Author: GreatOne PM
Set before ANH, a strange woman forces Han to take her to AlderaanRated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Drama - Han S. & Padmé Amidala - Chapters: 2 - Words: 69,284 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 14 - Follows: 1 - Published: 06-10-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5126855
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Drama. Totally AU. Set about six months prior to the events in A New Hope.
Even in the smoke-filled cantina, the human female radiated elegance and confidence. She looked out-of-place, although it was apparent she was trying to blend in by wearing a dark gray cloak that covered most of her face, and scuffed boots on her feet. She reached across the table, placing her hand on top of the other's hand. Her nails were trimmed short, but were still quite well manicured. "I can't begin to tell you how much this means to me," she said quietly to her companion. "You've been a loyal friend for such a long time, I'll never be able to repay you."
She listened carefully to the other's reply, nodding in understanding. "You're certain this particular smuggler will meet our requirements? I've seen his ship, and it seems a bit, um, shall we say rustic?" She smiled as her companion gave a lengthy response. "I just hope he doesn't shoot first and ask questions later."
The other creatures in the bar turned briefly to look at them as the woman's friend gave a loud laugh. "I've waited so long," she said, her tone turning sad. "I've never given up hope." A short question followed. "No, the Jedi would not be happy with my decision. Actually, I was never happy with the decisions they made on my behalf, either, so I suppose that makes us even." She turned a radiant, if somewhat nervous smile at her friend. "It's time to begin. I'll meet you on Myrkr, then. Captain Karrde's shuttle will be waiting for you at docking bay sixteen." She pushed a credit chip across the table, watching as the being placed it in his pouch, and got up to leave.
She had no doubts her money was in good hands, and that her friend would purchase what she needed to succeed in her mission. After giving her companion some time to leave, she stood and walked out of the bar, and into a far more dangerous situation.
Han Solo was both angry and hurt. Sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, Han stared at the message console, barely able to comprehend what he was hearing. His co-pilot had taken off, without so much as a farewell in person, claiming a better job offer had come along.
"Sorry, Han old friend," the stocky, olive-hued humanoid with scales instead of skin was saying, while not looking in the least bit sorry. "I never had the stomach for living life in the fast lane. Taking this maintenance job on a public transport makes for a longer life-span. I'm sure you'll find yourself another co-pilot – probably a pretty female if I know you. Clear skies!" He waved his webbed hand toward the viewer and the hologram blinked out.
"Some friend you turned out to be, Nyett," Han snarled in disgust at the now-silent console. "I've contacted Jabba, and he wants us to take a spice run. Without a co-pilot, what the kriff am I suppose to do now?" The console remained silent in response to Han's annoyed question. After sitting for a few moments, he stalked outside to bang a hydrospanner against the hull and take his frustration out on the abused ship.
He sensed the presence of someone standing behind him before they spoke aloud, and his instinct for survival immediately caused his right hand to drop the hydrospanner and move his hand toward his holstered blaster, but it was too late. Han felt a hard poke in his spine, and slowly pulled his fingers away from his own gun, while his captor carefully removed his weapon and backed a safer distance away from the Corellian.
"I need a ship," the intruder stated.
Han could tell by the voice that the person was female, but he knew that didn't make her less dangerous. "So go buy one. This one ain't for sale."
"Let me clarify," the woman continued, unfazed by Han's smart remark. "I want you to take me to Alderaan. From there we will continue to Tatooine and then, finally, we will go to Myrkr."
"That's a pretty long list of destinations," Han spat out. "I hope you plan on paying me."
"You'll get paid – eventually."
Heedless of the blaster, Han spun around to face the woman. The woman had tucked Han's own blaster under her cloak, preventing him from easily trying to retrieve it. He was surprised to see she was quite petite and slender. She was wearing a hood, and her face was obscured by the shadow it cast over her features. Han wished she would pull it back so he could see how old she was, but since she didn't seem inclined to do so he focused on the money issue. "Eventually? That ain't good enough."
"It would be a good idea, Captain Solo, to accept my terms. I'm not a person you want to get on your bad side."
Han pointed at his chest. "Listen, sister, for a trip that long, I want twenty thousand up front. Not a credit less."
The woman's expression became firm. "This blaster is only set on stun, but I'm certain you won't want me to pull the trigger." She slightly lowered the sightline on her blaster, downward from Han's chest. "Do you?"
The Corellian swallowed nervously. "Uh, no."
"Then you'll do as I ask, and take me to Alderaan. Please?"
Han cleared his throat, trying to regain a bit of his composure. "As long as you ask nicely, I guess I can take you to Alderaan." Han felt the urge to take some control of this situation, even if was only a bluff. "But then I want my money."
"If money is what you love, then that's what you'll receive. You will be duly compensated. Trust me."
"You're pointing a blaster at me, so what choice do I have?"
"I'm glad you can be sensible, Captain. Now be a nice boy and pick up your spanner and demonstrate to me that your reputation for amazing piloting skills is accurate."
Han felt his chest puff with pride, even though he sensed her comment was meant to be a bit sarcastic. "I'm the best pilot you'll ever meet, sweetheart."
"I don't know about that," she replied, somewhat wistfully. "I've known some remarkable pilots in my time."
Once inside the cockpit, the woman carefully sat down in the co-pilot's seat, then pulled the hood away revealing a pretty face with dark brown eyes and long brown hair pulled back in a long braid. Han tried to judge her age, and determined that she was probably in her early forties, but he was wise enough not to come right out and ask. "Can you fly a ship?" Han questioned sharply. "My co-pilot just quit on me."
The woman laughed. "I know that. Nyett Vecor was offered a cushy, high-paying job on a safe passenger liner."
Han felt his jaw drop. "How do you know that?"
"I was the one that arranged for him to receive that job offer," she replied nonchalantly. "It would have been difficult for me to control both of you."
"Even alone, I ain't gonna be easy to control, sweetheart," Han grumbled. "You can't stay awake this entire trip, you know."
"Lucky for you I know a bit about piloting," the woman said, ignoring Han's threat. "Let's get this charming ship of yours going. The Millennium Falcon, isn't that its name?"
"You seem to know a great deal about me. My name, the name of my former co-pilot, the name of my ship…" He moved his fingers deftly across the controls and the engines roared to life.
"I know much more about you than just your name, Captain Solo."
Han's face grew wary. "How do you know so much about me?"
"I have my sources, and they are quite accurate with their facts. Don't worry, though. Most of what I've been told about you is rather positive. If it hadn't been, I wouldn't have decided you were the one to hire."
"Hire, huh? Is that what they're calling hijacking nowadays?" Han angled the ship up, and expertly flew through the tangle of incoming and outgoing ships. The indicator light on the panel flashed, and Han quickly turned it off, then commented, "That was just the Nal Hutta flight controller. Controllers love to control when you can take-off and land. Bunch of busy-bodies if you ask me."
The woman's lips twitched in amusement but she kept her eyes fixed on the viewport, while her fingers tightly gripped the handle of her small blaster.
Little was said for a while and after they entered the swirl of hyperspace, Han rotated in his seat to face the woman, and asked, "How about telling me your name? Seems only right, considering how we're gonna be shipmates for a while with your big itinerary."
Her eyes left the view of the streaking stars and looked at Han. "Fair enough. My name is Padmé."
"No last name?"
"None that is your concern, Captain."
"Why do you want to go to all these places?"
"I have my reasons," Padmé replied. "You'll find out soon enough."
Han sighed. "Why didn't you just hire me like a normal person, instead of kidnapping me?"
"Your fee to take me would've been too high. I can't risk hiring someone else; someone less costly but not as trustworthy."
This comment made Han bristle. "I thought you told me you were gonna pay me."
"I will pay you," she assured him. "But I simply don't have the kind of credits you want upfront, and I was warned that you would ask a high price for your services."
"Who told you I was trustworthy, anyway? Us unsavory sorts don't like to be described as trustworthy you know."
Padmé laughed at that comment. "A mutual acquaintance told me you were trustworthy."
"Are you going to tell me who this mysterious mutual acquaintance is?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
"I sorta had a feeling you were going to say that," Han muttered in disgust as he stood up and stretched his tense back. Having a blaster pointed at you was always stressful, Han thought dourly. "Can you cook?"
"No, but I am rather hungry," Padmé admitted, cautiously standing and putting a bit more distance between herself and the lanky smuggler who towered over her short frame. "I was told you know your way around a galley."
Han felt another spike of annoyance that she knew so much about his personal life. He glanced at the blaster she was still pointing in his direction. "Is that an order?"
"Not at all. It was merely a suggestion. I'm hoping that you'll be a gracious host, and offer to make us a meal."
"First I'm trustworthy, and now I'm a gracious host?" Han shook his head in disbelief at her various descriptions regarding his character. "You sure do live in a bizarre version of reality, Padmé."
"You don't know the half of it," she replied lightly.
She followed him into the ship's main hold, being careful to maintain a safe distance, then took a seat at the game table. Han pulled out various pans and ingredients from shelves, turning his head briefly toward his captor. "Anything in particular you want?"
"No. Whatever you make will be just fine." Padmé saw the Corellian's eyes flick toward the blaster in her hand. "What would you do if you got this blaster away from me, Captain? Shoot me? Force me out of an airlock into space?"
"That's a bit extreme," Han drawled. "I'd take you to Alderaan and dump you fifty klicks from the nearest town and make you hike to civilization. I wouldn't feel bad about it, either."
"I'd think not," she replied. "But if you did that, you wouldn't get paid."
"Like that'll ever happen," Han muttered under his breath as he dumped some powdery substance into a bowl and added a blue-tinted liquid before beating the mixture into a thin paste. "Aren't you worried if I do get that blaster, I'll take advantage of a pretty female prisoner?"
"You're not the type," Padmé said firmly. "My friends assured me I would be safe with you, even if something unplanned occurred."
Han immediately picked up on Padmé's remark as he poured a ladle of the goop into a hot pan. "Friends? More than one?"
"Yes, more than one friend. You do make a lasting impression on people, Han Solo."
The Corellian mulled this over as he carefully flipped the thin cake over, and after a few minutes he plated the steaming soft disk onto a dish before placing it in front of the woman. He watched, amused, as Padmé put her blaster on the table and eagerly consumed the hotcake. "Have you eaten lately?"
"I've been too busy," Padmé said between mouthfuls. "This is excellent. What's it called?"
"A Corellian blue-griddlecake," Han replied, pouring some more of the mixture into the pan. After cooking his cake, he sat down across from Padmé and put a forkful into his mouth. He watched her eat the remaining portion of her own food before asking, "You want another one? I've got plenty of batter left."
"I suppose I could stuff down a small one," she replied.
Han stood and reached over toward the plate, then his hand moved quickly, instead grabbing the blaster sitting next to the dish. He turned the business end toward Padmé, and grinned at her shocked expression. "Now it's about time you find out just how wrong your sources were about me."
Padmé's face paled as she stared at the blaster which was now pointed in her direction. "So shoot me already," she finally said in a low voice.
"What I want for you to do – very slowly, mind you – is to open up that cloak and give me my own blaster back," Han ordered angrily. "Then I'll decide if I'm gonna shoot you."
Padmé nodded, and obeyed the smuggler's order. Once Han had his own weapon, he removed the powerpack from the woman's blaster, and locked it inside a small cabinet. Now pointing his much larger and far more powerful gun at Padmé, he indicated she should stand.
"If you try to force yourself on me, I'll fight you with every ounce of strength I have," Padmé said in a quivering voice, tilting her chin up in defiance.
Han gave a derisive snort. "Or I could stun you, tie you up, and you wouldn't be able to fight me at all."
"Why? Are you afraid you'd lose in a fair fight?" Padmé goaded back.
"Relax, sweetheart. I ain't that kind of guy, so it seems your so-called sources were right about that, at least." He waved his blaster at the plates on the board table. "I cooked, so you clean up. You do know how to put dishes into a recycler, right?"
"I can do that." Keeping one eye trained on Han, she picked up the dishes and put them into the rusty old cleaning unit. "Does this even work anymore?"
"Works as well as the rest of my ship."
Padmé fought back the urge to laugh at that statement. "So what you're saying is we'll be lucky if they get clean?"
"You sure have a smart mouth for a lady with a blaster pointing at her back."
She refrained from making another wisecrack. "All the dishes are in the unit. Now what?"
Han stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I could turn the ship around, head back to Nal Hutta, and sell you to a Hutt. They're always looking for pretty female slaves. That'd make me a tidy bit of money, too."
"You wouldn't dare," she shot back angrily.
"Wouldn't I?" Han returned. "Why don't you sit down, and tell me who these informants are that know so much about me?"
"Is that all you're worried about?"
"Not all, but clearing that up would make me feel a lot better," Han replied. "Talk, or I really won't take you to Alderaan."
"If I tell you, will you take me to Alderaan?" Padmé asked. "And then to Tatooine and Myrkr?"
Han rolled his eyes at her persistence. "If the price is right."
"I was told about your character from a few friends of mine. A freedom fighter named Garm Bel Iblis, and a smuggler named Talon Karrde." She seemed about to add something – or someone - else, but pressed her lips together suddenly as if she changed her mind.
Still, the two names she revealed took Han aback. "Senator Bel Iblis? Captain Karrde? How in the Seven Hells do you know those people?"
"I've been employed by Captain Karrde as one of his crew for several years now. Garm has also been a friend for some time."
"Garm Bel Iblis is still alive and kicking?" Han asked suspiciously. "So those rumors about him giving the Imps a pain in the backside are true, then."
"That's what the Imperials claim," Padmé said evasively.
"Karrde sure wouldn't get involved with something as useless as a war against the Empire," Han mused aloud. "He's like all of us smugglers – watching out for his own hide."
"People change, Captain. Opinions change, too."
Suddenly, Han felt a flash of insight. "You're one of those Rebels," he declared tightly. "And Karrde's playing the hero, too?"
Seeming a little reluctant to admit this, she stated, "Yes."
"Why involve me?"
"I needed a small, fast ship and a pilot that was able, brave and willing to take on the Empire. Both Talon and Garm mentioned your name."
Han gave a short laugh. "They said I was willing to take on the Empire? Did they happen to mention I ain't interested in suicide?"
"Senator Bel Iblis believes you have much more potential than simply living a life of a petty smuggler, and barely staying one step ahead of starvation. Captain Karrde thinks you're one of the best pilots alive. It was enough to recommend you." She gave a pleading smile. "I'm not expecting you to do this for free, Captain."
"What's on Alderaan?"
"Who is on Alderaan is more to the point. There is a person on that system I need to help me with my mission," Padmé replied.
Han shook his head in dismay. "More Rebels, I suppose."
Padmé gave a wan smile. "I'd describe them more as Rebel recruits. I have faith they'll join the cause."
"Who's on Myrkr?"
"It's Captain Karrde's base of operations," Padme explained patiently. "So, what's your decision? It's a simple job, really."
"Who's gonna pay me?" Han demanded to know. "I know a something about Karrde and Bel Iblis myself. Neither one has a lot of credits to throw around."
"Prince Bail Organa has a large sum of money at his disposal," Padme said, closely watching Han's reaction.
"Huh? You're tellin' me Prince Organa is your Rebel recruit? I don't believe it."
"No, he's not the person I'm going to recruit on Alderaan, but I do know him and I know he will pay you." When she saw Han's look of doubt, she added, "Do you understand now why I simply couldn't tell you all this upfront, and ask to hire your services? You would not have believed me, and it appears you still don't."
"I'm having a hard time understanding how you work for a smuggler, yet claim to know rich royalty personally. It doesn't add up."
"Many beings of different stations in life are working together to overthrow the Empire's repression. Maybe, years ago, a smuggler becoming acquainted with a former senator and a prince would have been unheard of, but not under today's dire circumstances. Everyone, from all races and classes, must work together to defeat the evil that has descended upon the galaxy."
Han frowned at her grand speech. "Are you sure you're not a politician instead of a smuggler?"
The question flustered her. "No…no. I'm sorry, Captain. I just get carried away sometimes."
Although Han still felt more than a little bit suspicious about her story, the mere possibility that she truly knew a rich prince made him envision mounds of credits piled at his feet. It was enough to make his heart race in anticipation. "Okay. You've got yourself a pilot for all three destinations. But I still ain't throwing myself in front of an Imperial Destroyer for you or your rebel friends, so don't expect anything other than a straightforward business deal." He holstered his blaster and waved a finger in her face. "And no more pointing weapons at me."
"I won't do that again." Padmé stood up and threw her arms around Han, giving him a warm hug. "Thank you, Captain. I'll never be able to repay you."
The Corellian drew away from the embrace, obviously uncomfortable with the display of affection. "Your prince friend better come up with a way, sister," he groused.
"He will," Padmé promised, feeling a stab of guilt over the many important details she was omitting from her story. But the Corellian would undoubtedly decide the job ferrying her around wouldn't be worth taking if he knew the complete truth, and Padmé needed his help too much to scare him away at this point.
Padmé leaned forward, peering eagerly out of the cockpit window at the clean, bustling spaceport. "We'll need to leave our blasters on the ship," she stated. "Alderaan has strict rules – civilians cannot carry either open or concealed weapons."
The Corellian shook his head in disagreement. "I don't go anywhere without my blaster. 'Sides, rules are made to be broken."
The woman turned to give a firm look at Han. "I can't take that kind of a risk, Han. This mission is far too important." Seeing his stubborn expression, she added, "I can go alone if you're so dead-set against being unarmed."
"We've already discussed that," Han returned. "I don't trust you'll come back with my money."
"You are a very suspicious person, Captain."
"I'm still alive because I'm cautious," Han shot back as he stood up from his pilot's seat.
"You'll be arrested in a heartbeat if you walk out of this ship with that blaster tied to your leg," Padmé warned.
Han shrugged. "So I'll leave my DL-44 onboard. But I'm still wearing my holdout under my vest, and my vibroblade in my boot."
"Suspicious and paranoid."
"Cautious and prepared," Han corrected her with a cocky grin.
Sighing, Padmé gave up her argument. "We'll rent a landspeeder and head over to the palace. Once we get there, let me do all the talking." She rose from her seat and jabbed her finger in Han's chest for emphasis. "ALL the talking. Do you understand?"
"Sure," Han said amicably. "I sure hope you don't think I'm paying for the speeder rental."
It took a great deal of Padmé's willpower not to slug the exasperating Corellian. "I'll pay for the rental cost, you, you… impertinent plebian!" Giving a puff of breath to blow a strand of hair from her forehead, she pushed past and stalked off down the corridor.
"Impertinent plebian?" Han yelled in outrage at her retreating back. "I don't think I like the sound of that, but I ain't buying a dictionary, either!"
"That's the Organa palace," Padmé pointed out somewhat unnecessarily, since the imposing building with flag-covered spiraled peaks covered several city blocks, and was surrounded by an imposing stone wall with guarded, wrought-iron gates.
