A Halloween Tale
Set after Luke and Mara are married.
The hovercraft made its way slowly through the foggy night, its light beams barely breaking more than a few feet through the heavy, low hanging mist.
Han leaned forward, squinting to see - it didn't help. "We need to find a place to stop for the night. I'm gonna end up in some field somewhere."
"Why don't you just let Luke drive?" Mara asked tightly from the rear seat. "He can get us to the spaceport tonight in one piece."
"Oh, really?" Han shot back. "Jedi can drive with their eyes closed? Cuz that's how bad driving through this fog is."
"The Force can guide him. Or me, for that matter."
"I see," Han replied, annoyed. "So I'm the only one that's incompetent to drive this vehicle?"
"At the moment, yes."
Han glared back at his sister-in-law in the mirror. "I'd really rather stop for the night... no offense to your precious Force abilities intended."
"Han's right," Luke put in quickly. "It is late, and we're all getting a bit testy."
"Besides, that sign back there said the road was closed five miles ahead," Leia added. "I'd really rather get a fresh start in the morning, too."
"Guess you're outvoted, Jade," Han said smugly.
Mara sat back in her seat and folded her arms across her chest. "Good luck finding a place this late at night."
No sooner had the words left her mouth than the fog broke for a moment, revealing an ancient, two story hotel. The crooked sign hanging by the lobby door flashed - "Vac ncy."
Han quickly pulled the hovercraft into the small parking area. "Shows what you know. I'll go see if they have rooms."
Leia frowned as she looked at the faded, flaking paint on the hotel. Even though a small light shown through the lobby window, the entire place appeared to be abandoned. Not one other hovercraft or speeder could be seen. Spindly weeds reached up through the cracks in the durocrete. "Are you sure we should stay here? It really looks run down."
"It's just one night," Han cajoled. "How bad could it be?"
Luke leaned over and looked up at the crumbling edifice. A pale face appeared in an upper window, holding a flickering candle in his right hand. "It looks like someone is here," Luke said turning his head to face Mara for a brief moment. When he looked back, the face and the light had vanished. Luke felt a chill sweep over his body. "I think I'll come in with you, Han."
"Sure," Solo said agreeably, getting out of the hovercraft and stretching his cramped muscles.
"I don't like this place," Mara said quietly as Luke exited. "Maybe we should see if there's another hotel ahead."
"You're too fussy," Han said, shutting the door. "Come on, Luke. Let's go get us a couple rooms."
"Lock the doors," Luke instructed Mara and Leia as he followed Han into the lobby. I have a bad feeling about this.....
The old fashioned wooden door creaked as Luke pulled it open and stepped inside; noting the heavy layer of dust covered the furniture.
Han sneezed. "The owner must not be too fond of cleaning droids."
Looking around, Luke tried unsuccessfully to locate a light. "I'm going to turn on my lightsaber so we can see." The lightsaber hummed to life, casting the already eerie room into a strange green glow. The lobby was small, with only two cloth-covered chairs and a low table on one side of the room, and a check-in counter against the opposite wall.
"Hello!" Han called into the silence. "Anybody here? We'd like a couple of rooms."
"I think Mara's right," Luke said after a long pause. "We should keep driving."
Solo frowned at his brother-in-law. "There has to be someone here.... the vacancy sign is on. Which means there's a power source working, somewhere."
"I don't sense anyone," Luke argued, trying not to think about the face in the window. Perhaps it had only been a shadow.
Han stepped over to the counter, looking for a signaling device. "Everything sure is old," he noted, picking up an old, tarnished bell. The bell tinkled, sounding unnaturally loud in the quiet room. Han quickly put it down, suddenly feeling nervous. "Let's get outta here."
Both men turned and started for the exit. "May I help you?" a dry voice spoke behind them.
Luke spun around, holding his lightsaber up between the speaker. Han also turned, drawing his blaster from his holster and pointing it at the very tall, pale Kaminoan dressed in long robes - much like a Jedi would wear.
"If this is a robbery, I have no money."
"No..." Luke shook his head and lowered his saber, reaching over to press Han's blaster down. "You just startled us. We were looking for rooms, and we thought this place was out of business."
