Warning! This was a very unpopular story. I removed it from most boards, so read at your own risk.
Relative Force, Part II
Tralus, one year later.....
The alcohol took away the pain. The pain of the memory of an unfaithful husband, the pain of the loss of her beloved son, the pain of losing everything she held dear, especially her status. At least that was what Euridice kept telling herself as she poured another generous glass of whiskey. Years ago, she'd openly sneer at people who drank anything but wine or brandy. Whiskey was for street bums, losers. She would bet Han Solo loves Corellian whiskey.
Euridice picked up a news flimsy, her hand shaking so hard she could barely read the words. Yesterday, the CEO of Sollon Enterprises, President Lando Calrissian, reported record profits for the Corellia-based business. "Stockholders will be seeing the value of their shares increase dramatically," Calrissian stated, obviously pleased with his first year running the billion credit corporation.
She threw the flimsy aside, unable to read further. Those record profits would not help her a bit. The fifty million her back-stabbing son had condescended to give her had increased in value, of course. Euridice wasn't a fool, and she had hired a well-respected investment counselor. But she'd been given no stock in Sollon Enterprises, except what she'd purchased herself. It had galled her to have to buy stock in a company that was rightfully hers. It was even worse to watch others - especially that so-called Princess - givve Sollon wealth to every charity that approached her with outstretched, grubby hands.
The older woman took a large swallow, feeling the amber liquid burning down her throat. The Alderaanian woman was obviously an idiot, and so was her son. What else could explain why the Princess continued to work at a low-paying, low-glamour ambassador job? What could explain why her son and his trophy wife continued to live in the same apartment on Coruscant, when they could afford to buy the entire building? Why would her son continue to fly around in that hunk of junk when Sollon Enterprises built some of the best freighters in the galaxy? In her mind, it made no sense they gave millions to strangers, while continuing to live like paupers and slave away at worthless, and in Hannibal's case, dangerous occupations. She shook her head in disgust. If Hannibal got killed playing General for the New Republic, his wife would completely ruin Sollon Enterprises.
Even though it was still morning, Euridice headed up the wide spiral staircase toward her bedroom to take a nap. Only when she slept between her five-hundred-credit sheets could she forget about how cruel and unjust her life had turned out.
Corellia, Sollon Estate
Corran Horn and Luke Skywalker parried and slashed, using the Force to anticipate the other's move. After long minutes, Corran finally made a mistake, allowing Luke to get under his defenses, and the green blade hummed inches from his neck. Grinning, Corran turned off his lightsaber. "I never can win, can I?"
"Never," Luke agreed with a laugh, also turning off his weapon. "The student can't become better than the teacher."
Sitting on a bench in the corner of what used to be a large exercise room, Luke's students, which now included Cilghal, Tionne, Streen, and Dorsk-81 along with Quentin, applauded loudly at the lightsaber demonstration. "That's the way to show him, Master Luke," Quentin called out. "Only one day I'm going to beat you in a lightsaber practice."
"The kid doesn't lack self-confidence, does he?" Corran said.
"He's a Sollon," Luke pointed out, swiping at his forehead.
Quentin jumped off the bench, and sauntered over to the two Jedi. "Master Luke? I've decided I'd like to change my name."
That surprised Luke. "Really? Why?"
"I'd like to honor my great-uncle, Qui-Gon Jinn, by changing my name to Qui-Gon, and since Han legally changed his name to Solo, I'd like to be known as Qui-Gon Solo, Jedi Knight."
"You're still jumping ahead of yourself with the Jedi title," Luke admonished lightly.
Corran looked at Luke. "Han changed his name?"
Luke nodded. "He would have felt uncomfortable going back to Sollon, and he hated the name Hannibal. Right before his wedding he legally changed it."
"I was wondering why your sister went by Organa-Solo, instead of Organa-Sollon."
"That's why," Luke explained, then looked back at Quentin. "I don't see anything wrong with honoring both Qui-Gon and Han."
"Good," Quentin said, smiling broadly. "I'm going to tell Han first thing when I see him tomorrow. He's still coming, isn't he?"
"Of course," Luke said. "He and Leia are taking you with them when they visit the Hapans. You'd better be on your best behavior, Qui-Gon. This trip is important to the future of the New Republic."
The boy puffed out his chest. "I'll make you proud of me, Master Luke. I'll represent the Jedi to the best of my ability." With that, he ran off to join the other trainees for levitation practice.
Corran folded his arms across his chest. "Two male Solos. Representing the Jedi and the New Republic to a matriarchal society. Do I sense a disaster lurking on the horizon?"
"Leia will keep them in line," Luke said, trying to sound sincere.
"Do you really, truly believe that's possible?"
The Jedi's shoulders slumped. "No. It's completely impossible, unless she ties them both up and locks them in the closet."
Onboard the Millennium Falcon, en route to Corellia
Leia watched as Chewie frowned in concentration, rechecking the controls. He gave a series of barks downward, toward the open panels in the floor. A moment later, Han's voice called up from the twisting interior of the ship's belly. "Try it again."
The Wookiee pressed a button, and a spark crackled across the panel. A louder sizzle could be heard from under the floor, followed by a series of Corellian curse words.
"Are you okay?" Leia called down in mild concern.
"Define 'okay,'" Han replied shortly.
"Nothing bleeding, hair still straight...?"
"Yeah," he grumbled. "Then I'm fine. Try again, Chewie."
*Are you sure?* the Wookiee barked out.
Threepio felt he was silent for too long. "General Solo, perhaps Chewbacca is correct. You might damage your circuits if he turns on the power again."
"Just do it!"
Sighing, Chewie pressed the button a second time, and this time the Falcon's heating system responded by actually blowing warm air. *It's working.*
Han's face appeared, covered with grease and sweat. "Never doubt my abilities, pal."
As Chewie helped his partner up, Leia looked at Han's dirty clothes. "We could have taken the Alderaan," she pointed out. "My ship never has these problems."
"Your ship doesn't have enough fire-power or weapons. Besides, they're not problems," Han responded indignantly. "The Falcon is like a woman.... if you don't pay her enough attention, she gets a bit tempermental."
"Is that what you call it?" She shook her head in dismay. "I've read articles that claim the reason you still fly the Falcon is because I won't allow you to get a new ship."
"Allow?" Han asked, raising an eyebrow as Chewie woofed in laughter.
"Exactly. People think I control the credits. Your credits! Isn't that enough to make you want to go buy the most expensive Corellian freighter on the market?"
"Sollon Enterprises makes ships - I wouldn't have to actually buy one. If you're trying to use reverse psychology on me to get me a new ship, forget it. It ain't gonna work. I love my ship, and none of those shiny new models even tempt me."
Leia sighed. "Well, it was worth a try."
Han grinned and tried to put his arms around Leia, only to have her push him away. "You're filthy."
"Filthy rich," Han answered with a smirk, not giving up.
"If money is all you love..." Leia started to say, before she was cut off with a kiss. She backed away, her nose wrinkled in disgust. "Go take a shower."
*I'll second that,* Chewie agreed sincerely. *A very cold shower.*
"I do not believe cold water removes soil any better than hot water, Chewbacca," Threepio said, in his never-ending attempt to be helpful.
"That's not what he meant," Leia said.
"It's not?" Threepio asked, sounding confused. "I never know what anyone is talking about."
Euridice opened her eyes, trying to focus on the chrono. It was the middle of the afternoon, and her head was pounding with the after-effects of a hang-over. Groaning, she pushed herself into an upright position, and gasped in shock when she saw someone sitting in a chair next to her bed. After a second, Euridice tried to pull out a drawer, fumbling around for her small blaster. It wasn't there, and the intruder laughed.
"Do you really think if I wanted you dead, that you would have awakened from your nap?"
The voice sounded vaguely familiar. "Who are you?" Euridice demanded, her fear fading as she became indignant over the stranger's appearance. "How did you get past my security?"
"Your security is a joke," the female voice responded. "I could get inside this place sleepwalking."
"Lights!" Euridice snapped, squinting when the room brightened. Then she recognized her visitor. "Jade."
The older woman climbed out of bed, pushing her dyed-black hair off her face. "I've been trying to contact you for the past year."
"I've been busy."
"Busy? Doing what?"
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," Mara replied simply and quite truthfully, remembering that was the same answer she'd given Quentin when he had asked for her name.
"Don't threaten me, missy," Euridice said tightly. "I've paid you good money for the jobs I've hired you to do."
"I did my part. It wasn't my fault things didn't turn out the way you wanted. Both times."
"Nevertheless, I need your services again."
"I'm sure you've kept up on my son's mishandling of Sollon Enterprises - "
"Mishandling? I've read the financial reports," Mara interrupted. "It's doing better than ever."
"If I'm not reaping the profits, then what do I care how well the company is doing?" Euridice said shortly. "And that brings up the reason I wish to utilize your services again. I want you to go to Corellia, and first dispose of Lando Calrissian, the man Hannibal hired as CEO. That should disrupt things nicely."
"Corellia?" The redhead smiled in anticipation. "That's where the Jedi Academy is located."
"Yes. In my house, of all places! I want those Jedi evicted."
"So that's the second part of my job?"
"Yes. Do whatever it takes, but get them out of my house. Even if you have to burn the place to the ground doing it. If I can't have it, then no one can." She shrugged. "I can always rebuild it anyway, the way I want it to be. That's what insurance is for."
"I think I'm going to like this job."
"I'm glad," Euridice replied. "And while you're doing that, my son and his wife will be meeting an untimely end in the Hapes system."
"The Hapes system?"
"Yes. You really need to keep up with current events," Euridice admonished the assassin. "Ambassador Organa-Solo and her husband are making a diplomatic trip to Hapes. I have a very close friend that arranged for this misson. She promised to deal with General and Ambassador Solo." The older woman smiled. "Once my son and his wife are dead, custody of Quentin will revert back to Chirlyn. And Quentin will be the sole heir to Sollon Enterprises."
Jade nodded in understanding. "And if something terrible should happened to his mother, you'd be the last living relative, and you'd get custody."
"You are a very bright girl, Jade."
Luke watched as the Millennium Falcon landed near the huge estate, and Quentin jumped up and down in excitement. After a year of training, this would be the boy's first trip without Luke. It wasn't that Luke didn't trust his sister or Han, but he couldn't shake his sense of unease, much like when he'd watch monster dust-storms gather in the distance while he grew up on Tatooine. The Force was warning him of imminent danger. However, keeping Quentin from leaving would not prevent the storm's approach.
The Princess ran down the ramp, throwing her arms around Luke and kissing his cheek. "I've missed you."
"Takin' good care of things around here, Luke?" Han called out as he followed his wife down the ramp. He gave Quentin a hug, then slapped Luke on the back in affection.
The Jedi nodded, smiling as Chewie and Threepio exited.
"Artoo!" Threepio called out, waving his arm. "I do believe I have missed you, if that emotion is possible for a droid."
The astromech gave a series of beeps and turned to leave, while Threepio followed behind. "What do you mean, you have been too busy to miss me? Apparently, our friendship is one-sided, you ungrateful little number spewer."
"I've gotten real good with a lightsaber," Quentin said, ignoring the droids. "Do you want me to show you?"
"Sure, kid," Han replied.
"Right after lunch," Luke said. "Then you can give them a demostration."
"I still have that purple lightsaber," the boy informed them. "When Master Luke thinks I'm ready, he'll let me build my own."
"Which is a few years away yet," Luke reminded him.
"Everything takes so long," Quentin grumbled. "Grownups are lucky."
"Ya think so?" Han drawled. "Just wait until you're an adult. You'll change your tune."
"Patience is an important part of being a Jedi," Luke told the boy. "Building your own lightsaber is the final test."
"I know," Quentin said, then rushed toward the house. "Come on.... hurry."
"Kid been giving you a hard time?" Han asked, amused.
"No... he's doing fine. His biggest problem is he always wants to rush things." Luke shook his head ruefully. "Yoda said the same thing about me."
"But look how good you turned out," Leia pointed out, putting her arm around Luke's waist and shepherding him toward the mansion.
As they headed inside, Luke looked up at the clear sky. The storm was getting closer.
The small group of Jedi, along with Han, Leia and Chewie, sat around the huge formal dining table in the Sollon mansion as they ate lunch. Finally, Quentin looked across the table at his foster father. "Han? I forgot to tell you earlier. I'm going to change my name to Qui-Gon Solo." The boy grinned at Han's surprised expression. "If that's alright with you, of course. Since you're my dad, and all."
Corran Horn raised his eyebrows, and glanced over at Master Luke. Like everyone else in the galaxy, he'd watched the holo-conference given by Han Solo and Leia Organa shortly after the news broke that Quentin Sollon was the General's son. During the conference, Quentin and Han had remained silent while Leia had done most of the initial speaking, standing next to her fiance as he was bombarded with dozens of mostly inane questions after her speech was completed. "You never knew you had a son?" Leia had made it clear moments earlier he hadn't. "The mother is giving up complete custody?" This was after Han had just finished answering 'yes' to the question, "Do you now have full legal custody?" It had gone on in that manner for nearly ten minutes, and Corran remembered he had become concerned with the physical well-being of the holoshills, since Han's face grew red, and his knuckles were turning white as he gripped his blaster handle. Fortunately, the ex-smuggler had restrained his urge to start randomly shooting the idiots.
The Princess and Solo had been frequent visitors during the past year to the Jedi Academy, always spending time with Quentin, taking him out to holoshows, or amusement parks. And Quentin had never said anything to Corran to indicate Han Solo wasn't his father. But Corran had spent a great deal of his life studying faces, and watching for tiny clues. Although he was unable to say precisely why, the ex-CorSec officer somehow sensed a cover-up. Sure, the boy looked like Han... he even acted like him in many ways, much more than he acted like Reginald, and Corran had known Reginald Sollon quite well; he had even considered the man his best friend for a time. He could easily believe the basically good-hearted Quentin wasn't Reginald's off-spring. Why then couldn't he accept the boy as Han Solo's son?
It was little comments like the one Quentin made just now, when he said, 'since you're my dad, and all.' The way Quentin verbalized the remark, like it was some inside secret that needed to be said with a wink. He watched Han's reaction to the boy's declaration of wanting to change his last name to Solo. That, too, was telling.
"Are you sure?" Han finally managed to ask the boy. "You certainly can keep the last name 'Sollon' if you want to. I won't be offended, you know."
"I don't think that's Quentin's, um, I mean, Qui-Gon's intent, Han," Luke explained. "He wants to honor both Qui-Gon Jinn, and his father. That's you."
Han looked flustered, but pleased. "Sure.... sure, kid. You know I'd feel honored. Thanks."
"We'd be thrilled for you to share our last name, Qui-Gon," Leia added.
The young boy nodded, happy with the reaction of his parents. And Corran added this conversation as another reason he felt he was missing something.
Luke waved as the old freighter lifted off, taking his family off toward the distant Hapan worlds.
"They have a pretty good record of taking care of themselves," Corran commented from behind his shoulder.
The Jedi turned to face his student. "I know. But I still can't help worrying."
"Your Force-sense is telling you they're headed into trouble," Corran said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes. But there is danger here on Corellia, too."
"I think your Jedi students can handle anyone that dares to attack this place."
Luke frowned at this comment. "We must not think we're invulnerable, Corran. That attitude led to the defeat of the old Republic, and it can lead to our downfall as well."
"I'm sorry, Master," Corran apologized immediately. "Did you warn your family?"
"Of course. Well, I told Leia about it, anyway. Han's always harder to convince, since he thinks a good blaster is a better ally than the Force," Luke said.
Corran smiled. "It might be a better idea to worry about the Hapans. They've never had to deal with a Solo before. Their culture may never recover from the shock."
