Ari got up from her chair and started pacing. "This is big. This is… major big." She stopped before one of the windows, looking out but not truly seeing anything.
"I've never asked. It just dawned on me… I've been jumping every time you say… but I've never asked." She laughed a quick, half-hearted laugh. "You'd think after my upbringing I'd know better."
She shook her head at her own absent-mindedness and turned away from the window. Eyes closed, she collected her thoughts before turning her eyes towards the ceiling. "Look… God… Big Guy… I know I've made mistakes. I'm human… we make mistakes. Again, again and again do we make mistakes. And… with everything that's happened since I came here… any doubts I had that You're real are long gone."
She sighed and leaned against the window, letting her head fall back. "Look… what I'm trying to say is that… I'm ready. I'm trying to ask You to forgive me for all the boneheaded, liberal-minded, asinine things I've done and said. I'm… I'm asking for salvation." She swallowed. "I'm ready for You to move into my heart and use me as You see fit."
She sighed, feeling at a lost and lowering her head so that she was staring at the floor in front of her feet. "We need Your help. I… I just don't see how we'll get out of this without You. Please… God… tell me what to do."
Perhaps if she had access to a computer she'd have better luck. That's the thought that was going through her head when it started. A strange sensation, half feather-light, half filled with purpose, flooded her. It started somewhere in the area of her heart and suffused her body from there, filling her with an odd sensation of warmth. She closed her eyes, savoring the comfort of it as she inhaled a deep breath. Lifting her head, she opened her eyes. Everything seemed… sharper… clearer.
Aria pushed away from the window and walked towards the door leading out into the hallway. A youngish officer from Vader's ship was waiting outside. He turned in surprise as she exited the room. "Lady Skywalker. If you will come with me I'll…" He trailed off as she walked past him and headed down the hallway. "Lady Skywalker? I am to escort you back to the ship."
"We're not going there just yet." She walked on, the hem of the fine gown provided to her for the dinner brushing the polished floor in rhythm with her steps. The officer gaped at her in surprise before hurrying to catch up with her.
"Lady Skywalker, Lord Vader's wishes were that you return to the ship and rest. I am certain he felt it best considering your condition."
"I do not need to rest, Lieutenant. On the contrary, I am quite well." She walked on, the doors opening for her automatically.
"My Lady… I must insist that you return with me to the ship!" He was starting to feel rather nervous. Lord Vader was known for his volatile temperament.
"I am not returning to the ship." Ari walked on. The young officer reached out to stop her, but try as he may, he could not make his fingers close about her shoulder. He stopped, staring at his hand in confusion.
Aria continued her path, unimpeded. She didn't know Cloud City. Vader's arrival here had not included that she be taken on a tour of the facilities, but she seemed to know where she was going. Her feet made sure, even steps as she went her way through the facility's twisting curves.
As she rounded the last corner, a pair of storm troopers was guarding the door at the end of the hall. They looked at one another in surprise as Aria came into view, and then readied their weapons, standing straight. The higher-ranking trooper made ready to speak out, but found his tongue frozen. Both men were shocked to find themselves unable to move as she continued forward. The door opened before she reached it, allowing her to proceed on without pause.
The room before her was clearly industrial in nature. Pipes reached down from the ceiling and steam came out in random bursts from various places. On a metal outcropping that made a half-circle around some sort of deep well stood Han, Leia and Chewie, all in restraints with Calrissian nearby.
Vader felt it as it grew closer. An overwhelming surge in the light side of the Force. The door to the carbon freezing room opened, his head turning in reflex. He hesitated as he saw Aria enter, her steps even and measured. "Aria, this is no place for you. Return to my ship immediately."
"No." She didn't pause or hesitated in her pace. Vader signaled to the troopers nearest her to take her in hand. He watched as they reached out, but were unable to make themselves make contact with her. Had the Force presence not been suffusing the entire room, he would have doubted their sincerity of effort.
How as this happening? Aria was no Force sensitive, he knew that for certain. And yet the waves of Force energy roaring about them seemed to be coming from her. No, that wasn't entirely true. They were coming both from and into her, like the solar wind of a massive star. The energy was pure. Untainted and very reminiscent of the same energy that had clung to the odd temple where his son and this woman were wed.
