"5 minutes to realspace Captain," his nav officer called.
"Thanks Dankin," he replied easily "Be ready to jump back to hyper' quickly in case we run into any trouble."
A quiet murmur of laughter spread across the bridge. They all knew as well as he did that this was a token mission. He should really quiet them, but then, this wasn't a military ship and he liked to think of all these people as his close friends, so he'd let it slide.
"1 minute." Dankin got his hands ready on the hyperspace levers.
He noticed how easily Dankin fell back into the role of navigator after having been captain of his own ship for years now.
"30 seconds." The bridge crew began to tense.
"Ready on the guns." He said needlessly. His crew wasn't trigger-happy, but they were prepared, no matter how harmless the situation seemed.
"10." Dankin gripped the levers harder.
He counted down and on '1' he pulled back the hyperspace-lever. The stars reappeared, stretched and out of proportion. Space returned and Dankin caught his breath. A smallish yellow planet turned on the bottom half of the bridge's front screen, one of its moons sluggishly following it. But it wasn't the planet that had made Dankin start. Three large ovoid cruisers were heading straight for them, turbolasers blazing.
"Full evasive!" He shouted,
"Torr, Cait, get on the forward quads." The captain shouted after a heartbeat of adrenaline-induced shock.
He was already out of his chair and heading for the nav station. The cruisers grew larger on the screen, bristling with weapons and bearing rapidly down on them.
"Get me a reading on those weapons." He clipped as he made his way to hang just behind Dankin's shoulder "How fast can we jump back?".
Dankin turned to look at him. His face gave the answer away before he said it, "Captain, they've got interdictor cruisers already coming up behind us. We're here for the duration." Dankin said.
He nodded, turning back to face the sensor station for the report.
A fresh-faced man hurried over "Sir," he shoved a datapad into the Captain's hands and gestured to a bunch of figures displayed on it. "The computer's never seen anything like them before, but we count at last 200 turbolaser emplacements, and a whole bunch of ports that could be anything from proton torpedo bays to tractor beams. Whatever, I think the weapons are the last of our problems: look at those shield readings..."
The Captain stared down at the 'pad, finding the reading, and whistled softly. "Okay, get back and try and find a weakness." He said to the boy, turning to the comm panel and flicking the intra-ship communications on, hitting the alert-button so that all the ship except for the bridge resounded with the urgent noise of a siren,
"Everyone, this is Aves, if you haven't got a battle station to go to, strap down, were going into battle and it looks like it might get a little rough. Watch your backs." He flicked it off again and moved back behind Dankin.
The cruisers filled the viewscreen now. "Dankin, turn us around, we're going after those interdictors." Dankin nodded and had the ship swinging around as the captain moved back to his seat. They were hopelessly outgunned, but they weren't out yet.
"Are Torr and Cait there yet? Good, patch me in." He waited a heartbeat "Torr, Cait, keep your fire on those interdictors if you can, were not going to be able to take out those cruisers, so we're going to have to run for it. Got that?" When they confirmed he turned back to Dankin "Try and keep them as shielded from those cruisers as possible."
The cruiser let go a hail of small black ships that descended onto the larger freighter, raking it with turbolaser fire. Torr and Cait shot back but the shields soaked up the energy like it was nothing, coming around again and again to fry weapons circuits onboard the ship. There was the distinct smell of burning on the bridge.
"Deak!" He called to the comm station "Can you get a message out to Karrde?"
The young man clung to his console as the ship rocked under turbolaser fire, "Will do captain!" He yelled over the chaos of people shouting orders to each other.
"They're coming round for another pass." Dankin said, a quite note of resolution in his voice.
"None of that, Dankin." He warned him, though he too couldn't see a way out of this one, the small black fighters were simply too fast.
Suddenly the ship lurched to the side throwing them all of their feet. Deak's console exploded in a shower of sparks and molten metal. The young man was dead before he hit the floor.
"Damage report." He shouted over the warning sirens, picking himself up the floor.
"Sir, we've lost Cait."
A cold lump formed in his throat. She'd been with him for years now.
"Incoming!!" someone shouted.
He didn't have time to react; the ship lurched and threw him violently into a bulkhead. He felt bone snap as he hit the wall and collapsed to the floor. His last glance showed him the look of horror on Dankins' face as the ship dived uncontrollably towards the yellow planet now filling the cockpit's screen.
His own terror swelled up inside him before his thoughts fled away with his consciousness.
The shuttle entered the upper atmosphere with deceptive ease, shedding speed as it went. Locally the weather was clear and silent; breaking through the upper atmosphere the shuttle lifted up again, then headed down towards a group of bright lights that represented the largest spaceport the planet had to offer. Taking his eyes off the spectacular view he turned to look at the other passengers. Leia lay with her head in Han's lap: sleeping off the months of negotiations and bureaucratic double talk it had taken them to get even this far. They should wake her, really, but somehow they didn't have the heart.
Han sat fidgeting in his seat: unhappy with having to sit back and let someone else pilot, alternating between staring out his window and glancing absently at the sleeping Leia's discarded notes.
The shuttle settled with a soft hiss and a final whine from the repulsors. Han looked down at Leia, bent and whispered something in her ear, she opened her eyes and smiled widely.
"Well, your worshipfullness, looks like you got your wish for a holiday. Cassrine is certainly away from it all." Han said. She threw him a rye look.
Trying to get her hair back into some resemblance of a style, she said, "Why do you think I picked this mission?"
"Point. Ready, Luke?" Han was already moving for the exit. Luke moved to stare out the open door with him.
"I guess so. Leia, isn't someone supposed to meet us?"
"No, didn't I tell you? We're going to meet with them tomorrow. Something about the time zones being wrong."
"Oh, great." Han said sarcastically "So how do we find our hotel then?"
Leia looked up, annoyed despite herself. "I had thought of that." There was an awkward moment of silence until Leia continued, "I've got a map, it should be with these data files." She brandished a bag and started rummaging through it.
"Ermm...." Luke started,
"You're right, we should get off the ship first."
"Don't do that," Han said mock menacingly "I swear you're getting worse at it."
Leia smiled widely, "Like listening to half a conversation? Sorry."
She headed for the shuttle door.
The world outside was revealed to be hot and uncomfortably sticky: a blast of hot air hit them as they stepped out from the temperature-controlled shuttle, descending the ramp to a gravelled spaceport surface. There were ships of various sorts and several were probably of dubious backgrounds. Some were obscured by metal gang trees with techs crawling all over them, others were loading and unloading goods; again she suspected not all of legitimate sources. A shabby cantina was on one side of the port, looking very neglected but probably well used.
"Not exactly high-tech." Han muttered. Leia ignored the comment, mainly because she had to agree.
"That looks promising." She said to Luke, pointing to a large prefab structure next to the cantina.
"Some form of customs?" Luke asked dubiously. The lack of any proper control for entry onto and leave from the planet certainly reinforced Leia's suspicions about the illegal nature of the cargo being loaded onto those ships, and of course their captains.
"Tell me again why were trying to get this lot to join the republic." Han said, looking round the shabby landing pad and arching a doubtful eyebrow.
Leia shrugged off her annoyance "The Cassrine haven't been in space all that long: galactically speaking that is. A lot of what you see here comes from other cultures who imposed their own ideas on them. They're supposed to be a highly cultured race: this spaceport was built by the Empire during the time it occupied Cassrine, until a few years ago. I guess they haven't got round to changing it yet."
The shuttle rose behind them and with a flair of repulsors climbed for space.
"Hmmmm" Han said, a little too sarcastically for her taste, "We better go find some of this culture of yours then, though I don't see what they can offer the Republic."
Leia turned to face him, "Han, the Republic's not just about what we can get from others, it's about what-"
"Spare me the speech Leia. All I meant was its getting dark." He pointed a hand towards the sky "If we don't find this hotel soon, we'll never find it." He started to walk towards the building. Leia threw a glare at his back.
"Relax," Luke said, moving to stand beside her "He's just trying to rile you"
She turned her glare on him, "Oh, and that makes it all right?"
Luke flinched. "Leia..."
She softened as she looked into his face and rubbed a hand across her face. "Sorry." She said quietly "It's just, well, we haven't been getting along well recently,"
"I guess we're both tired: we've hardly seen anything of each other lately." She trailed off, staring absently towards the huge building. Taking a deep breath and getting her composure back, "Come on, it is getting dark."
They managed to find their way through the old customs building, policed by a single guard, who didn't bother to either search them or wish them a nice trip. The holovid proved far more interesting for him. When Han had commented sarcastically on the lack of security, Leia had pointed out that it was just the sort of place Han would have loved just a few back. His pride ruffled by the reminder of just how respectable he was becoming, Han didn't comment further on the state of the spaceport. The local form of public transport, a ground-based train system called the trans-line, carried them to the main terminal for their connection to their meeting with the planet governors. Or at least, that had been the plan.
In contrast to the landing pad, the terminal was a cavernous and ancient building, with an arched transparisteel ceiling crossed with durasteel girders that filtered through what little sunlight was getting through the rain clouds. Rain clouds which were responsible for both the throngs of dripping tourists and businessmen, as well as for the many trans-line carriers grounded on their platforms. The public-relations officials in their crisp red suits were not happy.
Han stood glaring at one particularly intimidated official, waving their tickets in front of him
"Look," he said, a bit too loudly "All we want is to get to our hotel, is that so much to ask for?"
The official stuttered, "I'm sorry sir. Most of the carriers are down due to the storm. Unfortunately, those which are running, aren't going in the direction you would like to travel in. You'll have to take the trans-line which is going nearest, which I'm afraid will still be several kilometres away from you're destination, or stay here tonight."
He took the opportunity of Han's moment of thought to scurry away, moving to a group of slightly less intimidating though no less irate tourists.
Han turned to face Luke and Leia. "So much for that idea. I told you it'd never work. Luke, can't you just..."
