Corellia's Child

Coruscant, nine years after ROTJ

Senator Vail Golden had always believed in the power of his last name. Born to one of the richest and most influential families on Corellia, he hadn't been surprised when, eight years before, the beautiful former Princess of Alderaan had agreed to marry him less than one month after he'd been elected as the first senator to serve in the New Republic. People had gossiped, of course, that Leia Organa only agreed to marry him after coming off a bad relationship with another Corellian, but Vail refused to believe that was true. Leia would have left the ex-smuggler for him anyway. He was quite certain of that.

He looked over at his wife sitting next to him in the expensive, chauffeured hovercraft, and squeezed her hand. She rewarded him with a quick glance and a small, half-smile. Vail could never make his wife laugh, no matter how hard he tried. The only genuine smiles came when she hugged and kissed their daughter, seven year old Shannon. Vail sighed to himself and looked out the hovercraft's window. When Shannon was a year old, one of his aides had pointed out to him the child's name contained 'han'. Vail had fired the aide on the spot, and a large argument with his wife had ensued. It looked bad, he'd pointed out to the stubborn Princess, like she was clinging to some distant, desperate memory. Leia's response had been that it's too late. Shannon had the name now, and they would not change it. Besides, Leia had said, the fact that 'han' was buried inside the name 'Shannon' had never even occurred to her. Vail had no choice but to believe her, but their business-like marriage had turned a few more degrees toward chilly after that encounter.

"Shannon's very excited to be in this concert," Vail said into the silence. Other than politics, discussing their child was the only thing Leia and Vail found they had in common that they could talk about. "She has one of the main solos." He instantly regretted his choice of words. The word 'Solo' was off limits, even in this innocent context.

"So she told me," Leia replied calmly, looking out of the other window.

"Nothing is going to happen," Vail said, unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice. Leia's 'feelings' got on his nerves, and she'd had a bad 'feeling' about this night, too.

"Yes. You've said that already."

Vail gave an impatient hiss. "You're not a Jedi, so quit acting like you are."

"If I'm not, it's only because you've done your best to throw every block you can think of in my path," Leia returned tightly.

"Let's not get into this old song again, Leia," Vail said. "You know how I feel about that Jedi garbage."

"My brother is a Jedi," Leia snapped. "And our daughter could be, too."

"She will never be a Jedi," Vail huffed out. "It's not proper."

"Proper," Leia repeated flatly. "The only thing you think is proper for a woman is staying home and taking care of her husband."

Vail knew it still galled Leia that he had insisted she turn down Mon Mothma's request to be the next President of the New Republic. It had been another huge fight in their marriage, and Leia only backed down when Vail threatened to divorce her and fight for full custody of Shannon. There was simply no way his wife would ever outrank him in the political scene. Vail could never live with that, since he had always dreamed of becoming the President, himself.

The rest of the trip was in stony silence, neither husband nor wife looking at each other. When the hovercraft pulled to a stop, a small group of holo-reporters were waiting for them to exit the car, and Vail deliberately took Leia's hand, smiling and waving like the professional politician he was.

Halfway to the concert hall, blaster fire rang out. Vail Golden dropped his wife's hand and attempted to rush into the crowd of reporters for cover, but a blast caught him in the center of his back. The Senator's last thought was that he'd never been elected President of the New Republic.


"Leia?"

Painfully, the Princess opened her eyes and looked into the face of her worried brother. "Where's Shannon?"

Luke looked away for a brief moment, not wanting to answer, but he could feel Leia's rising sense of panic.

"Luke? Is she dead?"

"No..."

"Where is she?"

"She's been kidnapped."

Leia took a deep, ragged breath, trying not to cry. "I have to find her."

"You've been badly injured," Luke said gently. "The doctors need to get you into a bacta tank. I'll find Shannon. You just get better."

"Promise me...."

"I promise, Leia. I'll find her."

He stepped back as the doctors injected a sedative into his sister, then hustled her away. Only at that moment did Luke realize Leia hadn't asked about Vail, and he hadn't thought to tell Leia that her husband was dead, either.


"It wasn't your fault," Jade said, standing with her hands on her hips as Luke packed his satchel.

The Jedi shook his head in disagreement. "I should have sensed there was danger."

"That's ridiculous," she argued back. "Jedi can't see into the future. If they could, then how did Darth Vader manage to kill them?"

Luke looked up at his student and friend, his eyes flashing pain, and instantly Mara felt guilty. "I shouldn't have said that - "

"It's okay." He said briefly, then returned to his packing.

"Was Leia upset about Vail?"

"She... she didn't ask about him."

Mara sighed, and sat down in a soft chair facing Luke. "I never liked Vail."

"You shouldn't say that," Luke admonished her. "He's dead."

"You didn't like him either."

Again, the Jedi stopped his packing and looked over at the redhead. "He was my brother-in-law. For eight years."

"So? It was eight years too long. He was a vain, shallow, petty little dictator."

"Mara!"

"It's true," she said defensively, refusing to feel badly about Vail Golden's death. "He spent more time preening in front of a mirror than ten casino dancing girls put together. And he was a womanizer."

"How do you know?"

"He made a pass at me a few years back. One time." She smiled without humor. "He didn't appreciate it when I threatened him with my lightsaber. Called me a really bad name."

Luke could barely believe what he was hearing. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why should I, Farmboy? I can take care of myself, so don't you start thinking females are helpless little creatures, like Goldenboy."

"Do you think Leia knew?"

"The wife always knows, Luke. But like all wives, Leia didn't want to admit her husband was a cad."

"He was a good father," Luke said lamely, trying to think of something good to say of the dead.

"If you say so."

"Now what did he do wrong there?"

"Besides denying his precious child has Force abilities? What about the fact he bought her everything credits could buy? She's spoiled rotten! The child owns expensive gemstone jewelry, her own stable of lyrnies, her own holoscreening room ... and makeup!" Mara gave a disgusted snort. "He encouraged her to wear makeup! Shannon is seven years old!"

"Leia didn't want her to wear makeup."

"Leia never had a say in anything in that marriage, except for naming Shannon." She shook her head. "Even that was a battle."

Luke turned around and clicked the satchel shut. "Will you watch Leia for me?"

"No."

"No?"

"No. Winter can do that. Cilghal is standing by in case she's needed, and Mothma's already ordered Leia's hospital room to be heavily guarded. There's nothing I can do for Leia by staying on Coruscant. I'm coming with you."

"Mara...."

She stood up, frowning. "Don't be like Vail."

Luke knew he wasn't going to win. "Never."


Onboard a Transport, in deep space.

The Bothan handed a credit voucher to the kidnappers, then looked over at the small box. "She'd better be alive inside there."

"She's alive," the human male muttered as he rubbed his wrist, glancing over at his three companions - a Gamorrean, a Bith and another human. "She bit me! I didn't get paid enough to get bit by that... that..."

"Go put a bacta patch on it," the Bothan said dismissively. "When the ransom comes through, I'll send you your share. In the meantime, have a nice day."

The Gamorrean pushed the box through the hatch, and down the ramp into the transport, then watched as two more Bothans picked up the box and hurried away.

Then the ratty, cylinder-shaped pirate ship shot out of the hanger, and the two vessels parted company.


"It was a triple tragedy for the Golden family today on Coruscant, as assassins shot and killed Senator Vail Golden today, badly wounding his wife, Ambassador Leia Organa-Golden. Meanwhile, the kidnappers used the cover of panic and horror taking place outside to kidnap the Senator's and Ambassador's only child, Shannon Golden, who was preparing to put on a concert inside a nearby auditorium with her teachers and classmates."

"Fortunately, none of the other children, ages five through nine, were wounded inside the concert hall, although they were traumatized from the ordeal of being threatened and locked inside a storage room."

As the holo-reporter continued on, Alli Solo looked up at her husband, appraising his reaction to this news. She knew about Han's past – as a smuggler, a Rebel, and then, briefly, as a New Republic general. Alli also knew Han had been in love with the Princess of Alderaan, and suspected he still had feelings for her, all these years later.

Nine years ago, Han and Leia had a heated argument over the Princess's dedication to her job, and the Princess had told Han her job came first, before personal relationships. In the rush of anger that followed the argument, Han had gone to a bar, and, drunk, flirted with the first pretty girl he saw. Unfortunately, a holo-cam caught him kissing this girl, and the story made the evening news. That drunken encounter ended his relationship to the Princess.

Alli hadn't known Han yet, when less than six months after the breakup, Leia Organa had married Senator Vail Golden, the handsome, rich playboy-turned-politician. She only saw the aftermath that the Princess's marriage had on the pilot, and his partner's desperate attempts to keep him from self destruction. Alli Solo was then Alli Gils, a divorced mother of two small boys – Trey, age two, and his older brother, Rue, age four.

Trying to support herself by running a small freight business, and raise two rambunctious boys hadn't been easy. Chewbacca had approached her looking for work, and that was the beginning. Han Solo was easily her best pilot, and the Wookiee made certain his friend and partner showed up for work on time and sober. Eventually, Alli had asked Han out for dinner, then one thing led to another. A year later, he'd asked her to marry him, and she had accepted. Deep down, Alli suspected Han still loved his Princess, but knew he'd never get her back – not since she'd given birth to Vail's baby, Shannon Golden, a few weeks earlier. Perhaps all Han wanted was to show Leia she'd made a mistake, and that he was worthy of being a husband and a father. In any case, the boys loved him, and so did Alli, so for whatever his reasons, Alli accepted Han's proposal.

Han looked over at his wife of seven years. "I'm not going to fly to Coruscant," he said gruffly. "Quit worryin' about it."

"I'm not worried," she lied. "Are you still picking up that shipment of crystals on Bothawui?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I just thought… never mind."

Han's face softened as he looked down at his wife. "I'll be back in four days." He leaned over and gave her a kiss. "Take care of yourself while I'm gone, and don't forget to take your medicine. You know what the doctors told you about missing doses."

"I'll remember," she promised, then watched as he walked out the door. She maneuvered her hover-chair over to the window, and felt a tear trickle down her cheek as he disappeared from her view.


Bothawui

Shannon opened her eyes, frowning into the darkness. She didn't like being in the dark, always insisting that a nightlight be left on next to her bed. "Daddy!" No response was forthcoming, which puzzled her. Usually her daddy came right away when she called. Her mother was far less inclined to come running the second she called, but since daddy didn't come, he must be busy. "Mommy?" She sat up, wondering why her bed was so hard, and why her room smelled funny.

Again, no one came rushing into the room. "Threepio? Where are you?"

The door opened, and light flooded into the tiny room. "Shut up, brat, or I'll make you shut up!" a harsh male voice shouted at her.

It was only then that Shannon remembered what happened in the concert hall's back room. A slobbering Gamorrean and a mean man were pointing blasters at them, calling them bad names, ordering them into a storage room. All except Shannon. The man grabbed her, and ordered her to come with him. She remembered biting the man's wrist, and she remembered that he hit her, hard. No one had ever hit her before, and she screeched and screamed at the top of her lungs, trying to kick the man in his leg. Then the man had put a smelly cloth over her face, and everything went black.

Now she was here… wherever here was. "I want to go home!"

"Tough, brat. You'll go home when we decide it's time. Now stop yelling." He started to close the door, but Shannon was very fast, leaping to her feet and pushing the door open. The being on the other side was a Bothan, not too much taller than Shannon, but much stronger. He grabbed her wrist, his face twisting into a snarl. "Don't like to listen, do you?"

"Let me go!" she screamed, trying to wrench away from his grasp. "I'm going to tell my daddy!"

For some reason, that comment made the Bothan laugh. "Your daddy won't care."

"My daddy will too care! He's going to send you to the spice mines for being mean to me!"

