Disclaimer: It's George's Sandcastle – I'm simply destroying the sand castles
Title: From the Ground Up
Genre: Romance, Drama
Timeframe: Three Months after "From Scratch"
Summary: Three months after the rocky beginning to their marriage, Jacen and Tenel Ka find themselves facing an old foe as they try to bring about reform on Hapes...
Author's Note: This was started in May 2006 and completed in October 2006 – it is being reposted from another board in its entirety as I complete the edits necessary - expect the chapters to be regularly posted until it's finished. I'll try and get a new one up daily, but it might be every two or three days.
From the Ground Up
His head whipped to the side as the slap of the torturer rang through the small room. He spat blood, bringing his face around to smile at the woman assaulting him. "Hapan torture techniques have nothing on the Yuuzhan Vong."
He was rewarded for his impudence with another slap before a voice from the shadows stated calmly. "Enough."
Jacen Solo turned to look at the owner of the voice, his eyes clear from pain and his smile still in place. "Ta'a Chume, what do you expect to gain from these petty and futile attempts at torture?"
"You know the question, slave."
"I am no slave. I am the husband of your granddaughter and the king of the Hapan Consortium." Jacen smiled the trademark solo grin. "It must really eat at you that we've disrupted your plans for control twice now."
Ta'a Chume simply watched him from behind her veil. "You know the question."
"And I choose not to answer."
"Then we will make you answer."
Jacen laughed. "The Yuuzhan Vong couldn't get me to tell them where the Jedi's base of operations was with torture techniques you wouldn't think of if you live to be a thousand. What can you do to me to make me tell a public lie that I tricked your granddaughter into marriage?"
"I see you are not yet ready to be reasonable. Though, perhaps my granddaughter is ready to listen to my council. You have, after all, been missing from a tragic accident for more than a month."
Jacen looked at her calmly. "You can try, Ta'a Chume, but Tenel Ka is stronger than you give her credit for. I know she's still searching for me. She knows I'm not dead."
"She knew you were dead before you returned." Ta'a Chume pointed out nastily. "Perhaps we can convince her a second and last time."
"She knows I pulled away from her so she wouldn't feel the pain I was going through," he informed the former Hapan Queen quietly. "She also knows I will never do that to her again. You may be able to bully the people you once ruled because of your former glory, but I won't stand for it and neither will she. You've been exiled once, Ta'a Chume. Tenel Ka will likely have your head for this."
"Then she can take it. Continue with the softening up period." The former Queen instructed the Whip mistress, "The slave is not yet ready to admit that women are superior."
"Superior only because you hold the weapon, Ta'a Chume. Weapons don't mean power. Your Whip Mistress can do nothing to me that I don't allow."
Jacen looked at the Whip mistress. "Don't." he said simply.
The Whip Mistress froze in place and Ta'a Chume glared at Jacen. He could feel it across the room. "I should have invested in some more of those Force blocking creatures."
"Give my regards to my wife." he told the old Queen as the door shut behind her.
Jacen turned back to the Whip Mistress and released her from his mind grip. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt me. You'll be hurting your Queen."
The Whip Mistress simply looked at him blankly and he nodded for her to go. Without a word, she left him alone.
Jacen sighed. He'd agreed to be taken prisoner because they needed to expose Ta'a Chume's web of power, but he missed his wife terribly. But he'd chosen and acted, and now would play out the hand he'd dealt himself. He'd already discovered the network of passages beneath the main Royal house. Passages Tenel Ka had thought long since sealed.
The further he looked, the more Jacen realized that Ta'a Chume's web spread far into the surrounding cities, everything connected by travel tubes. A network far more expansive and well funded than they'd previously thought. He sat on the sleeping mat they'd allowed him and closed his eyes, reaching for the bond between himself and Tenel Ka. A bond that, though strong and bright, made him feel lonely most nights. Yes she was with him, but he wanted to hold her. After a month, the yearning was getting almost unbearable.
He smiled faintly. If only Ta'a Chume knew he was putting himself through better torture than she could ever devise. He shook the thought away and focused inwards. It was time to meditate and gather his strength for the coming nights. Sneaking out and back into his cell was starting to take its toll. Sooner or later, no matter how strong his abilities, one of the guards would remember and follow. It was a night he knew was going to happen all too soon.
