JEDI PRAXEUM; YAVIN 4
It was early morning on Yavin 4, and as such, mostly quiet. In fact it was so early that light from the great gas giant of the planet it orbited, Yavin, was just starting to creep over the giant Massassi trees of the moon onto the courtyard and landing pad.
Standing alone on the edge of the landing pad beside the great temple of her uncle’s Jedi Praxeum—or Academy as most of its inhabitants referred to it—was Jaina Solo. She had slept fitfully throughout the night and awoken before dawn to dress and make her solitary way to the landing pad. Her eyes upturned to the lightening sky, the only things she could see at the moment were a few darkened tufts of cloud that drifted lazily in an easterly direction. Being so early in the morning, it was cold outside, and even though she was wrapped up tight in her thick brown Jedi robes in an attempt to keep warm, she was shivering.
She sensed the approach of another behind her; heard the dull stumble-step of a half-awake human or near-human, the rustle of a robe. She did not turn. She kept her eyes on the sky, ignoring the clouds that brightened little by little with the dawn, ignoring the shadowed whisper birds and their shrieking calls, ignoring the rustle in the trees of woolamanders rousing and fleeing from the sight of a human in the jungle.
Near the jungle.
When the person behind approached closer still, she allowed a microsecond probe of their mind to identify them, and restrained the sigh that threatened to escape from her lips. Instead, she allowed her eyes to drift with a solitary cloud until it passed beyond her ability to see.
Jacen Solo stopped beside her, looking back and forth from her to the sky as it brightened faster, the tip of Yavin pushing over the tops of the great trees into the sky. She said nothing, and neither did he for a great moment.
When she sensed that he could no longer contain himself, she dropped her gaze and waited.
“What are you looking for, exactly?” Jacen half-yawned.
Jaina turned her head just enough that she could shoot him an exasperated look. “Nothing for the moment,” she said simply, “but the Falcon should be here soon.” And then her eyes went back to the sky, to watch the giant orange planet rise and rise.
Still nothing yet, not even a glimmer from the Force to let her know that the ship was nearby.
Jacen raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. “Are you sure you haven’t been driven insane by the whirring and clanking of all those machines you keep around?” he said in jest. “Uncle Luke said that they wouldn’t be here until midday.”
“Yes …” Jaina said absently, allowing her gaze to drift with a flock of whisper birds that passed overhead. She looked back down at her brother when they passed around and behind the building of the Praxeum. “But you know what Dad’s like. Since when does he ever make sure to arrive on time?” she added with a forced chuckle—forced because it was too early and too cold to be genuine.
“Well …” Jacen shrugged. “Never, I suppose.”
He looked up at the sky briefly, then back down at Jaina. “I might as well join you while I’m out here. I couldn’t get back to sleep now that I know you’re out here in the freezing”—he emphasised the word heavily—“cold making an absolute fool of yourself waiting for them when they won’t be here for hours.”
An hour passed by in relative silence, an hour in which the two of them huddled close, arms around each other’s shoulders in a vain attempt to share body warmth to stave off the cold. The sounds of the jungle were trancelike and Jaina allowed them to permeate her senses while she waited.
Another hour passed soon after, and dawn was well and truly over by this point. The morning was bright now, the sun reflecting off the great gas giant far above them and in full view above the jungles of the moon.
The academy was in motion behind them. It was a scheduled non-study day, so many of the Solos’ fellow students were to be found at this hour stretching as they left the great temple building.
An unexpected grunt from behind startled them both and they drew apart to turn around. Lowbacca, their close friend and nephew to their father’s close friend Chewbacca, was standing behind them, his copper coloured fur and his syren fibre belt glinting in the morning light and his furry paws resting on his hips in what could have been misconstrued as a defiant stance.
The Solo twins grinned when they saw him and beckoned him to join them. Jaina noticed at once that the Wookiee had forgone activating the translator device that was uncharacteristically clipped to the belt.
The device was called M-TD, and was in fact a small, complex droid that had been constructed by Chewbacca and programmed by the protocol droid, C-3PO, as a translator for the young Wookiee when he had let his uncle know his intent on becoming a student at the Praxeum several years ago.