"Why not? I mean, it's not like its gonna hurt anyone and-"
Rather than looking exasperated, Luke just looked mildly amused, "Han, I can just make people do what I want them to just because it's convenient."
Han looked slightly disgusted; "You Jedi are no fun sometimes. Well, I guess that means we stay here tonight because the trans-line goes nowhere near where we need to be. Which hotel though...." Han forced his way through the crowds of dripping wet aliens and over to a public info terminal. Studying the terminal for a moment, he began experimentally punching keys.
As they forced their way through the crowded building to join him, Luke felt something brush the back of his neck. His automatic reaction was to move his hand to search for whatever had hit him. Nothing. Luke frowned and looked around the crowd but got no help there. Probably just an insect bite, then.
He listened to Han and Leia argue over which hotel looked the best. This was going to be a long trip. So far they hadn't stopped arguing since they'd got here and Luke was beginning to get tired of it.
They stood inside the small booth, which Leia noted with some disgust was badly in need of a clean. The storm had come on very suddenly: apparently there was nothing unusual about that. Cassrine's climate was not unlike Coruscant's for it sudden and violent storms. The heating unit in the booth was obviously shot.
Luke shivered; despite the wretched weather he hadn't expected it to be this cool. He felt an ache in the back of his neck and his eyes hurt. Shutting them against a strange dizziness he was feeling, he rubbed the nape of his neck and tried channelling the Force to take away the increasing pain.
Someone was saying his name. He should answer. He should open his eyes, should answer them.
"Luke? Are you all right? Luke?"
With an effort he opened his eyes "Yeah." His voice didn't sound too good. He swallowed and tried again,
"Yeah I'm fine, why?"
"You look pale, buddy, what's wrong?" Han said, staring intently at Luke's face.
"I'm fine, really, I just felt a bit dizzy for a while." They didn't look convinced but Luke changed the subject.
"So, where are we staying then?"
With a last dubious look in his direction Leia answered, "The only place with any room left is here, on the outskirts of town. She pointed on the display to an isolated building surrounded by dense woodlands. We'll need to take the trans-line though."
The dizziness was fading but the pain in his neck refused to go, "Great, lets get moving then."
The hotel was better than she had expected. It was large, obviously exclusive (and it should be, she thought, considering what it was going to cost for them to stay here) and set in large grounds of dense woodland. She was told that the tropical woods extended a long way past the back of the hotel and provided some beautiful walking areas, when the sun shined. From the trans-line terminal they had taken a speeder out to the hotel. Leia looked at Luke: she could tell something was wrong without even using the Force. He was unnaturally pale and quite, staring out at the torrential rain. His arms were crossed across his stomach in what she thought was a slightly foetal position.
Luke she sent. Luke startled out of his daze and turned to look at her.
I'm okay, really
You're not, what's wrong? He seemed to consider trying to convince her he was okay, then thought again.
It's probably nothing Leia looked at Luke and frowned. "Luke..." she started.
Han interrupted with a gasp, "Wow... would you look at that." The speeder had turned a bend in the road so that their hotel was visible "Okay Leia, I guess you were right about culture after all."
The huge building loomed over them as they approached. It was huge and elegant; spiralling to great heights without even a hint of the blocky architecture of the spaceport. It glistened white in the moonlight, light shone out the windows warmly. Leia thought the style reminded her of Alderaan: like a house she'd been to her in her childhood. As the speeder drew to a stop before the massive double doors Leia and Han jumped out the speeder making a dash for the dry foyer. Luke following slightly more slowly and came to stand next to Han: hair wet and hanging over his face, blinking it out of his eyes he said,
"I'm not sure they're going to appreciate us" Leia looked them up and down. They all looked half drowned, and out of the 3 of them she was the only one dressed for such an exclusive hotel. Han wore his old top and trousers that he felt so confident in, even though before they'd left Leia had argued that they might need to appear smart. Luke wasn't much better; he wore just an old black top and trousers, and she hadn't even tried to persuade him to dress smart. It wasn't like she'd ever been able persuade him of anything. She wasn't the only headstrong one in the Skywalker line.
"How long have you two had those clothes anyway? I'd swear you wore the same stuff at Endor."
"Hey!" Han said, "I've only had these a couple of years, thank you. " Leia grinned.
Luke just shrugged "The same. They're just more comfortable."
"We'll just have to sweet-talk them, I guess." She replied and stepped into the huge hallway.
Han dragged their sodden bags into the room and dumped them on the floor. Water ran of their sides and puddled on the floor. He turned back to see Leia step in and shut the door behind her, and then brush disgustedly at her clothes.
I'm glad we didn't have to travel tonight, anyway. It's starting to get really heavy out there." She said, wandering into the room and casting an expert eye over the furnishings before dropping into the sofa.
Luke wandered past her, a distracted look on his face as he went to look out the window. She watched him, then turned back to Han, "I'm still not sure about using fake ID's Han, maybe we should have told them who we were, it wouldn't do any harm." She spied the mirror over in a corner and walked over to it. "Oh my--" She gasped when she got a look at the strangled halo of wet hair that had previously been her neat braids.
"No one's going to know where to contact us." She continued, tugging at the pins that held the drenched strands in place. Han came to stand up beside her, brushing at his own drenched features. She stifled a grin and bit down a remark about his vanity. He didn't like her bringing it up.
"That was the point, Leia. A little bit of privacy - remember? Besides, I'll call Winter and tell her where we are."
She smiled warmly at him, the last of the braid falling limp over her shoulders. She wandered over to their bags to dig out a brush. "Yeah, maybe. I'm surprised they bought it, really."
She'd expected Luke to come in at this point and mention it hadn't been the most honest use of a mind trick.
He didn't. Instead, he continued to stare out the window and at the rain. She turned towards him,
"Luke?" When he didn't answer she touched his shoulder lightly. He jumped, startled, and whirled to face her. "What's wrong?"
He gazed past her as he spoke "Nothing, I think I just need some air." He answered absently.
Leia stared into his face, not sure what to say. "Luke, it's throwing it down out there. At least wait till it stops." she said, walking back over to place the brush on a table. Luke looked back at her, and she could feel him trying to find a way out of this. He looked around the room like a caged animal. "Luke, you really don't look too good- " she started.
"I'm fine, Leia. I think I need some air, that's all." She looked over at Han, he just shrugged. She frowned, but she wasn't going to stop him if he really wanted to, and besides, some time to themselves would be nice.
Luke was already at the door. "At least put something warm on." She said, feeling like his mother.
He smiled at that, " I'm not going for long. See you tomorrow." He walked out, shutting the door quietly behind him. She stared at the door for a long while, a nasty feeling in the pit of her stomach. Han came up beside her and took her hand,
"Come on, your worship. He'll be fine..." With a resigned sigh, she tuned back with Han to find some dry clothes.
Luke wandered down the little used pathways. At first it had started out as a wide trail but now he was having to concentrate on his walking to keep from tripping or loosing the path. That was good. It kept his mind from wandering: kept him from thinking too much. The pain behind his eye's wouldn't go away, at times it was horribly intense, at others it's was a mild but constant ache. The path was treacherous: Luke lost his footing and slipped, catching a wet branch to break his fall. This was ridiculous, even on Yavin4 he'd never had any trouble traversing the jungles: and this was not Yavin4.
Climbing back to his feet and trying to shake off the sense of dread: of something impending that had fallen over his consciousness like a black cloud, he considered going back to the hotel. But the heat: the recycled, cleaned air, all of it had seemed so suffocating: he'd had to get out of there, he'd needed the fresh air: the quite of the forest, he couldn't go back. He turned and stared at the welcoming hotel, rain washed down his face: his hair clung to his head and fell in his eyes. He had come out here for a reason: what had that reason been? He sighed: his thoughts were dazed and confused: running away from him even as he tried to think. He couldn't remember what he was doing out here.
He walked on.
The rain beat mercilessly down and the cold permeated his aching body. He came to another branch in the road. Taking the path on the right he walked deeper into forest. You could easily get lost in these woods if you wandered too much, but standing bright and clear like a homing beacon behind him was the hotel: he would find a way back if he needed to. For now Luke concentrated on the forest ahead. He could sense its vastness by the living creatures within it. There was life everywhere, all adding to the deep stream that was the force, adding to and amplifying it.
Luke rested against a sodden tree, and let his mind relax into the tidal flood of life energy. What was he doing out here? Back in the hotel it had seemed so, so...necessary. Now it just seemed foolish. There had been a reason, he knew there had been one. What was it? Frustration ate at the corners of his mind as he tried to think straight, tried to gather his thoughts but they crumbled like dust in his hands and died.
Use the Force, Luke! The Force!!
Who said that?
It was a half remembered voice...
No, Ben was gone, was it his own subconsciousness? He seemed to hear himself; it felt so long ago,
"Something has been damaged. Find it. Heal it, Fight back."
Whoever, whatever it was, he heard the truth in the statement. No more hesitation, no more confusion, he hadn't the time; suddenly he knew. Knew that he must trust the voice. He must trust himself.
Unquestioning, he stretched out to the Force. He brought it to him, sought to wrap it around himself, to cure whatever it was that was making him so ill.
That was why he was out here: the quite, to touch the Force fully. Now he had the time and the quite to, Luke traced the ebb and flow of his own mental presence in the Force, he felt the beat of life, the inescapable chaos of life.
He concentrated and felt something else. Like a scorch mark on his presence and growing. Growing fast.
Forcing down panic and fear, he concentrated all the strength he had to seek out the mark, sought to suffocate it and to destroy it. But its touch was slippery and no matter how his mind tried to grasp it, his touch fell short of the mark.
Where had it come from? A raking pain clawed up his spine and threw him violently out of the Force. His legs gave way and he collapsed to the drenched ground, sinking into the mud.