The Bothan couldn't stop himself. "That can't happen, kid, since your daddy's dead."

"LIAR!" Outraged, she flung herself at the smug, hairy being, only to find the door slammed shut and locked in her face. The room was once again plunged into darkness, and Shannon collapsed onto the cold floor, sobbing.


Onboard the Jade's Fire

Mara nudged Luke's shoulder, breaking his Force-trance. "I've contacted Talon Karrde. He's using his connections to see if he can come up with any names."

"Thank you," Luke said, stretching his legs and arms.

"Is the Force telling you anything yet? Or did I interrupt too soon?"

Luke sighed. "I keep getting the impression this has more to do with Vail than anything. More revenge motivated than money motivated. And…" he broke off, biting his lip.

"And, what?"

"I keep getting images of Han and Chewie for some reason."

"Solo? Do you think he's behind this?" Mara asked, sounding surprised. She'd never met the Corellian herself, but Luke had always given her the impression he was basically a good man, despite the acrimonious way his relationship with Leia had ended.

"I just can't see either Han or Chewie killing anyone in cold blood, or kidnapping a child. And I'm positive he'd never hurt Leia physically. I don't understand why I keep getting visual impressions of both of them, though."

"How long has it been since you've seen Solo?"

Luke thought for a long moment. "Five years now." It had been an unexpected encounter at a spaceport on Corellia, and Luke remembered Han had not been overly pleased to see him, but he'd been cordial. They talked briefly, and the Jedi had been surprised to hear about Han's marriage, but happy his friend apparently found someone to love. He'd not told Leia about seeing Han, however. Any mention of the name 'Han Solo' upset Leia, far more than Luke thought it should. "He wouldn't do this," Luke said with conviction.

Mara nodded, hoping Luke was right.


Onboard the Falcon

Chewie turned his blue eyes toward his silent partner. [You have a good life now, Han.]

The Corellian looked over at the Wookiee. "I know," he snapped back, then softened his tone. "You don't have to lecture me on responsibilities. I've spent the last seven years helping raise two boys, and I think I've been a pretty good husband."

[Yet, you cannot forget the Princess.]

"I'm sure she's forgotten me."

[For some reason, I doubt that. And now her husband is dead.]

Han's face flushed. "So? I won't abandon the boys… or Alli. You know that."

[Nor should you. But what will happen when Alli is gone?]

"She ain't dead yet," Han shot back, fighting down grief as he thought about the muscle disease that was slowly destroying her body. Medicine could be so advanced, yet there were always diseases that confounded even the best doctors. Neurosensory Degeneration was a terrible illness, and while doctors could keep the patient alive with medicine, they could not stop the progress from vague limb weakness, to needing a hover-chair, then artificial respiration, and eventual death. Alli was already in a hover-chair when Han married her, and she was fast approaching the point where she would need help breathing.

[Not thinking about it won't change the inevitable.]

No, Han knew it wouldn't. He didn't tell Chewie that Alli's ex-husband had been contacting the boys in recent months, trying to wheedle his way back into their lives. Once Alli died, it was very possible Han would lose everything he had once again.


Onboard the Jade's Fire

Luke frowned at the holo-image of Talon Karrde. "Are you sure?"

"No," Karrde admitted. "I can't be sure. But there are a lot of rumors floating around that Bothans are somehow involved. Last I heard, a group of insurrectionists on Kothlis were interested in kidnapping rich children to finance their cause."

"Is it possible that's where Shannon's been taken?" Mara asked.

"Very likely, if those are the Bothans I've been hearing about."

"Then Kothlis is where Mara and I will head next," Luke said. "Thanks for your help, Captain."

"Anytime, Skywalker. If I hear anything else, I'll contact you."

The image faded, and Mara smiled at the Jedi. "So, on to Kothlis?"

"Unless you have a better idea."

"Maybe we should try and contact Solo," she suggested. "The Force has been nudging you in that direction."

"I can't. Not yet." Luke sighed and folded his arms across his chest. "What would I tell him? That I think he's involved somehow in Shannon's kidnapping?"

"That wouldn't go over too well," Mara said, smirking. "But I don't think we should ignore the Force."

"We won't ignore it, but let's just wait until the signal is a bit clearer."


Chewie handed Han a disk with the directions to Pontar'ley Corporation, and the Corellian slid the disk into the hovercraft's computer, then turned the vehicle in the right direction. [Isn't being an honest shipper better than smuggling?] Chewie woofed as they drove leisurely through the light traffic.

Han gave a snort. "I dunno… I sorta miss the excitement."

[Excitement? You mean being chased by bounty hunters, shot at by stormtroopers, dodging Imperial starship patrols? That excitement?]

"Yeah," he said, nodding. "It was fun."

[You have a strange idea of fun, Han.]

"Life was never boring back then. Admit it."

[I think I prefer boring.]

"Not me. When's the last time we had a really fun time?" Han asked. "I think it was back when we were chasing Zsinj."

[Then you should not have resigned from the New Republic,] he woofed back.

"Nah. I had to resign. If I'd have stayed, I would have seen her too often."

[You could have worked things out with the Princess,] Chewie insisted quietly. [You are both so stubborn.]

"It's too late, pal. Nine years too late to correct my mistake."

Although Chewie disagreed, he said nothing.


Ce'rlle, the Bothan assigned to watch to human child, carried the food tray into the locked room. The child was lying on the floor, curled up into a fetal position and not moving. "Get up." When she didn't respond, he spoke louder, "Get up! This is the only food you're getting today, brat." Still, she remained unmoving, and the Bothan grew concerned. Had she somehow injured herself? Or did the kidnappers cause her to be harmed? He nudged her leg with his boot, and when she didn't move he felt himself starting to panic. His boss would be very unhappy if the human were dead, at least at this point.

Placing the tray on the hard cot, he bent over and started to turn the child over so he could see her face. It was a mistake – the girl reached out and grabbed his ankles, jerking him backwards and off his feet. His head impacted with the wall, then the room blurred and his vision dimmed. Ce'rlle wasn't too sure how long he lay on the cold surface before he came back to his senses, but by that time the human child was long gone.

He struggled to his feet and ran into the hall, rushing back and forth as he attempted to locate her. Unfortunately for him, Shannon Golden was nowhere to be found. His boss wasn't going to be merely unhappy .. he was going to kill him – literally.


Running fast, Shannon found herself outside without being quite certain how she'd gotten away. Uncle Luke and his friend Mara would've probably said it had something to do with the Force, but her daddy always laughed when they talked about the Force, and told her to ignore that kind of talk. Shannon loved her daddy more than anything, so she pretended he was right, and the Force didn't exist. Sometimes, though, she wondered about it, because she could do things her friends couldn't, like move objects without touching them. And she could guess who was inside a room before she opened the door. But she never told her daddy those things, because it made him mad, and she never told her mommy, either, because it made her sad for some reason.

She stopped running and looked around. This wasn't a place she recognized, and while there were a lot of humans and other beings, mostly there were Bothans. Not knowing who to trust, Shannon wandered along the busy sidewalk trying not to be noticed. That was something she could do easily, too. When she didn't want the teacher to ask her a question the teacher would look some other direction, or she wanted to take something from a store that didn't belong to her, no one ever saw her when she put the stolen object in her pocket.

Her eyes tracked up to a ship that lifted off in the distance. It must be a spaceport, she decided. Her parents' ship would certainly be there, and they would take her home.


Kothlis

The Governor of Kothlis was a female Bothan by the name of Ly'y Rei'bedu, and she wasn't happy when Jedi Master Luke Skywalker and his student Mara Jade insisted on meeting with her.

"I'm quite certain no Bothan would have anything to do with Senator Golden's death, or the child's kidnapping," she said, her voice icy. "It amazes me how incredibly prejudice humans are toward Bothans. Every time something goes wrong, we seem to get the blame."

"No one is blaming you personally, Governor," Luke said soothingly. "Nor are we blaming Bothans in general. Humans certainly have their share of bad guys. We just thought you might have heard some rumors."

Rei'bedu's yellow fur ruffled. "I'm not a tabloid reporter, Jedi Skywalker. I don't deal with rumors and innuendos."

Mara opened her mouth to speak, but Luke quickly stood up and reached across to shake the Governor's hand. "Thank you for your time, Governor Rei'bedu."

Reluctantly, she shook his hand, then escorted them from her office. Once the door shut, Mara narrowed her green eyes back at the closed door.

"She's lying."

"I know."

"Why did you let her get away with it?"

Luke smiled. "She won't get away with it, Mara."

"What do we do now, then?"

"We contact Wedge, and see if he can have Ghent intercept any emergency messages from Kothlis to Coruscant. I think there might be, real soon."

"Has anyone ever told you that you're sneaky, Farmboy?"


Kothlis

Governor Ly'y Rei'bedu wasted no time in contacting Coruscant. Her boss, Borsk Fey'lya was furious. "You shouldn't be contacting me like this," he snapped out. "We have couriers for this type of emergency."

"I realize that," she sniffed. "But these are Jedi we're dealing with. And they're already suspicious of us."

"They know nothing," the Senator growled back. "I expect you to keep it that way."

"What would you suggest I do?"

"Nothing. Do nothing! I will take care of matters myself," Fey'lya replied as he reached down and cut off the communication.


Bothawui

Shannon knew that her kidnappers were looking for her. Her first thought had been to contact the authorities on this system. Her mother had always told her if she was in trouble, she should find a law enforcement officer. Unfortunately, it appeared all the enforcement officers were Bothans, and Shannon didn't know if she should trust them. Then again, the beings that had kidnapped her on Coruscant had been a human and a Gamorrean, so maybe all the Bothans weren't bad.

She made her way into the spaceport, looking in each docking bay for her parents' ship. Nothing looked remotely familiar to her… except for that Bothan heading in her direction, walking in a hurry with another Bothan she'd never seen before. The one she recognized was the same one that had laughed at her in the cell, and told her that her father was dead. She ducked down behind some containers, and watched as the frantic beings approached.

"You don't know she came this way," the taller Bothan told the other.

"Where do you suggest we look?"

"Maybe she went to the law."

"We'd have her back by now if that were the case."

Both beings looked over their shoulder as two more beings headed toward them, pushing a loaded hover-cart. "Someone's coming. Let's go."

The Bothans quickly left, and Shannon peeked out from her hiding spot. She strained to hear what the tall human man, dressed in dark slacks and white shirt, was telling the Wookiee...something about getting the boxes loaded into their ship so he could get home. She watched as the pair headed over to an old, battered ship, then lowered the ramp. The man picked up a box, which looked quite heavy, and the Wookiee picked up two of the boxes as he followed his friend inside the ship.

Shannon made a decision – she would sneak onboard that old ship. After she was safely away from this planet, she would come out of hiding, and order the pilots to take her home. And they'd better do it, if they knew what was good for them.


Mara waved her hand at the blinking communication panel. "That couldn't be Ghent already."

"No," Luke agreed. "Even he's not that good." He watched as Mara flipped on the switch, and answered the hail.

"Jade's Fire," she acknowledged.

A crackling voice came over the deep space comm. "Senator Fey'lya here. Is Jedi Skywalker with you?"

"Luke Skywalker speaking," the Jedi replied quickly.

"Yes. Jedi Skywalker. Governor Rei'bedu has contacted me regarding your concerns about, um, your niece. Let me reassure you that no Bothan would have anything whatsoever to do with this unfortunate event," Fey'lya said smoothly.

"How can you be certain of that, Senator?" Luke asked.

"My people made great sacrifices for the Rebellion," Fey'lya returned evenly. "We are a peace-loving people." He hesitated briefly, then added, "Besides, I've been working diligently to bring these murderers to justice. My contacts have provided me with a location where they believe the Princess's child has been taken."

