The Jedi Master escorted the former Queen of Naboo into the ship's hold, where Luke and Leia waited with the droids.
"We are taking a short side trip," Padmé informed her children.
"Where are we going?" Luke asked.
"Dagobah," Obi-Wan replied. "There is a great Jedi Master living there, and we've decided that Leia should train under him, while I train you." Obi-Wan pulled out a silver tube from under his robe. "This was Anakin's old lightsaber. Which one of you would like to use it?"
"I'm not touching anything that belonged to Vader," Leia said firmly. Her eyes flicked over at Solo as he entered the hold. "It's suddenly become hard to breath in this area."
Han grinned. "I always did leave women breathless."
"I meant the air became polluted."
"Just wait until we get to Dagobah," Han continued, unfazed at the Princess's jibes. "I checked out the specifications, and Dagobah's a jungle system. All that rotten vegetation cooking in hot swamp water makes for a lot of smelly gas."
"No more smelly than you."
Padmé was appalled at her daughter's rudeness. "Leia! I would have thought your aunts taught you better manners."
"Aw, sweetheart," Han said to Padmé. "It's just that my gorgeous looks overwhelm her common sense, and she can't think straight when I'm around."
Disgusted, Leia jumped up. "Tell me, Solo, are you going to introduce us to all your kinfolk when we get to Dagobah?"
"I'm guessing there will be a big family reunion with you and all the other slimy snakes living there," Leia snapped. Pushing past the astonished Corellian, she hurried away to the privacy of her cabin.
"Is she really still so upset I tried selling her droids?" Han asked after a moment's contemplation. "I had no idea she was that attached to them."
"I tried telling you it was a bad idea, Sir," Threepio said, managing to sound smug. "Perhaps next time, you will listen to my suggestions when I offer them."
"Not likely." Han noticed that Luke was staring studiously at the floor, and he felt a spike of suspicion toward the younger man. "What did you say to her, kid?"
Luke looked up, his cheeks spotted with a red flush. "Nothing. Leia just doesn't like you, that's all." He turned his attention quickly to Obi-Wan, and changed the subject. "Can you teach me to use that lightsaber? I'll need it to become a Jedi, and defeat the Empire."
"I'll teach you," Obi-Wan responded, pleased that Luke wanted to learn the skill, but worried about Luke's overconfidence. "Becoming a Jedi takes a long time and much training, Luke. You must learn patience." He glanced over at Han. "And tolerance, as well."
Padmé put her hand on Han's arm. "I'll go talk to Leia and find out what's upsetting her."
"You probably shouldn't do that," Luke said hurriedly. "Whatever it is, I'm sure she just needs time alone."
"Yes," Threepio added. "The Princess frequently is alone in her apartment. Although it may be that she is merely powered down during that time. Now that I consider it more thoroughly, it is late at night that she is most often by herself."
"I bet I could fix that problem," Han said.
"Han!" Padmé chastised. "Are you making suggestive comments about my daughter?"
"Yes, he is!" Luke piped up. "He said he wanted to have a smoking hot romance with Leia!"
"You told her!" Han yelled at Luke in outrage. "That's why she's so mad at me!"
"Of course I told her," Luke shouted back. "You're involved with my mother, and you want to cheat on her with my sister!"
Han decided it was time to rectify the situation, even if it made him look like an idiot. Besides, how could things look worse than they did now, anyway? "I'm NOT involved with Padmé. I just made that up!"
"Why would you do that?" Luke questioned hotly.
"I wanted to make Leia jealous," Han admitted, embarrassed.
Padmé swallowed, trying to ignore Obi-Wan's shocked expression. It was more important to derail Solo's interest in Leia than salvage her reputation. "How can you say that, Han? We are involved!" She buried her face in her hands and pretended to burst into tears. "You don't love me anymore!"
"I never did!" Han protested, baffled that Padmé wanted to keep up the charade.
"What?!" Padmé gasped in shock. She reached up and slapped Han across the face. Hard. "How dare you." Then she rushed out of the hold, and away from Obi-Wan's incriminating gaze.
"Ow," Han muttered, pressing his palm against his burning cheek. "She packs a wallop."
"Not as much as my wallop," Luke said, right before he hauled off and belted Han in the nose.
A while later, Threepio meekly offered the Corellian an ice-pack, as Han sat at the game table nursing his pride and his nose.
Obi-Wan had prevented the incident from disintegrating even further, separating the two younger men, and forcefully pushing them apart. Now Luke was sitting in the chair across the room, still glaring at Han while rubbing his sore knuckles.
"Never in my all my long life have I ever witnessed such a brouhaha," Obi-Wan stated. "I want you two to apologize to each other, and then we shall move on from this incident."
"Why should I apologize?" Han grumbled. "I didn't do anything wrong."
Luke leapt up from his seat, pointing his forefinger in Han's direction. "You're trying to cheat on my mother with my sister. I can't begin to count the ways that's wrong."
"And I told you I made up being involved with Padmé," Han argued wearily. "Why won't you believe me?"
"Are you calling my mother a liar?"
"Yes!" Seeing the expression of fury on Luke's face, Han quickly backed off from the accusation. "No. I don't know why your mother went along with me saying we're lovers," Han returned through clenched teeth. He stood up, as well, placing a safer distance between himself and the farmboy. "I'm going to check on the Falcon's engines. I think I hear a funny clunking sound."
"If I throw him into the hyperdrive unit, I'm positive it'll make a funny clunking sound," Luke muttered darkly as he watched the Corellian disappear down the corridor.
Obi-Wan shook his head in dismay. "I have no idea what's going on with Padmé and Solo. Maybe I've been living in the desert so long the ways of the galaxy have passed me by." The Jedi picked up a shielded helmet, and handed it to Luke. "Shall we start the lightsaber lessons?"
"Sure," Luke mumbled, still looking down the empty corridor. "I may need to use that lightsaber sooner than I thought."
"There's the lovely swamp-hole," Han said pointlessly to Obi-Wan, Luke and Padmé as they exited hyperspace several tense days later. Leia adamantly refused to be in the same room as the Corellian, and had declined to enter the cockpit, too. "Where should I land?"
Obi-Wan shut his eyes briefly, then nodded to the right. "That way. Perhaps you should allow me to take over the landing at this juncture."
"No one flies this baby but me," Han said firmly, turning the yoke. Obi-Wan sighed, but did not argue. Han angled the ship down, and the Falcondove steeply through the thick clouds covering the planet. Long minutes later, they were still in heavy fog, unable to make out the surface. "Usually, there's some break in the cloud-cover by now," Han grumbled, carefully watching the computer to inform him where to head.
"Set the course landing for two-two-four-nine," Obi-Wan ordered.
Han moved his fingers toward the computer when the lights – and the computer terminal – blinked out. The ship bucked wildly, and started spinning toward the unseen surface as Han fought for control.
"We're going to crash!" Padmé gasped, gripping the arm rests with her fingers.
"It certainly appears that's a distinct possibility," Obi-Wan agreed calmly.
Han was almost convinced he was about to die, as well. Then, at the last second, he could see the planet's surface, covered in heavy foliage and patches of murky swampland. Desperately he pulled hard on the yoke, and to his utter surprise, the nose of the ship pulled up, and then theFalcon leveled off. He blinked in confusion as the ship slowly and evenly lowered itself, coming to a gentle rest next to a large pond of water. The Corellian looked over at the surprisingly calm Obi-Wan Kenobi, and with a forced grin said, "See? Not a problem!" Unfortunately, his voice betrayed him and the words came out as a strangled squeak.
Obi-Wan gave an enigmatic smile. "Not a problem, indeed, son."
"What in the stars happened?" Luke demanded to know as he came rushing into the cockpit.
"Turbulence," Han explained succinctly.
"Leia said that was the worse landing she'd ever experienced." He glared accusingly at the pilot. "I could fly better than you."
Han spun around in his seat, annoyed. "Then buy yourself a ship and fly it. I'm getting tired of playing taxi service to this crazy family, anyway."
"Look," Padmé said, pointing out the conical window, and trying to diffuse the situation. "We've landed all safe and sound."
Luke turned his gaze out the viewport. "Why do you suppose a Jedi Master would pick here to live?"
"'Cuz no one would think he would," Han answered shortly, hoisting himself out of the seat. He glanced down at Obi-Wan. "For an extinct group, there sure seems to be a lot of you still hanging around … and hiding."
Obi-Wan fought back irritation. "We have not been hiding. We have been biding our time."
"For what?" Luke asked, ignoring Han's snort of derision.
"For the right opportunity to reestablish the Jedi." Obi-Wan gracefully rose from the chair. "I'm not certain Master Yoda is going to agree that this is the right time, but since your mother has taken matters into her own hand, without consulting me first, the wheels have been set in motion."
The humid air was oppressive, and condensation dripped from the branches overhead, creating the impression of constant rainfall. "I can imagine that this is what breathing under water would seem like," Luke commented as the group stood around trying to decide which direction they should head. Involuntarily, he ducked slightly as a large, dark bird swooped low over his head.
Han waved toward the algae covered pond near which the Falcon was resting uncomfortably close to the edge. "If we'd have landed any closer, you could've tested your theory out a lot better." The murky water rippled, as though something below the surface knew it had lost out on a tasty meal.
"Where do you suppose Yoda lives?" Padmé asked, looking in concern at a very large snake dangling from a nearby tree limb. "This place doesn't seem to be very hospitable."