Sollon Enterprise's Headquarters, next day
Lando rubbed his tired eyes as he stared at his computer screen. Managing dozens of companies, all controlled by the Sollon parent corporation, wasn't an easy job. Still, Lando Calrissian enjoyed the challenge, and being CEO of a billion-credit corporation did wonders for his ego. The past year proved he was more than up for the task, since he'd increased earnings by almost ten percent. And this was even after Leia insisted he sell military space-craft to the New Republic for a discount. Keeping everyone happy was his job, and he knew Han was paying him well to do it. A base salary of seven hundred thousand credits a year, with bonuses tied to company performance. Lando knew he'd easily clear a million and a half this year. He shut his eyes for a moment, fantasizing about the month-long vacation he was planning to a tropical system... with lots of beautiful women, of course.
He was still smiling, picturing bronze-colored, glitzy females holding colorful cocktails when a cold blaster nozzle jabbed him in his neck. Slowly, Lando opened his eyes and found himself staring up at a beautiful green-eyed woman, minus the cocktail. "Why is it something always goes wrong with my daydreams?"
"I prefer to think of myself as your worst nightmare," came the woman's fast reply.
"How did you get past Sollon security?" Calrissian questioned, trying to move his hand toward an alarm button.
Mara Jade narrowed her eyes, firing inches in front of the man's fingers, and destroying the button. Her assignment had been clear - kill the man, then head over to the estate and try to eliminate the Jedi. She knew that she was expected to kill as many of the trainees as possible, but not Quentin. Mara had no doubt that she'd be able to kill at least a few of the lesser trained - she was far less certain about her ability to kill Skywalker.
The Emperor's last order had dimmed somewhat since her encounter on Coruscant, no doubt the result of Skywalker's speech about where she drew her line. Finding out the young Jedi was Vader's offspring had shocked the assassin, and made her consider the possibility that Palpatine's final decree was nothing more than bitter revenge directed toward Darth Vader. Questioning Palpatine's command made Jade feel queasy. Could she disobey her Master? And if she did, what did that imply about Palpatine's other orders she had carried out without question. It was easier to not consider that, and do as she was told - Kill Luke Skywalker.
Calrissian was a friend of Skywalker's, and Jade knew the Jedi well enough to anticipate he would launch a rescue attempt, just like he had done for Quentin the year before. But Jade had to be very, very careful. She could not risk taking on more than one Jedi at a time. "If you're interested in living, you'll do exactly what I tell you, Calrissian."
"I'm very interested in living," Lando replied, rubbing his singed fingertips.
"Then you will slowly walk me out to your landspeeder," the woman ordered. "You will act like I'm a new girlfriend, and if anyone asks, you're taking me to lunch. If I even suspect you're trying to signal for assistance, I'll kill you, and then I'll kill whoever is standing in my way. Do you understand?"
Calrissian took a deep breath. "Perfectly."
"Very good," Jade said, watching carefully as Calrissian stood and offered her his arm. Moving close to him, she jammed the barrel into his side, covering the weapon with his cape. She didn't intend for one second to actually allow Calrissian to survive, even if he obeyed her every order.
The veiled Queen Mother of Hapes sat on her throne, holding her head rigid as she listened to her Chief Deputy introduce Ambassador Organa-Solo, General Solo and his illegitimate offspring. It wasn't unusual on the Hapan worlds for the upper crust of society to have illegitimate children - it just wasn't something you publicly acknowledged. And if the child, or the child's parent, tried staking a claim for money, you simply eliminated the problem. The Queen could understand Euridice's desire to reclaim her financial status, but she could not understand why the child was being protected. Ta'a Chume had not expected the boy's arrival, and it annoyed her she had not been informed. It would certainly make eliminating Solo and his wife more difficult if she had to ensure the boy's safety.
She watched as the former Alderaanian Princess gave a formal, well-practiced bow, and sized up the petite female. She was rather attractive, and had been trained as a Royal. Too bad she'd shown such bad judgment in husband material. Given the proper instructions, Organa could have made a decent wife for her son. Maybe she didn't need to actually die, especially if Ta'a Chume could convince her it would be in her best interests to marry Isolder. The Alderaanian would soon become a widow, and Isolder could offer her far more wealth than the Sollon fortune. Yes, she thought in happiness. This could all work out wonderfully, if the Princess was a reasonable woman.
Then the boy, who claimed his name was Qui-Gon (didn't Euridice say it was Quentin? the Queen wondered) gave a jaunty salute as he was introduced. If he were a Hapan male, Ta'a Chume would have had him beaten on the spot for insolence. When the Deputy said the General's name, the older Corellian gave a curt nod. Obviously, the boy took after his father, the Queen decided. It would give her great pleasure to kill the off-worlder male. Perhaps she would even teach him proper respect before she had him executed. That thought pleased her, and under her veil she smiled in anticipation.
"Welcome to Hapes, my dear," Ta'a Chume said formally. "I hope you find your stay pleasant and fruitful."
Leia nodded. "Thank you, Queen Mother. I'm certain our governments have many things in common, and I'll do my best to work toward an agreement that's mutually satisfactory."
"I am quite certain that will be the case."
Strapped to a co-pilot's seat and with his hands bound behind his back, Lando wished he could mop the perspiration off his forehead. He had been ushered out of the office, and into a landspeeder, then driven to a spaceport. The ship he was now sitting in was spacious and quite fancy. "One of ours," he finally worked up the nerve to state.
The woman's head whipped around from her task of punching in a series of numbers. "What?"
"This freighter. It's one of Sollon Enterprise's. The Quality Starliner division. They manufacture our top-of-the-line personal spaceships. For the discriminating buyer. That's what the advertisement says." He stopped speaking as the redhead glared at him. "Did you name her? The ship, I mean?"
"Is that because you have such beautiful, firey green eyes?"
"Do those lines actually impress women?" she wanted to know, then turned her face away before he could answer.
Lando watched in silence as she continued her preflight programming, until the ship started lifting off. "Where are we going? Someplace with beaches, I hope."
"In a few minutes, you're going to be sending a message to Luke Skywalker," the woman stated. "If you make any comment outside asking for Skywalker, I'll take my blaster and shoot you in your knee. Do you understand?"
"Luke again, huh?"
"What does that mean?"
"Well, for such an innocent sand farmer, he sure makes nasty enemies. There doesn't happen to be a carbon freezing chamber where we're going, is there?"
"You're really starting to annoy me, Calrissian." She nodded at the communication panel, then pointed her blaster at his chest. "What's the private code to Sollon Estate?"
"Why should I help - " Before Lando could finish his sentence, the blaster was lowered and a beam flashed out, striking his knee. "AARGHH!!"
"Would you like me to repeat the question?"
"N...no.." Lando gasped, his face contorted with pain. "12-62-38-44."
"Very good," the woman said. "You get Skywalker on the comm, and make sure he's alone in the room. Do you understand?"
The redhead punched in the numbers, and soon the holo-image of a droid appeared. "DeeSeven, it's Lando. I need to speak to Luke. Privately."
"Master Skywalker is currently in meditation..."
The droid drew back, managing to look startled. "Yes, Baron Calrissian."
After long minutes, Luke's face appeared. "Lando? What's the matter?"
Reaching over, the woman turned the screen to show her face. "Skywalker. I have your friend, and his life depends on your ability to follow instructions."
"It's Jade to you."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to give me another opportunity to avenge my Master. This time on my terms."
"I'm listening," Luke said quietly.
Throwing his satchel on the huge bed, Han began rummaging through his belongings. "Does Ta'a Chume remind you of anyone, Princess?"
"What do you mean? She seems like a very sweet lady," Leia replied coyly, watching as Han took out a small device, then started slowly and methodically moving around the gilt-covered room. The Hapans seemed to take great pride in covering nearly everything in a layer of glistening gold metal, and studded with flashy gemstones. Leia wondered if the palace decorator's bad taste extended to the regular people. Somehow, she doubted it.
"Yeah, you're right. I'm sure she'll be a real asset to the New Republic," Han muttered, pointing to a table lamp next to the bed.
The bedroom door burst open, and Qui-Gon came running in without pausing to knock. "Meeting a real Queen was neat," he exclaimed.
"You're supposed to knock before comin' in here, pal," Han said. "What if you would've caught me and my woman kissin'?"
The boy pretended to gag. "Ew." Leaning forward, he frowned at what Han was doing. "What's that?"
The older man finished placing a small muffling device over the bug before replying. "The lamp has ears."
"He means we were being listened to," Leia explained.
How to explain the constant one-upmanship of politics to a fourteen-year-old? "Qui-Gon, sometimes people pretend to be our friends, and what they're really doing is waiting to see how that friendship can benefit themselves."
Han snorted. "That's putting it nicely."
"So these people are our enemies?" Qui-Gon asked in confusion.
"No," Leia replied. "But we still need to be careful of what we say, and how we act around them."
"That's confusing," he complained.
"Welcome to my galaxy," Han said.
Corran shook his head. "You can't be serious, Master Luke! I won't allow it!"
"Pardon me?" Luke asked, pausing in his packing.
The Corellian flushed, knowing he'd crossed the line. "I just mean, it's a trap."
"I think I'm bright enough to realize that."
"And I think you should at least tell me where you're going, in case you need my help," Corran said.
"I can't tell you. It's part of her list of rules," Luke replied.
"Do you think she's going to play by rules?"
"She'll play by her rules, which I'm sure are subject to constant change." Luke sighed. "You'll have to trust me, Corran. And stay with the other trainees. If something should happen to me - "
"Don't say that, Master!" Corran protested. "Without you, the Jedi will cease to exist."
"I hope that's not the case anymore," Luke said sincerely. "You have more training than I did when Obi-Wan died. Besides, I really do intend to come back alive."
Although Luke didn't say it out loud, he hoped to not only return in one piece, but return with a new student, as well.
Ta'a Chume watched the live-feed holo-vid of the Princess' bedchamber. It annoyed her that Solo had so quickly discovered the audio feed, so the tiny cameras, well hidden among the jewels imbedded in the walls, would have to do. She watched as Organa sat at a dresser, combing her long hair and preparing for the night. The more she watched, the more convinced she was that the Alderaanian female would serve her son well as a wife.
Reaching over, the Queen flipped a switch, taking her view inside the refresher. She leaned back, smiling as the Corellian stepped out of the shower, toweling the water off. Perhaps the Princess wasn't such an idiot, after all. She could see now that the Corellian had his charms, besides being wealthy.
The Queen glanced back at her Deputy, a woman who had served as her confidant for many long years. The Deputy too was appreciating the sight. "Tell me, Canmess'a, does the Hapan mind-wipe work on outsiders?"
The Deputy smiled at her Queen. "You mean like on Corellians... or Alderaanians?"
"We could test it on the male. If he can be reprogrammed, it is very likely it will work on other off-worlders as well."
The older woman watched as Solo pulled on his shorts, then head for the bedroom. "I've always wanted to possess a non-Hapan concubine."
"Yes, I know," Canmess'a agreed. "And Isolder will enjoy the Alderaanian's affections, too."
Onboard Jade's Fire
Lando finished bandaging up his knee, knowing it would take a lot more medical treatment than a strip of cloth to get his leg back in shape. The woman Luke had called Mara sat watching him, her blaster not wavering. "Put those binders back on," she ordered. "And make sure they snap shut."
The former gambler obeyed. At least his wrists were in front of him, instead of behind his back. "So, Miss Jade is it? Can I ask you a question, now that we're safely in hyperspace?"
The woman wasn't much for small talk, that was certain. "I've never heard of this system where you want to meet Luke. Dathomir is it? Where is it located?"
"It's in Imperial-controlled space."
"Ah. Cold? Hot?"
"It has a variety of climates, depending on location and season."
"So.... why have I never heard of it?" Lando prodded.
Jade gave a tight smile. "It was the Emperor's little secret. A system he sent criminals to... when he wanted them to disappear."
"I'm surprised he bothered," Lando remarked, leaning back against the seatback. "Palpatine preferred his enemies dead."
"Sometimes," Jade agreed. "And sometimes he wanted them to suffer. There's a local population of natives that specialize in making Imperial prisoners suffer."
Lando mulled this over, and decided it didn't sound good. "So that's why you want Luke to go there? So he can suffer?"
"There are some people on that system that can be of great assistance to me in dealing with a Jedi. Of course, they'll want compensation for that help. That's where you come in."
"Yes," Jade said, her grin getting wicked. "I think the Nightsisters will find you quite fascinating, Calrissian. I'm sure they've never seen a man dress quite as flamboyantly as you. And they do like the tall, handsome ones."
Lando coughed nervously. "You mean these ladies like, um, men slaves?"
"Slaves.... sacrifices.. whatever." Jade shrugged. "Depends on their mood."
"Great." Lando sincerely hoped Luke had an escape plan figured out by the time they arrived on Dathomir.
Hapes, the next morning
Han put his hands on his hips, standing between his wife and the exit. "I don't like you meeting Ta'a Chume by yourself."
So this was how the day was going to go. Leia sighed. "Han, be reasonable. This is going to be nothing more than a very long, very boring meeting involving politicial negotiations. You'd hate sitting there listening to that. Why, all of a sudden, do you want to come with me?"
"I don't trust these people."
"That's exactly why you shouldn't go. Besides, men aren't allowed in high level negotiations, anyway."
"That annoys the hell outta me, too," Han said with a sniff.
"The fact you're not allowed is what's bothering you," Leia said. "Otherwise, you'd run screaming in the opposite direction from anything that remotely resembles a meeting." She was interrupted from further comment when the buzzer rang. Pushing Han aside, Leia opened the door, and greeted the Chief Deputy. "Hello, Canmess'a. I'm all ready to go."
The pretty, female aide to the Queen nodded. "Yes, I can see that." She looked at Han disdainfully. "If your male is bored, he and the boy can go to the market. There are many interesting shops and vendors. Most males find it a very exciting to spend the day shopping." Canmess'a smiled knowingly at Leia. "Before they come home and make dinner, of course. Your male does know how to cook, I hope?"
Leia tried to keep her face serious, knowing Han was fuming behind her back. "Han is an excellent chef, actually."
"Great," the Chief said. "He'll find many exotic foods in the market. I'm sure he can keep busy. Males do enjoy shopping and tending the home, don't they?"
"Yes," Leia said, swallowing her mirth. "There's nothing Han likes better than shopping and housekeeping." She turned to face Han, biting her lip to keep from laughing. "Have fun, dear. Keep a close eye on Qui-Gon. I wouldn't want you to lose him, like Luke did."
"Men," Canmess'a said with a sad shake of her head. "They can be so irresponsible."
"You don't have to tell me that," Leia agreed as she headed out the door.
No sooner had the door shut, than Qui-Gon stuck his head out from his bedroom. "Han?"
"What?" Han snapped out.
"Are we going shopping?"
The boy had obviously been eavesdropping. One of these days, Han would have to lecture him that listening to private conversations was impolite, but right now he was too irritated to think straight. "I hate shopping."
"But there's nothing to do here, and I'm still looking for parts for my podracer. They might have places that sell used parts," Qui-Gon nagged. Then he grinned widely. "And you could teach me how to cook when we get back."
Slowly, Han looked over at his much younger half-brother, giving the boy a lop-sided grin. "Ya know, kid, that might just be the best idea you've ever had."
"Sure," Han said agreeably. "Leia will be thrilled to eat every bite of the first meal you make, too. I'm sure of it."
Chewie was given orders to protect their quarters from intruders, so with Threepio in tow, Qui-Gon and Han Solo headed out to do some shopping.
R2-D2 toodled his worry from his position beside Luke, and the Jedi read his screen. "No, Artoo. I've never heard of Dathomir, either." He shut his eyes briefly as his Corellian corvette approached the gray and green mottled planet. Normally, Luke would have taken his X-Wing, but given the fact he might need to leave with a passenger or two, he took one of the ships Sollon Enterprises had donated to the Jedi Academy. "It's teeming with life.... and ...."
The little droid gave another questioning warble.