"Where is that?" Mara asked.

"Nal Hutta. I'm sure you're not too surprised to hear the Hutts are behind this crime."

"Of course not," Mara said sarcastically. "The Hutts are behind every crime in the galaxy."

"I'm glad to hear you are aware of that," the Bothan said, unaware of her flippant tone. "I wish you luck in finding the child."

"Thank you, Senator," Luke replied, keeping his voice respectful. "We'll head to Nal Hutta immediately." Luke cut the connection, and looked over at Mara.

"Karrde was right," she said, smiling. "Fey'lya is very interested in sending us off on a wild mynock chase."

"Any suggestions where we should really head?"

"How about Bothawui ?"

Luke grinned. "If that doesn't make Fey'lya mad, nothing will. Bothawui it is."


Onboard the Falcon, leaving Bothawui

Han pulled the lever, watching in satisfaction as the stars blurred into streaks. Without the constant close calls and fast escapes, the Falcon's hyperdrive was much more reliable. Of course, it also helped not taking hits from Star Destroyers, either.

"We're gonna be back home faster than I thought," Han remarked, pleased the trip had gone so smoothly.

[I keep telling you this is better than smuggling,] Chewie said, a bit smugly.

The Corellian opened his mouth to respond, but a loud crash sounded from the hold. Solo swung around in his seat, frowning. "What the hell was that?"


Glova

The buzzer on the door rang, and Alli rolled her hover-chair over and looked in the monitor. Her heart dropped to her stomach when she saw the portly man standing outside, tapping his hand against his thigh impatiently. Reluctantly, she slid the door open. "Brill. This is certainly a surprise," Alli said carefully, looking up at her ex-husband.

"A pleasant one, I hope," he replied, his thin lips parting into a forced smile that didn't reach his eyes. "How are the boys?"

"Trey and Rue are fine," she said, looking up from her chair. She noticed he didn't inquire after her health. "They're in school."

"Good," he said, nodding. "I need to discuss this in private with you, anyway." His eyes flicked around. "Where is that Corellian you married?"

"Han. His name is Han Solo."

"Whatever…. I'm filing a court request to get custody of the boys, Alli."

She felt the blood drain from her face. "You can't be serious. You've never shown an interest in their lives before! You left me when Trey was three months old…. they don't even remember you anymore."

"That's going to change. They're my sons, not that Corellian's. He's not going to raise my sons after you're gone."

"I'll fight you, Brill," she said, her voice shaking. "I'll fight you with my last breath."

"That's coming sooner than you think, Alli."


Han rushed into the hold, his blaster drawn and pointed, with Chewie on his heels. Looking around, he could see that one of the containers holding the crystals had been moved slightly, but certainly not enough to cause the noise. Chewie nudged his shoulder, pointing to the left corner of the room. A tiny rivulet of pale blue milk trickled out from behind an empty barrel.

The Corellian frowned up at his partner. "Milk?", he mouthed in puzzlement. Han wasn't a big milk drinker, but Chewie loved the stuff.

[I didn't spill it,] Chewie woofed quietly back.

Chewie headed to one side of the barrel, while Han sidled up cautiously to the opposite side. Then they both pulled the barrel away from the wall, revealing the origin of the milk. A young girl hunched down, clasping the milk bulb to her chest, staring up defiantly at Han. The Wookiee let out a surprised roar.

"How did you get onboard?" Han spluttered in shock. "Who are you?"

"Which question would you like me to answer first?" she said, struggling to her feet. Then she thrust the milk at Han. "Your milk is stale. I like my milk fresh."

Dumbfounded, Han took the milk from the child. "Yes, your little shortness. I'll be sure to stop off at the first system and restock my supplies."

"Good," she nodded, folding her arms across her chest. "And I like white bread without crusts and briselberry jam. Briselberry is kind of hard to find, but it's the only kind I'll eat. And I'm hungry, so you can feed me."

"Who the hell are you?" Han snapped, getting mad.

"My name is Shannon, and I'm royalty. So you'd better listen and obey me, mister."

"O…obey?"

"After you stop for fresh supplies and make me some food that I like, you'll take me home. My daddy is worried about me."

"Home?"

"Home. It's on Coruscant. My daddy is an important Senator, and if you're not nice to me, I'll have him throw you in the spice mines."

"Listen, kid," Han started out, pointing his finger in her face. "I couldn't care less who your daddy is…"

[Han….]

"And the only person I take orders from is me….."

[Han…..]

"Certainly not some snot-faced little rich kid…."

[HAN!]

Solo spun around to face his partner. "What?"

[I think this is Shannon Golden. Leia's child. She must not know about her father, yet.]

Slowly, Han turned back to the girl. "Shannon. Is your last name Golden?"

She tilted her chin up, her face smug. "Yes. See? I told you that you have to listen to me. I'm rich and famous."

Glancing at Chewie, Han gave a sigh. "We need to drop outta hyper to reset our course for Coruscant. And I'll have to let Alli know we'll be late gettin' home."


Coruscant

Leia opened her eyes, looking up blearily at Winter's concerned face. "Winter?"

"I'm here, Leia."

"Where is Shannon?"

"Luke and Mara are looking for her, and half of the New Republic security, too."

"I need to talk to Luke," she whispered softly. "He's in danger. Great danger." Oddly, the sense of danger toward her daughter had lessened since waking up. Almost like the Force was telling her Shannon was in safe hands.

Winter touched her friend's shoulder. "Luke can take care of himself."

After a moment, Leia asked, "Vail is dead, isn't he?"

"Yes."

Guilt coursed through Leia when she realized she felt very little grief over her husband's death. The guilt increased when, moments later, she thought about someone she deliberately had tried not to think about for years.


Over Bothawui

The Jade's Fire had barely left hyperspace when a dozen Uglies started firing at the ship. "Pirates?" Luke asked as he returned fire, grateful Mara had remembered to put up the shields before dropping out of hyperspace.

"Maybe, but I think it's more likely someone was expecting us."

"Fey'lya? We told him we were going to Nal Hutta," Luke returned, not taking his eyes off his task.

"Fey'lya, or maybe Rei'bedu. Bothans are notorious for covering all contingencies.

The ship shuddered as it took a hard hit. "We're losing the rear deflectors," Mara said, her voice brittle. "We can either jump back into hyperspace, or head to the planet and hope we make it down alive." A second later, another luck shot got past, and sparks flew from the overhead panel. "Make up your mind, Farmboy, or we won't have much of a choice."

"I say we head down to the surface," Luke said decisively. "Especially since someone wants us to leave so badly."

Without another word, Mara angled the Fire down, and left the Uglies trailing far behind. Unfortunately, neither one expected the Ion cannon fire that blasted from the surface in their direction.


Onboard the Millennium Falcon

Han was getting worried. "Where is she?" He pressed the signal button with more force, as if that could somehow make Alli respond to his hail.

[Perhaps she was needed at the school, or office?]

"No," Han said, shaking his head. "She can't get out anymore, not without a lot of help. Something's wrong."

[Then we should return to Glova. We can contact Luke once we arrive, and he can come pick up Shannon.]

"Good idea, pal, but I ain't lookin' forward to spending more time with that kid. I just can't believe Leia's daughter turned out so, so..... ."

[Bossy?] Chewie woofed in amusement. [Strong willed?]

"Okay. So maybe I'm not surprised." He flicked some buttons, setting the course for Glova. "But she's gonna have to live with stale milk and brown bread for the next few days, cuz I ain't coddling her."

[Slumming with you will show her a whole other side to the galaxy, Han.]

"Shut up."


Bothawui

Mara jerked the controls hard to the right as she desperately tried to avoid the laser cannons. "Someone really doesn't like you," she muttered under her breath.

"Me?" Luke spared a second to glance over at the redhead. "Maybe it's you ... this is your ship, after all."

"Funny, Farmboy. I'll have you know I was never shot at before I hooked up with you. Not much, anyway."

"Now you're starting to sound like Han."

The ex-assassin glared at Luke, then was forced to turn her full attention back to the fight to stay alive. "Maybe coming here was a bad idea."

"What gives you that idea?" Luke said, trying to keep a straight face. He was spared Mara's comeback when the Jade's Fire took a hard burst from one of the Ion cannons. "Front shields down to ten percent."

Sparks flew from the nose of their ship as Mara corkscrewed her way down to the surface in a barely controlled crash.


Onboard the Falcon

Han stuck his head inside the hold, watching the little girl play with the holo-creatures on the game table. "I have an emergency at home, so we're going there first," he started to explain.

Shannon's head snapped around, and she glared at the pilot. "No! I want to go home! Now!"

"Listen, kid, I'll call your uncle as soon - "

"NO!" she screeched out. "My daddy doesn't like Uncle Luke! Just call my daddy!"

The Corellian felt a rush of pity for the child, despite her spoiled attitude. She obviously adored her father, and when she found out he was dead she was going to be devastated. He wondered how Leia was holding up, and if she had recovered from her injuries. The urge to contact Coruscant had almost been overwhelming, but he'd resisted the impulse. Besides, he had his own wife and kids to worry about right now. "I'm sorry, Shannon. That's the way it's gonna be. Do you want me to heat you up some Corellian stew I fixed yesterday?"

Her brown eyes grew wide. "Stew leftovers?"

"Yeah. I'm a pretty good cook."

"I'd puke your leftover stew all over this stupid ship," she sniffed in disgust. "But this place is so dirty, I don't think you would even notice."

Han took a deep breath, trying to keep his temper in check. "It's either stew, or you can go hungry."

The child pushed herself off the bench and stalked over to Han, glaring up at the tall man. "I hate you," she hissed out. Her booted toe shot forward, kicking Han in his ankle, and she rushed out of the hold down the hall, leaving him standing on one foot while clutching his throbbing extremity.


Bothawui

Luke forced his eyes open, and found himself staring into a dozen blasters pointed in his direction, held by angry looking Bothans. Slowly he pushed back, looking to the left at the pilot's seat where Mara was still slumped forward. A brief surge of panic welled up before he reached out with the Force, sensing she was alive, but injured.

"Raise your hands, and give us your weapons," the oldest looking Bothan ordered.

The Jedi nodded, removing his lighsaber, then reached over and unclipped Mara's saber, handing both to the being. "She's hurt," he told his captors, as he eased Mara's head back against the seat. "She needs medical attention."

The Bothan turned over the cylinder objects in his hand, frowning. "Lightsabers." He focused his attention on the humans. "You are Jedi."

"Yes. My name is Luke Skywalker, and this is my student, Mara Jade."

"Skywalker. The hero of the Rebellion?"

"One of many," Luke replied. "Who are you?"

"My name is Tee Sar'ren, leader of the Both'sequst."

"Both'sequst? Is that the insurrection cell? The one that's been rumored to be kidnapping children?" Luke questioned, knowing even if the Bothan lied, he would be able to discern the truth.

"We are opposed to the leadership of Bothawui and Kothlis, but we are not kidnappers. Certain Bothans are spreading those rumors to discredit us, and attempt to make us look like we are nothing more than violent criminals."

The Bothan was telling the truth. "So you had nothing to do with Shannon Golden's kidnapping, or the murder of Senator Golden?"

Sar'ren gave a harsh laugh. "The human child was kidnapped for two purposes, Jedi. One reason was to point the blame at us. The second was to make certain Senator Golden's murder appeared incidental to the kidnapping, and throw the trail off the true murderers."

"And you know who that is?"

"So do you, Jedi. Your sister is lucky to be alive, since she was intended to die in the attack, as well. Believe me when I say your niece is not going to be freed, even if Golden's family or the government of Corellia pays a ransom. Unless you somehow rescue her, her body will never be found, and there will be no way to follow the trail back to the true kidnappers."

