The Experiment - AU ESB - OT Characters, centered on Han
Princess Leia Organa watched as her shuttle tore away from Hoth. A small smile played across her face as the Millennium Falcon caught up to the Rebel shuttle, then peeled away to avoid the incoming laser fire from the Imperial Star Destroyer. It pleased her to think that Han had cared enough to come to the Command Center and see her safely to the shuttle. Her thoughts drifted to Luke. I'll see them both again. I know I will.
As Leia's shuttle safely made the leap to hyperspace, she never saw the Millennium Falcon shudder and spark as a lucky shot caught the side of the small freighter. She never saw Solo's ship drawn toward the vast hanger of the Destroyer, so reminiscent of the time it had been drawn, against the pilot's will, toward the Death Star over the remains of Alderaan.
"We can't let them take us," Han whispered to his shaggy friend, trying not to let his fear show as the hanger grew larger and nearer. "We need to use the Falcon's weapons. Blast the hanger apart. Maybe the tractor beam will let us go if we do enough damage." Even as he said those words, Han knew the possibility of any type of escape, except through death, was highly unlikely.
*Our shields have been badly damaged,* Chewie woofed back. *Any explosions will probably destroy the Falcon.*
"They way I see it, we're dead anyway," Han answered, his face tight. "We can do it the fast way, or let Vader and friends do it their way - slow and painful."
*We will do it your way, cub.* Chewie looked over at his long-time friend. *It has been a pleasure to know you, Han.*
Han's voice failed him and he could only nod. Thinking one final time about the dark-haired Princess that he'd never had a chance to get truly close to, Solo aimed his powerful weapons at the approaching hanger and fired.
Luke stared in horror out of the viewport of the X-Wing as the Falcon was pulled ever closer to the Destroyer. I promised Ben I'd go to Dagobah.... but if I do, then no one will know that Han was captured... The untrained Jedi felt torn in two. Thinking about how he had come so close to death on the lonely ice fields of Hoth only to be rescued by Solo, made up his mind. I'll go to Dagobah... later.
The young man started to change course to head to the rebel rendezvous point when a large explosion lit up the Star Destroyer's hanger. Grief gripped Luke as he realized his friend - the man he'd come to think of as a brother, was dead.
Pain. Parched throat. Forcing his eyes open, Solo squinted up into bright lights, trying to remember what had happened, and where he was.
"You did a great deal of damage to my Destroyer's hanger, Solo," a mechanical voice hissed. "Too bad the only thing you really destroyed was your own ship."
"Chew....Chewie? Where's Chewie?" Han whispered past his raw lungs.
"Your Wookiee did not survive." Vader waited a moment for his words to sink into the stunned Corellian's foggy awareness. "You can consider yourself fortunate my son was not on your ship when you took those reckless actions."
Son? Chewie's dead? It felt like Han was in some surreal nightmare. Maybe if he blinked his eyes he'd wake up. It didn't work.
Vader continued speaking. "You have been in bacta for several weeks. Your rebel friends undoubtedly think you are dead."
"I'd be better off dead," Han said hoarsely, shutting his eyes.
"True, but I have plans for you, Solo. Very big plans."
Leia dropped a yellow and white flower into a quiet lake at sunset, watching as it drifted away. "He was a good friend," Wedge said from behind her, putting his hand on her shoulder as they watched the current carry the flower away. The Princess looked over at the Corellian, then looked past him at the small crowd that had gathered for Han and Chewie's memorial service at the latest rebel base.
Luke stood along side General Rieekan with several X-Wing pilots. Seeing the Princess looking in his direction, Luke walked over. "Leia. Wedge," Skywalker said quietly. "I was just telling the General I really need to head to Dagobah."
"I don't want to lose you, too," Leia said, thinking about Solo. Han. How can I miss you so much? All we did was argue.
"You won't lose me," Luke reassured her. "I'll be back before you know it." He looked at Antilles. "Take care of her, Wedge."
Antilles stepped forward and grasped Luke's outstretched hand. "And you take care of yourself, Luke."
Wedge put his arm around the Princess's waist, watching as Luke headed toward his X-Wing.
Coruscant, two months later.
Han thought it was only a matter of time before he lost his mind. This latest session with Vader had left both his legs broken, so he lay flat on his back on the cold durasteel floor, unable to pull his battered body up on the hard cot.
Each torture session had ended only when Solo lost consciousness, and the torture experts unable to awaken him. Only then was he given cursory medical treatment and allowed to recover until the next time. There was always a next time. Vader made very certain his experts did not kill the smuggler. Although any useful information had been pulled from his mind long ago, the terrible sessions continued unabated.
The door slid open and the Dark Lord stepped inside, followed two Stormtroopers and a medic-droid carrying a tray. "Repair his legs," Vader ordered the droid.