It was of fairly basic design, oval shaped with a photoreceptor on each side separated by a speech module. The droid could speak sixteen—originally six—different languages, in comparison to C-3PO’s six million, and had been upgraded a few years ago with an intricate system of small repulsors so that it could hover after Lowbacca in favour of being attached to the Wookiee’s belt on a continual basis.
However, Lowbacca knew that with the Solos, M-TD’s activation was unnecessary. All three of them had learned the language enough from their father, Han Solo, and Chewbacca to form a rough idea of whatever their Wookiee friends were saying, and what they couldn’t understand straight off, they used the Force to assist them.
Lowbacca rumbled something low and guttural, provoking a laugh from Jacen in response. Jaina’s lips drew into a hard line and she fixed them both with a dirty look, putting her hands on her hips.
“That wasn’t funny,” she said disparagingly. Then she narrowed her eyes at Jacen. “You’re teaching him bad habits, you know that?”
“If having a sense of humour and pointing out the obvious at the same time is a bad habit; yep, sure, you bet-ya,” Jacen said with a grin. He exchanged high-fives with the Wookiee before turning back to face his sister. “You should try it some time. You never know, you might actually like it.”
She didn’t respond.
An overhead distraction had grabbed her attention yet again. But this time, the distraction came not in the form of native wildlife or the brightness of Yavin or the drifting of overhead clouds, but in a sound all three of them recognised, and one Jaina had been waiting for.
She could not yet see the ship, for there were some clouds drifting by obscuring some of the sky from view. She knew, though, that if she could hear the engines of the Falcon now, it meant that the ship had to be on final approach to the moon, which meant that it was behind one of those obstacles.
She was right.
Seconds later, the roughly-circular shape of the Millennium Falcon punched its way through a thick tuft of cloud and changed course to a more vertical approach.
Jaina felt Lowbacca’s furry paw come to rest on her shoulder and took the hint. She and Jacen turned around and followed him to the very edge of the courtyard. As they did so, she spied her uncle, Luke Skywalker, and youngest brother, Anakin, approaching them also; both dressed in sand-coloured tunics and dark brown robes matching hers and Jacen’s.
Anakin was very much like the pictures recovered in Republic records of their grandfather, Anakin Skywalker, in appearance. His hair was close cropped, but dark brown like their father’s, and he had the same youthful optimism that their grandfather had possessed at that age. He was a little shorter than Jaina and her twin, Jacen, with an even build, a strong chin and ice blue eyes.
Luke was taller than all of them, with slightly darker blue eyes than his young nephew, Anakin, with a crease down the centre of his chin and a kind demeanour. He was built lean, his mannerisms confident and compassionate. Like Anakin, his hair was close cropped but was a little lighter than the former’s, though still darker than Jaina’s.
Several others outside on the courtyard were putting a stopper to their own activities and standing around watching the Falcon’s approach, wondering what it was that brought Han and Leia Solo to the moon this day and at this hour.
“Morning, you three,” Luke said with a smile as they gathered at the edge of the courtyard.
Jaina chanced a glance at the Falcon’s progress before looking back down at her uncle and nodding with a return smile.
“So it is,” Jacen said smartly from her left. Anakin was standing next to their uncle, his expression tired.
“It’s gratifying to know that your razor-sharp wit has survived the early morning rise, Jacen,” Luke said slyly. Jacen returned the smile then stifled a yawn that threatened to introduce itself to the group.
“Hey Uncle,” he started when the yawn passed, “how many Mandalorians does it take to change a glow panel?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this somewhere,” Luke said warily. “Oh, no, that was stormtroopers. I don’t know. How many?”
“Depends how much you paid them.” Jacen said, and then laughed.
Luke sighed. “Bit early for satirical humour, isn’t it?”
All of them turned back to the landing pad to see that the Falcon was completing its landing descent and that all three landing struts were extended in wait for the final contact.