"The Force is strong on this planet. The darkside has powerful allies here."
More concerned beeps followed, and Luke gave a tired sigh. "We can't turn around, Artoo. Lando needs our help."
The little astromech gave up arguing with his owner, and remained silent as Luke landed the ship in a small clearing. "You wait here," Luke instructed his droid. "My instructions were to come alone, and I'm not sure Mara will appreciate the fact I brought you with me."
More beeps came from the droid, and Luke laughed. "I know... most people don't count droids. Stay here, anyway."
Luke cautiously exited his ship, noting the rich odors from the forest planet. The sounds of insects and birds filled his hearing, and the Jedi reached further out, separating the various life-forms from the Force-sensitive presence he was seeking. Mara Jade was close, and she wasn't alone. Quickly, the Jedi moved away from his ship and headed off into the forest.
When Leia entered the conference room, she was quite surprised to see a man approximately her age, with long, blond hair, seated at the table next to the Queen Mother. The Princess gave a polite bow, then waited for the Queen to address her before speaking.
"Ambassador Organa-Solo," Ta'a Chume spoke after a long minute of silence. "I trust you had an enjoyable night."
It seemed to Leia that the Queen put special emphasis on the word 'enjoyable', and her Chief Deputy coughed briefly and looked at the floor.
"Yes," Leia replied. "It was very restful."
"I suppose all cultures define words like 'restful' in different ways," Ta'a Chume said with a smirk. "Have a seat, my dear."
While Leia tried to decide what Ta'a Chume meant by that comment, the blond man jumped up, pulling out her chair and giving her a wide, dimpled smile, with perfect white teeth. "Allow me, Princess."
"This is my son, Prince Isolder," Ta'a Chume said, as if it just occurred to her to introduce the man. "I hope you don't mind if he joins us."
"Well, um, I guess it would be alright," Leia said. "I'm just surprised. I thought men didn't participate in the political scene on Hapes."
"Oh, they don't," the Queen reassured her quickly. "Isolder is just here as your escort. To make certain you have everything you need, and things like that."
"Things?" Leia said, getting worried. If Han found out Ta'a Chume had assigned her handsome son as her 'escort', he'd have a fit.
"Yes. If you need anything at all, just ask me," Isolder said, leaning down over Leia's shoulder, and putting his face so close to hers that Leia could smell his cologne. His long hair fell forward like a shimmering golden veil, and he put his hand over her wrist. "Sparkling pure Hapan water, pastries. We even have that vile brown stuff called caffe that people in the New Republic like to consume in the morning. And, of course, I'll be escorting you to lunch at one of our finest dining establishments in the capital."
"You don't have a problem with that, do you?" Ta'a Chume questioned, her voice getting icy. "Surely, your husband won't have an issue with a member of my royal family taking another royal to an innocent lunch?"
Leia flushed. "Of course not." She sincerely hoped there would be no holoshills around during this lunch date with Prince Isolder.
Lando was miserable. He looked around at his tiny, stone cell, wondering how this could have happened. Two days ago, he was living in luxury, being seen on the holo-news with a different, beautiful woman on his arm nearly every night. Now he was cold, in pain from his injured knee, and what was even worse were the Nightsisters of Dathomir. Not a beauty in the entire bunch, and their leader, a woman by the name of Gethzerion, was a regular hag.
He thought back to their arrival several hours ago. Mara Jade had set her ship down far enough away from the village that by the time Lando had limped the distance, he was positive he was going to die from the pain. The Nightsisters had greeted Jade with politeness, but Lando could see they were suspicious as well. Jade had immediately requested their assistance, claiming a male socerer was on his way to destroy them. Only working as a group could they defeat this powerful spell-caster. To prove her good intentions, Lando had been presented as a 'gift' to the witches. The Baron shuddered as he remembered Gethzerion's leering gaze in his direction.
The witches had quickly agreed to assist Jade, and Lando had been hauled off to his new home. A prison cell no larger than ten by ten, and a pile of straw to use as a bed. High up, near the ceiling, a tiny opening let in a small amount of light and air. Sighing, Lando shut his eyes, hoping Luke would be able to somehow defeat this evil group of women.
A key rattled in the door, and the thick wooden door swung open. Lando struggled to his feet, his heart pounding in his chest. To his surprise, a small, rather young looking woman entered his cell with a covered basket in one hand, and a bucket in the other.
"I've brought you food," she said in a heavy accent, thrusting the basket toward him.
Carefully, Lando moved forward and took the basket, pulling back the cloth and seeing a small variety of unknown fruits or vegetables, and a piece of bread. He looked back at the girl, noting now she appeared to be in her twenties. She also seemed very unhappy. "Thank you." He nodded at the bucket. "Water?"
She glanced down at the bucket. "No... this is for...." She stopped, then gave a small smile. "Body waste."
"Oh." Lando cleared his throat. "What's your name?"
"Teneniel Djo," she replied.
"You're one of these Nightsisters?"
Teneniel shook her head negatively. "I am an outcast from my people. The Nightsisters captured me, and I now am their slave."
"You mean like me?"
"Oh, no. Not like you. I belong to the clan, and my fate can only be decided by the council. Your fate will de decided in an arena, then your new owner will do with you what she pleases."
"And what do you think she'll do with me?" Lando asked with dread.
"Probably a field-hand and mate," she replied, seemingly unfazed by this information. "If your owner finds you unsatisfactory as either, she can then either sell you to another, or sacrifice you to our Goddesses to gain herself more power."
Which would be worse - breeding with these dreadful, evil women or being put to death? They both seemed equally bad to Lando. "What, err, how are men sacrificed?"
"Several ways are used. Some are burned alive, and some have their chest cut open and then the beating heart is removed and consumed by the clan."
Okay then, Lando thought in rising panic. Maybe breeding wasn't so terrible. "Do sacrifices happen a lot?"
"Several times a full-cycle," Teneniel Djo responded. "Sacrifices can only occur during the planting and harvest moons."
Lando felt a sense of relief. "So I'm safe for a while. Right?"
Teneniel gave him a sympathetic smile. "The planting moon is coming up in five light-cycles. If you are unable to keep pace in the fields, I'm afraid there will not be much hope for you." She eyed his knee sadly. "I'm sorry."
She set the bucket down and left the tiny room. As she was shutting the door, Lando called out, "Wait! What's a light-cycle?"
The door-lock clicked, and Lando was again left alone.
Han Solo studied the busy, brightly colored marketplace with a cynical eye. In some ways, it reminded him of the markets on Corellia - with one major difference. Here there were only humans, and Han felt a bit out-of-place since the people all wore bright, loosely fitting clothes, and all spoke a language Han didn't understand. For the first time in a very long time, Han decided he was glad Threepio had dragged along, even if the droid was the only one visible, and was earning glares from the locals.
The shoppers were tall, good-looking Hapan men with very long hair, and the majority of the vendors were stunningly beautiful Hapan women. Most of the people had light colored hair, either blond or reddish, and only a minority were brunettes. Keeping a close eye on Qui-Gon, Han moved toward an open-aired booth with fist-sized bright red fruit.
Qui-Gon picked up the fruit, and smelled the skin. "Let's buy this."
"Threepio, ask the woman the name of this fruit, and how much it costs," Han told the droid.
"Certainly, General Solo," the droid replied. "I am ever so grateful you are finding me useful on this trip, and you do know that I am fluent in over six million - "
"Just ask," Han interrupted.
The woman snapped something at Threepio before he could say another word, causing the droid to move back, throwing up his hands. "Dear me! Apparently Hapans do not care much for droids."
"Normally, I'd agree with that assessment, Goldenrod," Han said, rubbing the back of his neck. "But since I don't speak Hapan...."
"I will try again," Threepio responded, politely interpreting Han's request. He turned his glowing eyes toward Han after the woman replied. "She stated she does not sell fruit to droids, as that would be a waste of food."
Han groaned. "Did you tell her it's for me an' the kid?"
"No. You did not specify that I include that information in my request, General Solo. Would you like me to try again?"
"Sure. Why not."
Threepio made another attempt. "She has informed me that she does not like non-Hapans, and does not wish to sell you any of her food products."
Qui-Gon had remained uncharacteristically quiet during this exchange. Without warning, he threw his head back, letting loose with a loud, keening wail. "I WANT THE FRUIT! TELL THE MEAN LADY I WANT THE FRUIT!" Dropping to the ground, he stating thrashing around, kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs, and causing everyone in hearing and visual range to stop what they were doing and stare in shock at the scene.
"Hurry up, Threepio," Han prodded the speechless droid. "Tell the lady we'll leave if she sells us the fruit."
"Yes... yes... " Threepio turned back to the woman, raising his voice to be heard over Qui-Gon. Then he looked back at Han. "She said she'll give us six pieces for free if we take the boy and leave her booth."
Han snatched up a bag and stuffed the fruit inside. "Tell her thanks a lot, Threepio. We appreciate doin' business with her." Qui-Gon jumped to his feet and hurried to the next booth to inspect the vendor's wares. "What was that all about?" Han whispered out of the side of his mouth when he caught up with the boy.
"When I was younger, that's the way I always got what I wanted from my mom. I figured if it worked with her, it might work here, too."
"I was hopin' Luke didn't teach you that at your Jedi school," Han said dryly.
The three outsiders didn't have any more problems while they shopped.
Ambassador Organa-Solo's earlier premonition that this day was going to be terrible turned out to be very true. The Queen Mother hadn't agreed to one condition for joining the New Republic, and kept asking Leia the same questions, over and over, until Leia felt like screaming in frustration. By the time lunch had come around, the Princess was almost looking forward to the temporary halt of negotiations, even if that meant eating lunch with Prince 'Vapider', which was Leia's mental name for Isolder. The man might be easy on the eyes, but everytime he spoke something totally inane would escape his lips. Then, to make matters worse, the Queen Mother and her Deputy would pat Isolder on his head, tell him how smart he was, then completely ignore whatever he said.
Now she was sitting in a fancy restaurant, with only 'Vapider' for company. Leia listened politely as he prattled on and on about his adventures in Imperial space when he pretended he was a pirate, outrunning and outgunning everything the Imperials and criminal scum could throw his direction. He told her about how he was a prize-winning boxer in a brutal game where men died in the arena. He then went into great detail, describing every rule and every brute he defeated. Needless to say, when he retired from that violent sport, he was undefeated and admired by all Hapans for his physical prowess.
"I am not boring you, am I?" he finally paused long enough to ask.
The Prince ate his nearly raw steak with great gusto, but frequently used the napkin to dab his suspiciously glossy-looking lips. "You are truly stunning, Princess Leia. Has anyone ever told you that before? If not, they are fools. Truly fools."
"My husband tells me I'm beautiful all the time," Leia said, rather embarrassed by the comment.
"Ah, the Corellian pirate you married." He shook his head sadly. "If only we had met earlier, I could have prevented that tragedy."
"I beg your pardon?"
He leaned forward, showing off his flawless smile against his perfectly tanned complexion. "Love is blind. Is not that what people claim? And by the time the darkness lifts from your vision, it is too late. Too late," he repeated sadly. "But sometimes it is not too late, and errors can be corrected."
Leia was stunned by the long tirade of insults that the Prince had just thrown at both her and Han. "I wasn't blind when I married Han," she managed to splutter out. "I love him, and he loves me. There is nothing that needs correcting."
"But you are obviously a woman of refinement, my dearest," Isolder said firmly. "You have not allowed the miscreant to impregnant you, which shows me you have been careful, as well as showing me you have doubts about this imperfect union."
"I think this lunch is over, Va... Isolder," Leia said, trying desperately to keep her anger in check. If she started throwing insults back at Isolder, she'd destroy her chances at a treaty with the Hapans. "I really should be getting back to the negotiation table."
Isolder stood up, bowing at the waist. "I have insulted you. For that, you must punish me. Please, tell me how I am to make amends to such a beautiful Princess, who lowers herself to dine in my presence."
"I....I don't want to punish you," Leia managed to say. "Just apologize for insulting my husband, and I'll forget this conversation happened."
"Alas, I can not comply with your request," Isolder spoke in a low voice, putting his arm around her waist. "I will die if you forget me, and the man you call husband is unworthy of the role. You must understand my wealth can put his to shame, and I can give you back your royal title, and your dignity."
Furious, Leia pushed his arm away. "I didn't marry Han for his money, and I wouldn't leave him for you, or anyone else." She turned and hurried away, her face red.
"But you won't need to leave him," Isolder said softly as she left the restaurant.
Two people stepped out of the shadows of the trees, and Luke tightened his grip on his lightsaber. "Mara.... I know it's you. Who's that with you?"
The red-head walked closer, until she could speak without shouting. "Her name is Gethzerion."
"She's a darksider," Luke warned. "She's evil."
"I want my lightsaber returned," Mara said, ignoring Luke's comment. She wondered why that was the first thing out of her mouth, instead of telling him he was going to die.
"I don't have it with me. Qui-Gon is using it."
"Quentin. He decided to change his name to honor his Jedi uncle, Qui-Gon Jinn."
"How nice," Mara said sarcastically. "Then I guess I'll just have to shoot you."
The green lightsaber blade hummed, and Luke took up a defensive stance. "You already tried that."
"I remember," Mara said, sensing the older witch was moving closer. "But I didn't have backup then. Let me introduce Gethzerion, leader of the Nightsisters."
"A male witch," Gethzerion cackled, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. "It's been so long.... but they all die, just like the others."
"What others?" Luke questioned.
"Imperial prisoners. The whitecoats bring us the prisoners, and we pick which ones will serve us, and which ones will die. You will die, witch. Males are not allowed the power."
Luke turned his focus back to Mara. "You don't want to kill me. I can feel your emotions, Mara. You don't want to serve the Emperor anymore. You want to have your own life, your own choices. You're strong in the Force, Mara. You can reject Palpatine's teachings, and turn to the lightside. You can become a Jedi."
Rattled, Mara backed up. "You know nothing, Skywalker!"
Gethzerion threw back her head and laughed, spittle flying from her darkened teeth. "Die, male witch!" And lightning flew from her fingertips.
Luke successfully blocked the lightning with his saber, sending the tendrils of energy back toward the Nightsister. This only seemed to increase her rage, and the old woman started chanting. Immediately, a dozen women stepped out of the shadows, all of them wearing pelts and furs, and carrying sharpened sticks and deadly looking stone axes.
"Can you defeat us all with your fancy light stick?" Gethzerion taunted. "I can call even more Nightsisters to my aid, if this proves inadequate."
"This isn't fair," Mara said suddenly. "I want him dead, but not this way." Even as those words left her mouth, Mara wondered if she was going crazy. Did it matter if the fight was fair? And more importantly, did she really want him to die?
"Fair?" Gethzerion asked the offworlder woman. "What nonsense do you speak? Fairness is for fools and lunatics."
The Jedi responded to the appearance of the women by turning off his weapon, his blue eyes boring deeply into Mara's very soul. "It looks like you've won, Mara. I hope my death finally brings you peace."
Seeing the man lowering his defenses, the Nightsisters rushed forward, shoving the Jedi to the ground and raising up their own weapons to end his life.
Ambassador Organa-Solo had only just left the useless negotiations, when Ta'a Chume turned her focus on her Deputy. "Has General Solo been captured yet?"
Canmess'a shook her head. "He was followed into the market, but our people were unable to arrange his kidnapping without harming the boy."
"Bah," the Queen muttered. "I do not understand Euridice's desire to keep the boy unharmed. She must dispose of him eventually, anyway."
"True, but she will be unable to reclaim her rightful assets if he dies too quickly."
"There should have been no question about her rights. She was the wife, and as such, giving the fortune to her son was nothing short of public humiliation by her husband."
"Mrs. Sollon wishes you to dispose of Solo and the Ambassador," Canmess'a pointed out gently. "It would have been easy to kill him today, even in full view of spectators."