"Out of business." The tall being repeated, his aged face creasing in deep furrows. "This place has been in business for.. a very long time. As long as I am able, it will never be out of business."
Han flicked his finger over the dusty furniture. "You might want to hire a better housekeeper. And turn on some lights."
The innkeeper bent his skeletal frame over and turned on a small light sitting on the corner of the counter. "Is that better?"
The innkeeper's face came into slightly better view. Huge eyes set into a long, thin, craggy face. Luke was certain it was the face he'd seen in the window, but that wasn't what concerned him...
"Luke!" Mara shouted as she crashed the door open. "What's taking so.." She stopped, staring at the innkeeper.
"Welcome, pretty lady," the pale being said politely, bending slightly at his waist.
"I... I didn't know someone else was here," Mara stuttered in surprise. Mara had heard of these beings, even seen them in holos, but she'd never seen one in person. She looked over at Luke. "The fog's lifting. We should keep going." She focused her gaze on Solo. "Leia wants to keep going, too."
"Not a good idea," the innkeeper said, shaking his head. "A storm is coming."
"There are no storms forecast," Mara argued. "Come on you two, let's go."
"Sorry," Han said to the being, feeling relieved they wouldn't be staying. The innkeeper gave him the creeps. "We'll be sure to keep this place in mind next time we're heading through. And I'll highly recommend it to my friend, Lando Calrissian."
The words had barely left his mouth when a flash of lightning and a loud crack of thunder echoed through the lobby. The building creaked and moaned as wind roared up. The door swung open once again, and Leia staggered inside, straining against the gale-force winds. "You should see that lightning! It came out of nowhere!"
"Out of nowhere... to nowhere..." the innkeeper said softly.
"What?" Han demanded, turning around to face the man.
"Would you like two rooms, then?" the Kaminoan asked as he picked up a pen, a pleased look flicking across his features.
"That guy gives me the jitters," Han complained to his wife as he threw the luggage on the lumpy mattress. "I don't trust him."
"You're the one that wanted to stop," Leia pointed out, wrinkling her nose in disgust as she looked in the refresher. She tried to turn on the faucet, only to see a thick brown trickle emerge.
"I've changed my mind, okay?" Han yelled from the bedroom. "I think these sheets haven't been washed since the Clone Wars, and I swear the carpet is actually moving."
"This entire place is revolting," the Princess agreed, exiting the refresher. "But it's only for one night. I think we'll live."
"If you say so," Han replied dubiously, pointing to a unidentified, large stain in the middle of the sheets.
Leia shook her head in exasperation. Sleeping in the hovercraft was sounding better and better.
Mara looked out of the grimy window at the driving rain and flashes of lightning, while Luke attempted to get the refresher to function.
"I think there's something wrong with the pipes," Luke said as he stuck his head out of the door. "No water."
"We can't stay here all night with no water," Mara groused. "I'm going down to the lobby to complain to the manager."
"Maybe water wasn't included with the price," Luke joked weakly. "These rooms only cost us ten credits each."
"Highway robbery. He should have paid us." Mara picked up her lightsaber and attached it to her belt. "I'll be right back."
"Maybe I should come with you," Luke mused. "I just don't get a good feeling about this place."
"Are you implying I can't find my way to the lobby by myself? Or that I need a man along as a bodyguard in an empty hotel? Is that what you're saying, Skywalker?"
"No... not at all..."
"Good. I can handle myself," Mara shot back as she headed out into the dimly lit hallway. "I'll be right back. And I won't even threaten the Kaminoan with my lightsaber...too much."
"Mara!" Luke objected, only to have the door slammed in mid-protest. Well, if anyone can convince the guy to satisfy the guests, she can.
"The holo-comm doesn't work," Han commented as he fiddled with the unit.
"I'm surprised there's a holo-comm in this room at all." Leia looked around and decided to sit on the only chair in the room. It looked slightly more sanitary than the bedspread.
"I wonder if Luke's unit works. I'd really like to contact Chewie and tell him we're running late because of this lousy weather."
"There's no entertainment holo-unit in here, either. I wonder what guests are supposed to do for amusement?"
"Maybe play, 'Guess That Stain?'," Han grunted as he glared at the uncooperative device.
"I'm going to go see if I can round up some clean sheets from the innkeeper," Leia said as she stood up. "I'm not laying down on those, I can tell you that."
