A/N: …Zero. Well, everybody, this is the end! Can't believe I actually made it, but wonders never cease. :P Thank you very much to everyone who consistently reviewed this story; I appreciate you all more than I can say. You've been a huge encouragement to me as a writer. Thanks also to the rest of you readers. I won't tell you to de-lurk since I've been guilty of it myself, so just know that I'm glad you enjoyed the story and I'd be delighted to hear from you.
Final thanks go to my beta Mathematica, for not running away screaming when I plonked the last 60 pages of this story on her lap for final editing. Luvya, dear. :P
I know this is already a long note, but there's another you should read at the end of this post. Thanks again! I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. :)
L'Hanna stared into the tiny mirror panel on the opposite wall and marveled that she still looked the same as she had twenty-four hours ago. Her hair was still a businesslike brown, still brushing her shoulders neatly, and her face remained as commonplace as always. She did not look exotic or bold or dashing or devil-may-care, the way a guerrilla commando probably should.
She had noticed this before and had thought a shower and a change of clothes might make her feel more rebellious. But the clothes she had borrowed from one of Captain Antilles' lieutenants did nothing to make her look any less like a scared and very much out-of-her-league scientist. She might as well still be wearing her lab coat. In fact she wished she had it; wearing it, she might have felt insulated enough to venture out into the ship. As it was she felt like a pool of nitroglycerin, ready to fly spectacularly to pieces at the first disturbance. That was why she hadn't left the cabin since the lieutenant had brought her here.
You've got to go out at some point, she told herself sternly, staring at the sealed door from her ginger perch on the edge of the bunk. She had been practically bolted to it for several hours now. It's no good hiding your head in the sand. You've got a new life now, like it or not. Sooner or later you'll have to start living it.
She clenched the edge of the bunk. Of course she was going to go out, she told herself. Just not quite yet. Wonder how long I can go without food if I drink water from the 'fresher.
She never found out, because the door chimed and whirred open. Aresh was there. She stiffened. Now he looked like a Rebel. Orange jumpsuit, black combat boots, blaster strapped to his hip. Add a couple of inches and scars and pounds of muscle, a judicious splash of blood here and there, and he could pose for an Imperial propaganda poster. What the nine hells would her mother say if she knew the kind of company her daughter was keeping now?
It was probably a good thing her mother had died last year. She had no family left for the Empire to punish.
"We've dropped out of hyperspace to hold a holoconference with some of the Rebel cell leaders involved in this operation," Aresh said. "Captain Antilles has invited both of us to come. Let's hurry."
L'Hanna felt as though she was watching herself follow Aresh down the cramped corridors of the Equality. There were Rebels everywhere, hustling back and forth, too busy to pay the newcomers any mind. She wondered if there were many newcomers, but had no chance to ask before they were entering a conference room near the bridge of the corvette.
"Dr. Ve-Kiis," Captain Antilles greeted her. "I hope you're feeling rested."
She managed a very untruthful nod as she shook his hand.
"Dr. Devaal has been briefing us on your role concerning the Fresian operation," the captain continued, nodding at Aresh. "Allow me to extend thanks to you on behalf of all of us aboard the Equality—and, in fact, on behalf of the entire Alderaan resistance movement."
She looked about in surprise. So they were Alderaanian. She hadn't expected that.
"I'm sure this must be a difficult experience for you, Dr. Ve-Kiis, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we'll do our best to make you at home. In the meantime, I believe we have all the connections established for our conference, so if you'd please take a seat we can begin."
L'Hanna found a chair next to the captain and Aresh as the holoprojectors hummed to life. There were several people participating in the conference by holoprojector, none of whom she recognized.
"Raymus," said one of them warmly—a dark-skinned, distinguished-looking man. There were a great many respectful nods from the assembled officers.