"I do not care what Euridice wishes. I am the Queen, she is nothing more than a wealthy commoner."
"She is your cousin," the Deputy pointed out. "It was not her fault that her lack of beauty caused her to leave Hapes, rather than endure the ridicule of our people."
Ta'a Chume clenched her fists in anger. "My mother arranged that Euridice would be well cared for. It is not my fault she was unable to control her male."
"But won't it make her upset that you are taking her son as your concubine, rather than kill him?"
"Yes," Ta'a Chume said with a laugh. "I can imagine it will upset her. Just as Princess Leia marrying Isolder will upset her. But I do not care what upsets my cousin. I only care about what suits me." She glared at her Deputy. "It does not suit me that Solo is still free."
"I will order our people to try harder."
"Tell them if another day passes without Solo in custody, I will be very unhappy. And you know what happens when I am unhappy."
"Yes, My Queen."
The first thing Leia noticed was the strong odor when she opened the door. It smelled like the mattress had caught fire. "Han?" Instead of her husband, Chewie emerged from the kitchen area covered in a fine, gray powder. "What happened to you?"
Chewie woofed unhappily, then patted Leia on her shoulder. Grabbing his bowcaster, the Wookiee hurried out of the door, leaving Leia behind, wishing she could understand Shyriiwook.
Threepio was standing quietly in the corner, and for a moment Leia thought he'd been turned off. Then she saw his eyes were glowing. "Threepio?"
"Yes, Mistress Leia?"
"What did Chewbacca just tell me?"
"That he would rather eat dried tree bark than what you humans are about to consume." Threepio paused, then tilted his head. "Master Qui-Gon has been very.... industrious in the food preparation area for the past several time-parts. I was concerned at times he might cause the building to catch on fire, but General Solo ordered me to stay out of the galley."
The door opened, and Han exited the kitchen with a huge grin plastered on his face. "Hey, sweetheart. How did your meeting go?"
"Terrible," Leia replied. "Ta'a Chume isn't interested in joining the New Republic. I think she's trying to drive me crazy with her unreasonable demands. What's that awful smell?"
"Dinner!" Han proclaimed with a grand flourish of his arm. "Prepared with all local foods, and hand-crafted by Master Chef Quentin, err... Qui-Gon. All I did was make sure he didn't chop off any fingers with sharp utensils." He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Don't tell him you think it's awful. We don't want to hurt his feelings."
"If this is your way of getting even for being told to go shopping..."
"Be fair," Han protested, back up a bit from her glare. "I had to keep busy, and Qui-Gon wanted to learn how to cook. So I accomplished both things at once."
"You forgot one thing, flyboy."
"You have to eat it, too."
Han's face fell. "Oh, kest. That's right."
Bloodied and battered, a trussed-up Luke was pulled and dragged into the Nightsisters' village. The Jedi had not expected Gethzerion to prevent her warriors from killing him, but after several blows she had ordered them to stop and tie him up. During the long hike to the village, Luke had tried to catch Mara's eye, but she had kept her head bent, and he could sense her shame. Killing him herself was one thing.... having him outnumbered and unable to fight back went against her principles. The very fact that she had principles, as she had shown him once before by allowing him to save Quentin, indicated to Luke his feelings about her were correct. Mara Jade wasn't evil, but misguided and twisted by long years of serving an evil Master.
"Put the spellcaster in a cell, and guard it with your lives," Gethzerion ordered her women. "When the sun sets, we shall burn him on the sacrifice altar. Then we shall have a contest, to see which warrior earns the companionship of our newest male slave."
This announcement was met with the warriors shouting and brandishing their weapons in the air. Luke was pulled away from the group, and finally got to see Mara's face. If he didn't know any better, he could have sworn he saw a tear falling from her eye. But it was probably just his imagination.
Qui-Gon picked listlessly at the charred vegetables and the rubbery meat on his plate. Occassionally, he'd look up at Han and Leia, only to see them smiling at him and chewing.... and chewing.... while trying to hide a pained expression. "This isn't very good, is it?"
The older Corellian took a hard swallow, trying to get the wad down his throat. "It's great, kid. Why would you think it isn't good?"
"'Cuz it's awful. It tastes like an old boot," he said with a sigh.
"Have you eaten many old boots, Master Qui-Gon?" Threepio asked in all seriousness. "That does not seem very nutritious."
Leia stifled a snort. "It's just an expression, Threepio."
"Oh. I see. So humans do not consume old boots."
The boy pushed his plate away. "I'm not a very good cook, Han. Maybe I'll just go to bed." He stood up, then hurried away.
"Without dinner?" Threepio exclaimed. "I have been told growing humans need to eat."
"Yes, they do," Leia agreed. She leaned back, staring at Han. "This was all your fault, nerfherder. Now Qui-Gon has hurt feelings."
"So what do you want me to do about it?" Han asked, a bit defensively.
"I'm sure those vendors sell prepared food. Go and get us take-out while I go have a talk with Qui-Gon. I'll explain to him it wasn't his fault, and his laser-brain father sometimes lacks common sense."
"It's getting dark."
"I see plenty of street lighting," Leia said calmly. "I'm hungry."
"Fine. You'd think those upper-class Hapan Royals would've invited us to dinner, anyway." Han stood up, tossing down his napkin. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
As Leia left to go talk to Qui-Gon, and Han stomped toward the door, Threepio stood in the dining area. "General Solo? Would you like me to come with you?"
"But... how will you communicate with the Hapan vendors?"
"I'll point," Han snapped as the door slid shut.
The Nightsisters untied their prisoner, then tossed him roughly into a cell, not caring that he stumbled and fell. The heavy door shut with a loud clank, and two guards flanked either side of the door. After a few seconds, Luke gave a painful groan as he pushed himself into a seated position.
A muffled voice called out from across the narrow hallway. "Luke?"
The Jedi staggered to his feet, looking out the tiny, barred window set in the thick wooden door. "Lando! Are you okay?"
"Other than my knee, I'm fine." Lando appraised Luke's beaten and swollen face. "Apparently, I'm in better shape than you are. What happened?"
"I couldn't....couldn't fight them all. There were too many."
"Too many? Or maybe you just couldn't fight the one," Lando mused.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"She's not beyond saving, Lando," Luke said softly.
"Well, we might be."
Teneniel Djo stood behind a stone pillar and watched with interest as the Nightsisters dragged back the male spellcaster. Her initial quiet sensation that she needed to help the fancy-dressing male slave was intensified when she looked at the newcomer. Despite being badly beaten and bound with thick ropes, his presence radiated a gentle calm. He was someone that could help her, even more than she could help him. Teneniel knew that high-quality males were highly desired by all the tribes on Dathomir. If she could somehow manage to escape, and bring back not one but two male slaves to the Singing Mountain clan, perhaps they would forgive her, and accept her back into their protection. Certainly, both the fancy-dresser and the spellcaster would have much better lives under the Singing Mountain clan's protection, as well.
Her birth-clan did not sacrifice males to appease the Goddesses, nor did they beat and abuse their males. An unhappy male slave was allowed to request a new owner, or he could leave the clan entirely. But leaving the clan's protection had great risks - surviving in the wild was difficult, and being captured by another clan was always a strong possibility. Therefore, males seldom requested their freedom.
She observed the off-world female, and noted her bleak expression. This puzzled Teneniel. Didn't the off-worlder come here for the purpose of catching and destroying the male spellcaster? Why, then, was she unhappy? She was pondering the implications of this when something odd caught her eye. The sun glinted briefly off something metal that was moving nearby. Was she seeing things? It looked like.... no, it couldn't be. Only the off-worlder whitecoats used those strange things they called 'droids.'
"Chewie?" Leia's frantic voice came over the comlink. "Where are you?"
The Wookiee replied almost immediately, and Threepio gave the interpretation. "Chewbacca says he is still on the Falcon."
"Is Han there?"
More barks, this time his tone indicating rising concern. "Chewbacca has not seen General Solo since he left the apartment."
"Chewie, something's wrong," Leia said. "I sent him out over two hours ago to get some food, but he hasn't come back, and he won't answer his comm." She shut her eyes. "Something bad has happened to him. I can feel it."
After more growls, Threepio turned his photoreceptors toward the Princess. "Chewbacca indicates he will go look for Han."
"I should go with him," Qui-Gon inserted. "I can use the Force to help track Han. I'm getting better at being a Jedi."
"I'm not sure you and Chewie should wander around Hapes," Leia told the boy. "This place obviously isn't safe."
"Chewbacca will not let that stop him," Threepio added after listening to Chewie. "He owes General Solo a life-debt."
"Han is my dad," Qui-Gon said stubbornly. "I need to help him."
"Fine," Leia conceded, knowing there was no point in arguing. "I'll go talk to the Queen Mother and see if she can help, then I'll meet up with you and Chewie."
The boy frowned. "Are you sure? Something doesn't feel right about her... she reminds me of my grandmother."
Leia hesitated, knowing Han had said basically the same thing. "She can send out her guards to search."
"If you say so," Qui-Gon muttered dubiously.
Mara stood by in silence as Gethzerion supervised her tribe preparing the pyre. Four stone pillars about six feet in height and six feet apart were supporting a wooden frame, and more wood was being piled under the frame. Thick metal manacles were attached to each post, where the prisoner's wrists and ankles would be clamped. Then the dried timber would be ignited, causing everything but the stone and manacles to burn away.
After the fire consumed the Jedi's body, the witches would challenge each other for the right to own Calrissian. A contest would be held, where two participants would stand twenty feet away from each other and throw a spear at the other. The Nightsister that got their spear the closest without actually hitting the other woman would move on to the next round. According to Gethzerion, this was very exciting to watch, since sometimes a Nightsister would actually strike her opponent with the spear, causing injury or death. If this happened, the observers would be allowed to kill the contestant that threw the errant spear. It gave new meaning to the sports term, 'sudden death.' The contestant that survived, and proved to be the best markswoman, would win the new slave.
The former Emperor's Hand swallowed against the dryness of her throat, gripping the hilt of Skywalker's lightsaber. The Nightsisters were reluctant to give up the weapon, but Mara had insisted it was her weapon - something the spellcaster had stolen from her a year ago. It was the truth... from a certain point of view. I don't want to watch, she thought to herself. I could leave now... and not be a witness to his death. It occurred to her she would need to be far away in order not to sense Luke's painful end. Quietly, Mara made her way out of the village, moving toward her ship. She felt like a coward, and suddenly realized she hated herself.
Leia gave a polite bow to the Queen Mother. "I'm sorry to disturb you so late in the evening, but I need your assistance."
"Of course," Ta'a Chume said formally. "Whatever is the problem?"
"I... I sent Han out for some prepared food several hours ago, and he hasn't returned. I'm afraid something terrible has happened."
Ta'a Chume laughed. "Males are very unreliable, especially those types. I'm sure he's fine, my dear."
"He'd be back by now," Leia insisted. "Something is wrong."
"Of course something is wrong," the Queen agreed. "A beautiful Hapan woman caught his eye, and he was tempted by his desires. Males are so predictable."
The Princess took a deep breath, trying to keep her temper in check. "Han would not cheat on me."
"Are you so certain?"
Ta'a Chume waved her hand dismissively. "It he does not show up in the morning, let me know. I will arrange for my guards to search then. It is a waste of time now."
"I hope you don't mind if Iwaste my time searching," Leia said tightly.
"Not at all. I could have my son accompany you, since he knows all the local pleasure houses."
"That would be the last place I'd look," Leia snapped, before turning and leaving the Queen.
Ta'a Chume smiled beneath her veil as the door shut behind the Princess. "No, my dear. The last place you'd look would be my bed."
Luke sat on the straw mattress, rubbing his forehead. I've been in worse situations than this. The Death Star was worse. Both times. I can think of a way out. But the solution eluded him. He needed to escape dozens of powerful witches that employed the darkside of the Force, and escape with Lando... who could barely walk, much less run. And he needed another chance to convince Mara to reject the Emperor's brainwashing. Another problem was Mara's Force-sense seemed to be getting weaker, like she was moving away from the village. Why would she leave, when she was so close to seeing victory?
He listened as the hallway's outer door creaked open, and someone spoke in the harsh, gutteral language of this planet. Footsteps moved away from his door, and another guard took her place. Long minutes passed, then to Luke's surprise, a scuffle sounded in the corridor, followed by the sound of a body dropping to the surface. The clank of metal keys ground inside the lock, and the heavy door swung open.
A young warrior woman stood framed in the doorway, her light red hair catching in the dimming sunshine. "My name is Teneniel Djo, and I wish to help in your escape," she spoke in accented Basic.
"Don't forget about me," Lando called out from across the hallway.
The last thing Han remembered was requesting what looked like mouthwatering smoked ribs of some type. Instead of getting what he ordered, the vendor turned around and fired a strange blaster in his direction. He didn't remember actually falling down, just having a sudden hazy veil drop over his mind. Vaguely, he could recall being led somewhere, and not being able to object. As the fogginess cleared his mind, he remembered he had once been captured by Fett with a type of drug that allowed your enemy to control your actions. That time, he'd been lucky that Lando happened by and rescued him from the bounty hunter.
The Corellian forced his eyes open, and found himself staring up at the face of Chief Deputy Canmess'a. "Why am I not surprised?" he managed to croak out as he tugged uselessly at the binders holding his arms and legs.
"Did you find the Hapan Gun of Command interesting, General?" she asked. "It is one of our many inventions. Soon, you will learn of more."
So it hadn't been a drug at all, but a strange type of weapon. "What if I tell you I don't want the grand tour?"
The Deputy smiled, then indicated for another woman to come over. "This is one of our scientists. She has worked years perfecting many inventions of the Imperials. For instance.... the interrogator droid."
Out of the corner of his eye, Han could see the round object floating closer to his head. Wicked needles protruded from the humming device. "How much can you perfect a needle?" Han asked, trying to keep his tone light.
"Oh, it's not the needle. It's the drug inside the needle," Canmess'a replied. "The Queen Mother is very interested in causing you, um, discomfort first."
"First? As in something comes next?"
"Of course," she said, nodding. "You get to be the first non-Hapan test subject for our latest invention. It's called the Hapan mind-wipe. You see, after I'm done with the interrogator droid, you won't remember it very long. The mind-wipe does just exactly that - it wipes your mind clean of everything you know and remember. Then we hook you up to our computer, and insert new memories. Tomorrow, you won't remember being Han Solo... or Hannibal Sollon, either. You will be an entirely new person. Naa'mo of Hapes. A man born and brought up for one purpose in life."
"I don't think I wanna hear this," Han said with a sigh. "But I have a feeling you're gonna tell me, anyway."
"Naa'mo lives to serve Queen Ta'a Chume. As her concubine."
"Can't you just torture me, and then kill me? Like normal crazy people?"
"And ruin our fun?" she said, smirking. "I would not think of it."
"What the....?" Mara muttered in disbelief as she entered the clearing where her ship was parked and camouflaged to hide it from the Nightsisters. The landing ramp was down, and that was not a mistake Mara Jade would ever make, even on her worst day. Slipping Skywalker's lightsaber out of her belt, the redhead moved quietly up the ramp. She listened carefully, using her rudimentary Force-skills to try and sense her enemy. There was nothing to sense... but there was a small noise coming from the ship's hold. Mara hugged the wall, holding the lightsaber up and ready to turn-on.
Spinning on her toes, she ducked low and turned on the green blade, illuminating the hold. A small astromech droid spun its head around, giving a high-pitched squeal of surprise as it held a cord in its extending claw, a small buzz-saw humming as it dissected the wire. Mara felt her mouth drop open as she noted the damage the droid had caused.... panels were removed, and large masses of wires had been pulled out of the floor and walls. Electronic circuit panels had been completely destroyed. "Rodders!" she shouted, turning on the lights. Even more damage could be seen in the better lighting. "How did you get in here? Why are you destroying my ship? I'm going to take you apart, you little bugger.... piece by piece!"
