. "Power go down. Turn off engine."
"The power, huh? Damn. I knew it. I thought that distributor valve would last longer."
Mara said from behind him, "Distributor valve isn't hard to replace. Don't you carry spares?"
Trogan laughed. "Oh, sure. Let's go to the corner junk shop and pick one up. We don't exactly have those here on Qiilura. We have our own junk yard in the compound. Whatever we need that isn't there we improvise with what we do. I had to retrofit a valve from an older transport."
"Older than this one?" Jaina exclaimed.
He ignored her remark and said, "We'll have to bypass it somehow. Ruht, grab me that glow rod. Can't see a thing out here."
Ruht reached for the cylindrical-shaped lamp and handed it to Trogan. He flipped the switch and nothing happened. "Very funny, Ruht. I told you to keep this on the charger. Give me the smaller one with a full charge."
The gurlanin looked dumbfounded and expressed as he nodded at the lamp, "Fully charged, yes."
Trogan turned it over where the power indicator was and saw what it showed. "It has a full charge." He flipped the switch on and off. No light came on. "What is going on? Do either of you have a glow rod?"
Mara stated, "It's in my pack. I'll get it."
"Wait, Mara," cried Jaina. "I've got a better idea." She detached her lightsaber from her belt and held out the hilt. "Watch out for the blade," she warned Trogan. She switched it on.
Nothing happened. The hilt stayed silent. No purple-white blade emitting from it.
Trogan laughed. "Looks like your laser sword needs a charge too."
Mara explained as she reached for her own saber, "It doesn't need a charge. Lightsabers have an internal power source." She held out the hilt and used the Force to switch it on. Just like Jaina's, Mara's did not come on either. "What is going on?"
"It seems we have a power drain in the area," cried Trogan.
Mara exclaimed, "That can't be right. A power drain that affects the internal power of a lightsaber?"
Trogan scoffed, "Look, I'm sure your power sticks are the ultimate weapons, but they're not working now." He reached into his vest pocket to grab his comlink. "I have to call this in. Maybe the compound has power." He depressed the comlink and spoke into it. "Amura 1 to Base. Do you copy?" There was no response. There was not even static. He tried again. "Base, this is Amura 1. Can you read me?" Again, only silence. "Dammit, what's going on he–"
His words were cut off by a loud crackling of static that went on for a few seconds. It ended as abruptly as it began. They were plunged into an awkward silence. Trogan looked at the comlink as if it were a foreign object. "What in Tarkin's Ghost was that?"
Jaina then muttered, "Magnetic disturbance."
"What?" Trogan asked.
Jaina explained, "We've passed through a dead zone. Magnetic isotopes are interfering with the gravitational pull. It can cause a power failure in places."
Trogan looked at Mara and pleaded, "Can you get her to speak Basic, please?"
Mara uttered, "No, she's right. It could be a dead zone. I didn't think this system's gravity was heavy enough to combine with the small amount of magna rock."
Trogan erupted, "That's nonsense. I've been on this planet for decades and never experienced a dead zone before."
Mara considered, "Could be extenuating circumstances to cause one. You did say the elliptical orbit was oblong."
Jaina said, "We're too far away from either pole of the planet for that to be the cause." Jaina thought a moment and asked Trogan, "What about volcanoes? Any nearby here?"
Trogan let out a frustrating sigh and said, "No, this is…wait…there is a fault line that goes through here."
Jaina replied, "That might do it."
Trogan objected. "But I've been around here countless times and never had the power go out."
Mara stated, "There must be something different that's creating the dead zone."
Jaina asked, "What?"
Suddenly, the roar of a reply sounded in the form of Ruht shouting, "You! It is you two! You use the Force. You come to destroy Mahra! You use Force to take away power." The gurlanin started to edge towards the new guests.
Trogan stepped in and calmly stated, "Now, Ruht, buddy…we don't know that."
Ruht growled, "Yes! Power not work. Never happen before they come. They use their magic."
Mara came forward right up in front of Ruht and said using the same calm tone as Trogan, "I assure you, Ruht, that we are not the cause of this."
"No, Jedi bad!"
Mara strained in saying, "Jedi are not bad."
"Yes! You use power to destroy. Like the dark man of the Empire."
"The dark man?" Mara curiously asked.
Jaina answered in a casual sigh, "My grandfather."
"Oh," Mara expressed. "You've heard of him, huh? Well, there went my point."
Jaina approached Ruht this time but kept her distance. She said with caution, "We are not like the dark man. We are good. We come in peace." She stopped and asked herself, "Did I just say that?"
"You did," Mara replied.
"Great, now I sound like a mythic tale."
Despite their efforts, Ruht still growled, "I not believe you. The dark man very angry and use power. You use Force to come after Mahra. Agharta knows."
Trogan tried to use logic with the creature. "Ruht, think about it. If they wanted to destroy the Mahra, why would they shut the power down in the middle of the forest several kilos away from the compound?"