"Good luck," Han muttered. "Do you want me to come with you? I'll bet he'll find clean sheets if he has a blaster stuck under his nose."
Leia laughed, and was about to agree when a soft knock on their door sounded. She pulled the door open. Luke stood there, looking vaguely concerned. "What's the matter?"
"What'dya mean, missing?" Han demanded, standing behind Leia.
"She left the room and went to the lobby over half a time-part ago, and she hasn't come back," Luke replied. "I can't sense her anymore - anywhere."
Leia's eyes got wide, and she used her rudimentary skills to search for her sister-in-law. Other than Han and Luke, she could sense no one. "You don't think..." she trailed off, unable to say the word.
"No," Luke said, sharper than he intended. "She's not dead. But I can't sense the innkeeper, either. I couldn't sense him even when he was standing right in front of me. That's so... strange."
"Maybe Kaminoans can't be felt through the Force," Leia suggested. "Remember when you couldn't influence Jabba?"
"That was different. I still could sense Jabba, even if I couldn't use the Force to sway his mind."
"But you've never encountered one of these beings before," Leia argued. "Maybe they're immune from the Force."
"Like those ysalamiri," Han added.
Luke shook his head. "I don't know. All I know is there's something wrong about this place. It feels...."
"Feels like what?" Leia prodded.
"The tree-cave on Dagobah. Evil." A bright flash of lightning briefly lit up the hallway, followed by a loud crack of thunder.
"I need to find her," Luke said suddenly. "We have to leave."
Han nodded. "Let's see if we can find this Kaminoan. Maybe he's seen Mara."
The lobby was deserted and quiet, with the exception of the occasional roll of thunder and the lashing of rain against the old building.
"Mara?" Luke yelled into the silence. "Can you hear me?"
Leia wandered behind the counter, frowning at the old ledger. Flipping the flimsy pages, she went to the last entry. "Luke?" Her brother turned to face her. "Didn't the innkeeper write our names down in this book?"
"Yes, I watched him."
"Our names aren't here. The last entry in this book is ..." She stopped, not quite believing her eyes. "Eighty standard years ago."
Han walked behind the counter, looking over Leia's shoulder at the scrawled entries. "Then that can't be the same book. He must'va taken it with him."
"You're probably right," she replied, smiling as she glanced up at Han. "I think we're all letting our imaginations run wild."
"Not me," Han objected. "I'm the only one with both feet firmly planted in reality. This is just an old hotel, and Mara's probably in the basement - pointing her lightsaber at the Kaminoan's back while she forces him to fix the water pipes."
Leia laughed. "I can see her doing that. Luke, maybe we should check the basement. Luke? Luke?"
The Corellian looked around the empty lobby. "Kid? Quit messin' around. This ain't funny."
"He's not here, Han," Leia whispered, grabbing Han's sleeve. "He's gone.... just like Mara. And I can't sense him anymore, either."
"That's not possible!" Han argued. "He was just standin' there two seconds ago!"
"Do you see him?"
"Then, apparently, it's possible," Leia said, looking accusingly at her husband.
"Why are you lookin' at me like that? It's not my fault!"
"We're finding them - even if I have to tear this place apart, piece by piece," Leia snapped, pulling the door behind the counter open. Behind the door was an office, covered in cobwebs. "No one's been in here for years."
"What about the innkeeper?" Han questioned. "I could've sworn this was the door he came out of, right before you and Mara came in the lobby."
"A ghost?" Han snorted. "Come on, Princess. You're kidding me, right?"
"Luke says Obi-Wan has appeared to him as a spirit. And I told you about Anakin Skywalker appearing to me on Bakura." Leia narrowed her eyes at Han. "Or didn't you believe me?"
Han held up his hands in a gesture of peace. "I believed you, sweetheart. It's just that I've never seen a ghost- personally."
"That innkeeper was not a ghost," Han argued. "You can see through ghosts."
"If you've never seen a ghost, how do you know?"
Han sighed in defeat. "So what do you think happened to Luke and Mara?"
"I don't know....." She stopped, staring at the wood floor. Something looked different - less dusty around the edges of a throw rug in the middle of the floor.
