Luke Skywalker carefully slowed the closed speeder as he joined the mass of traffic on the main street of Liana, the capitol city of Von- Alai. The city reminded him vaguely of the Tatooine town of Anchorhead, though it was far larger. But the dust, the miscellany of pedestrians and beasts of burden mixed with speeders and even the occasional archaic auto-car was quite similar to the town of his youth.
He was very ready to shake the dust of this sad planet off his boots and get out into space. Back to the Alliance Fleet, where he belonged.
Traffic stopped abruptly, and Luke stopped with it. With an irritable sigh, he glanced to the passenger to his right.
Leia Organa was frowning down at a datapad in her hand and it was a full minute before she realized they had stopped moving.
Luke forced himself to be patient. He'd been cooped up piloting this boring speeder for seven hours after a dull couple of days and he just wanted this journey over but Leia was the one who had done the intellectual heavy lifting, and he wouldn't disturb her hovertrain of thought.
She looked up now as if sensing his thoughts, and a startled look crossed her face, "What's wrong?"
"Traffic jam," Luke returned gloomily.
"Sorry," she replied absently, then her eyes narrowed. "I was just finishing an assessment on food needs for the sentients of the Chaor region. It has been a couple of decades since the Kontag factories were shut down, but they did so much damage that the ecosystems still haven't recovered. There is actual hunger here ..."
"I know," Luke agreed quietly. It was another reason that Von-Alai hit too close to home; hunger was a common occurrence on Tatooine as well.
The princess nodded, "I know you do. You saw this as a child and I didn't. Alderaan was a wealthy planet with plenty of food until ... up until it wasn't a planet at all."
Luke reached out and gently touched her arm. She had trouble talking about Alderaan, and whenever she did he was careful to acknowledge her words.
Traffic sped up again and Luke turned his attention back to driving the speeder. A few turns off the main road led them to a nondescript, gray building with few windows. He pulled into a rather grimy alley, glanced around carefully, then unlocked and opened the doors.
"I appreciate your help during the negotiations," Leia said as they exited the speeder and turned toward the building.
Luke shook his head, "I really didn't do anything."
"Luke," she stated firmly, "part of any war is making the right impression. I know you'd far rather be taking on a Star Destroyer with your X-wing regardless of the suicidal nature of such a raid. But I assure you that being at my side during these negotiations was critical. You destroyed the Death Star. You are our holoposter boy. The delegation specifically requested you. You were a big help."
Luke made a rasping groan of dismay, and she grinned, "Sorry, it's just the way it is."
"I guess," he replied in a petulant tone. He really would rather take on a Star Destroyer than stand around looking 'impressive.'
Leia winked at him and opened the door. They had obviously been expected because the Rebel guard inside nodded politely and gestured them toward a large room to the left of the door. Inside were two of Luke's favorite people.
"Hey Kid," the tall, rangy Corellian replied, rising to his feet and coming over to slap the youth on the back. "Good to see you made it back. How'd the negotiations go?"
"Good, I guess," Skywalker replied in a disgruntled tone, "Boring though. Really really boring. I can't wait to get back to Rogue Squadron."
Han arched an eyebrow at the princess, who said tartly, "The talks were highly successful, Han. But I agree with Luke that the sooner we leave Von-Alai, the better. "
Chewbacca howled now, mournfully, even as Han shook his head slightly, "Well, there is a slight problem with that."
"More than slight," a man stated, rising from his dilapidated seat in the corner, "the entire planet of Von Alai has been locked down for quarantine as of two hours ago."
Leia and Luke gazed at one another in shock.
"What?" Luke demanded.
"Quarantine lock down," the man replied, "I'm Commander Kan, by the way. It's an honor to have you here, but regrettably you may have to stay for a while. There has been an outbreak of Blue Shadow Virus, the airborne version, in the city of Thafos, about 500 km from here."
Leia gasped and paled, even as Luke frowned, "What's the Blue Shadow Virus?"