Aria finally came to a stop, standing on the lower level of the freezing chamber, looking up where he and the prisoners stood on the gangway. The porcine-faced workers chattered nervously amongst themselves as they backed away from her carefully. "Captain Solo and his companions will be leaving now."
Vader tilted his head in askance. "And how do you imagine that will happen?"
A serene, gentle smile touched his daughter-in-law's face. "I imagine that their restraints will fall off their wrists, they will walk out of this room and return to his ship and that you and your men will be unable to do anything to stop them."
Vader's mask hid any look of surprise his scarred visage might have managed. The expressions on the faces of his captives more than made up for it. He heard the Princess' voice from off to his left. "Aria… I don't think you should push him."
"He cannot harm me, Leia." The mother of his future grandchild made a passing wave of her hand and the sound of the metal restraints falling to the floor followed instantly. "The Falcon restocked and in perfect working order. Including the hyperdrive, Anakin. It is no longer disconnected."
He felt the captives start to move and turned to order his men to stop them. The words would not come out. "You cannot stop them, Anakin. They are leaving." Vader looked back to Aria, then signaled for Boba Fett to fire. The mercenary raised his blaster rifle, but as he went to take aim, the weapon shifted and warped. Both Vader and the Fett stared in shock as his weapon was replaced by a mass of writhing serpents. The mercenary dropped them, letting them fall onto the floor where the twisted amongst one another until they worked free and slithered off in different directions.
Leia paused. "Aria, come on."
Vader leveled his gaze at his daughter-in-law. Something was coursing through him that he had not felt in a very long time. Fear. Pure, unadulterated fear. It occurred to him that Aria still was not a Force user. Something powerful was working this through her. Something more powerful than he and the emperor combined.
Aria shook her head, looking right back at him. "I'm not coming with you, Leia. Vader and I will be traveling to Courascant. I have a message for the Emperor. One that must be delivered in person."
He was aware that Leia lingered on a moment longer, uncertain. Solo sent a plea to Aria that she take care of herself before taking the princess by the wrist and leading her out. Calrissian was leading the way. This didn't surprise Vader overmuch. He had known full well that the city administrator was only going along with his orders out of fear, all the while guilt and a desire to help his old friend gnawing at him. The door closed behind them.
"There will be retribution for this, Aria." Fear was mingling with rage, but it was impotent. Try as he would, Vader could not make himself move. Since Fett and the Storm Troopers were similarly still, he was certain the same held true for them.
"I think you already know that isn't going to happen, Anakin."
"That person no longer exists."
Her smile was gentle, and somewhat sad. "He does, somewhere in there. I have it on good authority that you can still be that person again if you put forth just a little effort and have a bit of faith."
"Faith in what?"
"God." She walked forward until she could come up the ramp and make her way to his side. "Father of all Creation. The Llamarians called Him 'The Devine'. I'm finding that He had more names than I had ever thought possible."
Fear was trying to win out over anger again. "I would have thought you too intelligent to believe in such fantasies. There is no supreme being that controls all."
"Riiiight. And that little church on Llamaria just sprouted up on its own. There's a saying back on my world; Denial isn't just a river in Egypt."
"If your 'God' exists, then why isn't he getting you out of here as well?"
"I already said; I have a message to deliver to the Emperor. One that has to be given in person, and you are going to take me to him. There's no point in our staying here anyway. My husband isn't coming."
"How can you be so certain of that?"
"Because he isn't." Her expression was one of complete certainty. "Now, relax. We're going to be here until Leia and the others are safely away, then you will be released so that we can leave for Courascant."
"I don't know where you found that girl, but she's either crazy or stupid."
Han shot Lando an angry look, but he couldn't disagree. What was Ari thinking? What's more, how did she get them out of there? Leia was seated behind him, hugging herself with her arms, her expression contemplative. "You alright, Princess?"
"Just worried. I know… I know Luke said this Force Being who pops in on Aria is powerful, and I've seen evidence of the relationship… but I can't help but worry. I don't think Vader will hurt her, not while she's pregnant, but she's taking a great risk."