Something ran through his veins, something burned him from the inside. What? How? He would have felt anything like that long ago, He would have known. Wouldn't he?
Images swirled in front of him; whatever it was, it was hallucinogenic. Gasping for breath, his mind spun memories of things he'd never even experienced, so that they attacked him, betrayed him, lied to him; so that he believed them.
He tried to gain his feet under him, or was that another illusion? He thought he heard someone crying, did he? It wasn't real. He knew it was, he knew, didn't he?
"I loved you as a friend, and as a student, as a son"
"Forgive me if I fail to say you impress me"
"You destroyed my life!"
"I can't stay with you Luke..."
"When I look at you it seems like a vital part of you has been burned away by what you've gone through. If that's what it takes to become a Jedi maybe I don't want the job!"
"They don't trust you."
"I am your father"
"Now, young Skywalker, You will die."
"No!!!" He screamed, his mind in agony as the visions flicked before him, as accusing faces glared at him, as the Emperor leered in the anticipation of his death. He screwed his eyes tight and tried to stop the storm from washing over him. Taking up the last of his strength he shouted Leia through the Force, but he knew it was a barely heard whisper. Again and again he called, but to no response. She was there, that much he could sense, but she didn't answer.
His consciousness was sinking beneath the illusions towards a black night. He was exhausted; his last effort was to pull back inside himself. He was dying, that was all he knew, that was all that was true. All else was an illusion, figures conjured from his dreams; from his nightmares.
"I am dying. Will Leia know?" his thought said, even as it fell apart. "I can't find the Force. I will truly die, then." But then his thought fled far away as a black flood took him.
Leia lay, her head resting on Han's shoulder. The comm beeped for attention as it had done for the past 2 minutes. Couldn't she be free of calls out here? It was probably just some bureaucrat wanting her advice on some minor point: she could ignore it. The bed was warm and she was finally relaxed: it could wait. The noise continued relentlessly, throwing the covers back she dashed to the unit and hit the "quite" button. She dived back into bed, curled up tighter and pulled the duvet over her head. She was not awake.
Han was already dressed when she woke. Pushing scattered hair from her face she stretched, Han turned and smiled.
"Good night?" He asked,
"Mmmm" She said, "I haven't slept like that for ages." She looked out the window; it hadn't stopped raining yet, but it looked a little brighter. She felt strange for some reason, something she couldn't quite put her finger on... Well; it was probably just waking up in a strange bed. Han sat down next to her.
"Want to guess the time?" Now that she looked out the window it did look brighter than she would expect of early morning.
"Enlighten me." She said.
Han grinned "An hour before noon."
Leia startled... the meeting!! Han held up a hand before she could speak. "It's okay, we got a mail last night just before you went bed; their delaying the meeting to give us time to get settled in the other hotel.
Han gave her his best confused look "Me?"
"Yes, you...." she said smiling now too.
Han made a face "Can't keep anything from you can I?" He stood up and moved to do up his boots.
"No." Leia said with a straight face as she stepped out of bed. "Where's the luggage?" She asked after she couldn't find it in any of the wardrobes.
"Ermm...where we left it in the lounge last night."
Leia smiled. "Right."
She opened the huge doors that opened into the lounge area. She spied the luggage in a corner and walked towards it, something still flicked at her consciousness but she couldn't focus on it. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flashing on the comm unit: incoming message. She walked over to it, was about to turn it on when she realised she wasn't exactly dressed to take calls. Pulling out a pair of trousers and top she hurriedly dressed. Sweeping her hair back behind her head and tying it in a knot she sat down at the unit and pressed "receive". One of the girls on the front desk turned to face her with a professional smile.
"Mrs Antilles?" She said, using the fake but common name they had given the desk, not pausing to let Leia answer, "Apparently our records show that you had a repeated call last night from an unknown source, listed as urgent."
Urgent? Leia frowned. Maybe it had been more than a bureaucratic call after all. The woman continued "Would you like us to notify the source that you are now taking calls? Although the source is classified, we call still call out and notify it that you are available."
"Yes please do, thank you." The woman on screen disappeared and Leia waited for the call to come in. Han walked in, saw her at the terminal and walked over.
"What's wrong?" He asked, obviously not at all surprised that something would be wrong.
"I'm not sure..." Leia answered. The screen showed a blast of static then started to rearrange itself.
"Coming from a long way away." Han muttered.
The face of their 7 year old son appeared on the screen, "Anakin!" Leia said, surprised, and then her eyes caught up with her mind: his face was pinched in anguish and his eyes were red and swollen "Anakin...what's wrong?" She asked.
"Mom! Where have you been? What's happened to uncle Luke?" Leia's mind froze.
Luke! Her mind numbed. That was what had been tugging on her mind.
Vaguely, she heard Han say "Luke? Luke's fine, kid."
Leia felt her voice choke in her throat "No, he's not." She said.
"Mom, I felt... I... he's gone isn't he?" Leia squeezed her eyes shut.
Somehow, she knew Anakin was right. Clinging to the chairs arm she stretched out for her brothers comforting presence: she was no Jedi but she and Luke had always been ...connected. She stretched but felt only a black vacuum where he should have been. Nothing. He wasn't there.
Han looked at Leia, at Anakin; didn't understand what was going on. Luke was fine, wasn't he?
"Anakin, what's wrong? Did you have a bad dream?" He asked, not sure what else could have caused such an emotional reaction in his son.
Leia opened her eyes, told herself to breathe, tried to gather her thoughts, to force down the panic that had started to rise in her. She breathed deep. Luke had gone out last night; he hadn't looked too good. No, that wasn't true. Leia had let Luke leave last night, knowing in her heart that something, something intangible was wrong. And she had let him go.
Guilt washed over her, she let herself feel it. What had she done? What had her selfishness, her need to be with Han, cost her brother?
"Anakin, what did you see?" Anakin blanched from her gaze, looked at his feet. He didn't want to remember, she realised. Had it been that bad?
"I, uh-" His voice broke off, squeezing his eyes shut he continued, "there was rain and woods, trees. I saw Uncle Luke, he wasthere was pain and confusion. Then he..." The colour drained from his face,
"Go on honey, we have to know, we have to find him." Leia urged,
"It hurt." Anakin said at last, his voice a hoarse whisper, "it hurt and... he was calling out, mom, but no one was answering. No one came." Then Leia heard it, it was so well hidden from her that she might not have felt it; her son was accusing her. Her son blamed her for not answering Luke. Where had she been that his uncle could not have reached her?
Where had she been?
"Anakin, I-" What should she say? That she had been with Han? She shut her mind from her sons silent hurt.
Luke she thought, stretching out again to the Force. "I'm going to try and find him." She heard herself whisper.
It felt strange reaching out to the Force like this. Whenever she had touched it so deeply before it had been with Luke. Then he had been a firm presence guiding her. Now, she felt like she was floundering in the dark. Locking out all other awareness, she concentrated on the presence of her brother, what the touch of his mind normally felt like. Tried to find something, anything familiar. The Force was around her, touching her as she touched it. It was clear and open to her, but it was vast. Where to look? She focused on the forest, felt its life beat, scanned it, searching for a sign, any sign.
Her mind slipped across a part of the Force that felt burned and confused. It was in turmoil, the careful balance broken and destroyed. Breathing deep, she tried to focus closer on it. The Force erupted in chaos around her, screaming at her but she couldn't understand what it was saying. She thought she heard Luke whisper, Leia.
She thought she saw him lying in the mud, the rain heavy, his eyes squeezed shut in pain. Blood was running down his face
She felt a black cloud smother her; her brothers' panicked thoughts fell silent.
Horrified, Leia recoiled from the vision, her mind adding to the turmoil in the force. It felt suffocating, closing in on her.
He's dead. It whispered to her.
And you did nothing to help him.
How could you?
Leia ran from the Force. She broke out and gasped for air. Trying her best to mask her face - for Anakin's sake- she rose shakily out of the chair. Out of view, she let herself fall to the ground. Han looked at her, then back at Anakin.
"Anakin." He said, "When was this? When did you" Dream wasn't the right word "...see this?"
"About midday here, but I don't know when that was where you are. Seven hours ago, maybe. Dad, you have to find him, he-" Han looked at his youngest son, realised that there could be nothing he could say to him until they found Luke alive, except perhaps a few words of comfort.
"He'll be all right, your uncle's a survivor, don't worry. When we find him, you'll be the first to know." Anakin, looked in to his fathers eyes and Han was struck -not for the first time- by just how much he resembled Luke, the fiery intensity behind those eyes....
"I promise." He let Anakin close the connection first, then reached across and turned the screen off. Leia was sat on the floor, head bowed in her hands. Tentatively, Han touched her shoulder.
"Leia..." She jumped and whirled around, her face streaked with tears.
"Han, he's... he's dead. I felt it. Just like Anakin said. And, and he's not there. Do you understand? He's not there!" He moved to hold her but she pulled away, "And I didn't feel a thing." She whispered.
"Leia, you're jumping to conclusions. We have to go find him. For all you know, that was the future you saw..." he broke of when he saw the look on Leia's face
"No, it was the past." She said, more certain of it than she had ever been of anything in her life. "I saw him, Han. He was bleeding, and" She didn't know how to describe it "cold."
Han felt desperate. He needed to go out there and find Luke, but he also needed to be here to comfort Leia. How could she be so certain of this? How could she trust this...vision...so completely? Another crazy Jedi thing, probably.
"You're right," she said "we have to find him."
Han bit back a comment about her reading his thoughts; now wasn't the time. She seemed to pull on some inner strength, started for the door, a haunted look still in her eyes.