The Princess pushed the oval rug aside with her boot and pointed down. "A door."
"How about that," Han commented as he bent down, pulling on the handle until the door opened, revealing a narrow, curved stairway that spiraled down into blackness.
"I'll go first, and light the way with my saber," Leia said as she knelt down on the floor.
"No." Han shook his head negatively. "I'll go first."
"No buts. Give me your lightsaber. I'm going first, and don't argue with me."
"Then I won't have a weapon," Leia argued back.
Han handed her his blaster. "Cover my back, sweetheart."
"Then who's supposed to cover my back?" Leia asked as she thrust her saber into Han's waiting fingers.
Flicking the saber on, Han grinned. "Shoot first, ask questions later. That's my advice." Han held the lightsaber up and headed down into the gloom without waiting for Leia's response.
"Why do these things always happen to us?" Leia lamented as she followed her husband down the stairs.
"You're starting to sound like Threepio, sweetheart."
"You'd better watch your mouth, flyboy. Especially since you just told me to shoot without thinking."
The creaky metal stairs ended at the beginning of a long, narrow hallway. Several doors lined either side, set every ten feet or so, just like a hotel corridor. Han tugged at the first one, and found it was locked. He looked back over his shoulder at Leia. "I don't see a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the handle, do you?"
"No, but since when would that stop you?"
Giving a shrug, he thrust the lightsaber through the door handle, then pushed the door open. There was nothing in the small room but stacks of yellowed towels and sheets. "Hey! We found the clean sheets!"
Leia eyed a rodent scurrying across the floor. "Yes, dear. They look much better than what we already have in our room."
Han grinned. "Let's move on to the next room." They went across the hall, and repeated the process, opening the room to shelves lined with dried-up soaps and broken laundry recyclers. The next room contained the rusty heating unit for the building, another room contained what appeared to be stacks of canned food, long spoiled with blackened, dried juices that had oozed from the edges and dripped onto the floor. "This is the last one," Han noted as he looked the storage room over. "And no Luke or Mara in any of them." He turned back to face Leia - only she wasn't there. "Leia?" Han stepped back out into the hallway, staring in the direction they had come. "Sweetheart? Don't do this to me. I was only kidding about Threepio." The corridor was deathly quiet except for the humming of Leia's lightsaber. "Stang. I hate it when this happens."
Han rechecked each room before heading back up the spiral metal staircase. The storm was still raging, and the office still deserted and dark. "Hello?" Han called into the darkened room. "Listen up.... if this is some sick joke, I'm not laughing." The Corellian stood still, listening to the rain, feeling his heart beating in fear - not for himself, but for his missing family. Finally he sighed and headed for the lobby, pushing the old door open and entering the room behind the counter. "It's gonna take me all night to check out every room in this place," Han muttered under his breath, wishing Chewie were here to help.
A creak sounded in the floorboard behind him, and he started to spin around, being careful of the lightsaber. Then a blinding pain at the back of his skull was the last thing Han was aware of for quite sometime.
The sound of birds chirping was the first thing he heard when he regained consciousness. Han slowly opened his eyes into the morning sunshine, his head throbbing painfully. Sunlight streamed into the room, and he felt he was lying on a mattress. Carefully, he sat up, fingering the lump on the back of his head. He looked around at his surroundings. A nice room with new paint and carpet. Fresh bedding and a soft mattress. His blaster was inside his gun rig, which was draped over the front edge of the headboard.
Han staggered to his feet and made his way into the refresher. Clean towels. Nice fixtures. He turned the faucet on and warm water gushed out. He quickly splashed water on his face, tied his gun rig to his hips and then headed out the door. Like his room, the hallway was new and clean. Frowning, Han pounded on the next door, which he knew had been Luke and Mara's room. "Luke? Mara? Is Leia with you?" No response. Frustrated, he blew out a breath of air between his teeth, drawing out his blaster and aiming for the door handle.
"Sir!" a concerned voice called out. "Please! No using firearms inside the building! It's against fire code regulations!"
The blaster was instantly pointed at the startled Bothan, wearing hotel insignia. "Where's my wife? And my brother-in-law and his wife?"
"I don't know who you're talking about."
"Like hell you don't!" Han snapped. "They were with me yesterday... when we checked in. Ask the Kaminoan."