Tenel Ka sat on the throne of the Hapan Queen in the Fountain Palace. Her advisors were still bemoaning the loss of her husband, though she'd postponed the funeral on the grounds that she didn't believe he was dead. That didn't stop them from implying she would require another consort.
Little did her grandmother know Jacen could still communicate with her; not in words, but with thoughts and feelings. She knew he wasn't dead and she had proof her grandmother had staged his "accident", but with her grandmother's supporters still in several key positions of power, she wasn't about to act on it. Not just yet.
Tenel Ka sat straight. "This is not a matter for this court. It is a matter for the judicial system. Take it there."
The two individuals bickering over land zones were silenced by the Queen Mother's sudden words and bowed out, the guards pushing them out with their weapons.
Tenel Ka stood. "There is a matter before this body about the well being of the Royal Family. The advisory council is corrupt; our husband is missing. The former Queen has made four known attempts on our life in the last month, six in the month previous and twelve in the month of our return. Nothing has been done. You will reach a verdict today. You will decide Ta'a Chume's fate." Her statement was an order; one no one would dare dispute.
Tenel Ka turned on her heel and departed back to the apartments she'd shared with Jacen for just over two months. Her pace was steady, measured, as she entered and closed the door behind her. As soon as she was out of sight, she ran for the fresher, barely making it in time as her stomach rebelled.
Tenel Ka didn't, couldn't, answer, as the dizziness hit her once again, forcing her over the bowl.
The sound of footsteps was barely audible and gentle hands suddenly slid around her head to hold her hair back. "I see the sickness hasn't lessened."
Tenel Ka was finally able to sit back and glanced up at the form of her personal aid. "My thanks, Jana."
"You're welcome, your majesty. Does your grandmother suspect yet?"
Tenel Ka shook her head once, getting to her feet. "No. It will remain so until Jacen is returned to me. The news of a child may give her cause to eliminate him."
Jana smiled faintly. "Your husband is a formidable man, your majesty. Even the former Queen Mother wouldn't dare risk your wrath and that of his family."
Jana offered her monarch a glass. "Do you think he'll be gone to much longer?"
"No. He is sending me feelings of approaching his goal. There is much danger involved."
"The King can take care of himself."
"You place too much faith in him, Jana." Tenel Ka cautioned. "He is formidable, but not invincible. Even he can forget that."
Jana was silent as Tenel Ka rinsed her mouth out and wiped off her face. "You miss him, don't you?"
"Yes." Tenel Ka replied quietly. "The council sessions are going no where. Tomorrow, you will sit in my place and conduct the session. I must find my grandmother."
"What will you do when you find her?"
"Bring her before the council for Hapan justice." Tenel Ka's tone didn't change, but Jana could see the set determination in her eyes.
"Another adventure, your highness?"
"One without your aid this time, Jana." Tenel Ka turned to the young woman who had become one of her closest friends in the last months. "Your help was not expected to bring Jacen and I together. I thank you for doing so. You must stay here and keep the council occupied. I must find my husband and expose the layers of treachery in the Hapan court once and for all."
Jana stared at her Queen. Usually Tenel Ka wasn't so well spoken or long winded. She finally nodded, taking Tenel Ka's single hand in her own. "Anything, Tenel Ka. Anything you want me to do to help, I'm more than willing to do. Stall the council? I can do that."
"Your success with Jacen and I speaks of your ability." Tenel Ka drew the younger woman into a brief hug. "Do not fail me, Jana. For if they are not distracted, it could mean our lives."
"I won't fail you, your highness. Am I at liberty to make up the excuses for your disappearance?"
Tenel Ka nodded once. "Do so. I will descend into the tunnels below the palace to search for my grandmother."
"And when you find her?"
Tenel Ka's tone was flat. "Justice."
Jana watched as Tenel Ka disappeared into the bedchamber and shook her head, thinking back to when they'd all arrived back on planet.
Tenel Ka had surprised her. Surprised everyone, when she'd come out to state that men were no longer to be considered slaves in the Hapan Consortium. Tenel Ka had then introduced the first Hapan King anyone could remember, to the surprise of the delegation, stating that he would be treated as she was and would share all of her responsibilities and obligations.
Jana's smile died. And then, as she'd become closer to the royal family, strange things had begun happening. Guards would begin to go missing, only to show up several days later as if nothing had happened. The taste testers for the King and Queen had died. The poison the King had accidentally taken had been purged by himself and the Queen thanks to their Force abilities.