The silver droid ran a scanner over the silent prisoner's lower legs. "The breaks are severe enough to require surgery. Bone knitters are insufficient."
"It is irrelevant if he walks with a limp," Vader replied, annoyed at the droid. "Surgery is an unnecessary luxury."
"Why do you care if I can walk at all?" Han croaked out through swollen lips.
"I do not wish you to lose consciousness before the sessions even begin," Vader said evenly. "It would defeat the purpose."
"Purpose? What purpose?" Han said, sneering at the Sith. "You and the Emperor are two of a kind, aren't you? You Imp's just live to cause death and pain."
"Your suffering serves my purpose." With those words, the Sith turned to the droid. "Do not give him meds for pain. Let him enjoy the bone knitters to their fullest." Vader left the room just as the Stormtroopers grabbed Solo's legs, pulling them up and outward to allow the droid access to place the casts on the lower limbs. Solo's screams of agony echoed down the long corridor.
"He has not come," Palpatine told his kneeling servant. "You said he'd attempt to rescue his friend."
"I will endeavor to increase the smuggler's pain. If it is great enough, surely my son will sense it."
"Perhaps it is time for our next experiment with the Corellian," the Emperor cackled. "Is there a suitable match in Xalac's databanks?"
"Yes, my Master, there is," Vader replied uncertainly. "This will probably prove to be fatal for Solo, and if he does survive..." The Dark Lord trailed off nervously. The Dark Lord did not approve of this plan - it was simply too dangerous, and the danger to the smuggler was not what concerned him.
"It has been two months," Palpatine sniffed in annoyance. "You should have been able to crush his will by now, not just his bones. Your son should have come for his friend by now. We will move on to my plan."
"He is strong. The pain of this... experiment should weaken him to the point that you will be able to take full control of his mind."
"Good," Palpatine nodded. "Very good."
Luke opened his eyes from his long meditation and looked at Master Yoda. "I keep thinking about a friend of mine. I don't understand why every time I meditate, his face comes to mind. Sometimes I even seem to feel... " Luke hesitated, knowing it didn't make any sense. Han was dead - there was no way he was still suffering. "He must have suffered a great deal when his ship crashed into the Star Destroyer."
"Close, this friend was?"
"He was a good friend, like the brother I never had." Luke thought back fondly of the Corellian and the Wookiee. "He saved my life, more than once."
"Guilt perhaps you feel, that his life you could not save," Yoda said.
"Probably," Luke conceded sadly.
One month later
Strapped down to a gurney, Han was wheeled down the long hallways. Today was different - usually he was put in stuncuffs and dragged by Stormtroopers to his torture. The gurney headed down a different corridor, and the Corellian felt his fear level rising with each passing minute. Despite the fact he was wearing only torn shorts, Solo started sweating in the cool air.
Half a time-part later, the gurney was pushed into a small, well lit room. In the center was another narrow cot with various wires and equipment attached, all the wires lead to a large machine with various dials and tubes. Six droids stood around, waiting patiently as the smuggler was roughly transferred to the other cot. Once he was firmly tied, the Stormtroopers left. Long minutes passed. Finally the door opened, admitting Vader and an older man with short gray hair, dressed in a long white coat. Solo had never seen this man before now. Perhaps he was a new "expert", brought by the Sith to inflict even greater pain.
"So this is the subject?" the older man said, addressing the Dark Lord. "Is he strong? He will need to be very strong."
"I have tested his strength for three months now, Dr. Xalac," Vader replied harshly. "He has endured more than most men, and survived - mentally and physically."
Nodding, the doctor turned to his droids. "Attach the tubes, then insert the needles." Again, he addressed Vader. "Are you sure you don't want him sedated? This is a new procedure and the pain levels will be extremely high."
"No, he needs to experience this transformation while he is awake. Be certain to carefully monitor his heart-rate. Palpatine will be displeased if he dies during the procedure."
Han watched in quiet horror as his shorts were removed and catheters inserted into his body. His mouth was forced wide open and a long, thick tube thrust down his throat and into his lungs; his tongue was clamped and held firmly in place. With his oxygen now being supplied by a machine, it took Han long minutes to adjust to the sensation of suffocation, and the desire to gag lingered at the surface of his mind. The droids began inserting sharp thick needles into his arms and legs. At first, Han thought the needles were just being placed in his veins, but soon needles bored deeply into his bones and his torso convulsed, pain driven tears streaming down the sides of his face. More needles followed - in his hips, collar bones, ribs.
The throat tube prevented Solo from screaming, but Vader noted the Corellian's wild, fearful eyes, his red face and the veins throbbing at his temples. The droids stepped back, their work done. All large bones and major arteries were now attached to the machine.
"Every drop of his blood and the majority of his marrow will be pulled out and mixed with the genetically altered cloned cells," Xalac told Vader. "As his blood and marrow loop through the mixing device, the cloned cells will change his own DNA to match the new cells, and then the altered blood and marrow will be re-injected into his body. If the procedure works, in six timeparts he will have a count higher than any human in history. Much, much higher."