Obi-Wan shut his eyes, his face taking on a look of concentration. "Master Yoda is very close by. I can sense his presence through the Force."
"If you can sense him, can't he sense us, too?" Leia questioned.
"Yes, I'm quite certain Yoda sensed our arrival. It's undoubtedly the reason the ship was placed down in this exact spot."
Han frowned, and jerked his thumb at his chest. "I'm the one that landed the Falcon. No mystical power takes over my ship, unless it's over my dead body."
"Dead, appears you are not," a gnarly voice chuckled in amusement from behind a tree. The group turned around in time to watch as the small, green Jedi hobbled into view.
"Master Yoda!" Obi-Wan said, his voice cracking with emotion. "It's been so very long."
"That's a Yoda?" Han asked in surprise. "Sorta short, isn't he?"
"Judge me by my size, you should not," Yoda said, sounding annoyed.
"Han, please don't make him mad," Padmé said as she hurried over to Yoda, and knelt down in front of the Jedi. "It's wonderful to see you again, Master Yoda."
Yoda nodded, his large eyes moving past the woman toward the younger humans. He pointed his stick at the two wide-eyed young people. "Told them, have you?"
"It was time," Padmé said, knowing Yoda was certain to disapprove. She looked back over her shoulder at Luke and Leia, then stood. "I should tell you the rest of my plan."
"That would probably be a good idea," Leia agreed.
Padmé glanced back down to the frowning Yoda. "My rebel companions have received word that the Empire is creating a space station that is powerful enough to destroy entire planets with one blast. If we don't act now to bring Palpatine down, before that station is complete, worlds will be destroyed. Billions will die. I know that everyone disapproves of my rushing back, and bringing Luke and Leia into such danger, but I felt I had no choice."
"Padmé intends to lure Vader and Palpatine to Myrkr, and kill them," Obi-Wan explained to Yoda.
"Difficult this will be," Yoda stated flatly. "Foolish the Sith are not."
"Vader will not hesitate," Padmé insisted. "Once he's aware that I'm alive, and our children are alive, he'll come for us."
"Danger will you put your younglings in," Yoda replied. "Untrained they are in the ways of the Force."
"That's why we are here, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan continued. "I am hoping you will apprentice Leia, while I train Luke."
"Too old they are," Yoda said stubbornly. "Train them now we cannot."
"That's the first time I've ever been described as 'too old,'" Luke said, grinning. "It's always been the other way around."
"They're too old?" Han put in, unable to remain out of the conversation. "A few minutes ago, back in the cockpit, Kenobi said the Jedi were biding their time until they could make a grand and glorious comeback. Now you're telling us that you Jedi bided your precious time so long that you ranout of time?"
Leia arched her eyebrow at the Corellian, then looked down at Yoda. "As much as I hate to admit this, the flyboy makes a decent point."
"The time for adhering to the old rules of the Order is past," Padmé told Yoda. "We must take drastic and innovative measures if we have any hope of succeeding."
"Strong their father was. Too late was he trained, as I said years ago," Yoda stated.
"The fact is, Luke and Leia are here now, and they are not like their father," Padmé responded.
"They are both very strong in the Force," Obi-Wan pointed out to his old mentor.
"Same that happened with Anakin could happened to these two," Yoda argued.
"No!" Padmé said firmly. "That won't happen." She knelt once again in front of Yoda to plead her case. "Please understand how important this has become." Yoda's ears flattened, and Padmé continued to implore, "Master Yoda, I beg of you! I understand your concerns, truly I do. But once we arrive on Myrkr, I believe the playing field can be leveled."
"You keep bringing up Myrkr like it's some paradise, where the dark side can't reside," Leia said.
"No, not the dark side," Padmé said. "The Force. There are creatures on Myrkr called ysalamiri - "
"Heard of these creatures, have I," Yoda interrupted. "A place I wish not to go."
"The Jedi have always avoided Myrkr," Obi-Wan added. "If you are hoping to defeat Vader and Palpatine on Myrkr because they can't access the Force, you need to realize that we won't be able to access it, either."
"The ysalamiri have a limited range," Padmé told them. "We can use them to our advantage."
"How?" Luke asked.
"Palpatine is very old," Padmé said. "It's the dark side that has kept him alive. Cut off his Force access, and he won't be able to defend himself. He might even die without us doing anything besides placing him into a Force-bubble."
"Vader isn't old," Leia pointed out.
"No, but without the Force he can only do so much to defend himself." Padmé stood and walked over to Obi-Wan. "Do you think Vader could wield his lightsaber and protect himself against a small army of rebels if he has no Force as his ally? We could set up the ysalamiri in certain sections. We would know where they are, but Vader and Palpatine would not, and we could trap them."
"Easy to fool Palpatine it is not," Yoda commented.
Padmé blew out a hiss of frustration. "At least it's a plan. I'm willing to listen if you have a better one."
"Strong is the dark side," Yoda warned. "Tempt your children it most certainly will."
"My father - Prince Organa – raised me to understand evil and avoid it at all costs," Leia said.
"I can avoid temptation," Luke declared. "Let me prove myself."
Yoda shook his head sadly. "Too much of their father in them do I sense."
"I believe that Luke and Leia are the last hope for the galaxy," Obi-Wan said with firm conviction.
Yoda's body sagged and he gave a weary sigh. "Train them, then, we must." Yoda pointed past the Falcon. "Condition I place is this – remain on Dagobah until they have grasped the basic ways of the Force."
"What?" Han said loudly. "I don't want to stay on this swamp any longer than I have to!"
"You did promise Bail that you'd take care of me and Leia," Padmé told Han firmly. "This is part of that promise."
"I gave that promise before I knew all these tiny, unimportant details," Han argued. "Like tangling with Vader and the Emperor. Or living in a mudhole."
"So what you're saying now is that you're too afraid to see this through," Luke taunted.
"I ain't afraid," Han shot back. "But this is worth more than the money I agreed on."
Leia clenched her jaw in frustration. "My father will pay you extra."
The Corellian considered Leia's promise. "In that case, I suppose I can tolerate it for a little while," Han said, placated. "Prince Organa is ringing up quite the debt."
"Mercenary your friend seems to be," Yoda mused thoughtfully.
"Seems to be?" Luke repeated, shaking his head in disgust.
Yoda hobbled over to Han, and gave Han's kneecap a hard poke with his gimer stick.
"OW!" Han yelled, backing up and grabbing his injured leg. Unfortunately, he took one step backwards too many, and ended up falling into the slimy pond with a loud splash. "Whaddya do that for?" he spluttered as he came flaying up to the surface.
"Mudhole my home is not," Yoda stated.
Han gasped and struggled to pull himself back to relatively dry land while the others chortled in amusement. "I should've blasted you!"
"Blast me you did not," Yoda replied. "Therefore, passed the test you did." Yoda turned to look up at the others. "Mercenary this one only pretends to be. Trust him we can."
Still on his hands and knees, Han wiped the strands of algae from his face. "No reward is worth this," he grumbled.
Several long, sweaty days later, Leia Organa, Princess of Alderaan, decided enough was enough. "I'm taking a break," she informed Yoda, tossing Obi-Wan's lightsaber on the ground. She had been using Obi-Wan's weapon since Yoda's lightsaber was too small, and Leia had adamantly refused a second offer to use Anakin Skywalker's old weapon. "I'm hot, thirsty, and exhausted. I don't know how to levitate rocks, or jump off a cliff without killing myself. I'm not sure if I even want to be a Jedi. Did anyone bother asking my opinion on this subject?" She shook her head vigorously. "No. It was assumed that since my biological… sire has this talent, surely his daughter must, too." Calling Anakin Skywalker 'father' always left a bad taste in Leia's mouth, so she avoided the word whenever possible.
Yoda pointed his walking stick at Leia. "Complain a Jedi does not. Heat, thirst, exhaustion a Jedi feels not." He moved closer to the young human. "Concentrate you must, and what seems impossible you will find is not. Impatient, Anakin Skywalker was, as are you."
"And that's another thing," Leia said, her voice rising several degrees. "I don't want to be compared to that monster, ever again."
"Not always a monster was your father," Yoda explained, retrieving the lightsaber. "Easy it is to become seduced by the dark side." He held out the cylinder toward Leia, but she refused to take it back. "In order, perhaps, meditation would be. Time reflecting on the virtues of forbearance."
"I know about patience and forbearance," Leia argued. "I'm a politician! I've spent endless hours listening to beings drone on about laws and regulations. Try doing that if you aren't patient. Trust me when I say that it compares to levitating rocks."
"Smoke," Yoda said with a sniff.
Leia frowned at the gruff Jedi. "What?"
"Job of politicians," Yoda said, "is much time spent shoveling smoke."
"Shoveling…?" Leia stopped as the meaning of Yoda's proclamation sank in. "That's not funny."
"That's 'cuz you don't have a sense of humor, sweetheart," Han drawled.
Leia spun around, noticing the Corellian leaning casually against a tall tree. "Have you been watching me?"
"Every chance I get."
She turned an accusing glare at Yoda. "Did you know he's been watching me?"
"Yes," Yoda replied. "Sense him you would, too, if only the Force would you embrace."
"I'd really enjoy being embraced by you, Your Worshipfulness," Han said, grinning.
"Am I allowed to cut him in half with that lightsaber?" Leia asked Yoda, pointing to the weapon in the Jedi's grasp.