She shook her head sadly. And then, as the attempts continued, the final explosion and accident which had "killed" Jacen. Tenel Ka had disputed the evidence, stating her grandmother was a traitor and would be dealt with according to the Hapan laws that Ta'a Chume herself had written. Once they found and eliminated her support web.
Jana turned away, heading for her own small room off the main apartments where she could always be reached quickly. The elimination of Ta'a Chume's supporters had proven to be an almost futile venture. They'd traced many to the higher placed female senators. Senators that would never vote for execution, only exile, as Ta'a Chume could then one day be pardoned. Like that would ever happen with Tenel Ka on the throne.
Jana settled herself at her writing desk and turned on her datapad. She had excuses to make and a speech to prepare for her fill in dates. Unless she was called by her Queen, everything else could wait.
Jacen's disappearance from his cell was indeed noted by several people in the network beneath the Fountain Palace. None of whom would dare inform Ta'a Chume. He could feel them watching as he slipped into the darkness of the surrounding tunnels, making his way to where he'd last hidden his holo-recorders, and smiled inwardly.
These were the invisibles, the forgotten, in Ta'a Chume's relm. The male slaves and the downtrodden races which had suffered under her rule, all of which she still chose to enslave in defiance of her granddaughter's decrees.
Jacen's smile was slight. Ta'a Chume had already told him she wouldn't change her lifestyle, no matter what Tenel Ka's decreed, and he'd gotten it on holo. Not that she knew that.
His steps were almost silent in the dampness of the lesser traveled tunnels as he scanned the area. His own network was beginning to grow inside Ta'a Chume's base of power; a network of hatred and desire. The slaves and downtrodden who submitted because they'd been given no other choice, were now his friends. He'd promised them freedom from this life; the freedom to live on the surface without fear of enslavement or persecution, and to choose their own destinies. And they were promises he was going to keep.
He noted they turned away from whatever tasks they were doing as he passed their locations, taking no obvious notice of him, and not betraying his presence to the ever-watching guards. Guards he could neutralize, and had, with a thought if he needed to. Which indeed he did right now, catching the eye of one of the male slaves and holding the guard in place away from him, before nodding to the side.
The slave, a male named Verak, quickly moved to join him out of view of the guard. Jacen planted the suggestion in the mind of the guard that Verak was supposed to be out of sight, that this was normal and requested by Ta'a Chume herself, and the guard moved on with her business.
Verak huddled down lower as the guard passed their position, moving to a predetermined one and stopping just out of eye and ear shot.
"This is dangerous, my liege."
"I told you, Verak, call me Jacen."
"Jacen." Verak's voice held a raspy note, the scars on his throat belying his torture. "What can I assist you with tonight?"
"I've almost enough information to bring back with me to expose this network. But I can't leave with your people still enslaved. If Ta'a Chume gets an inkling of the information I have, she'll drop the roof on these tunnels and have everyone executed. We need to stage an uprising and neutralize the guards to get everyone out of here. Without the slaves, these women who think they're powerful are nothing. They control nothing and have no one to do their bidding."
Verak nodded thoughtfully, his eyes darting to the corner where the guard had passed. "I'll tell my sect. There are some who still question you, Jacen Solo. Be careful who you trust."
Jacen smiled humorlessly. "That's a lesson the Yuuzhan Vong taught me long before Ta'a Chume. Be safe Verak, do nothing that would jeopardize yourself."
Verak slipped into his position behind the guard, going back to the menial labor which he'd been doing before Jacen's appearance.
Jacen ducked away, releasing the guard from his hold with a final suggestion that Verak had been in her sights, working as he was, the whole time. He waited long enough to see the guard return to her post, leaning casually against the corner as if she'd been there the whole time.
Jacen slipped into the dark tunnels again, headed for the major centers and intent on forming a plan to sabotage the power couplings in the area. He'd found that none of these women, who were forced to live underground, like the darkness. Without electricity, without light, they degenerated into chaos. Ta'a Chume was still a problem. To escape alive, when the time came, he'd have to take her prisoner and use her life to barter his way out. At least, he'd have to if he was caught.
His steps were silent as he passed through the areas, being more careful as he neared the central tunnels. Here, formerly powerful females had erected homes in which to live comfortably at the expense of their male counterparts. The illicit trades of the street were in full evidence, with owners hawking the wares of their slaves so that some fine lady would pay a fee to be pleasured for an evening.