The little droid gave a worried groan, dropping the wire it was holding and rolling backwards until it bumped against the far wall.
"Are you going to answer me?"
As the droid gave a long series of beeps, Mara realized she couldn't understand the droid's explanation. She tried to turn on the video-screen translator, which only gave a single spark before going out completely. Suddenly, she remembered the holo-vids she'd poured over as she studied the Jedi, looking for ways to complete her mission. "You're Skywalker's droid, aren't you?" Moving closer, Mara gazed down at the little machine. The Jedi's dossier had indicated the astromech was quite inventive, and this was proof. "You've effectively destroyed my ship, pal. Which means I don't have a way off this planet. But you know that, don't you?"
An affirmative beep came from the unit.
"You're going to take me to Skywalker's ship."
This order was greeted with what sounded suspiciously like a raspberry.
"Don't you get sassy with me. I could cut you into a million bits with your Master's lightsaber. As a matter of fact, if you don't show me where his ship is, I will," Mara threatened. The Artoo unit was silent. "I know the general area. I'll find it eventually." More silence. Mara sighed. "I can't be stranded on this planet - you know that, don't you? You'd be willing to die to help Skywalker, wouldn't you?" Could a droid die? Could a droid be noble? Apparently, this one could.
The droid gave a sad beep, and Mara felt overwhelmed with guilt. "What if we go back to the village and rescue your Master?" I can't believe I'm bargaining with a droid. I can't believe I said I'd go rescue Skywalker. Or that I actually do want to rescue him. But she did, and there was no denying it. Somehow the blue-eyed farmboy-turned-Jedi had gotten under her skin.
The droid gave a happy toddle, and rolled past Mara toward the exit. And Mara found herself following.
Han gasped in pain as the drug twisted his muscles, shooting liquid fire under his skin. He tried telling himself it was all in his mind; the mental lie wasn't working.
"Enjoying yourself, smuggler?" a regal-sounding voice spoke from near his face.
The Corellian strained his head to the side, and found himself looking up at Ta'a Chume. "I think you're just a second-rate Palpatine," Han grunted, trying to taunt his captor. "Only not as good-looking."
The Queen smiled tightly, reaching out and digging her fingernails into Han's collar-bone. The drug-accented pain tore a scream from his lips before he could stop himself.
"I don't like smart-mouthed males. They don't know their place. Soon, however, you will know your place, Solo. And soon, your wife will be my daughter-in-law."
"You're insane," Han mumbled, shutting his eyes as the Queen tightened her grip again. The pain nearly made him black-out.
"Canmess'a, I believe it's time to hook-up the Hapan mind-wipe device to this Corellian. Then I want him reprogrammed to be my most... shall we say,groveling, eager-to-please, concubine?" Ta'a Chume gave a short laugh. "Later on, we will use the device on the Princess, although I want her to be only partially mind-wiped and reprogrammed. She'll still recall who she is... but Organa must be programmed to fall so in love with my son that signing divorce papers to end her marriage to this Corellian will make her weep for joy."
"You keep your wrinkled claws away from Leia," Han snapped, straining against his bonds. "If you touch her, I'll..."
"You'll what?" the Queen interrupted, smirking. "Next time you see the Princess you won't remember her, and she'll feel nothing for you but contempt."
The Deputy strapped a silver helmet with wires leading to a machine over the Corellian's skull. "Say goodbye to yourself, Solo."
Even though his own body was aching, Luke helped Lando limp along as the men followed Teneniel Djo out of the prison. The woman stopped at the exit, indicating they should wait, then looked around. "There is no one watching. We must hurry, before they discover our escape."
"Why are you helping us?" Luke asked.
"Not that we're complaining, mind you," Lando added, glaring at Luke.
"I told you I was not a Nightsister," Teneniel said. "You would have normally been sacrficed in four light-cycles, but the Nightsisters were afraid they could not keep a male spellcaster imprisoned that long. So the sacrifice would have occurred this night-cycle. If I did not help you now, it would have been too late." She indicated they needed to move forward.
"I appreciate the risk you're taking," Luke replied as he followed her out of the building.
"It is a small risk. I would have been killed eventually, anyway. This way, there is a chance my people will take me back."
The small group hugged the walls of the huts, moving quietly toward the edge of town. Once they cleared the buildings, there was a flat field surrounding the buildings of about two hundred yards before they got to the trees. Teneniel explained there were many wild and dangerous animals in the woods, and every village kept a cleared perimeter to discourage the animals from approaching. It also made it difficult for anyone to come or leave unobserved, and when they started out across the lawn, they would be at greatest risk.
"You mean if you rescue us, you won't be an outcast anymore?" Lando asked, remembering her earlier comments.
"Yes. If I bring my village two strong males, I will be allowed back. It is our law."
"Wait!" Luke objected. "You mean Lando and I would be going back to your village to become your slaves?"
"One of you would be," Tenenial replied, smiling at Luke. "I think I shall pick you."
"Why doesn't anyone ever pick me?" Lando complained as he limped toward the forest.
"Do not worry," Teneniel said. "Many of my clan will desire to own you, even if you dress oddly."
"I do not!"
Luke was about to laugh, when a loud, wailing horn sounded from the village. "What's that?"
"The alarm... we have been discovered," Teneniel said worriedly, looking back as a mob of Nightsisters headed in their direction.
Leia had retrieved Threepio and met up with Chewie and Qui-Gon. The four were desperately searching every open business and dark alley. Everyone they questioned had shrugged, and indicated they knew nothing about the Corellian's whereabouts. Leia and Qui-Gon were convinced at least a few of the Hapans were lying, and Leia sensed Qui-Gon knew something he wasn't telling her.
It was now the middle of the night, and things were not looking good. Suddenly, Qui-Gon stopped walking, bending over and holding his stomach.
"What's the matter?" Leia asked. "Are you sick?"
"No.... it's Han. He's... he's..."
"What?" Leia questioned, her voice panicking.
"I didn't tell you before, 'cuz I didn't want to upset you."
"Han was being hurt. I could feel it through the Force."
The Princess shut her eyes as Chewie gave a worried howl. "I felt it, too. I just didn't want to believe it."
"But... there's more," he said tentatively.
"That's just it. I'm not sure, but the pain I was feeling just stopped. It was almost like, like he died."
Leia gave a choked sob, her head spinning. "No."
"I don't think he's dead, Leia," Qui-Gon tried to reassure her. "I can still feel his presence. Just not his pain, or his emotions. It's like he's part there, and part not there. I don't get it."
Neither did Leia, but she knew exactly what Qui-Gon was talking about.
"I can't run!" Lando yelled, nearly falling as Luke pulled him along. "Leave me, and save yourselves!"
"We're not leaving you, so quit trying to be noble," Luke grumbled, using the Force to help push Lando along. He looked back over his shoulder at the approaching mob of axe-wielding witches.
"Can't you use your Force stuff now?" Lando asked, trying not to sound too whiney.
"What would you like me to do? Have the Force open up the ground and swallow them?"
"Can you do that?"
"Please hurry," Teneniel begged. "We will not make the forest in time."
"What makes you think they can't catch us in the trees?" Lando shot back. "Do the trees shoot blasters?"
At that instant, blaster shots rang out from the thick underbrush, barely missing them and very effectively taking out the nearest, and formerly fastest, Nightsisters. The others slowed, uncertain about this new danger.
"Hey," Lando cried out in surprise. "That's a neat trick, Skywalker."
"I'm not doing it!"
More blaster bolts sizzled past, and more Nightsisters dropped. The group stopped running, then as the blaster shots kept coming, turned and ran back to the safety of their village.
Luke dragged Lando into the thick tangle of bushes, and stumbled to a stop as he came face to face with the owner of the blaster.
The Queen Mother circled around her new slave, her eyes darting up and down. "He is a fine specimen, isn't he?"
"Quite," Canmess'a agreed. "He will add variety to your nights, my Queen. Hapan men are a pleasure to look at, but off-worlders have a certain charm, too." The comlink on the Deputy's belt buzzed, and she sighed, raising the small object to her lips. "Yes?" Listening intently, she turned to her Queen. "The guards say Ambassador Solo is trying to reach you. She claims it's urgent."
"Inform the Princess I will meet her in the morning, and not before."
Ta'a Chume ran her hand over her concubine's chest as her Deputy relayed the message. "Tell me, Naa'mo, do you find me desirable?"
"Yes, My Queen," the slave replied, staring straight ahead. "I live to serve you. It is my only desire in life."
"Good. Do you have any other needs, Naa'mo? Tell me now."
"I have no needs, other than yours," he spoke in a flat, lifeless tone.
"I have needs, Naa'mo," Ta'a Chume said as she sat down, dangling her feet out from under her gown. "I need you to clean the jewels in my royal slippers, since they seem to be a bit dusty. Immediately."
The Corellian went to his knees, moving to take her foot and remove her shoe.
"No!" Ta'a Chume shouted. "You must ask me how to clean them, fool!"
Naa'mo dropped his arms to his side. "How do you wish me to clean your shoes, my Queen?"
"With your tongue, concubine. I wish you to clean the Hapan jewels with your tongue."
A flash of something - rage? humiliation? - twisted across the Corellian's facial features for a brief instant before dullness clouded his hazel eyes. But that would be impossible, the Queen decided as her slave leaned forward and obeyed her command.
The evil laughter of both women could be heard echoing down the elegant hallway of the Hapan Palace.
Back inside the grand foyer of the Palace, the Princess couldn't recall a time when she'd been so furious. "How dare Ta'a Chume refuse to see me?"
"I told you I didn't like her," Qui-Gon grumbled. It was in the middle of the night, and they were exhausted from hours of searching. The boy looked up, frowning in concentration. "I think Han is somewhere inside the Palace. I can cut open locked doors with my lightsaber..."
"We can't do that," Leia objected. "We're guests on this planet, not common criminals."
"But if they have something to do with Han's disappearance, they're the criminals, not us," Qui-Gon pointed out logically.
Chewie woofed his agreement, but Threepio sided with Leia. "I must agree that discretion is the better part of valor... or something along those lines," the droid put in. "It would do General Solo no good at all if you were thrown in the dungeon, and then I might be melted down for scrap. No, it would do no good at all."
A soft rustle sounded, and a tall man with blond hair appeared, looking surprised to see his guests awake and wandering around the Palace. "What are you doing up so late, Princess?"
"None other," he said with a bow. "Is your apartment inadequate?"
"No, it's not that ... my husband is missing," Leia explained, wondering why the Prince was up in the middle of the night. "I requested assistance from your mother, but she's refused to help."
"That is very strange. Usually she is so helpful to those in need," Isolder said. "It's very late, and you should get a few hours of sleep before starting out fresh in the morning. Your husband may even show up in the meantime."
"I have to keep looking."
"Really, Princess... you look exhausted," Isolder continued. "I will have search teams sent out within the hour, scouring the entire city. And you can rest and check in your room to see if Solo has left any messages."
Qui-Gon gave a huge yawn, then looked guilty, but Leia sensed he was acting.
"See?" Isolder prodded. "The youngster is tired, too."
"I am not!" Qui-Gon protested.
Leia looked at the boy, then at the Prince. If Qui-Gon was correct about Han's location, then things were starting to get suspicious about the Royals' involvement. "All right. If you send out search teams, we'll get some rest."
Isolder gave a wide grin and in the artificial lighting of the lobby, Leia thought it made his handsome face take on the shadowed angles of a predator.
"Mara?" Luke stuttered out in surprise. The sound of a droid beeping astounded him even more. "Artoo? What are you doing here?"
"Your droid managed to rewire my ship," Mara snapped out. "I have no way out of this lousy system."
"Oh, sure," Lando muttered. "Now the short-tempered kidnapper needs us."
"I don't need you, Calrissian," Mara threatened, waving her blaster in his direction.
"We must get moving," Teneniel Djo inserted. "The Nightsisters will not be deterred for long."
"I agree. The sooner we leave, the better," Mara said.
"Leave?" Teneniel Djo repeated. "I cannot leave."
"Why?" Lando asked, frowning. "What's so great about this place? If you can't bring Luke or myself back to your clan, you'll still be an outcast, and if the Nightsisters catch you, you're dead."
"That's true," Luke agreed. "You're strong in the Force, Teneniel. And I can tell you've got a good heart. You could come to Corellia and train to be a Jedi."
Mara snorted. "I can't believe this, Skywalker. Do you recruit everyone you meet, or do you just have a thing for women with red hair?"
Luke blushed. "She can become a good Jedi," he said defensively. "I don't meet very many Force-sensitives as it is."
"Well," Lando drawled out. "Now you've got a planet full of them to pick from."
"We really need to get moving," Mara said briskly. "One blaster isn't going to hold them all off."
Artoo gave a beep of agreement, then turned and wheeled away forcing the humans to follow behind. With Artoo in the lead, they traveled through the dense forest for about half a mile before the sound of the pursuing Nightsisters could be heard behind them. Suddenly, Artoo toddled back and forth, letting out a high-pitched electronic scream. Then the matted leaves on the ground collapsed, and the little droid disappeared down a large hole. The humans moved forward, peering down into the black cavern.
"I thought you said you couldn't make the ground open up, Luke," the Baron finally commented.
Isolder escorted the group back to their apartment. "Please try to get some rest," he said politely, watching as Chewie and Qui-Gon headed toward their rooms. "Things will work out in the morning."
Leia gazed around the huge, richly decorated living area, wondering how she would be able to sleep without Han, and feeling heartsick with worry. Amazingly, Isolder seemed to assume she was thinking about the room instead of her husband.
"Is something wrong with your accomodations?"
"This is fine," Leia replied, not sounding overly impressed. These Hapans were starting to annoy her. "I've become used to simpler quarters ever since joining the Rebellion."
"That is very true," Threepio said. "The Princess's quarters on Hoth were extremely spartan. I recall one time Artoo - that's my astromech counterpart - and I tried to make the Princess's room more comfortable by raising the temperature, and all we managed to do was melt the walls and create quite the mess. It took forever to dry out her clothing."
The Prince raised his eyebrow. "Of course," he said, his tone getting cool. "I'm sure you have adjusted to difficult situations in the past. If you find this Royal apartment inadequate..."
"Oh, no," Leia said, giving him a thin smile. "It's suitable."
"I'm glad you think so," he said. "Perhaps you will agree to have breakfast with me, later?"
Isolder gave a nod, then backed out of her room. "Sweet dreams, Princess."
The door shut, and moments later there was a soft knock on the door. Sighing, Leia opened the door, mentally preparing herself to face Isolder again. Canmess'a appearance surprised Leia as she opened the door. "Chief Deputy? I wasn't expecting you this late."
"I know where your husband is."
Luke leaned forward, trying to see into the hole. "Artoo? Can you hear me?" When there was no response, Luke looked at Mara's belt, where his lightsaber dangled. "I need my lightsaber to see down there."
"You think I'm giving you your weapon back?" She shook her head. "I'm not crazy."
"Could've fooled me," Lando muttered under his breath.
"What?" the Imperial snapped out.
"The Nightsisters will be here in minutes," Teneniel warned the group. "It is just a machine. We need to keep moving."
"I'm not leaving Artoo," Luke said firmly, then reached out with the Force, pulling the lightsaber from Mara's belt and into his hand.
"Sith spit!" she yelled, grabbing the Baron around his neck, and pressing the blaster in the man's throat. "Give it back!"
"You're not going to kill Lando," Luke said calmly.
"Want to bet?" Mara shot back.
"No... no he doesn't," Lando said nervously. "Give the mean lady the lightsaber, Luke. I'll buy you another one. A few hundred, even."
"I'm going down there and getting Artoo," Luke said, illuminating the ground cave with his lightsaber. It looked like a very long way down.
"How are you going to get down?" Teneniel questioned as she kept looking back at the approaching torches. "Or back up?"
"The Force will soften my landing."