"And if it fails?"
"He will die a slow, very painful death. It's also possibly his mind will not be able to accept the introduction of these cells, even if his body is able to withstand this transformation."
"If that is the case, I will need to kill him," Vader replied shortly.
"You'd better kill him quickly, then," the other said. "Or he will kill you first. He will kill all of us."
Nothing in the previous three months had prepared Han for the torture that followed. It felt as though hot lava was being pumped into his veins and through his bones. Desperately, he reached for the nothingness of unconsciousness, but every time he approached sweet oblivion, Vader reached into his mind and pulled him back to awareness. If he could have talked, he would have begged for death - mentally he did beg Vader to kill him. It did no good.
Vader glanced at the chrono on the wall. "It's been six time-parts. Is this going to last much longer?" The strain of keeping the tormented Corellian awake was starting to wear on the Dark Lord.
"It's done," the doctor replied as he checked Solo's vitals. "All the altered DNA is now in his system."
"How long until we know if he will live?"
"One standard day should tell us. Then I will draw some blood and test it. Hopefully, his body will not reject the enhanced midichlorians."
The Dark Lord nodded in approval. "I need to rest. I will send in the Stormtroopers and they can take Solo back to his cell."
"His cell? I would like to monitor his life-signs during the course of the next day."
"Then you may do so. But be very certain the Corellian is strapped down and well guarded. The Emperor's new Hand must not be allowed to escape."
"Yes, my lord."
Deep in the mines of Kessel, Chewbacca the Wookiee once again toiled away as a slave to the Empire. It was only a matter of time before the matted, exhausted Wookiee found the opportunity to escape. Then they would pay for his cub's death. Chewbacca would not rest until Darth Vader and the rest of the Imperials had paid the ultimate price. The Wookiee would avenge Han Solo, and repay his Life-debt.
For long time-parts, Han slept. When his eyes finally opened, he attempted to move his wrists only to discover he was tied down. Annoyed, he jerked at the binders. Why am I tied down? The metal cuffs snapped opened instantly. Solo sat up, his body aching. Something seemed different in him - something had changed and he couldn't figure out what exactly that change was. Solo turned his head to the door. There are four Stormtroopers out there. The thought surprised him, but he knew it was true. I probably saw them before I passed out. Why did I pass out? Carefully, he stood up, testing his weak legs, willing strength into his limbs. Warmth flooded his being.
The door opened, and a thin, tall man in a white coat entered. Every nerve in Solo's body tingled, all his muscles tensed in rage. You're the reason I passed out! Who are you? Why were you hurting me?
When the scientist saw Solo standing there unbound, wearing a thin blue hospital gown, his eyes widened with surprise. "You're....awake?"
In that instant, Han hated the stranger, wanting nothing more than to see him die. Suddenly, a look of pain spread across the man's gaunt features, and he clutched his throat. "I....I....akkk." A soft thud sounded as he fell to the floor. Quickly, Solo bent over and checked the man's pulse. A stroke? Han puzzled. Blood trickled out the doctor's mouth and nose - the tormentor was very dead. Surprised, but pleased with this unexpected turn of events, the smuggler quickly pulled the clothes off the dead man and dressed in the white slacks and white tunic. The deceased man was close to Solo's size, and with the weight Han had lost over the course of his imprisonment, they fit fairly well.
Han stood up and looked in the mirror to check out his appearance. It was only at that moment he realized he did not recognize the face staring back at him, a face with brown hair, hazel eyes, and a slightly crooked nose with a scar on his chin. He had no idea who he was or what had happened to him. He simply could not remember anything about his past at all.
Yoda opened his eyes from his meditation and looked over at the sleeping young man. Taking his stick, he poked Luke in the side. "Wake up, you must."
"Ow!" Luke protested, sitting upright. Does he always have to poke with that stick? "What's the problem?"
"Altered the future has become," Yoda replied as he hobbled out the tiny doorway, forcing Luke to crawl outside after the Jedi Master. "Clouded. Uncertain."
"I thought the future was always clouded and uncertain," Luke said as he stood up, stretching his cramped muscles.
The Jedi frowned. "Different, this is. Disrupted has become the Force. Unleashed a great power, they have."
"Who? Who has unleashed a great power?"
"Palpatine and Vader," Yoda answered carefully. "Foolish are the Sith." He turned to Luke. "A new and powerful Force-user has been created. An enemy perhaps he will be. Or perhaps a friend. If an enemy he turns out to be, defeat him alone you cannot."
"Him? Do you know who this is?"
"A name I have not."
"If I can't defeat this new enemy by myself, what can I do?"
"Your sister you must bring to me. Train her I must."
"Sister?" Luke whispered, his eyes wide. "I have a sister?"