"Horrible disease, Kid," Han stated gloomily, "especially in its airborne, weaponized form. There is like a 95% death rate for humans and near humans without the antidote, and the antidote is hard to come by."
Leia took a deep breath, then said practically, "But we weren't anywhere near Thafos, Commander."
"I know," Kan said reassuringly, "and all cases were discovered there. Still, the Imperial governor has ordered a total quarantine lockdown of the planet until the situation stabilizes. And while I rarely agree with the Empire, they are right on this one. If Blue Shadow escapes Von-Alai, millions could die."
Luke shot a horrified look around the room, "Did anyone here ... Han, were you anywhere near Thafos?"
"'Course not, Luke," the man replied reproachfully. "Don't you remember that horrible knocking sound in the main engine as we landed? Chewie and I have been overhauling the ship the last few days. She's practically brand new."
Leia looked skeptical, but focused on the problem at hand, "Do you think we can get off planet surreptitiously? I mean, we're sure we're not sick, right?"
Kan shook his head firmly, "No, Princess, for two reasons. First, we should wait at least four days because that's the incubation period for Blue Shadow. I don't think we were exposed, but if we were – if we were – and you made it back to the Alliance, it would be catastrophic to the Fleet."
Luke nodded unhappily, "That makes sense, Commander. What's the second reason?"
"The second reason is more pressing. Death Squadron is in space right now enforcing the quarantine. Anyone who attempts to escape Von-Alai will be shot down immediately."
Leia started in horror.
Han stepped forward to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, "Yes, Leia."
"So that means ... Darth Vader is probably up there."
In orbit around Von-Alai
Darth Vader allowed two breathing cycles before turning to Captain Piett.
"My Lord, the analysis chambers in the cities of Liana, Quanto, and Refor will be installed within six hours."
"And you are certain there are no other commercial landing bays on Von-Alai?"
"No, my Lord," the man returned immediately, "all landing bays are in those three cities. Indeed, because of pollution, magnetic patterns, and the random storms, there is but a narrow band of safety for departing and arriving ships. It would be foolhardy for someone to attempt to escape the blockade by penetrating the cloud cover more than 2.5 degrees north or south of the equator."
The Dark Lord nodded. He knew all this, but it was best to get a second ... opinion, perhaps? He rarely needed reassurance, but he did now. His son was down there somewhere.
"Very well, inform me when the analysis chambers are fully installed."
"Yes, my Lord."
City of Liana
24 hours later
"Idiot's Array," Han said aloud, his eyes wide. "Not bad, Kid!"
Luke grinned and reached over to pull the dubious booty of the latest hand of Sabacc into his lap. Given his own poverty, and the fact that he was a young, wide eyed youth, he had refused to play for real credits with Han Solo. The man had, after all, won the Millennium Falcon herself from an old frenemy.
Still, there was something to be said for a pair of decent socks, four ration bars, some blaster polish, a serviceable scarf and ... a tin of what smelled like slightly rancid nerf meat. Ick.
"Thanks, Han. So how was my sabacc face?"
"Better. I mean, you used to be horrible and now you're just bad. But with an Idiot's Array, you don't need much of a sabacc face."
The door slid open and with a swirl of dust, Commander Kan stepped into the room and stamped his feet.
"Any news?" Leia inquired. She had been regally ignoring the sabacc game in favor of writing a report on the political situation on Von-Alai.
"Yes, your Highness," Kan said with a nod, "I have good news. Reasonably good news, anyway. The landing bays have been opened and ships are now departing Von Alai."
"What's the 'sort of' part?" Solo asked suspiciously.
Kan frowned, "All landing bays have analysis chambers at their entrances. Apparently they've developed the tech to check everyone for the Blue Shadow virus."
There was a long, thoughtful pause.
"So as long as we're clean of the virus, which we should be, we won't get flagged," Luke stated, then added, "and if we do have it, it's probably better it's discovered before we infect the Alliance."