The rain bit at her face and the wind pushed damp, clammy hair into her eyes. Annoyed, she pushed it out of her way. Her sodden, ruined shoes skidded along the forest path, struggling to gain a grip on the treacherous ground, splashing thick mud up her legs. Thrusting sharp claw-like branches from her path and ignoring the pain if they hit back at her and contacted when she let go, Leia plunged through the forest with burning tears running down her cheeks. The rain didn't help, it blinded her, chilled her, reminded her of her vision. Her hair lay limp and clinging to her skull, her hands scratched and bloodied as she forsook haste for speed and the forest undergrowth ripped at her skin. Pulling herself over the fallen hulk of a huge tree, and landing in a heap in the clayey mud behind it, she paused to give her shaken feet a rest.
In the old days, she thought, in the old days I wouldn't have been hindered by my own clothing: wouldn't have listened to my aching legs.
In the old days I wouldn't have realised just exactly what it was that I'd lost.
Despair and panic swept over her in equal parts as she thought of Luke lying bloodied and dying somewhere in this forest. Dying , and she was stopping to catch her breath. Angry and disgusted at herself, she pushed of from the tree and plunged down the steep path, only defined by the flowing torrent of mud as it flowed down the steep hill. She bit back stinging tears. She would not cry. She was Leia Organa Solo, ex freedom fighter ,president to the new republic, Princess of the destroyed world of Alderaan, and sister to man who had taken down Darth Vader: she would not cry. Not until they found his body, not until she looked into his face and knew he was dead.
She wondered what could possibly have happened to him. Luke had always been so secure in her life: sometimes he seemed invincible: certainly she'd never seen anyone beat in him combat, but then the vision hadn't felt like he'd been fighting, he seemed more confused, somehow. What had been so powerful that he hadn't been able to fight it off?
Han came running down the slope behind her: shouting her to stop. She barely heard him, the driving wind and rain throwing his words back at him. The wind seemed to howl through the trees in mocking laughter. She rubbed tears from her eyes. She would not cry. The path forked, again. Again she chose on instinct the path she thought Luke would have taken. She could have stood before it deliberating over which path was right and still have been no closer to knowing: still have chosen on impulse. She seemed to remember Luke's voice. "You have to give the force more control." He had said that a lot to her in their training sessions, during the moments she had managed to snatch between council meetings and diplomatic visits
I'm sorry Luke. I'm so sorry, she thought into the Force, hoping beyond hope that he would hear her. Bitterly now did she regret not training fully, it mixed with the sour taste off the rain, the salt of her tears. She would not cry.
A huge buttress stuck out into the path. She caught her foot on it, tripped and fell to the ground. Mud and water swirled around her, seemed to envelop her. And she longed for the darkness, for peace from this hell of not knowing, of being so afraid of what she knew to be true. She welcomed the darkness.
Two strong hands clasped her under her arms and pulled her to her feet.
"Leia..." Han said.
Before she had resisted his comfort, now she collapsed into it, despite the urgency her mind felt to keep moving. She sobbed. Wrenching, heartfelt sobs of pain and grief. Tears that tore Han apart as he tried to comfort; her even as his own mind chased itself in circles. Gathering long, wet hair in his hands, he held her to him, allowing her pain and loss to flow through him.
"It'll be all right." He whispered into her ear. She pulled away from him: small and scared and frightened.
"No, it won't." She said with such assurety that Han stayed quite. His cool, confident, independent Leia broke down into hysterics. "He's not there!!" She screamed her voice rising high and scratchy "I didn't feel it! I didn't feel him!! He would have, if it were me! Its my fault !!!" Rain washed down her faced as she screamed at the injustice of it all, as she screamed at Force, at the planet, at herself. Painful guilt and shame washed over her as she allowed herself to feel what she really felt. It bent her double, made her want to cry out, but she took it.
"Its my fault." She whispered at last, falling into Han's embrace.
Rain fell around them, the promised sun of morning dying under its assault.
At last Han lifted his head, gently moving Leia from him, he said "Come on. Lets go back for help." He started to pull back up the path with him, but she hung back, staring into the forest
"I can't." She said, "I have to carry on." Her voice was stronger now, more certain, more true to herself.
"He's here, somewhere." Her eyes seemed to glaze over. Luke was powerful, his...pain...when he had died had ripped through the Force, she thought she could feel a trace of him, a footprint left in the Force.
"I have to go on." The conviction in her voice and face, eyes more alert now, lips still pinched in pain but no longer trembling from inner guilt, was enough to silence any protest from Han. He nodded and headed back up the path alone. Struggling past the mud flow, he turned back to look at her.
"We'll find him, I promise." She watched his lithe figure disappear into the trees. Leia started to run down the path again after her brother.
Luke she thought into the void she ran towards.
The day was dark now, it didn't feel like noon; more like midnight. And it was cold to. Too cold.
Muddied and dripping he ran into the hotel lobby. Trying to orientate himself through the dark cloud that seemed to have smothered his mind, he ran to the front desk. A young boy, probably not beyond 20, sat behind the desk, frowning at a computer screen. Han paced up to the desk and waited for the boy to respond. When he didn't Han glared at the boys back and coughed loudly.
"Umm, excuse me?" He said, careful not to exaggerate the 'excuse' bit: he did need this kids help after all.
"Sorry." The boy responded "I'll be with you in a minute." Han stood waiting for a full minute before his patience broke. This was ridiculous, Luke was out there somewhere, he didn't have time for this!
"It's important." Han said sharply,
"I won't be a moment."
Enough talk; he was wasting time "No, you won't." He said reaching across and flicking the off switch on the monitor "Now listen up, because I don't have much time -our friend has gone missing and-"
He started to tell the boy to contact whatever form of police they had on this backwater planet, but was interrupted.
"Really." The boy said testily, his anger eclipsing his youth "and how long has he been gone?"
Confused, Han answered warily "About 10 hours."
"Well then, in that case I can't help. He's not missing."
"What do you mean he's not missing!? He's not there! " Han shouted, echoing Leia's words earlier, not in the
mood for this cat and mouse game
"We have to wait 22 hours before someone's missing," He said. Seeming very pleased with himself, he turned the screen back on. His patience gone, Han began to get angry. This boy was making a game out of Luke's life.
"Fine you quote rules if you want to. But my friend is out there dying. Tell me -now- if your going to help him or not cause he doesn't have another 12 hours to live and I for one am not going to abandon him."
Han's voice must have been sharp; the boy visibly flinched.
"I'm sorry your friend is missing, but-" his voice got louder as Han looked like he was about to interrupt "but he's probably collapsed in a bar somewhere or something. Thinking he's dead is a bit hasty, don't you think?"
The growing feeling that he was too late was gnawing at Han's consciousness. This was taking too long. This wasn't going to work. Han was going to have to reveal their identities to prove to the kid he was serious. He didn't like that option, decided to give the easy way one last try. Levelling the blaster square at the boys face he said, "Call for help. Now." emphasizing every word.
The boy shrank back from the fire in Han's eyes. Amazing how a blaster pointed at someone could change their whole perspective on life.
"Uh...yessir...I'll need details though...."
Han faltered a moment; should he reveal their true identity? If he did he might get more help. Their position in the new Republics hall of fame did have its bonuses, but it would also mean that the media would be out for the event. "Luke Skywalker's Dead!!!" Would be shouted out across the galaxy before they had even found a body. His stomach turned at the thought of finding Luke's body...they had been friends for so long...the thought stuck sour in his mind, held back by his minds own defences. Luke was not dead. Could not be dead.
Han made a decision; there really wasn't any choice. "Fine: I'll drop the pretence. The person they'll be looking for is Luke Skywalker."
The boys eyes widened, his hands trembled over the keyboard. Then his mind seemed to catch up. "Oh, of course. Well, that's not funny and I'm not laughing."
"Shut up and listen." Han snapped, thoroughly fed up with the boy's attitude now. "My name is Han Solo. My wife, Leia, is out there in the rain now looking for him,"
Terror set into the boy's face as he recognized Han. Suddenly numbed, the boy muttered "yessir" and starting tapping furiously at the keyboard.
Han ran back to join Leia, carrying a comlink so he could keep in touch with the search team, who hadn't arrived yet. The boy had said ten minutes: it had been half an hour. Han ran down the gravel track leading to the woods.
Behind him, the boy appeared. "Wait!!" He shouted into the wind. Han decided to pretend he hadn't heard him, he ran on "Wait!!! What does he look like!?" Han stopped. That was a good question. What would Luke look like? He had been holding up a Force disguise, but would that have dropped? Probably.
The noise of the rain and the trees moving in the wind almost drowned out the boys voice "and where do they look?"
Already drenched though he been in the rain for a few minutes, rain running down his face and clothes, Han turned to see the figure of the clerk in the hotel doorway, hopping anxiously from foot to foot.
"I don't know." He said honestly. For a moment, just a moment, Han almost saw Luke as he'd first known him: the naive farm boy who took too many risks. The kid better not be dead. "Anywhere, everywhere, I don't know!"
His own words brought back to him the hopelessness of this search. The woodland must cover at least ten km squared, maybe more. How far had Luke gone? How long was it before he...before whatever had happened, happened? He didn't know the answers, he couldn't tell them where to start looking, but he felt that just to look wasn't enough.
Turning back to stare into the dark of the forest, he tried to sort out the impossibilities of the search. Where would a Jedi master go on such a bad night?
Where couldn't a Jedi Master go?
There were no limits, when it came to Luke, he realised, no limits at all. He didn't even have had to have stuck to the path at all.
Luke, being Luke, could be anywhere.
The rain fell harder. His clothes clung to him, cold and clammy. Something played on the edge of his consciousness. There was something about all this that felt wrong somehow. He didn't know how to describe it.
What was it? His mind screamed, what was it?
He couldn't think. The rain drove his thoughts out of him. He couldn't think. The answer seemed to invade his consciousness, seemed to make itself felt.
He's a Jedi Han went cold " 'where couldn't a Jedi master go?' " His body froze: horrible, terrible realization creeping up his spine. He's a Jedi.