Luke felt a chill of fear as he realized the murderer was still on Coruscant.

"Come now, Jedi," Sar'ren said, noting the Luke understood what he was saying. "We will make certain the human female receives medical care. We are not the evil beings that Governor Rei'bedu is claiming we are."


Coruscant

"It's certainly good to see you are feeling better, Ambassador Organa-Golden," Fey'lya said as he entered her hospital room. "On behalf of all Bothans, I would like to pay my condolences as to the loss of your husband, and the disappearance of your child."

"Thank you," Leia said, suddenly feeling unaccountably cold. She drew the blanket up tight under her chin.

"Will you be well enough to attend the memorial service on Corellia?" he asked, his snout wrinkling in concern.

"It's in four days, and yes, I intend to be there," Leia replied.

"Has your brother had any luck with tracing down your child?"

"I haven't heard from Luke, but I'm sure he's coming close to finding her."

"Of course he is," Fey'lya said, patting her hand. "I will see you at the service, then." He turned and left the room, and Leia lay back on the pillow, shutting her eyes while her grief and fear for both Shannon, and especially Luke, intensified.


Glova

Shannon Golden folded her arms across her chest, scowling as the Wookiee pushed her toward the small white house on the outskirts of a village. "This is a stupid planet," she complained, feeling her stomach growl. Refusing to eat the stew hadn't really accomplished much since neither the pilot nor the Wookiee had given in and made her something she liked. Captain Solo had actually punished her for kicking him by making her sit in one of the tiny bunk rooms all alone, saying she could come out if she apologized. She hadn't done that, so she hadn't been allowed out of the bunk room the entire trip. Captain Solo was mean, and Shannon knew her daddy was going to make him pay for being mean to her. "If this is your house, it's as bad looking as your ship."

The house, while on the small side, was neat and tidy - at least it usually was. The lawn, which Alli's oldest son Rue faithfully watered and cut, was looking shaggy and the flowers lining the sidewalk were wilted. Han felt his heart-rate increase, and he took off at a run toward the front door. It slid open at his approach without having to enter the code. The inside of the house was a mess. Objects were tossed aside and overturned. "Alli?"

Chewie entered the home behind Shannon, who wrinkled her nose up. "You need a cleaning droid. Are you that poor that you can't afford one?"

"ALLI?" Han shouted, heading up the stairs toward the bedrooms two steps at a time. The girl and the Wookiee then heard Han's cry of horror as he screamed his wife's name again.


The Wookiee rushed up the stairs, then skidded to a stop when he saw Han kneeling in the hallway, holding Alli's head as she lay flat on her back. Her skin was without color, her lips parted and blue. [Is… she gone?]

Han shook his head. "She's still breathing, but barely. I need to com the emergency medics. See if you can find the boys, Chewie." Shaking, he took out the comlink, and signaled the All-Purpose Emergency code, while the Wookiee checked all the rooms in the home.

A woman's voice instantly spoke through the small device. "Is this a security emergency, or a medical emergency?"

"Medical!"

"At your signal location?"

"Yes," Han hissed out, knowing the woman was just doing her job.

"I have dispatched the medics, sir. May I have your name?"

"Solo. Han Solo."

When Chewie returned a few minutes later, Han's fear was intensified when the Wookiee told him Rue and Trey were no where to be found.


Bothawui

"My head is killing me," Mara mumbled even before she opened her eyes. She felt a hand on her forehead, then opened her green eyes to gaze up into worried blue ones. "I guess we lived through that landing."

"Your amazing piloting skills come in handy sometimes," Luke said, grinning.

Mara pushed herself into a seated position, ignoring Luke's orders to lie back down. "Where are we?"

"In an underground hideout. The Both'sequst underground hideout," he added, waiting for her reaction. It didn't take long.

"What? The Insurrectionists? Are you crazy?"

"That's not the way they see themselves," Luke continued. "The leader claims the Bothan leadership is corrupt, and that someone high up is behind Shannon's kidnapping."

"Why would Fey'lya want to kidnap Shannon Golden?" Mara asked, her voice betraying her doubts. "I don't like the guy anymore than the next person, but that just seems a bit risky, if you ask me."

Tee Sar'ren spoke up from the entrance to the small room. "Do not underestimate Fey'lya's ambitions. He will remove anyone standing in his way to become the next President of the New Republic." He stepped forward, holding Luke and Mara's lightsabers. "We need to leave now. A large contingent of the Bothan army is heading our way. Somehow, they must have discovered our hideout."

"You can't blame us," Mara snapped, standing up despite the dizziness caused by her head injury. "We almost got shot to pieces just trying to land."

Sar'ren and Mara glared at each other, feelings of suspicion radiating from both of them. Luke cleared his throat. "Mara, I believe Sar'ren is telling the truth." He looked at the Bothan. "I need to contact my sister and tell her what's going on."

"That would be far too risky, especially now. We must leave this bunker – immediately." The words hardly had a chance to leave his mouth when the ground shook from the blast of a concussion grenade hit. "Perhaps we are already too late."


Glova

Han watched as the medics loaded the hover-stretcher into an ambulance. As he started to move to head to his own hover-craft to follow to the hospital, a security guard grabbed his arm. "Solo?"

"Yes?" he answered, trying to jerk his arm away.

The security officer tightened his grip, then drew his weapon and pointed it at Han. "You're under arrest for the kidnapping of Shannon Golden, and the murder of Vail Golden."

"WHAT?" Han snapped his head around, suddenly aware that he and Chewie were surrounded by officers. "You need to be out looking for Rue and Trey instead of making up this garbage…I didn't murder anyone, or kidnap that kid!"

The man pointed to the little girl standing in the distance, holding the hand of a female officer. "That's not what she's saying."


Bothawui

Tee Sar'ren handed the lightsabers back to Luke and Mara. "They will not be interested in capturing us," he informed them. "Fey'lya and Governor Rei'bedu will want us dead. If we are alive, we are too dangerous."

"Dangerous?" Mara questioned. "To his goals?"

"Yes," the Bothan said, nodding. "Laws would require a trial, and trials can be messy things." He indicated they should head to the left tunnel, and hurried after the two Jedi until they came to the end of the tunnel. A long tube with metal rungs went up, disappearing into the darkness above their heads. "This will lead to the surface. Hopefully, they have not located the speeder bikes."

"I don't sense anyone directly overhead," Luke told Sar'ren. "Unless they're Force-sensitive, and good at shielding."

The ground shook as the hidden rebel base took another hit, nearly knocking Mara off her feet. Debris from the ceiling cascaded down around their heads. "Shielding?" Mara coughed as Luke started up the ladder. "That's just what we'd need right now.... a dark Jedi waiting at the top of the stairs."

Luke looked back down, grinning. "It wouldn't be the first time."


Coruscant

Winter helped Leia braid her hair, then watched as the former Princess of Alderaan carefully stood up, testing her trembling legs.

"Are you certain you feel well enough to head to Corellia? You could delay the memorial service," she pointed out.

"No, that wouldn't look right. And besides, I'm sure Vail's parents are having a hard enough time right now without putting off the funeral." Leia allowed Winter to help her walk toward the door, but before they could leave the comm panel lit up. Sighing, Leia headed back and pressed the 'on' button. "Ambassador Organa-Golden speaking."

The Corellia Government seal appeared, then a man's craggy face appeared. Leia recognized the Governor of Corellia instantly, and he seemed both pleased and nervous. "Ambassador, I have great news! The local enforcement authorities on Glova have found your daughter."

"Shannon!" Leia sat down on the edge of the bed in relief. "Is she....?"

"She's fine.... the medics have already checked her out. And we've caught the mastermind responsible for her kidnapping and Senator Golden's death, as well."

"That's wonderful," Leia said, smiling at this wonderful news. She would have to contact Luke and Mara immediately, so they could come home.

"Yes, it is wonderful. And it all makes sense, too. After all, who else besides Han Solo would want to see your husband dead?"

Leia was grateful she was sitting down, and she could feel the blood drain from her face. "Wh...what?"

"I'm sure it's a bit of a shock, but your daughter insists Han Solo paid the men who actually did the kidnapping and shooting. We've arrested him and his Wookiee partner, and charged them with murder and kidnapping. If his wife dies, that will be another murder charge, too. We think he might have had something to do with his step-sons' disappearance, as well. That's the way it is with these types of criminals.... once they get started, nothing can stop them."

"That's.... that's just not possible. None of this is possible."

"Are you calling your daughter a liar?"

"No.... no."

"In any case, Solo is being processed and will be transported to Corellia tomorrow so he can stand trial. Corellia's death penalty by injection is too good for people like this, if you ask me."

"Corellia? Can you send Shannon there? I was just about to head there myself for my husband's funeral," Leia managed to finally say.

"Certainly. I look forward to seeing you, Ambassador." The Corellian Seal reappeared, then the holo-screen went dark.

"Han wouldn't....he wouldn't."

"No, I agree," Winter said. "Something is wrong here."

Leia wrapped her arms across her chest, feeling suddenly very ill. "I have to contact Luke."


Han looked up as the guard opened his door, and a tall, stern looking man dressed in a Glova Authority Uniform entered. "Stand up," the man ordered.

Slowly, Han stood. "I need to see my wife...she's sick. My kids are missing. I'm telling you again, you have the wrong man. I didn't kidnap Shannon."

"Your wife died en route to the hospital, Solo."

Those words, spoken coldly by a total stranger, felt like a punch to Han's gut. "Dead?"

"The doctor has tested her blood, and the tests show she overdosed on the very medicine she needed to stay alive. I'm adding her murder to the long list of charges against you and your Wookiee, Solo."

Stunned, Han could barely formulate a response. "I found her like that.... we were off-planet..."

"Off-planet, and involved in a kidnapping and murder scheme. You could have easily tampered with her medicine before you left, and arranged to have some low-lifes dispose of those poor boys. I believe this was all long thought out, and you did all of this for revenge - because Ambassador Organa-Golden left you."

"You're crazy," Han snapped. "It's been nine years - "

"Plenty of time to make all those complicated plans."

"You're crazy," Han repeated, his throat tight. Alli was dead... her sons, the boys he'd spent the last seven years raising, were missing. Han knew he'd be privileged to have been a part of Alli's life, for she was a good, kindhearted person. Han had loved her, maybe not in the same way he'd loved Leia, with a deep, all-consuming passionate love. But it was the gentle love between two good friends. And now he was charged with her murder, and the stupid security forces assumed he was behind the boys' disappearance. "You need to be looking for a man named Brill Gils. He's the biological father to Rue and Trey. He's the one most likely behind Alli's death..."

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind, Solo," the Officer said snidely as he walked out of the cell, slamming the door shut behind him.


Coruscant

Leia gave a frustrated sigh as she turned off the communication panel. Despite several hours of trying, she had not been able to contact the Jade's Fire. "Where is Luke? He should have at least left me a message."

"You would know if something had happened to him," Winter said, trying to reassure her friend. "We need to get going to Corellia."

"I know," Leia admitted. "I can't wait to see Shannon. And I'm sure there must be some explanation with Han being involved, although I can't think how."

"You've never stopped loving him."

Leia looked sharply at her friend. "That's being presumptuous."

"Is it?"

"Yes." Leia turned away, not wanting Winter to see her face, fearing her emotions would be too obvious. She knew she should be acting like the grieving widow, but her heart was racing at the thought of seeing Han Solo again after so many years. Together, the women headed for the shuttle that would take them up to the Rebel Dream, Leia's personal transport ship.