"Search inside yourself, for this you already know."
"Leia. Leia is my sister."
Han had decided something was missing, besides just his memory. A weapon. I need a blaster. The image of a blaster shimmered and faded in his mind, replaced by a silver tube. A lightsaber? I don't want a lightsaber! Pushing the bizarre thought aside, Solo debated how to deal with the Stormtroopers in the hallway. It seemed obvious he was a prisoner, even if he couldn't remember why. Han started to move toward the door, when his aching lower legs gave way, nearly causing him to fall. Solo grabbed at a small table to keep his balance, tipping the table over with a loud crash.
The door slid open, and two Stormtroopers peered inside the hospital room. Seeing the deceased doctor lying on the floor, they raised their weapons. "Hands up!" the filtered voice ordered.
"Hands up, yourself," Han muttered under his breath. Picking up a small tray, which was the nearest object, Solo threw it in the direction of the Stormtroopers before diving at their ankles. Tackling the legs of the closest trooper, the smuggler threw his enemy off balance and sent him crashing into the second trooper. Weapons went clattering across the floor. Reaching for one of the blasters, Solo was dismayed to realized the trooper had the advantage of being much closer to the weapon than he was. It didn't matter; the weapon flew through the air into Solo's outstretched hand.
Not taking much time to aim, Han fired two rapid shots, killing both Stormtroopers, just as the second pair ran through the door, weapons aimed. "Drop your weapon!" the first trooper shouted out.
Solo had no intention of obeying. Instead, he rolled to one side while firing his weapon repeatedly, trying to take out the second pair. A well aimed shot lanced out from one of the Stormtroopers gun, and Han braced himself for a killing blast to his chest, instinctively raising his hand. The bolt somehow deflected, careening up to the ceiling. Before the stunned troopers could assimilate what had just happened, the Corellian's stolen blaster found its mark. Both remaining troopers fell.
Shaking, Han stood up, staring down at the carnage at his feet. Four Stormtroopers and the Imperial scientist lay dead. How in the stars did I do all that? I must be the luckiest man in the galaxy. Tucking the blaster inside the white tunic, Solo quickly exited the small room. He'd think about what just happened in there later - right now, he felt the urgent need to get away from this place as fast as possible.
"You want me to bring Leia here to train as a Jedi?" Luke said, his mind still reeling from Yoda's disclosure.
"Necessary, this will be." Yoda nodded his head, and poked the dead leaves on the ground with his stick. "Not easy this will be to hear. But hear you must." When Luke remained silent, Yoda reluctantly continued. "Kill Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader did not."
"But... Ben told me Vader killed my father!"
"Spare you the pain of this truth, Obi-Wan tried. Not the best decision, perhaps," Yoda said sadly. "Too soon this is to tell you, but choice I have not."
Luke felt a cold chill run down his spine. "What became of my father, if Vader didn't kill him?"
"Darth Vader young Anakin Skywalker became."
"My father is Vader?" Luke sat down in shock. Ben Kenobi had lied. His aunt and uncle had lied. They had all lied. "Does Leia know?"
"No. Not easy will it be for her to hear."
"No kidding!" Luke gave a sarcastic laugh, then shook his head, his hands shaking. "I can't believe Ben lied to me."
"Bring her to me, will you?" Yoda asked quietly, almost pleading with the young man. "A great danger this new Force user is."
"All I can do is ask her," Luke said with a anguished sigh. How could he tell Leia her father was Darth Vader, when he couldn't accept this terrible truth himself?
"Solo has escaped," Vader informed the old Sith.
"Then you are to blame," Palpatine snarled back. "Find him and bring him to me. Do not fail me, Vader. I will not allow my new Hand to escape."
"Yes, Master," the Dark Lord bowed and left the throne room before his traitorous thoughts could betray him to Palpatine. Finding such a strong Force-sensitive should be easy - except for the fact Solo had vanished from Vader's Force-awareness as if he'd never existed. Darth Vader wished this disappearance was because the smuggler was dead, but that seemed very unlikely. The idea that Solo could shield himself without training caused Vader to fear the Emperor would find himself with a new, and very powerful enemy. Walking briskly through the palace, it suddenly occurred to Vader where the smuggler would head.
Escaping from the medical ward had been easier than Solo thought possible. He had kept his head down, silently willing the doctors, nurses and droids not to notice him. For some strange reason, no one had even looked up as he slipped past.
Now, limping painfully through the crowded streets of Coruscant, Solo was starting to become afraid. He sat on a bench and leaned over to rub his lower legs. The harder he tried to reach into inside to retrieve his memories, the further those memories seemed to slip away. How did that doctor die? Did I somehow kill him? No... I didn't do anything to kill him. It must have been a stroke. But how did that blaster fly into my hand? Suddenly, a new fear took hold. Maybe I'm a Jedi, and that's why I was a prisoner. But don't they just kill Jedi? Han shook his head. They? He tried to grasp onto some reason why he thought that Jedi were murdered, but like all the other distant memories, that faded away, too. There is no way I'm a Jedi. Stupid, hokey religion.