When it did touch down on the courtyard, it stayed there, immobile, for a full three minutes, hull ticking audibly as it cooled, before Jaina heard the distinct whine of the engines begin their shutdown cycle. Even if she could not sense the shutdown procedure as it happened, she still would have known before the rest of them. As mechanically minded as she was, she knew every aspect of the ship as well as her father and Chewbacca did, including the timing of the shutdown and start up procedures.
The landing ramp descended from the starboard underside of the ship from the midsection and touched down on the cold stone before the hatch at its apex opened to allow the ship’s occupants to depart.
A whole party exited the ship, answering Jaina’s unspoken question as to the reason for her parents’ visit to them this early in the day. Judging from the reactions of the others, she could tell that her brothers and their Wookiee friend were just a curious, but that her uncle was not. Instead, he was feeling rather … excited?
At the head of the group were Han Solo and Leia Organa-Solo, hand in hand as they approached the group with broad grins. Jaina’s mother was wearing a formal dress she reserved for Senate meetings; full white with a square neckline and long sleeves to the wrists. Her hair was loosely tied back behind her in a ponytail, which Jaina could never remember seeing her mother do before. Contrarily, her father wore an open necked shirt with a leather jacket atop and leather pants to finish. His hair was slightly windblown, as if he hadn’t bothered to check it since his last planetary visit.
Behind them was the protocol droid, C-3PO, gleaming bright gold in the morning light and shuffling along behind his charges as best his rigid form allowed. Next came a pair of young adults, around Jaina and Jacen’s age—a boy and a girl—and they were followed closely by Chewbacca, whose dark furry paws rested gently upon their shoulders in a way that conveyed—what; familiarity?
“Good morning Mum, good morning Dad,” Anakin called from behind Jaina, pushing past her and her twin to get to his parents first. Jaina and Jacen followed a second later and all three were soon caught up in one of those brief emotional moments they had the opportunity to come across.
The last time Han and Leia had come to Yavin 4 was almost a year ago, when they had dropped Lando Calrissian off at GemDiver station in orbit of Yavin. They’d taken the opportunity while they were in the system to drop by the small jungle moon to visit their kids and Luke and catch up before heading back to the Core.
“It’s good to see the three of you again,” Han said, planting a kiss on the top of all three heads. Jaina noticed Chewbacca and Lowbacca had already moved off to the side to have a quiet conversation of their own in one of their native dialects. She chose not to eavesdrop.
Luke coughed conspicuously to draw the attention of the others back to the reason for this visit.
“Oh, yes. Sorry about that,” Han said quickly. Jaina and her brothers got the hint at once and backed away a couple of steps. She looked over at the two newcomers and instantly realised they were the main reason for her parents’ visit; that they were dropping off a couple of Force-sensitives for training.
Though, Jaina thought, at their age, why they hadn’t been identified as Force-sensitives before now eluded her. There were enough Jedi spread across the galaxy now to detect Force-sensitive individuals in half the known galaxy, at least certainly within Republic space.
Both the newcomers were nervous, she could tell from their outward attitudes. The girl was staring around at everything with wide blue eyes; taking in her surroundings, staring at the temple Jaina had seen her uncle and brother depart moments before. The boy was staring mostly at his feet or the border between jungle and the stone landing pad, barely looking at anything else.
The more she observed them, the more Jaina got the feeling that she recognised them both; they both seemed so very familiar to her.
Jaina moved on from observing their behaviour to taking in their individual appearances. The boy had short dark brown hair which was in a semi-messy state—as if he had tried to subdue it at some point and then given up on it—and brown eyes. He was of similar build to Jacen with broad shoulders and strong muscles showing through his sleeveless shirt. He was taller than her by several inches and Jaina had to admit that he was kind of attractive, in that roguish sort of way she guessed her mother found her father to be.
The girl was taller still, but only fractionally. She had long blonde hair which had been done up in a tight braid at the back, and blue eyes to rival Luke’s. She was of a similar build to Jaina with a slender, shapely figure, and a tough feminine look about her.