"What do we do now? Shoot the guards? Storm the gates?"
Padmé scowled at Han. "I shall not permit violence."
"I'd like to know what kind of rebel you are anyway, if you don't believe in violence. You can't win wars by throwing a kaff and cake party for the enemy."
"Just find a spot to park, and I'll think of something," Padmé ordered.
Han looked dubious, but did as she asked. They walked up to the gate, and Padmé gave a glowing smile at the Royal Guard, who smiled back, seemingly pleased by the attention of the beautiful woman. "Hello, sir," Padmé said boldly. "My name is Clare D'Loon, and this is my, err, partner, Gizzie Feeblebane. We're here to see Tia Organa regarding the upcoming, very prestigious Professional Aldra Pitten Show, presented by Yuckynewbia Pet Foods, which is the only pet food recommended by certified veterinarians employed by Yuckynewbia." When the guard only gazed down at Padmé in confusion, she added, "Will you give her a call, please? I'm certain she'll want to see me. I'm a judge in the show."
"And what's this guy do?" the guard asked, giving his head a jerk in Han's direction. "Another judge?"
"Oh, no! Gizzie's a professional pitten groomer. The best in the business."
The guard scratched his head, uncertain what to do. He knew how much Princess Tia adored her pittens, and if he turned away someone she was expecting… "I don't see any pitten grooming equipment."
"The equipment is in my pants," Han deadpanned, his expression daring the guard to check him further.
"Uh, okay," the guard finally decided, and pressed in a series of numbers on the computer panel. A woman's shrill voice answered, and the guard warily spoke to her about the visitors. Han could easily hear the woman's excited response over the small speaker, ordering the guard to allow them to enter. Padmé gave a smug look of triumph toward Han.
"Well, you can enter," the guard finally said, picking up a small, handheld device. "But I'll have to scan you for weapons before you go inside."
Padmé's jaw tightened, frustration flickering across her face. "Scan us? Like we're common criminals? Do you know who I am? CLARE D'LOON! The galaxy renowned pure-bred pitten judge! I think I may just have to leave, and find some other, more deserving rich person to sit on our fine panel of pitten judges."
She turned to march away, and Han watched as the worried guard hurried to catch up and prevent her from leaving. With the guard's back to him, Han removed his holdout blaster and vibroblade, quickly tossing them over the gate and into a well-manicured bush on the other side. He waited for the guard to convince Padmé to return to the gate, then said, "Darling, just let the guard scan us. You know he won't find a thing, honeypot."
If Padmé looked annoyed before, she appeared ready to explode now. "Fine," she ground out slowly, glaring first at Han then turning her wrath on the trembling guard. "But if you so much as lay one finger on my body, I'll…"
"I won't touch you, ma'am," the guard interrupted, his shaking hand first running the scanner up and down in front of Padmé's torso, then Han's. "You're all clear." He opened the gate, stepping aside to allow the strangers to enter. "Follow the main drive, then ring the buzzer. A protocol droid will allow you inside the palace, and take you directly to Princess Tia Organa's suite."
"I should hope so," Padmé said huffily. "Although I should have been escorted by her personal aide, and not some droid. This is the last time Clare D'Loon will be bothered with the Organas' pittens!"
"I'm sorry," the guard yelled after the pair as they hustled down the driveway. "Please don't have me fired!"
Han grinned at Padmé. "How long did you have this planned?"
"A minute prior to speaking to the guard," she admitted reluctantly as she climbed the steps to the main doorway.
"Great job," Han said in approval. "I gotta admit I'm starting to have fun. But a pitten groomer? Why did you have to come up with that job?"
"Tia Organa loves her pittens. What else could you be?"
"Something more impressive," Han said. "You could have made me president of Yuckynewbia Pet Foods.'
Padmé eyed Han up and down, then pressed the buzzer next to the door. "I don't think so. And Han?"
"Don't ever call me 'darling' or 'honeypot' again, or I'll have to hurt you."
A golden protocol droid answered the buzzer promptly, and escorted the pair into the blue-marble foyer, stating, "Welcome to the Organa Royal Palace. My designation is C-3PO, and it will be my pleasure to make your visit to the Organa residence most enjoyable." Han noted that Padmé almost seemed to act as if she knew the droid, but she stopped short of saying anything when the droid gave no indication of returning any recognition.
Han paused, craning his neck to peer up at the high ceiling. The sparkling light fixture hanging over their heads was almost a third the size of the Falcon's exterior, and Han hoped it was securely bolted to the ceiling. He then gazed around the room, noting the gleaming pedestals set with flower-filled vases, and the many old pictures hanging from the walls. A grand staircase twenty feet wide swept upwards, with hallways at the top angling off in opposite directions. "I'll bet the stuff in this room's worth half a million credits," he said, truly awed. He walked up to a picture, touching the gilded frame lightly.
"Technically, this is not a room, Sir Feeblebane," the droid stated primly. "It is merely the entryway. But please refrain from touching the museum quality items. The oily secretions caused by sentients' glands cause damage."
"Did that droid just call me an oily sentient?" Han asked, miffed. "If this prince doesn't pay me, maybe I'll borrow some of his artwork on the way out."
Padmé put her finger up to her lips to silence the ever talkative Corellian.
The droid gave his arm an awkward wave. "This way, please. Princess Tia Organa appears to be quite excited that you are here. We will take the main corridor to the lift in the rear portion of the palace. Princess Tia's suite is located on the second level, east wing."
Han followed the droid, glancing back at Padmé who seemed to be surreptitiously looking into the many huge rooms they passed by. "Who're you lookin' for?" Han whispered.
Padmé jerked back in surprise. "No one."
"I'm not buying that," Han returned. "Your rebel recruit lives here?"
"Thought so," Han said smugly. "I just hope it isn't the pitten lady. That could get downright weird…. pittens running around Coruscant with bombs strapped to their tiny backs."
"Would you shut up?" Padmé demanded under her breath, then spoke much louder to the droid. "C-3PO? Is Prince Organa currently in the palace? Or his daughter, Princess Leia?"
The glowing receptors turned to regard the woman. "Both are presently located in their offices, although you are not authorized to meet with them at this time. Perhaps Princess Tia will make arrangements, if you so desire."
"Years ago I saw a holo of Organa and his daughter," Han mused. "She was a cute little kid. Probably a spoiled rotten teenager by now."
"I doubt that," Padmé snapped. Addressing the droid, Padmé put her hand on his shoulder. "Please forgive me, Threepio."
"Forgive you?" the droid repeated, puzzled. "For what?"
"This," she replied, reaching up and switching off the protocol droid's power. His eyes darkened, and his body froze in a half-turned position. Padmé glanced over at a surprised Han. "Hurry, help me stash him someplace."
"You sure do keep things interesting," Han commented, awkwardly hoisting the droid up and shuffling over to the nearest door.
Padmé cautiously opened it and peered inside. "A small conference room. This should do nicely."
"Okay," Han agreed, shoving the droid in the doorway and, following Padmé's instructions, lowering him down to the floor and pushing him under the table. Han stood up, brushing off his pants. "Wouldn't it have been easier and safer to delete his memory bank?"
"No, I wouldn't do that to him," Padmé replied. "Threepio deserves better than that. Besides, you know it's not that easy to delete a droid's memory banks."
"You act like you know the droid."
"I do," she said sadly. "He just doesn't remember me anymore."
"The list keeps growing," Han mumbled.
"The list of people, and droids now, that you claim to know." He eased his head out of the doorway, checking both directions. "Coast is clear. Now what?"
Padmé had already located a computer terminal in the conference room, and was busy pushing buttons. "We find out where Leia's office is, and head over there." She smiled as directions came up on the screen. "Third floor, southwest corridor. Room 329."
"Why does a teenager need an office, anyway?" Han asked.
"Princess Leia is also a Senator, representing Alderaan in the Galactic Senate."
Han gave an low, impressed whistle. "A senator? How old is she?"
"Eighteen, almost nineteen," Padmé answered softly as she led Han down the hallway and toward the hover-lift. "She takes after .." She stopped, hesitating before finishing. "Her mother."
Han gave Padmé a sideways glance as they entered the hover-lift. "Politics runs in her blood, huh?"
"You could say that."
The hover-lift doors shut, and they felt the floor move slightly beneath their feet. "What if someone tries to stop us?" Han asked, feeling somewhat nervous. "It's not likely we'll get all the way to this girl's office without someone seeing us, and getting questioned."
"I'll think of something," Padmé said, trying to be reassuring.
Suddenly, the hover-lift stopped at the second floor and the door slid silently open. An older, buxom woman wearing a bright pink beaded flowery dress and matching pearls, and an elaborate upswept coiffure, stepped forward, stumbling to a halt when her eyes came upon Padmé. "Oh my stars!" the woman gasped, clutching her chest. "It can't be!"
"Hello, Princess Celly," Padmé said calmly. "It's nice seeing you again."
"I… I do believe my poor old heart is about to give way," Celly cried out, right before she collapsed onto the floor of the lift.
Han stared down in shock at the older woman. "Well, that's just great," Han complained. "There's probably a damn big penalty around here for killing a Princess."
Padmé quickly knelt down to check Celly's pulse. "Close the door," she told Han, tugging the buxom Princess into the hover-lift.
Pressing the 'close' button, Han leaned over for closer inspection. "What are we gonna do with the body? Stuff her under a table, too?"
"She's not dead," Padmé replied tightly. "Celly has always had, err… health problems."
On cue, the princess let out a groan, and opened her eyes, blinking in confusion. "Is this the Alderaanian Golden Fields of Hereafter?"
"Yup," Han said as he patted the wall of the hover-lift. "And you're riding up to those fields in this here Golden Hover-Lift."
Celly struggled to a seated position, frowning up at Han. "Who are you?"
"Saint Captain Solo, the official operator of Golden Hereafter Hover-Lifts at your service. You'd better be nice to me, or I'll put it in reverse, and you know where you'll end up instead."
"Celly, just ignore Captain Solo," Padmé told the flustered woman as she helped her to her feet.
"Senator Padmé Amidala!" Celly cried out, backing into a corner. "You're… you're dead! I watched your funeral on the holo-net."
"You're dead, too?" Han asked Padmé, eyes wide in feigned shock. "Why didn't you say so?"
"Captain, this is no time for levity," Padmé chided.
"It never is," Han said in mock sorrow before asking, "You're a senator, huh? Why am I not surprised."
Padmé ignored Han, turning her focus on Celly. "I'm not dead, Celly. It was a ploy by Obi-Wan, Yoda and your brother to shield me from Palpatine. I've been in hiding for the past eighteen years, but I can no longer remain on the sidelines in silence. I should never have allowed them to convince me otherwise."
"Why have you come here?"
"I need to see Leia," Padmé replied cautiously.
"Bail will never allow it," Celly snapped. "We had heard rumors concerning you and that poor, misguided young Jedi you seduced, right before he was murdered by the Sith." She glanced over at Han, and said contemptuously, "Is this ruffian your latest conquest? He certainly looks young enough for your tastes."
Padmé flushed in anger. "Captain Solo is my pilot. I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from making judgments about my personal life."
"It's your judgment that's in question, Senator," Celly replied haughtily. "You would not be a good influence on our precious little Leia, that's for certain, so you stay away from her."
Padmé didn't have time to reply before the hover-lift door opened again, this time on the third floor. Celly promptly screamed, "Guards! HELP ME! We have intruders in the palace!" She stumbled out of the hover-lift, pointing at Padmé and Han as they exited. "Arrest these trespassers!"
The third floor, however, lacked security since it was assumed no intruders would be able to make it this far without having been discovered far sooner. The only beings in the outer office area were two secretary droids, and they stopped what they were doing and tilted their heads in puzzlement as Celly waved her arms up and down.
"Princess Celly?" one of the silver droids asked in concern. "Are you having another one of your spells? Would you like me to retrieve you some water?"
"NO!" she yelled at the droid. "Shoot those people!"
"But I have no weapons, and it is against my programming to harm sentients anyway."
"Droids are so entirely worthless," Celly complained unhappily.
"I could turn them off and shove them under a desk for you," Han suggested helpfully.
"Celly? What are you shouting about now?" a man's firm voice asked from down the hallway.
Han gave a quick turn on his boot-heel to see that the speaker was a dark-haired older man, and Padmé quickly hurried toward the man, her face breaking into a pleased smile. "Hello, Prince Organa," she said, nodding in greeting. "It's been a very long time. Do you remember me?"
The man seemed stunned at seeing the woman. "Padmé? How could I ever forget you?" He glanced over his shoulder to a shut, office door, then turned his attention back to Padmé. "Leia mustn't see you."
"I couldn't agree more," Celly interrupted loudly. "That woman's a tramp. Rouge told me so, and Rouge knows everything."
"I'd like to speak with you and Leia," Padmé said urgently, trying to ignore Celly. "It's important, Bail."
"You shouldn't be here," Bail stated. "You'll be discovered by the very people we've kept you safe from for all these years."
"I have to see Leia," Padmé persisted, feeling a rising sense of desperation. "She needs to be told the truth, Bail. I should never have agreed to do what you, Obi-Wan and Yoda pressured me into doing."
"All I know is that by telling her the truth, all you'll really end up doing is causing her great harm," Bail returned evenly. "If you care anything about her, you'll leave peacefully and quietly. I'll have you escorted safely and secretly back to your ship, and no harm will come to anyone."
Han leaned over and whispered to Celly. "Can you catch me up with what's happening? I feel like I've walked in during the middle of a holo-drama."
"Stay away from me, you, you… scallywag!"
"First I'm a ruffian and now I'm a scallywag," Han said ruefully. "You royalty could use a good lesson in throwing insults, 'cuz you're not very good at them."
"Even if you have me escorted from the premises, I won't give up," Padmé told Bail. "She's an adult now, Bail. The time for keeping secrets is over."
"You don't know what you're asking," Bail said hoarsely. "If you don't care about the danger you're putting yourself in, you should at least care about Leia."
"I care about her," she insisted. "And after I leave here, I'm going to Tatooine."
"You're making a mistake of galactic proportions, Padmé. You should have remained in hiding."
"I'm tired of hiding," Padmé yelled in frustration. "I'm tired of doing nothing while the Empire destroys and enslaves. I'm tired of pretending to be something I'm not. I'm tired of the sadness and loneliness that comes with loving people that don't even know I still exist!"
"Father?" a feminine voice said from behind Padmé's back. "What's going on here?"
Padmé spun around to face the speaker, both her hands going up to her face. "Leia," she gasped, her voice cracking.
"Yes, my name is Leia," the young woman responded, her brow creased in confusion. "You seem familiar. Have I met you before?"
"Only once," Padmé replied, tears welling up in her eyes.
"When was that?"
"Don't, Padmé," Bail beseeched Padmé. "Force sake, I'm begging you to reconsider this reckless venture. It's still not too late."
Heedless of Bail's pleas, Padmé answered Leia, "The day you were born."
"What?" Leia asked, confused at the stranger's remark.
"Padmé!" Bail said loudly. "Please, if you insist on doing this, let's take this into Leia's office." He gave a quick nod toward Celly, although his sister didn't notice the slight movement. "This is a private matter."
"You're right, Bail," Celly said with a sniff, eyeing Han with disdain. "Whatever this is about, we should never air our laundry in front of commoners." She turned her contemptuous gaze at Padmé. "Did you take up being a mid-wife's assistant when you disappeared?"
She started to move toward Leia's office, when Bail cleared his throat. "Celly, I would prefer that you remain out here."
"Well!" Celly huffed out. "Wait until Tia and Rouge hear about this! And don't think I'm not going to inform them, either." She turned and marched toward the holo-lift, giving a glance back to see if Bail was going to stop her. When he made no effort to do so, she tossed her head and slammed the 'close' button inside the holo-lift.
Padmé turned toward Han. "Please wait in the lobby, Han. I'll be right back."
"You and the Prince don't seem to be on the best terms," Han grumbled, flinging his body down onto a cushy sofa. He put his long legs up, and rested his boot heels on the kaffe table before commenting loudly, "I hope he comes through with my fee."
"Do you mind?" Leia said, glaring at Han as she noticed him for the first time. Her eyes flickered briefly to his feet.
"I'd mind it a whole lot if I don't get paid," Han drawled back, looking up at the young woman and openly assessing her appearance. Short, like Padmé, with dark, long hair, like Padmé's, amazing brown eyes, like Padmé's … Han shook his head, dismissing the similarities as merely coincidence.
"I'm talking about putting your boots up on the furniture," she clarified, pointing at the table. "People put their kaffe cups there, and you're making it dirty."
"You royals are a real pain in the backside," Han said dourly, making no move to take his feet off the table. "Leave me alone, and go have your meeting, Your Royal Fussiness."
Leia was astounded at the man's audacity. "What did you just call me?" Without waiting for his reply, she reached down, and pulled up one end of the table, forcing his feet to slide to the floor. "You need to learn some manners, you scruffy-looking space tramp."
Han jumped to his feet, frowning down at the petite Princess. "You gonna be the one to teach me, sweetheart?"
"There are lots of things I could teach you," Leia snapped back angrily.
"I'll bet I could teach you a few things, too," Han said suggestively, thinking about how incredibly spunky she was… just like Padmé. But her stark white, high-collared dress and those large buns on either side of her face were simply too easy of a target for Han to resist. "The first thing I'd teach you is how to loosen things up, Your Royalness. Those hair-buns of yours are obviously wound way too tight."
Leia's cheeks flushed a bright red, and she stepped back to put some space between them. "Why, why you – "
"Impertinent plebian?" Han suggested to the flustered young woman.
"That sounds exactly right," Leia shot back. "I'm surprised you know what those words even mean."
"I'm full of surprises," Han returned quickly, deciding he rather enjoyed sparring with the feisty Princess.
"Captain Solo!" Padmé interrupted the pair. "That is quite enough."
Bail moved over and put his arm protectively around his daughter's waist, his dark eyes assessing the Corellian. "Come, Leia. You don't have to put up with this."
Both Bail and Leia headed into the Princess's office, and Padmé scowled at Han. "When I come out of that office, you will apologize to Leia," she said in a low voice.
"I never apologize," Han stated. "It's one of the few rules I live by."
"If you wish to be paid, you'd better start reconsidering that rule, Han," Padmé warned before she entered the office and shut the door in his face.
Alone in the lobby, Han plopped back down on the sofa, and defiantly put his feet back on the kaffe table.
Inside the soft blue-toned office, the air crackled with tension. Leia's eyes moved from her father over to the dark-haired woman. "Now, what's this all about?"
"Should I tell her, or do you wish to?" Padmé asked Bail quietly.