"Anger is of the dark side," Yoda admonished.
Furious at Han's spying, and at Yoda's constant chastising, Leia could barely think straight. "I'm going for a walk. This planet is way too crowded for my taste." She stalked off, pushing through the thick underbrush and disappearing from sight.
"Isn't it sorta dangerous to be hiking around all alone?" Han asked the old Jedi. "It's getting close to sunset."
Yoda regarded the lightsaber he was still holding. "Unwise and dangerous."
"I ought to follow her, just for safety's sake," Han suggested. "And I should take that weapon and give it back to her."
Yoda handed the lightsaber over to the Corellian. "Care you must take with this weapon."
"Aw, I promise I won't hurt myself with it," Han said, weighing it in his palm. "Thanks for worrying, though."
"Worried not about harming yourself, am I," Yoda replied. "Worried should you be, after the young Princess takes it back."
"Oh. I see," Han said. Then he shrugged. "I like to live dangerously. I appreciate the warning, though." Then he headed off, following the trail the Princess had taken.
Luke Skywalker's eyes were shut tight, and he was concentrating intently on standing on his head while trying to lift a rock using the Force. The rock moved slightly, and floated a few inches off the ground. Luke opened his eyes, and the rock thudded back down. Then he lost his balance, falling sideways. "This is impossible," he moaned.
"It's only impossible because you believe it's impossible. You are getting closer to success with each attempt," Obi-Wan said encouragingly. "The rock actually moved a bit this time."
Luke sighed, and still sitting on the ground, crossed his legs. "Can I ask you a question?"
"What was my father like? Before he turned into a Sith?"
Obi-Wan gave a sad smile. "He was confident and strong. Young and brave. Impetuous and sympathetic. He was both my padawan, and my friend, and he had the potential to be the greatest Jedi that ever lived."
"If he hadn't fallen in love with my mother, would everything be okay? Would Palpatine have been stopped? Would the galaxy be at peace?"
"I can't answer that, Luke," Obi-Wan replied truthfully. "Perhaps."
"So my being born was a huge mistake that's costing lives."
"Or perhaps you were meant to be," Obi-Wan said. "Maybe Anakin wasn't the Chosen One, as I once thought he was. Maybe it's you or your sister."
Luke nodded thoughtfully. "Knowing he's my father, I'm not sure if I can bring myself to kill him."
"That might not be necessary," Obi-Wan answered. "If Padmé's plan works, and we can trap him in a place where he is unable to access the Force, then the rebels should be able to dispose of him. The burden will not be on your shoulders."
"Dispose," Luke repeated flatly. "Like he's a piece of worthless trash."
"Many years ago, I tried reasoning with Anakin. He was beyond my reach, Luke. The dark side had consumed him, surely as the fires on Mustafar consumed portions of his body. Anakin Skywalker was not worthless, but that man no longer exists. Darth Vader is undeniably evil and the galaxy will rejoice at his demise."
"I wish I could have known him," Luke whispered. "When he was still Anakin Skywalker."
Obi-Wan felt a stab of sympathy toward the kind-hearted young man. "I wish you could have known him too, Luke. You would have liked the man your father once was."
Neither man noticed the movement coming from behind a nearby tree. This time, Padmé's quiet sobs were very real.
Leia sat down on a fallen tree stump, giving a soft groan and rubbing her sore back muscles. "Why couldn't I have gotten Obi-Wan as my Jedi Master? I think I got the short end of the Jedi Master stick," she muttered under her breath, then giggled at the unintended pun. A rustle from the branches overhead caused her to give a start, then a dark shape dropped on her head. "What the - ?" It took her a moment to realize a native vine snake had fallen on top of her, and it was a very large vine snake, indeed - twice her length, and nearly as thick as her torso.
The Princess attempted to twist away, but the snake was faster. It wound its body rapidly around her frame, and Leia fell to the ground, still struggling to free herself from its deadly, vise-like grip. "Help…!" she gasped, trying to scream. Unfortunately, the coiled body of the snake was already constricting her lungs, and the word was barely audible.
With her arms held fast against her body, and her ribs aching from the strong crush of the snake, Leia could only think, I'm about to die and get eaten by a snake.
"Hey," a voice called out. "It looks like you could use some help."
Leia twisted her neck, and saw Han Solo running in her direction. In a second he was next to her, trying to pry the body of the snake off. "Kill it," she whispered, her face contorted with pain.
"If I shoot it, it might restrict so tight in its death-throes, it'll finish you off," Han argued, tugging uselessly at the powerful beast.
"What?" Han asked, leaning closer to hear.
"Oh!" He whipped out the old-fashioned weapon, and frowned at it. "What if I accidentally cut too far, and cut you?"
Han turned on the blade, and with a deep breath, starting slicing down the thick body. Blood and internal organs spilled out, but with its muscles sliced the snake was unable to maintain its death grip on the Princess. Soon she was able to struggle free of the deceased creature, and allow Han to help her to her feet.
"You actually saved my life," Leia said in disbelief, still bent over as she sucked in precious oxygen.
"Why do you sound so surprised?"
Leia straightened up, and looked Han in the eye. "It doesn't seem in line with your policy of only caring about yourself."
"True," Han agreed easily. "Now, how about a kiss for my reward?" Almost immediately he regretted the joke, as Leia's expression changed from gratitude to annoyance.
"I'd rather kiss the dead snake."
"From my viewpoint, it appeared that's exactly what you were doing," Han returned, more upset with himself for ruining his chance with Leia than her insult. Trying to save face, he waved his finger at her and spoke without thinking, "Don't bother with the kiss, Ice-Princess. Your father is paying me to keep you safe, and I'm just doing my job. It's not like I cared whether or not you ended up as that snake's dinner." His earlier regret was compounded tenfold by the abject look of disappointment that appeared on her face.
"I'll be sure to tell my father you did your job, Captain Solo," she said tartly, before snatching the lightsaber from his fingers, and leaving him standing alone.
Han suddenly wished it were physically possible to kick himself all the way back to the Falcon.
Onboard the Falcon, later that evening…
"Thank you for saving Leia," Padmé said quietly as she came up behind the Corellian.
Han paused in his task of tuning one of the sensor coils, and regarded the Naboo woman. "Just doing my job," he said shortly, turning away so he was no longer facing her.
"You're angry at me."
"Why would you think that?" Han snapped, giving his tuning rod an unnecessarily hard twist. "You hijacked me and my ship, your daughter can't stand me, your son belts me in the nose, after you slapped my face. No, I'd say I'm truly feeling the love from your family." He spun around so suddenly, Padmé drew back in surprise. "Why are you keeping up the farce of us being lovers?"
"It was your idea to begin with," she returned.
"Yeah, but when I tried admitting the truth, you turned on fake tears and gave me a slap for good measure!"
"I'm sorry I hit you. It was uncalled for." Padmé sighed. "You remind me too much of Anakin. Both of you are good pilots. You're handsome, and an overconfident risk-taker, just like he was." She hesitated slightly, then added, "And both of you had difficult childhoods."
"How would you know that?" Han asked, annoyed. "I've never told you about my childhood."
"I can see the pain in your eyes, just like I could see the pain in Anakin's eyes," Padmé answered quietly, thinking back to her Rebel friend waiting on Myrkr, and trying to deflect Han's suspicions. "I may not be a Jedi, but I also can see Leia falling in love with you, just like I fell in love with Anakin. It would be a mistake, and she doesn't need to make the same mistake I made."
Han felt his face flush. "I'm not good enough for her."
"No," Padmé said. "I'm not an elitist, Han. But I am a realist. Do you have any intentions of ever getting married, and settling down? Making a commitment to one woman, for the rest of your life?" When Han looked away, she continued, "You're the kind of man that would break her heart, and since I'm her mother, I want to protect her from that kind of hurt. So that's why I'm maintaining the illusion we're involved. If she thinks you're my lover, it's less likely she'll be interested in you."
"Maybe I'll leave all of you sitting on this planet, and blast off in my ship," Han threatened, trying to hide the depth of his hurt feelings. Why should it matter so much to him that Padmé considered him a free-wheeling smuggler with no ties to bind him down? Didn't that describe him, exactly?
"You won't do that," Padmé stated.
"You sure of that?"
"Yes. Because, despite everything you've been through, you have a strong sense of honor and loyalty," Padmé replied. "Just like Anakin did."
A month later….
Han was cleaning his DL-44 when Luke sat down on the log next to him. The young man hadn't exactly been overly friendly to him during their stay on Dagobah, so the gesture, however small, surprised him. "Hey, kid. How's the Jedi training going?"
"Alright, I suppose," Luke replied, eyeing the disassembled blaster pieces. "Do you know how to put that back together?"
"Sure," Han said, rubbing a small piece of metal with a clean cloth. "I've been getting lots of practice lately. This planet is so damp, if I don't take it apart every few days and give it a good cleaning, it starts to rust."
"The droids keep complaining about getting rust in their parts, too." Luke shifted slightly on the uncomfortable seat, and changed the subject. "Leia told me you saved her life a while back."
"That was nearly a month ago, kid. I would've helped her, even if her father wouldn't be paying me," Han responded, unable to keep the defensive tone from his voice.
"I know." Luke cleared his throat. "And I realize I'm long overdue in saying this, but I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for hitting you."
"Kenobi insisted you apologize, huh?"
The younger man grinned. "Yeah. He says that a Jedi can't have a short temper, and apologizing builds character."