Wishing he had some small clue to his identity, Han stood up and looked over at a distant spaceport. Leaving Coruscant seemed imperative.
Moving as quickly as he could with his painful legs, Han eventually made his way to the nearest spaceport. He looked around at the various ships, but none seemed quite right. An image of a battered ship, shaped like a saucer, briefly flitted through his mind. When he tried to latch onto the visual it disappeared, leaving him feeling vaguely bereft.
Finally, Han focused on an old box-shaped shuttle, sitting alone in the far corner of the spaceport. Halfway across the platform, a black-robed figure stepped out from behind the small ship. Han stopped walking.
"You should not have tried to escape," the masked figure spoke authoritatively.
Vader had taken a guess as to which direction Han Solo would head. The spaceport was by far the most logical choice. Now the Dark Lord stood resolutely between Solo and the smuggler's escape route. As expected, the Corellian reacted with his blaster. Solo's speed, even drawing from his waistband, was impressive. Vader was not surprised, easily blocking the bolts with the Force. A look of surprise came over the smuggler's face and he fired again, with the same results. Before he could fire a third time, Vader pulled the blaster from Solo's hand with the Force.
"You must return with me," Vader continued, now calmly holding the blaster. "The Emperor demands it."
"The Emperor?" Han sneered, looking at the tall masked man. Han knew he should be frightened, but even as he considered that, the fear left him. I don't have to be afraid of him, not anymore, an inner voice told Solo. "Tell him he can come here, if he wants to see me so much. Who are you, anyway?" And when you're done telling me that, maybe you can fill me in who I am, too.
The question startled Vader. "My name is Darth Vader." The blank look on the smuggler's face convinced Vader that Han wasn't bluffing. The man didn't remember.
"Darth Vader," Han repeated slowly, turning the name over in his mind, trying to place the masked man. "Why are you and your buddy, the Emperor, lookin' for me?"
"You were injured," Vader replied. "We are only trying to help you."
"Injured? How?" Han snapped out. "Why were there guards outside my door?"
"You were injured by the rebel alliance. Tortured by them, for information," Vader lied smoothly. Until this point, it had not even crossed the Sith's mind that the severity of the torture would affect Solo's memory. It was something that could be used in the Emperor's favor, if he was careful. "The guards were there for your protection."
Han laughed. "You're lying. They tried killing me."
"Stormtroopers are fools," Vader continued easily. "They saw that you killed the kindly doctor, and they panicked. It is a very good thing you killed them before they were able to injure you, or your... your father would have, and much slower."
"Yes, Han. Palpatine, the Emperor, is your father. Do you not remember anything? Do you even remember your name?"
"No," Han said slowly, backing away from Vader. My name is Han? Han Palpatine? For some reason, that seemed absurd to him. "That doctor is the one that hurt me. I don't remember much, but I remember that part."
"No, that's not true," Vader replied quietly, trying to confuse and soothe the smuggler. "He's been a family friend for your entire life. The rebels disguised the man they used to torture you to look like Dr. Xalac. They broke your body, and twisted your mind to make you believe we're the enemy, not them. The rebel's are evil and devious. But we can turn their own cleverness against them."
Everything seemed wrong - it was like looking into a distorted mirror. Confused, Han asked, "How?"
"Come with me, Han," Vader reached out his gloved hand. "I will explain everything."
Han followed the Dark Lord back to the Imperial Palace.
"I have told him that you are his father," Vader told the Emperor. "And that his injuries and memory loss were caused by the rebels."
Palpatine threw back his head, laughing as spittle flew from his lips. "That is a good one, Lord Vader. Does he believe it?"
"He does not know what to believe at this point."
"Where is he?"
"I have put him in a private room. He is being monitored through holocams."
The Emperor nodded, pleased. "Have you tested him for his midichlorian count?"
"I will do that soon. I strongly suspect the numbers will be phenomenal. We must be very careful to keep him believing that we are his family and friends."
"Are you afraid of him, Vader?" Palpatine asked with a snort.
"Yes, Master, I am." And you would be wise to fear him, too.
"He cannot defeat the two of us, Vader. With Solo as my Hand, the rebellion will soon be crushed. And once your son joins us in the Darkside, we can have him dispose of Solo as proof of his loyalty to us. You're right to think that perhaps he may be too powerful for us to keep around."
Vader gave a deep bow, and left the room.
Sullust, rebel base, four days later
"Luke!" the Princess cried in happiness as she threw her arms around her friend. "I'm so glad you're back, I've missed you."
The young Jedi returned her embraced briefly before pulling away. "I missed you, too. Leia..." he started, then hesitated.
Something was different about him. "What is it, Luke?"