"This is wonderful," Fey'lya said into the viewer as he listened to the news about the current situation. "Solo is the perfect one to take the blame. I couldn't have planned it any better if I would have tried."

Governor Rei'bedu frowned. "This still does not eliminate the problem with the Insurrections on Bothawui. And the General tells me that the Jedi are now with Sar'ren. If they know, or even suspect, we are in serious trouble."

"Then the Jedi must not survive. Isn't that so?" Fey'lya snapped. "Do whatever you must. Just be very certain none of this can be traced back to me."

"Yes, Senator. What about the Ambassador?"

"I can't take the chance of eliminating her right now. It will have to wait, until Solo has been executed."


There was no Dark Jedi waiting for the Rebel Bothans or the two human Jedi, just a wall of military machinery - the Bothan version of AT AT's - headed in their direction, firing lasers as they approached. Luke and Mara ignited their sabers, doing their best to deflect the blaster bolts.

"This way," Sar'ren yelled, waving his troops and the Jedi toward mounds. The Rebels tore off the covering, revealing speeder bikes hidden in the leaf litter of the forest floor. Quickly, they jumped on, two per bike, speeding off as they tried to avoid the heavy artillery. Some of them actually made it. Luke pulled a bike upright, mounting it and turning on the controls. "Hurry," he yelled over his shoulder as Mara covered him with her lightsaber. "Get on... "

She turned and jumped on behind Luke, barely having time to turn off her saber before he tore off. "Do you know how to fly one of these things?" Mara yelled in his ear.

"Sure... they're just like the speeders back on Tatooine."

"Were you any good?"

"Of course," he yelled back, needing to shout to be heard over the rush of wind. "I hardly ever crashed."

"That's so reassuring, Skywalker."


Luke swung his speeder bike through the trees, drawing on the Force to guide him. Mara clung to his shirt, not interrupting his concentration as the AT-AT's blasted huge craters around them. Whoever was firing, meant to kill them - not capture them. Other Both'sequst members on the bikes were not faring as well as the Jedi. Many of them were either vaporized in the heavy laser fire, or driving too fast in fear they crashed into the trees, dying upon impact.

But the trees served to also slow down the cumbersome AT-AT's, and soon Luke shot into clearing. Squinting against the wind, Mara could see the surviving members of the Rebels rushing across the field.

"I hope they have a way off this planet," Mara shouted. "But I'm not crazy about leaving the Fire behind, even for a short while."

Luke suddenly skidded his bike to a halt, resting his foot on the ground. "We need to head into the city."

"What?"

"If we follow those Rebels...." Luke trailed off, his eyes unfocused.

She looked at the small specks that were the speeders on the horizon. "If we follow them, what?" Then her eyes tracked up to the sky as a wave of small fighters came over the crest, firing at the remaining Rebels. "Head into the city, Farmboy. I should know better than to question your wisdom," she said with a smirk as Luke pulled the speeder to make a hard turn to the right.


Corellia

Ignoring the holo-reporters, Leia rushed into the Security Headquarters, followed by Winter. A robust man of medium height stuck out his meaty hand, his red face breaking into a large grin. "Commander Quist at your service, Ambassador," he boomed out, his voice matching his frame.

Leia took his hand. "Thank you. My daughter...?"

Quist shifted, the smile leaving his face. "She's quite the handful, your daughter. I must say, she knows exactly what she wants and is very insistent that she get it."

"I want to see her," Leia ordered, not wanting to listen to a stranger tell her Shannon was spoiled. Leia knew this, and she wasn't proud of the fact, either. Now that Vail was gone, things were going to change with Shannon's attitude, and fast.

"Yes, ma'am. But...."

"But, what?"

"We, um, no one has told the child about her father. And she keeps asking to see her daddy, too."

"I see," Leia said. Telling Shannon her beloved father was dead was going to be very difficult. Leia could only hope that hearing it from her mother would help soften the blow. She looked up at the Corellian. "Where is Captain Solo?"

Quist looked surprised at the question. "Solo? He's in the tightest lockup we've got, both him and the Wookiee. Obviously he hired those men seen on the security holo's from Coruscant, the day of the kidnapping - "

"Why is that obvious?" Leia interrupted.

"Your daughter said - "

"Take me to her. Now," Leia ordered.

The Commander nodded, and led Leia through a doorway, while Winter waited. Shannon sat sullenly at a table, busily coloring the white tabletop with markers and ignoring the stacks of flimsies the Corellians had provided.

"Shannon," Leia spoke softly. Her daughter was alive and well, and for that she would be forever grateful.

"Mommy!" The child threw the color sticks aside, rushing over and hugging her mother tightly.

Leia looked over at the Commander. "Leave us. I need to speak to her in private."

"Yes, ma'am." Quist bowed his head, and left the room.

"Mommy.... where's daddy?"

"Shannon, I need to find out what happened," Leia said gently as she knelt in front of Shannon. Once she told her daughter about Vail's death, there would be no talking to her.

"That mean man had some people kidnap me," Shannon replied, sticking out her lower lip defiantly.

"Mean man?"

"Captain Solo, and his stupid Wookiee friend."

Leia didn't have much training in the Force, but one thing she was rather accomplished at was her ability to sense the truth. Shannon wasn't being truthful, and Leia felt a wave of relief. "Shannon, don't lie to me."

"I'm not!"

The mother took her daughter by her shoulders, and looked her directly in the eyes. "Shannon, this is important. Tell me the truth."

"Where's daddy?" she whined, squirming under her mother's keen gaze. Her daddy would not accuse her of lying. He would go find Captain Solo and make him apologize to her.

"Shannon!" Leia snapped, trying to keep calm. "This isn't a game. You're destroying two people's lives, and letting the bad people that took you get away. Is that what you want to happen? The real bad guys never getting caught, because you're blaming the wrong people?"

"No....I.... I don't know who took me," the child admitted, looking at the floor. "Some strange man - not Captain Solo - and a Gamorrean took me, and then I saw a Bothan, later on." She dared to look at her mother. "Am I in trouble?"

"How did you end up with Captain Solo?"

"I escaped from the mean Bothan," she said, sniffing back tears. If she cried, daddy wouldn't punish her for lying. It worked all the time. "And I snuck onboard his .... Captain Solo's... old ship so the Bothan wouldn't find me. I never saw Captain Solo pay anybody to take me. But Captain Solo was mean to me, too! He wouldn't feed me, unless I ate some crummy old stew! And he wouldn't stop and buy me bristleberry jam! And, and... he told me I had to stay in a boring room with nothing to do!" she said, working up a great deal of indignation to go along with her tears. "So I told the officers he was the one that stole me." When her mother said nothing, Shannon asked, "Is Captain Solo's wife okay? I think when he found her, she was sick. I probably shouldn't have gotten him in trouble, if he had a sick wife."

Wife? Han's married? Leia felt her face flush, and her guts tighten at the thought. Of course he'd moved on with his own life, why wouldn't he have? I was the one that told him to leave, and that I never wanted to see him again.

"Mommy?"

"Yes, Shannon?" Leia answered, trying to swallow the hard lump in her throat.

"Where is daddy?"

"My Shannon, my baby," Leia started out, then wrapped her daughter in a tight hug. Shannon would never be punished for lying about Captain Solo, because the next hour would be the most traumatic event in Shannon Golden's young life, and no punishment would ever touch the pain Shannon experienced when she found out her father was dead.


Three hours later....

Han was ordered to his feet, and two guards escorted him down several floors and into a small, sunny room. The binders were removed, which surprised him. Then the guards left the room, surprising him a second time.

The third surprise happened when the door opened again, and Leia Organa entered. her face pale, her eyes red-rimmed. But she was still beautiful, still the woman he remembered and loved. "Ambassador..." he started out formally, preparing to explain his side of the story, and hoping to hell she'd listen before actually killing him.

She hurried toward him, raising her hand to his face. Han flinched back, expecting her to strike him. Instead, Leia rested the palm of her hand against his cheek. "They told me your wife died," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"I'm sorry about your husband, too," he said quietly. "Leia... I didn't have anything to do with kidnapping your - " His protest of innocence was cut off when she pulled his head down, and stopped his words with a very long kiss. By that time, Han was starting to wonder if the surprises would ever end.

Han broke the kiss first, drawing away, a million questions filtering through his eyes. "Leia?"

The Princess flushed, looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry," she said again. "I don't know what came over me. That was... very inappropriate. I never act like that."

"Like what?"

"Impulsively. Without thinking." Leia felt a twinge of guilt, in fact she'd thought about kissing Han from the first second she heard his name, although she hadn't intended to act on those desires. She still wasn't sure what possessed her to kiss a man she hadn't seen for nine years, especially when she considered that Han must be thinking she was crazy.

Uncertain how to respond, Han tried to steer the conversation back to the more pressing issue. "I didn't kidnap Shannon."

"I know, she told me." Leia sighed. "Shannon likes to get her way, and when you were mean to her - "

"I wasn't mean to her," Han interrupted, irritated. "She kicked me! So I told her she had to stay in the crew quarters until she apologized, only your kid is as stubborn as you are, Princess. She wouldn't apologize or eat the damn stew. It wasn't like I was gonna poison her."

"I'm not stubborn," Leia protested, then laughed at the absurdity of the situation. "We're starting again, Han. Less than a minute in the same room, and already we're arguing."

"I hardly ever argued with Alli," Han remarked quietly.

"You loved her."

Han gave a ragged sigh, running his fingers through his hair. "Alli needed me. Her boys needed me. It felt good to be needed for a change, Princess."

I needed you. I still need you, Leia thought, but didn't say aloud. More than you can possibly know.

"She was a good friend and a wonderful person to be around," Han continued. "You would have liked her, Princess. And I'm gonna miss her."

"You don't know where her boys are?"

"Brill Gils took them," Han answered, his voice growing cold. "He killed Alli, too, but I doubt I'll ever be able to prove that."

Leia touched the Corellian's arm. "I'll help you find them, Han. I wish...."

"Wish?"

She headed over to the window, looking out over the distant rooftops. "Why didn't you stop me?"

"Stop you? I don't understand."

"When you left me, I felt dead inside. I know I told you to leave, but I never thought you'd really go. Not really, not after everything we'd already survived together. Why didn't you come back to me?"

Han was silent for a long minute before speaking. "I wanted to come back, Leia. But then when you announced your engagement to another man so fast, I thought that was a pretty clear sign you'd meant what you said."

Leia gave a short, choked laugh. "I accepted Vail's proposal because I thought once you heard I was engaged, you would come charging back into my life, and save me from myself one more time. Only you never came, and things moved along so quickly that I found myself married before I knew it."

"Did you love him?"

"You were lucky, Han. At least you cared for Alli... you knew she was a good person and you had her friendship. Vail wasn't even my friend. Everyone considered Vail my perfect match, and maybe he was. He was the ultimate politician, and he wanted everyone to think he was perfect. The perfect husband, son, father, and the perfect next President." She put her head in her hands. "Tomorrow I have to go to his memorial service and tell the galaxy how much I'll miss him, when in fact, I feel relief that I'm free of him. And I feel guilty, like I'm a terrible person, for feeling relief." She felt Han touch her shoulder. Please don't leave me again... I don't think I could bear it.


Bothawui

Luke parked the speeder in a dark alley, and Mara quickly swung herself off the bike. "I can't believe we made it into town alive."

"Hey," Luke protested, plastering a mock-hurt look across his face. "I told you I hardly ever crashed. Have some faith in me."

"That will happen once we get off this system alive," Mara returned, trying not to smile. "But so far, we seem to be attracting the wrong sort of attention."

They'd taken a few steps when Luke suddenly stopped, holding out his hand for Mara to stop. Quickly, they both drew out their lightsabers. "I know someone's here," Luke warned. "So you'd better come out peacefully."