Han shook his head, "I don't like it. Analysis chamber? What if they run an additional check for weapons? Luke's lightsaber might raise some curiosity."
The Commander shrugged, "The bays opened an hour ago and my contacts say everyone is getting through without trouble. No cases of Blue Shadow have been discovered here, which is a fabulous thing. And plenty of weapons are passing through. Liana is a rough place. Weapons are expected."
Luke sighed aloud, "But still, if they are paying attention to everyone who goes into that bay, isn't it possible we'll be recognized? I mean, we are on the Most Wanted List."
Everyone mulled this over, then the princess spoke, "You're right, Luke. We'd better wear disguises. Especially you and me, since we're both front and center in the Imperial eye."
She rose to her feet briskly, "All right. Let's get gussied up, give it three more hours and if the situation seems stable, we'll go to the Falcon. Hopefully Vader doesn't recognize her, Han."
Solo sniffed disdainfully, "He got maybe a one second glance at her when I shot him out of the Death Star trench, and she looks like a million other freighters out there. And we've got the best codes the Alliance has to offer, which even I'll admit are very good. Deep inside, where it counts, the Falcon's better than them all, but she looks normal enough."
In orbit around Von-Alai
Darth Vader stood staring out at Von-Alai, his hands clasped behind his back.
He looked tall, menacing, and calm, but inside he was a maelstrom of emotion.
This should work. But Luke had proven remarkably difficult to find, and it was possible that he would slip through his father's prosthetic digits again.
"Patience," Vader thought to himself, striving for precarious calm, "patience."
The Lonely Bantha restaurant Yum!
(near Landing Bay #9)
3 hours later
Luke gazed with delight at the dweezel in his bowl.
Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewbacca had settled in a drab, even rather sleazy, restaurant with a good view of the entrance to Landing Bay #9, where the Millennium Falcon was waiting for them patiently.
(They hoped she was being patient. The Falcon had a rather peculiar main computer, which led to her making snarky comments when they were late.)
Luke was not much of a drinker, so had expected merely to imbibe water while waiting; to his joy and amazement the owner of the Lonely Bantha was an expatriate from Tatooine, and sold dweezel.
He loved dweezel. And this dweezel was nearly as good as the dessert Aunt Beru used to make for him.
While he slurped down his pastry treat, the Rebels took turns watching the landing bay.
Landing Bay #9 had been completely closed off except for one main entrance. Blocking the entrance was a tall transparisteel box, 2 meters by 1 meter by 1 meter. Sentients stepped in one at a time, a bored tech worked his scientific magic, the individual in question endured a 5 second scan, the door opened on the other side, and the man or woman or Wookiee was on his way. There were four stormtroopers guarding the gate, but they seemed mellow enough and their only action was to make sure people stayed in line properly.
The queue of individuals waiting to enter the landing bay was rather long, but that wasn't a surprise after a day of quarantine. Many sensible people wanted to get off of Von-Alai with the fear of Blue Shadow virus lurking.
"Shall we?" Leia asked, rising from her chair. The others rose even as Luke shoveled the last bite of dweezel in his mouth. Then, after paying the bill, they left the restaurant and quietly took their places at the end of the line.
Chewbacca went first. He owed a life debt to Han and insisted that if there was some trap here, he wanted to spring it.
But there was indeed no problem when they finally reached the head of the line, except that the very tall Wookiee had to bend his head considerably to get into the scan chamber. There was a five second probe, the door opened on the other side, and the giant furball stepped out.
Solo went next. He had donned a scruffy and rather improbable beard as a limited disguise, and he too had no problem.
Leia stepped in once Han had exited. Luke, standing just behind her in line, smiled slightly. She had pinned up her hair and sprayed it with purple stripes, put in blue lenses to change her eye color, dolled up her face with gratuitous make-up, and was wearing an outfit that made her look like a swoop race groupie. He barely recognized her!