Unable to look Leia in the eyes, he looked down. "I have something I need to tell you, and it's not going to be easy for either of us."
Vader swept into the comfortable room where Solo had been sleeping and recuperating from the past months. When the Sith entered the living area, Han stood up, wincing in pain. Even with his recovery time, his legs continued to plague him, and he walked with a pronounced limp because of the incorrect alignment of his shattered bones when the bone-knitter mended them.
"I need to take a sample of your blood," the Dark Lord started without preamble.
Immediately, Han backed away. "Why?" Another question Solo had been mulling was why his "father" had not come to see him, but he did not voice that question since it was sometimes best not to poke a sleeping rancor.
"The rebels may have left poison in your system," Vader snapped. "Do not be childish - it is only a small pinprick. Give me your finger." Vader stepped forward holding a tiny needle between his fingers, and a small piece of duraglass in his other gloved hand.
For long moments the two men quietly stared at each other, the only sound in the room Vader's hissing respirator. Vader felt a tickling of uncertainty. If Solo refused, attempting to press the issue could only damage any trust he'd worked to build the past several days. Or worse, Solo might unknowingly defend himself using the Force. Darth Vader did not wish to find out who was the stronger Force-wielder, at least not yet.
Slowly, Han raised his hand, extending his index finger. Grasping the digit between his own fingers, Vader squeezed and stabbed the small needle into the tip, drawing several drops of blood, which he quickly smeared onto the duraglass. Vader dropped Solo's hand. "Thank you. I assume that wasn't too painful?"
Han gave a lopsided smirk. "After everything I've been through?"
"I will be back shortly," Vader said as he turned and left the room.
The results of the test left Vader feeling breathless and shaky. Dr. Xalac had been a genius with his cloned and altered midichlorians. Perhaps it was a good thing Solo had killed the scientist. If Palpatine had chosen to undergo this transformation, the galaxy would never be the same - Palpatine would be unstoppable. Leaning back against the chair, Vader knew he had to destroy all the records of Xalac. It was very unlikely he'd be able to easily destroy the one and only result of Dr. Xalac's long years of work.
"So? What are the test results?" Palpatine asked impatiently.
"Amazingly high," Vader replied. Dangerously high. "He should easily be able to destroy the rebels once we allow him back into their care." And easily destroy both of us, if he decides to become the new Emperor.
"Can he capture your son without damaging him?"
"My son is untrained. Once we have worked with Solo, he will be able to capture Luke and bring him to us."
"Then begin Solo's training at once."
When Luke first told Leia he was her long-lost brother it had been a surprise, but only a small one. Somehow, she'd always known, always felt a closeness to Luke that she could not describe. It simply hadn't been the same feelings she'd always felt for Han. She loved Luke, but in a different way. Over the months she'd also come to realize that love was what she'd felt toward Han, even though that realization came too late. But now Luke was back, giving her this horrible news. Leia felt as if she'd been punched. "Vader? No.... that's not possible." Nausea threatened to overwhelm her. "I hate him. I can't even begin to describe how much I hate him."
Yoda would not be pleased to hear Leia use the word 'hate', but wisely Luke refrained from saying this to her right now. "It's true, sister. I didn't want to accept it myself, but we can't change our parentage by willpower." Luke paused for a moment, thinking about the man Vader must have been at one time. Something terrible must have happened in his life to make him turn to the Darkside. If a person could reject the Light and turn evil, wasn't it possible to reverse the situation? He would have to ask Yoda about this, later. "The Force is strong in our family. Yoda insists he needs to train you."
"Why? Why can't he just train you and be done with it? I don't want to have anything to do with the Force."
"Yoda has had a vision that Palpatine somehow created a dangerous Force-strong being. Yoda told me that both of us will be needed to defeat him." Luke took his sister's hand. "I can't do this alone. I need you."
Could she just turn her brother down, and leave him to face Vader and this new monster, all alone? "I... I need time to think about this, Luke."
Nodding, the Jedi gave his sister a kiss on her cheek and left her to think.
"What's this?" Han asked, his eyes narrowing as Vader handed him a silver tube.
"It is a lightsaber."
"I know what the hell it is. I mean, what the hell do you want me to do with it?" Aside from the obvious?
Vader withdrew his own saber with a show of patience. "I am going to re-teach you how to use this weapon. You will be needing it."
"Re-teach? I've never used a lightsaber in my life," Han argued. Even as the words left his mouth, another memory briefly unveiled itself. Cold. Snow. A dead, large beast. Stench. Was it possible he had at one time used a lightsaber? Had it been his lightsaber?
"Must you always argue, Han?" Vader said wearily. He ignited his red blade. "Turn on your saber."
"What if I refuse?"
Without warning, Vader attacked the Corellian.
"I've made a decision," Leia told her brother as he worked on his X-Wing. "I will go to Dagobah with you."