Bail coughed nervously. He'd been a politician all his life, and had always felt calm and in control in the face of even the toughest opponent. This situation, however, was making him feel flustered and uncertain. "I will tell her."
"Tell me what?" Leia demanded.
"You know that you're adopted - "
"I've known that since I turned five."
"Yes, well…" He waved at a chair. "Maybe you should sit down, Leia."
"I prefer standing."
Bail took a deep breath. "Leia, this lady is Padmé Amidala, formerly a senator from the Naboo system."
Leia looked at Padmé with renewed interest. "I've heard about you. I was under the impression you had died years ago." She gave a small, wary smile. "That information must be incorrect."
The older woman blinked back her tears. "Yes, it is quite incorrect."
"Leia," Bail tried again, his voice sounding choked and desperate. "Padmé is your birth-mother."
The Princess's face visibly paled. "My… mother?"
"Yes, Padmé is your mother."
Leia blinked, trying to clear her thoughts. The only thing she could think to say was the question that had haunted her all her life. "Why did you give me up? If you were a senator, surely you had enough credits to keep me." Leia paused briefly, mentally considering the other possibilities. "Unless you had your reputation to maintain."
"It's nothing like that, Leia," Padmé whispered, longing to take her daughter into her arms, but not knowing how the gesture would be received. "I was forced to give you up, in order to protect you."
"Protect me? From whom?"
Padmé hesitated. "I made some powerful and evil enemies during my time as a senator. I'm afraid that Bail isn't thrilled I've come here."
"So why are you here?" Leia asked, trying to remain calm and civil. This was a moment she had both yearned for and dreaded, and now that it had arrived she felt as though she were floundering, wondering if this was a dream from which she would awaken. As a child, Leia had always imagined if her birth-mother ever would show up alive and well that she would throw herself unquestioningly into her mother's waiting arms. Now, faced with reality, she felt it would be disloyal to both Bail and Breha to do so.
"I need your help," Padmé answered. She looked over to Bail for support, but the man folded his arms and turned his gaze out of the tall window to look at the garden below. Padmé plunged ahead, "I'm working for the rebellion, and I'm asking you to come with me. It's going to be very dangerous, but without your assistance, I'll never be able to destroy Palpatine and… and Vader. But, along with you and your brother's aid, I have a plan I think can succeed."
"You think can succeed," Bail muttered under his breath.
It took a few seconds for Padmé's comment to sink in. "Brother? I have a brother?"
"Yes, a twin brother. On Tatooine."
Stunned, Leia asked, "Does he know about you? Or me?"
"No, but he will," Padmé replied.
"You don't have to do this, Leia," Bail said. "Like Padmé says, it will be very dangerous."
"We're already helping the rebellion, Father," Leia pointed out, her mind whirling in a thousand directions with the overload of information being passed to her.
"Only financially," Bail stated.
"Still, if the Empire found out, we'd be arrested and probably executed."
Bail walked over to Leia, putting his hand gently on her face. "You're so young."
"I'm eighteen. That's not so young." Leia turned to face Padmé. "I want to meet my brother, but I have a feeling there's a lot to this story you haven't told me yet."
"I'd like to tell the entire story to both of you at the same time," Padmé said. "Then you both can make up your minds to help me, or not. But it has to be a mutual decision, because I don't think my plan can work without the two of you working as a team."
Leia looked over to her father. "I can't say no to this, Father."
"I had a feeling you'd say that," Bail said sadly. "I love you, Leia."
Smiling, Leia gave her father a tight hug, not noticing the look of longing on Padmé's face. "I love you, too. I'll be all right."
Han sat in the lobby for a long time, finally shutting his eyes to take a nap. When the door opened, he was instantly awake, and leapt off the sofa. He noted the grim expression on Bail Organa's face, and Padmé's restrained smile. Princess Leia seemed to be distant and resolute.
"About time," Han grumbled. "I thought I was going to have to call in for room service and spend the night." When the trio did not reply, he addressed Padmé, "Did you get my money?"
It was Bail that answered. "Ten thousand credits will be brought to your ship tonight, Captain Solo. I will set up an account under your name, and once you arrive on Tatooine, Leia will contact me and I will deposit another ten thousand in your account. When you arrive on Myrkr, the same amount will again be deposited."
"Thirty thousand?" Han said, his eyes lighting up at the amount.
Bail stepped closer to Han. "If you keep Leia and Padmé safe during the entire course of this mission, which includes what happens on Myrkr, I will double your fee."
"Sixty thousand?" Han gasped, then looked suspiciously at Bail. "What's gonna happen on Myrkr?"
"I'm not at liberty to tell you that," Bail said. During the course of their long meeting, Padmé had told them Han was unaware of her connection to either Luke or Leia, and she wanted it kept from him for the time being. Since it didn't seem to matter either way, Leia and Bail had readily agreed to Padmé's request.
"The flyboy can add numbers," Leia commented dryly. "I can only wonder what other surprises he has in store for us."
Han gave Leia a wink. "I've already told you I'm full of surprises, Your Royal Shortness."
Several hours later, Han was back at the spaceport with his two passengers in tow. Grateful at having 'escaped' the Organa Palace without having to actually groom any pittens, Han led the ladies into the hanger, barely listening to the Princess's continual verbal jabs at his character. He had ten thousand credits waiting for him at the foot of his ship's ramp, and that was all that mattered at the moment.
"Is this your ship?" Leia asked incredulously. "Does it fly?"
The insults to his own character he could ignore – any insult to his ship he took personally. "Not only can the Millennium Falcon fly, she's the fastest ship you'll ever have the privilege of riding in," Han stated. "She's made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs."
"That's not poss-" Leia started to say, when Padmé cut her off.
"If Han says he did it, then he did," Padmé stated. "It's never a good idea to question the pilot."
"You can say that again," Han crowed.
Leia frowned at Padmé. "But…"
"Some things simply aren't worth arguing about," Padmé said, patting Leia's arm.
"Yeah," Han agreed with a firm nod. "Me an' Padmé have reached an understanding, haven't we?" He grinned broadly at the older lady. "The Corellian is always right."
"Oh, for star's sake," Leia muttered under her breath.
Han looked around the hanger bay. "By the way, where's my money? The Prince said it would be waiting for me when we got here."
"Is money the only thing you love?" Leia asked, annoyed. "Besides yourself, I mean?"
"Nope," Han replied, putting his arm around Padmé's shoulders. "I love this pretty lady, too." He gave Padmé a quick peck on the cheek. "Paddie loves her Corellian, too. I call her Paddie, 'cuz it's my pet nickname for Padmé. Princess Celly sure had the two of us figured out fast, didn't she? That's because we're so much in love, it's hard to hide our true feelings for each other."
Padmé was utterly astounded. "What!?"
Suddenly, Han realized he had no idea what was possessing him to spout these bizarre comments, other than the young Princess was getting under his skin and he wanted to, to …. Well, he wasn't sure what he wanted to accomplish, really, other than getting back at the uppity Princess. Now that he had started down a very slippery slope, he couldn't very well go back without looking like a complete fool. "Two wild and crazy spacers, flying through the galaxy with stardust in our eyes," Han finished lamely.
"Is that right?" Leia questioned, looking suspiciously at a dumbstruck Padmé.
"Uh…" Padmé stuttered, trying to decide whether she should play along with the obviously demented pilot.
"Look," Leia said, pointing toward the ship's ramp. "There's C-3PO, coming from behind the ship. He must have your credits with him, Solo." Leia smiled and waved. "And he's got R2-D2 with him, too." She hurried over to the two droids. "Threepio! Do you have Captain Solo's payment?"
"Yes, Princess Leia. I most certainly do have it," Threepio replied, hoisting up a box he was carrying. He then noticed Leia's companions, and backed up a step upon seeing Padmé. "You are not going to turn me off again, are you?"
"I'm sorry, Threepio," Padmé apologized once again to the droid, grateful for the sidetracked conversation. "I really needed to see Leia. I hope you'll forgive me for being so rude to you earlier."
"He's a droid," Han grumbled. "You don't have to apologize to a droid."
"That is quite correct," Threepio said, sounding wistful. "A droid's lot in life is a difficult one." The protocol droid tilted his head as Artoo gave a sharp whistle. "Oh, yes, Artoo. I was getting to that. Prince Organa requested we accompany Mistress Leia to wherever it is that she is going, and offer our assistance in her mission. I do hope it isn't dangerous." He craned his neck to gaze up at the ship. "This isn't the ship we are going to be traveling on, is it? It looks somewhat unreliable."
"The ship undoubtedly takes after its captain," Leia told the droid.
"Droids?" Han protested. "No pain-in-the-rear droids on my ship, and that's final."
"If the droids don't go, then neither do I," Leia stated through clenched teeth.
"Good," Han said. "You're a pain, too."
"And if Leia doesn't go, that means no credits for you," Padmé pointed out. "Not the first ten thousand, or the second… or third…."
Han held up his hands. "I get it. But taking droids wasn't part of the deal."
"Tough," Leia said tightly. "From now on, you'll be taking your orders from me, and don't you forget it." She turned to the droids and pointed toward the ramp. "Threepio, Artoo… get onboard this rust bucket." Leia then turned her icy gaze at Han, and indicated with a wave of her hand to several large cases sitting against the outer wall. "Bring my luggage onboard."
"Would you like me to get your luggage, Mistress Leia?" Threepio asked nervously, uncertain what was making the Princess so upset.
"No," Leia snapped. "Solo will bring it if he knows what's good for him." With that, she stomped up and disappeared into the interior of the ship with the droids obediently following her inside.
Han stood still, his mouth open. "I don't take orders from anyone but me," he finally mumbled in disbelief, looking up at the empty ramp.
"Why did you tell her we were lovers?" Padmé hissed out, giving Han a hard slug with her fist on his bicep. "Are you insane?"
"I… I don't know," Han admitted sheepishly, rubbing the spot where she'd hit him. "I have no idea what came over me. It's like the words came tumbling out all by themselves, and I couldn't stop myself until it was too late. Are you going to tell her the truth?"
Padmé was about to say 'yes', when she stopped herself. "Maybe. I don't know yet. It depends."
"What does that mean?"
"It means you'd better start behaving yourself around Princess Leia, or I'll turn into a very jealous paramour. Maybe, just maybe, by pretending we're involved, Leia won't kill you, since that will be my prerogative." And maybe, Padmé mused to herself, by pretending to be involved with Han, he won't turn his bad-boy charms toward my daughter. Then she spun on her toe and marched up into the ship, leaving Han standing alone and wondering how his life had taken such a strange turn in the past few days.
The trip to the desert planet was quiet and strained. Princess Leia remained sequestered in the small cabin she was sharing with Padmé, and other than using the refresher, refused to come out. This situation upset Padmé quite a lot, and the older woman was of the opinion that Han was to blame for Leia being so unsocial. Padmé spent most of her time in the berth with Leia, leaving Han alone to deal with the protocol droid and his little companion, Artoo. By the time the Falcon made landfall in Mos Eisley, Han was in a sour mood.
Han spared a glance over at the Princess as she exited her cabin. She was carrying a small satchel, and had dressed in a light blue shirt and white pants. Han noted that Leia was no longer wearing her hair in that absurd style, but rather had it braided and hanging down her back. Then Padmé exited the cabin, and Han blinked in surprise. The older woman was dressed very similar to Leia, except her shirt was pale pink. Her hair, too, was worn down in a long braid.
"You two look like sisters," Han blurted out.
Padmé gave a genuine smile. "Thank you. Darling."
Darling? Han thought with a start, before remembering his idiocy during their departure from Alderaan. He noted that Leia's expression darkened upon hearing Padmé's term of endearment. And once again, he felt the overwhelming urge to capture the Princess's attention. "I like your hair much better without it being trussed up in those dumb buns."
"I couldn't care less what you like or don't like," Leia said frostily.
"Will you go rent us a landspeeder?" Padmé asked Han, keeping her voice sugary. "A large one, dear, since we'll be taking the droids with us." She put her arm through Leia's, tugging the young woman to come along. "We'll be getting directions to the Lars' homestead. I was once there, but it was a very long time ago, and not by landspeeder."
"You've been there? Have you met Luke?" Leia questioned.
"No," Padmé said. "It was before Luke was born."
"Why do I have to go along?" Han complained, frowning. "This isn't my mission."
Padmé gave a stern look toward Han. "You wouldn't want me to get captured by Tusken Raiders, would you?"
"Uh, I guess not."
"Don't sound so concerned about your girlfriend's welfare, Solo," Leia bit out sarcastically. "And don't forget, my father is paying you well for this mission."
"Let's not dawdle," Padmé declared as she hustled Leia away before another argument could ensue.
An hour later, with both droids loaded onto the back trunk area of the four-seat speeder, the group set off into the hot desert sand. Padmé kept track of their direction, and occasionally pointed for Han to make a small course correction. Eventually they passed a small town, which Padmé identified as Anchorhead. "Just a few klicks further, and we should be coming up to their homestead."
"Why anyone lives on this planet is beyond me," Han stated grimly. "Much less way out here beyond civilization."
"They are moisture farmers," Padmé explained. "The towns rely on moisture farmers for their water supply, otherwise no one could live here at all."
"No great loss," Han replied, thinking about Jabba the Hutt. "The only thing this system is good for is criminal activity, anyway."
"You're quite the expert on that, I'd imagine," Leia commented snidely from the seat behind Han.
Han grinned smugly, looking into the rearview mirror at the Princess. "Glad you can admit I'm an expert."
"On being a criminal," Leia returned. "That's not a compliment, laserbrain."
"I'd like to think being called an expert on anything is a compliment," Han goaded.
"You would," Leia mumbled.
"Look!" Padmé cried excitedly, pointing off toward the horizon. "There it is…. Luke's homestead."
Han squinted. He could see a few small mounds, the same color as the sand. It looked as desolate as everything else on the planet. "One rebel recruit lives in a palace, the other rebel recruit lives in a mud hut." He looked over at Padmé. "What do these two people possibly have in common?"
"I find it amazing that you two claim to be lovers, yet you've kept this huge secret from Solo," Leia said to Padmé. "Maybe when he finds out, he'll dump you."
"Maybe," Padmé agreed quietly.
"What huge secret?" Han demanded.
"You'll find out shortly, Han," Padmé said. "I promise."
Leia immediately regretted the harshly spoken words to Padmé, thinking that perhaps that was the reason Padmé was delaying telling the pilot the facts – she didn't want to lose her lover. Leia gave a furtive glance into the rearview mirror, appraising the Corellian's windblown appearance. Although he was quite a bit younger than her mother, Padmé was still a very attractive woman. It certainly wouldn't be odd that Solo found her appealing. And it wasn't strange that her mother found the pilot attractive as well. Han Solo might be incredibly annoying, but Leia wasn't blind to the fact he was ruggedly handsome. Certainly nothing like all those lame schoolboys and vapid politicians Leia had to deal with everyday. Leia could very well understand that Padmé could find comfort in those strong arms. She found herself wondering what kissing the Corellian would feel like, then gave herself a firm mental shake. He was her mother's lover, for star's sake! What in the galaxy was causing her to think about him in such a way?
Instead of thinking about Solo, Leia forced her thoughts toward the rapidly approaching moisture farm. Her twin brother was living there, toiling away in the heat. And his life was about to be altered in unimaginable ways.
Han brought the speeder to a halt, close to the sand-worn dome. As the group exited their transport, an older man appeared from the underground dwelling to greet the newcomers.
"Can I help you?" he called out.
"Owen," Padmé said breathlessly, hurrying toward the man. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, that's my name." The grizzled man eyed Padmé and looked over her shoulder toward Leia and Han. "And who would you be?"
"It's me, Padmé Amidala. I know it's been a long time – "
Owen blinked, and staggered back a step. "It can't be…"
"Yes," Padmé said, smiling. "It's me."
Owen's craggy expression hardened. "You need to leave before Beru sees you and gets all upset."
"I need to see Luke," Padmé stated, her smile fading. If Bail was difficult to convince, Padmé suspected Owen might be even more so.
"Kenobi told me you were dead. Seems that sneaky old wizard lied to us." He shook his finger in Padmé's face. "If you didn't need Luke before, he certainly doesn't need you now."
"No, Luke doesn't need me," Padmé agreed. "But there are things he needs to know now that he's an adult. There are decisions he has to make, once he hears the truth."
"I'm not allowing it," Owen replied stubbornly. "The truth is the last thing Luke needs to know. He's way better off without knowing it."
Leia finally stepped closer. "My name is Leia Organa, and from what I've been told, Luke is my twin brother. Even if you have issues with Padmé, I believe I have the right to meet my brother, just like he has the right to meet me."
"This recruit is your brother?" Han interrupted in surprise. "Is that the big secret?"
"One of them," Padmé said dryly.
"I say no one has any rights," Owen spat out. "Look around you, missy. Fairytales are for stories, not real life. If life was fair, I wouldn't be eking out a living in the middle of a desert, would I?"
"Listen up," Han put in without being asked, "all Padmé wants to do is to talk to the kid. We ain't leaving until that happens."
"I say it's not gonna happen," Owen said stubbornly.
Before anyone could react, Han drew out his blaster, pointing it at Owen. "And I say it is."
"Han!" Padmé said, appalled. "Put your weapon away."
"Do you know what negotiating and diplomacy even mean?" Leia added, disgusted at the Corellian.
"Sure I know," Han replied. "It means wasting a lot of time getting nowhere fast. I prefer aggressive negotiations, myself."
Padmé gave Han a strange look as the memory of Anakin saying that same phrase a long time ago came flooding back. She pushed Han's weapon away, and firmly forced the memory of Anakin back into the recesses of her mind, where it belonged.
A head liberally streaked with gray appeared at the top of the home's steps, and a second later a woman exited onto the ground level. "Owen? What's going on?"
"These people are lost, and I'm just giving them directions," Owen quickly called back over his shoulder.
"Beru?" Padmé called out. "It's me… Padmé Amidala!"
Sitting around the table in the small kitchen, Padmé sipped the cool drink that Beru had graciously provided the travelers. Her eyes gazed around the stark, utilitarian room, which was surprisingly clean considering the constant battle with dust that Beru had to contend with. The homestead had changed very little since she had visited it all those years ago. She could tell that Leia was fascinated with these simple living conditions, so completely different than her own, luxurious palace. When they were still outside, Han had quickly holstered his blaster, and mumbled some type of short remark that might have resembled an apology to Beru for pointing a gun at her husband, and was now fidgeting as he sat next to Padmé. Owen had vehemently disagreed when Beru had invited them inside and stalked away, complaining bitterly that Beru was making a huge mistake allowing them to stay.
"Luke will be here soon," Beru told them pleasantly as she bustled about preparing dinner. "I'm sure it will be a shock to meet you." Indeed, it had been more than a little stunning for Beru to find out Luke's mother was still alive. However, unlike Owen, she was determined to be a good host to these unexpected arrivals.