Jacen shook his head in disgust. If he'd needed another reason to free these people, he would have found it in this cesspool of sin. Men clad in loin cloths and collars were led around by tiny women carrying leashes, bore the weight of litters and cleaned the streets. Women, in their arrogance, slapped, beat, yelled and generally degraded the men with such a disregard for their existence he had to fight the urge to complete his plan now. It didn't help that he'd gotten to know several of those slaves, spoken with them of their captivity and humiliation, and promised relief.
But he couldn't move until his pieces were all in place and that was the intention for this evening's excursions.
Ta'a Chume's 'palace' was the largest home, sprawling across some 5 acres of underground terrain, and the most difficult to infiltrate. So difficult, even for a Jedi, that Jacen had only been inside once. And once was not enough; tonight he had to enter again. Without an intimate knowledge of her home, he couldn't capture her alive to be taken to the surface to stand trial. And that was something he wanted more than anything. Grandmother to his wife or not, Ta'a Chume's atrocities were clearly visible here and, because of that, he recorded the images on his holo-recorder.
The traffic was thinning, preparing to retire for the evening as the day came to a close, and the streets slowly emptied. Jacen grudgingly admitted that Ta'a Chume's law and order was effective, especially in imposing a curfew, but only because it favored the females. Any male found on the street after dark would be lashed 30 times for a first offence. A second offence landed them in solitary confinement for 30 days and a third offence usually resulted in death.
Not pleasant options. Jacen fought the thoughts away. He'd been caught once, but his power had been enough to convince the guards he wasn't there. Since that day, he'd been careful. He couldn't chance being caught and brought to Ta'a Chume for justice. She would gladly take any opportunity to assist in breaking him, or in outright killing him, if he gave her one.
His smile was humorless as he worked his way around the streets, the lights dimming even as he did so to simulate the night above. Ta'a Chume would never have the creativity to break him. He was careful in approaching her compound, skirting the ten foot high walls, and wondering who it was that had carved the cavern in which he stood. A cavern that was over 30 feet high, yet felt more oppressive than the smaller tunnels.
Slipping into the exterior portion of the compound proved to be easy enough; it was getting into the alarmed, armed and prepared house that proved difficult. No exterior walls neared the home, the yard a place of barren rock and artfully arranged boulders. None of those were near the house or blocking the line of sight from the windows.
Jacen carefully approached the house, flattening himself in what shadows there were and avoiding the well lit areas whenever possible. His movements were slow, even, and timed to be made with noises elsewhere inside. He could feel the presence of the guards inside the house, noting where their positions were, and trying to keep between them as much as possible.
He almost made the house before the alarm went up, the shouts of an intruder in the yard drawing his head up as the flood lights of the compound were flipped on. Without wasting time, he found his feet, and, drawing on the Force, was out of the yard before the first of the intruder alarms died away.
Jacen cursed inwardly. What had he done wrong? Almost every time he'd tried to get anywhere near the complex, he was spotted. Except that first time. He frowned. What had he done differently? His route had been different every time, and that made it difficult to remember. But now wasn't the time to dwell on that.
He raced back into the tunnels, headed for his cell, before veering off to hide his evidence. He had an idea now of how to neutralize the women in Ta'a Chume's web. He was going to have to play by their rules if he couldn't get to the former Queen. Thankfully, his pictures held many blackmailing photos. Not that he looked forward to it, but it would need to be done. Some enemies couldn't be fought with a lightsaber.
He slipped back into his cell undetected for now, and settled on his sleeping mat. Tomorrow would be another day. A day to test his new idea and to see what would succeed and what would fail. Another day to put his life in danger. His smile was caustic. Just another day in the life of Jacen Solo.
Jana watched as Tenel Ka stretched on the floor beside her bed. "Are you certain, your highness?"
Tenel Ka didn't even look up. "Fact. You have your responsibilities; I have mine. My child will not grow up without a father."
Jana sat on the edge of the bed. "Can I use your... er... delicate condition as a card to play?"
"No." Tenel Ka met the gaze of her friend. "You may imply. Certainty will bring the medics and I will not be here."
"Say you're in seclusion to contemplate the advice of the council in claiming the King as dead?" Jana held up a hand. "I know, it's not true, but it would play on their egos and give you as much time as you need. A Queen in seclusion is one that has all the time in the world."
"If you must. I will return before the end of the month."
"I trust you won't be alone?"
Tenel Ka eyed her friend. "Is that a joke?"