"Viceroy," the captain responded. Then he nodded to the other projections. "Doctors, allow me to introduce Viceroy Bail Organa, General Jan Dodonna, and Lady Silya Shessaun, formerly Senator for Thesme. General, my lady, Viceroy, this is Dr. L'Hanna Ve-Kiis, and this is Dr. Aresh Devaal, lately of Incom Corporation Research and Development. They have been instrumental in securing the success of our Fresian operation."
"A success?" Silya Shessaun asked incredulously.
"Yes, my lady. The operation came off without a hitch, at least on the Fresian end." Antilles was positively glowing. "We have obtained all four of the prototype X-wings with relatively minor losses to my task force. Additionally we were able to copy nearly the entire Incom information database and wiped all of their files pertaining to the T-65 development process."
"My men will be happy to hear that," General Dodonna replied. "We suffered heavy losses in Kuat, including the Mon Mallona and the Mon Kalanta, but not without inflicting some impressive damage."
Everyone's ears were primed.
"Our best estimates indicate that we were able to destroy about two squadrons of TIEs, six uncompleted Imperial-class Star Destroyers, and"—Dodonna seemed to swell with grim pride—"the Imperator. Besides that, we've inflicted heavy damage on the shipyards there. I can assure you all that it will be months before the Empire can recover from the setback we've handed them."
Grins circled the room, and L'Hanna felt a little giddy herself. Only Bail Organa remained grim. "I commend all of you for the outstanding execution of this operation," he said gravely. "But we must not let our success today lull us into complacency tomorrow. We've surprised the Empire, but now they know that we're capable of hitting them where it hurts. They will not make it easy for us to do so again. We must be even more careful than before, and we must draw even closer together. Soon we hope to unite all of our various resistance groups into one cohesive organization, but that will not stop the danger from increasing."
"I concur," Shessaun said soberly. "In the meantime, I'll continue to pursue a production avenue now that we have the prototypes. I think that I've found a factory facility that will be willing to assist us."
"Excellent," Organa told her. "When Silya informs me that we have a facility safely arranged, I'll contact all of you for our next discussion. Congratulations, and may the Force be with you all."
The other holograms shimmered away and Antilles' officers began to flow out of the conference room, but the captain gestured to the two scientists to remain behind. They waited until the doors sealed.
"We can speak privately now, Viceroy," he said to Organa.
"Doctors," the Senator-Viceroy said. "We need to settle the question of where you go from here."
"From here?" L'Hanna repeated numbly.
Organa nodded. "You have been of great assistance to the Alderaan resistance organization, and both of you have sacrificed comfort, safety, and lucrative jobs to do so. If you so desire, we would of course be happy for you to continue as formal supporters of our cause. Your knowledge would be invaluable to us in processing the information we have obtained from Incom, and there will always be a need for trained engineers. However, if you do not wish to endanger yourselves any longer, I will personally oversee arrangements to settle both of you safely on Alderaan under new names."
"The Empire shot my nephew earlier this year—because he was Force-sensitive." Aresh paused a moment as the others blanched. Organa seemed to find the revelation even more disturbing than L'Hanna did. "I will serve the Rebel cause in whatever capacity I can."
Organa nodded, painfully somber. "We will be honored to have you among us, Dr Devaal. And what about you, Dr. Ve-Kiis?"
She stood mute for several long minutes. The prospect of a quiet, safe life was more than a little enticing, even if she'd never set foot on Alderaan in her life. But a part of her knew better.
"I'm sort of in it now," she said slowly. "I didn't know what I was getting into, and if I had I doubt I would ever have done it, and I still can't believe I'm even here…but there isn't any going back now, is there? Now that I know." She glanced at Aresh.
Bail regarded her solemnly. "In that case, Dr. Ve-Kiis, we will be proud to count you among our numbers, also." With a final nod to them all, his hologram vanished.
"Come on," Aresh said. He was looking at her quite proudly, as if she had done something exceptional. Which she hadn't, she groused to herself—unless it was exceptionally stupid. But what the hells else could an honest person do now, other than the exceptionally stupid thing she'd just done?
