Chapter 3: The Mahra Compound
The transport suddenly stopped again hours later and Jaina's head jerked up. She was about to say "not again" when Trogan beat her to it.
"Don't worry. This stop is on purpose," he assured her. "Wait here." He exited the transport.
It was completely daylight now. It seemed brighter than when they landed. Jaina pulled back a part of the tarp and a bright white sun peeked through. The gray clouds that dominated the sky when they landed on Quilura were now gone. Jaina looked over at her Jedi mentor next to her and saw her fully awake already. Mara had a tray of ration bars that she was eating out of.
Mara asked her, "Breakfast?"
Jaina glanced at the tray and winced. She uttered with sarcasm, "Mmm...dehydrated nerf sticks."
Mara nodded and exclaimed, "Food of the gods. Or at least with a certain Jedi Master."
After Jaina grabbed a dried meat stick, she mentioned, "I was hoping you could improve my uncle's diet once you two got married."
"A Jedi cannot work miracles."
After a few bites she chewed off, Jaina spoke hesitantly. "I know you haven't mentioned my actions last night. I got the impression that you didn't approve."
Mara countered with, "Nonsense. You subtly displayed a combination of your mother's diplomacy and your father's tenacity."
"Best of both worlds." She took another chew and said, "It's just hard to tell how you felt about it last night."
Mara admitted, "I was in a huff over Trogan's assumptions."
"Mara, you are always in a huff about something."
"It's been brought to my attention." Mara nodded at the exit and asked, "Where did he go?"
"Don't know. He just left."
Mara closed the ration tray and put it back in her pack. "Let's go."
Both exited the transport and saw a small metal hut a few meters away. To it's right side was a locked gate that led to an obscured area.
"This can't be the compound," said Jaina.
"It's not," cried the voice of Trogan from behind them. "Get your things. We walk from here."
"Something else wrong with the transport?" sneered Mara.
"No. The compound is around that yerchwood tree there a few meters away. This is my utility shed."
Jaina uttered, "You're not just their Security Officer but their maintenance man too?"
"Yep. Ruht is my assistant. He's a pretty good mechanic, too."
Jaina questioned, "Ruht's not coming with us?"
"No. Fact is, he can't." Trogan disappeared before they could ask what he meant.
Jaina remarked, "That was ominous."
"Trogan doesn't strike me as a man who gives information easily. He's very selective on facts about the Mahra." Mara looked back at her and said, "Come on, get your pack." They each grabbed their packs and headed toward Trogan, who was listing chores for Ruht.
"I want a full diagnostic on the PX. Tell the computer to focus on that tibana fuel line. After that, I want you to organize those condensers I brought in last week. Don't worry if most of them don't work. We only need one for the south generator. I'll come back when I can to help. Got it, Ruht?"
The gurlanin nodded and mumbled, "Ruht understand." He went inside the hut.
Trogan turned to the women. "Got your packs, girls? Good. Let's go." He started walking ahead at a steady pace. Mara and Jaina followed him. When they walked around the gate to the hut, Mara saw what was behind it. Stretching out beyond where the eye could see was a vast wasteland of junk. Several ships and parts in various stages of decay were strewn across the area with no sense of pattern. By watching the uncontrolled chaos of the junkyard, Mara lagged behind Trogan. She called out to him to say, "You have a mini Raxus Prime back there."
Without looking back to her or stopping, Trogan yelled the reply, "Pretty much anything you want or need is in there somewhere."
Jaina quipped, "Guess the trick is trying to find it."
They continued to follow Trogan into the wooded area and closed the gap between them and him. Mara could feel a sense of regret coming from somewhere. Mara looked over at Jaina and confirmed that she felt it too. They glanced back behind them and saw Ruht standing by the transport simply watching them walking away. His yearn to join them was strong.
It triggered Mara to ask Trogan, "Why is it that can't Ruht join us?"
He recited back, "Gurlanins are forbidden inside the Mahra compound."
Jaina asked, "Isn't that rather biased?"
Trogan answered plainly, "It's a Mahra rule, not mine. Been enforced for a thousand years. It's tradition."