"Don't hurt me," a voice said from behind a broken crate.

"That's up to you," Mara snapped. "Come out where we can see you."

Slowly, with both hands raised, a frightened Bothan covered with dirt crawled out, staggering to his feet. "Help me," he gasped, lurching forward. "I've been shot."

In the dim light of the alley, Luke could see a wound in the Bothan's side. The being was obviously on the verge of losing consciousness. "Who are you?"

"My name is Ce'rlle," he groaned. "If you don't help me, I'm dead."

Mara frowned at the blaster wound. "It looks painful, but not fatal."

"No.... no... you don't understand. I let the human get away.... and now they want me dead because I know too much."

"What human?" Mara asked.

"The child.... the senator's child."

Luke and Mara exchanged worried looks. "Who are 'they'?" Luke questioned.

"Fey'lya ... He - "

A blaster shot lit up the alley, striking the Bothan in the neck, and he dropped to the ground dead.


Coruscant

"The child has rescinded her statement accusing Solo," the Commander Quist informed the Bothan. "I had no choice but to allow him and the Wookiee to leave."

Fey'lya wrinkled up his snout into a grin. "It doesn't matter. You did well to record the meeting between Solo and Organa."

"They said nothing that would incriminate themselves. Quite the contrary," Quist replied, mystified.

"I have experts that can alter anything, Quist. Have no fear, by the time the holo-net receives this recording, what Solo and the Princess will be heard saying will be enough to destroy them both. And once I am President, you will receive a very large promotion, Quist."

Quist smiled. "Thank you, Senator. I always enjoy doing business with you."


Bothawui

Luke and Mara spun around, prepared to defend themselves against the assailant, but whoever fired the shot killing the Bothan had fled. "I guess he wasn't kidding about someone wanting him dead," Mara said, following Luke as they ran out of the alley. The murderer was long gone, having driven off in a hover-craft.

"Fey'lya's behind this?" Luke asked, turning to Mara as he stopped running.

"You did tell me you thought this whole thing was more about Vail Golden than Shannon," Mara pointed out. "So, if Fey'lya is behind his death, that would make sense."

"And it would explain why he's trying to blame the insurrectionists."

Mara nodded. "He gets two things accomplished at once - his political rivals dead, and the group that is giving him all this hassle is discredited as criminals."

"That sounds like Fey'lya," Luke agreed. "It would explain why we have so many Bothans shooting at us all the time."

"I'm going to wring that little furry politician neck of his when we get back to Coruscant," Mara growled out. "No one damages my ship and gets away with it."

"Wringing furry necks is of the Dark Side, Mara," Luke said, wagging his finger at her.

"Why is it everything worthwhile or fun of the Dark Side?"

"A better question would be - how are we going to get back to Coruscant?"

"I suggest we steal a furry Bothan ship," Mara replied, heading off toward the landing docks. "And if you say one word, just one word, about stealing being of the Dark Side...."

"I'm not sure Yoda ever said anything about that."

"Good. Finally, something we agree on."

"I'm not sure I technically agree with you on this - "

"Do you think that matters?" Mara asked.

"Not at all," he replied with a sigh as he followed.


Corellia

"Vail was a great man, a great leader for the citizens of Corellia," Leia spoke from the podium. She glanced down at her daughter, sitting between Parry and Linna Golden, the parents of Vail. The older couple, dressed in expensive dark clothing, sat rigid and expressionless, reminding Leia of Vail's belief of never letting strangers see you too happy, or too upset. "His tragic and untimely death leaves an enormous void within his family and the leadership of the New Republic."


Coruscant

The holo-recording of Leia and Han's altered conversation competed with the memorial service on Corellia. The citizens of the New Republic listened as Leia give a short, choked laugh. "I accepted Vail's proposal because I thought once you heard I was engaged, you would come charging back into my life, and save me from myself one more time. Only you never came, and things moved along so quickly that I found myself married before I knew it."

"You didn't love him."

Leia touched the Corellian's arm. "Not really. Vail wasn't even my friend, and I needed him dead. I knew I had to get you back, and I after everything we'd already survived together, you would do anything at all to get me back, too."


Corellia

Continuing her speech, Leia said, "Senator Vail Golden always put the welfare of his constituents ahead of all things in his life. He often told me his greatest desire was to ensure the freedom of all beings, and the longevity of the New Republic. His desire to someday become President, however, will never be realized. The citizens of Corellia have lost their brightest star."


Coruscant

"I knew you wanted me back, Leia. I thought that was a pretty clear sign you'd meant what you said when you asked me to kill him, and no one will ever be able to prove it."

"Vail wasn't even my friend. Everyone considered Vail my perfect match, but he wasn't. He was a terrible politician, and he wanted everyone to think he was perfect. The perfect husband, son, father, and the perfect next President." She put her head in her hands. "I have to go to his memorial service and tell the galaxy how much I'll miss him, when in fact, I feel relief that I'm free of him."

Then Leia headed over to the window, looking out over the distant rooftops. "Nothing can stop us now, Han."


Corellia

"Vail was a husband, a friend, and a father. Even though Vail is gone, Corellia will always have a part of him with Shannon Golden, a true child of Corellia." Leia bowed her head briefly as the people gave muted applause, unaware of the storm brewing over Coruscant.


Mara punched in the warm-up codes, nodding to herself in satisfaction as the stolen shuttle hummed to life. She glanced over at Luke, who was attempting to contact Leia - to no avail. "Still nothing?"

"No," he commented. "I'm going to see if Wedge answers on Coruscant."

It didn't take long for Wedge's face to appear on the small screen. "Luke! I've been trying to contact you. Where are you?"

"Bothawui, but we're leaving the system right now." Luke could tell something had happened, just by his friend's expression. "What's wrong?"

"The Coruscant Daily News has broadcast a holo-recording of Leia and Han supposedly discussing killing Vail Golden. I just got word that Leia's been arrested on Corellia, and Han and Chewie were re-arrested."

"Re-arrested?" Luke asked, confused. "Han's on Corellia?"

"Somehow Solo got mixed up with Shannon Golden's kidnapping, and he was arrested on that charge. Then he was released when Leia got there, but now all three are locked up. For murder." Wedge sighed. "You should hear Fey'lya going on and on about how he always suspected Leia was still involved with Han. It's like everyone's already forgotten how close Leia came to dying in that attack, too."

"Thanks, Wedge," Luke said. "I'm on my way to Corellia. Can you have Ghent contact me?"

Wedge grinned. "He's been very busy with that request you gave him earlier. Fey'lya's been getting quite a few transmissions, not only from Kothlis, but now Corellia. Unfortunately, all those transmissions are so heavily encrypted he's been working overtime trying to break the codes."

"Tell him I appreciate all the hard work he's doing," Luke added.

"Sure enough."

"Also," Mara put in as she angled the shuttle up, readying for the hyperspace jump. "Ask him if can check out that supposed holo-recording of Solo and the Princess. If Fey'lya's behind this...."

"I'll put him on it right away," Wedge replied.

"Maybe send Artoo over to his room," Luke suggested. "I wouldn't want Ghent to pass out from lack of sleep. Thanks again, Wedge."

"No problem. Take care, Luke.... Wedge out."

The image disappeared, and Mara raised an eyebrow at Luke. "So.... is the signal from the Force about Solo being involved clearing up yet?"

"I should have contacted him earlier," Luke agreed, watching as Mara pulled the lever and the stolen ship shot into hyperspace.

"Told you so."


Corellia

Leia discovered that Commander Quist was no longer a pleasant person to deal with. The memorial service had been over for less than five minutes when armed security guards surrounded her, ordering her arrest for Vail's murder. Her in-laws had appeared stunned, and Shannon became hysterical as Leia was placed in cuffs and dragged away.

Inside the small questioning room, the Commander had been more than happy to show Leia the holo-recording of her 'confession', and happily told her Solo and Chewbacca had been re-arrested, since their release had only been a ruse.

"I knew all along you were in on this, Ambassador," Quist said with a sneer. "You gave yourself away faster than a greased Hutt sliding down a glacier."

The Princess narrowed her eyes at the smug man. "You're going to pay for this, Quist. False arrest, tampering with evidence.... whatever your motives are, you'll find it wasn't worth it."

"Corellian justice works quickly," he remarked, casually flicking on another screen. This one showed Han Solo chained to a chair in a similar room as the one they were in. CorSec guards were busy working Solo over as they tried to get him to confess to Alli and the boys' deaths, and Leia felt her stomach lurch at the scene. "The holo-recording with you and Solo kissing and plotting will be enough to send Solo to his execution. I've scheduled his trial for tomorrow morning, and the judge will render a verdict before the sun sets." Quist grinned at her. "Corellian executions generally take place within two days of the guilty verdict, but I'll see what I can do about convincing the judge to move Solo's up a bit. Fast justice is always the best kind."

Unable to stop herself, Leia let loose with a long string of Corellian insults directed at Quist's heritage. He only laughed. "Solo certainly was a bad influence on you. I suggest you use that for your defense. Maybe you'll only get hard time for life on Kessel, instead of the death penalty."

"My brother will stop you," Leia snapped, forcing herself to look away from Han's beating. "How are you going to explain the fact I was nearly killed in that attack?"

"Easy. You're not the only one that can lay claim to falsified evidence. Your Jedi brother used his powers to make it appear you were injured, when in fact, you were never hurt. I look forward to seeing one Jedi up against CorSec and Corellia's most powerful family. That should be interesting."

"The Goldens don't believe I'm guilty of this," Leia protested.

"Really? Is that why they've filed for full and legal custody of their granddaughter?"

"They... wouldn't do that."

"They already have," he said, smirking at her.

Leia knew that was one thing he wasn't lying about. Luke... wherever you are, please hurry! We need you!


Han was lying on his back, trying not to think about how much his body was aching when the his cell door opened and Commander Quist walked in alone, pointedly holding a stun rod. "Solo, we have a lot to discuss," he said, before waving the guards away. "Your trial is set to begin in two hours."

Eyeing the stun rod warily, Han sat up. "I've got nothing to say to you."

The Commander grinned. "You've seen the holo-recording?"

"Our conversation was altered, and you know it. Kest.... you're the one that probably did it."

Quist shrugged. "The Judge won't believe you. He's an old guy that hates smugglers, by the way."

"I'm not a smuggler anymore," Han spat back. "I haven't been a smuggler for over thirteen years."

"Doesn't really matter, Solo. Your past will be enough to convince him to execute you, and the Wookiee, too. Ambassador Organa I'm not too sure about, but knowing old Judge Wuldter, he'll think that her part in Senator Golden's murder, and the fact she's having an affair with you is enough to eliminate her."

Han struggled to his feet, ignoring the stabbing pains in his torso. "There are experts that can show that recording was tampered with."

"It would take too long, and Wuldter won't have that kind of patience... not for the likes of you."

"So why are you here, Commander?" Han asked, sneering at the man. "Just to gloat?"

"To offer you a deal."

"What kind of deal?" Han questioned suspiciously.

"You plead guilty to murdering Golden, and I'll use my considerable influence to request that Wuldter only sentence the Wookiee and Organa to life on Kessel. Once you admit the recording is real, they won't even be tried, just sentenced."

"I love the Corellian justice system," Han said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"So .... how about it? Your life, to spare your friend and your lover?"

"Let me think about it," Han replied, looking at the ceiling. Then he glared at Quist. "I've thought about it... go to hell."

"In two days, that's exactly where you and your friends will be," Quist snapped, signaling the guards to return and allow him to exit the cell. "Maybe I'll make you watch them die first, Solo. That way, you can live to regret this decision."