The Corellian fitted the cleaned section back into the blaster, and picked up another small piece to buff. "I'm not your mother's boyfriend. Never have been." Han tensed, waiting for the kid to explode again.
"Master Kenobi thinks that you're telling the truth," Luke replied. "We haven't been able to figure out why my mother keeps pretending it's true."
"Padmé told me why," Han said.
"Why? What did she tell you?"
"It's her weird attempt to protect Leia from me. She thinks I'm the 'love 'em and leave 'em' sort of guy."
Luke laughed. "I'd have to agree with her assessment."
"I'm not that bad," Han said in annoyance as he fit the last part of his blaster together. He aimed at a distant tree, and fired at a small branch. The branch dropped to the ground, smoldering. Then an eerie moan sounded from the area near the gnarled old tree.
"Do you hear that? Did you hit something?" Luke questioned, standing up and squinting to see through the constant, lingering mists.
"No, there wasn't anything on that branch," Han stated, rising as well.
"I'm going to check it out."
Han opened his mouth to argue, then sighed and followed the young man over to the tree. "See?" Han pointed to the ground. "Nothing but a branch."
"There's something else here," Luke murmured. "Something cold… evil."
Han swung his blaster around. "Where?"
"It's nothing I can see," Luke tried to explain. "It's more like a feeling."
"I don't feel anything," Han argued.
Luke moved closer to the tree, and crouched down. "It looks like a cave entrance, right under the tree." He looked up at Han. "I'm going to check it out."
"What?!" Han asked, barely able to comprehend what he was hearing. "Why? There ain't no reason under this system's moldy sky we gotta go down into that cave. Didn't you just say it felt evil? That's a damn good reason not to go down there, if you ask me."
"You don't have to come with me," Luke said, already maneuvering his legs into the cave's opening. "As a matter of fact, you probably shouldn't."
"If you get killed, I'll never hear the end of it," Han groused, dropping to his knees in order to climb into the cave. "I have a bad feeling about this…"
Inside the cave, Luke had already ignited his lightsaber in order to see. Dark, twisted roots formed the ceiling over their heads, and the floor of the cave was ankle deep with a thick, dark muck. There was an overwhelming stench of rot and mold, and Han had to suppress the urge to gag.
"Okay," Han said, peering around. "Nothing's in here. Let's leave."
"I'm going deeper into the cave," Luke stated.
"Goody," Han muttered, his fingers tightening around his blaster.
With Luke in the lead, both men headed deeper into the gloomy depths of the oppressive cavern. Although Han had no use or abilities for 'the Force' even he could sense an almost menacing, unseen presence lurking in the darkness. It took all of his willpower not to turn around and run to the exit.
Luke stopped walking. "The dark side is strong in this place."
"Yup, I gotta agree that it's dark. Not to mention it's stinky," Han said, trying to keep his tone light. "Dark side means bad, am I right? So why are we trying to find a bad thing?"
"Master Kenobi has been trying to impress on me the importance of confronting evil, and not being afraid of it," Luke replied. "We can't run from the dark side. We have to face it and defeat it."
"What if you can't see what you're suppose to defeat?" It seemed like a good question, considering their current circumstances.
"Show yourself!" Luke shouted, his voice echoing through the cavern. "Or are you too much of a coward?"
"Uh, Luke? Do you think calling it names is such a good idea?"
Luke ignored Han. "I'm waiting! Come out and take us on, you skulker!" A shadow loomed across Luke's field of vision, and he could make out the dark shape of a humanoid several feet away. "So you've decided to come out and play," Luke taunted, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck raise, and a cold chill sweep through his very soul. The shadow being was huge and hulking, and evil roiled from its direction. Luke suddenly wished he hadn't been so hasty in his decision to enter the cave.
"Who are you talking to?" Han whispered to Luke. "I don't see anyone."
"He's right in front of us," Luke replied, pointing at the dark form.
Han squinted harder in the direction where Luke indicated. "Still don't see anything, kid."
The shadow stepped forward, and Luke raised his blade in preparation for defense. "Who are you?"
"I am your father, Luke," an artificial voice rasped.
"Then it's my job to destroy you," Luke responded.
"No. You cannot kill me."
"You are evil," Luke stated. "Everyone has told me this. Do you deny you're a Sith?"
"Who're you talking to, kid?" Han asked worriedly. "Who's evil?"
"I am a Sith," the dark form replied. "I will not deny the truth."
"It's my destiny to kill you," Luke insisted. "Obi-Wan, Yoda, and my mother have told me this."
"Padmé is still my wife," the Dark Lord stated. "When the time comes, she will not wish to have me killed. She knows the same as I know."
"Knows? Knows what?"
"That my children will rule the galaxy. That is your true destiny, Luke. You will become the next Emperor."
"That's a lie," Luke said hotly. "I'll prove it to you!" Rushing forward, Luke clashed his lightsaber with Darth Vader's blade. For a few minutes, they battled, the humming blades throbbing and skittering against each other. Then Vader's lightsaber flew up, and away from his grasp. Luke stood his ground, pointing the tip of his saber against Vader's chestplate as the Sith dropped to his knees before him.
"Kill me, my son."
Shaking, Luke tried to force his weapon forward, yet found he was unable to complete the movement. "I … I can't do it."
"Luke?" Han's voice broke into Luke's reverie as he shook the young man's shoulder. "What can't you do?"
Luke blinked at Han, and when he turned back, the Dark Lord was no longer kneeling before him. Darth Vader had simply vanished. "He was here, Han."
"Darth Vader. My father. I was fighting him, and I won. But I couldn't finish him off. I couldn't kill him."
"I didn't see him," Han said, sounding doubtful. "All I saw was you talking to yourself and slicing at these tree roots like a man possessed."
Luke tentatively touched the blackened tree roots, still smoking from the contact with his lightsaber. "We should go back now."
"Best idea I've heard all day," Han said, relieved.
As they turned and walked back to the cave's entrance, Luke was unable to shake the feeling he had seen into the future, and that he wouldn't be able to alter the ending when it truly came to pass.
Two weeks later…
It was late at night, and Padmé felt restless, and unable to sleep. Rising from her berth from inside the relative comfort of the Millennium Falcon, she checked Leia's bunk and was alarmed to see that her daughter was missing. Quietly, Padmé slipped past the main hold which held two cots and their sleeping occupants - Obi-Wan and Luke - and headed outside. She looked to her right, focusing briefly on the small hut that Yoda called his home. She could see a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney, and started to move in that direction. It was only then Padmé noticed Leia, sitting alone beside the flickering campfire, poking at the dying embers with a small stick.
Padmé walked up to her pensive daughter. "What's the matter? Can't you sleep?"
"I keep having dreams," Leia whispered in reply. "No, not dreams. Nightmares."
The former queen felt her flesh crawl as she remembered the nightmares Anakin had, right before his fall to the dark side. "May I ask what kind of nightmares you're having?"
Leia looked up at her mother, her eyes dark and haunted. "I'm being held prisoner on some monstrous black ship. I can see Alderaan through the viewport, and stormtroopers are holding me, taunting me. Then this terrible, gaunt face appears, blocking out my view of my planet. The flesh falls away from the face, revealing a skull. The skull starts laughing, and laughing.. and then it explodes." Leia shuddered. "But then … then I realize it wasn't the skull that exploded - it was Alderaan. All my family, friends, everyone I know and love … is dead."
"That truly is a nightmare," Padmé agreed, placing her hand on Leia's shoulder for comfort. "Are you certain it's just a horrible dream?"
"What do you mean?"
"I've been told that when Jedi dream, often it's a vision. Perhaps you are seeing the future."
Leia leapt to her feet. "That's a terrible thing to say!"
"I'm sorry," Padmé quickly said. "But if the Force is providing us with a warning, we shouldn't ignore what it's telling us, either. We've wasted too much time here. I'm certain the battle station that Palpatine calls the 'Death Star' is nearly complete."
"Wasted, time has not been," Yoda said, startling both women. "Jedi, the Skywalker offspring must become to have any hope of prevailing against the Sith."
"It's time we leave for Myrkr," Padmé stated with conviction.
"Not ready, are they."
"If we wait, Alderaan may be the first on the list to be destroyed," Padmé argued. "We can't ignore Leia's vision."
"Always in motion is the future."
"What's going on?" Luke spoke loudly from the interior of the ship. With Obi-Wan and both droids following him down the ramp, Luke rushed over. "Is there a problem?"
"Leia's had a vision of Alderaan being blown up," Padmé replied, her frustration evident. "And Yoda thinks we should simply ignore it, and remain here."
"That seems like a fine idea," Threepio said, as Artoo gave a worried beep. "I have found that oftentimes a problem ignored is a problem avoided."
"Not all dreams are visions," Obi-Wan told Leia.
"But I've been having this same dream, over and over," Leia said. "It's not like any dream I've ever experienced before, and every time I have it, it's more real." She looked at Padmé. "I couldn't live with myself if I shrugged it off, and the nightmare turned out true."
"It's settled, then," Padmé said with a firm nod. "We're leaving for Myrkr in the morning."
Luke and Obi-Wan exchanged wary looks, while Yoda shook his head in dismay. "Much risk, this path holds. Fraught with peril is your decision."
"Will you come with us, Master Yoda?" Leia implored the ancient Jedi.
Yoda's expression became downcast. "Time I have is short. Help you, I must, so come with I shall."