The innkeeper's eyes grew wide. "Sir... we don't have a Kaminoan employee. I checked you in last night, and I can assure you that you were alone."
"I don't know what you're trying to pull, but there were three other people with me last night - a man and two women. And I've never seen you before."
"Sir.... I can show you the register - which you signed. It only has your name inside. Perhaps the accident last night was worse than what you thought."
"During the storm, sir. You said you swerved your hovercraft to avoid a fallen tree and hit your head."
Han stared speechless at the Bothan as two young children came running around a corner, yelling down the hallway while being followed by their exasperated parents. The mother looked alarmed when she saw that Han was pointing his blaster at the innkeeper, and tugged at her husband's arm. Reluctantly, the man stopped and asked, "Is there a problem?"
The Bothan looked nervously at his Corellian guest. Sticking his blaster back in his holster, Han shook his head. "No. No problem... everything's fine. Just a misunderstanding." Without further comment, Han wandered down the hallway and entered the lobby. It was clean, spacious and very modern, with spotless duroglass doors and tall windows that opened out into a parking lot packed with speeders and hovercrafts - the place bore no resemblance to the dingy, dark lobby from the night before.
A HoloNet screen in the upper corner of the room showed the damage caused by last night's storm. At least I didn't imagine that, Han thought as he watched the newscast. I need to contact Chewie. He'll come help me figure out what's going on.
Han hurried back to his room and turned on the holo-comm unit. At first there was just static, then Chewie's face came into view. Han's shoulder's sagged with relief. "Hey, pal... I've got a little problem here."
*What problem? Where are you? You're late.*
"I was with Leia, Luke and Mara yesterday, right?"
*What type of question is that?* Chewie woofed out, his blue eyes showing concern. *Are you feeling okay?*
"Just answer me, 'cuz things are really getting bizarre here."
*Here? Where are - * And the comm-unit went dark.
"Chewie? Chewie?" Han pressed the 'on' button several times, and checked the unit for broken connections. Everything appeared to be in working order, except the comm-unit stubbornly refused to work.
Frustrated beyond words, Han stalked back down to the lobby and put his finger on the 'call' button, not letting up until the same flustered Bothan appeared.
"Sir! I really can't have this type of behav - "
"Why is my comm-unit not working?" Han interrupted.
"Things sometimes break," the innkeeper said dryly. "I will send up a replacement." He made a note on a piece of flimsy, then asked worriedly, "Are you staying on for another night?"
"Sure, why not?" Han answered distractedly as he picked up a flimsy brochure advertising the hotel's amenities. "That's when this place gets interesting."
"If you are staying another night, please try to act civil and obey the rules, Mr. Solo. This is a first class establishment - a family vacation destination. I'd prefer not to call the authorities to handle disruptive guests."
"How do you know my name?"
"I told you... I checked you in last night, Mr. Solo."
"What's your name?"
"I am the hotel manager, Borysk Ar'Lyff."
"Bothans have idiotic names," Han muttered under his breath.
"What?" the Bothan asked, his ears quivering in suppressed rage.
"Nothing. It's not against any rules to walk around the grounds, is it?"
"Of course not. Just don't go past the wall in the backyard. It's private property past that point."
Han headed for the wall in the backyard.
If Han thought getting past the wall would be easy, he was wrong. The old field-stone wall was about ten feet high and ran the length of the huge rear area of the hotel. Han followed the wall until he came to a thorny tangle of underbrush that prevented him from going further. Then he walked the opposite direction until the wall came to an abrupt end - at the edge of a steep cliff. Gritting his teeth in frustration, Han headed back the way he'd come, until the hotel came into view. He looked up, trying to decide how difficult it would be to scale the wall.
Stepping back, he looked for the best stones for both foot and handholds. Choosing his spot, he started climbing, slowly and laboriously, until his fingers gripped the top of the wall and he pulled himself into a sitting position, swinging his legs over the thick ledge.
The opposite side of the wall was brush and trees - and a tantalizing path several yards to his right that lead into the forest. By the looks of the trampled underbrush, the path had been used very recently, and frequently.
Han was about to twist around and climb down the far side of the wall when Mr. Ar'Lyff appeared, running past the pool and across the manicured lawn. "Mr. Solo! Mr. Solo! You can't do that! I told you.... it's private property beyond that point!"