Coruscant

Artoo toodled happily, a sure sign he'd broken the encrypted message sent from Kothlis. "Hey, little guy," Ghent said, rubbing his tired eyes. "Let's see what you've got." The young slicer watched as Fey'lya's face filled the viewer.

Borsk Fey'lya was furious. "You shouldn't be contacting me like this," he snapped out. "We have couriers for this type of emergency."

"I realize that," she sniffed. "But these are Jedi we're dealing with. And they're already suspicious of us."

"They know nothing," the Senator growled back. "I expect you to keep it that way."

"What would you suggest I do?"

"Nothing. Do nothing! I will take care of matters myself," Fey'lya replied as he reached down and cut off the communication.

Then, a second message came up, this one dated only two standard days ago.

"This is wonderful," Fey'lya said into the viewer as he listened to the news about the current situation. "Solo is the perfect one to take the blame. I couldn't have planned it any better if I would have tried."

Governor Rei'bedu frowned. "This still does not eliminate the problem with the Insurrections on Bothawui. And the General tells me that the Jedi are now with Sar'ren. If they know, or even suspect, we are in serious trouble."

"Then the Jedi must not survive. Isn't that so?" Fey'lya snapped. "Do whatever you must. Just be very certain none of this can be traced back to me."

"Yes, Senator. What about the Ambassador?"

"I can't take the chance of eliminating her right now. It will have to wait, until Solo has been executed."

Smiling, Ghent leaned back. "I guess Luke and Mara are right... Fey'lya is behind all of this. Now, if we can only break the encryption from that latest message from Corellia, we'll be heroes."

Artoo have a long, indignant beep.

"Okay, okay! You're already a hero, I know. How about you can be a hero again?"

That made Artoo happy, and he turned his attention back to the message from Corellia.


When Han Solo was brought in for his trial in binders, the courtroom was empty except for Judge Wuldter, Commander Quist and a very nervous looking young man that Han had never seen before. The four guards escorting Han forced him to sit in a hard chair directly in front of the Judge's bench, fastening his ankles to the chair legs. The guards then withdrew to the edges of the large room, guarding the two exits.

Quist stood up and approached the white haired judge. "Your majesty, the honorable Judge Wuldter," he said, inclining his head. "I will be submitting the evidence for finding Han Solo guilty." The Commander turned and grinned at Han. "This is Bret Nehoc," he said, waving his hand at the other man. "I asked him to be your Defender, Solo."

"How old are you?" Han asked, eyeing the kid up and down. "Twelve?"

The young man flushed a deep red, before he mumbled, "I'm twenty-one."

"How many people have you defended? Successfully, that is?" Han questioned, trying not to roll his eyes.

"Um, well..." Bret coughed. "You're my first case."

"EVER?"

"Yes."

Wuldter slammed his small hammer down on the table. "This is unnecessary babble! Present your case, Commander Quist!"

Smirking, Quist walked over and hit the 'on' button on a holo-vision viewer. The same scene with Han and Leia discussing Vail's murder played. When it was over, the judge looked at Defender Nehoc. "Do you have any defense against this evidence?"

"I'm not sure." The young man squirmed uncomfortably, then addressed Han. "Do we?"

Ignoring the kid, Han glared at the judge. "That recording's been altered. If you have experts - "

"Out of order," Wuldter snapped. "Do not address the judge directly, prisoner." He turned his steely gaze at Nehoc. "Are there experts analyzing this recording?"

"No..."

"Do you have any witnesses that have seen this evidence being altered?"

"No."

There was a shuffling sound at the door, and all eyes focused on a man wearing a brown robe, the cowl pulled over his face. "I will testify for the Defense," the man spoke from across the room.

Two of the guards moved forward to intercept the stranger, then staggered backwards as though they'd been pushed, but the man never touched them. The other two guards then tried to point blasters in his direction, but the weapons flew from their hands, clattering harmlessly against the far wall.

Han's face broke into a grin at this display. "Luke!"

Moving forward, the Jedi pulled back his cowl, unable to stop himself from returning his friend's smile. "It's been a long time, Han. How are things going?"

"Same as always," Han replied, nodding toward the judge and Quist.

"That bad, huh?"

"What gives you the right to interrupt these proceedings?" Quist demanded, his face flushing in anger.

"I have evidence which shows Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia Organa are being set up," Luke replied calmly, pulling out a small disk as he felt a rush of gratitude for Artoo and Ghent's abilities.

Quist stared at the disk, unwilling to take it from the Jedi's hand. "Evidence?"

Bret Nehoc stood up. "I move we view this new evidence, your honor."

"This court does not appreciate surprise witnesses," Wuldter muttered. Then he waved his hand toward the viewer. "Show us what you have brought, Jedi."

Luke nodded, then inserted the disk. The faces and voices of Senator Fey'lya and Governor Rei'bedu appeared, and the Judge listened to the communications. When it finished, he looked at Luke with disbelief. "Are you telling me these two upstanding heroes and statesbeings are responsible for Senator Golden's death?"

"Yes," Luke answered, keeping his tone respectful. "Fey'lya wanted Senator Golden dead because he was the most likely candidate to become the next President, something he wants himself."

"Then why kidnap the child?" Quist snapped out.

"To confuse the issue, and cast blame on Bothan insurrectionists." Luke took a breath, then continued, "I have experts trying to decrypt a message sent from Corellia to Coruscant. I believe it will show the original conversation between Leia and Han, before it was altered."

"He's lying!" Quist shouted, fully aware if the message he sent to Fey'lya was decrypted he would be ruined. "This supposed Jedi is the brother to Leia Organa! He'd say anything to save his sister's life! And let's not forget who their father is, either!"

"Leia was badly injured in that attack. If she was involved - "

"Jedi are mind-alterers! She could have made it appear she was injured!" Quist interrupted. "Solo took the child, and when the ransom was paid by the Golden family, then the Ambassador would have met Solo at a contact point. Then, the three of them would have changed their identities and lived the high life on the ransom money!" He turned to the Judge. "The man we are trying is a criminal... a smuggler! He also killed his own wife and her two boys just so he could be with Organa!"

"I didn't kill Alli or the boys!" Han protested.

"You have no evidence - " Luke started out, but was again cut off.

"I am inclined to believe Commander Quist," the old Judge said, his face stern. "This recording you presented could be altered just as easily as the one you claim is altered."

Luke bowed his head. "Very true. Leia Organa is my sister, and I dearly love her. I would do anything to save her life."

Quist grinned. "Anything?"

"Yes."

"Would you admit in this court that Solo killed Golden, and your sister was not in her right mind at the time? I would be pleased if I didn't have to actually prosecute Organa."

Luke looked directly into Quist's eyes. "If you turn Leia Organa and Chewbacca over to me so they can face trial on Coruscant, I will withdraw this evidence, and allow Solo to be found guilty."

"What?" Han yelled, wishing he could stand up. "Why would you - "

"Deal, Jedi," Quist replied, sticking out his hand. "But they will be transported to Coruscant on a Corellian transport, under guard."

Luke grasped the man's clammy palm. "Deal."

The Judge cleared his throat loudly. "Han Solo, I find you guilty of the murder of Senator Golden, and you are hereby sentenced to die by lethal injection tomorrow morning." Wuldter looked at Luke. "Once Solo is declared dead, you may take Organa and the Wookiee to Coruscant immediately."

"That's fine," Luke agreed, trying to block out Han's feelings of shock and betrayal. "I would like one more small favor, your honor."

"What would that be?"

"Solo's body, once he's deceased."

"That's highly unusual...."

"But acceptable," Luke said firmly.

"Yes," the Judge muttered, feeling confused. "Acceptable."


Coruscant, one hour later.

Fey'lya was furious when Quist contacted him. "You let her go? I told you ..."

"I know what you told me!" Quist snapped. "I can't have that holo-recording decrypted!"

"And I can't have Organa return to Coruscant!" Fey'lya replied. "I want her dead."

"They won't make it off of Corellia alive," Quist reassured the Bothan. "I will arrange for the Jedi's ship to 'malfunction'. You find the slicer, and get rid of him and the evidence."

"I don't like how this is going, Quist."

"Trust me," the Corellian responded. "I'll take care of my end."

"You'd better," Fey'lya warned.


"How did she take it?" Mara asked Luke after he'd returned from visiting his sister.

"She was furious," Luke admitted. "She told me I had no right to trade Han's life for hers, and she's not going to leave Corellia without Shannon, either."

Mara leaned back against the acceleration couch in the shuttle's main room. "I can't blame her."

Slumping into the seat across from Mara, Luke ran his fingers nervously through his hair. "You should have been in the courtroom. I've never felt such intense ... hurt coming from Han's emotions."

"It's not like you could fill him in on the details," Mara replied. "He should know you well enough to trust you, and so should Leia."

"I'm not too crazy about any of this plan," Luke said with a sigh. "I don't think Leia or Han would be fond of it, even if I could spell it out for them beforehand." He fixed his blue eyes on Mara. "And I don't like having you take such risks, either."

"I can handle this," she said, smirking. "After all, I used to dispose of beings for a living. Solo will just be one more victim."

"Did you find the right chemicals?"

Mara held up two small vials. "It never ceases to amaze me what you can purchase on the streets for the right amount of credits."

"I hope whoever sold it to you was telling you the truth, and it's not something else," Luke said, eyeing the small container warily.

"He was telling the truth," Mara answered. "My lightsaber was quite enough to convince him not to double-cross me."

"Mara! What did I tell you about darkside threats?"

Laughing, she stood up. "I have places to go, Skywalker, and so do you. I'll see you tomorrow morning... with Solo's body."

"Be careful, Mara," Luke admonished as he watched her head off for her next assignment.


In the early morning hours, Luke Skywalker scaled the security fence surrounding the Golden Estate. Using his lightsaber, he disable the main control box outside, then reached out with the Force to assess any further danger. Luke was certain there were security droids, which he would not be able to sense, so he moved slowly, staying in the deep shadows of the trees and shrubs.

Despite the extensive and very expensive security measures taken by the Goldens, getting inside the house was not much of a challenge for a Jedi. Luke could easily locate his niece's Force-signature, and quickly headed for her room. If everything went according to plan, Shannon would soon be safely inside the stolen Bothan shuttle about the same time Han was being executed.

Mara would then ensure the Corellian's body was moved to the transport vessel, where Luke would meet up with Leia and Chewie. Mara would then hurry to the shuttle, and leave Corellia with Shannon at the same time the transport was leaving with the rest of them.

This plan should work, Luke kept telling himself as he made his way toward Shannon's room. But the Force was warning him that something was not going to go as planned.


It wasn't even dawn when the six guards came for Han. Although he struggled and fought, Han was outnumbered and they slammed him into the wall, knocking the air from his lungs before they clamped heavy binders around his ankles and wrists. Then, dragged from the small cell, Han was hoisted onto a cart where his arms and legs were strapped down painfully tight, cutting off his circulation.

As the hover-cart moved down the stark white halls, Han stared up at the ceiling. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that Luke had given up so quickly, and so willingly accepted his death sentence. Did Luke truly believe these people were simply going to allow Chewie and Leia to leave peacefully for Coruscant? The way he was being rushed through that mockery of a trial and sent to his death was a sure sign someone high up was involved with Vail Golden's murder. Luke, of all people, should be able to see this. So why couldn't he?

Eventually, the hover-cart was pushed into the center of a small, round room, with an observation deck along the top edge of the wall. Commander Quist, as well as the old Judge sat staring down. Several newer model One-Bee droids shuffled around the walls, and the guards quickly left. The room smelled like oil and stale, musty air.