"Thank you," Padmé said, while Yoda merely looked off into the distance without responding.
"Hey!" Solo yelled from the top of the ramp. "Are you guys having a party? Why wasn't I invited?" He hurried down the ramp, and over to the group, looking around. "Where's the booze, Goldenrod? What kind of party is this if it doesn't have alcohol?"
"I'm afraid I was unaware that this assembly constituted a party, Captain Solo," Threepio replied, sounding confused. "And I am also unaware of how to obtain alcoholic beverages on this planet."
"Quit teasing Threepio, Solo," Leia said, exasperated. "We've decided to leave for Myrkr in the morning."
Han let loose with a loud, Corellian war whoop, and whisked Leia off her feet, spinning her around in a big circle before setting her back on the ground. "That sounds like a damn good reason to party if you ask me, Princess!" He ran a few steps back to his ship, before pausing and turning back to say to the group, "I've got some Whyren's Reserve stashed away. I'll be right back." Then he ran up the boarding ramp, and disappeared into the corridor.
"That man's simply impossible," Leia stated, trying to sound put out, and not quite pulling it off. The sensation of being held in his arms had made her blush, but it had felt unexpectedly good. Leia was glad it was dark enough to conceal her emotions from everyone.
Unknown to Leia, Padmé was far more observant of her daughter's pleased reaction than even the Force-sensitive Jedi that surrounded her. And from what she could tell, her ruse of being Solo's lover was failing to prevent her daughter's attraction to the Corellian from growing. Padmé wasn't pleased.
A group of smugglers-turned-rebels watched from the platform as the battered freighter set down in the center of Talon Karrde's smaller, secondary base of operations, located in the plains of Myrkr.
"I still can't get over Karrde deciding to become a Rebel," Han groused. "He was always quick to claim you can't get ahead in life by choosing sides."
"He was the first to have knowledge about the construction of the Death Star," Padmé explained patiently. "What it will be capable of doing was overwhelming enough to change the mind of even the most pragmatic of men."
Inside the ship, Obi-Wan peered out the cockpit window, trying not to seem nervous. "I can still sense the Force," he said, sounding relieved.
"I sent a message to Karrde when we left Dagobah, asking him to clear away all the ysalamiri around this base," Padmé told the Jedi Master. "The forests are where the ysalamiri live in high concentrations, and that's where Talon has his main base. This particular base was created recently, and only for this mission. Talon's very good at using the creatures to mask his main base, and the rebels can transport a single creature to hide themselves from Force-sensitives, as well."
"Normally, this information wouldn't make me happy at all," Obi-Wan admitted. "But I do see the value of using the ysalamiri to defeat Vader and Palpatine."
"I wish Yoda would be as open-minded as you are, Obi-Wan," Padmé said, unfastening her seatbelt.
Yoda's voice spoke from the doorway of the cockpit. "Fall out a brain can, when too open-minded a being becomes."
Padmé rose from her seat. "You still don't think my plan will succeed?"
"Fail it cannot, for all hope then is lost."
Everyone was silent, allowing those words to sink in. After a moment, Han stood. "On that cheery note, let's go meet your Rebel friends, sweetheart."
Padmé led the group down the ramp, embracing Talon warmly. "Hello, Talon."
"Welcome back, Padmé," Talon replied, returning her hug. "We were getting worried about you."
"The first part of my mission was a success beyond my wildest hopes," she said, waving for the rest to come forward. "Not only have I brought back my children, Luke and Leia, I've also managed to bring a couple of Jedi Masters back, as well."
"Welcome to my base," Talon told them, bowing formally.
A deep voice boomed out from the group, "Master Kenobi? Master Yoda?"
Obi-Wan smiled as the man pushed forward. "Senator Bel Iblis. It's a pleasure to meet you again."
"I wish it were under more pleasant circumstances." Garm Bel Iblis turned to regard Princess Leia. "Thank you for coming, Princess Leia."
"After hearing my mother's story, I could do nothing less," Leia responded, taking his hand.
"Your base is really impressive," Luke added, gazing around in awe at the buildings and the many rows of sleek, one-man fighter ships.
"Thank you, son," Garm Bel Iblis replied as he shook Luke's hand. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. Bel Iblis turned to face Han Solo, and said to the smuggler, "I see my faith in you was not misplaced, Captain Solo."
Talon grinned at the embarrassed Corellian. "We highly recommended you to Padmé, Solo."
"Yeah? A recommendation to poke me in the back with a blaster and pirate my ship?" Han grumbled. "I oughta pound you into the dirt for getting me involved in this, Karrde."
"You'd probably better think twice before attacking me," Talon replied, amused. "I have a bodyguard that you wouldn't want to tangle with."
"Really?" Han asked, smirking. "I'm not afraid of anyone."
"Han?" Padmé questioned. "It wasn't just Talon and Garm that spoke highly of your character. It was someone else, too."
"Who would that be?"
"He's Talon's bodyguard, actually, and one of my most trusted friends."
"I don't know Talon's bodyguard," Han declared firmly.
"You sure about that?" Talon asked, stroking his mustache thoughtfully.
"Positi- " Han started to say, when a second later, he was attacked by a large, powerful beast covered with russet-colored fur.
If he had been able, Han would have grabbed his blaster to defend himself. Fortunately for his 'attacker', the Corellian's arms were pinned tightly to his sides, and he was only able to give a muffled cry of surprised mixed with a good dose of fear. It took his brain several long seconds before he realized that he wasn't being attacked at all. "Wookiee…bacca?" he mumbled incoherently as his face was pressed against the fuzzy chest.
Talon gave a hearty laugh. "Partially correct, Solo. Let him go, Chewie. The man can't breathe."
The strong arms released him so quickly that Han nearly fell backwards. *I knew one day we'd meet again, Lieutenant Solo.*
Padmé stepped forward. "Chewbacca! I'm so glad to see you."
*And I am glad to see that you are well, Senator Amidala,* Chewie responded. *Did Solo and his ship serve your needs?*
It was only then that Yoda moved into view. "Long time since our last meeting, my good friend."
Chewie knelt down, and gave the old Jedi a careful hug.
"Wait a kriffing second," Han protested, shocked. "You two know each other?"
*Many years ago, during the Clone Wars, we aided each other during battle,* Chewie replied.
Head swimming with this information, Han turned to Padmé. "And how did you meet Chewbacca?"
"Chewbacca told me how you rescued him from his Imperial captors, and then refused to accept his life-debt. So, unable to locate you after you took off, he decided to join the Rebellion," Padmé answered. "We became friends at that point."
"You rescued Chewbacca from the Imperials? That must have been something to see," Luke said.
"Ah, it was nothing," Han said, uncomfortable with the praise.
"It hardly sounds like 'nothing,'" Obi-Wan said.
"I wasn't aware that a Wookiee life-debt was considered negotiable," Leia added.
Chewie let loose with a loud, accusing roar, and stared pointedly at Han.
"It's not," Han admitted reluctantly. "I just, um, … left him behind in a spaceport. I figured he was better off without hanging around an unemployed ex-Imp with a criminal record."
"You're an Imperial?" Leia asked, shocked.
"Was. Formerly," Han corrected quickly, not wanting Leia to get the wrong impression. "I got kicked out of the Navy when I freed a group of abused Wookiees, and prevented my Commanding Officer from shooting Chewbacca in the process. That sorta thing ticks off the Higher-ups for some odd reason, so it was pretty much the end of my career after that."
"There's apparently more to you than meets the eye, Flyboy," Leia said, mulling over this latest revelation about the mysterious past of Han Solo.
"Many current smugglers and rebels are ex-Imperials," Bel Iblis pointed out. "Those that once served in the Empire and left because they have a conscience count among the strongest revolutionaries."
Han shook his head at Bel Iblis's statement. "I ain't in this for your revolution. I'm only in this for the money."
"Don't you think it's time you give up the mercenary act, Han?" Luke asked, noting his sister's grimace. Luke couldn't figure out why, if Han truly liked Leia, he continually sabotaged his chances with her. "We've got you figured out. The question is - when are you going to finally figure yourself out?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Padmé sighed at the stubborn Corellian's words, and turned to look up at Chewie. "Did you manage to purchase what we need?"
Chewbacca nodded. *It was costly, but your contacts came through.*
"What did Chewbacca say?" Leia asked.
"I had undercover operatives locate a dissident Imperial engineer, and Chewie purchased the blueprints for the Death Star from this man," Padmé explained. "I'm hoping that the plans reveal a flaw, and we can figure out a way to destroy the Battle Station before it's completed."
"My engineers are studying the plans as we speak," Bel Iblis told the group.
"In the meantime, have you set up the ysalamiri containment cages?" Padmé asked.
"Everything is set, and ready to go," Talon said.
"May I ask what these cages look like? How they work?" Obi-Wan questioned.
Talon Karrde grinned. "I can do better than that. I'll show them to you."
Garm Bel Iblis remained at the base with Han and Chewie, while Talon Karrde escorted both of the Jedi, Luke, Leia and Padmé to a transport. They left the base, and after several klicks, stopped next to a small block building. It appeared to be partially camouflaged, as it was covered with vines. Talon pressed a code into the entry-panel, and when the door opened, inside was a lift.
The lift lowered them several hundred feet, and upon exiting the lift, Yoda paused. "Weaker becomes the Force in this place."