"Is Obi-Wan still around?" Padmé asked cautiously.
"Oh, yes, he certainly is. He goes by the name 'Ben Kenobi' now," Beru replied. "Ben's presence has always been a burr under Owen, too. I've told him a million times that Ben has a right to live here, but Owen doesn't understand."
Or, perhaps, thought Padmé, Owen understands the implications of my appearance far more than Beru does at this point.
Leia's expression perked up at the mention of a familiar name. "General Obi-Wan Kenobi? My father's told me about him. He's living here? On Tatooine?"
"Yes," Padmé said. "Since right after the Clone Wars."
"He had to go into hiding, like so many others," Beru said sadly.
Padmé coughed softly. "Why does Luke use the last name 'Skywalker' instead of 'Lars'?"
"Owen wanted to honor his stepmother, Shmi Skywalker," Beru explained. "Shmi was very loved, so it seemed like a good way to remember her."
"I see," Padmé said. "That's nice." Although, she mused, it seemed that Obi-Wan would have objected to keeping that dangerous connection. Before Padmé could voice this concern, a loud noise came from up at the top of the stairs.
"Aunt Beru?" a young man's voice called out. "I'm back. Who owns that landspeeder? Do we have guests? Are they interested in selling those two droids sitting inside? We sure could use a couple of working droids to help fix those condensers." The kid clunked noisily down the stairs and into the kitchen, and the group found themselves staring into the curious face of a sun-tanned blond, young man. "Hi. My name's Luke Skywalker."
"Luke, I'd like you to meet Padmé Amidala, Leia Organa and Han Solo," Beru said by way of introduction. She quickly took Luke's arm and guided him to a chair. "Have a seat. These people have something very important to tell you." She looked at Padmé. "Should I leave?"
"You are certainly welcome to stay," Padmé said politely, before turning briefly to Han. "Han, would you please check on the droids?"
"Why?" Han asked in disbelief. "What could've happened to them in that short time? And if something did, who cares?"
"Can you really be that dense?" Leia asked snidely. "We want privacy, you thick-head."
"Why didn't you come out and say that, then?" He started to leave, then turned to speak to Padmé. "If you insist on keeping all these secrets from me, then I'm gonna have to start rethinking our relationship, sweetheart." He was pleased to see that this remark made Padmé blush, and Leia become even more annoyed than before. He gave a quick nod to the boy on his way out. "Good luck dealing with these two, kid. You're gonna need it."
After Han left, Padmé turned her dark eyes toward her son, and took a deep breath before plunging in. "There is no easy way to say this. Leia is your twin sister, and I'm your mother."
Luke kept looking from Padmé to Leia, and back again. "No way. This is a joke, right? Did Fixer put the two of you up to this? I'll bet he did, that moron. He thinks he's the galaxy's biggest joker." Luke grinned at Beru. "Why are you going along with this?"
"Luke, please," Beru pleaded. "This is important, and you need to listen."
"This isn't a joke," Padmé said. "I truly am your mother."
"But… I'm a Skywalker," Luke said, suddenly feeling his world tilting on its axis.
"I was married to Anakin Skywalker."
Luke's gaze went back to Leia. "You don't look a thing like me."
"Leia's appearance takes after me, as you can see," Padmé said. "Your looks very much take after Anakin."
"He was a Jedi, wasn't he?" Luke asked, suddenly very interested. He looked over at Beru. "You and Uncle Owen told me that both my parents had died during the Clone Wars. Did you know my mother was alive?" His head swung back to Padmé. "Where have you been? Why have you come here now?"
Beru tried to answer some of Luke's many questions. "No, Luke, we didn't know your mother was alive. We had been led to believe she was dead."
Padmé gave a shaky laugh. "Yes, Anakin was a Jedi, and that's the main reason I've come here. You see," she said, pausing to look at both her children before rushing forward with her explanation. "Anakin turned to the Dark Side. He became a Sith Lord. It's the reason I've been pretending to be dead all these years, and the reason you were separated from me and hidden away."
Beru was stunned at Padmé's words. "Anakin is still alive, too?"
"I don't understand," Luke said, frowning.
"Neither do I," Leia agreed, although she was starting to get a cold feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach where Padmé's story was heading. On Alderaan, all Padmé would tell Leia during their meeting was that she needed Leia's help to destroy Darth Vader and the Emperor. There had been no mention of Anakin Skywalker, or his turning into a Sith Lord.
"What's a Sith?" Luke questioned.
"A Sith is someone that is evil and wicked. Your father is no longer the man I loved and married, and I need you to come with me to Myrkr, and lure your father to that planet."
"Then what?" Luke questioned.
"Then she intends for you to join together and kill him," a refined, yet unfamiliar voice spoke from the shadows of the doorway.
Beru instantly recognized the voice of Ben Kenobi, and stood up to greet the latest newcomer. "Ben? Why are you here?" She waved at the older man wearing a brown robe to enter her home.
"Hey, you're the old wizard the guys are always talking about," Luke stated. "I've always wanted to meet you."
"I've watched you grow up from afar, Luke," Ben said as he pushed back his cowl, revealing a kindly face. He turned to face Padmé. "You haven't aged a day, Padmé."
Padmé stood, and moved to embrace the older man. "You always were a flatterer. It's wonderful to see you again, Obi-Wan." Inside, she was more than a little shocked at Obi-Wan's appearance. Time had not been kind to the Jedi, and he had aged far more than she could have imagined.
"I'm surprised Owen didn't try to stop you," Beru said.
"I'm sure he would have," Ben replied. "Fortunately for me, he was rather busy negotiating with a spacer for a fair price for those two droids, and neither one noticed me as I walked past."
Leia leapt to her feet. "What? Solo's trying to sell my droids? How dare he!" She cleared her throat, embarrassed at her lack of decorum. It was all that Corellian's fault for making her forget her upbringing. "Uh, it's nice meeting you, General Kenobi. My father has told me many wonderful stories about your exploits."
"How did you know I was here?" Padmé asked the Jedi.
"The Force told me there was a change coming sometime ago," Obi-Wan said. "When I sensed your presence, it all made sense."
"What did Ben mean about killing our father?" Luke asked intently, staring at Padmé. "Is that why you're here?"
Obi-Wan shook his head in dismay. "Your children are untrained in the ways of the Force. If Yoda couldn't defeat Palpatine and I could not defeat their father, what makes you think they can?"
"The Force?" Luke questioned. "What's the Force?"
"The Force is a power that surrounds all living things," Obi-Wan explained. "Some of us can access this power and use it to enhance our abilities, such as reflexes and speed."
"The Emperor killed all the Jedi," Leia informed Luke. "There isn't anyone left that can use this power, except for General Kenobi."
"That's not exactly true," Obi-Wan said gently. "Vader and Palpatine both are able to access the power of the Force, although they use it for evil."
The group remained silent for a long moment, taking in this information. Then when Leia finally spoke, her voice was slightly shaky. "Who is our father?"
It was Obi-Wan that replied, after noting that Padmé dropped her head. "Anakin Skywalker was my apprentice. He was the most powerful Force-user the galaxy had ever known. Senator Palpatine knew this, and unfortunately, the Jedi Order was too blind to see that Palpatine was a Sith until it was too late."
"Palpatine used Anakin's love for me to twist him and use him," Padmé whispered. "We never should have defied the Jedi Order and fallen in love, much less married in secret."
"Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader," Leia stated, knowing the answer before anyone could bring it to reality by vocal confirmation.
"Anakin Skywalker no longer exists," Obi-Wan tried to explain. "After he turned to the Dark Side, he tried killing your mother, and I fought him on Mustafar. I won, and I thought he died on that awful planet. But Palpatine came to retrieve what remained of his still breathing body, and put him into that suit to keep him alive."
"It was the Sith that your father became that killed many of the Jedi, during the purges," Padmé said. "It's why he needs to die, along with Palpatine. Only together can we destroy this evil, and bring peace and justice back to the galaxy."
Beru had remained silent, listening in shock to this story. "How can these children defeat the Emperor and Darth Vader? It's not possible!"
"I would have to agree with Beru," Obi-Wan said. "This will only lead to their deaths, Padmé."
"Do you really think I'm doing this without considering the consequences?" Padmé cried out. "You've remained hidden, doing nothing, while the galaxy falls ever deeper into despair! I know the risks! I don't want to put my children in such a terrible danger, but something has to be done. If you won't do it, then I will." She turned her brown eyes toward Luke and Leia. "This is the decision you must make. I will not take one of you into danger without the other as backup. It's either both of you, or neither of you."
"Don't do it, Luke," Beru said, sniffing. "Stay here, where it's safe."
Luke turned to gaze at his newfound sister. "You're willing to do this, aren't you?"
"Somehow, I've known all my life that there was a task I had to undertake to save the beings of the galaxy," Leia replied, still reeling from the revelation that the monster known as Darth Vader was her biological father. "I'll admit I never thought it would be something as dramatic as taking on Palpatine and Vader personally, but someone will eventually have to do it."
"Maybe it's the reason we were born," Luke added thoughtfully. "To right what our father wronged."
"No," Beru said, breaking into a sob. "Please don't go, Luke."
Luke put his arm around the woman who raised him, and loved him like he was her own child. "You know I have to, Aunt Beru."
"But I don't want you to!"
He kissed the top of her head. "I'll be back someday, I promise."
"I'll pack a bag for you, then," Beru said, wiping a tear from her eye. "You should never take a trip without a change of clothing."
Padmé swallowed the lump in her throat, bursting with pride, and shaking with fear at the same time. "We'd better hurry, before it gets too dark to head back to town."
"And before Solo sells our transportation to Uncle Owen," Luke said with a laugh.
"I'm coming with you," Obi-Wan spoke up firmly. "At least I can give them some training before meeting up with the two most powerful Force-users in the galaxy."
Padmé smiled, and gave Obi-Wan a warm hug. "Thank you. Hopefully, if my plan works, the Force won't be able to affect the outcome."
"That's not possible."
"Do you think?" Padmé asked coyly. "We'll see."
Outside in the dry heat, Han took a step back from the Princess's wrath. "So what if I was trying to make some extra cash?" he said defensively. "I've yet to get into a situation where a droid comes in handy."
"I tried to inform you that we weren't for sale," Threepio moaned to a sullen Uncle Owen. "Why do humans always ignore me?"
Waving a fist under the Corellian's nose, Leia could barely contain herself. "They're my droids, not yours! And if you ever try to sell them again, I won't care if you ARE Padmé's boy toy, I'll break your big nose myself!"
"My nose isn't big!"
"So is that why Solo called her 'sweetheart?'" Luke questioned as he shifted the weight of the satchel Aunt Beru had quickly packed for him to take along on his trip. "He's our mother's boyfriend?"
"Padmé is your mother?" Han spluttered out in shock.
"Yes, as revolting as that scenario is, apparently it's true," Leia replied to Luke. "Now watch as the Nerf of Corellia runs screaming toward the nearest bar."
The Naboo woman gave a groan. "Why did you have to say that?"
Both younger men spoke up at the same time, thinking Padmé was speaking to them. "He doesn't know about us?" Luke said in surprise. "I don't know," Han mumbled, assuming that Padmé was referring to the really dumb lie about them being involved.
Everyone stood around in a semi-circle, looking confused. It was Owen that finally stated, "It doesn't surprise me a single atom that the high and mighty Queen of Naboo has a new, young consort."
"Queen?" Han repeated, his confusion growing by the moment. "I thought you were a senator."
"That was after I'd been Queen of Naboo," Padmé said, feeling her resentment toward Owen spike another notch.
"Queens can quit?" Luke questioned. "I never knew that."
"Me, either," Han admitted. "And I don't think I like being called a 'consort', either."
"What you don't know could fill up an asteroid field, flyboy," Leia stated firmly.
"Well," Obi-Wan said loudly as he gave a cough. "Now that everything seems to be out in the open, more or less, we should get moving."
"Mark my words, Luke. This is going to come to a disastrous end," Owen warned. "If you have an ounce of sense, you'll stay here, where it's safe."
"How long have you known Vader had been Anakin Skywalker?" Luke questioned his uncle. "When were you going to get around to telling me the truth about my father?"
"Never." Owen crossed his arms in defiance. "I never even burdened your poor aunt with that information."
"I thought as much," Luke said sadly.
Han waved his hand, calling attention to himself. "Wait a space-vaped parsec. Am I hearing this right? Darth Vader… THE Darth Vader… is Luke and Leia's father?"
"Yes," Padmé said.
"Maybe that's what will cause Solo to run screaming," Leia commented, biting her lip.
"I ain't leaving, Princess," Han said stubbornly. "Me and your mom have got a long history together, and Darth Vader doesn't scare me."
"Proof, once again, that you're a moron," Leia responded.
"Okay, then," Obi-Wan said, clapping his hands together. "NOW is everything out in the open?"
"More or less," Padmé said dryly.
Back in the Mos Eisley spaceport, Han punched in the code to enter his ship. "All aboard that's coming aboard," he called out cheerfully as Padmé and Obi-Wan started to head up the ramp, with the droids following closely behind them.
"Come along, Artoo," Obi-Wan said, looking down at the little droid fondly. "It's been a long time since we've had an adventure together."
Threepio tilted his head in puzzlement, as the little droid gave the older man a positive-sounding response. "I do not recall we were ever owned by a Jedi."
"You would not," Obi-Wan answered. "I'm afraid after the twins were born, you had a complete memory wipe for the safety of Padmé, and the children, Threepio."
"I see," Threepio said, sounding miffed. "You could trust Artoo, but not me."
At the top of the ramp, Padmé gave a brief smile. "Sorry, Threepio." She disappeared inside, and Obi-Wan followed.
Artoo gave a raspberry noise at the tall droid, which sounded suspiciously like gloating.
"No one likes a know-it-all, Artoo," Threepio said loftily, hurrying to enter the ship before the little droid.
Luke stood at the bottom of the ramp, craning his neck to gaze at the dilapidated freighter. "What a piece of junk," he commented, not caring if the captain of the piece of junk heard him.
"I'm getting really annoyed at all these nasty comments about my ship," Han snarled. "The Millennium Falcon is the best ship in the galaxy, and I'm the best pilot."
"If you say so," Luke said, sounding dubious.
"I say so." Han turned his body toward Leia, blocking her way. "Part two of this trip is complete. Have you transferred your father's payment into my account?"
Leia's eyes narrowed at the Corellian. "If you let me get onboard, I'll use your long range transponder and send the proper code. If your transponder works, that is."
"Then move aside, Vapor-breath," Leia said, giving the Corellian a hard shove before stomping loudly up the ramp. She paused for a second at the top, calling down, "You should be ashamed of your obsession with money."
"Money happens to be the most important thing in the galaxy!" Han yelled back. She disappeared into the ship, and Han turned to Luke. "She's gotta lot of spunk, even if she does have a hot temper and a deadly tongue." When Luke just shrugged his shoulders, Han asked, "What do you think?"
Han leaned against a landing strut, and pointed at his chest. "Could a guy like me and a real life Princess get together?"
Luke's expression turned to total disbelief. "You're asking me if you should have an affair… with my SISTER?"
"'Affair' is such a crass term," Han said. "I prefer 'smoking hot romance,' myself."
"You're already involved with our MOTHER!"
"Oh. Yeah." Han stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I forgot about that."
"Well, you can't blame me," Han said defensively. "Padmé's been sorta neglectful of my physical needs lately, if you get my drift."
Luke felt his face flush with rage and embarrassment. "I can't believe what I'm hearing. You've got to be the slimiest slug in the entire galaxy!" Luke headed up the ramp before he did something rash – like pound the scoundrel into a pulp.
"You shouldn't talk to your future stepfather like that," Han shouted after the young man. "Or maybe your future brother-in-law." Han grinned as the kid stomped away in an indignant huff. Darth Vader notwithstanding, this trip might turn out to be a lot of fun after all.
As Han angled his ship up toward space, he felt a warm hand on his shoulder. He glanced sideways at the older man's fingers, and resisted the urge to push him away. "Next stop - Myrkr."
"I would like you to take a small side trip, son," Obi-Wan told the pilot.
Padmé, sitting in the co-pilot's seat, appeared surprised at this request. "Where do you want to go, Obi-Wan?"
"Never heard of it," Han said. "And side trips aren't in my contract."
"It won't take long," Obi-Wan said calmly. "There is a friend living on that system that I believe can assist us in this mission."
"Who would that be?" Padmé questioned.
Padmé's jaw dropped. "Yoda? He's still alive, too?"
"Who's this Yoda character?" Han asked with a weary sigh.
"A Jedi Master," Padmé replied. "But he must be so old by now."
"So is Palpatine," Obi-Wan pointed out. "Do not underestimate Master Yoda's abilities with the Force, even at his advanced age."
"Jedi. The Force. Hocus-pocus religions and mystical wizards." Han shook his head. "What did I get myself mixed up in? Oh, wait. It wasn't my fault. Someone pointed a blaster in my back and left me with no choice in the matter."
"It would be best to have one Master and one Padawan," Obi-Wan told Padmé. "I could apprentice Luke, while Master Yoda trains Leia."
"But I told you I hope to eliminate the influence of the Force during this confrontation," Padmé argued. "That's why we're going to Myrkr. There are… things on that system that will help us a great deal when Vader and Palpatine arrive."
"Things often don't go as planned," Obi-Wan pointed out. "Do you honestly believe that it will be only Vader and Palpatine that show up? Don't forget, the Emperor hardly ever leaves Coruscant. Luring him to Myrkr might be a great deal more difficult that you think it will be. It is far more likely he will send someone he trusts instead."
"That's a possibility," Padmé mused. "Still, if all of his strongest and most valuable agents simply disappear, Palpatine's hand will be forced. He will come, eventually."
"We still need Master Yoda."
Although Padmé wasn't happy about the delay, she nevertheless nodded her agreement. "Han, set a course for Dagobah."
"Kriff," Han muttered. "I'm charging Organa extra for this."
"What was it like growing up as a Princess?" Luke questioned his newfound sister as he sat across from her at the Falcon's game table.
Leia smiled. "I'm not sure how to answer that. I have nothing else to compare my life to. I can imagine it was a great deal easier than growing up as a moisture farmer, if that's what you're asking."
Luke flushed. "No… I didn't mean it to sound like I was bitter or anything. Sorry."
"It's understandable that you would be envious at our different stations in life," Leia insisted. "You don't have to apologize. If it were the other way around…"
"My life hasn't been bad," Luke stated firmly. "Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen have always been kind and fair to me. I'm not envious."
"Okay, then" Leia acquiesced, dropping into an uncomfortable silence with her twin.
After long moments, Luke asked, "What do you think of Padmé?"