"You didn't say the wall was off-limits," Han yelled down at the harried Bothan. "Just the property beyond the wall."
"If you're interested in rock climbing, this hotel offers several mountain climbing packages, for both beginners and advance climbers. You must get down off that wall immediately. Our insurance company would be most displeased."
"Fire code regulations..... insurance companies..." Han groused as he climbed down the hotel side of the wall. "You sure do worry a lot about poodoo."
The Bothan puffed out his chest. "It's my job to worry about that "poodoo", as you call it."
Han patted the Bothan on his back. "And you do such a good job of handling that poodoo. Congratulations."
"Thank you," Ar'Lyff replied stiffly, as he watched Han saunter back to the hotel. "I think."
Han walked into the hotel gift shop and looked around. The silver droid behind the counter swiveled its head, looking at his customer. "May I help you, sir?"
"I'm looking for a glow rod."
"Yes, sir. That's not a common request, but I do have several behind the counter." The droid bent down and retrieved several models.
"Do they work?"
"Of course, sir. And they come with a full warranty, as well."
Han flicked them on, one by one, until he found one he liked. "This one will do. Now, do you have night-vision enhanced electrobinoculars with compass?"
The droid headed off into a storage room, and minutes later returned holding a case. "This is the only one I have, sir," he said, thrusting the package at the Corellian. "The box indicates a compass as a built-in feature."
"I'll take it. Charge everything to my room." He turned to leave, and saw the hotel manager was standing in the doorway, glaring at him suspiciously.
"Sir! You will need to sign a receipt for that!" the droid called out.
Passing the irritated Bothan innkeeper, Han grinned. "Oh, just let Mr. Ar'Lyff sign the receipt. I think he's good at forging my signature, anyway."
A new holo-comm unit had been delivered to his room during his absence, and once again Han tried to contact Chewbacca. This time the unit appeared to be in perfect working order but Chewie failed to answer, forcing Han to leave his friend a message.
He then headed for the roof of the hotel, ignoring the "No Guests Beyond This Point" signs, and hot-wiring the doors open as he worked his way up.
Taking the electrobinoculars out of the case, Han tuned it to day vision and scanned the area surrounding the hotel. Past the stone fence, something caught his interest. He tightened the scanner, bringing the view in closer. The roof-line of a large, old building showed among the trees, several miles away. He quickly noted the compass point and estimated distance, grateful the electrobinoculars were a pricey model with lots of nice features.
"Sir!" the Bothan's highly annoyed voice sounded from behind the Corellian. Han jumped slightly and turned to face the innkeeper. "What are you doing up here? This is against the rules!"
"More rules? Since when is bird watching against the rules?" Han asked indignantly. "Is everything against your rules?"
"Didn't you see the signs?"
"You have 'No bird watching' signs posted?"
"This has nothing to do with bird watching!" The flustered Bothan stomped his foot and pointed at the door that led down to the hotel's highest floor. "You must get off the roof. Now."
"Insurance poodoo again?"
"Yes," the innkeeper ground out. "These doors were locked. How did you get up here?"
"They were not locked," Han responded, looking surprised. "If they were supposed to be locked, then I must say that reflects very poorly on you as a hotel manager."
Mr. Ar'Lyff put his hands on his hips. "Why would you need night vision binocs and a glow rod to bird watch?"
"Those are for later.... when the bats come out," Han said innocently as the Bothan grabbed his arm and hustled him over to the staircase.
Everywhere Han wandered during the day, the Bothan was never far behind, tagging behind him like his shadow. It seemed to take forever for evening to arrive, but finally the sun set below the horizon.
At that point, Han returned to his room and attempted to comm Chewie again. When he still could not contact his partner, he took a fast shower and peeked out the door. No innkeeper. Moving away from the lobby area, Han exited a secondary door and headed for the fieldstone wall. At the far end, near the brush tangle, he scaled the wall and quickly dropped down to the opposite side. In the overgrown weeds and trees, it took him much longer to follow the wall back to the path he'd spotted earlier. It was also much more difficult to find the trail in the deepening shadows of the fading daylight, but finally the small clearing came into view.
