A Perfect Gift

Palpatine's Journal III

Time: 21 years after ANH. Eight months after the events of Union.

Summary: It is the Solo twins' 11th birthday and the Solos and the Skywalkers wanted to give them a gift that they will never forget. They are on board the new Jade Sabre en route to the Naboo system (but don't tell Jaina or Jacen). While on board, Luke plans for the twins to read the long ago written words of Palpatine regarding the seduction of Anakin Skywalker into the Dark Side.

Part 1

"Where is it, darling?" Luke Skywalker called out the question to his wife of almost a year. He sat patiently watching her in a passenger seat next to the pilot's chair on Jade Sabre, Luke's wedding gift to her.

Mara Jade Skywalker was frantically going through the ship's main access files that she downloaded from a backup datacard. The files on that datacard were ones that had been in the system files of her other once beloved ship. Those had been destroyed along with the ship on Nirauan. There was one file in particular which they needed at that moment. It seemed to have been lost.

Mara addressed her new husband, "If you call me 'darling' like that one more time, I will know exactly where I will stick the datacard once I find it. Stang it, I thought it was on that disc. Ah ha, maybe in this file. No. I just know I dumped all the data into these data banks."

"As opposed to the data banks of the last ship we read the file on?" He didn't have to read her in the Force to know that he had said the wrong thing. Her quick look of contempt via her flashing green eyes stabbing at him told him that. "I'm sorry, Mara."

She kept on searching while replying, "You know, Skywalker, you always tell me my famous rage will be a path to the Dark Side, but you always seem to come up with ways to make me angry. But, in this case, you may be right. I may very well have left that file on Jade's Fire."

"I didn't exactly tell you to keep a copy."

"I did anyway."

Luke wrinkled his brow. "Now, why would you have done that then?"

"I have my reasons," she said as she finally shut down the screen and reclined back into the pilot's chair.

"Mara," Luke warned, "we said that there would be no secrets between us. Especially since I can sense your hesi–"

"I know what we said," she snapped suddenly. "Having this Force bond between us works great in battle. Outside of that, can we have some things private?"

"Why would we need to? You can share anything with me. You already know that."

"All too well."

Luke took a breath and anticipated more of her rage as he spoke again. He didn't want to come out with it, but it had to be addressed. "It's funny that for all we have shared in the past eight months as husband and wife–the best eight months of my life, so far–the only time when you don't share is when it involves your former boss."

"Luke...don't go there," she said through gritted teeth.

He could visually see how she was struggling to fight her anger. Eleven or more years ago and his neck would have been broken by now. He went forward anyway. "I'm already there. I thought you had come to terms with all things Palpatine." He paused and considered. "Maybe when we find his journal you should stay up here."

"Oh, now you're excluding me? Who's sharing now, Farmboy? I can handle myself, thank you."

"That's Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand, talking. What does Mara Jade Skywalker say?"

"She says that you're an idiot."

Luke shrugged humorously and replied, "Typical response from a wife to her husband, if you ask me."

"Don't attempt humor now. By the way, I did note that you said when we find the journal. I've looked–it's not here. It burnt up with the rest of Jade's Fire."

"You're the one who lost the–"

"I didn't lose anything!" she snapped loudly.

Luke didn't have a chance at a rebuttal with the cockpit door swishing open. Inside the doorway stood Leia Organa Solo. She wore the first casual clothing she had on in weeks since she had been on a campaign to run for Chief of State for the New Republic. Her demeanor looked drained as she entered the cockpit. She showed elation with her remark, "Finally! You two are fighting." She sat down on another passenger seat. "Well, I won that bet."

Mara's green eyes popped. "Bet?"

"Han gave the two of you a month before you'd show signs you were fighting in public. I gave you four months. And the actual total is eight. I'm impressed. It took me all of five minutes after our wedding to start fighting with my husband in public."

Luke advised, "You are married to Han Solo."

"Defense rests, your Honor. So, what were you fighting–actually, I don't want to know."

Mara sighed in defeat. "I can't find the journal."

"You didn't keep a copy?"

"On my other ship I did."

"Why can't you perform a data dump with a sensor sweep on your other ship?"

"I could if the other ship existed."

Leia winced. "It was on Jade's Fire. Oh boy." She wore a slight worried look but noticed Luke's confident smirk. "Fess up, brother, why are you so calm?"

Luke smiled, shrugged, and quoted, "A Jedi is at peace when they are calm."

