he passenger transport ship rocked violently as another blast - the strongest one yet - struck the hull. The interior of the vessel was packed with inhabitants from a thousand worlds, all panicking, running aimlessly, trying to find a safe refuge from the barrage of firepower that assaulted the ship. Everywhere, the sounds of pandemonium echoed through the halls - terrified screams, shouts and growls from every species.
In the midst of the chaos, a human woman ran - deftly weaving her way through the packed corridors, a long auburn braid trailing behind her. On her left hip she carried a small child, no more than two years old. The little girl clutched her small, pudgy arms around her mother's neck, clinging to her with every ounce of her child-like strength. The girl's bright green eyes were wide as she sensed her mother's fear.
The woman rounded a corner, accidentally knocking over an elderly Bothan. She paused only long enough to utter a single apology before grasping her daughter tighter and sprinting even faster, her eyes focused on the row of escape pods at the end of the hall. Hundreds of beings crowded around the area - shoving, pleading, reaching out in a blind panic, trying to get inside one of the few remaining escape modules. The woman felt a brutal push on her back and she fell to the ground. Instinctively, she wrapped one arm around her daughter's head and took the full impact of the fall on her right shoulder. She winced in pain, but immediately struggled to stand - only to be knocked down once again as the frenzied crowd carelessly fought to reach the safety of an escape pod.
The woman's face was tight with desperation and her eyes began to well with tears as she felt her child curl a little hand into her braid and begin to silently cry. The woman bolstered her resolve and stood once more, somehow managing to make her way to a far wall. She stood still a moment, trying to catch her breath and formulate a plan to escape the doomed ship. The attack on the transport vessel had begun just minutes before, and already only a handful of pods remained ? and each one would hold only a dozen or so average-sized beings.
All at once another blast shook the ship, causing it to tilt violently. Those beings that were standing in the center of the floor were thrown to the ground in a heap, while those who were fortunate enough to be near a wall were able to use it for support. The woman remained on her feet and her eyes flashed with hope when she saw that one of the pods was only half filled to capacity, and the door was still open. She offered up a prayer of thanks to The Force and immediately pushed herself away from the wall, scrambling over the fallen bodies in the floor that lay between her and freedom. She had almost reached the pod when another blast hit the ship, this time causing a fire to erupt in one of the control panels on the wall. The woman cried out and crouched to the ground when she felt the back of her neck singed by the flames. She stood and looked on in horror as the people in the escape module desperately started to smack at the controls in fear, trying to jettison the pod. She called out for them to wait and launched herself toward the pod only to have the door slam shut in her face.
She looked around furiously, driven by an uncontrollable terror that consumed every part of her being. She looked briefly into her child's eyes and took a moment to brush away the tears on the little cheeks. She kissed her daughter and murmured soft endearments, trying to ease her fear. The little girl shook, but her crying subsided and she laid her head on her mother's shoulder.
"Be strong, my love," she whispered, smoothing the girl's red-gold hair while she looked around for an alternate method of escape.
An instant later she spied another escape pod - farther down, the last one in the row. She held out her free arm and pushed forward at a dead run, knocking away anyone who happened to be in her path. She felt an odd power assisting her as she ran. A familiar energy that seemed to envelop her, give her strength - an unusual force that often visited her in times of great distress.
She was nearly to the pod when a massive form appeared in front of her- an enormous, hairy being whose species she did not recognize. She struggled to get around the creature, pushing with all her might to no avail. The hesitation allowed others to crowd in front of her. Finally, the massive form moved just enough to allow her to see her destination. She reached out, calling to those who were fortunate enough to have already gained entrance into the escape device. Her pleading eyes locked on those of another woman of similar age who was standing in the front section of the pod and holding a small, blond-haired bundle in her arms. The woman with the infant was beautiful, her bearing almost regal, but her dark eyes held fear and a deep sadness. The two women shared a moment of silent communication that was interrupted when a bearded man - clad in a what appeared to be a Jedi robe and also holding an infant - gently took the beautiful woman by the arm, pulling her back from the entrance of the pod.
Another volley of firepower shook the ship, and the walls burst into flames. The woman and her daughter, still trapped behind the giant fur covered creature and the massive crowd, could only watch helplessly as the escape pod door slammed shut and blasted out into the relative safety of space.
