Millennium Falcon

In orbit around Hoth

"It is insanely cold down there," Han Solo stated irritably. "Ridiculously cold. This is a total waste of time."

Leia Organa shot the captain of the Millennium Falcon a thoroughly frosty look, "It's hardly a waste of your time, Captain, as the Alliance is paying you handsomely."

"Yeah, your Highnessness," Solo replied with a cocky grin, "but couldn't we have checked out a planet with lots of beaches? Or ones with lofty but green mountains? Or even a fine gambling planet? Why Hoth, of all places?"

"Alliance Command needs a place where the Empire won't come looking for us, Han," Leia replied tartly. "Most beach planets are very heavily populated, and we can't exactly hide out where vagrant gamblers are roaming the slimy and seedy alleyways of major cities. I admit the temperatures of Hoth are intimidating but we could probably hide here for some time."

Solo twisted his face into a scowl and grumbled, "I'd still like to see you hide in plain sight on a beach somewhere … and I don't get the concern, Leia, I really don't. The Emperor is dead. Isard is trying to hold things together but even I know that the Empire is fracturing. Why not just hide out in space for a few months, moving frequently, until the whole thing falls apart? Why even consider settling here on a giant ice cube?"

"Han, you know why," Leia said with a quick glance at Luke Skywalker, who had thus far remained silent, his gaze fixed on the frozen wasteland through the Falcon's front viewscreen.

"No, I don't," Solo replied irritably. "Look, I know that Vader put you through the ringer on the Death Star and I wish I could rip him to pieces myself, but since he has disappeared, doesn't that mean he's probably dead too? There has been so much upheaval since Palpatine died four months ago. Lots of high level people have been assassinated. Why not Vader too?"

"Because he's Vader," Luke said gravely, speaking up for the first time. "Han, he killed old Ben Kenobi. He killed my father, a Jedi Knight. Ysanne Isard, and Sate Pestage, and any one of those slimy politicians and hangers on might try to kill him, but they would fail. No, he's alive out there somewhere doing something, probably pulling together a task force to take over the Empire. It kind of makes sense, really – let Isard and Pestage duke it out, then sweep in when the sand settles."

Leia frowned at this.

"It makes some sense, but I confess I am quite puzzled," she confessed. "He was the natural successor to Palpatine. The man died of mysterious but apparently natural causes, and Vader disappears instead of being crowned emperor? I don't think many would have been foolish enough to openly challenge him. I really don't get it, I don't. But I do agree, Luke, that he's out there somewhere, doing something nefarious and the Alliance needs to find a safe base."

Han groaned again, but nodded, "Fine, I'm going to bring the Falcon in closer and we'll scan the quadrant Rieekan suggested. Hard to believe any area of this planet is better than any other, but I guess there are marginally higher temperatures in this quadrant."

"The planet has a tilt," Leia commented, frowning at the approaching whitescape, "so the equatorial regions will be the most likely to allow sustained sentient life. And some longitudes have high mountain ranges."

The crew lapsed into silence as the ship grew closer to the planet, and Luke Skywalker gazed in awe.

He had grown up on a planet with twin suns, with sand as far as the eye could see, with sentients who lived and died in broiling heat and struggled with lack of water. It was bizarre to consider a planet which was so cold that all of the natural and abundant moisture was frozen. He had seen snow since he'd joined the Alliance, but never anything which compared to the bleak landscape of Hoth.

But more than his incredulity at the climate was a deeper unease. He had been drawn to this mission, had even convinced Leia to take this mission, because he'd been having dreams of an ice world. A world like Hoth. A world that was Hoth.

Why was that? Was the Force telling him that this was the best place for the Alliance to hide while the galaxy twisted in the throes of disarray and confusion after Emperor Palpatine's death?

A roar from Chewbacca distracted him from his thoughts, and he and Leia glanced at Han for translation.

"No way, Chewie!" Solo said indignantly. "Only a fool, or the Rebellion would consider …"

The giant Wookiee howled again and pointed indignantly at a nearby scanner. Solo lowered his brows in confusion, slapped the scanner in question, stared again, then nodded, "Ok, Chewie, you're right. We're picking something up."

"Something like what?" Luke demanded nervously.

The Corellian shook his head slowly even as he fine tuned something on the Falcon's confusing array of electronics.

"Some kind of technology, Kid," he explained absently. "We're not close enough to figure out anything more but yeah, not biological. Maybe … I don't know, pirates? Smugglers?"

Leia bit her lip, "Is it safe to get closer, do you think?"

"Course it is, Leia," Solo responded in a rather offended tone. "She's fast. If someone scrambles after us we'll be out of here and in hyperspace before they can do any damage."