No, not yet anyway. What, now, should he tell the search team? To look for a nonexistent body? Ben's cloak and saber had remained -had Luke carried his saber? Putting a hand to his forehead he forced himself to think back: what had Luke been wearing?
Bright lights swept over the tree tops and swept towards the hotel. Han recognized the whine of repulsors as dark shadowy shapes descended to the lawns. A huge wind blew up from the repulsors, the trees and grass bent in protest. Han held a hand in front of his eyes and bent his head to keep the flak thrown up by the wind from going in his eyes. The ships landed with a brief shudder as Han ran towards them, seeing the clerk do the same. The ramps dropped and a group of heavily kited men descended to the dark lawn. The search team had arrived.
"Let me handle this," the clerk said from behind him " I know them".
He jogged towards a burly looking man, the man recognized him and his face broke into a huge grin "Hey! What's this about New Republic heroes? You think that'll make us get here any quicker, hee?"
The boy looked back at Han, gave him a half hearted smile, then whispered something in the mans ear. His smile faded to be replaced by something bordering on embarrassment, something on disbelief.
"Come on," Han said, braking the silence "I want to find Leia; this day's getting darker."
The forest had parted into a slight clearing, the waning sun barely showing through thick black clouds. The storms had hit, trees bent under the force of the wind, it was no longer possible to talk to someone stood next to you. It pushed at them and held them back, the rain blinding their eyes. And it was getting worse. The search team had come equipped with goggles; that helped a bit but the rain stilled blurred Han's vision as he fought his way past the thick undergrowth and into the clearing. According to the sensors she should be here somewhere-- Han spotted Leia. She was sat on a stump, gazing absently at her hands, her hair was forced down and straight by the rain. He couldn't see her face but he knew she had been crying.
"Leia!" He shouted, but the wind stopped his words. He struggled through the mud towards her "Leia!" He shouted in her ear. She jumped and whirled to face him. The look on her face was surprise. Of course, she wouldn't recognize him in the goggles. Pealing the goggles from his face, he said, "I thought we were never going to find you!!"
She just nodded, her throat too numb from the cold to shout back. "Leia...." Han started, ready now to bring up the 'subject' of Luke's death. He had deliberated on how to tell. Should he say it outright? Gradually come on to the subject? Or should he hope to hell that Luke wasn't dead and that they'd find him?
"Its all right Han. I know." She replied, looking into his eyes with a haunted expression. "We aren't going to find him are we?" She was so much sober than she had been earlier: Han had expected more hysterics: more denial. But he should have known better: she'd always been strong.
"No, not if he's dead." He answered truthfully. "But we don't know that he is dead..."
"Except they can't read any other life forms in the forest, can they?" She countered solemnly.
"No," Han admitted, "but that's not say they're not wrong. The storms, the wind, even the trees could effect their sensors. Don't give up." He added as she seemed to slip back into depression. "I have a hundred men sweeping the forest, and they're well armed with sensors and night sights. We'll find him."
"If he's here to be found." She said, but seemed to straighten a little "Come on. I-"
"Captain Solo!!!" His comlink screamed at him. Han reached for his belt: then did a retake as he remembered he'd attached it to his collar so he could hear over the howling wind "Yes?"
"We've found something sir..."
"We're on our way." Han said with renewed hope that he didn't dare feel, grabbing Leia's hand he pulled her to her feet and ran back into the thick off the forest. Maybe Luke would be all right after all.
Leia approached the clearing: her mind giddy with hope though at the same time she tried to remain calm. This was it!!! She knew it was here that Luke had last been.
They came to a fork: took a sharp right and dived down the path towards the light of the searchers luma. Leia was aware of a tingling in her mind as she approached the light. Even as she ran she felt repulsed from the area... She wanted to slow but Han pulled her on. Hoping it was nothing Leia ran on. The Force felt louder as they neared the search team: it murmured around her in confusion: she tried to hear what they were saying: but, as in the hotel, she couldn't understand. She frowned. No, it wasn't the Force speaking to her... it wasn't sentient like that it -she collapsed to the ground: clutching her head in pain.
She didn't feel the ground as she hit it hard: didn't feel the mud swell up around her: didn't hear Han's sharp cry or feel it as she dropped his hand, but she did feel one thing: she felt Luke. It wasn't as vague as before: she didn't have to search for it: instead she heard it clearly and this time she understood
It was like a vision: but not a vision: more like a dream where everything fell into one. Vividly she felt his panic as if it were her own: felt too the...something that ran in his veins, burned at him. She felt his fear, saw him fall, collapsing to the ground with a cry of pain. Images assaulted her: Ben Kenobi: the Emperor, herself, accusing and full of hate and grief. Finally she felt him call to her, felt despair at not being able to wake her, and then she felt nothing. She gasped for air: felt her cold sweat as if she'd just come out of a nightmare.
Someone was calling her name. Who? "Leia!" She heard "Leia are you okay?" She tried to see who had said it, realised her eyes were shut. Han stared at her in concern.
"Yes," she managed, "yes, I..." she broke of as she saw what the man behind Han held. A cold lump formed in the back of her throat. Han turned to look at what was she was staring at.
He looked with lost hope at the searcher holding it. The man, seeing his grief said "We, ermm, also found a black tunic and such."
Han didn't want to but he had to ask: Leia was too dumb struck to speak.
"Did you" his voice cracked "umm...did you find a body?"
"No, sir, but we're still looking."
Leia shook, scared and feeling very much alone. She reached for Luke's saber. "May I?" she managed to say.
"Oh, of course." The man said, handing the saber over.
She held in her hands, gripped it tight, never willing to let go. Tears welled in her eyes. He was dead. She'd known it all along, but the thought struck at her.
He was dead.
She had said she would not cry, not until she had found the body and looked into his eyes and known that he was dead. But she was denied even that.
Tired, exhausted, racked with grief she let herself fall to floor, closed her eyes and clutched his saber to her
Luke, no! She felt the tears and didn't deny them any longer. No!!
Leia allowed the medic to run a scanner over her. She stared out at the mottled backdrop of hyperspace outside the medical wing's window. Han had insisted they check her over. Leia knew there was nothing wrong with her. Well, not physically anyway. It had been three days now, three days. It felt so fresh still. She could still see him; still feel him as he- her mind still choked on the word. In time, she would learn to accept what had happened. In time.
"Well," the medic said, drawing Leia's attention away from the view port. "Your clear. I've run a full chemical analysis and virus scan: there's nothing. I think we can safely say, your going to be fine." She gave Leia a warming smile, Leia managed a slight smile in return, but she didn't feel it. She'd known she didn't have whatever had killed Luke, she'd be dead by now if she did. But her collapse in the forest had worried people, despite her urging that it was from the vision: nothing else. Every member of the search team had been scanned, though it felt like Leia had had to spend the most time here. She rubbed at the synthflesh that covered a long cut in her leg: where the forest had fought back against her.
The medical bay door opened, and Han stepped in. She managed a wider smile for him, "How are you feeling?" He asked cheerfully, sitting on the end of her bed.
"I'm okay I guess," she answered, almost truthfully "though it gets a little lonely in here."
Han nodded; he'd had the same treatment yesterday and knew what she was talking about. "Don't worry, you'll be out by tonight."
"I hope so, there's not much to do around here. They wont even let me watch the holovid channels" she smiled ryely: but Han looked away sheepishly.
Leia frowned "Han...?"
"I, ah, I.... that might be my fault. I didn't think you'd really want to see what the news is at the moment."
Leia's face fell in recognition.
"Oh. Thank you." No, she wouldn't have liked to have switched it on to find Luke's death still blaring across every channel. She could just imagine the tacky tributes. Old news footage endlessly repeated, with hurried, trashy biographies. No, she wouldn't have wanted to see them "They're still trying to find out what happened?"
Han hadn't expected the question. So far Leia seemed to be handling this whole mess by not mentioning it. To Han that had seemed out of character but he'd accepted it all the same. He didn't expect such an outright question,
"They're analysing his clothes and lightsaber now; trace elements test, that kind of thing. But, Leia, I think you have to realize that they probably wont find anything. It was raining pretty hard, anything important probably got washed away."
"Yes I know, but at least they're trying."
Han knew what she meant; until he had told them who they were looking for, the search teams hadn't been all that cooperative. He was glad the whole thing was in New Republic hands now.
"I think we should just wait and see. What are you going to do now?" He probably shouldn't have asked her this yet, but Leia just straightened.
"I suppose I'm going to get on with my life. It hurts, Han, but I still have you, and the kids, and everyone. Its, just...I never expected him to die like that." She looked straight into his eyes "You think of Luke Skywalker and you think of a naive farm boy blowing up a death star, of dozens of dog fights with impossible odds that he somehow survived. Of our father and the Emperor. Of the academy, and how he overcame every problem thrown at him. You see him as lucky, the great thing's he's done as one never-ending story. You don't realize that one day it has to end, that he can't go on forever. I knew that. We are all going to die, aren't we? But Luke not like that. Not by some stupid bloody insect bite, or venom or whatever the hell it was!" She breathed deep, calming herself "I...I always thought he'd die for some great cause, or that he'd grow old with me and we'd sit around the table laughing at things that used to terrify us. I never thought of him dying like that...." She trailed off.
Han looked at her and understood. She was right, he knew, the idea of him dying for something so meaningless just didn't feel right, but there was nothing to be done about it. The kid was dead, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do.
An idea struck him "Maybe, maybe you'll see him again..." He said cautiously.
"What?" Leia said, confused.
"Well, didn't Obi-Wan always used to come pestering Luke, and you've seen your father, right? Maybe, maybe Luke can do the same..." Leia brightened. Maybe she would see him again.... maybe.... Luke was certainly as strong as Obi-Wan had been. Well, she frowned, she thought he had been, but then Obi-Wan had never really shown his true powers had he? No, Luke was certainly as strong as their father had been, wasn't he?