It struck Jaina that several of their facial structures appeared to be very similar, like the shapes of their eyes and the set of their jaws. She assumed that they were siblings, but chose, out of respect for their privacy, to not probe their minds for the answer to that assumption.
“It’s perfectly alright,” Luke said dismissively.
“I picked up these charming young people on Sullust about a year ago,” Jaina’s father started, “and left them with Lando on GemDiver. I suppose you got his message?”
And then it hit Jaina where she had seen them both before.
The last time Jaina and Jacen had last been up to GemDiver Station, she had seen a couple of new workers, and seen them only once, in the storage bay stacking crates and taking inventory for a shipment that Lando had told them was going to Coruscant the next day.
“They’ve been giving him a hand up top with the operation, but Lando thought that they’d be better off down here with you, considering that they’ve both started to manifest Jedi traits,” Han explained before anyone could ask. “He had no ships available to transport them down himself, so I volunteered to do it … for a price,” he added with a grin.
Jaina noticed the way that her uncle was looking at the newcomers—it was with that same familiarity she could swear Chewbacca had shown upon their arrival. The only logical conclusion that she could draw was that all of the adults present knew the two newcomers, and that the feelings of kinship, if not outright friendship, she sensed from them spanned many, many years. Showing more patience than she usually was infamous for, she chose not to voice her questions yet.
“I kind of figured that was the case. It’s been a long time,” he added to the boy and girl. He appraised them both with a slightly confused, questioning look, as if there was a question he so much wanted to ask, but didn’t. He looked at the girl. “And if memory serves, only you were showing sensitivity to the Force at that time,” he said.
She nodded in reply, meeting his eyes.
Jaina saw the twitch at the corner of the girl’s mouth that preceded her broad grin. She felt her own curiosity build until it got to the point where she found herself fighting to keep from reading the thoughts of the newcomers. So, instead, she voiced the most obvious of questions.
“You know them?” Jaina asked politely, not just to her uncle, but to her parents as well. She could see the familiarity on all three of their faces. The odds were good that if her parents and uncles knew them, then it was a sure bet that 3PO and R2-D2 did as well. However, a droid’s mind she could not scan.
“Yes,” Luke replied thoughtfully. “To an extent, so do you. I’m sure I’ve mentioned the story of our trip to the living planet at least once?”
To Jaina’s recollection, he had told the story exactlyonce. But before she could voice her confusion, her uncle turned his gaze from Jaina and her brothers to the newcomers and spoke again. “I’d love to hear more about what’s happened to you both since we last met, but I think we should get you settled in first.”
The boy spoke up in immediate response. Jaina had expected with his appearance that he would have a soft voice, with perhaps a slightly-higher-than-norm pitch. In fact, his voice was much different than that, and Jaina didn’t miss that his eyes were appraising her as he spoke.
“Sounds good to me, Master Jedi,” the boy said. When he noticed Jaina staring back, he shifted his gaze to look at her uncle instead and continued. “We don’t have much in the way of … well … personal stuff. Most of it was lost—”
“What my brother means to say is that we’ve pretty much only got what Mister Calrissian was able to part with,” the girl cut him off. “A few changes of clothes, reading material.”
“I understand completely,” Luke responded kindly. “In anticipation of such an event, I took the liberty of acquiring a few things according to what I remembered of your personal interests.”
Jaina’s patience was at tooth’s-edge, and she coughed conspicuously to draw her uncle’s attention. “Introductions?” she urged her uncle politely when he looked her way.
“Oh, yes!” Luke clapped his hands together and turned so that he could see the whole party in his field of view. “How rude of me not to have started with that. Jacen, Jaina and Anakin Solo, meet Zak and Tash Arranda.” He turned to the newcomers. “These three charming young people are Han and Leia’s kids,” he explained as if that cleared things up. “And that young Wookiee over there is Chewie’s nephew, Lowbacca.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Jacen said with a mischievous grin.
Great, Jaina thought, new victims for those tasteless jokes he’s always coming up with. May the Force help them through that. Jacen shot her a cheeky look at that last thought, which she pointedly ignored.
“They’ll be completing their training here,” Luke added to Jaina and her brothers.