"You're JUMPING?" Lando yelled, which caused Mara to jab the blaster in his neck even harder.
"We're all coming with you, Skywalker," Mara told him. "Those Nightsisters will be here before you get back up."
"I'm not going down in that hole," Lando protested. "We don't have any idea what's down there."
"But we do know what's up here," Luke said, pointing at the Nightsisters. "Mara's right. We need to hide, and that's as good a place as any. I'll go first, then lower the rest of you with the Force."
"They'll just follow us down," Lando continued to argue.
"No, they will not," Teneniel responded. "It is taboo in all cultures on Dathomir to go underground."
"There's probably a good reason for that taboo, then."
"Shut up, Calrissian," Mara snapped. "We don't have a choice."
"Will you go down there, Teneniel?" Luke questioned.
"I have no choice, unless I desire death."
With that, Luke jumped down into the blackness. For long moments, there was silence. Then Luke's voice called up. "I'm okay... send Lando down."
"No," Mara called back, shaking her head. "Teneniel goes next, then me. Calrissian goes last. I don't trust you."
Shrugging, Teneniel jumped. After Mara left, Lando gazed unhappily down the hole, then back at the Nightsisters. They were now so close, he could hear them speaking. "Why me?" he moaned, then shut his eyes and jumped.
Qui-Gon burst into Chewie's room without knocking, closely followed by Threepio. "Princess Leia is gone!"
Chewie gave a questioning bark, then listened as the boy continued on. "I went into her bedroom to talk to her, and she was gone. Threepio was still in the living room, but he was turned off. When I turned him on, he said Deputy Canmess'a came into the apartment, and said she knows where dad is, but then turned him off before he could hear anymore. I think Leia's been kidnapped, too!"
"It was very rude of Deputy Canmess'a to turn my power off without warning," Threepio said, miffed. "I'm not certain I like this planet very much."
"We have to search for her," Qui-Gon said, tugging at the Wookiee's arm. "She's in danger."
"You don't mind if I stay here, do you Chewbacca?" Threepio questioned worriedly. "I would only slow you down."
*Fine,* Chewie woofed. *Stay, then.*
"Good luck finding General Solo and the Princess," Threepio said, his voice sounding relieved. "I will contact you immediately if I hear anything."
Leia looked around the sterile, brightly lit room. It was lined with shelves containing what looked like medicine, and there were several gurneys in the center. Some of the gurneys had restraining straps, which made Leia wary. "Han's not in here."
"No, but he was," Canmess'a said, smirking. Then she pointed up at a monitor. "There he is now, but he is a bit busy."
Leia's eyes followed her direction, and for a brief second Leia thought she was trapped in some surreal nightmare. Han appeared on the monitor - in bed with a veiled woman. It was apparent they were doing more than sleeping. "No...."
"Yes, Ambassador. That is indeed your husband. Making love to the Queen Mother."
The Princess's world faded to black.
Slowly, Lando opened his eyes. "I'm still alive."
"You mean you don't trust the noble Jedi to keep you safe?" Mara said sarcastically, her face illuminated from the only light, which was the green glow of Luke's lightsaber. "You might hurt Skywalker's feelings."
Lando didn't reply as he limped over to Luke's side. "Is he alright?" Lando questioned, peering at the astromech droid.
Pushing Artoo upright, Luke flipped the power switch, and the little droid came 'alive' with another high-pitched squeal. "That's okay, Artoo," Luke reassured the droid. "You just have a bent front 'leg' and a few new dents." Luke and Lando grabbed the 'leg,' straining to make it straight enough that the droid could roll forward.
Artoo swiveled his dome around, assessing the situation. The beep that followed sounded suspiciously like, 'uh oh' to the humans' ears.
"We should move away from the opening," Teneniel suggested. "The Nightsisters might not follow us down, but that does not mean they will be opposed to dropping heavy things... like rocks."
"Good idea," Luke said, squinting down the wide tunnel that angled down. "Follow me."
"Of course, Oh Great Jedi Master," Mara muttered unhappily. "Your loyal subjects will follow you anywhere."
Turning to face Mara, Luke smiled. "You saved my life back there. You didn't have to."
"I did so!" Mara argued. "I told you... your droid ruined my ship, and I didn't know where yours was hidden."
"If you say so," Luke replied, before leading the way into the tunnel.
"Hurry up!" Qui-Gon yelled at the Wookiee as he hurried down a stairwell. "Leia's in trouble.... I can feel it."
Chewbacca hurried, hoping they wouldn't run into any of the Palace guards. Stopping at a door, Chewie pushed the 'open' button. The door remained shut.
"Stand back," Qui-Gon ordered. "I'm gonna open it up with my lightsaber." The purple blade shot out, and the boy slowly drove the saber into the control panel, then used the Force to push the thick door open.
Six heavily armed guards were waiting for them on the other side.
"Have I ever said I hate dark, damp, smelly caves? Especially underground caves?" Lando asked out loud to no one in particular. "Teneniel, why are the caves considered taboo?"
"The caves are where the undead reside," Teneniel answered. "It is said that the living cannot go into the caves without being consumed by the undead."
"Undead?" Lando said, his voice rising.
"What in Sith are the undead?" Mara grumbled. "It sounds like some stupid fairy tale to scare little kids away from going somewhere they could get lost or hurt."
"No," Teneniel insisted firmly. "They have been seen on occasion. At night, the undead sometimes leave the underground caves and attack spellcasters. If they succeed, the spellcasters are never seen again."
"So these undead only attack women?" Lando wondered.
"Yes. The undead are said to be the spirits of our male ancestors, unhappy that males no longer hold powers. They come out to seek revenge."
Luke stopped walking. "Mara... do you sense anything odd?"
She hesitated, then frowned. "I don't sense anything at all."
"Exactly," Luke agreed. "The further we go down into this cave, the less I can feel the Force. It's like a blanket is gradually smothering it."
"See?" Teneniel said, her eyes growing wide. "It is where the undead live. We should go back."
"Maybe she's right," Mara said reluctantly. "It's not that I believe in this 'undead' kreth, but I don't want to get into a situation where we're at a huge disadvantage."
"The Nightsisters are waiting for us if we go back," Luke pointed out.
"This is just great," Lando grumbled. "Trapped between angry, axe-wielding witches that want to burn us alive, or vengeful ghosts that suck up the Force and eat people. This planet will never become a vacation destination, let me tell you."
"We keep going," Luke decided, much to everyone's dismay.
Canmess'a was annoyed at yet another interruption. "What is it?"
The guard gave a short bow, eyeing the dark-haired woman strapped to the metal table. "We have captured a Wookiee and a young boy with a lightsaber. They were heading toward this laboratory."
"Where are they now?"
"We had to stun the Wookiee, but we have successfully restrained both of them in a holding cell." The guard held out a silver tube. "This is the boy's weapon."
The Deputy took the lightsaber, smiling. "You have done well. I will deal with the problem later."
Once the guard left, Canmess'a walked over to the Princess, removing the gag. "The Queen Mother will be here soon...once your husband is finished pleasuring her. Then it will be your turn, Ambassador."
The Princess was still recovering from the stun shot, and the shock of seeing her husband with Ta'a Chume, but she managed to make a response. "What did you do to Han?"
"Is it so hard to believe he wants to be Ta'a Chume's lover?"
"As a matter of fact, it's impossible to believe," Leia spat back.
"Solo has been mind-wiped, and reprogrammed," the Deputy said, enjoying the look of horror on Leia's face. "He now believes he is a Royal concubine. Born and trained for nothing else."
"And what are you planning to do to me?"
"The Queen Mother needs a daughter-in-law, and she has chosen you."
"Not for long. The Hapan mind-wipe can be used to alter perceptions as well as destroying memories. Soon, you will believe you are madly in love with Isolder."
"I'd have to be mad," Leia agreed curtly.
"Your memory of Solo making love to Ta'a Chume will be altered to the belief he was unfaithful to you with an anonymous woman during your visit. You will gladly sign the divorce decree freeing you from Solo, and you will quickly take another husband."
"You people are all insane," Leia hissed out. "I'll never marry Isolder."
"We shall see."
Naa'mo woke up to the first rays of sunshine coming through the window. Lying on his stomach, he raised his head and looked over at the woman next to him, then reached for her. When she turned her head toward him with her face covered in a thin, translucent veil, Naa'mo drew his hand away sharply, his heart skipping a beat. Somehow, he had been expecting another woman... a petite, dark-haired woman, to look back, not this older woman with gold-toned hair. Memories of the very intimate night he'd just experienced came flooding back, and he was confused. Part of him was thrilled he'd pleased his Queen; yet another part felt violated and a wave of nausea swept through him.
"You pleased me, Naa'mo," Ta'a Chume spoke in a husky voice, running her fingers down his bare back. "I am very satisfied this morning."
"Thank you," he responded instantly, unaware this reply was simply programmed into his mind.
"Draw my bath for me," she ordered. "Today will be a wonderful day." She watched as her new slave got out of bed, then hurried toward the refresher to obey her command. "Yes... it will be perfect."
Qui-Gon sat forlornly on the hard cot, his chin in his palm as he watched Chewbacca pace the cell. "I'm a terrible Jedi," he said softly. "Master Luke would be so disappointed in me. Jedi don't get caught rescuing people."
*You are young yet,* Chewie woofed softly as he tried to calm Han's adopted cub. *You still have many years to become a great Jedi.*
The boy only caught the word 'Jedi' from the Wookiee's sentence. "It's no wonder my mom and grandmother hate me. I'm useless." He jumped slightly as Chewie put his massive paws on his shoulders, shaking him gently. "I know.... it's all my fault."
*It is NOT your fault!* Chewie roared in frustration. *You have nothing to be ashamed of...do you understand? Han would not be happy to hear you speaking like this.*
"Please don't kill me!" Qui-Gon yelled, trying to pull away from Chewie's grip. "I'm too young to die!"
*KILL YOU? What are you talking about?"
"AHHH! GUARDS! HELP! THE WOOKIEE IS KILLING ME!"
The door opened, and two guards rushed in to protect the boy. Qui-Gon winked up at Chewbacca.
Following closely behind the injured dark-skinned, and strangely dressed, off-worlder male, Teneniel was not happy. Although she had never heard of the word 'Force', her ability to sense her surroundings was as natural to her as breathing, and the male spellcaster was correct - that ability was weakening with each step further into the underground. The stories must be true... this place was the domain of the undead.
"My knee hurts," Lando complained loudly to anyone who would bother to listen. When no one responded, he continued, "This cave is cold and generally unpleasant. I'm not dressed for spelunking."
"Neither are we, Calrissian," Mara groused.
"If the passageway gets any skinnier, Artoo won't fit and we'll have to leave him behind."
R2-D2 gave a protesting warble, and Luke glanced behind his knees at the droid. "Don't worry, Artoo. We won't leave you."
The stone corridor narrowed, and they were forced to walk single-file until Luke stopped, holding up his hand. "We have a problem," he said.
"I'm sure we've reached our limit for problems today, Luke," Lando said from directly behind the Jedi and Artoo. "I keep track of these things. It's time we had some good luck."
Mara, by her own insistence and the fact she was the one with a blaster, was bringing up the rear. "Don't you ever get tired of listening to yourself, Calrissian?"
"What is the problem?" Teneniel asked.
"This tunnel branches off into three different directions, and I'm not sure which one we should take," Luke said, wishing his Force-connection was stronger. He could use its guidance about now.
"Just pick one," Lando grumbled. "I'm sure it will be the tunnel that leads us directly up and out.... not to mention right under your ship. Right?"
Luke sighed, knowing Lando was correct - he had a one-in-three chance of picking the right one. If indeed, any of them were the right one. "Let's go to the right. No...middle. No... left. I think that's the way."
"I wish I had dice," Lando said. "We could roll and see what number comes up."
The group trudged behind Luke toward the left side tunnel.
It had been a very long time since Queen Mother Ta'a Chume was as pleased with the way her plans went as she was this morning. Her new slave had bathed and dressed her, then later, cut up her breakfast and hand-fed her food. Ta'a Chume knew Han Solo would rather be dead than in his current, mindless state, and that made the thrill of owning him even more alluring.
Owning Hapan concubines had always been a pleasure, but they were males hand-picked as children and raised in a sequestered society until age seventeen. Then, for two years, they entered a special school to learn the fine art of pleasing their owner. After 'graduation,' the highest-ranking Royal Hapan women (and as Queen, Ta'a Chume always was first) would pick and choose among the new concubines. Any rejects would be passed to the pleasure houses of Hapes for the commoners to rent, since owning a concubine was forbidden unless you had a Royal lineage. Royals could own as many concubines as their budget, and space, allowed. The Queen Mother owned several hundred.
She glanced back at the Corellian, satisfied at his new appearance. Instead of those boring black boots, vest and pants, and white shirt the Corellian seemed to wear constantly, Naa'mo now wore a short, pleated red kilt and tan sandals on his feet. He was naked from the waist up except for a jewel-encrusted, wide gold ring which circled his neck and rested on his shoulders. The concubine's right earlobe had been pieced, and an expensive Hapan ruby glinted as it caught the light. Hairdressers had lightened his hair to almost white, and long matching locks had been braided in as hair extensions. Ta'a Chume knew, eventually, his hair would be long enough to please her without the extensions. For now, they would do.
The Queen's new slave meekly followed her into the laboratory, where the Princess lay strapped to the same gurney that held her husband such a short time ago.
Leia's face fell into a shocked expression when a very blond, long-haired Han, dressed in the skimpy costume of a Hapan concubine, came into her sightline. "Han?"
His eyes flicked briefly in her direction, and Leia thought she saw momentary recognition of his name. Then his eyes clouded over and he looked away.
"He will not respond," Ta'a Chume informed her. "That is no longer his name. His official name is Naa'mo, Concubine Number Two Hundred Forty-Nine."
"You're going to pay for doing this to him," Leia said through clenched teeth. "There is no way you're getting away with it."
"It is better than what my cousin wanted for both of you."
"What are you talking about?"
Since it wouldn't matter, Ta'a Chume explained, "Euridice Sollon is my cousin - "
"Why am I not surprised?"
The Queen glared at her captive, then continued. "She asked that I arrange for you and your husband to have a fatal accident while on Hapes, and I told her I would. After I saw you, I decided I'd rather have you for my daughter-in-law, instead. There is so little choice for my son these days."
"How did Euridice end up on Corellia?" Leia asked despite herself.
"Her name used to be Eu'rice Chume, and she was my mother's younger sister's first-born. She could have been seventh in line for the throne, if not for the fact she was born so ugly."
Leia looked confused. "Ugly? Euridice might not be glamorous, or holo-star gorgeous, but she's certainly not ugly. At least not on the outside."
"By our standards, she is quite disgusting. Her nose is too large, her eyes are too small, and her hair is too dark. Her only redeeming feature was her height, but instead of being elegant, she was only gangly. Her mother wanted to abandon her at birth, but was convinced to keep her until she turned sixteen. Then she was told to leave Hapes, and never return. My mother kindly saw to it Eu'rice had money and arranged that her high society associates on Corellia would accept her into their community. She changed her name, and met a Corellian by the name of Benewald Sollon. The rest you already know."
If not for the fact Euridice had planned their deaths, Leia might have felt sorry for the woman. Right now, however, she was too concerned about her and Han's predicament. "Why do you think I'm right for your son?" Leia questioned, trying to stall for time. "I'm not blonde or gorgeous...or tall."
The Queen Mother smiled, then waved over the scientist to attach the Hapan mind-wipe cap. "Hair color can be changed, as I'm sure you can see by Naa'mo's example. And you are pretty enough. Any minor facial flaws I can have fixed through surgery."
Leia twisted her head, trying to keep the scientist from attaching the machine.
"Hold her head, Naa'mo," Ta'a Chume ordered. "Firmly."