Her head whipped around frantically and her face became a mask of hopelessness as she realized that all the last of the pods had been jettisoned. She stood, quietly whimpering, as all around her beings still moved in a frenzied fashion, not understanding - or not accepting - the utter futility of their efforts.
Another blast, and a large beam broke loose and fell from the ceiling, barely missing the woman and her child. She jumped back, suddenly animated. She heard the sound of blaster fire coming from somewhere behind her and she instinctively began running in the opposite direction. She had no idea where she was headed, blinded by panic as she was. She ran through halls aimlessly, seeking a safe place in which to hide. But after rounding a corner she found herself facing a garrison of the Empire's newest soldiers - Stormtroopers - clad in white body armor and carrying wicked looking weapons. She stopped in her tracks, eyes wide.
"There's one!" one of the Troopers shouted.
She backed up in shock, tried to turn and flee, but she was grabbed immediately by two of the Troopers who held her arms while another wrestled the child from her grip.
"Nooo! Please - NO!" she cried out, her voice charged with protective anger.
She struggled against the grip of her captors, watching as her child was roughly passed to a man in a brown officer's uniform. The child fought back as best she could, her chubby arms reaching toward her mother.
"Momma!" she wailed, her green eyes flooding with tears.
The woman fought harder, her arms nearly snapping as she tried to pull away. One of the troopers lost his grip for a moment and she was able to free herself. She lunged toward the man carrying her daughter, a primal scream escaping her lips.
"Mara?!" Her words were cut short when a green flash from a blaster lit the area, striking the woman in the back. She fell to the floor, unconscious.
Mara was taken, crying and kicking, to another ship - to a small room filled with other young human children, ranging in age from infants to approximately 5 years old. A lone woman was tending to the children under the careful watch of two armed guards. The little girl was all but thrown into the room, the brutality causing her to fall forward and bite her lip. She whimpered as the blood began to flow from the cut. Another child - a little dark skinned boy only a few years older, picked her up and hugged her, mimicking the comforting gestures of adults.
The woman charged with caring for the children gently placed the small infant she was holding into the arms of an older girl and hurried over to the new arrival.
"Damn them," she cursed, as she saw the blood on the little girl's lip. She used a section of her long skirt to dab at the wound, then she looked up at the guards, her eyes blazing. "How can you treat children this way?"
If her words had an effect on the guards, they did not show it. She glared at them a moment longer, then angrily shook her head and picked up the little girl who clung to her like a second skin. The child was shaking, on the verge of tears. The woman rocked her and whispered soothing words before a cry from one of the infants interrupted her. Regretfully, she put the little girl back down and then turned toward the dark boy.
"Ibon - will you be a big helper and take care of her for me while I tend to the babies?"
The little boy smiled, pleased to have been given a special job. He held the little girl's hand and led her to corner of the room, chattering to her with a thick Basic accent. Just then the door to the room hissed open and a small, dark robed man entered, followed by several men in Imperial officer uniforms. A hood obstructed the robed man?s face, but his yellow eyes were clear and distinctive. The guards immediately straightened and bowed to their new Emperor, but he ignored them. He walked slowly through the room, casting his gaze on each child as if looking for something. He turned to the officers, a look of disgust on his aged face.
"The child is not one of these," he snapped.
"My Lord," one of the officers stammered, "I don't know what to say. Some managed to escape in the pods before we boarded...we gathered up all that we found..."
"I can see that, fool!" he snarled, pointing his crooked finger toward a little girl with a double braid. "You even took females! Did I not make myself clear? The child I seek is a human male - under one year old!" He stared with disdain at the children, some of whom were nearly school-age.
The Officers looked fearfully at one another, then back to their Emperor. They opened their mouths to reply but Palpatine silenced them with a glance. He began moving toward the door, then suddenly stopped and turned around slowly. He sensed..... something.