She hoped so, Luke she thought please hear me, please tell me what happened.
"Maybe..." She said.
This was ridiculous: she couldn't read this speech any longer, full of "his death was tragic"'s and "we shall all miss him"'s .
She started to say something about the academy, but choked on her words. She couldn't say any more. She stared down at the speech she was meant to be reading, saw tears fall on the screen's readout, blurring it. She looked back up at her audience. Silence. Several hundred people fidgeted, several thousands smiled in sympathy. She imagined the thousands watching her close up on a holo screen all over the galaxy. She felt like letting her knees give way and falling into her tears like her body commanded her to do. But she wouldn't. That was not the answer. No she realised that this wasn't about a nice, wrapped up little speech to appease the New Republic's citizens, this wasn't about them at all this was about Her. This was about Luke. She looked one last time at her speech, officials walked towards her: probably to pull off screen before millions witnessed the Chief of State's breakdown to tears.
With a wave of her hand she sent them away. She threw the data pad down, and looked directly into the cameras "That datapad held a speech about Luke Skywalker, about how much he did for all of us. It was about one of the best pilots this galaxy he's seen, it was about the Jedi knight who freed us all of Palpatine and many other people who have seen fit to want his power, about the Jedi master who rebuilt the Jedi out of nothing. But it wasn't about my brother." she leaned closer to the cameras "Perhaps it is my duty to tell you all of what Luke did for us: but you all know it already. I would rather talk about, rather remember, my brother. Luke meant a lot to me. Much more than a lot. I loved him as dearly as I do my husband and children. "
In the background, Han clutched Anakin's hand harder and the twins face's grew harder.
"I never knew I had a brother, not for 22 years of my life." An advisor in the background shook his head furiously at her: they had agreed that there would be no talk of their heritage, "When I found out Luke was my twin, it was like having my eyes opened for the first time. Though we had only been connected through a terrible knowledge about our father I have never, not for one day, regretted having a twin. We were already close, but this made us closer.
He was always there for you: for what he believed in, but he was much more than just a two-dimensional hero, much more than a list of battles we won because of him, much more than his victories. He was my brother, and a good friend, and if he hadn't done all these things, hadn't helped us so many times, I wouldn't have loved him less, and I couldn't miss him more."
She stepped down to silence, had she gone about this wrong? Maybe she shouldn't have mentioned their father. The whole chamber erupted into clapping, everyone rose to their feet and cheered, halfway down from the podium Leia turned to look at the people. They all clapped her. Wedge grinned broadly and winked at her. She smiled: the first real smile she had smiled since his death.
Han walked with Lando towards his and Leia's suite. "That was some speech." Lando said, a touch of admiration in his voice. "She had guts to do that. If it had gone wrong, the council would have wanted her neck for bringing up Vader again."
"Ah, well, she must have spent too much time around me." Han said, but then turned serious "I hope she got through to a lot of people out there, a lot of people in the Republic are using Luke's death for publicity." Han didn't say it but Lando knew who he meant: the military. Blatant "Are you the next Luke Skywalker?" campaigns trying to get kids to sign on. What a mess.
"So where do you go from here?" Lando said.
Han frowned "I don't know. You know, if you'd asked me what I was going to do next a couple of weeks ago and I'd said I didn't know, it probably would have had something more to do with me and Leia not getting on. This whole mess has brought us closer together."
"One positive thing I suppose."
"Don't even say it, Lando."
"Any news from the labs yet?"
"No, the waits starting to kill me."
Lando stopped and looked at his friend "You don't think it was an accident, do you?"
"I'm not saying anything, its just Luke, dying from a bug bite? Luke? It just doesn't seem real. He'd have known wouldn't he?"
"Why don't you ask Streen or Kyp?"
"I have: they're nowhere near as trained or as strong as Luke was: but they still say that he probably should have known."
Lando turned serious, "Han do you realize what your saying? If a bug didn't kill him, who did?"
"I don't know" Han's said quietly, "I really don't know."
Leia sat trying to reach the force deep enough to call for Luke. Back on the medical frigate, after they had left Cassrine, Han had suggested that Luke might be able to manifest himself to her like Obi-Wan had been able to. So far there had been nothing. Leia had thought that he would have come to say good-bye at the least. Hadn't he realised how bad she felt? He had to know: didn't he?
It made no sense: why didn't he come? Well, Luke had said that Obi Wan didn't always come when Luke needed him. Maybe it couldn't be helped. He would come one day though. He had to.
Han strode down the corridor, letting Leia be alone with her for thoughts for a while. She was taking this badly, but the kids were taking it worse: they'd been very close to their uncle. Han sighed: he'd always thought that one day Luke would have taught them about the Force, now he guessed that would be up to Streen or Tionne or someone: the Jedi no longer had a Master.
A young woman ran towards Han, shouting his name. He stopped to let her catch up. "Captain Solo!" she said, "I've been calling you for ages!"
"Sorry." he said "I guess I've got a lot on my mind," she flinched "Sorry, I didn't mean it to sound like that. What can I do for you?"
She regained her composure "We have the results of Jedi Skywalker's clothes and lightsaber, if you want to view them."
Han was shocked. That was quick, even considering all the pressure from the press. Despite what he'd said a few days ago about the wait for the results, he really hadn't expected them yet.
"Where are they?" he asked her.
"I'll show you," she gestured for him to follow and headed back up the hall way. Maybe now they would get some answers. The young woman led him up to the science labs, "Doctor Hall." she said and started to turn. Seeing the lack of recognition on Han's face she said "Over there." and pointed to a woman with steely grey hair tied up tight on her head, bending over a computer read-out.
"Thank you" Han said and walked towards the doctor "Uh... Excuse me?"
The woman whirled around to meet him "Ah, Captain Solo?" she said, "We've analysed the evidence you sent us."
He didn't like the way she used the word 'evidence'. She strolled over to a different screen and starting punching keys "We had a tough time getting any readings at all: they were washed clean. But this is what we did find."
The screen showed an array of long chemical names that Han didn't recognize, except one: "Spice?!" he said, recognizing its chemical name. Shock turned to anger Are you sure?"
"Yes, but it was only on the clothes."
"I find that very hard to believe." Han said, his voice bordering on suspicion. Spice
"Luke would never have touched that stuff." He said
"Oh, maybe not, but you see, these garments were not bagged as soon as they were found so it is entirely possible that Skywalker never touched the stuff." She turned her intense glare on Han "But its also possible that he Did."
This was ridiculous; he knew Luke hadn't taken any spice. Han had been with him the whole time they had been on Cassrine, and besides; where would Luke have got any? He'd been ill ever since they'd arrived at the spaceport... An idea crossed his mind something Luke had once told him about spice and another drug. He turned to the scientist.
"What would happen if you combined any of these chemicals with spice?" he asked.
"We looked in to that," she said "but not a lot as far as we can see"
"But have you looked into what it would do to a Jedi?" He asked, trying to remain patient, if he was right about this...
"No." she frowned "I don't think we'll have any records on it...though I can try."
Han tried to remember the other chemicals name...the memory clicked: "Is one of those chemicals more commonly known as Glastine?"
"Yes, this one. She pointed to a chemical name, "but I don't see-"
"Then you don't need to do any research, that's why he died." He swore under his breath.
"I don't understand," she said, it was her turn to be impatient now.
He looked at Hall, from the scowl on her face he realised that his sudden conviction probably sounded just a little crazy given he hadn't really explained it yet.
"Luke once told me that if you put spice and Glastine together its a concoction that, umm " Han didn't know how to put it, "that amplifies the Force, for ordinary people it just gives them a high as they think they can touch the Force but it would send you mad if you were a Jedi." He waited for her to object but instead she just stared at him "Luke knew that! He'd never have taken the two, especially not together. And look at the quantities: their almost identical...."
"That still doesn't explain why he died...surely that wouldn't kill him."
"No, it wouldn't, but would any of these chemicals be dangerous?" He asked.
"We're still waiting for analysis on a few samples that we think we're the poison of some local insects, it looks like this one," she pointed "or this one, could have been lethal, but their still looking into it back at Cassrine. I think these are your killers, not the spice."
"I'm not saying the spice killed him, I think maybe it was a distraction so that he didn't notice the real drug at work."
"Or the infamous Jedi wasn't as morally sound as we were all lead to believe, and the spice was his. You don't need the spice for the venom to have worked. It would have worked alone."
Han was starting to get furious at what she was implying. Luke would not have taken spice. "Look, he's a Jedi, right?" Han said "He probably would have known about any insect venom if he had it in him, but if he was distracted by the effects of the spice, then maybe he didn't find out until it was too late." He let what he was saying sink in.
"You think someone put together a soup of spice, Glastine and this venom and somehow injected him with it?"
"Yes! And it would have felt like an insect bite too: he probably wouldn't have thought about it at the time"
"It's possible," she admitted coolly "but it could just be the venom and-"
"No." Han interrupted her "He would have felt it if it was that. He had to have been distracted so it would have worked."
"Do you realize what you saying? Somebody murdered Luke Skywalker. That is not going to go down well in the senate."
"I don't care how it goes down. Luke was murdered," he looked at the screen "can I have a readout of that?" He asked.
"Sure." She shrugged "Why?"
"I don't know. It might help." He ripped off the sheet as it finished printing "What are you going to put in your report?" He asked.
"I'm not sure yet. I need to think about this some more." She stared thoughtfully at the readings in Han's hand.
"Well, make sure I get a copy when you've finished. I don't like this one bit."
Han stepped into the huge docking bay at Coruscant's main spaceport. Hoping that he wasn't too late he peered around the bay until he spotted a small innocuous looking ship in a corner. Innocent looking enough, but Han would bet that, given its owner, it had a sting behind that unpresuming facade.