Jana chuckled. "I think your husband's sense of humor is rubbing off on me. No, it's not. Good luck, Tenel Ka."
Tenel Ka nodded once before pushing herself to her feet and shouldering her pack. "Good luck, Jana. You will need it far more than I."
Jana grinned. "I'll try not to lose your kingdom while you're gone."
"Trust you do not."
Jana chuckled again as Tenel Ka checked the straps, her pack settling easily between her shoulder blades. She could tell by looking that her Queen had packed quite lightly. They didn't say anything more as Tenel Ka placed her shoulder against the large bed and took a deep breath.
Jana stood back, watching as Tenel Ka's leg muscles strained and bulged against the weight of the bed. A creaking sound filled the room, and Jana held her breath as the bed began to slowly move across the floor. The sound of wood scraping on stone was loud, drowning out the protest of the frame, and a small, sealed hatch was slowly exposed.
Tenel Ka stopped, taking a deep breath, her muscles protesting, yet she felt the thrill of success. She could still do it.
"Wow." Jana's voice was soft in the sudden stillness. "How do I move it back?"
Tenel Ka moved to the hatch, pulling out her lightsaber. "I will move it when I am below. You will have two minutes to seal this hole before someone notices it has been used."
Jana nodded, noting that Tenel Ka had placed the sealant in one corner of the room. She quickly retrieved it as Tenel Ka finished slicing into the stone. The hatch swung easily downwards and Tenel Ka looked up to meet the eyes of her friend. "Good luck."
Jana didn't have a chance to say anything as Tenel Ka dropped into the hole and disappeared into the darkness. The hatch swung closed without a sound and she quickly moved to seal the exposed seams. She was almost finished when the protest of the wooden bed frame began again. She quickly did the last seam, hoping it would dry under the solid box, before moving out of the way. As if an invisible hand were pushing, or pulling it, the frame lifted slightly off the ground and moved over the hatch, effectively sealing it closed again as the weight settled back to the floor near its original place.
Jana stared at the bed for a long moment, silently wishing her Monarch good luck. "May the Force be with you." she murmured softly.
She fought back the sting of tears, knowing they were unwarranted, and turned away. She had a speech to make and a missing monarch to hide. And she'd promised she wouldn't fail.
Tenel Ka's eyes adjusted slowly to the gloom of the tunnels. They were damp, almost as if a humidifier was running, yet she knew they were close to a water source. One that would effect many areas of the tunnels. A vague memory of being forced down here at a young age brought back a fear of glowing red eyes.
Her lips thinned and she shook it away. A stupid childish fear.
She checked her surroundings, noting the tunnel only ran in two directions, and picked the one running towards the center of the city surrounding the Fountain Palace.
Her choice paid off. After several minutes of walking through water that was almost ankle deep, it began to taper off and the humidity level dropped. She felt her way carefully, paying close attention to any noises, feeling an eerie feeling crawl up her spine when the only discernable sound was the echo of her footsteps.
It didn't deter the Hapan Queen, however, and she was quick to move past the area, a steady glow of light in the distance drawing her closer. Night was falling in the world above, and she could tell the lights were lower than she remembered. Remembered? She'd only been down here once or twice as a young child. It was amazing what you remembered.
She banished the thought she continued through the tunnels, passing several areas where people and aliens were bound in chains, their guards standing over them with whips. It made her stomach turn. There were no female slaves in sight and every one of them bore marks of the lash. Her grandmother's legacy.
Tenel Ka moved through the areas, careful to be as stealthy as possible and kept out of the lights. Many creatures moved in the shadows and the reflection of the torches brought a sheen of color to their eyes. She made a conscious effort not to look at anything that moved near her feet. As stupid fear as glowing red eyes was, she didn't want to chance having it reassert itself in full force. She couldn't afford to.
A few of the slaves took note of her passing, but none said anything to their minders. Slaves weren't thought to be intelligent or observant and to prove otherwise wouldn't be in their best interest.
Where are you, my love? she wondered silently as she came to a crossroad, looking each way. The territory had a distinct air of hopelessness and oppression which was hard to stomach. How different this is from Yuuzhan'tar, she mused. People have thought the Yuuzhan Vong to be creatures of brutality but my home is worse. The underworlds of their planet do not compare to mine.
The thoughts were disturbing as she moved to her left, the only area without a light source further down the tunnel. She needed to find an area where she could make camp before her search for her husband began in earnest.