His eyes fell on a little girl with green eyes who was sitting silently in a corner of the room. He approached her, his mouth turning into an empty grin. He kneeled down in front of the child and stared into her eyes for a long moment, noticing with some amusement that she held his gaze and did not flinch away. His eyes became slits and he reached out to put one cold hand on the child's head. There was something about this child, he was certain of it. He concentrated and had a vision of the future. He saw this young girl as an adult - beautiful, cunning - lethal. But above all, strong with The Force.
After a moment Palpatine opened his eyes, looking pleased. Yes, he decided, this little thing might be a useful substitute for the child that has - for the time being - escaped my grasp. He stood and approached one of the officers.
"Take that one," he instructed, motioning toward the girl.
The Officer seemed surprised but immediately obeyed, gathering the child in his arms, amazed at her strength when she began to struggle.
"What shall we do with the rest?" the second officer asked, motioning to the remainder of the children and their caretaker.
There was no hesitation when the Emperor replied.
"Seal the doors. Use the Dioxis gas."
The auburn-haired woman awoke on the floor of a small cell. Her head throbbed and her back was numb where she had been hit with the stun bolt. She blinked her eyes a few times, trying to clear her foggy vision. She pushed herself up and winced when she felt a sharp pain in her arm. She looked over to find a small stain of crusted blood on her upper arm, resembling a needle prick mark. It looked as though she had been injected with something - or her blood had been drawn. A moment later the heavy door hissed open and a dark clad man entered. She recognized him immediately.
"Emperor Palpatine! My Lord!" she cried breathlessly, falling prostrate at his feet - a traditional sign of respect for deities.
Palpatine stepped away from her, curious as to the reasons behind her actions. Surely this woman had no loyalty to the Empire after her transport ship had been boarded and she herself captured.
"Please sir - I beg you! My daughter was taken from me! I will do anything you wish, I swear - but please let me see her. She's only a baby.."
Of course, Palpatine thought, this was the reason for her obviously feigned deference. An attempt to save her child.
"What is your name, woman?" the Emperor asked, silencing her pleas.
She looked up at him and pushed herself to her knees. Her eyes were bloodshot, her red hair in disarray - but beneath her exterior she had a powerful spirit and an unshakable will.
"My name is Nekola Jade," she answered softly, pushing back tears.
"Where are you from?"
She hesitated, wondering why she was being detained and questioned by the Emperor himself. "I am from many places, sir. My mother and father were pilots - they owned a commercial transport ship. I was born in space."
Ah! That explains why she was never identified by the Jedi, he thought to himself with a smile.
"And your daughter. What of her? Who is her father?"
She could not prevent the small smile from forming on her face when she heard mention of her daughter. That must mean that her child was still alive! Her hopes soared.
"Mara's father.....he's dead, sir," she answered, averting her eyes. Emotions overwhelmed her then, and the tears began to flow. "Please - I beg you! Do what you will with me but spare my little girl. She has done nothing! Please?"
The Emperor smiled, then motioned to an armed guard standing outside the cell. He turned back to the woman who was still on her knees, her red-rimmed eyes pleading.
"Very well," he told her, "I shall spare your daughter." Without further comment he turned, giving the guard a small nod before exiting the cell.
Nekola's relief was apparent, but it faded rapidly as the guard wordlessly lifted his weapon and aimed it directly at her. For a reason she could not have explained, a vision of the sad, dark haired woman with the blond infant came to her mind, mingling with an image of her daughter. With that vision came a sudden wave of peace - and somehow she knew that her Mara would survive and be all right. It was the last thought she had before the flash from the blaster exploded in her eyes?.
In a beautiful nursery on Coruscant, a little girl with red-gold hair woke from a sound sleep. She cried out, sitting up in a soft, comfortable bed that was far too large for her toddler-sized body. A round woman with a kind face hurried in, clad only in a nightgown. She turned on a light and sat down on the bed by the child.
"What is it, my dear?" she crooned, pulling the little girl into her arms.
The girl shook, mumbling words that sounded like 'momma' over and over. The plump woman's eyes filled with compassion for this precious child that had recently been entrusted to her care. She held the little girl back and looked into her face, expecting to wipe away tears. But the child's eyes were dry. Her lip was quivering, and her green eyes were pained - but she was not crying. The woman held the child tighter, cradling her against her ample breasts. She shook her head with a sad sense of wonder.
So strong for one so small?
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