"Maybe. Or maybe not," she continued. "I still haven't decided about training as a Jedi. What if... what would happen..."
"You're not Vader, and neither am I," Luke replied softly. "Everyone makes their own choice, Leia. Anakin Skywalker made a bad choice."
"I still can't accept the idea of that monster being our father. He destroyed my planet. He tortured me. And he's the reason Han is dead. I hate him."
"You can't hate, Leia. That's the first lesson Yoda will teach you."
Han threw himself to the side with no time to spare. Rolling on the carpeted floor, he ignited the saber Vader had given him. The amber blade lanced out, and Solo twisted his body to intercept the red blade as it slashed down at his prone body.
The blades sparked and arced against each other, until Solo pushed Vader's blade up and away before clamoring to his feet, taking a defensive stance with both hands locked on the handle.
"Very good, Han," Vader said, nodding in approval. "Your skills are admirable, if unpolished."
"What was that all about?" Han sputtered. "You just tried killing me!"
"I am beginning your training. If I could have been killed you as easily as that, you would be useless. But your Force abilities are impressive."
Han laughed. "Force? I ain't no Jedi."
"No. That would be a waste of talent. You are a Sith. Just like I am, and just like your father."
A Sith? "I'm not a Sith," Han argued, and angry. The Sith were evil - Han didn't feel evil. When he considered how he thought about himself, he always got the vague notion that he was someone always on the outside looking in... wanting to belong, and afraid of belonging at the same time. It just didn't match up with everything Vader was telling him. It was all very frustrating.
"You killed Dr. Xalac with just a thought. You took out four Stormtroopers by drawing a weapon to your hand with the Force. You left the hospital with no one seeing you." Vader stopped, letting Solo absorb his words. Then he continued. "The latent talents are there, you just need training - retraining, actually. And I will retrain you."
Han shook his head in denial. If he could kill by just wishing someone dead, perhaps he was evil. "Why don't I remember any of this?"
"I've told you. The rebels had you in their clutches; they tortured you and tried to turn you against the Empire. They are the ones that stole your memories, your past, and your abilities. Once you've regained your skills, we will turn this plot against them."
"You will return to them, tell them you are on their side now. A trusted friend. Since the rebels are the ones that brainwashed you, they will be easy to convince."
"Then what?" Han asked suspiciously.
"Then you will kill the leaders - people like Rieekan, Mon Mothma, Organa, and bring Luke Skywalker to me."
Han blinked. Skywalker, Organa... names that seemed somehow familiar, but he was unable to put a faces with the names. "Luke.... Skywalker?" Organa? Organa? Why did that name bring a rush of emotions?
"Luke is my son," Vader replied. "I want him back, and you are going to bring him to me."
The idea that Vader had a son seemed almost as bizarre to Han as the notion that he was Palpatine's son, but Han only nodded, trying to ignore the internal warning bells in his mind.
"Be careful," Wedge admonished the Princess he walked her toward her borrowed X-Wing. Leia had preferred the idea of traveling in a small shuttle with Luke to Dagobah. Unfortunately, she couldn't convince him to abandon his ship, even temporarily. Hyperspace travel in an X-Wing did not appeal to Leia one bit, and she was regretting all the times she'd insulted the Millennium Falcon.
Leia smiled up at the Corellian. Ever since Han's death, he had been there for her, offering her comfort and support. "I will, Wedge. You be careful, too." She reached up on her toes to kiss his cheek. Wedge turned his face at the last second, kissing her lips instead. Surprised, Leia drew back from the soft, brief kiss.
"I'm sorry," Wedge started to say. "I shouldn't have..."
The kiss felt nice, if a bit confusing. Wedge was her friend, and it occurred to Leia that perhaps he saw her as something more than just a friend. Again the memory of another Corellian crossed her mind. But he was dead and gone, and Leia needed to move on with life. "No. It's okay," Leia said as she hugged him. "It's okay."
I think I'm falling in love with her. Wedge Antilles watched with a mixture of hope and fear as the Princess followed her brother's ship up to the stars of space.
Coruscant, three days later
Opening his eyes, Han glared at the meditating Sith facing him and sitting cross-legged across the floor space. After another moment's silence, Han spoke. "This is a stupid waste of time. I'd rather take a nap, it'd be less boring. And besides, sitting like this is uncomfortable, too. My legs hurt too much to sit cross-legged. Why can't some overpaid Imperial hack fix my legs so they don't hurt all the time?"
Vader clenched his fists, trying to keep his temper in check. The Corellian could complain with the best of them, and seldom missed an opportunity to exercise his tongue. "Meditating is not a waste of time. You should be using this time to fill your senses with the Force. Reach out to the power that surrounds you and pull it inside your soul."
"Listen, the only power I want to reach out to is the entertainment holo-unit. And if I have to fill myself with something, why can't it be some good whiskey?"