"She seems to be nice," Leia replied. "I'm not certain what the details of her grand plan to eliminate the Emperor are, though. Hopefully, she has a grip on reality."
"Speaking of her grip on reality, what do you think of Solo?"
It was Leia's turn to flush. "He's crass and rude, and obviously loves material things above all else. I don't understand what Padmé sees in him." Liar, Leia's mind screamed as she recalled watching him drive the landspeeder, and how his tousled hair looked so sexy…
"He asked me what I thought his chances with you would be," Luke told Leia, feeling only a tiny bit guilty for betraying the Corellian's confidence.
"He did what?"
"Yeah. He said Padmé was neglecting his needs lately."
"I thought so, too," Luke said smugly, gleeful at having derailed Han's future with Leia.
Solo's interested in me? Leia thought in shock. As if he stands a chance! Still, deep down, the idea pleased her far more than she would ever care to admit.
The Jedi Master escorted the former Queen of Naboo into the ship's hold, where Luke and Leia waited with the droids.
"We are taking a short side trip," Padmé informed her children.
"Where are we going?" Luke asked.
"Dagobah," Obi-Wan replied. "There is a great Jedi Master living there, and we've decided that Leia should train under him, while I train you." Obi-Wan pulled out a silver tube from under his robe. "This was Anakin's old lightsaber. Which one of you would like to use it?"
"I'm not touching anything that belonged to Vader," Leia said firmly. Her eyes flicked over at Solo as he entered the hold. "It's suddenly become hard to breath in this area."
Han grinned. "I always did leave women breathless."
"I meant the air became polluted."
"Just wait until we get to Dagobah," Han continued, unfazed at the Princess's jibes. "I checked out the specifications, and Dagobah's a jungle system. All that rotten vegetation cooking in hot swamp water makes for a lot of smelly gas."
"No more smelly than you."
Padmé was appalled at her daughter's rudeness. "Leia! I would have thought your aunts taught you better manners."
"Aw, sweetheart," Han said to Padmé. "It's just that my gorgeous looks overwhelm her common sense, and she can't think straight when I'm around."
Disgusted, Leia jumped up. "Tell me, Solo, are you going to introduce us to all your kinfolk when we get to Dagobah?"
"I'm guessing there will be a big family reunion with you and all the other slimy snakes living there," Leia snapped. Pushing past the astonished Corellian, she hurried away to the privacy of her cabin.
"Is she really still so upset I tried selling her droids?" Han asked after a moment's contemplation. "I had no idea she was that attached to them."
"I tried telling you it was a bad idea, Sir," Threepio said, managing to sound smug. "Perhaps next time, you will listen to my suggestions when I offer them."
"Not likely." Han noticed that Luke was staring studiously at the floor, and he felt a spike of suspicion toward the younger man. "What did you say to her, kid?"
Luke looked up, his cheeks spotted with a red flush. "Nothing. Leia just doesn't like you, that's all." He turned his attention quickly to Obi-Wan, and changed the subject. "Can you teach me to use that lightsaber? I'll need it to become a Jedi, and defeat the Empire."
"I'll teach you," Obi-Wan responded, pleased that Luke wanted to learn the skill, but worried about Luke's overconfidence. "Becoming a Jedi takes a long time and much training, Luke. You must learn patience." He glanced over at Han. "And tolerance, as well."
Padmé put her hand on Han's arm. "I'll go talk to Leia and find out what's upsetting her."
"You probably shouldn't do that," Luke said hurriedly. "Whatever it is, I'm sure she just needs time alone."
"Yes," Threepio added. "The Princess frequently is alone in her apartment. Although it may be that she is merely powered down during that time. Now that I consider it more thoroughly, it is late at night that she is most often by herself."
"I bet I could fix that problem," Han said.
"Han!" Padmé chastised. "Are you making suggestive comments about my daughter?"
"Yes, he is!" Luke piped up. "He said he wanted to have a smoking hot romance with Leia!"
"You told her!" Han yelled at Luke in outrage. "That's why she's so mad at me!"
"Of course I told her," Luke shouted back. "You're involved with my mother, and you want to cheat on her with my sister!"
Han decided it was time to rectify the situation, even if it made him look like an idiot. Besides, how could things look worse than they did now, anyway? "I'm NOT involved with Padmé. I just made that up!"
"Why would you do that?" Luke questioned hotly.
"I wanted to make Leia jealous," Han admitted, embarrassed.
Padmé swallowed, trying to ignore Obi-Wan's shocked expression. It was more important to derail Solo's interest in Leia than salvage her reputation. "How can you say that, Han? We are involved!" She buried her face in her hands and pretended to burst into tears. "You don't love me anymore!"
"I never did!" Han protested, baffled that Padmé wanted to keep up the charade.
"What?!" Padmé gasped in shock. She reached up and slapped Han across the face. Hard. "How dare you." Then she rushed out of the hold, and away from Obi-Wan's incriminating gaze.
"Ow," Han muttered, pressing his palm against his burning cheek. "She packs a wallop."
"Not as much as my wallop," Luke said, right before he hauled off and belted Han in the nose.
A while later, Threepio meekly offered the Corellian an ice-pack, as Han sat at the game table nursing his pride and his nose.
Obi-Wan had prevented the incident from disintegrating even further, separating the two younger men, and forcefully pushing them apart. Now Luke was sitting in the chair across the room, still glaring at Han while rubbing his sore knuckles.
"Never in my all my long life have I ever witnessed such a brouhaha," Obi-Wan stated. "I want you two to apologize to each other, and then we shall move on from this incident."
"Why should I apologize?" Han grumbled. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Luke leapt up from his seat, pointing his forefinger in Han's direction. "You're trying to cheat on my mother with my sister. I can't begin to count the ways that's wrong."
"And I told you I made up being involved with Padmé," Han argued wearily. "Why won't you believe me?"
"Are you calling my mother a liar?"
"Yes!" Seeing the expression of fury on Luke's face, Han quickly backed off from the accusation. "No. I don't know why your mother went along with me saying we're lovers," Han returned through clenched teeth. He stood up, as well, placing a safer distance between himself and the farmboy. "I'm going to check on the Falcon's engines. I think I hear a funny clunking sound."
"If I throw him into the hyperdrive unit, I'm positive it'll make a funny clunking sound," Luke muttered darkly as he watched the Corellian disappear down the corridor.
Obi-Wan shook his head in dismay. "I have no idea what's going on with Padmé and Solo. Maybe I've been living in the desert so long the ways of the galaxy have passed me by." The Jedi picked up a shielded helmet, and handed it to Luke. "Shall we start the lightsaber lessons?"
"Sure," Luke mumbled, still looking down the empty corridor. "I may need to use that lightsaber sooner than I thought."
"There's the lovely swamp-hole," Han said pointlessly to Obi-Wan, Luke and Padmé as they exited hyperspace several tense days later. Leia adamantly refused to be in the same room as the Corellian, and had declined to enter the cockpit, too. "Where should I land?"
Obi-Wan shut his eyes briefly, then nodded to the right. "That way. Perhaps you should allow me to take over the landing at this juncture."
"No one flies this baby but me," Han said firmly, turning the yoke. Obi-Wan sighed, but did not argue. Han angled the ship down, and the Falcon dove steeply through the thick clouds covering the planet. Long minutes later, they were still in heavy fog, unable to make out the surface. "Usually, there's some break in the cloud-cover by now," Han grumbled, carefully watching the computer to inform him where to head.
"Set the course landing for two-two-four-nine," Obi-Wan ordered.
Han moved his fingers toward the computer when the lights – and the computer terminal – blinked out. The ship bucked wildly, and started spinning toward the unseen surface as Han fought for control.
"We're going to crash!" Padmé gasped, gripping the arm rests with her fingers.
"It certainly appears that's a distinct possibility," Obi-Wan agreed calmly.
Han was almost convinced he was about to die, as well. Then, at the last second, he could see the planet's surface, covered in heavy foliage and patches of murky swampland. Desperately he pulled hard on the yoke, and to his utter surprise, the nose of the ship pulled up, and then the Falcon leveled off. He blinked in confusion as the ship slowly and evenly lowered itself, coming to a gentle rest next to a large pond of water. The Corellian looked over at the surprisingly calm Obi-Wan Kenobi, and with a forced grin said, "See? Not a problem!" Unfortunately, his voice betrayed him and the words came out as a strangled squeak.
Obi-Wan gave an enigmatic smile. "Not a problem, indeed, son."
"What in the stars happened?" Luke demanded to know as he came rushing into the cockpit.
"Turbulence," Han explained succinctly.
"Leia said that was the worse landing she'd ever experienced." He glared accusingly at the pilot. "I could fly better than you."
Han spun around in his seat, annoyed. "Then buy yourself a ship and fly it. I'm getting tired of playing taxi service to this crazy family, anyway."
"Look," Padmé said, pointing out the conical window, and trying to diffuse the situation. "We've landed all safe and sound."
Luke turned his gaze out the viewport. "Why do you suppose a Jedi Master would pick here to live?"
"'Cuz no one would think he would," Han answered shortly, hoisting himself out of the seat. He glanced down at Obi-Wan. "For an extinct group, there sure seems to be a lot of you still hanging around … and hiding."
Obi-Wan fought back irritation. "We have not been hiding. We have been biding our time."
"For what?" Luke asked, ignoring Han's snort of derision.
"For the right opportunity to reestablish the Jedi." Obi-Wan gracefully rose from the chair. "I'm not certain Master Yoda is going to agree that this is the right time, but since your mother has taken matters into her own hand, without consulting me first, the wheels have been set in motion."
The humid air was oppressive, and condensation dripped from the branches overhead, creating the impression of constant rainfall. "I can imagine that this is what breathing under water would seem like," Luke commented as the group stood around trying to decide which direction they should head. Involuntarily, he ducked slightly as a large, dark bird swooped low over his head.
Han waved toward the algae covered pond near which the Falcon was resting uncomfortably close to the edge. "If we'd have landed any closer, you could've tested your theory out a lot better." The murky water rippled, as though something below the surface knew it had lost out on a tasty meal.
"Where do you suppose Yoda lives?" Padmé asked, looking in concern at a very large snake dangling from a nearby tree limb. "This place doesn't seem to be very hospitable."
Obi-Wan shut his eyes, his face taking on a look of concentration. "Master Yoda is very close by. I can sense his presence through the Force."
"If you can sense him, can't he sense us, too?" Leia questioned.
"Yes, I'm quite certain Yoda sensed our arrival. It's undoubtedly the reason the ship was placed down in this exact spot."
Han frowned, and jerked his thumb at his chest. "I'm the one that landed the Falcon. No mystical power takes over my ship, unless it's over my dead body."
"Dead, appears you are not," a gnarly voice chuckled in amusement from behind a tree. The group turned around in time to watch as the small, green Jedi hobbled into view.
"Master Yoda!" Obi-Wan said, his voice cracking with emotion. "It's been so very long."
"That's a Yoda?" Han asked in surprise. "Sorta short, isn't he?"
"Judge me by my size, you should not," Yoda said, sounding annoyed.
"Han, please don't make him mad," Padmé said as she hurried over to Yoda, and knelt down in front of the Jedi. "It's wonderful to see you again, Master Yoda."
Yoda nodded, his large eyes moving past the woman toward the younger humans. He pointed his stick at the two wide-eyed young people. "Told them, have you?"
"It was time," Padmé said, knowing Yoda was certain to disapprove. She looked back over her shoulder at Luke and Leia, then stood. "I should tell you the rest of my plan."
"That would probably be a good idea," Leia agreed.
Padmé glanced back down to the frowning Yoda. "My rebel companions have received word that the Empire is creating a space station that is powerful enough to destroy entire planets with one blast. If we don't act now to bring Palpatine down, before that station is complete, worlds will be destroyed. Billions will die. I know that everyone disapproves of my rushing back, and bringing Luke and Leia into such danger, but I felt I had no choice."
"Padmé intends to lure Vader and Palpatine to Myrkr, and kill them," Obi-Wan explained to Yoda.
"Difficult this will be," Yoda stated flatly. "Foolish the Sith are not."
"Vader will not hesitate," Padmé insisted. "Once he's aware that I'm alive, and our children are alive, he'll come for us."
"Danger will you put your younglings in," Yoda replied. "Untrained they are in the ways of the Force."
"That's why we are here, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan continued. "I am hoping you will apprentice Leia, while I train Luke."
"Too old they are," Yoda said stubbornly. "Train them now we cannot."
"That's the first time I've ever been described as 'too old,'" Luke said, grinning. "It's always been the other way around."
"They're too old?" Han put in, unable to remain out of the conversation. "A few minutes ago, back in the cockpit, Kenobi said the Jedi were biding their time until they could make a grand and glorious comeback. Now you're telling us that you Jedi bided your precious time so long that you ran out of time?"
Leia arched her eyebrow at the Corellian, then looked down at Yoda. "As much as I hate to admit this, the flyboy makes a decent point."
"The time for adhering to the old rules of the Order is past," Padmé told Yoda. "We must take drastic and innovative measures if we have any hope of succeeding."
"Strong their father was. Too late was he trained, as I said years ago," Yoda stated.
"The fact is, Luke and Leia are here now, and they are not like their father," Padmé responded.
"They are both very strong in the Force," Obi-Wan pointed out to his old mentor.
"Same that happened with Anakin could happened to these two," Yoda argued.
"No!" Padmé said firmly. "That won't happen." She knelt once again in front of Yoda to plead her case. "Please understand how important this has become." Yoda's ears flattened, and Padmé continued to implore, "Master Yoda, I beg of you! I understand your concerns, truly I do. But once we arrive on Myrkr, I believe the playing field can be leveled."
"You keep bringing up Myrkr like it's some paradise, where the dark side can't reside," Leia said.
"No, not the dark side," Padmé said. "The Force. There are creatures on Myrkr called ysalamiri - "
"Heard of these creatures, have I," Yoda interrupted. "A place I wish not to go."
"The Jedi have always avoided Myrkr," Obi-Wan added. "If you are hoping to defeat Vader and Palpatine on Myrkr because they can't access the Force, you need to realize that we won't be able to access it, either."
"The ysalamiri have a limited range," Padmé told them. "We can use them to our advantage."
"How?" Luke asked.
"Palpatine is very old," Padmé said. "It's the dark side that has kept him alive. Cut off his Force access, and he won't be able to defend himself. He might even die without us doing anything besides placing him into a Force-bubble."
"Vader isn't old," Leia pointed out.
"No, but without the Force he can only do so much to defend himself." Padmé stood and walked over to Obi-Wan. "Do you think Vader could wield his lightsaber and protect himself against a small army of rebels if he has no Force as his ally? We could set up the ysalamiri in certain sections. We would know where they are, but Vader and Palpatine would not, and we could trap them."
"Easy to fool Palpatine it is not," Yoda commented.
Padmé blew out a hiss of frustration. "At least it's a plan. I'm willing to listen if you have a better one."
"Strong is the dark side," Yoda warned. "Tempt your children it most certainly will."
"My father - Prince Organa – raised me to understand evil and avoid it at all costs," Leia said.
"I can avoid temptation," Luke declared. "Let me prove myself."
Yoda shook his head sadly. "Too much of their father in them do I sense."
"I believe that Luke and Leia are the last hope for the galaxy," Obi-Wan said with firm conviction.
Yoda's body sagged and he gave a weary sigh. "Train them, then, we must." Yoda pointed past the Falcon. "Condition I place is this – remain on Dagobah until they have grasped the basic ways of the Force."
"What?" Han said loudly. "I don't want to stay on this swamp any longer than I have to!"
"You did promise Bail that you'd take care of me and Leia," Padmé told Han firmly. "This is part of that promise."
"I gave that promise before I knew all these tiny, unimportant details," Han argued. "Like tangling with Vader and the Emperor. Or living in a mudhole."
"So what you're saying now is that you're too afraid to see this through," Luke taunted.
"I ain't afraid," Han shot back. "But this is worth more than the money I agreed on."
Leia clenched her jaw in frustration. "My father will pay you extra."
The Corellian considered Leia's promise. "In that case, I suppose I can tolerate it for a little while," Han said, placated. "Prince Organa is ringing up quite the debt."
"Mercenary your friend seems to be," Yoda mused thoughtfully.
"Seems to be?" Luke repeated, shaking his head in disgust.
Yoda hobbled over to Han, and gave Han's kneecap a hard poke with his gimer stick.
"OW!" Han yelled, backing up and grabbing his injured leg. Unfortunately, he took one step backwards too many, and ended up falling into the slimy pond with a loud splash. "Whaddya do that for?" he spluttered as he came flaying up to the surface.
"Mudhole my home is not," Yoda stated.
Han gasped and struggled to pull himself back to relatively dry land while the others chortled in amusement. "I should've blasted you!"
"Blast me you did not," Yoda replied. "Therefore, passed the test you did." Yoda turned to look up at the others. "Mercenary this one only pretends to be. Trust him we can."
Still on his hands and knees, Han wiped the strands of algae from his face. "No reward is worth this," he grumbled.
Several long, sweaty days later, Leia Organa, Princess of Alderaan, decided enough was enough. "I'm taking a break," she informed Yoda, tossing Obi-Wan's lightsaber on the ground. She had been using Obi-Wan's weapon since Yoda's lightsaber was too small, and Leia had adamantly refused a second offer to use Anakin Skywalker's old weapon. "I'm hot, thirsty, and exhausted. I don't know how to levitate rocks, or jump off a cliff without killing myself. I'm not sure if I even want to be a Jedi. Did anyone bother asking my opinion on this subject?" She shook her head vigorously. "No. It was assumed that since my biological… sire has this talent, surely his daughter must, too." Calling Anakin Skywalker 'father' always left a bad taste in Leia's mouth, so she avoided the word whenever possible.
Yoda pointed his walking stick at Leia. "Complain a Jedi does not. Heat, thirst, exhaustion a Jedi feels not." He moved closer to the young human. "Concentrate you must, and what seems impossible you will find is not. Impatient, Anakin Skywalker was, as are you."
"And that's another thing," Leia said, her voice rising several degrees. "I don't want to be compared to that monster, ever again."
"Not always a monster was your father," Yoda explained, retrieving the lightsaber. "Easy it is to become seduced by the dark side." He held out the cylinder toward Leia, but she refused to take it back. "In order, perhaps, meditation would be. Time reflecting on the virtues of forbearance."
"I know about patience and forbearance," Leia argued. "I'm a politician! I've spent endless hours listening to beings drone on about laws and regulations. Try doing that if you aren't patient. Trust me when I say that it compares to levitating rocks."
"Smoke," Yoda said with a sniff.
Leia frowned at the gruff Jedi. "What?"
"Job of politicians," Yoda said, "is much time spent shoveling smoke."