"He seemed to be familiar with Mahra beliefs," Jaina noted.
Trogan replied, "Oh, he knows them backwards and forwards. He just can't worship with them."
Mara shook her head. "If that's the case, how could he even know about their beliefs if he can't interact with them?"
"You know, I've never figured that out. I just chalk it up to the sixth sense that 'lanins seem to have."
"And you never questioned the Mahra about it," Mara stated.
"Hey, how they choose to conduct their own religion is their business."
"Spoken like a true Security Officer," Mara muttered.
They reached the tree that Trogan mentioned. It was one of the largest trees either of them had ever seen. The trees on Kashyyyk were majestically tall. The yerchwood trees on Quilura were short but stocky. The base of the trunk was at least the width as the length of an X-Wing fighter. The branches were at least a half meter thick. As they came around the enormous tree, they saw the entrance to the Mahra compound.
Mara and Jaina stopped to behold the sight before them. Just ahead a few meters was an enormous two-door gate. Mara figured an Imperial AT-ST unit would fit through comfortably. The structure was made of a darkened wood, most likely from one of the yerchwood trees. Long limbs of a tree were fastened together somehow to make up each door. Mara could not imagine the work involved in tying those gigantic limbs together and lifting them up on end. From the distance they were at, there seemed to be no metal parts. No flexitape could hold those limbs together.
Trogan walked ahead but glanced back at the women gaping at the sight. He chuckled. "It never fails. People always stop to look at the gate first."
"With good reason," said Jaina. "It's rather impressive."
Trogan beckoned. "Wait till you get closer."
Mara and Jaina complied without taking their eyes off the gate. As they neared closer, they could see what he meant. Along the sides of the limbs were several woodcut designs carved into the wood. Some looked like basic Aurabesh wording while others depicted scenes of various types. Some of the designs were meticulous in detail. At the top of the gate there was a separate design centered at the apex that looked simply like smaller limbs aligned in a semi-circle. Some of the limbs protruded outward to give a three-dimensional effect. Jaina kept her eyes on the gate as Mara noticed Trogan reach into his own pack.
Out of it he revealed a strange looking object. It was the color of polished bone and was compact. One end was wide and shaped like a horn. A handmade mouthpiece was at the other end.
"What is that?" asked Mara casually.
"A skafa horn. It's sort of our doorbell to tell them we're here."
Mara asked, "Why can't you use a comlink?"
Trogan shrugged. "It's a Mahra tradition."
"Terrific. Traditionalists are usually skeptic about the future and optimistic about the past," Mara bemused.
Without acknowledging her remark, Trogan put the mouthpiece end to his lips and blew through it. A loud low-pitched sound bellowed out of it that he sustained for several seconds. After he finished, the sound of wood creaking was heard and the doors of the gate began to open outward. Once there was enough space in between the doors, Trogan motioned for them to enter first. "After you, ladies."
Mara and Jaina began to walk through. On the other side of the gate doors were about twenty male beings of various species who pushed open the gates. All eyes were on them. When Mara walked through, something caught her eye from above. The semi-circular design above the gate looked to be simple limbs lined up with no sense of reason. That was the view from afar. Now that she was directly below the structure, she could clearly see there was a particular design on purpose. It was the type of design that was an optical illusion. The father away one looked at it, the more it looked like nothing. Look at it from a certain angle, in this case upward, there was more substance. The limbs were set at a angle pointing to one spot in perspective. That spot held an additional design that could not be seen from far away. It was a crude representation of a female face.
She uttered to Trogan as she nodded up at the design, "Let me guess. Agharta?"
He scoffed. "With instincts like that, you should do well here."
They came through to the other side and into the compound itself. And they were treated to another spectacle.
A large group of about a hundred beings stood on the edge of a courtyard. All were staring at their new guests. Mara scanned the crowd to notice mostly humans with a fair mix of Rodians, Twi-Leks, Neimoidians, and even the fierce Weequays. There were not just males. There were whole families with their children of various ages standing by their respective parents.