Ruht apparently wasn't listening to logic. He finally said, "No! They mean to destroy Mahra. Agharta say so. Must be stopped." He lunged at Jaina with the intention of knocking her down. Despite yells to stop from Trogan, Ruht kept his attack on.
Seeing the husky creature coming at her, Jaina fumbled to find a defense without her lightsaber. To her left side was a large rock that sat between her and Ruht. As he came forward, she focused on the rock in the Force and lifted it in the air to position it in front of him just at the right time. The rock met with his abdomen as he charged and his momentum knocked him down to the ground. It didn't seem to injure him any, except maybe his pride.
The rock was still in the air until Jaina set it down in its original place. She then looked over Ruht still on the ground and said, "You see, we don't need power to use the Force."
Ruht sputtered to say, "You…you attacked Ruht!"
"No, I only lifted the rock and you ran into it." She held out her hand for him to take so he could get up. "Not all users of the Force are out to destroy."
Ruht looked at her hand with a careful eye. He hesitantly reached for it and she helped him up with a pull.
As soon as Ruht stood up, all the power came back on in an instant. The engine of the transport kicked on. The glow lamp suddenly shone bright. And Mara's blue-white blade extended with a snap-hiss. The only problem was that Trogan had been standing in the blade's path. As soon as he heard it, he yelped and jumped out of its way. He was a little too late because a piece of his pants leg was singed.
"What the kriff?" he cried.
Mara shut off the blade but shrugged to offer, "She did warn you about the blade."
Trogan gave her a warning look and addressed Ruht. "You all right?"
The gurlanin nodded in defeat and muttered, "Ruht learn lesson. No mess with Jedi."
Trogan smiled and ordered him, "All right, go ahead and drive. We still have a ways to go." As Ruht returned to the driver's seat, Trogan turned to Mara and Jaina to say, "You two knew this would happen, didn't you?"
"Excuse me?" Mara snapped.
"I've heard stories of Jedi telling the future and reading minds."
"Barely on both counts," Mara reacted.
He scoffed. "Sure. I've never seen anything like a dead zone here and you come up with the explanation just like that." He snapped his fingers.
Mara barked, "Jaina gave a theory as to why it happened. I'm still not sure it was correct, but it's the only one that makes sense now. I've just never heard of a dead zone affecting internal power sources like our lightsabers."
Trogan moaned, "Oh, here it comes. The famous Jedi ego." He tried to alter his voice to mock Mara's. "Nothing can ever touch our super laser swords."
Mara stepped up to him and got in his face. She nearly gritted her teeth when she warned him, "Don't even dare tell me about ego. Before I was a Jedi, I defined the term. Remember Ruht's lesson? That goes double with me. If you know my name, then you know who I used to work for. Believe me, you don't want to see me angry. As far as the dead zone is concerned, I only meant it was too strange to be a dead zone."
Trogan took her veiled threat in stride. "Fine. Can we get back on the PX without any further delays?"
Instead of answering, Mara walked back to the rear of the transport in silence. Jaina stood still to ask Trogan, "How did Ruht know about my grandfather?"
Trogan looked confused. "Who's your grandfather?"
Jaina raised one brow. "Boy, you really weren't paying attention, were you?"
"What? Of course, I was. Ruht was talking about Lord Vader."
Jaina gave the famous Solo crooked smile and said plainly, "Yes. He was."
It took Trogan several seconds to piece it together and he erupted with, "Aw, don't even tell me you're related to that monster-machine?"
Jaina stayed calm when she replied, "His name was Anakin Skywalker, if you don't mind."
Trogan looked surprised. "Oh my stars. That was his name? I'm surprised there was a human heart under all that machinery."
Jaina surmised, "You told Ruht about Vader. You told him the horror stories."
He admitted, "Some of them. He also saw them on the HoloNet. We're not totally primitive here. C'mon, let's go."
He turned to go and Jaina followed him. She raised up her head and looked into the distant forest. Then she stopped in her tracks. "Whoa!"
Trogan looked behind him at her and asked, "What now?"
Jaina looked like she was struggling to find something in the forest. "I…I don't know. I thought I saw…"
"Saw what?" asked the impatient Trogan.
"Hmm…guess it was nothing."
Trogan shook his head as he helped her in the back. "Now I know why we never invited Jedi here. You people are just too weird to deal with." He climbed inside the transport himself and gave Ruht the signal to head out and they were moving again.
Time seemed to pass quicker as the first signs of light started to show. Mara broke the silence after a distance and asked Trogan, "Ruht mentioned a name back there. Agharta. Who is that?"
Trogan stated, "That's a name that you'll be hearing a lot of when you're in the compound."
"Is he one of their leaders?" asked Mara.
"She is the leader, to be exact."
"Will we meet her?" Jaina asked.
"No. Nobody can meet Agharta. Nobody besides the High Holy man can even speak to Agharta. Anyone else who tries pays the price."
Jaina questioned, "Why is that?"
Trogan replied, "Because Agharta is the Mahra's goddess."