Jaina nodded at the Arrandas with a polite smile by way of greeting. Lowbacca was still conversing privately with his uncle and didn’t seem to notice that the introductions had been and gone. Jaina made it a point to be the one to introduce him to the newcomers later when an opportunity presented itself.
“Jacen, Jaina, could you show Zak and Tash to their quarters? Level three, rooms eight and nine respectively.” Luke said evenly, gesturing to the boy and girl. “I’d like a few moments with the adults to discuss a couple of things.”
Jaina nodded, and so did her twin, and she led the way, sensing her brothers both fall into step behind her, and the new arrivals a few steps behind them.
When they showed Zak and Tash to their rooms, Jaina concluded that her uncle had dealt with the matter of the new arrivals’ most obviously expected arrival personally. Either that or he had received enough forewarning of their arrival to have sorted their quarters—or had someone else sort them out—for them.
Jaina and Jacen showed Tash to her room first; room nine on the western side of the level, directly opposite her brother’s room and right next to the one assigned to the Solos’ friend, Tenel Ka Djo.
The room was furbished to standard with a single, comfortable bed and a small bedside table with an adjustable night lamp sitting on the table top. Across the room was a wardrobe, hanging open when they arrived to reveal a cleaned orange jumpsuit from storage as well as a trio of sand coloured tunics and dark brown robes. Three sets of boots sat on the floor of the wardrobe, straps undone. The drawers were also opened, but presently empty.
In the corner of the room—much to Jaina’s pride to notice—was a small sink and a hook on the wall near it held a single fluffy white hand towel. Crammed against the only other available corner was a small durasteel work desk with a holo projector atop it and a couple of stacks of holo chips in a tray on the chair in front of it.
“Oh my,” Tash said, her hand flying up to her mouth in either shock or awe. She rushed over to the holo chips and started examining some of the titles.
Jaina could sense through the girl that most of the titles were historical documents and records, maps of the galaxy and shifts of power over the past three decades—classic study material for someone that had been out of the loop for a while. The others were classic holodramas or novels written anywhere from a thousand years ago to the present.
Jaina left Tash in Jacen’s and Anakin’s capable hands to settle in while she escorted Zak across to the other room and let him in.
Similarly, his room had a bed, bedside table with lamp, sink, desk and wardrobe. The carvings on the wooden bed frame and wardrobe were, however, dissimilar to the ones in Tash’s room, as was the case with all of the beds and wardrobes in the complex. Zak’s collection of holo chips consisted of the same historical information Tash’s held, but without the fantasy literature. Instead, he had a couple of small stacks comprised of technical manuals and schematics. Half of his desk, however, was covered in neatly stacked mechanical devices such as console screens and datapads and a couple of holocams that had long since ceased functionality.
Jaina did a double-take, to make sure that she had seen it all correctly. When she was certain she had, she couldn’t help herself but smile. Lowbacca was the only other Jedi in the facility that had shown as much interest and skill in the field of mechanics that Jaina had. It seemed now that there would also be this mysterious Zak Arranda. The three of them could possibly even collude on projects together.
The robes, tunics and boots in Zak’s wardrobe were all much darker, black leather for the exterior of the tunics, with softer inner lining. And jet black nerf-wool robes. The boots were similarly made of leather and, unlike Tash; Zak had been supplied with three sets of black leather gloves.
Jaina fretted about that.
Sure, many at the Praxeum had gloves, but mostly they had had to acquire them on their own through their own devices—or credit account. Her uncle had seemingly gone out of his way to supply a few sets to one of his new students, and to Jaina that smacked of some sort of insight into the young man that she clearly did not have yet, or that he similarly did not know about himself—judging by the confusion in his mind at the sight of the gloves. Similarly, his wardrobe also possessed an orange jumpsuit and utility boots.
Zak said not a word as he took in the room and its furnishings, and Jaina decided that, while she itched to talk to him about his apparent mechanical interests, she could wait for another opportunity to do so. She backed out of the room quietly and closed the door, leaving Zak to his thoughts.