It made Mara on edge to have such a large crowd stare back at she and Jaina. She could feel the excitement in her apprentice at being in the center of attention. She was used to it. Mara Jade, on the other hand, never felt comfortable in the limelight.
Seeing the group there before them made Mara consider something. She whispered back to Trogan, "There's no way that they all could have gathered that quickly after your call. It's almost like they were waiting for us."
Trogan replied, "They've been anticipating this moment for a while now."
Jaina noted, "They must really want a peace agreement."
Trogan added, "It's not just for that. You two are the first Jedi to ever set foot in the Mahra compound."
"What an honor," cried Mara, the skeptic.
"Let's go meet our fans," Jaina suggested.
When they moved towards the crowd, the people and aliens all scattered to form a path for their new guests. As the two Jedi passed through the crowd, the sense of wonder and adoration was almost overwhelming. Every being in turn greeted them either with a quick nod and a smile or a spoken "Welcome" in Basic or Huttese. Several of the children were in awe. They could hear one of them exclaim, "Mommy, I see their laser swords!" Another cried out proudly, "They're both female Jedi."
Mara couldn't help sharing their elation at seeing their first Jedi. She couldn't describe the feeling she had while wading through the crowd. They had never met them, yet they were treated like royalty. It spoke volumes about how trusting these people were. That also meant that she and Jaina would have to keep their trust.
Their clothing consisted of simple drab colored tunics speckled with dust and dirt. Another thing Mara noticed was not one of them were armed. Only Trogan had a blaster at his side. There was not one piece of evidence that they were pirates. She cursed her former boss at starting that galaxy-wide rumor. These people may have been involved with violent raids once. They would have had to live under the pirate title ever since. Mara could see how they would want to shed that assumed image with a peace agreement.
Though they were wading aimlessly through the crowd, it seemed that they were being directed to a specific area. The courtyard had a structure in its center that consisted of two columns supporting an arch. Within the facade of the arch was a design carved into the white stone that was similar to the one atop the gate. Standing under the base of the arch were two dark-skinned human men. Both wore bright white tunics with elaborate designs sewn into them. Necklaces of gold and colored jewels hung loosely around their necks. The taller of the two men wore a small head cap that also bore the same design as the arch and gate. The logo of Agharta, Mara thought.
The taller man had an angular face with a wide nose and thick muscular build. The second man was shorter and thinner with a softer rounded face. The tall man came forward to the edge of the altar. He looked in turn at Mara and Jaina and boomed in a deep rough voice, "Representatives of the New Republic, I welcome you to the Mahra compound. I am Krun Li, Spirit Leader of the Mahra."
His accent was one that Mara could not place. In some ways, it was a mix of both Neimoidian and Chiss. Yet his Basic was clear and concise. Mara followed his greeting with her own. "Thank you, Krun Li. I am Jedi Knight, Mara Jade Skywalker, and this is my apprentice, Jaina Solo." Jaina gave a small nod.
Krun Li looked confused when he mentioned, "I was under the impression that the Jedi worked only in conjunction with the New Republic and not as direct negotiators."
Mara could only answer, "That was then. This is now."
Krun Li nodded. "I see. Then the New Republic Council knows of our violent past and sends two Jedi in case we feel the peace agreement is not going our way."
Mara began, "Pretty mu–"
"Sir!" Jaina interrupted, "I mean, Spirit Leader Krun Li. I am the daughter of Leia Organa Solo, who is on the New Republic Council. I assure you that we are not here because of potential violence. We are here to discuss your terms for a peace agreement that will allow you to join the New Republic."
Krun Li eyed Jaina with an approving grin. "As I understood, the Jedi were only protectors of the Republic."
Jaina shot back with no hesitation, "And if you remember your history, the Jedi also acted as mediators in the name of the Republic. We are here to represent the New Republic and make sure that you receive the peace agreement that you deserve."
For a long moment, Krun Li stared back at Jaina with no expression. Suddenly, he emitted a low laugh and said, "Well done, child. You have effectively established trust needed for the peace proceedings."
Jaina nodded her gratitude, but had to add, "That was my intent. But I'm not a child."