Mara's eyes rolled and Leia reached into her pocket to grab a wad of flimsi so she could throw at Luke's head. "Don't give us those Jedi sayings, Master. We're nowhere near your Academy now. We wanted Jaina and Jacen to read that before we reached Naboo. We have, what, two more hours and we don't have the journal yet?"

Luke replied as calm as ever, "You're forgetting how you sent the file to the Fire all those years ago. It had to be encrypted."

Mara finished his thought. "Artoo."

Leia considered. "Would he still have that in his banks this long?"

"From what I could tell on Artoo's model number, his R-series built more than fifty years ago made the memory banks exceptionally large. I sometimes believe we could even find a recording of Artoo's own construction on file."

Mara started to rise. "Well, come one, let's get it."

Leia immediately gestured to her sister-in-law to sit back down. "Not just yet. The twins are still asleep."

Mara retorted, "And you just said yourself we have two hours for them to read the journal."

"After all their training they've had this week at the Academy and you want to wake them from peaceful sleep? That is showing your Dark Side, Mara."

Mara relaxed in her chair again, but tried to hide a flicker of emotion by saying, "I can understand that." It was too late.

Leia began her concern instantly. "Mara, what's wrong? You just flashed something that even little Anakin could have detected back on Coruscant. Was it my attempt at a joke?"

Mara shook her head slightly. After a small bout of reflection, she asked, "Do you remember what you said to Luke before you sent him that journal to the Jade's Fire all those years ago?"

Leia was thrown off by the question but answered, "I don't remember exactly."

"You said you wished Luke couldn't read your emotions all the time. Or something similar."

"Uh huh," Leia noted. "I think I'm getting a grasp on what your fight was about."

Mara answered cryptically, "Do you?"

There was a pause when Leia began her confusion and upon sensing it, Luke supplied her an explanation. "I have found out, sis, that my wife is a rather complex woman."

Leia chuckled, "You don't say? And did she marry a simple man?"

Luke's face contorted but had no time to reply.

The door to the cockpit opened again to reveal Han Solo inside the doorway. He was leaning on one side of the door jamb while holding a small silver canister in his right hand.

"Ah...so this is where the party is," he muttered as he entered the cockpit. "It was getting pretty silent out there with the kids sawing away and my wife gone. I wasn't about to carry on a conversation with Artoo." He flopped in the last remaining passenger seat next to Leia. "Times like this I wish Chewie were here."

Leia answered, "He's busy helping Winter with little Anakin. I'd say he has his hands full."

"Oh boy, doesh he," Han slurred.

Mara snickered, "Found the Cha'lume ale in the 'fresher?"

"Ohhh, yeah. Hope you don't mind. It's not bad as ales go."

Mara remarked, "Ghent gave me a case for a wedding gift."

Leia gasped. "Ghent bought alcohol?"

Mara smiled proudly, "He also gave me a universal transponder remote. It can bypass any ship's ignition sequence codes. In case we have to steal one once in a while. He built it himself."

Han chuckled, "He got you a homemade hot wiring tool and a case of ale? You're set for life."

Mara went on. "The remote I can use. The ale...well, I've never been a big ale drinker. I had no place to put in our apartment, so I kept the case in here." She reflected, "When I came of age to drink, I used to get cases of ale from all kinds of Senators in Palpa–"she slowed her speech awkwardly when she realized whom she was referring to among the Skywalkers and Solo, "–tine's court."

Han answered after a hesitant pause, "Oh, I'm sure he was a big party animal. Emphasis on animal. A celebration after every murder. Fun times." He gulped from the canister.

Mara swivelled her pilot's chair around to the main controls pretending to fiddle with settings already established. She said in disgust of herself, "I'm sorry I mentioned him. I was just remembering."

"Mara," Luke pleaded.

"No, it's my fault the air in here just dropped twenty degrees. All because I mentioned him."

Luke placed his living hand on her shoulder. "No one can fault you for remembering your childhood."

"Easy for you to say. Your childhood wasn't spent being raised by a psychopath."

Han quipped, "Can't argue with that."

Leia flashed her own look of contempt at her husband and warned, "You're not helping, darling."

Han winced. "'Darling.' What is it about that word that just doesn't scream out anything positive?"

Luke ignored Han and paid more attention to his wife. "Are you all right, Mara?"

"I'm fine," she snapped, instantly regretting the quick reaction. She repeated it more gently. "I'm fine. I'm sorry, Luke."