"I've sensed the diminishment as well, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan agreed. "But it's not completely gone at this point."
"We don't want Vader or Palpatine to know it's a trap until it's too late," Padmé told the group as they moved into a large, empty room, which was nearly fifty feet across, and almost as high. "This is the room that I'll be waiting in, after Ani, um, Vader has been contacted and is told where I'm hiding."
"He'll come in here to find you," Obi-Wan surmised, craning his neck to look at the high ceiling, and noticed the edges of the ceiling around the center of the room, an area of about twenty feet square, appeared to be ridged and indented, as opposed to the flat, dura-steel walls. The floor also had this same impression, directly below the indented area in the ceiling. "Won't he suspect a trap, considering he's being told to come to Myrkr?"
"I'm sure he will," Padmé agreed. "I'm counting on his emotions overruling his reservations."
Obi-Wan nodded his agreement. "Then what?"
"Then… this," Talon replied, pressing a button on a wrist control unit hidden under his sleeve.
The grooved edges at the top quickly parted, and with astounding speed, bars dropped from the top, and simultaneously shot up from the floor, meeting in the center and forming one solid bar.
Talon waved his hands to indicate the cage around the room. "The inner bars coming up from the floor are a special, extra strong dura-steel, and the outer section of the bars from the ceiling –which are actually more like a tube - are coated with a special compound, made out a mixture of phrik and cortosis, two of the most expensive metals in the galaxy. Even using a laser torch, it would take hours to cut through them."
"What's phrik and cortosis?" Luke questioned.
"Rare minerals that are highly resistant to lightsabers," Talon stated. "It was extremely difficult to find enough, but I believe the cost will be worth it, in the end."
"Can't Vader just use the Force to pry the bars apart, anyway?" Leia asked worriedly.
"This is where the second piece of magic enters the picture," Talon stated. He pressed a second button, and the outer walls opened, revealing cages containing odd-looking creatures.
And just that fast, the Force inside the room completely vanished for the four Force-sensitive beings.
"Those are ysalamiri, which negates Vader's ability to use the Force. Combine those with the cage's ability to short out his lightsaber, and we'll have ourselves one powerless Sith Lord."
"I'm not certain I like this sensation," Obi-Wan admitted, looking down worriedly at Yoda, who was swaying on his feet, with his eyes tightly shut. "Are you alright, Master Yoda?"
"Crushing, is this feeling," Yoda murmured. "Unnatural it is."
"Shut the cage doors," Padmé ordered Talon. "We don't want to harm Master Yoda."
"Of course," Talon agreed. He pressed several different buttons on the control bracelet, and the bars pulled back into the ceiling and floor, and the doors to the ysalamiri cages shut.
Yoda breathed a sigh of relief as the Force, albeit still weak, returned.
"Once we have him trapped, what happens next?" Luke asked.
"Then you, Leia and Padmé leave this room," Talon stated firmly. "Even without the Force, his cybernetic limbs give him great strength. My men will take care of what needs to be done, and they will do it quickly, before he has a chance to escape the cage."
Luke frowned at Talon's words. "You intend to kill him in cold blood? Can't we just keep him as our prisoner?"
"What would be the point of that?" Leia shot back. "Look at how many beings he's killed in cold blood! He's not worthy of our mercy."
"What do you know of his worthiness?" Padmé admonished her daughter, surprising everyone in the room. "There may still be a chance!"
"A chance, Padmé?" Obi-Wan asked quietly. "For what?"
"To convince him that he's been manipulated by Palpatine!"
"Far too late, that is," Yoda stated firmly. "Once the dark side path he traveled, forever it dominated his destiny."
"Without the dark side blinding him, his own reasoning and goodness might return," Padmé said stubbornly. "You can't know for certain that it won't."
"You never mentioned wanting to rehabilitate Vader back on Alderaan," Leia informed Padmé, feeling betrayed by her mother's apparent deception. "I don't believe it's even possible."
"We need to give him that chance," Luke argued.
"Mistakes, we are multiplying. One following another," Yoda insisted.
"May I ask you a question, Padmé?" Obi-Wan asked the former Naboo queen.
"Of course," she responded.
"Why did you need Luke or Leia to enact this plan at all? Wouldn't Vader have come to Myrkr if he knew you were waiting for him?"
Padmé looked at the floor, clenching her fist. "No, Obi-Wan, he wouldn't…he didn't come." She forced herself to look at the Jedi. "I've already tried to lure him to Myrkr by sending him a message I was alive and waiting for him. He… he sent a message back, stating that even if it were true, I'm still dead to him." She seemed crushed at this admission, and her shoulders sagged under the heavy weight that Anakin no longer cared whether she lived or died.
"Love, a Sith cannot feel," Yoda said sadly. "Proof this is that Vader is beyond redemption."
"He'd love his children," Padmé argued passionately. "That's why I know he'll come this time."
"You're only using us as bait," Leia stated, her face flushing with anger.
"He'll come because he loves you," Padmé insisted, then looked down at Yoda. "And that will be proof that he still can be redeemed."
"Come he will," Yoda agreed. "But not for love. Attempt to turn his younglings to the dark side, he will."
Padmé turned her imploring eyes at Obi-Wan. "Whose side are you taking? Mine and Luke's? Or Leia's and Yoda's? What if I'm right? Can you live with yourself, knowing you didn't even try?"
"We tried on Mustafar," Obi-Wan replied. "That got us nowhere, and he's been submerged in the dark side far longer, now."
"Luke and Leia weren't around, then," Padmé told him, nearly begging the Jedi Master to see her viewpoint. "It will be different this time. One more chance, Obi-Wan. That's all I'm asking."
Obi-Wan sighed, feeling much older than his years. "One more chance."
Padmé threw her arms around Obi-Wan. "Thank you."
"Thank him you should not," Yoda stated. "Greater danger are we now in."
After Garm Bel Iblis had given Han a brief tour of the small base, he escorted him into a comfortable lounge area, telling him he should wait there for the others to return. Then he left Han and Chewbacca alone while he returned to his duties.
Han flung his legs up on a sofa, and crossed his arms. "So, Chewbacca, are you gonna explain to me why you told Padmé all those things about me?"
*I told her the truth,* the Wookiee replied, taking the chair across from the Corellian.
"You told her things I never wanted you to repeat!" Han shot back accusingly. "The night I told you about my childhood was the night I got thrown out of the Navy, found the closest bar and got drunk. When I spilled my guts to you about that, it was the booze talking."
*I do recall that you spilled something from your guts that evening,* Chewie concurred.
"Very funny," Han grumbled. "That's why I left you behind. I knew I couldn't trust you."
The Wookiee stood up, and gave a loud roar of disagreement. *Are you implying I am not honorable?* He leaned closer to Han, showing his fangs for emphasis.
Han's eyes widened. "No… I didn't say that."
*Yes, you did!* Chewie responded, pointing a sharp claw in Han's face. *You are the one that showed no honor by leaving me at that spaceport!*
"You'd already been tagging after me for three weeks! I didn't want you to feel obligated to follow me around the rest of my life," Han argued. "I could've used a co-pilot, but not a bodyguard. I'm a big boy, Chewie, and you don't owe me anything."
*You were afraid.*
"Me?" Han shook his head. "I ain't afraid of anything."
*You were afraid,* Chewie repeated firmly. *You did not want someone around you that cared about your welfare, and you did not wish to become a close enough friend to care about me, either.*
Han looked out of the window, across the rolling green hillside. "Friends of mine end up dying."
*Death is a part of life,* Chewie said quietly. *You will not be able to avoid caring for the remainder of your life, Han."
For some reason, that comment caused Han's thoughts to drift to the Princess, and he knew it was already too late for him to avoid becoming emotionally entangled. Somehow, Leia had slipped past his defenses, and he'd fallen for her – hard - even though it didn't appear she felt the same way about him, or was even aware of his feelings. And by this time, even the kid and Padmé had started to matter to him. "I only care about one person – me." Those words sounded empty and hollow to his own ears.
*You are only lying to yourself,* Chewie said. *I will fulfill my Lifedebt to you, Han Solo. My Honor depends on it, and it seems to me that your Soul depends on it, as well.*
"I've made a promise to Prince Organa to take care of Padmé and Leia," Han told the Wookiee. "I intend to keep that promise."
*Because of the money, or because you care about them?*
"Uh, the money? Yeah, that's the reason."
Chewie let loose with another loud roar, this time of laughter.
Padmé could tell Leia was furious with her, since Leia had given her the silent treatment on the ride back to the base. The older woman took her daughter by her arm and pulled her aside while Talon led the others into the building. "Leia, we need to talk."
"There's nothing to say," Leia returned tightly. "Obviously, you've done nothing but lie to me since Alderaan."
"That's not entirely true," Padmé said, cringing at how close to the mark Leia's observation was. "I do need your help." When Leia only looked away, Padmé tried again. "The Rebellion needs your help. The Death Star is all too real."
"I know that," Leia snapped, turning her face briefly to glance at Padmé before once again turning away. "Why do you think I'm staying? It's certainly not on your behalf."
Padmé flinched. "I didn't know when I brought you here that … that I'd want to attempt to redeem Va… Anakin."
"It's Darth Vader."
"He was a good man, once."
"And now he's a murderer," Leia shot back. "Master Yoda is right. If he comes to Myrkr, it will only be to try and recruit Luke or myself as his obedient and evil disciple. Or perhaps kill us as a threat to his power."