"Show me where the mess hall is," she ordered him irritably, preferring to think about anything but the death sentence she'd just volunteered herself for. Aresh raised his eyebrows and smirked ever so slightly.
"Certainly, Dr. Ve-Kiis."
As expected, the Emperor was most displeased with the news from Kuat and Fresia. It was perhaps as well that the Exactor was forced to stay in system and supervise as the Kuatis began cleaning up the mess and assessing the damages the Rebels had inflicted on the shipyards. Vader would not relish taking the brunt of his master's wrath on his own person.
After dispatching the entire command staff of the Tyranny—with the exception of Piett, whom the Dark Lord had transferred to the Exactor—and appointing properly terrified replacements under the leadership of the Exactor's executive officer, Vader had ordered the Destroyer back to Fresia, there to properly assess damages, attempt to track down the Rebels, and inflict appropriate punishments on whatever Imperial personnel had survived the fiasco. In the meantime he concerned himself with examining the sole remaining clue the Rebel prisoners and Kenobi had left behind them.
The little yacht now reposing crookedly in Hangar Three of the Exactor was an incredibly unremarkable piece of spacecraft. There were few items of interest aboard. The Rebel woman was shrewd; no holos were kept on the ship, no identification documents, indeed no files of any kind, for the computers had been completely wiped before the ship was taken. All that remained were food supplies in the galley, a few games, and a scant supply of clothing of a size to fit a petite human female 1.65 meters in height. There was nothing at all to indicate that a child had ever been here, except for a few pudgy fingerprints on the transparisteel of the viewport.
The analysts had been over the little craft with the finest combs imaginable, and had discerned painfully little about the woman who owned it. The ship's sterilization system was marvelously functional and had effectively suctioned up every last trace of genetic evidence into the shipboard trash incinerator. The child's fingerprints produced no match in the galactic databases. Furthermore, the escapees had somehow managed to hack into the Tyranny's computer banks and had erased all images of themselves from the records. They had nothing to go on except for the height and weight indicated by the woman's wardrobe, a detention officer's claim that she'd had blue eyes, and Vader's own glimpse of her brown hair; regarding the Force-sensitive child, absolutely nothing.
Nothing the analysts found so much as hinted that Obi-Wan Kenobi had ever been aboard the ship. Nor could they trace the serial numbers to anything except the manufacturer, who had reported it stolen fifteen years ago. Undoubtedly the little craft had been sold and resold for cash a dozen times, perhaps even criss-crossing sides during the Clone Wars. There was no chance of tracking the owner.
It was a worthless, half-broken-down waste of valuable hangar space…yet Vader felt strangely attached to it. He found himself wandering its empty corridors and cabins at odd hours. Something oddly familiar but just beyond the limit of his mental grasp seemed to have left its mark here. Perhaps it was only that the sight of the woman, the sound of her scream, had evoked a memory of—her.
He told himself with a growl to forget the past; it had belonged to a dead man, to his dead wife, and their dead unborn child. It held no meaning for him. He was Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, heir to an Empire. He needed neither love nor companionship.
All the same, as he stood in the cramped cockpit of the small ship, he spread his own massive hand against the tiny prints that eager fingers had pressed there…and a little part of him wondered.
A/N 2: I'm already getting questions about sequels, so I think I'll address that now. I would very much love to write a sequel to this story, or even two or three. The sad fact, however, is that writing this story took me nearly two years and an awful lot of hours. Looking at my long-term schedule for the next couple of years I may not have the time to write as much as I would like. There's also the fact that The Father, which I started in August of 2006, remains woefully incomplete, and I kinda feel I owe it to those readers to give that story my full attention until it's finished.
None of this is to say that I will never ever write a sequel for Rubies; as a matter of fact I've already begun mulling over possible plot lines and have rough ideas for three further stories, which would cover the entire AU through the end of ROTJ. But I'm just too busy during the semester to give my fics that much attention. I'm also nearly done with college, which means I'll be segueing into a great big unknown—so I can't make any promises. Once again, thank you all for reading!