"Nothing for you to be sorry about."

She swivelled back to face them. "It's just that we are about to let the Solo kids read the words of that sick man manipulating their grandfather. Already they have the Solo-Skywalker built-in prejudice against Palpatine."

Han chimed, "Them and the rest of the galaxy, sweetheart."

"Han," Leia warned again.

Mara cried, "I'm not defending him, Han. I, of all people, should know his actions were evil. I used to obey his commands blindly ." She paused allowing the sound of the hyperdrive motivators hum on their own. "I'm just saying...he was human, too." She looked directly at Leia when she added, "Just like Anakin was before he was Vader."

There was no rebuttal after that statement from either of the Skywalker twins or Han.

Mara continued. "Did you know Palpatine loved the theater? He used to take me as a kid to the Coruscanti Theater Center. He had his own private box. He loved the Hapan ballets as much as the very avant-garde Mon Calamari acts. You've seen where he was from. He grew up with the same scenery as your mother had. Somewhere along the line he lost that touch of humanity."

Han finally snapped, "Blowing up whole planets will do that to a person."

Leia closed her eyes to cringe.

Mara felt Leia's pain of watching her beloved Alderaan being destroyed in front of her. But, that wasn't her point. "That was later on, Han. To tell you the truth, Tarkin had more of an obsession with that weapon than even Palpatine did. What I meant was that sometime living on Naboo, little Palpatine chose the Sith way. Very little is known about that part of his life, and believe me, he was not one to just come out with that kind of information about his past. We know what Anakin Skywalker's spark was that brought him to the Dark Side. What was Palpatine's?"

Leia answered, "We already know that choice in the Force dictates your action. The Force could have told the Emperor that the Sith is the correct way and he went with it. Anakin was given that choice and he chose the Dark Side."

"No," Luke interjected, "Anakin chose his wife. He mistakenly believed that by turning to the Dark Side he could save her life."

"So if the same scenario comes up, Luke, will you fall to the Dark Side to save me?"

Luke answered calmly, "I don't think that scenario would come up with us, Mara. I know too much about the Dark Side to fall into it again, even to save someone I love. The difference is, Anakin did not know enough about it and he made his decision naively. And besides, I don't think there is a situation where I would have to save you, Mara."

Mara smiled sweetly and replied back to her husband, "Because you already have."

Luke took that moment to say to the Solos, "Excuse me, I have to kiss my wife." And he did so.

All of them allowed the sentimental moment linger a moment before Leia spoke. "I just hope my children don't have to make that kind of choice. I'd rather they have a hard choice in choosing a life partner."

Luke explained as he sat back down, "That may be inevitable, Leia. The choice in the Force, not the life partner one. Jacen, Jaina, and eventually, Anakin, will have the choice to wield a lightsaber or a blaster."

Mara offered, "I'd actually prefer both. One of each in both hands."

Han raised his canister to her in a small toast. "I like the way you think, Jade."

She shot back, "That's Jade Skywalker now, thank you."

"Pardon me, your Jadeness. And to put my two credits in, I don't think it matters much because any Solo or Skywalker are born with a blaster or a lightsaber in hand already."

They all gave a laugh, thankful that the tension from before had been lifted.

Mara continued the light tone. She eyed Han with a smirk. "Is that so any of your kids can say they shot first, Han?"

"What's that mean?"

"I'm speaking of your famous last encounter with Greedo."

"Hey, I've said for years he took the first shot at me."

Mara egged him further. "Oh, yes, a professional bounty hunter missing wide from point blank range."

"It wasn't that wide. And the words 'professional' and 'Greedo' should never be in the same sentence. And, by the way, how did you know about that? Weren't you running around doing assassinations for Palpatine during that time?"

The anticipation of the tension returning arose like a cloud inside the cramped cockpit.

In her past, Mara Jade would not have let a remark like that go unpunished. Han would have had to be taken to the nearest Med facility if she hadn't. But, this was the start of a different phase in her life. Now that she married the most passive human in the galaxy, she learned to let her anger wash over her and redirect it to other areas where she needed it. Namely, self-control. Instead of acting violently, Mara answered Han calmly. "I heard stories while I was a dancer at Jabba's Palace." It was left unsaid that her mission while there was to eliminate her future husband. She then put him in his place as a reward for his outspoken remarks toward her. "Right about the time you were hanging on Jabba's wall."