"He'd never try to kill you!"
"Just like he never tried to kill you?"
"Luke thinks we should try," Padmé said, desperate to reach her daughter.
"Luke's too kind-hearted and naïve for his own good."
"You could try to be a little less harsh and judgmental, Leia," Padmé said. "It's unbecoming."
Leia took a deep breath to calm herself. "Really? And it's 'becoming' to have an affair with a smuggler fifteen years your junior?"
"I… I'm not having an affair with Han."
"No kidding," Leia said, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "Don't you think I figured that out before we even arrived on Dagobah? I'm not stupid, Padmé." She turned her body this time to look her mother directly in the eye. "It was yet another lie you told me. Why?"
Padmé felt herself near tears. "I didn't want to see you get hurt."
"Let me get this straight," Leia said, her lips forming a thin line. "It's acceptable for you to drag me and Luke into a situation – based on lies – where we might end up dead, but you want to protect me from possibly getting my heart broken? I'm an adult, Padmé. I can handle myself with Han Solo, or any other man that has an interest in me as a woman. Even my overwrought and hypersensitive aunts would allow me to make my own decisions in this regard."
"I apologize," Padmé whispered, heartbroken, yet knowing Leia was correct. "It was a horrible thing I did."
"Yes, it was."
"Han's basically a good man, Leia. I think he truly likes you."
"And I might like him," Leia said, her anger lifting a bit. "If he'd stop whining about wanting credits all the time."
"Money doesn't mean much, unless you don't have any."
The corner of Leia's lips turned up into a slight smile. "Are you taking his side?"
"I'm just pointing out there are two sides to every issue."
"Are we talking about Han, or Vader?"
"Perhaps both," Padmé said softly. Leia shook her head, and started to head toward the building when Padmé called to her, "Where are you going?"
The Princess turned back to face Padmé, amusement written across her face. "I'm going to find Han, and ask him what means more to him – me, or money. Then, depending on the answer, I'm either going to kiss him or kill him."
Then Leia left her mother standing alone, and Padmé found herself hoping that Captain Han Solo wouldn't be stupid enough to make the wrong choice.
Onboard the Falcon
Han was on his knees, the front of his torso was wedged under a bunk, while his backside was sticking up in the air. "I'm telling ya, Chewie," Han's muffled voice could be heard coming from under the bed, "there isn't a field-mouse under here. How can you be scared of a mouse, anyway? If you want a bunk on this ship, this is the only one available."
"He can always take your cabin," a feminine voice said. "Nice view, by the way."
The startled Corellian hurriedly pushed himself out from under the bed, and jumped to his feet upon seeing Leia standing behind him, leaning against the doorframe. Her right hand was holding a lightsaber, and in her left hand she was casually flipping a gold credit chip. "Err.. where's Chewie?"
"I saw him hurrying out of the ship as I was coming on," Leia said. "Maybe he was looking for a mouse-trap."
"Why, um, are you here?"
"I've come to ask you a question."
Han felt confused and suspicious. "Yeah? What?"
"You told Luke that you weren't having an affair with Padmé. You told Obi-Wan that you weren't having an affair with Padmé. When were you planning on telling me?"
"Would you have believed me?"
"Of course," Leia said somberly. "Why would an intelligent woman, with a royal pedigree no less, want to be seen with a scruffy looking nerfherder?"
"Hey!" Han protested. "Who's scuffy looking? I'll have you know that I've got some good points."
"I must admit that I noticed those points when you were bent over. So I suppose that answers my own question of why an intelligent woman would want to be seen with you." Leia stepped forward, moving closer to Han, and deliberately dropped the gold credit, noticing that he kept his eyes focused on her instead of watching where the credit rolled. "You just passed my test, Flyboy."
She reached up, and pulled his head down to hers. Just before she kissed him, Leia replied, "This test."
Luke watched with his family, Han and the Jedi as the small, two-man transport left the base, and headed toward Corusant with its cargo. "Are you certain that was a good idea?"
His mother nodded affirmatively. "I tried sending a holo-transmission last time. He could have thought it was merely a Rebel trap, and the woman in the holo was an imposter."
"Technically, this is a Rebel trap," Obi-Wan pointed out to the former Naboo senator.
Padmé refused to dwell on the truth of the Jedi's statement. "This idea will work."
"Threepio isn't exactly the bravest droid in the galaxy," Leia said. She put her arm around Han's waist in a gesture of affection, and waited for her mother's reaction. Padmé immediately noticed, but made no comment.
"I gotta agree with the kid," Han added, looping his own arm over Leia's shoulders. "If anyone can mess things up, it'll be Goldenrod."
"Artoo is with him," Padmé stated. "He won't fail."
"Still, sneaking into the Imperial Palace, locating Vader and handing him the disk in person? You might be expecting too much."
"Poor Threepio," Leia said with a sigh. "He was so unhappy about doing this."
"Can you blame him?" Han asked with a short laugh. "Vader will probably dismantle him on the spot."
"No, he won't do that," Padmé replied. "He's the one that built Threepio."
"I can believe it," Han said. "Only someone devious and downright mean could've built a droid that annoying."
Luke and Leia were completely astonished. "Are you serious?" Luke managed to stutter. "He actually built Threepio?"
"And from only a collection of spare parts," Obi-Wan answered. "He was quite the boy prodigy. Anakin was also very fond of that astromech, Artoo."
"I've had Vader's droids as my personal assistants since childhood?" Leia asked with a stunned gasp.
"Calm down," Obi-Wan told the twins. "Anakin built C-3PO when he was a child, long before the dark side claimed him. There is nothing nefarious about C-3PO, and his memory chips were wiped of this knowledge shortly after you were born."
"Scan the little droid, he might," Yoda warned. "Find information that reveals this plan, he could."
"Neither Artoo nor Threepio has any details concerning this mission in their memory banks," Padmé insisted. "It's perfectly safe sending them, and once Anakin sees them, he'll know it's truly me that's sending the messages. He'll come this time, I'm certain."
Coruscant, several days later
The two droids headed closer to the looming Imperial Palace. "I know droids are considered expendable," Threepio whined to his companion, "but wouldn't you think our years of loyalty would have earned us something besides being sent to our doom?"
Artoo gave a toodle, and continued to roll along.
"You think this is exciting?" Threepio asked, sounding incredulous. "For all the circuits inside of me, I will never understand you. In the first place, we will never be able to get inside the Palace. Even if we attempt this folly, we are certain to be disintegrated by some trigger-happy stormtrooper. Why, they are even faster to blast without first asking questions than Captain Solo!"
"A plan? You have a plan?" Threepio questioned. "Whatever this plan is, I am positive it will not work."
"Well, no," Threepio said, sounding put out. "I have not considered how to get inside. Besides, I suppose it doesn't matter if we have a plan, or not. Either way, we are doomed."
If Artoo had the means to do so, he would have clobbered the protocol droid on top of his golden dome. Instead, he led the woebegone Threepio toward the 'service entrance', located far from the grand entryway that the various dignitaries and parasitic lackeys of Palpatine entered and exited on a daily basis. The little droid rolled to a stop, and gave a soft whistle.
Threepio leaned down to listen. "You want me to distract the guard? That will be rather dangerous! What, exactly, will you be doing while I risk my precious limbs?"
"Ah, plugging into a circuit control panel, and entering an order to allow us inside. I see." Threepio considered the plan. "What if I can't distract the guard long enough?"
"Fine, then," Threepio said, huffily. "I am well aware you are fast. But what if the guard -."
Artoo gave a loud, disgusted raspberry noise, and rolled away from the protocol droid before Threepio finished his sentence.
"How rude!" Threepio cried out, hurrying after Artoo. "I was just trying to help us plan for any unexpected contingencies."
The service entrance came into view much faster than Threepio desired, but he gamely marched forward, waving his arms to attract the stormtrooper's attention while Artoo, using the shadows as cover, moved closer to the guardhouse. The little droid waited until the stormtrooper noticed Threepio and headed off, then quickly rolled next to the terminal and extended his 'arm' to plug himself into the control panel.
"Hello, good sir!" Threepio shouted unnecessarily loud. "Is this the correct entrance?"
"The correct entrance for what?" the trooper asked, annoyed at the interruption. A good smashball game was currently playing on the holo-vid, and he was missing the final few minutes.
"Well, uh, the correct entrance for protocol droids," Threepio replied lamely, not having thought this conversation through beyond waving his arms.
"Where are you from?"
"Aldfranistan? Never heard of it. Where's it located?"
"No, just plain old Franistan," Threepio corrected. "Franistan is a planet, a beautiful planet I might add, where droids are treated as well as soft-tissued beings. It's just past Dantooine, and everyone is happy and contented, and war is unheard of."
"Sounds wonderful," the stormtrooper said, bored. "If it's so wonderful, why are you here?"
"Good question," Threepio responded, trying to crane his neck to see if Artoo was done. "It seems that the Emperor is interested in Franistan becoming part of the Empire, and the Maharincess of Franistan has come here to … to inform the Emperor that she's not interested. In joining the Empire, that is."
"Like Palpatine will care about her opinion," the trooper muttered, his mind still back on his smashball game.
"Exactly!" Threepio beamed. "And that's why I am here. I am a protocol droid, and fluent in over twelve million forms of communications - ."
"I don't care."
"No, I am certain you do not, but since the Maharincess of Franistan cannot speak Basic, she requires my assistance to plead her case to Emperor Palpatine. So that's why I am here, you see. To interpret the Maharincess's pleas."