Krun Li smiled full to show his white teeth that almost glowed against his dark flesh. He then said, "My apologies. And I must also apologize for my assumption regarding the Jedi's role in our request. I must admit, my knowledge of Jedi lore is limited to recounts of Mahra members who had dealings with the Jedi. I also only have seen Jedi in holographic images on the HoloNet. It was my understanding that Jedi wore honorary robes over their tunics."
Jaina sneered in jest, "That's because you're used to seeing male Jedi. Female Jedi are much more fashionable."
Krun Li laughed again. It was the kind of laugh that made you want to join in with his laughter. Mara, nor Jaina, could sense any ill will underneath his amusement. His misunderstanding of their purpose seemed genuine. The Mahra Spirit Leader shifted his position so he could introduce the second man standing behind him. "This is the Mahra Prime Leader, Croag B'has."
The man leaned forward and uttered, "It is a pleasure greeting you both. I give you my warmest welcome into the Mahra compound."
"The pleasure is all ours," greeted Mara. Croag's voice was much smoother and higher pitched than Krun Li's. It had almost a velvet texture and it was less audible. Yet, the strange accent of Krun Li's was also present in Croag's dialect. It made Mara wonder where the two men originally hailed from.
Krun Li then announced, "Excellent! Now that we have the introductions out of the way, we want to invite you to share our morning feast with us. We have much to discuss, and I always believed it is better to do so with food on the table."
Mara started to say, "Thank you, but we already had our break–"
"We would be honored, Spirit Leader," cried Jaina. Jaina whispered back to Mara, "Dehydrated nerf sticks can hardly be called breakfast, Aunt Mara."
Krun Li laughed again and said to Mara, "Your apprentice must be a full time project."
"She's a handful, all right," replied Mara. "Guess she's decided for us."
"Very well!" Krun Li beamed. "The feast has been prepared in the Main Hall. This way, please. Croag will lead you." After Mara and Jaina started following the Prime Leader with Trogan in tow, they could hear Krun Li address the crowd. "Those of you with assigned duties, carry on! Those who do not, please return to your own interests, but be prepared to greet our illustrious guests with honor! Thank you!"
The crowd started to disperse and now Mara could see the layout of the compound better. The courtyard with the altar seemed to be in the center with various paths led to what she could see as buildings. She focused in on one of the dwellings nearby and saw that it had been part of an Imperial bunker at one time. It seemed to have been refitted for personal use. She checked all the other structures and they, too, had once been parts of old ships or bunkers. The source was probably Trogan's junkyard. In that sense, they were very much like pirates rummaging through second hand junk and making it their own.
They walked closer to the structure that Krun Li called the Main Hall. What Mara could make of it looked familiar. Transparasteel plating had been placed over the top of a rectangular-shaped structure. Once they entered inside the building, the sides of the walls gave away its source.
Mara exclaimed, "This used to be a mess hall from a Star Destroyer!"
Croag turned and replied, "That is correct. It took us great effort to reform it and place it here."
"I'll bet it did," said Mara. "You seem to have a knack for rebuilding old junk here."
Croag smiled. "Whatever works, we will use it. Please, seat yourself. Krun Li will be with us shortly."
Mara saw laid out before them several elongated tables with chairs accompanying them. She looked down at the opposite end of the hall to see a spot in the wall that was closed up. That would have been the entrance to the kitchen on a Destroyer. That end of the hall was clear of tables or anything else, so it was probably used as a staging area for official meetings or even as entertainment theater.
Mara and Jaina took their seats on one side of a nearby table and Croag took one on the opposite side. Trogan sat next to him. Krun Li entered the building along with two members of the Mahra. A human male and a blue-skinned Twi-Lek female walked behind them. The two separated from their leader as he took the seat at the head of the table.
"Vestir and Nem Yar will be serving the food soon," said Krun Li. After he sat down, he mentioned, "Trogan said you had a power outage last night."
"Yes," Mara replied. "Very strange. It even took out the power in our lightsabers, and they have a separate power source."