"Shoveling…?" Leia stopped as the meaning of Yoda's proclamation sank in. "That's not funny."
"That's 'cuz you don't have a sense of humor, sweetheart," Han drawled.
Leia spun around, noticing the Corellian leaning casually against a tall tree. "Have you been watching me?"
"Every chance I get."
She turned an accusing glare at Yoda. "Did you know he's been watching me?"
"Yes," Yoda replied. "Sense him you would, too, if only the Force would you embrace."
"I'd really enjoy being embraced by you, Your Worshipfulness," Han said, grinning.
"Am I allowed to cut him in half with that lightsaber?" Leia asked Yoda, pointing to the weapon in the Jedi's grasp.
"Anger is of the dark side," Yoda admonished.
Furious at Han's spying, and at Yoda's constant chastising, Leia could barely think straight. "I'm going for a walk. This planet is way too crowded for my taste." She stalked off, pushing through the thick underbrush and disappearing from sight.
"Isn't it sorta dangerous to be hiking around all alone?" Han asked the old Jedi. "It's getting close to sunset."
Yoda regarded the lightsaber he was still holding. "Unwise and dangerous."
"I ought to follow her, just for safety's sake," Han suggested. "And I should take that weapon and give it back to her."
Yoda handed the lightsaber over to the Corellian. "Care you must take with this weapon."
"Aw, I promise I won't hurt myself with it," Han said, weighing it in his palm. "Thanks for worrying, though."
"Worried not about harming yourself, am I," Yoda replied. "Worried should you be, after the young Princess takes it back."
"Oh. I see," Han said. Then he shrugged. "I like to live dangerously. I appreciate the warning, though." Then he headed off, following the trail the Princess had taken.
Luke Skywalker's eyes were shut tight, and he was concentrating intently on standing on his head while trying to lift a rock using the Force. The rock moved slightly, and floated a few inches off the ground. Luke opened his eyes, and the rock thudded back down. Then he lost his balance, falling sideways. "This is impossible," he moaned.
"It's only impossible because you believe it's impossible. You are getting closer to success with each attempt," Obi-Wan said encouragingly. "The rock actually moved a bit this time."
Luke sighed, and still sitting on the ground, crossed his legs. "Can I ask you a question?"
"What was my father like? Before he turned into a Sith?"
Obi-Wan gave a sad smile. "He was confident and strong. Young and brave. Impetuous and sympathetic. He was both my padawan, and my friend, and he had the potential to be the greatest Jedi that ever lived."
"If he hadn't fallen in love with my mother, would everything be okay? Would Palpatine have been stopped? Would the galaxy be at peace?"
"I can't answer that, Luke," Obi-Wan replied truthfully. "Perhaps."
"So my being born was a huge mistake that's costing lives."
"Or perhaps you were meant to be," Obi-Wan said. "Maybe Anakin wasn't the Chosen One, as I once thought he was. Maybe it's you or your sister."
Luke nodded thoughtfully. "Knowing he's my father, I'm not sure if I can bring myself to kill him."
"That might not be necessary," Obi-Wan answered. "If Padmé's plan works, and we can trap him in a place where he is unable to access the Force, then the rebels should be able to dispose of him. The burden will not be on your shoulders."
"Dispose," Luke repeated flatly. "Like he's a piece of worthless trash."
"Many years ago, I tried reasoning with Anakin. He was beyond my reach, Luke. The dark side had consumed him, surely as the fires on Mustafar consumed portions of his body. Anakin Skywalker was not worthless, but that man no longer exists. Darth Vader is undeniably evil and the galaxy will rejoice at his demise."
"I wish I could have known him," Luke whispered. "When he was still Anakin Skywalker."
Obi-Wan felt a stab of sympathy toward the kind-hearted young man. "I wish you could have known him too, Luke. You would have liked the man your father once was."
Neither man noticed the movement coming from behind a nearby tree. This time, Padmé's quiet sobs were very real.
Leia sat down on a fallen tree stump, giving a soft groan and rubbing her sore back muscles. "Why couldn't I have gotten Obi-Wan as my Jedi Master? I think I got the short end of the Jedi Master stick," she muttered under her breath, then giggled at the unintended pun. A rustle from the branches overhead caused her to give a start, then a dark shape dropped on her head. "What the - ?" It took her a moment to realize a native vine snake had fallen on top of her, and it was a very large vine snake, indeed - twice her length, and nearly as thick as her torso.
The Princess attempted to twist away, but the snake was faster. It wound its body rapidly around her frame, and Leia fell to the ground, still struggling to free herself from its deadly, vise-like grip. "Help…!" she gasped, trying to scream. Unfortunately, the coiled body of the snake was already constricting her lungs, and the word was barely audible.
With her arms held fast against her body, and her ribs aching from the strong crush of the snake, Leia could only think, I'm about to die and get eaten by a snake.
"Hey," a voice called out. "It looks like you could use some help."
Leia twisted her neck, and saw Han Solo running in her direction. In a second he was next to her, trying to pry the body of the snake off. "Kill it," she whispered, her face contorted with pain.
"If I shoot it, it might restrict so tight in its death-throes, it'll finish you off," Han argued, tugging uselessly at the powerful beast.
"What?" Han asked, leaning closer to hear.
"Oh!" He whipped out the old-fashioned weapon, and frowned at it. "What if I accidentally cut too far, and cut you?"
Han turned on the blade, and with a deep breath, starting slicing down the thick body. Blood and internal organs spilled out, but with its muscles sliced the snake was unable to maintain its death grip on the Princess. Soon she was able to struggle free of the deceased creature, and allow Han to help her to her feet.
"You actually saved my life," Leia said in disbelief, still bent over as she sucked in precious oxygen.
"Why do you sound so surprised?"
Leia straightened up, and looked Han in the eye. "It doesn't seem in line with your policy of only caring about yourself."
"True," Han agreed easily. "Now, how about a kiss for my reward?" Almost immediately he regretted the joke, as Leia's expression changed from gratitude to annoyance.
"I'd rather kiss the dead snake."
"From my viewpoint, it appeared that's exactly what you were doing," Han returned, more upset with himself for ruining his chance with Leia than her insult. Trying to save face, he waved his finger at her and spoke without thinking, "Don't bother with the kiss, Ice-Princess. Your father is paying me to keep you safe, and I'm just doing my job. It's not like I cared whether or not you ended up as that snake's dinner." His earlier regret was compounded tenfold by the abject look of disappointment that appeared on her face.
"I'll be sure to tell my father you did your job, Captain Solo," she said tartly, before snatching the lightsaber from his fingers, and leaving him standing alone.
Han suddenly wished it were physically possible to kick himself all the way back to the Falcon.
Onboard the Falcon, later that evening…
"Thank you for saving Leia," Padmé said quietly as she came up behind the Corellian.
Han paused in his task of tuning one of the sensor coils, and regarded the Naboo woman. "Just doing my job," he said shortly, turning away so he was no longer facing her.
"You're angry at me."
"Why would you think that?" Han snapped, giving his tuning rod an unnecessarily hard twist. "You hijacked me and my ship, your daughter can't stand me, your son belts me in the nose, after you slapped my face. No, I'd say I'm truly feeling the love from your family." He spun around so suddenly, Padmé drew back in surprise. "Why are you keeping up the farce of us being lovers?"
"It was your idea to begin with," she returned.
"Yeah, but when I tried admitting the truth, you turned on fake tears and gave me a slap for good measure!"
"I'm sorry I hit you. It was uncalled for." Padmé sighed. "You remind me too much of Anakin. Both of you are good pilots. You're handsome, and an overconfident risk-taker, just like he was." She hesitated slightly, then added, "And both of you had difficult childhoods."
"How would you know that?" Han asked, annoyed. "I've never told you about my childhood."
"I can see the pain in your eyes, just like I could see the pain in Anakin's eyes," Padmé answered quietly, thinking back to her Rebel friend waiting on Myrkr, and trying to deflect Han's suspicions. "I may not be a Jedi, but I also can see Leia falling in love with you, just like I fell in love with Anakin. It would be a mistake, and she doesn't need to make the same mistake I made."
Han felt his face flush. "I'm not good enough for her."
"No," Padmé said. "I'm not an elitist, Han. But I am a realist. Do you have any intentions of ever getting married, and settling down? Making a commitment to one woman, for the rest of your life?" When Han looked away, she continued, "You're the kind of man that would break her heart, and since I'm her mother, I want to protect her from that kind of hurt. So that's why I'm maintaining the illusion we're involved. If she thinks you're my lover, it's less likely she'll be interested in you."
"Maybe I'll leave all of you sitting on this planet, and blast off in my ship," Han threatened, trying to hide the depth of his hurt feelings. Why should it matter so much to him that Padmé considered him a free-wheeling smuggler with no ties to bind him down? Didn't that describe him, exactly?
"You won't do that," Padmé stated.
"You sure of that?"
"Yes. Because, despite everything you've been through, you have a strong sense of honor and loyalty," Padmé replied. "Just like Anakin did."
A month later….
Han was cleaning his DL-44 when Luke sat down on the log next to him. The young man hadn't exactly been overly friendly to him during their stay on Dagobah, so the gesture, however small, surprised him. "Hey, kid. How's the Jedi training going?"
"Alright, I suppose," Luke replied, eyeing the disassembled blaster pieces. "Do you know how to put that back together?"
"Sure," Han said, rubbing a small piece of metal with a clean cloth. "I've been getting lots of practice lately. This planet is so damp, if I don't take it apart every few days and give it a good cleaning, it starts to rust."
"The droids keep complaining about getting rust in their parts, too." Luke shifted slightly on the uncomfortable seat, and changed the subject. "Leia told me you saved her life a while back."
"That was nearly a month ago, kid. I would've helped her, even if her father wouldn't be paying me," Han responded, unable to keep the defensive tone from his voice.
"I know." Luke cleared his throat. "And I realize I'm long overdue in saying this, but I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for hitting you."
"Kenobi insisted you apologize, huh?"
The younger man grinned. "Yeah. He says that a Jedi can't have a short temper, and apologizing builds character."
The Corellian fitted the cleaned section back into the blaster, and picked up another small piece to buff. "I'm not your mother's boyfriend. Never have been." Han tensed, waiting for the kid to explode again.
"Master Kenobi thinks that you're telling the truth," Luke replied. "We haven't been able to figure out why my mother keeps pretending it's true."
"Padmé told me why," Han said.
"Why? What did she tell you?"
"It's her weird attempt to protect Leia from me. She thinks I'm the 'love 'em and leave 'em' sort of guy."
Luke laughed. "I'd have to agree with her assessment."
"I'm not that bad," Han said in annoyance as he fit the last part of his blaster together. He aimed at a distant tree, and fired at a small branch. The branch dropped to the ground, smoldering. Then an eerie moan sounded from the area near the gnarled old tree.
"Do you hear that? Did you hit something?" Luke questioned, standing up and squinting to see through the constant, lingering mists.
"No, there wasn't anything on that branch," Han stated, rising as well.
"I'm going to check it out."
Han opened his mouth to argue, then sighed and followed the young man over to the tree. "See?" Han pointed to the ground. "Nothing but a branch."
"There's something else here," Luke murmured. "Something cold… evil."
Han swung his blaster around. "Where?"
"It's nothing I can see," Luke tried to explain. "It's more like a feeling."
"I don't feel anything," Han argued.
Luke moved closer to the tree, and crouched down. "It looks like a cave entrance, right under the tree." He looked up at Han. "I'm going to check it out."
"What?!" Han asked, barely able to comprehend what he was hearing. "Why? There ain't no reason under this system's moldy sky we gotta go down into that cave. Didn't you just say it felt evil? That's a damn good reason not to go down there, if you ask me."
"You don't have to come with me," Luke said, already maneuvering his legs into the cave's opening. "As a matter of fact, you probably shouldn't."
"If you get killed, I'll never hear the end of it," Han groused, dropping to his knees in order to climb into the cave. "I have a bad feeling about this…"
Inside the cave, Luke had already ignited his lightsaber in order to see. Dark, twisted roots formed the ceiling over their heads, and the floor of the cave was ankle deep with a thick, dark muck. There was an overwhelming stench of rot and mold, and Han had to suppress the urge to gag.
"Okay," Han said, peering around. "Nothing's in here. Let's leave."
"I'm going deeper into the cave," Luke stated.
"Goody," Han muttered, his fingers tightening around his blaster.
With Luke in the lead, both men headed deeper into the gloomy depths of the oppressive cavern. Although Han had no use or abilities for 'the Force' even he could sense an almost menacing, unseen presence lurking in the darkness. It took all of his willpower not to turn around and run to the exit.
Luke stopped walking. "The dark side is strong in this place."
"Yup, I gotta agree that it's dark. Not to mention it's stinky," Han said, trying to keep his tone light. "Dark side means bad, am I right? So why are we trying to find a bad thing?"
"Master Kenobi has been trying to impress on me the importance of confronting evil, and not being afraid of it," Luke replied. "We can't run from the dark side. We have to face it and defeat it."
"What if you can't see what you're suppose to defeat?" It seemed like a good question, considering their current circumstances.
"Show yourself!" Luke shouted, his voice echoing through the cavern. "Or are you too much of a coward?"
"Uh, Luke? Do you think calling it names is such a good idea?"
Luke ignored Han. "I'm waiting! Come out and take us on, you skulker!" A shadow loomed across Luke's field of vision, and he could make out the dark shape of a humanoid several feet away. "So you've decided to come out and play," Luke taunted, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck raise, and a cold chill sweep through his very soul. The shadow being was huge and hulking, and evil roiled from its direction. Luke suddenly wished he hadn't been so hasty in his decision to enter the cave.
"Who are you talking to?" Han whispered to Luke. "I don't see anyone."
"He's right in front of us," Luke replied, pointing at the dark form.
Han squinted harder in the direction where Luke indicated. "Still don't see anything, kid."
The shadow stepped forward, and Luke raised his blade in preparation for defense. "Who are you?"
"I am your father, Luke," an artificial voice rasped.
"Then it's my job to destroy you," Luke responded.
"No. You cannot kill me."
"You are evil," Luke stated. "Everyone has told me this. Do you deny you're a Sith?"
"Who're you talking to, kid?" Han asked worriedly. "Who's evil?"
"I am a Sith," the dark form replied. "I will not deny the truth."
"It's my destiny to kill you," Luke insisted. "Obi-Wan, Yoda, and my mother have told me this."
"Padmé is still my wife," the Dark Lord stated. "When the time comes, she will not wish to have me killed. She knows the same as I know."
"Knows? Knows what?"
"That my children will rule the galaxy. That is your true destiny, Luke. You will become the next Emperor."
"That's a lie," Luke said hotly. "I'll prove it to you!" Rushing forward, Luke clashed his lightsaber with Darth Vader's blade. For a few minutes, they battled, the humming blades throbbing and skittering against each other. Then Vader's lightsaber flew up, and away from his grasp. Luke stood his ground, pointing the tip of his saber against Vader's chestplate as the Sith dropped to his knees before him.
"Kill me, my son."
Shaking, Luke tried to force his weapon forward, yet found he was unable to complete the movement. "I … I can't do it."
"Luke?" Han's voice broke into Luke's reverie as he shook the young man's shoulder. "What can't you do?"
Luke blinked at Han, and when he turned back, the Dark Lord was no longer kneeling before him. Darth Vader had simply vanished. "He was here, Han."
"Darth Vader. My father. I was fighting him, and I won. But I couldn't finish him off. I couldn't kill him."
"I didn't see him," Han said, sounding doubtful. "All I saw was you talking to yourself and slicing at these tree roots like a man possessed."
Luke tentatively touched the blackened tree roots, still smoking from the contact with his lightsaber. "We should go back now."
"Best idea I've heard all day," Han said, relieved.
As they turned and walked back to the cave's entrance, Luke was unable to shake the feeling he had seen into the future, and that he wouldn't be able to alter the ending when it truly came to pass.
Two weeks later…
It was late at night, and Padmé felt restless, and unable to sleep. Rising from her berth from inside the relative comfort of the Millennium Falcon, she checked Leia's bunk and was alarmed to see that her daughter was missing. Quietly, Padmé slipped past the main hold which held two cots and their sleeping occupants - Obi-Wan and Luke - and headed outside. She looked to her right, focusing briefly on the small hut that Yoda called his home. She could see a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney, and started to move in that direction. It was only then Padmé noticed Leia, sitting alone beside the flickering campfire, poking at the dying embers with a small stick.
Padmé walked up to her pensive daughter. "What's the matter? Can't you sleep?"
"I keep having dreams," Leia whispered in reply. "No, not dreams. Nightmares."
The former queen felt her flesh crawl as she remembered the nightmares Anakin had, right before his fall to the dark side. "May I ask what kind of nightmares you're having?"
Leia looked up at her mother, her eyes dark and haunted. "I'm being held prisoner on some monstrous black ship. I can see Alderaan through the viewport, and stormtroopers are holding me, taunting me. Then this terrible, gaunt face appears, blocking out my view of my planet. The flesh falls away from the face, revealing a skull. The skull starts laughing, and laughing.. and then it explodes." Leia shuddered. "But then … then I realize it wasn't the skull that exploded - it was Alderaan. All my family, friends, everyone I know and love … is dead."
"That truly is a nightmare," Padmé agreed, placing her hand on Leia's shoulder for comfort. "Are you certain it's just a horrible dream?"
"What do you mean?"
"I've been told that when Jedi dream, often it's a vision. Perhaps you are seeing the future."
Leia leapt to her feet. "That's a terrible thing to say!"
"I'm sorry," Padmé quickly said. "But if the Force is providing us with a warning, we shouldn't ignore what it's telling us, either. We've wasted too much time here. I'm certain the battle station that Palpatine calls the 'Death Star' is nearly complete."
"Wasted, time has not been," Yoda said, startling both women. "Jedi, the Skywalker offspring must become to have any hope of prevailing against the Sith."
"It's time we leave for Myrkr," Padmé stated with conviction.
"Not ready, are they."
"If we wait, Alderaan may be the first on the list to be destroyed," Padmé argued. "We can't ignore Leia's vision."
"Always in motion is the future."
"What's going on?" Luke spoke loudly from the interior of the ship. With Obi-Wan and both droids following him down the ramp, Luke rushed over. "Is there a problem?"
"Leia's had a vision of Alderaan being blown up," Padmé replied, her frustration evident. "And Yoda thinks we should simply ignore it, and remain here."
"That seems like a fine idea," Threepio said, as Artoo gave a worried beep. "I have found that oftentimes a problem ignored is a problem avoided."
"Not all dreams are visions," Obi-Wan told Leia.
"But I've been having this same dream, over and over," Leia said. "It's not like any dream I've ever experienced before, and every time I have it, it's more real." She looked at Padmé. "I couldn't live with myself if I shrugged it off, and the nightmare turned out true."