Swatting at insects, he plunged down the path, following its winding course. At times, it branched off in two different directions and Han was forced to choose. By following the compass point, only once did he have to backtrack and pick the opposite trail. After nearly two hours, the trail ended so quickly that it surprised Han - he was practically touching the backside of the old building. Not wanting to attract unwanted attention, he flicked off the glow-rod and carefully circled the building until he was near the front of the large structure, and then crouched down in some overgrown bushes.
Han looked the building over, his heart hammering. It was the same old hotel he'd checked into the night before..with Leia, Luke and Mara. Glowlamps from a speeder appeared in the distance. Han fully expected the vehicle to keep going past, and he was taken by surprise when it turned into the cracked, weedy parking lot, stopping near the front entrance.
Holding his electrobinoculars, he and watched as the driver climbed out. It was the Bothan - Mr. Ar'Lyff. Now.... why am I not suurprised to see him here? He watched as the innkeeper looked at the old hotel, shifting on his feet nervously before entering the lobby. Not wanting to lose this opportunity, the Corellian quietly tailed the Bothan.
The Bothan seemed extremely jittery as he made his way through the long, dark corridors of the hotel, using a glow rod to light his way. Han stayed far back, using his night-vision binocs to follow the being. At the end of the corridor was a large, floor to ceiling painting of a landscape, and the Bothan pulled on the edge of the frame. It swung open, revealing stairs. Glancing nervously over his shoulder, he headed down. Han followed.
By the time Han reached the bottom of the stairs, he could hear a whispered conversation.
"You didn't tell me to kill Solo," Ar'Lyff was arguing.
"He's trouble. You should have had the intelligence to figure that out," an unidentified voice replied. "I only want the Jedi alive."
"The Jedi are the ones that are trouble."
A low laugh sounded. "I can handle Jedi. Moff Dezim will want them alive. He hates Jedi and will pay us good credits."
"I just can't believe this is happening," the Bothan complained. "We had the perfect setup going. Why would those Jedi stop here for the night, anyway? Couldn't they see this place was deserted?"
"We won't have to abandon this place," the other reassured him. "The locals are too afraid to come here."
"Where are you keeping them? How are you keeping them?" Ar'Lyff asked.
"Come. Let me show you our 'guests'."
The Bothan's eyes grew wide as he entered a large, well lit room. In the center of the room three humans were suspended in mid-air - awake and unable to move. The redheaded female looked like she was ready to kill them, using only her eyes.
"A special Force-field," the tall human man explained, smirking. "It was designed to hold Jedi back in the days of the Old Republic. Fortunately, the Emperor saw the wisdom of keeping that technology alive." He waved at the far wall, which held six cages of ysalamiri. "Of course, old fashioned methods work real well, too."
Mara glared down at the human and the Bothan. "That's why we didn't know you were here - and why you were able to catch us."
"Of course," the man acknowledged. "When I heard rumors that Jedi were coming to our lovely system, I took the precautions of buying these creatures on the black market. They are really quite expensive, you know."
"What else are you hiding in this building?" Luke questioned.
"I don't suppose it matters if I tell you. We'll be transferring you to a shuttle and delivering you to the Imperials in a few hours. I'm sure the Moff will take a great deal of pleasure out of silencing you - permanently." He waved his hand at the walls. "This old building is the perfect warehouse for spice processing and shipping. And not the type of spice you can buy legally, as I'm sure you've figured out."
"So the Kaminoan is working for you?" Leia asked.
The Bothan frowned. "What Kaminoan? We don't have any Kaminoan working for us." He turned to the man. "Solo mentioned a Kaminoan, too. I don't like this, Vinc."
"They're trying to play mind-games with you, fool. Ignore them."
A loud crash sounded in the outer hall. Vinc turned to the Bothan. "Did someone follow you?"
"No! I kept an eye out behind me as I was driving... no one followed!"
A moment later, the lights in the room went out.
The forcefields holding the three Jedi went out at the same time the lights disappeared, and they dropped to the ground ungracefully.
"Ow!" Mara grunted, rubbing her thigh. "If Solo did that, I'm going to make him suffer - slowly."
The Bothan turned his glow rod on, and Vinc swung around, pointing his blaster at the three humans. "Get up and keep your hands where I can see them!"