Quickening his step he walked towards the ship, aware that there were probably several trigger happy 'employees' watching him with charged blasters, he tried to look relaxed. Han continued the mental battle he'd been fighting all day. Leia didn't know he was here, she thought he was out tweaking (or hitting) the Falcon's alluvial dampers into shape. They had been playing up lately. It was a good excuse to get out. It was also a lie.
Well, Han had told enough lies in his life, a lot bigger ones than this and not always in a 'good cause'. It wasn't the lie that bothered him. It was if Leia found out who he was with that he worried about: or rather: why he was with them. Luke had been her brother, her twin. They had almost been closer than that, probably if they hadn't been separated for over half their lives they would have been inseparable. Would have been. But the kid was dead, and Leia was taking it like hell. It had been weeks and she was still running round like he'd died yesterday. Han sighed. Yeah, it hurt when he thought of Luke as being dead. It didn't seem real somehow. But it was, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it. And now he was here, chasing a hunch that probably wouldn't lead anywhere, but that his conscience wouldn't let lie. If Leia found out there was a chance, just a chance that he was murdered, it would break her heart. So he was here racked with guilt at not telling her and hoping that if he was right she would forgive him
A tall dark man appeared from behind the ship, blaster holstered and hands free.
"Solo." He greeted Han, "Good to see you again."
"And you Karrde." Han replied.
"Been keeping well?" Talon asked casually.
"What do you think?" Han said bitterly.
"Ah yes, I was sorry to hear about Skywalker. I had always admired his... capabilities." Karrde nodded at the far shadows of the bay. A man Han hadn't known had been there stepped into the light and holstered his blaster "Chin, continue prepping the ship. I want to be out of here in ten minutes." several other men appeared from the shadows and left the bay with Chin to go unload some 'goods'.
Karrde turned to Han, "Solo, I am sorry to hear about Luke's death. I'd always counted him as a friend." Han waited for Karrde to continue "I came to, amongst other things, offer my condolences to your wife, and to bring a warning."
A warning? Han hadn't expected this. When Karrde had called Han last night to arrange a meeting Han hadn't known what it was about but he had decided to use the opportunity to see if he knew anything about Luke's death.
"We shouldn't talk about these things here but I have been getting some strange reports out of some of the rim worlds. I thought that in the New Republics present state of demilitarisation you might not have heard."
He didn't say it but Han heard it all the same: Luke's sudden death had caught the Republic unprepared and Leia wasn't the only one still reeling from the shock, the whole republic was still picking itself up off the floor.
It would have been a great distraction, Han thought.
"What kind of reports?" He asked.
Karrde shook his head "Not here. Meet me at Byphssm in a standard week." He eyed the bay warily, "I don't think I entirely trust this spaceport's security."
Han couldn't leave Leia now, but Karrde sounded serious, and it was unlike him to overreact to anything. Besides, Byphssm was far enough outside republic territory that Han might escape all those tacky tributes that littered the news channels, "Okay Karrde, I'll trust you just this once."
"Glad to hear it. Byphssm, Solo, and don't be late."
Han watched Karrde stalk aboard his ship, wondering if he was doing the right thing. He grimaced. Probably not, but then that had never stopped him before.
Han sat slumped in a chair in their lounge. Leia looked out of their bedroom door at his sleeping form. Probably she should wake him: he'd disappeared earlier that day, and then called later to say he was going to do some work on the falcon. Leia had taken an early night. Han must have come back in while she was asleep and not made it to bed before dropping off. She crept up to him, intending to wake him with a good-natured gibe, but she saw something that interested her on the table in front of him.
Papers: some sort analytical report. Leia frowned wondering what Han was doing with a science report.
Moving carefully past his sleeping head and stepping over his feat she snatched the papers from the table and got a look at the title:
Though I have no authority in such matters I would suggest that the subjects death should not be treated as the result of natural causes or as being accidental."
"Han." She said. He moaned slightly in response "Han!" She said louder. "Wake up!"
The door to the twin's room opened, "Mom?" Jaina's voice asked.
Leia gave herself a heartbeat to bring down her tone "Its okay honey: go back to bed." She said.
"It's okay really," she opened her eyes and looked at Jaina's frightened face "Go back to bed," Jaina looked like she was about to protest but then moved back into her room and shut the door. "Han." She said sharply but quieter now.
He came awake with a groan "Leia? What time is it?"
She fumed, standing over him, fire burning behind her eyes. Confused for a moment as he was still waking Han looked around, and spotted the papers lying scattered on the floor. Leia, seeing where he was looking, gave him a questioning look.
"No excuses Han. The truth; why didn't you show me this as soon as you got it. It's dated yesterday for crying out loud! Why didn't you tell me?" Remembering the children she tried to keep her voice quite.
Han moved to sit up and looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry, I just didn't think you needed to know it, not yet anyway."
"What do you mean 'not yet' when were you planning on telling me?"
"Look, Leia, I didn't want to frighten you. I-" he stopped and looked at her. "I-"
"Oh, never mind." She interrupted him "It doesn't really matter any more." She slumped into a chair.
"Murdered." She whispered shaking her head slightly in disbelief.
"Leia, I've been trying to figure out who could have done it, and well, there are a lot of people who are... uh, were pretty mad with Luke. I just can't figure out who it would be."
Leia nodded. A question came into her mind "How did you know what spice and gasrine do? I hadn't heard that before."
Han shrugged "Luke told me. We were travelling to Creish Station when he got me talking about some of my old smuggling days. I mentioned that I'd smuggled the two together. That's when he told me about them."
Leia seemed to take that in. Suddenly she tensed, and looked straight at Han "What?" He asked.
"Han, you don't think? "
"Don't think what?"
She swallowed "That we were drugged so that I wouldn't hear him calling?"
Han stared at her. Of course, but they hadn't found anything in the tests onboard the medical frigate, had they? "But nothing showed up on your scan."
"Well, I wasn't scanned until 3 days after he died. It could have been a very short lived drug."
"Just a knock out drug would do it." He agreed.
Leia felt like a weight she hadn't even known was there before had been lifted off her shoulders. It wasn't her fault that he'd died. Somehow, it was a relief though at the same time she didn't want to think off him as being murdered. Finally she would be able to look Anakin in the eye again, would be able to hope that her son trusted her again. She sighed. "I hope it's worth it." She whispered under her breath.
Han had two days before he'd have to set of to meet Karrde at Byphssm, and he still hadn't told Leia. Considering how badly shed taken it when she'd found the reports two days ago, he wasn't looking forward to it. Still; it had to be done. But first, he really had to get those alluvial dampers fixed or the Falcon wasn't going anywhere fast. Caught up in his own thoughts, Han didn't notice the large furry form that come charging around the corner. They ploughed straight into each other.
"Hey! Watch it you- Chewie!!" Chewbacca howled in recognition and gave Han a bear hug.
"Okay pal, okay. Where have you been? I sent the message weeks ago." Chewie looked downcast at that, howled mournfully.
"Aw, Chewie I didn't mean it like that. Its just, well, we've been having a tough time of it lately." That seemed to work only to depress the wookiee even further .
"But where have you been?" Han asked, less sharply this time. Chewie howled something about being out in the forest with his son. Kasyyuuk's transponders had been down for two weeks and all the backlog of messages and mails had brought it down again when they'd finally got it up. Chewie had only found out about Luke's death by overhearing a conversation as he came back from the trek. He'd rushed to check his messages, and found Han's.
"That's okay pal, I understand. I was considering coming out and getting you, guess I probably should have done from the sound of it."
Chewie howled something. "Leia's not holding up to well and neither are the kids, though for Jacen it hasn't seemed to have sunk in yet. He thinks his uncle's just off at the academy again." He shook his head sadly.
"You would have loved the memorial service though, Leia threw out the speech and did her own thing..." He trailed off. His best friend had just learnt about Luke's death and all he could do was talk about the memorial service. "Damn it, Chewie! It just doesn't seem real. He can't be dead; it's just not possible. I keep running it over in my head and it's all wrong somehow."
Chewie looked at his friend sympathetically. When he'd first heard of Luke's death he had been distraught. He'd been ready to tear arms off the first person to get in his way. But when he'd found out it was from an insect bite -of all things- he'd been incredulous. Han gave him a strange look "Chewie, its not that simple. I think he was murdered."
Chewie just stared at him, howled something at him "I don't know who, pal, if I did do you think I'd still be hanging around here? I've got the report." He showed a pile of well thumbed papers to Chewie "It's not much use, really, but I've been going over it anyway."
Chewie looked around the open corridor, howled a question "Yeah, your probably right: we shouldn't discuss this in the open. Come on."
The bar was a dive. The bar tender scowled as Han and Chewie entered. Han wondered if it was because he recognized them or because he didn't. They pushed their way to a back booth, it was cheap furniture: a lot like the cantina in Mos Eisley, Han frowned at the memory: regretted thinking about it, seeing Luke, the wide-eyed flying farm boy, for the first time.
"H'okay." He said as they sat down. "This is what we've got."
He let Chewie study the report whilst he drank and stared around at the patrons. Most we're non-human, and those that were human didn't look all that savory. Most were huddled in little discussion groups, telling well-worn stories of miraculous escapes and daring feats: all well animated by hand movements and cheers from their companions. Others just sat in a dark corner on their own, looking out soberly (or not so soberly) at the bar.
Chewie whuffled and growled as he read the report. When he'd finished Han said, "So what do you think, pal?"
Chewie growled and looked like he was going to rip arms of the nearest available sentient.
"Easy, Chewie. I know it hurts, but we've got to figure out who did it before the trail goes cold." and before I get tangled up in whatever mess Karrde has dug up, he thought. Chewie howled something "Yeah, Luke did make a lot of enemies: that's the problem." He took the report off Chewie. "Maybe there's something here we're not seeing." He said slowly, scowling at the black and white pages Chewie howled doubtfully "Something really obvious."