The door shut behind Leia, the tech pushed a button, five seconds passed and ... the door didn't open on the other side.
Luke stiffened, as did Han and Chewbacca.
The tech himself looked startled, then bewildered as he stared at the princess waiting with an irritated look in the chamber.
Then the man reached for a com.
"Oh no," thought Luke.
"Chewie, get the Falcon ready for take-off," Solo muttered to his faithful co-pilot, even as he drifted off to the left, behind the technician operating the chamber.
There was an exclamation of excitement from one the men near Vader, and the Dark Lord spun quickly.
"What is it?" he demanded harshly.
"We have a positive identification, my Lord!"
The Sith nearly ran to the terminal and gazed down with an eagerness which quickly shifted to bewilderment.
A miscellany of Huttese curses ran through his brain as he attempted to make sense of the information on the screen.
That was not right!
With a flick of the Force, he yanked the com from the technician, "This is Lord Vader. Do not move in. Stand down. This is an error!"
With another flick of the Force, he found the holocam in the analysis chamber for Landing Bay #9 in Liana. An image quickly formed of a short, human female with weird purple hair, an irritable slump, bizarre make-up, and a hideous scowl on her face. Vader snarled aloud, causing the nearby officers to jump slightly. This was clearly not Luke. Disguises would only go so far.
"Let her through and reset the analysis system," he ordered.
The last thing he needed was a false arrest which could spook his boy.
Landing Bay #9
Leia glowered at the tech, who was clearly listening to orders on his com. Han and Luke tensed.
Then the man lifted his eyes and nodded even as he pushed a button. The door slid open and Leia stepped out to walk firmly toward the Falcon, though she stopped a few meters from the analyzer.
The technician rose to his feet now and addressed the impatient line of sentients waiting to be allowed through, "I'm sorry, folks. We have had a slight malfunction and I need to reset the system. It will take about five minutes. Please be patient"
Luke waited, though not patiently. There was something nibbling at the edges of his subconscious, like something was wrong. Was this the Force warning him?
But he had to get through and join the others! And if he suddenly left, he'd look suspicious. The stormtroopers had thus far been gruff but not antagonistic, and he hoped to keep it that way. No, the best thing to do was to stand here looking bored.
The minutes passed slowly, and through the chamber Luke could see Han and Leia also standing looking ostentatiously bored, but somehow he could feel their tension as well.
Finally the tech nodded and the door opened. Luke stepped in.
The technician spoke timidly now, "Lord Vader, we have another positive identification."
Vader turned and stalked over to the holo, "Which bay?"
An officer spoke now, nervously, "The same one as before, my Lord. Landing Bay #9 on Liana."
Vader ground his damaged teeth for a moment before stopping. That hurt. This operation was dissolving into chaos!
"On holo," he snarled.
The screen lit up a moment later and Vader took a breath out of sync of his respirator.
Even with his hair dyed brown and cut short, a meager mustache in place, and dressed in typical Von-Alai clothing, there was no mistaking the image of his son.
"That is Skywalker," the Sith snarled. "Lock down the chamber and move in!"
Landing Bay #9
Luke looked wild eyed at the technician outside the analysis chamber. Once again, the system had apparently malfunctioned but this time the tech had stiffened, then stabbed his instrument array rapidly.
The ephemeral Force flared a clear warning and Luke quickly snatched his lightsaber, lit it, and swung it rapidly toward the door beyond which his friends were waiting.
Then he bit back a cry of surprise as the saber struck a force field which had flashed into existence within the last second.
He was trapped.
Vader watched anxiously as he watched his son slash his old blue lightsaber– no, Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber – on the force field imprisoning him in the analysis chamber. It should hold, it must hold – Vader had designed it himself. But until he had his son safely in custody, unharmed, he would be anxious. He had been separated from his boy for more than 20 years now, and knew from experience that where Luke was involved, what could go wrong generally would go wrong.