A blaster shot rang out from the hallway, shattering the glow rod in the Bothan's hand. Ar'Lyff screamed in pain as he dropped the broken handle.
Luke grabbed Leia and Mara and rolled away from the direction that the blaster had been pointed. A second flash of blaster fire burned the ground where they had been sitting moments before. The man the Bothan called Vinc did not get a second opportunity to fire. Han's blaster caught him as he was attempting to track his quarry, dropping him instantly.
Han grabbed the Bothan around the neck, jabbing his still hot barrel into the being's neck. "Make one wrong move, and you're dead."
"Han!" Leia called out in the darkness. "I knew this was your doing!"
"About time you showed up, Solo," Mara added. "I was getting dizzy spinning around in that forcefield."
Flicking his own glow rod on, Han grinned over the Bothan's shoulder at his family. "You didn't expect me to come back without a plan, did you?"
"A plan?" Leia questioned, unable to keep the disbelief out of her tone. "Since when do you need a plan?"
Luke used the light from Han's glow rod to locate their lightsabers, but before he could flick them on to add to the dim light, the overhead lights came back. He turned to face his brother-in-law. "How did you do that?"
"I didn't," Han admitted reluctantly. "And I didn't turn the lights off, either."
"Well, whatever," Leia said as she gave Han a quick kiss and headed out the door. "Let's get out of here. This place still gives me the creeps."
Han checked for a pulse on the human, and shook his head. The man was quite dead. Then he pushed the subdued Bothan and headed toward the stairs, following Leia and Mara.
The last one to enter the stairwell, Luke turned around and looked back down the hall. The Kaminoan innkeeper was standing at the far end of the corridor. He inclined his head slightly - and faded away.
The local authorities were more than happy to shut down the spice operation that had been running out of the old hotel for more than two years, and the unhappy Bothan was hauled away in a Security hovercraft, while his unlucky human companion was carried away in a body bag.
Acting as an New Republic official, Leia and the Jedi would be given full credit for stopping the drug operation and locating the spice processing equipment.
After the authorities had been notified, Han had finally been able to use the holo-comm to contact a very worried Wookiee and assure him everything was okay.
"It was probably the ysalamiri," Han argued as he drove the Bothan's speeder back to the new hotel. "That's why you couldn't feel the Kaminoan's presence. The guy's probably a crazy old hermit and has lived in the hotel for years. He resented those spice dealers for using his place, and then when we stumbled along, he used us to get rid of them."
"That doesn't explain why he faded away. Or why the lights that went out right when we needed them to. Or why the holo-comm equipment is working now, when it hadn't been working before."
"The power system in that place is ancient, kid. It was just a surge caused by faulty wiring. And the storm could have been preventing the holo-comm unit from working before."
"Sure, Han," Leia said with a sigh as she patted his arm. "You just can't accept that there are some things in the galaxy that can't be explained, can you?"
"Nope. Once again, I'm the only one with both feet planted in reality." He pulled into the beautiful hotel parking lot and pulled in next to their rented hovercraft, which the Bothan had apparently used to bring Han to the hotel after he'd hit him over the head.
"Solo?" Mara asked.
"Let me see if I have this straight... if we would have driven less than two lousy more miles, we could have checked into this really, really nice hotel...with clean sheets, warm water and room service. The bathroom has hot tubs, am I right?"
"Yes," Han admitted slowly, looking in the rear mirror at his sister-in-law.
"And then we wouldn't have been kidnapped by greedy spice dealers, and almost sold to a Moff for entertainment purposes. Right?"
"I, um... guess so."
"And the reason we just HAD to stop right there, at that dumpy hotel, was because YOU wanted to, right? RIGHT?"
Han turned off the speeder and quickly climbed out of the vehicle. "Look at it this way, Jade... it all worked out and now we're big heroes with the locals."
Luke, Mara and Leia all jumped out, turning on their lightsabers as they chased Han into the hotel lobby.
A man's voice could be heard yelling, "But... it's not my fault! There are probably RULES against using lightsabers in this hotel!" - followed by loud laughter echoing down the nicely carpeted hallways. The commotion woke up all of the guests, and they could only wonder who was being so rudely loud in the middle of the night.