He shook his head. "But I've been over it hundreds of times! So have the guys at the military: none of us can find any clues. Ah, well, I guess we try again, hey? Go get us another drink whilst I start reading through all the bureaucratic stuff to see if there's any facts underneath."
As Chewie left to try and get another drink from the bartender Han started the report. It hadn't changed since the last time he'd read it. He read the introduction: the description of the tests used, and had just got onto the non specialized facts when chewy pushed himself back into their cubicle. "Thanks, Chewie." He said as Chewie sat opposite. He said something,
"No, I-" Han stiffened and stopped the mid sentence.
Chewie howled excitedly "I don't know, its just...something... "
He read the facts again mass, colour, trace elements, age... Han stopped. Age? He read it again "No older than 1 year." He said out-loud.
"No older than one year." Han repeated.
Luke just shrugged "2 or 3 years. They're just more comfortable."
"Well just have to sweet-talk them I guess" she replied and stepped into the huge hallway.
No, they cant, he thought. Chewie said something slowly "But if they aren't Luke's clothes then..." he looked up into Chewie's face "If they aren't his clothes he doesn't have to be dead!" He shouted, as realisation set in
"It was a set up Chewie. A damn set up. He's not dead!"
Chewie howled for him to calm down, not because the whole bar was staring at them, but because he couldn't let himself believe it.
"No Chewie, what other explanation is there? Those can't have been his clothes. It's not possible. He's alive."
Luke drifted: his mind felt the cool touch of darkness break over him. The depth of the Force returned to his mind and he felt it wash across his mind, driving him back towards the darkness. I am drowning.
It showed him images, thing's he'd never known. A woman's face, tear streaked but laced with joy: flesh torn from flesh. Leia. He knew. He was taken; torn from her, he felt her crying out to him as the distance broke their link. She was taken to Alderaan and initiated into the royal family. He was thrown unceremoniously into the arms of the Lars. A farm boy. Raised to be poor and a nobody. She revealed in wealth. He worked for nothing.
Was he bitter? He'd never felt jealousy towards the differences in where they were sent before. Yes, he realised, he was bitter. She had had everything: he'd had nothing. He couldn't understand why his mother had let him go, tossed him aside so easily but stayed with Leia. He felt rejected and alone. Now Leia's spirit cried out to him, he tried to shut it out, shut it up. Tried to wrap his arms around the screaming the child. Put his hand across her mouth so she wouldn't scream, close her eyes so she wouldn't cry. But the pain was too deep and she cried louder. He tried to hide but there was in no way he could hide from what was in his mind. She hurt. Her agony cried to him now and his spirit cried with her. He tried to stop it but it was loud and his mind demanded that he cradle it, hold it to him, to give it solace.
Leia His mind stretched out of the dark to his twin, searching for the crying child, but he found only echoes of the past, a turmoil where her emotions had stretched thoughts to him. He felt himself slipping back towards the dark.
The light beckoned and he clung to it. Senses flooded back to him. His body ached, his head screamed. He tried to lift a hand to it. He couldn't. Confused, he fought with his eyes to see why. Bright white light burned him as he forced them to open. To see. He shut it out and concentrated on what he could see. He couldn't move his head, panicking he reached out with the Force to see why.
He was held in place by hands and feet tied to the table, but his head was covered. He couldn't feel the air on his face he realized, couldn't hear himself breathing. Forcing down his fears he let himself fall into the Force and see himself. His body was limp, unmoving on the table surrounded by darkness lit by white lights. He wore the same clothes he had worn on Cassrine. Cassrine? What had happened?
Then he saw his head and reeled in shock. Wires and metal supports ran to a metal plate that surrounded the top half of his head, like a living thing they circled his head, intertwining and in places reaching for his flesh. He reached out to pull at the unit, but it wouldn't budge: the wires would not be freed.
A slight noise caught his attention and he stared in horror as a metal point reached for his exposed head. His mind fell back from the Force and he lay, panicking but not moving, hearing the noise loud and throbbing in his ears. Felt the metal point touch soft weak skin, and felt no more.
The huge ship cut through space. Roughly oval with huge blisters on its front, the cruiser bristled with ion cannons and turbolaser emplacements. The sleek hull curved around the front of the ship reaching the layered bottom of the ship with landing bays and tractor ports. The huge drive at the back glowed blue and hummed with fresh power. Backlit by a swirling gas giant it reoriented itself and swung around to polar north, and with a kick and flare of puesudo-motion it jumped into hyperspace.
The mottled starscape was reflected on the battle cruisers main bridge on the viewscreen. Elder Fr'h'tokh smiled in anticipation. Victory. He could smell it. At last the waiting was over, they were free to attack, and the Elder was sure the Admiral would carry out his orders swiftly and effectively, and he was sure they would win. Ssi-ruuk did not show any emotion, but if it were possible Fr'h'tokh would have smiled. 14 years ago they had sent out their first attack force at this galaxy's emperor's invitation. Fr'h'tokh relished in the irony of it. A human had introduced the ssi-ruuk to these worlds, and the ssi-ruuk would take all they had to offer. Quite conveniently the races of this galaxy had solved the small problem of repaying the invitation in battle droids -as had been agreed with their emperor- not that His Potency the Shreeftut had ever intended to carry out the agreement, the Elder thought, but at least it was one less detail to take care of.
Yes, 14 years ago a scout force had been sent to discover the defensive capabilities of these systems, when that scout force had not returned it had been rumoured that the humans were obviously greatly underestimated and, since all ssi-ruuk feared dying away from consecrated land, His Potency had delayed all attacks until further news could be brought. Then, some 4 years ago a lone escape pod had been found on the outside of ssi-ruuk territory, the story of the invasion's failure had reopened old wounds but it had also inspired new spirit in the people. They heard how the escape pods had been meticulously destroyed, that there had been no attempts to take prisoners or stop so many ssi-ruuvi lives going to waste. The news had outraged the populace. Fr'h'tokh thought fondly of that time: he had orchestrated many of the propaganda reports against these races and encouraged more of his people to sign on. He had brought his people this far.
The young ssi-ruuk's story had been elevated into legendary status, the boy hailed as a hero as they heard of his escape by hiding in battle debris waiting for his chance to jump into hyperspace, of how the hot debris had burned out his hyperdrive so that he was kicked back into normal space years away from ssi-ruuvi territory, and how he had survived by going into suspended animation for ten years. It had been 4 long years of preparation, but it had been worth it: tacticians had studied deeply all the young hero had to offer: forcing every little fact out of the boy (this, of course, had not been shown to the populace) about the Skywalker project. Unfortunately the boy had only been an underling: but the information he had been able to provide had told them enough. And now they were ready to attack, and their greatest hopes had been realized.
The plan had taken almost a year to formalize: but it was perfect in every sense: and so far, it was working.
Their greatest hope for the upcoming battles lay sedated below decks.
A small P'w'eck whistled at Fr'h'tokh. He looked at it in disdain; the soulless creatures were almost as detestable as the humans. "Elder" it whistled, "Master Swh'hr'ring wishes to speak with you."
He stepped over to the comm and gave his authorization code. The face of the slightly younger ssi-ruuk from the warrior cast that dominated the military appeared before him, Swh'hr'ring honked in excitement "Elder" he said, "the human has awoken at last." his long tongue flicked in anticipation
"The operation went well?" Fr'h'tokh asked, showing none of Swh'hr'ring's lack of control. Emotions were such basic things. But Swh'hr'ring could be perhaps forgiven; there had been a while when they had feared that
Skywalker would not survive the drugs they had given him on Cassrine.
"Very well, elder, all indications show that it will work perfectly. I ask now to proceed to the next step within the entechment room."
Swh'hr'ring was excited, but it was best not to become too hasty. There were many battles yet to be won. "You are certain that the implant will have no adverse effects?"
The other ssi-ruuk looked a little downcast at that "We won't be able to tell that until it is tested." He said, obviously eager to begin testing.
"Not yet, we we'll wait a few hours, a few days maybe, before testing. I want to be absolutely certain Skywalker's brain does not reject the implant."
He brought up star maps of the surrounding systems. They showed chart projections and unknown areas; for all their research the ssi-ruuvi had still a lot to learn about this region of space. All the same, the Elder spotted a likely target. "Yes, we will wait a few days before testing. First, we still need to pick up some more supplies. We need to make an assault on an outpost on the edge of their territory with the resources we need." He took a moment to scan the chart some more "There's one just a few light years from here. Sele. After that, he should have had plenty of time for rest and we can proceed with the tests. Monitor the human and inform me of any change." Swh'hr'ring nodded eagerly and Fr'h'tokh cut of the connection.
Yes, he could indeed taste victory.
Han scowled at his co-pilot "I was getting around to it." He said " I didn't just come here because you asked me to, Karrde. I need your help. I need you to see if you can't come up with some information. "
"Really. Cash or account?"
Han scowled again. "Considering I'm about to run off to get the military to help you with your missing systems neither would be my choice."
"A joke, Solo. Just a joke. How can I help?"
"We've found evidence that Luke's death was a fake." Karrde's face remained neutral though his body language belied some surprise "We think it was a set up. I was hoping you might be able to help us find out what happened. We have no idea where he could be,"
"You think he's alive?"
"Yes, and he might need help, because wherever he is, Leia can't find him."
"Solo, I hate to break this to you but there must be hundreds of people who would have liked to have seen Luke dead."
"Yes but how many would want him alive?"
"And how do you keep a Jedi under your control? What makes you think he's alive?"
Han launched into his explanation, Karrde looked sceptical at the whole story "Normally, I would say that it's not that much to go on. But then, I know Luke well. Are you sure they didn't just get the dating wrong?"
"I've had them go over it about ten times. The dates are right."
"Hmmm, well where Skywalker is involved, anything is possible. I might still be inclined to say it is a fluke, especially considering that Leia cant seem to reach him, but it all seems a little coincidental."