"It's settled, then," Padmé said with a firm nod. "We're leaving for Myrkr in the morning."
Luke and Obi-Wan exchanged wary looks, while Yoda shook his head in dismay. "Much risk, this path holds. Fraught with peril is your decision."
"Will you come with us, Master Yoda?" Leia implored the ancient Jedi.
Yoda's expression became downcast. "Time I have is short. Help you, I must, so come with I shall."
"Thank you," Padmé said, while Yoda merely looked off into the distance without responding.
"Hey!" Solo yelled from the top of the ramp. "Are you guys having a party? Why wasn't I invited?" He hurried down the ramp, and over to the group, looking around. "Where's the booze, Goldenrod? What kind of party is this if it doesn't have alcohol?"
"I'm afraid I was unaware that this assembly constituted a party, Captain Solo," Threepio replied, sounding confused. "And I am also unaware of how to obtain alcoholic beverages on this planet."
"Quit teasing Threepio, Solo," Leia said, exasperated. "We've decided to leave for Myrkr in the morning."
Han let loose with a loud, Corellian war whoop, and whisked Leia off her feet, spinning her around in a big circle before setting her back on the ground. "That sounds like a damn good reason to party if you ask me, Princess!" He ran a few steps back to his ship, before pausing and turning back to say to the group, "I've got some Whyren's Reserve stashed away. I'll be right back." Then he ran up the boarding ramp, and disappeared into the corridor.
"That man's simply impossible," Leia stated, trying to sound put out, and not quite pulling it off. The sensation of being held in his arms had made her blush, but it had felt unexpectedly good. Leia was glad it was dark enough to conceal her emotions from everyone.
Unknown to Leia, Padmé was far more observant of her daughter's pleased reaction than even the Force-sensitive Jedi that surrounded her. And from what she could tell, her ruse of being Solo's lover was failing to prevent her daughter's attraction to the Corellian from growing. Padmé wasn't pleased.
A group of smugglers-turned-rebels watched from the platform as the battered freighter set down in the center of Talon Karrde's smaller, secondary base of operations, located in the plains of Myrkr.
"I still can't get over Karrde deciding to become a Rebel," Han groused. "He was always quick to claim you can't get ahead in life by choosing sides."
"He was the first to have knowledge about the construction of the Death Star," Padmé explained patiently. "What it will be capable of doing was overwhelming enough to change the mind of even the most pragmatic of men."
Inside the ship, Obi-Wan peered out the cockpit window, trying not to seem nervous. "I can still sense the Force," he said, sounding relieved.
"I sent a message to Karrde when we left Dagobah, asking him to clear away all the ysalamiri around this base," Padmé told the Jedi Master. "The forests are where the ysalamiri live in high concentrations, and that's where Talon has his main base. This particular base was created recently, and only for this mission. Talon's very good at using the creatures to mask his main base, and the rebels can transport a single creature to hide themselves from Force-sensitives, as well."
"Normally, this information wouldn't make me happy at all," Obi-Wan admitted. "But I do see the value of using the ysalamiri to defeat Vader and Palpatine."
"I wish Yoda would be as open-minded as you are, Obi-Wan," Padmé said, unfastening her seatbelt.
Yoda's voice spoke from the doorway of the cockpit. "Fall out a brain can, when too open-minded a being becomes."
Padmé rose from her seat. "You still don't think my plan will succeed?"
"Fail it cannot, for all hope then is lost."
Everyone was silent, allowing those words to sink in. After a moment, Han stood. "On that cheery note, let's go meet your Rebel friends, sweetheart."
Padmé led the group down the ramp, embracing Talon warmly. "Hello, Talon."
"Welcome back, Padmé," Talon replied, returning her hug. "We were getting worried about you."
"The first part of my mission was a success beyond my wildest hopes," she said, waving for the rest to come forward. "Not only have I brought back my children, Luke and Leia, I've also managed to bring a couple of Jedi Masters back, as well."
"Welcome to my base," Talon told them, bowing formally.
A deep voice boomed out from the group, "Master Kenobi? Master Yoda?"
Obi-Wan smiled as the man pushed forward. "Senator Bel Iblis. It's a pleasure to meet you again."
"I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances." Garm Bel Iblis turned to regard Princess Leia. "Thank you for coming, Princess Leia."
"After hearing my mother's story, I could do nothing less," Leia responded, taking his hand.
"Your base is really impressive," Luke added, gazing around in awe at the buildings and the many rows of sleek, one-man fighter ships.
"Thank you, son," Garm Bel Iblis replied as he shook Luke's hand. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. Bel Iblis turned to face Han Solo, and said to the smuggler, "I see my faith in you was not misplaced, Captain Solo."
Talon grinned at the embarrassed Corellian. "We highly recommended you to Padmé, Solo."
"Yeah? A recommendation to poke me in the back with a blaster and pirate my ship?" Han grumbled. "I oughta pound you into the dirt for getting me involved in this, Karrde."
"You'd probably better think twice before attacking me," Talon replied, amused. "I have a bodyguard that you wouldn't want to tangle with."
"Really?" Han asked, smirking. "I'm not afraid of anyone."
"Han?" Padmé questioned. "It wasn't just Talon and Garm that spoke highly of your character. It was someone else, too."
"Who would that be?"
"He's Talon's bodyguard, actually, and one of my most trusted friends."
"I don't know Talon's bodyguard," Han declared firmly.
"You sure about that?" Talon asked, stroking his mustache thoughtfully.
"Positi- " Han started to say, when a second later, he was attacked by a large, powerful beast covered with russet-colored fur.
If he had been able, Han would have grabbed his blaster to defend himself. Fortunately for his 'attacker', the Corellian's arms were pinned tightly to his sides, and he was only able to give a muffled cry of surprised mixed with a good dose of fear. It took his brain several long seconds before he realized that he wasn't being attacked at all. "Wookiee…bacca?" he mumbled incoherently as his face was pressed against the fuzzy chest.
Talon gave a hearty laugh. "Partially correct, Solo. Let him go, Chewie. The man can't breathe."
The strong arms released him so quickly that Han nearly fell backwards. *I knew one day we'd meet again, Lieutenant Solo.*
Padmé stepped forward. "Chewbacca! I'm so glad to see you."
*And I am glad to see that you are well, Senator Amidala,* Chewie responded. *Did Solo and his ship serve your needs?*
It was only then that Yoda moved into view. "Long time since our last meeting, my good friend."
Chewie knelt down, and gave the old Jedi a careful hug.
"Wait a kriffing second," Han protested, shocked. "You two know each other?"
*Many years ago, during the Clone Wars, we aided each other during battle,* Chewie replied.
Head swimming with this information, Han turned to Padmé. "And how did you meet Chewbacca?"
"Chewbacca told me how you rescued him from his Imperial captors, and then refused to accept his life-debt. So, unable to locate you after you took off, he decided to join the Rebellion," Padmé answered. "We became friends at that point."
"You rescued Chewbacca from the Imperials? That must have been something to see," Luke said.
"Ah, it was nothing," Han said, uncomfortable with the praise.
"It hardly sounds like 'nothing,'" Obi-Wan said.
"I wasn't aware that a Wookiee life-debt was considered negotiable," Leia added.
Chewie let loose with a loud, accusing roar, and stared pointedly at Han.
"It's not," Han admitted reluctantly. "I just, um, … left him behind in a spaceport. I figured he was better off without hanging around an unemployed ex-Imp with a criminal record."
"You're an Imperial?" Leia asked, shocked.
"Was. Formerly," Han corrected quickly, not wanting Leia to get the wrong impression. "I got kicked out of the Navy when I freed a group of abused Wookiees, and prevented my Commanding Officer from shooting Chewbacca in the process. That sorta thing ticks off the Higher-ups for some odd reason, so it was pretty much the end of my career after that."
"There's apparently more to you than meets the eye, Flyboy," Leia said, mulling over this latest revelation about the mysterious past of Han Solo.
"Many current smugglers and rebels are ex-Imperials," Bel Iblis pointed out. "Those that once served in the Empire and left because they have a conscience count among the strongest revolutionaries."
Han shook his head at Bel Iblis's statement. "I ain't in this for your revolution. I'm only in this for the money."
"Don't you think it's time you give up the mercenary act, Han?" Luke asked, noting his sister's grimace. Luke couldn't figure out why, if Han truly liked Leia, he continually sabotaged his chances with her. "We've got you figured out. The question is - when are you going to finally figure yourself out?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Padmé sighed at the stubborn Corellian's words, and turned to look up at Chewie. "Did you manage to purchase what we need?"
Chewbacca nodded. *It was costly, but your contacts came through.*
"What did Chewbacca say?" Leia asked.
"I had undercover operatives locate a dissident Imperial engineer, and Chewie purchased the blueprints for the Death Star from this man," Padmé explained. "I'm hoping that the plans reveal a flaw, and we can figure out a way to destroy the Battle Station before it's completed."
"My engineers are studying the plans as we speak," Bel Iblis told the group.
"In the meantime, have you set up the ysalamiri containment cages?" Padmé asked.
"Everything is set, and ready to go," Talon said.
"May I ask what these cages look like? How they work?" Obi-Wan questioned.
Talon Karrde grinned. "I can do better than that. I'll show them to you."
Garm Bel Iblis remained at the base with Han and Chewie, while Talon Karrde escorted both of the Jedi, Luke, Leia and Padmé to a transport. They left the base, and after several klicks, stopped next to a small block building. It appeared to be partially camouflaged, as it was covered with vines. Talon pressed a code into the entry-panel, and when the door opened, inside was a lift.
The lift lowered them several hundred feet, and upon exiting the lift, Yoda paused. "Weaker becomes the Force in this place."
"I've sensed the diminishment as well, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan agreed. "But it's not completely gone at this point."
"We don't want Vader or Palpatine to know it's a trap until it's too late," Padmé told the group as they moved into a large, empty room, which was nearly fifty feet across, and almost as high. "This is the room that I'll be waiting in, after Ani, um, Vader has been contacted and is told where I'm hiding."
"He'll come in here to find you," Obi-Wan surmised, craning his neck to look at the high ceiling, and noticed the edges of the ceiling around the center of the room, an area of about twenty feet square, appeared to be ridged and indented, as opposed to the flat, dura-steel walls. The floor also had this same impression, directly below the indented area in the ceiling. "Won't he suspect a trap, considering he's being told to come to Myrkr?"
"I'm sure he will," Padmé agreed. "I'm counting on his emotions overruling his reservations."
Obi-Wan nodded his agreement. "Then what?"
"Then… this," Talon replied, pressing a button on a wrist control unit hidden under his sleeve.
The grooved edges at the top quickly parted, and with astounding speed, bars dropped from the top, and simultaneously shot up from the floor, meeting in the center and forming one solid bar.
Talon waved his hands to indicate the cage around the room. "The inner bars coming up from the floor are a special, extra strong dura-steel, and the outer section of the bars from the ceiling –which are actually more like a tube - are coated with a special compound, made out a mixture of phrik and cortosis, two of the most expensive metals in the galaxy. Even using a laser torch, it would take hours to cut through them."
"What's phrik and cortosis?" Luke questioned.
"Rare minerals that are highly resistant to lightsabers," Talon stated. "It was extremely difficult to find enough, but I believe the cost will be worth it, in the end."
"Can't Vader just use the Force to pry the bars apart, anyway?" Leia asked worriedly.
"This is where the second piece of magic enters the picture," Talon stated. He pressed a second button, and the outer walls opened, revealing cages containing odd-looking creatures.
And just that fast, the Force inside the room completely vanished for the four Force-sensitive beings.
"Those are ysalamiri, which negates Vader's ability to use the Force. Combine those with the cage's ability to short out his lightsaber, and we'll have ourselves one powerless Sith Lord."
"I'm not certain I like this sensation," Obi-Wan admitted, looking down worriedly at Yoda, who was swaying on his feet, with his eyes tightly shut. "Are you alright, Master Yoda?"
"Crushing, is this feeling," Yoda murmured. "Unnatural it is."
"Shut the cage doors," Padmé ordered Talon. "We don't want to harm Master Yoda."
"Of course," Talon agreed. He pressed several different buttons on the control bracelet, and the bars pulled back into the ceiling and floor, and the doors to the ysalamiri cages shut.
Yoda breathed a sigh of relief as the Force, albeit still weak, returned.
"Once we have him trapped, what happens next?" Luke asked.
"Then you, Leia and Padmé leave this room," Talon stated firmly. "Even without the Force, his cybernetic limbs give him great strength. My men will take care of what needs to be done, and they will do it quickly, before he has a chance to escape the cage."
Luke frowned at Talon's words. "You intend to kill him in cold blood? Can't we just keep him as our prisoner?"
"What would be the point of that?" Leia shot back. "Look at how many beings he's killed in cold blood! He's not worthy of our mercy."
"What do you know of his worthiness?" Padmé admonished her daughter, surprising everyone in the room. "There may still be a chance!"
"A chance, Padmé?" Obi-Wan asked quietly. "For what?"
"To convince him that he's been manipulated by Palpatine!"
"Far too late, that is," Yoda stated firmly. "Once the dark side path he traveled, forever it dominated his destiny."
"Without the dark side blinding him, his own reasoning and goodness might return," Padmé said stubbornly. "You can't know for certain that it won't."
"You never mentioned wanting to rehabilitate Vader back on Alderaan," Leia informed Padmé, feeling betrayed by her mother's apparent deception. "I don't believe it's even possible."
"We need to give him that chance," Luke argued.
"Mistakes, we are multiplying. One following another," Yoda insisted.
"May I ask you a question, Padmé?" Obi-Wan asked the former Naboo queen.
"Of course," she responded.
"Why did you need Luke or Leia to enact this plan at all? Wouldn't Vader have come to Myrkr if he knew you were waiting for him?"
Padmé looked at the floor, clenching her fist. "No, Obi-Wan, he wouldn't…he didn't come." She forced herself to look at the Jedi. "I've already tried to lure him to Myrkr by sending him a message I was alive and waiting for him. He… he sent a message back, stating that even if it were true, I'm still dead to him." She seemed crushed at this admission, and her shoulders sagged under the heavy weight that Anakin no longer cared whether she lived or died.
"Love, a Sith cannot feel," Yoda said sadly. "Proof this is that Vader is beyond redemption."
"He'd love his children," Padmé argued passionately. "That's why I know he'll come this time."
"You're only using us as bait," Leia stated, her face flushing with anger.
"He'll come because he loves you," Padmé insisted, then looked down at Yoda. "And that will be proof that he still can be redeemed."
"Come he will," Yoda agreed. "But not for love. Attempt to turn his younglings to the dark side, he will."
Padmé turned her imploring eyes at Obi-Wan. "Whose side are you taking? Mine and Luke's? Or Leia's and Yoda's? What if I'm right? Can you live with yourself, knowing you didn't even try?"
"We tried on Mustafar," Obi-Wan replied. "That got us nowhere, and he's been submerged in the dark side far longer, now."
"Luke and Leia weren't around, then," Padmé told him, nearly begging the Jedi Master to see her viewpoint. "It will be different this time. One more chance, Obi-Wan. That's all I'm asking."
Obi-Wan sighed, feeling much older than his years. "One more chance."
Padmé threw her arms around Obi-Wan. "Thank you."
"Thank him you should not," Yoda stated. "Greater danger are we now in."
After Garm Bel Iblis had given Han a brief tour of the small base, he escorted him into a comfortable lounge area, telling him he should wait there for the others to return. Then he left Han and Chewbacca alone while he returned to his duties.
Han flung his legs up on a sofa, and crossed his arms. "So, Chewbacca, are you gonna explain to me why you told Padmé all those things about me?"
*I told her the truth,* the Wookiee replied, taking the chair across from the Corellian.
"You told her things I never wanted you to repeat!" Han shot back accusingly. "The night I told you about my childhood was the night I got thrown out of the Navy, found the closest bar and got drunk. When I spilled my guts to you about that, it was the booze talking."
*I do recall that you spilled something from your guts that evening,* Chewie concurred.
"Very funny," Han grumbled. "That's why I left you behind. I knew I couldn't trust you."
The Wookiee stood up, and gave a loud roar of disagreement. *Are you implying I am not honorable?* He leaned closer to Han, showing his fangs for emphasis.
Han's eyes widened. "No… I didn't say that."
*Yes, you did!* Chewie responded, pointing a sharp claw in Han's face. *You are the one that showed no honor by leaving me at that spaceport!*
"You'd already been tagging after me for three weeks! I didn't want you to feel obligated to follow me around the rest of my life," Han argued. "I could've used a co-pilot, but not a bodyguard. I'm a big boy, Chewie, and you don't owe me anything."
*You were afraid.*
"Me?" Han shook his head. "I ain't afraid of anything."
*You were afraid,* Chewie repeated firmly. *You did not want someone around you that cared about your welfare, and you did not wish to become a close enough friend to care about me, either.*
Han looked out of the window, across the rolling green hillside. "Friends of mine end up dying."
*Death is a part of life,* Chewie said quietly. *You will not be able to avoid caring for the remainder of your life, Han."
For some reason, that comment caused Han's thoughts to drift to the Princess, and he knew it was already too late for him to avoid becoming emotionally entangled. Somehow, Leia had slipped past his defenses, and he'd fallen for her – hard - even though it didn't appear she felt the same way about him, or was even aware of his feelings. And by this time, even the kid and Padmé had started to matter to him. "I only care about one person – me." Those words sounded empty and hollow to his own ears.
*You are only lying to yourself,* Chewie said. *I will fulfill my Lifedebt to you, Han Solo. My Honor depends on it, and it seems to me that your Soul depends on it, as well.*
"I've made a promise to Prince Organa to take care of Padmé and Leia," Han told the Wookiee. "I intend to keep that promise."
*Because of the money, or because you care about them?*
"Uh, the money? Yeah, that's the reason."
Chewie let loose with another loud roar, this time of laughter.
Padmé could tell Leia was furious with her, since Leia had given her the silent treatment on the ride back to the base. The older woman took her daughter by her arm and pulled her aside while Talon led the others into the building. "Leia, we need to talk."
"There's nothing to say," Leia returned tightly. "Obviously, you've done nothing but lie to me since Alderaan."
"That's not entirely true," Padmé said, cringing at how close to the mark Leia's observation was. "I do need your help." When Leia only looked away, Padmé tried again. "The Rebellion needs your help. The Death Star is all too real."
"I know that," Leia snapped, turning her face briefly to glance at Padmé before once again turning away. "Why do you think I'm staying? It's certainly not on your behalf."
Padmé flinched. "I didn't know when I brought you here that … that I'd want to attempt to redeem Va… Anakin."
"It's Darth Vader."
"He was a good man, once."