Another door slid open, and a pretty woman with red hair tied back into a bun entered the room, holding a syringe. Han swallowed hard against his dry throat, looking away from the needle, but met the woman's green eyes with a defiant glare. "Flunk out of regular medical school, sweetheart?"

The corners of her lips twitched upwards, but the rest of her face was expressionless. "It takes skill to kill someone cleanly, Solo. It's a special talent of mine. You should be grateful I'm such an expert."

"Yeah, I'm so grateful, I can't even move a muscle."

She approached him, and Han glanced at the identity badge on her white gown. While the face matched, the name said, 'Dr. Burt Keile'. "Burt?" Han asked, taking in her calm, almost amused demeanor. "You don't look like a 'Burt', Doctor Keile."

"My parents were hoping for a boy," she replied, tugging his sleeve up.

"Instead, they got an assassin," Han shot back, wincing as the needle pieced his vein.

"True," she said, raising her eyebrows. "Any last words?"

"How about a kiss?" he asked sarcastically.

"Maybe next time," she replied, depressing the plunger and watching Solo's eyes flutter close.


"Shannon?" Luke whispered, gently shaking the child. "Wake up."

She mumbled and stirred. "Daddy?"

"No.... it's Uncle Luke," he answered quietly. "I'm going to take you home, Shannon. Okay?"

The girl sat up, rubbing her sleepy eyes. Then, looking into Luke's face, she screamed.

"Shhhh..." Luke whispered, holding his hand lightly over her mouth. This only made matters worse, since Shannon started screaming louder.

"Gramma! Grampa!"

"Shannon!" Luke yelled over her screams. "Be quiet... don't you want to see your mommy?"

"Mommy killed daddy! Gramma and Grampa told me so! I never want to see my mommy again!"

The lights in the outside hallway came on, shining under the edge of the bedroom door. Luke tried again to reason with the girl. "Shannon, listen to me. Your mother did NOT kill your father. I know who did, and we're going to catch him real soon, I promise. Your mommy loves you, she would never do anything to hurt you."

"SHANNON?" Linna Golden called down the hall. "Are you alright, dear? Grandmother's coming."

Luke quickly stood up, trying to gather the struggling child up into his arms.

"GRAMMA! UNCLE LUKE IS TRYING TO KILL ME!"

The door started to open, so Luke quickly reached out with the Force, keeping it securely shut. By this time, Shannon was sobbing and hysterical, and only Luke's Force abilities kept the girl from freeing herself. He headed over to the window, noting the three story drop. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem. However, under his current state of siege, making the jump while holding the girl was going to make the drop interesting.

"Stand back, Shannon," Parry Golden, the grandfather, yelled out. "I'm going to blast this door open. I've already called CorSec, so you're in deep trouble, Jedi Skywalker!"

Luke jumped out of the window just seconds before the bedroom door blasted into pieces.


'Dr. Burt Keile' bent over the apparently lifeless body of Han Solo, listening for his heartbeat. The drug she had administered slowed the heart dramatically, but did not stop it from beating. Anyone giving a quick check would think Solo was quite dead. Mara knew Han would fully recover, although he would remain in a near-death state until she administered the antidote. She looked up at the Judge and Commander Quist. "Solo is dead," she declared, signaling the One-Bee droid over to her side. The droid peered at the still human, then pulled a sheet up over the man's head.

Quist leaned over and spoke into a comm-link. "Wonderful. Have the guards take the body to docking bay seventy-two, and load him into the shuttle." He looked to the Judge. "I'll go accompany Organa and the Wookiee to the shuttle." Both men stood up and headed out of the viewing room, leaving Mara alone with Han and the two medical droids.

Then the comlink on her belt started vibrating - a signal from Luke that he was in trouble. Nothing ever goes as planned, Mara mentally grumbled to herself. Reaching out with the Force, she turned off both droids, then pushed the hover-cart out of the room. Four guards were standing by, waiting to assist her. "I can handle taking the corpse to the shuttle," Mara ordered the men. "Quist requested your help with controlling the Wookiee at docking bay fourteen."

The men exchanged puzzled looks. "Are you sure? Commander Quist said we were supposed to take the body - "

"Of course I'm sure!" Mara snapped. "Why the kest would a dead body need four guards? Are you afraid of the Wookiee? Should I report you for insubordination?"

"No...no...."

"Then go! Docking bay fourteen!"

"Yes, ma'am."

She watched the men hurry off, then pushed the cart in the opposite direction. She almost made it to the exit when loud alarms started blaring through the speakers, and a voice announced over the speakers, "Dr. Burt Keile has been discovered unconscious and tied up in a storage room. The woman going by the name Keile is an imposter. Please find her and detain immediately!"


Coruscant

Ghent let out a loud hoot of happiness as the last piece of the decryption code fell into place. "Artoo! We did it!" He bent over, turning on the unaltered conversation between Han Solo and Leia Organa. "We've got to send this to Luke right away," he added, glancing over at the little droid.

Artoo let out a warble, agreeing with the human slicer. Ghent removed the small disk, and stood up. When he turned around, his smile faded, and he slowly raised his hands. Standing in the doorway was Senator Borsk Fey'lya, holding a blaster that was pointed directly at his chest.


Corellia

Luke hit the ground a lot harder than he intended, grimacing as his ankle twisted. His right ear was starting to ring with the high pitched screeching coming from the seven year old girl. It amazed Luke that so much noise could come from such a small person. "Shannon!" he yelled again. "Please.... I'm not going to kill you. I love you, and so does your mommy."

Shannon sniffed loudly, then ran her hand over her dripping nose before wiping her fingers on Luke's tunic."Gramma and Grampa Golden says Jedi are bad."

Trying to ignore the slime, Luke took off toward the gate, using the Force to send the security droids flying high into the air. He knew none of them would fire weapons, since he was carrying Shannon. It was also no longer necessary to sneak around, escaping through the gate would be the easiest way out, much easier than trying to scale the wall again, holding an uncooperative child. "Jedi are good people, Shannon. Why would they tell you we're bad?"

"Cuz they said momma's father was a very, very bad man. He was a Jedi that killed lotsa people, even little kids."

How dare they scare her like that? Luke thought, feeling indignant. No wonder Shannon was so terrified of him. How was he going to explain Darth Vader to a child? "Shannon, my father.... and your mother's father was a very bad man for a while. He did really bad things, but he wasn't always bad."

"Did he kill little kids? Gramma said he killed little kids."

"I suppose he did," Luke admitted reluctantly he knelt down by the closed gate. "But that has nothing to do with me, or your mommy." Off in the distance, Luke could hear the whine of sirens as they headed toward the Golden Estate. Drawing out his lightsaber, he switched it on, slicing open the lock and pushing the heavy gate open with the Force.

"Would he have killed me?"

"Shannon, listen to me," Luke said, looking directly in her eyes. "In the end, when it counted, my father died to save my life. He wasn't a bad man anymore when he died."

"Really?"

"Yes. Do you really never want to see your mommy... ever again?" Luke questioned as he hurried toward his rented land speeder.

"No. I ...I want to see my mommy," she answered, hiccupping from crying so hard.

Luke placed her gently into the passenger seat, then climbed inside and started up the engine. "Then let's go see her." He turned onto the main roadway and pressed the accelerator down as hard as he could, watching as the CorSec vehicles skidded around to follow him.


Wearing a prison uniform and binders, Leia Organa-Golden was escorted out of the compound, and hurried into a large ground transportation unit. A loud roar greeted her when she entered, and the Princess forced herself to look at Chewie's concerned face. The Wookiee was already sitting on a bench, heavy chains attaching him the fortified outside wall of the ground transport. Leia strongly suspected Chewie knew nothing about Luke's deal with Commander Quist, which meant he had no clue his best friend was dead.

Leia barely felt the guards as they pushed her to sit down, then chained her to the wall. Han's dead, she thought, her heart almost breaking at the idea. Just when I thought we might have another chance together... She heard Chewie give a questioning woof, but couldn't bring herself to look at him again. Han's dead, because of my daughter and my brother. It took all of her control not to cry, and it suddenly occurred to her she had never even wanted to shed tears for Vail, her husband and the father of her child.


Okay, Mara thought grimly. My cover's blown, and I can't just walk out of here pushing this gurney. Which mean I'll have to shoot my way out. Or, at the very least, run fast. She pulled the cover off Solo's face, frowning at the deathly-still Corellian. "It's time you earned your keep, Solo," she muttered aloud, taking the antidote out of her pocket and jabbing it into the man's arm. "Wake up, sleepyhead."

Han groaned, and turned his head sharply to the side, taking a ragged gasp of air. He opened his eyes in time to see the 'doctor' take out a lightsaber and start cutting through the straps and binders. He blinked, his head throbbing. The blare of sirens, the humming lightsaber, and the bright purple glow made his already bad headache hurt even worse. "I guess you really did flunk out of med school?" he croaked out.

Mara grabbed Han by his prison shirt, hauling him into a seated position. She felt a pang of sympathy when he grabbed his head, and moaned. "I'm here to rescue you, Solo, and I gave you a drug called Peleridron to make you appear dead," she explained. "It'll give you a major migraine for about a day. Sorry about that," she said, not sounding very sorry at all. Mara pushed him to get off the cart, catching his arm as he stumbled and nearly fell. "Guards are going to be coming around that corner in a few seconds, and I plan on getting at least a few of their weapons. I don't care how straight you can shoot at this moment, Solo, but once we get those blasters I want you to start shooting at the bad guys anyway. You can complain about your headache when we get out of here in one piece."

He eyed the lightsaber, then gave her a smirk. "You're a Jedi. Let me make a guess - this was all another one of Luke's great rescue plans. Kinda reminds me of the time he got me outta Jabba's."

"Quit griping, Solo," Mara answered just as two security guards came charging around the corner, weapons drawn. "If the rescue works, it works."

Seeing Mara and Han, they immediately started firing, forcing Mara to deflect the shots with her saber. Han eyed the hover-cart, then ducked his head down grabbing the end, and pushing it down the hall like a battering ram. Taken by surprise, the guards jumped to either side. Han leapt out from behind the cart, tackling the closest guard, and wrestling for his weapon.

Mara charged after, using the Force to snatch the second guard's blaster from his hand, and quickly set it to stun before firing at the man. The other blaster was fired in Mara's direction, nearly singeing her hair. Quickly, Mara readjusted her aim, taking out the guard struggling with Solo.

The Corellian staggered to his feet as he gathered the blaster. "Now we have blasters," he pointed out smugly.

"Luke was right. You are crazy."

"Well, if that's not like one Hutt calling the other Hutt a slob, I don't know what is," Han grumbled as he hurried after the woman. "Hey, Burt!"

Mara shot a glare over her shoulder. "What?"

"What's your real name?"

"Mara Jade. And guess what?

"What?"

"I really did used to be an Imperial assassin, so if you dare call me 'Burt' one more time...."

"Just keep those nasty needles away from me, and we'll get along fine," Han said, laughing, and unable to stop himself from adding, "Burt."


Coruscant

"Senator?" Ghent asked, eyes wide as he stared at the blaster. "What's the matter?"

"I think you know what I want," Fey'lya snapped out. "Hand me that disk."

"Su..sure..." Shaking, Ghent moved his hand slowly forward, not wanting to do anything rash.

It was at that moment that Threepio came bustling into the small room. "Artoo! There you are! I've been - "

Fey'lya swung his blaster around, causing the protocol droid to throw up his arms in fear. "Dear me! Don't shoot!" Threepio cried out, just as Artoo rolled forward, shooting a small blast of electrical current directly at the one place the little droid knew for certain caused sentients - especially male sentients - the most pain.

The Bothan screamed in pain, and Ghent flung himself forward to the ground, trying to tackle the Senator around his ankles. The blaster fired.