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meetings, glittering social functions, dark and private intrigues. The place where her life had effectively begun.

The place where she'd been when it had ended.

Her fingernails grated across the carved swirls of the window frame as well-remembered faces rose before her: Grand Admiral Thrawn, Lord Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, advisers and politicians and sycophants by the hundreds. But above them all was the image of the Emperor. She could see him in her mind's eye as clearly as if he were staring in at her through the window, his wrinkled face frowning, his yellow-tinged eyes bright with anger and disapproval.


"I'm trying," she whispered to the words echoing through her mind. But even as she said it she wondered if it were really true. She'd helped save Skywalker's life on Myrkr; had come begging for his help on Jomark; and had now uncomplainingly come to Coruscant with him.

She wasn't in any danger. Neither was Karrde. There was no way she could think of why Skywalker would be useful to either her or any of Karrde's people.

She had, in short, no excuses left.

From the next room over came the faint sound of a door opening and closing: Karrde, returned from his meeting. Turning from the window, glad of an excuse to drop this line of thought, she headed toward the door connecting their rooms.

Karrde got there first. "Mara?" he said, opening the door and poking his head through. "Come in here, please."

He was standing by the room's computer terminal when she arrived. One look at his face was all she needed. "What's gone wrong?" she asked.

"I'm not entirely sure," he said, pulling a data card from the terminal's copy slot. "That Bothan on the Council put up a surprising amount of resistance to our offer. He basically forced
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