"And now he's a murderer," Leia shot back. "Master Yoda is right. If he comes to Myrkr, it will only be to try and recruit Luke or myself as his obedient and evil disciple. Or perhaps kill us as a threat to his power."
"He'd never try to kill you!"
"Just like he never tried to kill you?"
"Luke thinks we should try," Padmé said, desperate to reach her daughter.
"Luke's too kind-hearted and naïve for his own good."
"You could try to be a little less harsh and judgmental, Leia," Padmé said. "It's unbecoming."
Leia took a deep breath to calm herself. "Really? And it's 'becoming' to have an affair with a smuggler fifteen years your junior?"
"I… I'm not having an affair with Han."
"No kidding," Leia said, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "Don't you think I figured that out before we even arrived on Dagobah? I'm not stupid, Padmé." She turned her body this time to look her mother directly in the eye. "It was yet another lie you told me. Why?"
Padmé felt herself near tears. "I didn't want to see you get hurt."
"Let me get this straight," Leia said, her lips forming a thin line. "It's acceptable for you to drag me and Luke into a situation – based on lies – where we might end up dead, but you want to protect me from possibly getting my heart broken? I'm an adult, Padmé. I can handle myself with Han Solo, or any other man that has an interest in me as a woman. Even my overwrought and hypersensitive aunts would allow me to make my own decisions in this regard."
"I apologize," Padmé whispered, heartbroken, yet knowing Leia was correct. "It was a horrible thing I did."
"Yes, it was."
"Han's basically a good man, Leia. I think he truly likes you."
"And I might like him," Leia said, her anger lifting a bit. "If he'd stop whining about wanting credits all the time."
"Money doesn't mean much, unless you don't have any."
The corner of Leia's lips turned up into a slight smile. "Are you taking his side?"
"I'm just pointing out there are two sides to every issue."
"Are we talking about Han, or Vader?"
"Perhaps both," Padmé said softly. Leia shook her head, and started to head toward the building when Padmé called to her, "Where are you going?"
The Princess turned back to face Padmé, amusement written across her face. "I'm going to find Han, and ask him what means more to him – me, or money. Then, depending on the answer, I'm either going to kiss him or kill him."
Then Leia left her mother standing alone, and Padmé found herself hoping that Captain Han Solo wouldn't be stupid enough to make the wrong choice.
Onboard the Falcon
Han was on his knees, the front of his torso was wedged under a bunk, while his backside was sticking up in the air. "I'm telling ya, Chewie," Han's muffled voice could be heard coming from under the bed, "there isn't a field-mouse under here. How can you be scared of a mouse, anyway? If you want a bunk on this ship, this is the only one available."
"He can always take your cabin," a feminine voice said. "Nice view, by the way."
The startled Corellian hurriedly pushed himself out from under the bed, and jumped to his feet upon seeing Leia standing behind him, leaning against the doorframe. Her right hand was holding a lightsaber, and in her left hand she was casually flipping a gold credit chip. "Err.. where's Chewie?"
"I saw him hurrying out of the ship as I was coming on," Leia said. "Maybe he was looking for a mouse-trap."
"Why, um, are you here?"
"I've come to ask you a question."
Han felt confused and suspicious. "Yeah? What?"
"You told Luke that you weren't having an affair with Padmé. You told Obi-Wan that you weren't having an affair with Padmé. When were you planning on telling me?"
"Would you have believed me?"
"Of course," Leia said somberly. "Why would an intelligent woman, with a royal pedigree no less, want to be seen with a scruffy looking nerfherder?"
"Hey!" Han protested. "Who's scuffy looking? I'll have you know that I've got some good points."
"I must admit that I noticed those points when you were bent over. So I suppose that answers my own question of why an intelligent woman would want to be seen with you." Leia stepped forward, moving closer to Han, and deliberately dropped the gold credit, noticing that he kept his eyes focused on her instead of watching where the credit rolled. "You just passed my test, Flyboy."
She reached up, and pulled his head down to hers. Just before she kissed him, Leia replied, "This test."
Luke watched with his family, Han and the Jedi as the small, two-man transport left the base, and headed toward Corusant with its cargo. "Are you certain that was a good idea?"
His mother nodded affirmatively. "I tried sending a holo-transmission last time. He could have thought it was merely a Rebel trap, and the woman in the holo was an imposter."
"Technically, this is a Rebel trap," Obi-Wan pointed out to the former Naboo senator.
Padmé refused to dwell on the truth of the Jedi's statement. "This idea will work."
"Threepio isn't exactly the bravest droid in the galaxy," Leia said. She put her arm around Han's waist in a gesture of affection, and waited for her mother's reaction. Padmé immediately noticed, but made no comment.
"I gotta agree with the kid," Han added, looping his own arm over Leia's shoulders. "If anyone can mess things up, it'll be Goldenrod."
"Artoo is with him," Padmé stated. "He won't fail."
"Still, sneaking into the Imperial Palace, locating Vader and handing him the disk in person? You might be expecting too much."
"Poor Threepio," Leia said with a sigh. "He was so unhappy about doing this."
"Can you blame him?" Han asked with a short laugh. "Vader will probably dismantle him on the spot."
"No, he won't do that," Padmé replied. "He's the one that built Threepio."
"I can believe it," Han said. "Only someone devious and downright mean could've built a droid that annoying."
Luke and Leia were completely astonished. "Are you serious?" Luke managed to stutter. "He actually built Threepio?"
"And from only a collection of spare parts," Obi-Wan answered. "He was quite the boy prodigy. Anakin was also very fond of that astromech, Artoo."
"I've had Vader's droids as my personal assistants since childhood?" Leia asked with a stunned gasp.
"Calm down," Obi-Wan told the twins. "Anakin built C-3PO when he was a child, long before the dark side claimed him. There is nothing nefarious about C-3PO, and his memory chips were wiped of this knowledge shortly after you were born."
"Scan the little droid, he might," Yoda warned. "Find information that reveals this plan, he could."
"Neither Artoo nor Threepio has any details concerning this mission in their memory banks," Padmé insisted. "It's perfectly safe sending them, and once Anakin sees them, he'll know it's truly me that's sending the messages. He'll come this time, I'm certain."
Coruscant, several days later
The two droids headed closer to the looming Imperial Palace. "I know droids are considered expendable," Threepio whined to his companion, "but wouldn't you think our years of loyalty would have earned us something besides being sent to our doom?"
Artoo gave a toodle, and continued to roll along.
"You think this is exciting?" Threepio asked, sounding incredulous. "For all the circuits inside of me, I will never understand you. In the first place, we will never be able to get inside the Palace. Even if we attempt this folly, we are certain to be disintegrated by some trigger-happy stormtrooper. Why, they are even faster to blast without first asking questions than Captain Solo!"
"A plan? You have a plan?" Threepio questioned. "Whatever this plan is, I am positive it will not work."
"Well, no," Threepio said, sounding put out. "I have not considered how to get inside. Besides, I suppose it doesn't matter if we have a plan, or not. Either way, we are doomed."
If Artoo had the means to do so, he would have clobbered the protocol droid on top of his golden dome. Instead, he led the woebegone Threepio toward the 'service entrance', located far from the grand entryway that the various dignitaries and parasitic lackeys of Palpatine entered and exited on a daily basis. The little droid rolled to a stop, and gave a soft whistle.
Threepio leaned down to listen. "You want me to distract the guard? That will be rather dangerous! What, exactly, will you be doing while I risk my precious limbs?"
"Ah, plugging into a circuit control panel, and entering an order to allow us inside. I see." Threepio considered the plan. "What if I can't distract the guard long enough?"
"Fine, then," Threepio said, huffily. "I am well aware you are fast. But what if the guard -."
Artoo gave a loud, disgusted raspberry noise, and rolled away from the protocol droid before Threepio finished his sentence.
"How rude!" Threepio cried out, hurrying after Artoo. "I was just trying to help us plan for any unexpected contingencies."
The service entrance came into view much faster than Threepio desired, but he gamely marched forward, waving his arms to attract the stormtrooper's attention while Artoo, using the shadows as cover, moved closer to the guardhouse. The little droid waited until the stormtrooper noticed Threepio and headed off, then quickly rolled next to the terminal and extended his 'arm' to plug himself into the control panel.
"Hello, good sir!" Threepio shouted unnecessarily loud. "Is this the correct entrance?"
"The correct entrance for what?" the trooper asked, annoyed at the interruption. A good smashball game was currently playing on the holo-vid, and he was missing the final few minutes.
"Well, uh, the correct entrance for protocol droids," Threepio replied lamely, not having thought this conversation through beyond waving his arms.
"Where are you from?"
"Aldfranistan? Never heard of it. Where's it located?"
"No, just plain old Franistan," Threepio corrected. "Franistan is a planet, a beautiful planet I might add, where droids are treated as well as soft-tissued beings. It's just past Dantooine, and everyone is happy and contented, and war is unheard of."
"Sounds wonderful," the stormtrooper said, bored. "If it's so wonderful, why are you here?"
"Good question," Threepio responded, trying to crane his neck to see if Artoo was done. "It seems that the Emperor is interested in Franistan becoming part of the Empire, and the Maharincess of Franistan has come here to … to inform the Emperor that she's not interested. In joining the Empire, that is."
"Like Palpatine will care about her opinion," the trooper muttered, his mind still back on his smashball game.
"Exactly!" Threepio beamed. "And that's why I am here. I am a protocol droid, and fluent in over twelve million forms of communications - ."
"I don't care."
"No, I am certain you do not, but since the Maharincess of Franistan cannot speak Basic, she requires my assistance to plead her case to Emperor Palpatine. So that's why I am here, you see. To interpret the Maharincess's pleas."
"Why didn't you just go in the front gate with her?"
"Oh, you want an answer," Threepio said, shifting nervously. "She's the Maharincess, and as such, she is required to make her grand entrance alone. Yes, that seems like a good reason. It's tradition on Franistan for the Maharincess to enter negotiations by herself. So we are required to enter in a different door, since we are not royalty."
"Who's this 'we'?"
Artoo had rolled up behind the guard, and gave a loud beep, making the trooper jump. "That's my counterpart, Artoo. He's the Maharincess's pet droid." Artoo let out a low, warning warble, which Threepio ignored. "So, could you please allow us to enter, sir?"
"I'll have to check and see if you've been cleared."
"Good idea!" Threepio said as the trooper headed back to the guardhouse. "You do that, sir! I'm certain you will find everything is in proper order for our clearance." He looked down at Artoo. "Right, Artoo?"
The little droid swiveled his dome, so as not to look at Threepio. "What are you mad about?" Threepio asked, puzzled. "I did exactly as you requested."
He stopped arguing as the guard waved them forward, and the gate rolled open. "You're all clear. Now get inside and go find your Maharincess. My game went into overtime."
The two droids hustled into the Palace walls, and headed toward the back door. "See?" Threepio said smugly. "I told you my plan would work."
The Jedi had always preached that embracing the dark side was easier than the path of the light. Now that he had lived both sides, Darth Vader wasn't too sure that was completely true. Sure, it was always easier to get angry, and embrace the rage that came with anger, than it was to remain calm and forgive stupidity and incompetence. But was the aftermath of rage easier to live with than the inner peace that accompanied charity? The rage ate away like a disease at his insides, causing his heart to race and his blood pressure to skyrocket. Crushing the trachea of a simpering fool and watching the lifeless body fall to the floor only brought the briefest moment of satisfaction. The continual state of fury that Vader lived and breathed was draining. Kneeling at Palpatine's feet, head bowed, infuriated the Sith Lord. Wasn't he the Chosen One? Why was he the one on bended knee? Why didn't the old Sith die, and leave Vader as the rightful Emperor? And why, oh why, did his Master lie to him, and tell him Padmé was dead?
Inside the meditation chamber, Vader shook his head. No, he amended mentally, his Master would not lie to him. Padmé was dead, and that message was only a sick, perverted ruse by the Rebels to entrap him. That was what Palpatine had told Vader, when he had presented the Emperor with the holo-message. Vader had suspected as much, but it had bothered him a great deal that Palpatine had thrown back his head and laughed until his spittle had rained down on Vader's mask. The Emperor had mocked his Second-in-Command, calling him weak and belittling the Rebel woman in the message, calling her 'an ugly shrew' and 'a harlot for the Rebellion.'
But the woman in the holo was far from ugly, and her resemblance to his deceased wife was uncanny. And Vader could not stop thinking about her, and wondering that perhaps it was Padmé. That thought, however, also enraged Vader, since the idea that she would hide from him, and keep his child from him, was abhorrent. His reverie was interrupted by the soft sound of a chime, indicating someone was waiting outside his private quarters. The Dark Lord felt the familiar stirrings of his temper rise, but struggled for control as he lowered the helmet back in place, and opened his meditation chamber. The fool stormtroopers knew better than to interrupt this private time. Whoever caused this intrusion had better hope it was worth paying the ultimate price.
Seething, Vader mentally reached outward, trying to sense who dared disturb a Sith Lord, but he could not sense anyone at the door, even as the offending chime sounded a second time. Using the Force, Vader opened the door from a distance, while keeping one cybernetic hand grasped firmly around the hilt of his lightsaber.
Outside, in the hallway, were two droids. Even though nearly twenty years had passed since he'd last seen them, Darth Vader immediately recognized the astromech and the protocol droids.
"Hello?" the ever-nervous Threepio asked. "May we enter your humble abode, Lord Vader?"
The Sith's first inclination was to crush the internal circuitry of both droids with the Force, then have his technicians pry important information from the memory chips. Instead, he felt torn by the unfamiliar sensation of indecision, and remained silent as he regarded the droids from his distant past. A past where he was young, whole, and in love. Now he couldn't remember what love had felt like, for the dark side only allowed hate to take its place in his heart. Do I have a flesh and blood heart, he wondered, or was it only metal and wires, like my arms and legs?
Threepio shuffled on his feet, and looked down at Artoo. "They didn't tell us he was unable to speak."
"Then why isn't he speaking?" Threepio asked, waving his hand toward the Sith as he shuffled into the room. "Perhaps he has a bad case of laryngitis. Do Sith Lords catch viruses?" He tilted his head, regarding the still-as-a-statue Darth Vader. "I have often wondered why humans refer to becoming ill as 'catching' something. Catching implies they attempted to deliberately become ill, which makes no sense at all."
The Sith finally spoke, "You are just as onerous as when I first assembled you."
Following the protocol droid into the room, Artoo gave an affirmative beep to this comment just as Threepio stumbled to a halt a few feet in front of the Sith Lord. "Ah, so you can vocalize! That is most fortunate, but did I hear you correctly? You claim to have assembled me? I do not recall this event."
"Are you questioning the veracity of my statement?"
Threepio was aware that his words could affect his self-preservation. "Um, no, Sir. I would never doubt anything you said."
"That would be wise. How did you get past security?"
"Using my brilliant plan, Artoo and I were able to sneak past the guard at the outer gate. I am loathe to admit that once inside no one noticed us. Of course, being droids, that is hardly unusual. Humans seem to think we are no more than machines, and if we are noticed at all it is because someone requires our assistance."
"Why are you here?" Vader rumbled.
"We have been sent on this modest, yet incredibly daring if I do say so myself, mission by Mistress Padmé Amidala," Threepio said, turning to address the small droid. "Give the Dark Lord the message, Artoo."
Artoo tilted slightly, and illuminated a holo-projection of the same woman who had sent the previous message a few short months ago.
"Hello again, Ani. I received your reply to my last communication, and I was disappointed in your response, to say the least. I am aware that you must have mixed feelings about the fact that I am alive. By sending C-3PO and R2-D2 to deliver this message perhaps you will realize that I am telling you the truth. And even if you believed it was me last time, and that your reply that you no longer love me is factual, I am hoping that my latest plea will convince you to come to Myrkr."
The elegant woman stepped slightly aside, and two more people entered into view. One was an earnest young man with blond hair and blue eyes, and the other was a somber young woman with dark hair and dark eyes. The ill-at-ease young woman looked strikingly familiar, and Vader strained to remember where he had seen her. The older woman continued, "Allow me to introduce your children, Ani. This is your son, Luke, and your daughter, Leia. As you can see, Leia strongly resembles me, and your son takes after you, before you… when you were younger."
Beneath his mask, Vader grimaced at Padmé's slight misstep. Before I became a monster. That's what you meant to say, isn't it?
"Please, Ani, listen to me. Come to Myrkr, and we can become a family, the family we should have been, before events and people prevented us from doing so. Even if you feel nothing for me, your children are here…waiting to meet you. And even if you feel nothing for me, know that I still deeply care for you."
The transmission from the astromech ended, and Artoo gave a sad warble.
The Sith remained silent, and long minutes went by. Finally Threepio piped up, "We've successfully completed our mission, Artoo, so we should take our leave before we wear out our welcome." He twisted his head to look at Vader. "It was certainly nice meeting you, Sir Vader. I must say that the rumors regarding the evilness of Sith Lords seems overstated, as you have been nothing short of polite to us, even if you have been rather quiet. But then, it has been my experience that most humans are far too verbose, and most of the time add nothing of value to the conversation. Take, for instance, Mistress Padmé's paramour, Captain Solo. Now there is a man that I will never…"
"What did you just say?" Vader roared out, interrupting Threepio's babbling.
"That humans talk too much?"
"No! About Mistress Padmé having a paramour!"
"Oh, yes, that part. Well, that is rather an interesting story, even if it appears on the surface to be a bit risqué," Threepio said, unaware of how close the Sith Lord was to dismembering him with a lightsaber. "Captain Solo and Mistress Padmé both claimed to be involved with one another. Then Captain Solo apparently took an interest in Mistress Leia, and tried to say he and Mistress Padmé were never involved in the first place. Master Luke took that news quite badly, as he struck Captain Solo in the face, and there was an altercation -"
The golden droid flew backwards as if he were struck with incredible force by an invisible hand. He hit the far wall, and left a deep indention as his metal body slid down, his amber eyes dimming before turning dark.
Artoo gave a frightened toodle, and trembled on his wheels as Vader reached down, then removed the holo-disc from its slot. The Sith Lord regarded the tiny disc as he held it between his gloved fingers. I should have gone to her when she contacted me the first time, Vader thought darkly. She would never have taken another man as her lover. Vader stalked past the little droid and left the room, his black cape billowing in his wake.
When it became apparent the Sith was not returning anytime soon, Artoo wheeled over to Threepio who was leaning against the wall, arms and legs akimbo. With his 'arm', Artoo gave his friend a poke. Threepio's body clunked over with a loud crash, and Artoo gave a 'hushing' coo. The little droid rotated his dome back and forth, then extended his claw to grasp Threepio's ankle. With great effort, the little droid tugged his friend out of the room and down the lengthy corridor. It was going to be a long trip back to their ship.