"Why didn't you just go in the front gate with her?"
"Oh, you want an answer," Threepio said, shifting nervously. "She's the Maharincess, and as such, she is required to make her grand entrance alone. Yes, that seems like a good reason. It's tradition on Franistan for the Maharincess to enter negotiations by herself. So we are required to enter in a different door, since we are not royalty."
"Who's this 'we'?"
Artoo had rolled up behind the guard, and gave a loud beep, making the trooper jump. "That's my counterpart, Artoo. He's the Maharincess's pet droid." Artoo let out a low, warning warble, which Threepio ignored. "So, could you please allow us to enter, sir?"
"I'll have to check and see if you've been cleared."
"Good idea!" Threepio said as the trooper headed back to the guardhouse. "You do that, sir! I'm certain you will find everything is in proper order for our clearance." He looked down at Artoo. "Right, Artoo?"
The little droid swiveled his dome, so as not to look at Threepio. "What are you mad about?" Threepio asked, puzzled. "I did exactly as you requested."
He stopped arguing as the guard waved them forward, and the gate rolled open. "You're all clear. Now get inside and go find your Maharincess. My game went into overtime."
The two droids hustled into the Palace walls, and headed toward the back door. "See?" Threepio said smugly. "I told you my plan would work."
The Jedi had always preached that embracing the dark side was easier than the path of the light. Now that he had lived both sides, Darth Vader wasn't too sure that was completely true. Sure, it was always easier to get angry, and embrace the rage that came with anger, than it was to remain calm and forgive stupidity and incompetence. But was the aftermath of rage easier to live with than the inner peace that accompanied charity? The rage ate away like a disease at his insides, causing his heart to race and his blood pressure to skyrocket. Crushing the trachea of a simpering fool and watching the lifeless body fall to the floor only brought the briefest moment of satisfaction. The continual state of fury that Vader lived and breathed was draining. Kneeling at Palpatine's feet, head bowed, infuriated the Sith Lord. Wasn't he the Chosen One? Why was he the one on bended knee? Why didn't the old Sith die, and leave Vader as the rightful Emperor? And why, oh why, did his Master lie to him, and tell him Padmé was dead?
Inside the meditation chamber, Vader shook his head. No, he amended mentally, his Master would not lie to him. Padmé was dead, and that message was only a sick, perverted ruse by the Rebels to entrap him. That was what Palpatine had told Vader, when he had presented the Emperor with the holo-message. Vader had suspected as much, but it had bothered him a great deal that Palpatine had thrown back his head and laughed until his spittle had rained down on Vader's mask. The Emperor had mocked his Second-in-Command, calling him weak and belittling the Rebel woman in the message, calling her 'an ugly shrew' and 'a harlot for the Rebellion.'
But the woman in the holo was far from ugly, and her resemblance to his deceased wife was uncanny. And Vader could not stop thinking about her, and wondering that perhaps it was Padmé. That thought, however, also enraged Vader, since the idea that she would hide from him, and keep his child from him, was abhorrent. His reverie was interrupted by the soft sound of a chime, indicating someone was waiting outside his private quarters. The Dark Lord felt the familiar stirrings of his temper rise, but struggled for control as he lowered the helmet back in place, and opened his meditation chamber. The fool stormtroopers knew better than to interrupt this private time. Whoever caused this intrusion had better hope it was worth paying the ultimate price.
Seething, Vader mentally reached outward, trying to sense who dared disturb a Sith Lord, but he could not sense anyone at the door, even as the offending chime sounded a second time. Using the Force, Vader opened the door from a distance, while keeping one cybernetic hand grasped firmly around the hilt of his lightsaber.
Outside, in the hallway, were two droids. Even though nearly twenty years had passed since he'd last seen them, Darth Vader immediately recognized the astromech and the protocol droids.
"Hello?" the ever-nervous Threepio asked. "May we enter your humble abode, Lord Vader?"
The Sith's first inclination was to crush the internal circuitry of both droids with the Force, then have his technicians pry important information from the memory chips. Instead, he felt torn by the unfamiliar sensation of indecision, and remained silent as he regarded the droids from his distant past. A past where he was young, whole, and in love. Now he couldn't remember what love had felt like, for the dark side only allowed hate to take its place in his heart. Do I have a flesh and blood heart, he wondered, or was it only metal and wires, like my arms and legs?
Threepio shuffled on his feet, and looked down at Artoo. "They didn't tell us he was unable to speak."
"Then why isn't he speaking?" Threepio asked, waving his hand toward the Sith as he shuffled into the room. "Perhaps he has a bad case of laryngitis. Do Sith Lords catch viruses?" He tilted his head, regarding the still-as-a-statue Darth Vader. "I have often wondered why humans refer to becoming ill as 'catching' something. Catching implies they attempted to deliberately become ill, which makes no sense at all."
The Sith finally spoke, "You are just as onerous as when I first assembled you."
Following the protocol droid into the room, Artoo gave an affirmative beep to this comment just as Threepio stumbled to a halt a few feet in front of the Sith Lord. "Ah, so you can vocalize! That is most fortunate, but did I hear you correctly? You claim to have assembled me? I do not recall this event."
"Are you questioning the veracity of my statement?"
Threepio was aware that his words could affect his self-preservation. "Um, no, Sir. I would never doubt anything you said."
"That would be wise. How did you get past security?"
"Using my brilliant plan, Artoo and I were able to sneak past the guard at the outer gate. I am loathe to admit that once inside no one noticed us. Of course, being droids, that is hardly unusual. Humans seem to think we are no more than machines, and if we are noticed at all it is because someone requires our assistance."
"Why are you here?" Vader rumbled.
"We have been sent on this modest, yet incredibly daring if I do say so myself, mission by Mistress Padmé Amidala," Threepio said, turning to address the small droid. "Give the Dark Lord the message, Artoo."
Artoo tilted slightly, and illuminated a holo-projection of the same woman who had sent the previous message a few short months ago.
"Hello again, Ani. I received your reply to my last communication, and I was disappointed in your response, to say the least. I am aware that you must have mixed feelings about the fact that I am alive. By sending C-3PO and R2-D2 to deliver this message perhaps you will realize that I am telling you the truth. And even if you believed it was me last time, and that your reply that you no longer love me is factual, I am hoping that my latest plea will convince you to come to Myrkr."
The elegant woman stepped slightly aside, and two more people entered into view. One was an earnest young man with blond hair and blue eyes, and the other was a somber young woman with dark hair and dark eyes. The ill-at-ease young woman looked strikingly familiar, and Vader strained to remember where he had seen her. The older woman continued, "Allow me to introduce your children, Ani. This is your son, Luke, and your daughter, Leia. As you can see, Leia strongly resembles me, and your son takes after you, before you… when you were younger."
Beneath his mask, Vader grimaced at Padmé's slight misstep. Before I became a monster. That's what you meant to say, isn't it?
"Please, Ani, listen to me. Come to Myrkr, and we can become a family, the family we should have been, before events and people prevented us from doing so. Even if you feel nothing for me, your children are here…waiting to meet you. And even if you feel nothing for me, know that I still deeply care for you."
The transmission from the astromech ended, and Artoo gave a sad warble.
The Sith remained silent, and long minutes went by. Finally Threepio piped up, "We've successfully completed our mission, Artoo, so we should take our leave before we wear out our welcome." He twisted his head to look at Vader. "It was certainly nice meeting you, Sir Vader. I must say that the rumors regarding the evilness of Sith Lords seems overstated, as you have been nothing short of polite to us, even if you have been rather quiet. But then, it has been my experience that most humans are far too verbose, and most of the time add nothing of value to the conversation. Take, for instance, Mistress Padmé's paramour, Captain Solo. Now there is a man that I will never…"
"What did you just say?" Vader roared out, interrupting Threepio's babbling.
"That humans talk too much?"
"No! About Mistress Padmé having a paramour!"
"Oh, yes, that part. Well, that is rather an interesting story, even if it appears on the surface to be a bit risqué," Threepio said, unaware of how close the Sith Lord was to dismembering him with a lightsaber. "Captain Solo and Mistress Padmé both claimed to be involved with one another. Then Captain Solo apparently took an interest in Mistress Leia, and tried to say he and Mistress Padmé were never involved in the first place. Master Luke took that news quite badly, as he struck Captain Solo in the face, and there was an altercation -"
The golden droid flew backwards as if he were struck with incredible force by an invisible hand. He hit the far wall, and left a deep indention as his metal body slid down, his amber eyes dimming before turning dark.
Artoo gave a frightened toodle, and trembled on his wheels as Vader reached down, then removed the holo-disc from its slot. The Sith Lord regarded the tiny disc as he held it between his gloved fingers. I should have gone to her when she contacted me the first time, Vader thought darkly. She would never have taken another man as her lover. Vader stalked past the little droid and left the room, his black cape billowing in his wake.
When it became apparent the Sith was not returning anytime soon, Artoo wheeled over to Threepio who was leaning against the wall, arms and legs akimbo. With his 'arm', Artoo gave his friend a poke. Threepio's body clunked over with a loud crash, and Artoo gave a 'hushing' coo. The little droid rotated his dome back and forth, then extended his claw to grasp Threepio's ankle. With great effort, the little droid tugged his friend out of the room and down the lengthy corridor. It was going to be a long trip back to their ship.