Krun Li uttered, "Interesting. I imagine that the fault line in that area had something to do with that."
"That's what we thought," Mara said. "Some kind of magnetic disturbance. But it doesn't explain how our lightsabers didn't work."
"Perhaps the answer will soon present itself. I also understand there was an incident with our liaison, Ruht."
"Nothing we couldn't handle," Mara said with pride.
Krun Li suggested, "Yes, it was good that your apprentice acted when she did. The gurlanins can be dangerous when they perceive they are being challenged."
Before anyone could reply, the servants entered the hall with trays of steaming hot food.
"Ah, breakfast is served," Krun Li announced. "Please, help yourselves."
The servants started placing plates of extravagant fresh food on the table and Jaina gaped at what was offered.
Jaina whined with hungry joy, "Garto eggs with kista cheese. I haven't had that since I was seven. And Trandoshani flatcakes. Nilluk strips and braised nerf patties."
Krun Li smiled at Jaina's mouth watering and noted, "You will find that since we have such a mix of cultures here there is a variety of foods from different regions. Though, it sounds as though your apprentice has not had a full meal in any region for a long time."
Jaina was already spooning out a healthy portion of garto eggs when she answered for Mara. "Trust me, I haven't."
Mara smiled at her but warned, "Hey, Han Jr, save some for the rest of us."
Krun Li saw Mara's empty plate and mentioned, "You are not famished, Ms. Jade?"
"It's Mrs. Skywalker Jade. Mara, if you please. And I do admit, the smoked terrafin loin looks good."
"Freshly shipped from Ryloth just last week," beamed Krun Li. "Our Twi-Lek members, including Nem Yar here, can't be away from their home tastes for very long."
Mara dished up a few slices of the loin with a few Dressellian prunes. She then absently said, "I haven't had terrafin loin since my days in the Imperial Court." She then winced at her casual hint of her past.
Krun Li said off her look of embarrassment, "Do not worry, Mara. Trogan had already informed us that you have Imperial ties."
"Had," Mara corrected. "That's in my past, and I'd like to keep it there. I was very young and impressionable."
Croag remarked, "Then you and Trogan have something in common. He was also–"
"Young and impressionable," Trogan said quickly as he stabbed his fork into his flatcakes.
Krun Li then commented, "If you had Imperial connections, then you must be fully aware of our raids during the Empire's reign." Mara lifted her head while she chewed the tender meat and her emerald eyes met Krun Li's sienna's. He continued in saying, "That also seems to imply why you, in particular, were chosen to greet us."
Mara inwardly admitted that Krun Li was intelligent. Maybe too intelligent for his own good. Like the other members of the Mahra, she could sense none of the violent tendencies that they were accused of. What would push these peaceful beings to resort to violence? As Krun Li suggested earlier, perhaps the answer would present itself.
Mara wryly replied, "My former Imperial ties did play a factor in the choice to send me. After all, I may be among the last living witnesses to your actions then."
Krun Li nodded in disappointment. "How very true. But allow me to say this before our discussion of peace. The violent acts that the Mahra were involved in, were required. We have not the time to go into details right now. Nevertheless, it was part of our past. Much like your ties to the Imperial Army was yours." He then spoke as if to himself, like he was in a dream. "Those who perished in that mission, gave their lives in duty to honor her."
Without missing a beat, Mara filled in the mysterious pronoun. "Agharta."
It was as if time had frozen for everyone but she and Jaina. The look of horror on Croag's face was immense. The servants had completely stopped what they were doing to gape at Mara. Trogan just shook his head. Only Krun Li sat motionless. For a fraction of a second, Mara thought she could see blind rage behind the Spirit Leader's dark eyes.
Krun Li calmly replied, "I see you are familiar with the Mahra goddess." He glanced ever so slightly. "I must warn those whose job it is to greet new guests to disclose information carefully next time."
Trogan countered with, "It wasn't me. Ruht was the one who mentioned her. Mara only asked who she was. What was I supposed to do? Lie?"
Krun Li smiled. "Of course not. It is not a sin to have a thirst for knowledge. Is it not, Mara Jade Skywalker?"