The Princess watched helplessly as Han grasped her jaw with bruising force. The cap was clamped on. Then the Deputy's comlink buzzed.
"What is it now?" the Deputy said in exasperation, slamming the lightsaber down on a counter, tantalizing close to where Leia lay.
"Chief Deputy! The prisoner's have escaped!"
"What prisoners?" Ta'a Chume snapped out, walking over to her deputy.
"The Jedi boy and the Wookiee animal. They had been captured earlier trying to rescue the Ambassador."
"They must be found."
"There is more," the frantic voice came over the comlink. "They've been setting fires on all floors! And power to parts of the Palace is being lost."
Leia stared into Han's face, desperately trying to make eye contact. Then Luke's voice came into her mind. The Force is strong in our family. I have it... my sister has it. One day you will learn how to use it like I have. Use the Force, Leia. And with her untrained abilities, Leia reached into her husband's mind, just as the power in the laboratory went out.
Luke groaned as he turned the corner. "A dead end."
"I wish you wouldn't use that term," Lando grumbled.
"I guess this means I picked the wrong tunnel," Luke said, pointing out the obvious.
"I'd say," Mara agreed from the back of the line. "A really, really wrong tunnel, too. Skywalker? Can you get back here?" The tone of her voice sounded... odd.
Pushing past Lando and Teneniel, Luke held up his lightsaber. Dozens of eyes glinted in the green haze.
"The undead have found us," Teneniel whispered in fear. "We are trapped."
Indeed, the men staring at them looked like zombies. Sickly pale flesh stretched over their gaunt, sunken features. Matted hair hung down to their waists, and they dressed in loose animal pelts. Eerily silent, they stood holding fist-sized rocks and large sticks. And then they started moving forward.
Mara raised her blaster, prepared to start shooting. Even if she couldn't get them all, she knew she'd take a sizeable chuck out of their numbers.
"Wait!" Luke yelled, pushing her arm down. "We can't just assume they want to hurt us."
"They're holding sticks and rocks, Skywalker!" Mara shot back. "Friendly people present you with flowers and wine."
"I'll keep that in mind next time you visit me," Lando commented dryly.
Luke clicked his tongue impatiently, then tried to speak to the men. "We aren't trying to hurt you," he said gently. Somehow, this situation reminded him of Endor, and the overly frightened Ewoks.
"No, they're trying to hurt us," Mara agreed, watching as the men slowly continued their approach, their eyes squinting against the brightness of the glowing lightsaber. It was obvious by their skin tone that these people were unaccustomed to any type of light.
"I don't think they speak Basic, Luke," Lando said.
"Teneniel, you need to get up here and see if you can communicate with them," Luke said to the Dathomirian woman.
Teneniel shook her head, her back pressed against the stone wall. "The undead do not speak."
"They're not undead," Luke argued. "They're just humans. Living humans."
The native woman shook her head. "They will eat us."
"They might do that, if we can't make them understand us," Luke agreed, getting irritated.
Cautiously, Teneniel crept forward. "What do you want me to say?"
"Ask them if we can join their subterranean toga party," Lando suggested. "And see if they have any of that wine Mara was talking about."
"No," Luke snapped. "Tell them we're lost, and we need their help. Tell them the Nightsisters chased us, and we had to use their home to escape."
Tentatively, she spoke to who appeared to be the leader, relaying Luke's message. To her surprise, the men stopped advancing, looking at her in confusion. Then the leader spoke back, his voice low and raspy.
"He speaks our language," Teneniel said in surprise. "I don't believe he is undead."
"What did he say?" Luke prodded.
"He will help us, if we help them."
Teneniel asked, and the man replied at length.
"They claim they are males that have escaped from the clans over many generations. The only safe place to live was underground, so this is their home. They never leave, except at night to gather food."
"That would explain the pasty computer-geek look," Mara said.
"They do not wish to continue living here. If they show us the way out, and to our ship, we must promise to take them off this planet," Teneniel told the group. "They will even let their prisoners go, then."
"Wait a minute," Lando said. "They have prisoners, too?"
Teneniel spent more time communicating, before turning back to Luke. "They do not kill the women they kidnap during the night. They bring them down here, where they are unable to cast spells. Then the women are allowed to chose which male they wish to take as a husband."
"Ah, the old turn-the-tables on them trick," Lando said, nodding in approval.
Luke rubbed his forehead. "How many men live down here?"
After a moment, Teneniel interpreted. "About eight hundred."
"That includes the women and children. It is possible that some of the women may wish to leave with their husbands. Returning to their clan would be impossible at this point, since they would be considered cursed."
"We'd have to return for them," Luke told her. "My ship could only hold fifty, and that's if it was packed tight."
"Ah," Lando said. "Fifty unwashed and undead cellar-dwellers, shoulder to shoulder on a ship with recycled air. My dream trip."
"Tell them we'll help them," Luke said, ignoring Lando, even though it was difficult.
"Of course we'll help them," Mara said, groaning. "That's what Jedi do. Right, Skywalker?"
Luke smiled at the redhead. "You're catching on fast, Mara."
"I know what you're thinking, but I'm not a Jedi," she returned.
"Not yet," he said. But you will be.
Threepio ran down the hallway, his metal arms thrown up in the air. "Help! There are fires everywhere! I will melt down if no one helps me." Hapan guards and firefighters rushed past in the powerless hallway, ignoring the frantic droid. "Why does everyone ignore droids? What did I ever do to deserve this treatment? All I ever do is try and help humans, and when I need assis- "
A large, hairy paw shot out from behind a door, pulling the droid inside the supply closet. "Ah -" The hairy paw was across his vocal box, cutting off the startled cry of surprise.
*It's us, C-3PO,* Chewie woofed quietly as he removed his hand.
"Thank the Maker! I am finally safe! Where have you two been? Have you located General Solo and Princess Leia yet? It's been hours and hours, and no one has bothered to let me know anything!"
"We were caught trying to find Leia," Qui-Gon whispered. "But I know where she's at now... we just have to get there. That's why we're setting fires and cutting off the power... to create a distraction."
"You have been the ones setting all those fires?" Threepio asked. "That is very dangerous behavior, Master Qui-Gon. And illegal, too."
"So is kidnapping, which is what the Hapans are doing," the boy shot back hotly.
"Well, I do believe your distractions are working," Threepio finally stated. "But it is still dangerous. Especially for droids."
"Come on," Qui-Gon said, sticking his head out of the closet and looking both ways. "It's clear."
Threepio hurried to follow the boy and Chewbacca, complaining as he went. "Why do these terrible things always happen to me? Artoo is so lucky. All he ever does lately is sit around that nice Sollon mansion, soaking in lubricate baths."
Han! Leia called out mentally, trying to reach the man she knew was still there. She had seen the small expressions on his face before the lights went out - Han was still there.... buried, but alive. Han! Release me, please! His fingers moved away from her face, and she could sense his confusion. Maybe what she needed to do was order, not request. Naa'mo! Release the prisoner! Now! Leia mentally ordered, trying to make him believe it was the Queen speaking.
And amazingly, it worked. The Princess felt his fingers fumbling in the darkness for the straps, pulling her free. Leia pulled the cap off, then lunged forward and grabbed the lightsaber not a second too soon. The emergency lights flicked and the room was again in brightness.
Ta'a Chume narrowed her gaze at Leia. "How did you get loose?"
"Han's not quite as under your control as you might believe."
"Naa'mo, take the weapon from the Princess," the Queen snapped out. Solo hesitated, then moved toward Leia as Ta'a Chume smirked. "You won't harm him, will you?"
"Han... listen to me," Leia said, backing up. "She's controlling you. Your name is Han Solo... not Naa'mo. You're my husband, not Ta'a Chume's property!"
"Take the weapon, Naa'mo!"
Leia knew the Queen was right - there would be no way she'd use the lightsaber against Han. Slowly, she moved her hand up to relinquish the weapon. "I love you, Han. I'd never hurt you."
"Le...Le..." Han struggled to say, his face contorted with conflict.
"Take the weapon, Naa'mo!" Ta'a Chume ordered. "Or I will have you beaten and turned into a eunuch!"
Han took the weapon from Leia's grasp, then headed toward Ta'a Chume, the scientist, and Deputy Canmess'a, while Leia's shoulders slumped in defeat.
The men led the off-worlders to an enormous cavern filled with stone huts, walkways and a slow-moving river dissecting the center. It was an underground village, and amazingly, it wasn't completely dark. Glowing stone of various colors were placed in front of each hut, and smaller stones marked the paths. Luke could tell the same lighting glowed inside the homes, as well. It wasn't bright by any means, but it allowed for enough light that Luke turned off his lightsaber. "What type of rocks are those?"
Teneniel asked, then turned to Luke after the man was done speaking. "They were discovered by their ancestors. They do not know what creates the light, but the stones glow for many cycles. When they start losing brightness, they take them up to the surface at night, and leave them. Then, several cycles later, they retrieve them and they will glow again for a long time, but only underground. It is knowledge that has been passed down for generations."
Lando looked around, craning his neck up to look at the high ceiling. "You know, it's not so bad in here, really."
Then the ground starting shaking, and rocks starting raining down from the ceiling.
"You had to say that, didn't you, Calrissian?" Mara groused, watching as the villagers all ran screaming to the safety of their huts.
Blaster fire sounded outside the laboratory, and Qui-Gon and Chewie burst into the room waving their stolen blasters and followed closely by Threepio. Han spun around to face the intruders, still holding the lightsaber.
"Dad? Why are you wearing a skirt?"
*What happened to your hair? Have you lost your mind?* Chewie barked in concern, unaware how close that question was to the truth.
"Kill them!" Ta'a Chume screamed. "Kill the boy and the Wookiee!"
"Qui-Gon, Chewie?" Han said, blinking hard, his voice sounding like sandpaper. He shook his head, trying to clear the cloudiness from his mind as the Queen screamed orders at him to kill his best friend and his adopted son. The mental bondage he'd been fighting for hours snapped, freeing his self-will. "Find some binders and restrain these women."
"Han!" Leia cried out in happiness, rushing forward and throwing her arms around her shaking husband. "You're back!"
"I'm s..sorry, Leia," Han rasped, his trembling arms holding her tight. Memories of what he'd been forced to endure flooded his memory, and a tide of humiliation and repulsion threatened to overwhelm him. Could Leia ever forgive him? Could he ever forgive himself?
Leia drew back, reaching up and touching her husband's face, sensing his shame and uncertainty. "You're a victim in this, Han. You don't need to apologize."
The relief on Han's face was immediate, and his self-incrimination turned outward, to the people responsible.
"This can't be," Ta'a Chume argued, staring at Solo and Leia as the Wookiee roughly pulled her arms behind her back, snapping the restraints in place. She turned her glare at the scientist. "Why was this not permanent?"
The gray-haired woman shrugged. "The mind-wipe is a new technique; it was based on the Hapan Gun of Command technology, which is only a temporary mind control. Even some strong-willed Hapans have proven to be resistant, and fought off the effects until a second treatment was administered."
T'a'a Chume looked astounded at the scientist. "What? Why didn't you tell me?"
"No one asked," the scientist replied glumly as Qui-Gon placed binders around her wrists.
"You ain't gettin' me back on that table for a second treatment," Han muttered, sticking the silver tube under the Deputy's chin. "Where's my blaster?"
"Do not tell him!" Ta'a Chume snapped to her aide.
Han turned slowly to face the Queen Mother, pulling the hilt away from Canmess'a throat, then flicking on the lightsaber. He raised the humming purple blade until it was burning the thin veil over the Queen's face. Ta'a Chume would never know how close she'd come to dying in that instant, and only a monumental act of self-restraint prevented the Corellian from severing the Queen's head from her neck. "I should kill you," he said in a low, dangerous voice. "You're the worse piece of trash I've ever run across, and that includes Jabba the Hutt."
Despite her fear, the Queen refused to be yield. "Corellians are overrated. You would have been scrubbing my commodes in a week, instead of sharing my bed."
The Princess placed her hand on Han's forearm, understanding his fury - she was livid herself - but also understanding the consequences of killing the leader of Hapes. "It would start another war, and millions of lives would be lost," she whispered. Leia felt a sense of pride in her husband when Han nodded his agreement, and stepped back.
Chewie leaned forward, roaring and showing a mouthful of fangs in Canmess'a's face. Sometimes, being threatened by a Wookiee worked better than blasters and lightsabers. "The DL-44 is in the top drawer... behind the Princess," she said quickly.
"Chewie, pat these women down real good, and make sure they don't have any hidden comlinks or weapons on 'em," Han ordered. Chewie quickly, and very thoroughly, checked the Hapans.
"Dad.... can I have my lightsaber back?" Qui-Gon asked after Han had retreived his blaster, which was lying next to several other blasters, including a Hapan Gun of Command.
Han grinned, then tossed him the hilt. "Sure, kid. Lightsabers and me don't get along real good, anyway."
The boy had a hard time tearing his gaze away from Han's wild outfit. "The earring's wiz, Dad. But the skirt is really disgusting."
"What are we going to do now?" Leia questioned. "It's not like the Hapans will believe us, and their military will prevent the Falcon from leaving."
"We will be arrested for sure," Threepio moaned. "I will be melted down and never heard from again. That is, if we don't all die onboard the Millennium Falcon. Oh, I do hate my life."
The Corellian gazed at the mind-wipe machine and considered blasting it to pieces. Then his eyes glanced over to the Hapan Gun of Command, and he gave a lop-sided grin. "I have an idea....."
"LOOK OUT!" Luke screamed, then rushed forward, tackling Mara around her waist. Both went down in a tangle of limbs, and a large boulder crashed to the ground exactly where the redhead had been standing.
Just as quickly as the shaking started, it stopped. Mara sat up, pushing Luke off her torso. "I think you enjoyed that a bit too much," she complained, rubbing her bruised ribs.
Luke looked affronted. "I save your life, and you think I did it just so I could touch you?"
"Grope. I think the word is grope."
The Jedi jumped to his feet, glaring down. "You really have an attitude, do you know that? I wouldn't grope you if you were the last female in the galaxy!"
Mara stood up, then smiled. "Well, finally. A real reaction. Something besides the calm, collected Jedi routine. I was starting to think you might not even be human."
"I'm human," Luke protested, meeting her amused expression. "Very human."
"I see that."
"Do you still want to kill me?" Luke asked, moving closer.
"I don't think so," she answered, feeling a bit lightheaded. It must be the lack of oxygen down in these caves, she thought. It's certainly not those blue eyes of Skywalker's.
Luke knew it was definitely a start in the right direction.
In the meantime, Lando had hurried over to Teneniel. "What was that?"
"The men say it is the Nightsisters' wrath. They sometimes try to destroy the underground using their powers, but it never works." Teneniel gave Lando a shy smile. "Are you certain you will not consider coming with me if I return to my clan? I will treat you very good, Lando Calrissian."
"Uh... I, um, well...."
"Do you find me ugly?"
"No! Of course not. But I don't think I'm cut out for the simple life. I like the elegant things, Teneniel, and living in a hut doesn't qualify as elegant."
She bit her lower lip. "Will I fit in... out there, in Luke's school?"
"You'll do fine, Teneniel. Better than fine." Lando was surprised when the Dathomirian woman threw her arms around his waist, and hugged him tightly. The former gambler felt his heart skip a beat as he held her. Don't be stupid, he told himself firmly. She's not your type. Not your type at all. And she's too young. He suddenly pictured himself taking her to the best restaurants on Corellia, and watching as she brought home beautiful new clothes. She was rather pretty under all that grunge and animal hides. With the proper guidance....then he wondered if he was losing his mind. She's not my type.
Uncertain about Han's plan, Leia still contacted Isolder, asking to meet him in the conference room. He was more than eager to comply. She looked up and gave a timid smile as he swept into the room. "Isolder... I'm so terribly sorry for all the trouble Qui-Gon and Chewbacca have caused."