"What's Vader care about the baby?"
Leia's eyes flicked up to Han, then to Calrissian and Chewie before she lowered them again. "Aria… when we were alone together… you heard her call Vader 'Anakin'?"
"Yeah, so? I doubt he was always Lord Vader."
"No… no he wasn't. He used to be Anakin Skywalker. Aria found out that Vader is Luke's father."
Chewie gave a loud roar of disagreement. Lando looked confused while Han looked both stunned and angry. "Now wait just a damn minute! There's no way that Luke is any relation to that thing!"
Leia closed her eyes and shook her head. "I didn't want to believe it either, Han, but Aria's dead sure of it. That's why he's been obsessed with finding him since the Death Star. Ari doesn't think he knew Luke existed until he learned the name of the pilot who blew up the station. She told me that… that Vader's wife was pregnant but died in childbirth. They think the Jedi falsified the death records and listed that her son died with her."
Han looked as though he was going to be sick. Lando finally had the courage to speak up. "So that's why he was trying to use you guys as bait for this Skywalker. He's trying to trap his son? Well, I guess I can see why the kid might avoid him. Not really the ideal father. But he's still got bait to use, with the wife and kid."
Han nodded. "We have to go back for her." Chewie roared in agreement, Leia voiced an objection.
"We can't. Aria said we had to go, she had to stay with Vader and go to the Emperor."
"Oh, that's a good idea. If this Force stuff is for real, do we really want Luke's kid in the hands of Vader and Palpatine? They'll make him into a monster, just like the two of them."
"I don't like this any more than you, Han, but we have to trust Aria in this. She knows what she's doing."
Luke was less than happy. Yoda didn't need the Force to tell him this. It was etched into the lines of his face as the young human sat in the cockpit of a spacecraft that refused to fire up. "You're doing this, aren't you." It was not a question.
"Yes." The Force creature, Gabriel, was perched on the nose of the craft in a position that should have had him sliding off into the muck of the swamp, yet he remained secure.
"You're not going to let my engines start up."
"No, I'm not."
Yoda gnawed on his gimmer stick, watching intently and suppressing his desire to chuckle as his stubborn pupil tried to butt heads with this being that was far more powerful than even a 900 year old Jedi master could hope to be.
"I need to go help my wife and my friends. Vader will hurt them."
"Actually, your friends are safe and sound, speeding away on the Millennium Falcon."
Luke's expression turned hopeful. "They are? And Ari?"
"Still with your father."
"What?!" He struck the instrument panel in frustration. "I need to go to her!"
"She is safe. The Father will not let any harm come to her. She has a message to deliver to the Emperor."
Luke let out a few choice curses that were hardly becoming of a Jedi, but Yoda declined correcting him under the circumstances. The boy needed to learn how to manage his anger. It was good that his wife had enlisted the help of 'The Father' to keep him put.
"We have covered this. She doesn't want to be a martyr or a prophet. She just wants to try and lead a normal life!"
"What people want and what The Father's plan is for them are not always the same. She has stepped up to accept the task set before her, Luke. Can you not do the same? All that He asks of you is that you continue your training, and once that is complete, return to Llamaria."
That gave the young man a pause. "Llamaria? Why do I need to return there?"
"You will know when you get there. When Yoda says you are ready, your X Wing will work again. At that point, return to temple He built for your wedding on Llamaria. It stands still. Not even Vader had the courage to attack it. He recognized the power behind its construction even if his stubbornness refused to acknowledged the divinity of it."
Gabriel smiled to Luke and stood up. Of course, this meant there was a man in a pristine white suit standing on nothing but air several feet above the ground. Yoda was not surprised. "Until you finish your training, however, you are not leaving this planet." The angel tucked his hands in his pockets and started walking away. Luke stared after him, dumbstruck, until the figure faded from sight amongst the vegetation of the swamps.
From his seat on a fallen tree, Yoda cleared his throat. Luke's attention swung back to him and the tiny Jedi spoke up. "Now, concentrate and levitate the rocks."