Landing Bay #9
"Leia, hold off the stormtroopers," Han yelled, even as he leaped forward toward the technician operating the analysis chamber controls. The man turned in astonishment as Han crashed a blaster butt over his head.
There was a shout from an officer as a squad of officers poured out from a side door within the landing bay area. Leia turned and began blasting them even as she rolled to one side to avoid the stun blasts that began emanating from the numerous opponents.
An instant later, Chewie appeared out of nowhere, howling, and threw a smoke bomb between Leia and the squad. Leia fired blindly through the ensuring smoke toward the troopers, who fired back.
Solo ignored the commotion, tapped in a pass code and slapped the hand of the unconscious tech on the appropriate pad.
The door to the analysis chamber opened and Luke dashed out.
"Let's get out of here!" Han yelled.
A minute later, they had all scrambled on board the Millennium Falcon and raised the exit ramp even as a horde of enthusiastic stormtroopers raced toward the ship.
"Everyone get strapped down," Solo snapped quickly, "This is going to be a bumpy ride!"
Chewie howled and Han nodded, "Yep, she's ready to go. Great job, pal."
"What was that?" Luke gasped as he sought to catch his breath even as the Falcon lifted off
"A trap, obviously," Leia replied, "and apparently my disguise convinced them and yours did not."
The youth ran a hand through his dyed locks and shrugged a little, "It wasn't meant to be great ..."
"Forget it, Kid," Solo interrupted as the Falcon broke into the clouds above the Liana and soared into space. "We've got more serious problems."
"I want them alive, Admiral Ozzel. Alive!" Vader hissed as he stared out the front viewscreen of the Super Star Destroyer.
"As you wish, my Lord," Ozzel replied importantly. "Lieutenant, order the TIE squadrons to focus on the engines so that the Rebel ship can be taken by this ship's tractor beam. Order Devastator to provide cover fire to prevent the ship from reaching hyperspace distance from the planet."
"No, no, no!" Han yelped. "Four Star Destroyers plus Executor? This is crazy!"
"How long until we can make the jump to lightspeed?" Luke asked anxiously, echoing Kenobi's words when they had escaped Tatooine. It seemed so long ago now.
"Too long, because Von-Alai has a vicious gravity well ..." Han began, then frowned. "Luke, Leia, I've got an idea. Hang on!"
"He's mad!" Ozzel said aloud, "He's diving back into the atmosphere of Von-Alai, into the storm zones! His instruments won't work! He'll crash!"
Vader's hands clenched, "See to it that he does not, Admiral. I want that ship!"
In the atmosphere of Von-Alai
"Well, this is fun," Leia said, her voice shaking in sync with reverberations of the ship.
"Atmosphere's a mess, Princess," Solo chortled, flying essentially blind, "so the Imps can't see us!"
"And we can't see the ground, or other ships, or anything!" Luke yelped. He had long been accused of being a reckless flyer, but Han was his own brand of insane.
"Just hold on for the ride, Kid! We'll be out of this in a few minutes."
A few minutes later
"We've located the Rebel ship, sir!" a random lieutenant yelled suddenly.
"Where? Where is she?" Ozzel snarled.
"Longitude 23, Latitude 35 degrees north, sir!"
"Order the Devastator to intercept."
There was a dreadful pause.
"But Admiral, sir, you ordered the Devastator to the equator to cut off the Rebel escape."
"Yes!" Han chortled as the stars dissolved into the whorl of hyperspace.
"My Lord, my heartfelt apologies for the escape ..."
Ozzel's speech died even as the man's hand moved to his throat. The men on the bridge stared in horrified fascination as the man fought for breath, for life, before collapsing to the floor, dead.
"Apology accepted, Admiral Ozzel," the Dark Lord intoned furiously, and swept off toward his chamber.
Luke – his son – had evaded him again.
Author Note: So I know some things are confusing here. Most will be cleared up in the next chapter! Thanks to my husband for editing for me!