Mara shot back, "Could be dangerous for some."
After chewing a strip of bacon, Jaina piped in to ask, "When you say goddess, do you mean like a mythological being?"
Krun Li explained, "Agharta is our light. Our life. All reason, all purpose leads to Agharta. Much like the Force is yours, I believe."
Jaina said, "But we don't have a god or goddess."
Croag curiously asked, "Then to whom do you pray?"
Jaina looked confused so Mara jumped in. "Jedi don't pray at all. The Force is made up of all living things. It's the glue that holds Life together. It is all around us. The Jedi, or anyone with Force potential, can use it to accomplish anything, or use it for guidance. To break a galaxy-wide assumption, the Force is not a religion."
Krun Li remarked, "Yet Jedi do meditate. Is that not a form of prayer? The difference is that the Mahra pray to Agharta and the Jedi meditate to a faceless entity."
Jaina replied, "That faceless entity is all around us. Even here."
"My dear child, as I appreciate your beliefs, I can assure you that your Force is not present in this compound. Agharta is the only one present here in spirit." Krun Li motioned to one of the servers and commanded, "Vestir, if you could please pass the Kuul milk for my phrag grains. Thank you."
When Vestir reached for the container of milk, Jaina thought and acted quicker. She used the Force to lift the container in the air and move it towards Krun Li. Vestir shrieked in surprise. The Prime Leader, Croag, nearly fell out of his seat from the sudden show of magic. Trogan once again shook his head and went back to finish his flatcakes. Mara gritted her teeth at her apprentice. Krun Li did not bother to hide his rage this time. He merely stared at Jaina as if he could kill her with his eyes. The container of milk landed near his bowl.
Jaina sneered , "I can assure you that your Agharta did not do that. I did it by using the Force."
For a moment, nobody moved or spoke. The servants eventually went back to their duties, albeit hesitantly. Croag returned to sitting properly in his seat. Krun Li cleared his throat and began with Jaina, "Let me make this perfectly clear, my child. Whether or not you understand the Mahra beliefs is not pertinent to our peace agreement. I do, however, expect you to respect them."
"As long as we get the same respect for our beliefs," Jaina demanded.
Krun Li went back to smiling, but it was more of a smirk this time. "I admit that I may have disrespected you. For that, I do apologize."
Jaina was silent until Mara elbowed her in the abdomen. Jaina took her mentor's cue and said, "And I apologize as well."
Krun Li addressed Mara to say, "You have taught your apprentice well in the ways of diplomacy."
Mara replied, "Actually, that could be genetics."
"I may have my mother's diplomatic sense, but I also have Han Solo's foot-in-mouth disease."
Casually, Krun Li asked, "Who?"
"Han Solo. My father. Ex-smuggler. Co-hero of the Rebellion. All around scoundrel." When the Spirit Leader still looked confused, Jaina asked incredulously, "You've never heard of Han Solo?"
"Should I have?"
Croag spoke to break the tension even more. "That was fascinating, young woman. I had heard the Jedi have god-like powers. I've just never witnessed them in person. Quite impressive. Perhaps you could later indulge us in a demonstration of your full powers?"
Before her excited apprentice could answer, Mara cut in. "Jedi do not like to show off." She eyed Jaina and added, "Usually."
Krun Li smiled in full again, showing his white teeth. "I hope this incident does not deter us from our purpose."
Mara said confidently, "It will not happen again, Spirit Leader."
"Excellent. Then allow me to offer you a proposal. We would like for you to be our guests for the next few days before we begin the peace proceedings. You were sent here to find out about us and to see if we truly seek peace or if we are using this for an ulterior motive. You can easily find that out by observing us for the next few days as we carry out our normal daily routine. Accommodations have already been set up for you both. I suggest you can take some time to freshen up before we take you on a tour of our facilities. You are welcome to ask anything you like and greet with anyone you want. What say you?"
Mara looked over at Krun Li and decided that there was more information needed to form an opinion about the Mahra. Mara nodded to the Spirit Leader and answered, "Your proposal is acceptable. We will stay."