Without waiting for the next tense moment to arrive, Luke stood up and announced, "I am going to see about getting that file from Artoo. Mara, is there extra flimsi so I can print a few copies?"

"Sure is. I'll stay up here until the twins wake up."

Han stood as well and said, "I'll go with you, Luke. I hear another ale calling me." He looked at Leia.

Han's wife stated, "I'll stay here and keep Mara company."

Han nodded and followed Luke out of the cockpit. Once the door shut, Han turned to Luke and commented, "That's a feisty one you married there, kid."

"Look who's talking," Luke countered as they walked toward the main lounge.

"Uh huh. And what was it you said years ago about a princess and a guy like me?"

"Situations change over time, Han."

"Yeah, they do. But, at least Leia at that time was helping the Rebellion. I don't even want to think of what Mara was doing for the Emperor at that time."

"Her duty," Luke answered plainly.

"Yeah, her duty supporting evil."

Luke sighed, "There's a difference between supporting evil and following it. From Mara's point of view, there was no evil."

"You sure she still believes that? She was talking about Palpatine in there like he was her father figure."

"Perhaps he was to her. The same way Bail Organa was to Leia. Neither were their true fathers, but they were both raised by them. And I know Mara doesn't believe herself to be evil despite her actions of her past. People can change over time too, Han. Just look at you, Mr. Ex-Smuggler."

"Yeah, who woulda thunk it?"

They opened the main lounge door and entered. It was a wide area complete with cushioned seats and a sofa on opposite sides of the room. A huge vid screen was on the front wall before them. Sitting in the corner was the computer station, where R2-D2 was sitting idly. At the controls of the computer sat ten-going-on-eleven-year-old Jacen Solo. He was still wearing his Jedi robes from the Academy and he was busy studying the screen. As soon as the two men entered, he glanced slightly and addressed them. "Hi Dad. Hi Uncle Luke."

Luke greeted his nephew and went over to the cushioned seat behind him and noticed he was in a navigation program. "Brushing up on your trade routes?"

"No, I'm trying to figure out where we are headed. Aunt Mara masked the trajectory modes quite well. I traced our emissions trail and projected a 72.5 percent probability that we're headed somewhere in the Outer Rim."

Luke tilted his head. "72.5 percent, huh? The Outer Rim has many systems. Nothing in detail?"

Jacen stopped typing and turned his chair to face his Uncle. "That's as close as I can come up with. I can't tell what this birthday surprise is."

Han spoke after he reached into the 'fresher and grabbed another ale, "You do know the meaning of 'surprise', son?"

"Sure. I'm just not the type who likes them."

Han begged, "Not even good ones?"

Jacen shrugged. "How do I know it will be good when I don't know what it is, yet. That depends on my point of view, doesn't it?"

Han flopped on a nearby double chair and gasped, "I give up." He addressed Luke. "He's been hanging around your Academy way too long. Been learning too much philosophy and less action."

Luke looked at Han and smiled, "You do know the meaning of Jedi, don't you?"

Han sneered at Luke before Jacen came back with, "I don't know about how much Jedi philosophy we've been taught. Most of our lessons have to do with avoiding the Dark Side."

"And rightfully so, Jacen," Master Skywalker countered. "Any one of us can be susceptible to being seduced." Luke hesitated and admitted, "Just like I had been once."

Jacen shot back, "And you didn't become disfigured and then terrorize the galaxy."

Luke paused and replied evenly, "Anakin Skywalker chose the Dark Side for a specific purpose. One with well intentions. But, once the Dark took a hold of him it blinded him from that purpose and he didn't let it go."

"Until you stepped in and saved him from himself on the Death Star, blah, blah, blah. Like I've read about it over and over again."

"Because it's an important lesson, Jacen. If you have anything to say, now's the time."

"Yes, I do. Why would you go out of your way to save someone so evil?"

"It was my choice. Funny, we were discussing that very thing in the cockpit before."

"It felt more like an argument."

"And that woke you," Luke surmised. "Jaina still asleep?"

"She's stirring. She'll be out in a moment."

Luke turned to Han. "So much for them sleeping through the entire trip."

Han gulped his ale and joked, "I told you we should have drugged them."

Luke chuckled and looked back at Jacen. He looked like he was anticipating. "What is it, now, Jacen?"

"You never answered my question."

Han laughed, "Now, that's my boy!"