The woman took a deep breath and nodded, "Ok, let's get closer. But anything looks ugly, we get out of here. I agree with you that Hoth isn't very hospitable, and I don't want us to get killed by some trigger happy band of smugglers."

"Smugglers can be pretty trigger happy," Luke said a straight face, earning him an irritated glare from Solo.

The next two minutes were quiet as they honed in on the signal. It was, thankfully, a relatively good weather day on Hoth in that there was neither snow nor substantial wind in this sector. Solo dropped the Falcon lower and lower until …

Something came in sight. All four residents of the cockpit leaned forward slightly to frown at the images before their eyes sent puzzled glances at the sensors.

"What is that?" Luke demanded.

Han shook is head, "Shield array? Sensor array? Something. It's hard to tell."

"Imperial?" Leia asked worriedly.

Chewbacca roared and Han sighed, "Not … not clearly. I mean, it's not an Imperial installation, for sure. Too small. You know the Empire; everywhere they go, they build like crazy. Whoever these people are, it's a small operation and that doesn't sound like the Empire. But they might be, probably are, unfriendly."

"That sounds like a negative statement," Luke said lightly.

"In my experience, Kid, most people are unfriendly in this galaxy. Any sentients crazy enough to settle here have a decent reason. They are trying to get away from it all."

"Look, a cave!" Luke exclaimed, pointing to the east. Sure enough, there was a cave near the outer arrays, and he thought he caught a quick glimpse of something large and pale inside the cave.

The ship had, by this time, flown over the mysterious array of electronics and was drawing away rapidly.

"So do we leave?" Leia asked practically. "What are your thoughts, everyone?"

Han shrugged even as his fingers moved gently around the cockpit, continuing scans, "Up to you, Princess. Looks like a tiny operation, maybe a few people at the most. I suspect they won't be glad to see us, but I don't see any readings for major weaponry. And if they are even moderately friendly, they might give us valuable intel about the planet. A lot of people will cough up information for a few credits."

"I think we should check it out," Luke stated. He didn't know why, but he had this feeling, again, of being drawn.

There was a pause, and Leia closed her eyes for a long moment.

"Ok, let's see who these people are," she said.

It took about three minutes for Han to turn the Falcon around, approach the small installation again, and then settle the ship down on a well packed, flat area of snow about 100 meters from the entrance to the cave. The temperature was ridiculously cold so all but Chewbacca donned warm coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots before venturing down the ramp and onto the wind swept snowfield.

"This is crazy," Luke said quietly, his left and right hands ready to grasp blaster, lightsaber, or both as needed. "I've never imagined a place so ridiculously cold!"

"A far cry from Tatooine, for sure," Solo replied, his brown eyes focused on the cave nearby. This was, he admitted to himself, a bit on the odd side. Who were these people?

Leia, on the other hand, felt a strange excitement. She had a feeling about this place, that this was going to be the answer for … she didn't know. The Alliance, no doubt. It couldn't have any personal significance. Nevertheless, she had a good feeling, a very good feeling, that they were going to obtain valuable information from whomever lived here.

They entered the cave cautiously, blasters in hand, then stopped in astonishment. The snow cavern, which had clearly been enlarged artificially, was a landing bay, and the ship resting demurely on the snowy floor was gorgeous – silver, pristine, smooth of line, beautiful.

Han grunted in surprise, "Nice ship. Whoever these people are, they've got some class. And credits."

"So what do we do?" Luke inquired practically. "Knock?"

The ramp to the ship made a slight sound, and all four Rebels stiffened and watched carefully as it lowered carefully to the floor of the bay.

"That looks like an invitation, huh?" Solo asked.

"Yes, it does," Leia replied uneasily. "I wish the occupants would come down though."

"It's cold," Luke replied practically, "even in here. Maybe they don't want to get all suited up."

The princess sighed and then strode forward with determination. The ship, up close, was even more amazing to behold. There were no nicks or scratches, no parts that looked like they had been scavenged from a Tatooine junkyard. Compared to the Millennium Falcon, this ship was like royalty. Han frowned. This situation was definitely odd.

At the top of the ramp, Leia tightened her grip on her blaster and stepped into the ship, with Luke behind her, Han behind him, and Chewbacca bringing up the rear.

"Greetings!" she called out as she stepped into what was no doubt the main cabin of the ship. It was, aside from couches, tables, and a shut down astromech droid in the corner, empty.

There was silence, and she shook her head.

"I have a bad feeling about this," she muttered.

Luke suddenly did too. There was this weird feeling of Darkness, coming out nowhere …

"Let's get out of here," he said, whirling around toward the door just as …

Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, stepped out of a side corridor and blocked their way.

"I am honored," the cyborg stated coldly, "that you could join me."

Sixty seconds later, the four Rebels were on the floor, unconscious.