"It is certainly not your fault, Princess," he replied politely.
"Well, just the same," Leia said with a sigh. "I have located them, and I'd like you to accompany them back to their rooms. Since the guards are busy looking for them, I'm afraid they might come to harm without your presence."
"Of course!" Isolder said instantly. "I would do anything for you... anything at all! Has your husband turned up yet?"
Leia put her face into her hands, bursting into tears. "You were right.... he was... he was...."
"With another woman?" Isolder prodded eagerly.
"I knew it! Corellians are cads! You deserve so much better."
"I know that, but it's too late. He's my husband," Leia mumbled into her fingers.
"You have no children, and Hapan laws allow you to divorce immediately. Would you like me to draw up the necessary legal work?"
"No... maybe later," Leia sniffed. "I just need time to think. Let's go take Qui-Gon and Chewie back to their rooms."
"That sounds like a fine plan. You think about it," Isolder said, putting his arm around her shoulders in sympathy. "You think about it for a few hours, and then I will contact the lawyers."
"The males have said they will show us to our ship now," Teneniel told Luke. "I will be happy to leave this cave. I do not like this ... feeling."
Luke had to agree. Then he noticed one of the glowing rocks lying at his feet. Obviously, it had been part of the rubble from the cave roof. Leaning over, he picked it up and immediately noticed his entire arm went numb, but the rock started glowing even stronger. "That's it," he said quietly.
"That's what, Skywalker?" Mara asked, peering over his shoulder.
"These rocks. They're the reason we can't access the Force." He handed it to Mara. Startled, she quickly dropped the object as its glow brightened even further. "Did you feel it?" Luke questioned, getting excited. "It gets its illumination from drawing on the Force! At first, I thought the reason they glowed was some chemical property connected with this planet's sun, but that's not it at all. The rocks recharge on the surface because of the Force."
Teneniel nodded. "Yes, that makes sense. My people, the Singing Mountain Clan, have always told our women to stay away from certain areas, and usually that is where the cave openings are located. We were told the undead could suck our powers."
"But it wasn't the undead at all," Mara stated. "It was the rocks."
"See?" Lando said. "That's just how rumors get started. People are all the same, no matter where you go."
"Is that true, Lando Calrissian?" Teneniel asked shyly.
Unable to think of a smart response, the Baron only nodded and smiled. Mara gave a little groan of disgust, before mumbling, "Let's get out of here before he starts telling her she has beautiful eyes, and he can't live without her."
Luke watched as Mara stomped away, then leaned forward and whispered, "Mara, I think you have beautiful eyes." It was probably for the best she couldn't hear him.
Isolder raised his sculpted eyebrow as Leia led him toward the basement laboratories. "They went in here? Why would they do that?"
"I can't explain that boy," Leia said. "He's Han's off-spring, you know."
The Prince curled his lip in disgust. "I know. Now, aren't you happy you never had Solo's child?"
"Well.... " Leia started to say, then opened the door. Inside stood Han Solo, dressed as a Hapan concubine and leaning against the far wall, holding one of Ta'a Chume's scientists hostage. The boy and Wookiee were no where to be seen.
"Princess!" Isolder cried out. "Run!"
"Run?" Leia asked, puzzled, then pulled out a blaster. "Why would I do that? Move inside, Isolder," Leia ordered.
Han dragged the scientist over to the gurney, and Chewie entered the room from another door. "The prisoners doin' okay back there, pal?"
*Qui-Gon is guarding them,* Chewie replied. *They are trussed up and gagged. They will not be giving us trouble.*
"Good," Han said, then glared at the Prince. "Now it's your turn. Get on the gurney, or my Wookiee will force the issue."
Isolder turned his gray dove-eyes at Leia. "I don't understand..."
"Your mother tried turning my husband into her private toy," Leia snapped, explaining Han's current state of undress. "And she intended to turn me into your love-slave, too. Don't worry.... Han assures me this mind-wipe isn't too painful."
"Mind-wipe?" Isolder asked in horror. "Please! I knew nothing of this!"
"On the gurney!" Han repeated as Chewie growled. The Prince obeyed, and was quickly strapped down.
"I will be executed for doing this," the scientist said, her face pale with fear as she attached the cap.
"Only if the Queen remembers it," Han informed her as he raised the comlink to his lips. "Threepio? Get out here."
The droid hurried in the room. "Yes, General Solo?"
"Did you get the downloads?"
The droid held out a small disk. "Everything that I could find on the holo-net is on this disk. Including holo-graphic images. I'm afraid those were mostly rather dated."
Han shoved the disk at the scientist. "I don't want him to forget anything important - just us. And ya know how you were gonna program Leia into being madly in love with gorgeous guy here?"
"Well, I want you to insert all this information into beauty boy's brain. I want him to fall madly in love with the woman on this disk. I want him to be so in love with her, he'll travel to Corellia to find her, and shower her with riches, begging her to be his bride."
The scientist took the disk. "Who is this woman?"
"Don't worry," Han said with a laugh. "She's blonde. She'll fit in fine here, and be a wonderful new Queen Mother."
Leia had to admit, sometimes Han's demented plans bordered on genius.
They squinted into the sunlight as the tunnel finally opened up on the surface of the planet. The cave-dwelling men refused to follow them past a certain point, but Luke was confident it was only due to fear, or perhaps the bright light, and they were not about to be betrayed. His opinion was justified as he pointed a short distance away. "There's my ship."
Artoo gave a relieved warble, then hurried forward.
"I think they really believe you'll come back for them," Mara stated.
"I plan on it."
"This is still Imperial space," Mara pointed out.
Luke smiled. "I'll convince Leia it's the right thing to do, because it is."
"And Jedi always do the right thing," Mara said, trying to sound disgusted. She knew she wasn't pulling it off.
"Yes. We do."
"Will you come back to Corellia, and train as a Jedi?"
Mara pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Euridice won't be a bit happy about this."
"First the Emperor, then Euridice. It's time you started listening to your own heart, and not those types."
"I am 'those types,'" she argued.
"Not a chance, Mara. Not a chance."
Mara Jade only smiled, and followed the droid to the ship.
The Millennium Falcon lifted without incident after receiving full clearance on the Queen Mother's command. Of course, only a few people knew the Queen's Command was based on the fact she'd been shot with the Hapan Gun of Command, and ordered to give them clearance. She would rescue her Chief Deputy and her scientist from their bonds and gags after the Gun's effects wore off, and she remembered where they were locked up.
And Isolder was already busy at his computer, trying to locate the woman of his dreams - Chirlyn Sollon.
Tralus, three days later
Euridice looked startled when Han and Leia strolled casually into her huge home. "What... what brings you here?"
"Surprised, Mother?" Han asked, picking up a small vase and pretending to inspect the bottom. With the hair extensions gone and his hair dyed back to its original color, there was little left to show for his short stint as a concubine. "Sorta thought me an' Leia'd be dead by now?"
The older woman quickly composed herself. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Han set the vase back down. "Sure you don't."
"Mara has decided to become one of Luke's students back on Corellia," Leia explained sweetly. "She told us all about your orders to kill Lando, kill Luke and his students...burn down the Sollon Estate. Little things like that."
"That's a lie," Euridice said firmly, then glanced up at her son. "What's that in your ear?"
Han reached up, touching the expensive ruby. "Oh, that. Just a little souvenir from your perverted cousin, who tried turning me into her love-slave. Ta'a Chume gives her regards." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I had no idea you were Hapan, but for some reason, I wasn't too surprised."
"I'm only half Hapan. My father was Alderaanian," the older woman explained, glaring at Leia like this fact was somehow her fault. "From what I was told growing up, I inherited my father's looks."
"What happened to him?" Leia asked, wondering why she even cared. Maybe it was just because he was Alderaanian, and she felt a certain kinship to all Alderaanians.
"They divorced when I was an infant, and he moved back to Alderaan. I assume he died when the Death Star blew up the planet. Who cares? I never knew him, and I never wanted to, either," Euridice said coolly.
"Well, anyway, Ta'a Chume didn't exactly follow your plans, Mother," Han said as he looked down at his wife. "Still, I think it might all work out for the best, don't you, sweetheart?"
"Absolutely," Leia agreed.
"This is all lies," Euridice snapped. "You are completely delusional."
"No, we're not," Leia said, her face getting hard and angry. "You have no idea what you put us through, and you're very lucky we don't send you to prison for the rest of your bitter little life."
"Send me, and I'll take Jade with me," Euridice said, smirking. "I'm sure if she's suddenly decided to become a Jedi, that's the last thing you'll want to have happen."
"Exactly," Han conceded. "But you'd better understand this... Mother. If you ever try to interfere with my life, or Sollon Enterprises, again... you will disappear. Forever."
"Are you threatening to kill me?"
"No. I'm threatening to send you back to Hapes, the same hole you crawled out of. If you think your life is bad here, I'm sure your cousin will make it a living hell."
"Did I ever tell you how your father died?" Euridice said, her tone brittle. "Jade killed him. Shot him with a poison dart as he sat in his office over at Sollon Enterprises." Seeing Han and Leia's shocked expressions, she added, "Now how do you feel about that little redheaded assassin?"
"You hired her to kill Benewald," Leia quickly deducted.
"Of course. I wanted his wealth, before he decided to divorce me. Our marriage wasn't going too well. Not since that tramp Chirlyn had that.... boy," she said, spitting the last word like it was a curse. "I didn't know Benewald changed his will before he died, or I wouldn't have hired Jade to kill him. A divorce would have gotten me more than twenty million."
"Mara has changed," Leia told the woman, still sensing Han's emotional pain over this revelation. "She couldn't help the environment she was raised in, but at least she was able to pull herself up, and become a better person. I don't think you've ever even tried to overcome your past."
"Don't think that you'll ever get another credit of Sollon money," Han snapped at Euridice. "If my entire family dies, I have a will that sends every credit to charities. How do you think it would look if you challenged a will that helped orphans and homeless? You'd be more reviled than the Emperor."
"I hate you," Euridice said, turning her back to them.
"And we pity you," Leia said quietly, pulling Han toward the exit.
Corellia.... several hours later
Qui-Gon reluctantly handed Mara her lightsaber as all the Jedi stood around inside the large living room. "Here you go," he said sadly. "It's a really neat lightsaber."
"Yes, it is," she agreed. "I missed it."
Luke put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "It's probably time you built your first lightsaber, anyway. It means more when you construct your very own."
The boy beamed. "Does that mean I'm a Jedi?"
Corran and Luke exchanged amused looks. "You've got to admire his persistence," Corran said.
"Not quite yet, Qui-Gon," Luke told the boy. "But you're getting closer all the time. From what I've been told, you managed to save Han and Leia from a terrible fate by your actions."
"But I got caught."
"And you escaped," Mara put in. "Always a mark of a good Jedi."
The group turned to watch Han and Leia enter, followed by Chewie and Threepio. The way that General Solo looked at Mara made her uncomfortable, and she shifted her gaze to the floor.
"How did it go with Euridice?" Luke asked.
"Interesting," Han said shortly.
Leia glanced at the crowded room. "Luke? Can we go talk somewhere private? With Mara?"
The Jedi nodded, sensing Mara's dread. "The library?"
"That's fine," Han snapped, then spun on his heel and headed toward the estate's library.
Quietly, the other three followed, and Luke and Mara seated themselves on one of the room's two nerfhide sofas, facing the stony-faced Corellian and the Princess.
"What's going on?" Luke said finally.
"Why don't you explain to Luke what's goin' on?" Han snapped at Mara, his voice harsh.
"Han, please," Luke admonished. "That's hardly called for."
"Yes, it is," Mara said quietly. "Euridice told them. I knew my life could never change. I've done too many terrible things to be forgiven."
Leia leaned forward, placing her hand on Mara's knee. "You've changed, Mara. Luke believes it, and so do I."
"Just not General Solo," the redhead stated, still unable to meet Han's intense stare.
"She said you murdered my father."
This comment shocked Luke, and he turned to Mara. "You killed Benewald?"
"No, I didn't."
Han gave a snort, and threw up his hands in disgust. "Dueling liars. Who to believe?"
Mara jumped to her feet. "I.... I went to Sollon Enterprises to kill him. I admit that. But I didn't kill him, I swear it!"
"Then who did?" Han shot back.
"No one. He was slumped forward at his desk, and when I felt his neck there was no pulse. So I left, and the next day I tapped into the coroner's computer, wanting to see how he died. It was an aneurysm in the brain that broke. Ironically, the poison I was going to use mimicked a stroke, so I was able to tell Euridice I'd done the job and she paid me."
"That sounds too convenient, if ya ask me," Han retorted.
"Mara is telling the truth, Han," Luke said quietly.
"Of course you'd believe her, kid. You're in love with her!"
"I'm not in love with her," Leia informed her belligerent husband. "And I can sense she's telling the truth, too."
"You're in love with me?" Mara asked Luke in astonishment.
"Of course he is," Han grumbled. "For a Force-sensitive, you sure are blind."
Luke felt himself blushing, and cleared his throat nervously. "This isn't exactly the time or place."
"It's better than a second before ya get frozen in carbonite, kid," Han said as everyone laughed.
The tension eased from the room and Mara knew at that point she was truly forgiven.
Sollon Estate, two months later....
Leaning back in the holo-screening room, Han grabbed a handful of air popped maize, stuffing it into his mouth.
Luke shook his head in mock dismay. "I can't believe you went along with this, Leia. You're supposed to keep Han in line, not encourage him."
"I told you the poor Hapans would never be the same after Solo visited," Corran said, restraining his mirth.
"They're lucky that's all that happened, after what they put me through," Han mumbled through his half-chewed maize.
"It wasn't all bad," Leia teased, looking up at the little gold hoop that had replaced the Hapan ruby in Han's earlobe. "You kept the earring."
"My son says it's wiz."
*Unlike long blond hair and skirts,* Chewie woofed out.
"Maybe I'll have to get myself an earring, too," Lando said, leaning over and giving Teneniel a kiss, which she returned with enthusiasm.
Leia smiled at the couple, so obviously in love. "This is as good a time as any, I guess," she said, looking at Han for confirmation. Han nodded in agreement.
"What are you talking about?" Luke questioned.
"I just found out a few days ago...I'm pregnant!" Leia announced happily. The group cheered and hooted loudly, making Leia blush.
"Congratulations, you two," Luke said, reaching over and hugging his twin.
"When are you due?" Cilghal asked.
"In seven months."
"So you did the deed right after the Hapan incident," Corran surmised, pursing his lips thoughtfully.
"Yup," Han agreed with his fellow Corellian. "I think it was that sexy slave costume. She couldn't keep her hands off of me after that."
"Ew," Qui-Gon grumbled. "We didn't need that mental image, Dad."
"HAN!" Leia yelled, appalled, then slugged him in his arm with her fist.
"Quiet!" Qui-Gon said loudly to the group which also consisted of all the Jedi trainees and the droids. "It's about to start."
"Okay," Mara said. "We'll stop talking." The ex-assassin didn't object when Luke took her hand and moved closer.
Everyone's attention turned to the huge holo-screen, and they watched in silence as Chirlyn Sollon entered the Royal Hapan Ceremonial Hall, wearing the most jeweled and elaborate wedding gown anyone had ever laid eyes on. Formal Hapan music flowed from the speakers. And standing at the front was Isolder, dressed in his frilly Hapan clothes, and with the dopiest, largest grin possible plastered on his face.
The camera panned briefly to the Queen Mother Ta'a Chume. Even behind her veils, there was no mistaking the look of hate, horror, outrage and disdain on her face. It did Han's heart good to see her so distraught over Isolder's new bride, and the new Queen of Hapes.
After the vows, the group broke out into applause along with the Hapans sitting in the Ceremonial Hall.
"Does this mean I'm a Jedi Prince now?" Qui-Gon asked.
"I do believe it does," Threepio mused.