Luke grinned in a proud moment with his student. "I chose to save him because as his son I felt the good still in him. Underneath all that evil shone a light that was dim against the darkness. And I found it."

Jacen took that answer but remarked, "I'd hate to have the memory of dueling with my father."

Han took that moment to comment, "That depends on how we're dueling."

Luke spoke as a Master this time. "The touchy thing about memory is that we ourselves choose how we look at our own. The memory of seeing my aunt and uncle burned alive is tragic on the surface, but it was the trigger that helped me become who I am today. The same thing goes with the memory of dueling with my father. I had to fight him in order to save him. I believe to this day that if it had been anyone else who tried to do what I did with Vader, they would have failed. Simply because they were not his son." He felt the tone was getting too serious so he turned to Han. "Why even your own father had all those memories at Carida in training at the Imperial Academy."

Han almost choked on his ale. "Kid, I was drunk most of those days. That's part of why I was asked to leave."

"Why exactly were you kicked out?" asked the inquisitive Skywalker.

"Dead men tell no tales," he said and burped.

A silence, then, "Han, you're not dead."

"Then I'll tell you after I am."

"My father is a poor choice for an example, Master Luke."

"Jacen, we're on vacation. Uncle Luke will do."

Before Jacen could acknowledge his request, the door to the sleeping quarters slid open and the half-asleep form of Jaina Solo appeared. Her long black hair was straggling in multiple directions as she entered in zombie mode.

Han exclaimed, "Well, look what the Wampa dragged in."

Jaina slumped in the sofa along the same wall as the computer station. She uttered, "In the state I'm in, that Wampa would win easily."

Luke asked, "I thought you wanted to sleep?"

"Yes. And I am grateful for those Jedi techniques you taught me. I'm still feeling the effects of practice dueling against Tenel Ka yesterday. I thought I'd never sleep."

Luke assured, "Both of you deserve it. Since the two of you are up, we may as well start have you reading."

"Reading?" Jaina questioned. "Please tell me this isn't another lesson."

"Yes and no. Jacen, if you're done with figuring out where we're going, I'd like to use the console, please."

Wordlessly, Jacen ejected out of the seat and sat down near Jaina on the sofa.

Luke started typing in for a search program and addressed Artoo with the translator nearby. "Artoo, I like for you to hook in and see if you can't find an old file that was encrypted in Gamma form. It would have been about eleven years ago; it's the one that Mara and I read on Jade's Fire."

"Eleven years? Jaina and I would have been babies."

"That's correct." Artoo beeped and whistled his reply. "Good. Download it to this console if you could." He turned to Han. "Go ahead and comlink Mara and Leia. We're almost ready."

Han leaned over to the comlink set on the nearby wall and clicked it on.

"Mara...Leia...looks like we're ready to go down Memory Lane now, so get both sets of your sweet buns down here." He hiccuped to end the sentence.

An answer from Leia shot back after a pause, "That ale in your hand right now is your last one, correct Han?"

Han took his current cannister and downed its contents in him quicker than anyone could imagine. He put the empty can on the 'fresher and quickly opened it up to reach for a new can.

"Han? Han, dear are you passed out?"

"Not even closhe, sweetheart."

"So, that one in your hand now will be your last?"

"Yes, honey, it will," he said with his famous lopsided grin while holding the new can.

"And that's not including the one you just chugged and threw away."

Amidst his own children laughing and Luke chuckling, Han sighed, "I can't get anything past you, can I?"

"You're on a ship full of Jedi, Han," was Leia's supplied answer.

"Artoo's not a Jedi," Han rebutted.

Artoo produced a series of beeps and whistles that sounded like a statement. Luke glanced at the translator screen. "He said he detected the sound of the empty can you set on the 'fresher."

Han gave an exasperated sigh, "I can't win."

Mara voice replied from the comlink speaker, "Welcome to the Skywalker clan. We'll be down in a moment."

Jaina was still laughing but still managed to say, "Smooth move, Dad." She settled and addressed her uncle. "So, what's in this eleven-year-old file? The suspense is killing me."

Luke replied, "Oh, the file itself is quite more than eleven years old."

As if on cue, the title of the file popped up.

PALPATINE JOURNAL ENTRY - 0603

The twins spotted the name and chills went down their spine.

"What is this, Uncle Luke?"

"It's a journal written by the then Chancellor of the Old Republic, Palpatine. And we're going to have you read it."

[Part II coming soon.