"You are impossible," Vader hissed, standing up in one smooth motion. "I don't under why Palpatine...."
Han struggled to his feet. "You don't understand why my daddy did what?" Han taunted his teacher.
Beneath his mask, Vader glared at the insolent smuggler. Vader had not repaired the damage to Solo's legs simply because he disliked the man. Keeping him in constant, dull pain pleased the Dark Lord. There was also a possibility that the pain would push Solo toward the Dark Side, but the smuggler seemed no closer to embracing the Dark Side of the Force than he had in the beginning. In fact, he stubbornly refuse to accept the Force at all, using it only during lightsaber practices. Even then, Solo touched the Force only loosely, accepting its power only as a necessity to preserve his life against the better trained Sith. It seemed to Vader that the Corellian found the Force offensive and unnecessary. This annoyed the Sith beyond words. "You are refusing to embrace the Dark Side. It is unacceptable. Palpatine may take over your training if you do not start cooperating with me." Of course, the Emperor would be highly displeased with Vader if that happened, also. Vader did not want to displease the Emperor.
"Maybe I don't want to cooperate with you. Or dear old pops, either."
Vader reached his hand up, and an invisible power threw Solo against the far wall. Sliding to a sitting position, Han gasped in pain, trying to catch the breath that Vader had knocked out of him. "You need to learn how to respect your superiors. You can blame no one but yourself for this lesson." With that, Force-lightning shot out from his fingers toward the stunned Corellian.
"Yoda, this is my sister, Leia Organa," Luke said by way of introduction.
"Know this, I do," Yoda sniffed. "Train you, I will, then fancy Princess you will not be. Follow me, now." Then he hobbled away, back toward his hut.
Leia looked over at her brother. "Not much for small talk, is he?"
"Whatever you do," Luke whispered in her ear, "Don't say the word 'small'."
Whatever did I get myself into? Leia thought bemusedly.
The powerful Force-lightning struck Han with such searing pain that he couldn't even grasp his lightsaber hilt. When Vader eased the power of his attack for a moment Solo realized he was on his back, staring at the ceiling, gasping in pain.
"Stand up," Vader ordered. When Han didn't move, perhaps simply couldn't move, Vader used the Force to jerk him to his feet. "You will obey me. You will obey your Master, the Emperor."
"Go...go to hell," Han stuttered. He watched as Vader reached out to send more lightning his direction. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Han raised his own hand to ward off the bolt. He watched in awe as the lightning deflected off an invisible wall and shot back at the Dark Lord, catching Vader off guard. The bolt slammed into the Sith, sending him reeling.
Rage built up in Vader as he reached for his lightsaber, barely giving Han a chance to ignite his own blade. The sabers clashed violently, and they battled far more intensely than ever before. This time Vader meant business, and Han reached for the Power lingering below the surface of his awareness, his own anger building with each parried blow.
Darth Vader soon found himself on the defensive, backing up from the enraged smuggler's offensive strikes. Pure hatred flowed from the Corellian's eyes - he wanted to kill the Dark Lord. The blows from the amber shaft came harder and faster as the Darkside entered Han's spirit. The Sith had been right all along - this was heady, this was perfect power, better than anything Han could ever have imagined.
Now backed into a corner, Vader fought for his life as he felt the Dark Side emanating in strong waves from Solo. When the red lightsaber was sent flying from his gloved hand and skidded across the room, Vader saw his own death staring at him in the face.
Even though the atmosphere of Kessel was toxic, it felt good to be allowed out of the dark, dank spice mines. Loading heavy crates on a skid and wearing a breather to provide oxygen, Chewie turned his blue eyes to a ship that was landing nearby. The Falcon! Somehow the Millennium Falcon had survived the explosion. Unable to look away, and hoping that somehow the Captain of that freighter was none other than Han, the Wookiee slowed his chores and waited until the ramp lowered. Two beings exited, a short human male and a Bothan female, also wearing the necessary respirators. Moving a little closer, Chewie pulled back the breather mask for a moment and sniffed. There was no scent of his cub mingling in the rancid air.
A sharp tug on his collar turned Chewie's head. "Get these boxes loaded on that freighter, animal!" the slaver shouted, pointing his large blaster in the Wookiee's direction.
Casting a defeated expression, Chewie picked up the first box, then moved to haul it inside the ship. Once inside, Chewie noted that the Falcon had been rather haphazardly repaired and altered. Seeing the poor workmanship on the ship enraged the Wookiee. Still, the shields must have held during the explosion in the hanger. I survived. The Falcon survived... that means there is a strong possibility that Han survived. Chewie glanced over at the bored slaver. His months spent pretending to be beaten and submissive were about to pay off.
Only the sound of a single person slowly clapping from behind his back drew Han away from his killing rage. What felt like a cold breeze seemed to be chilling his back, and in moments Solo came to his senses, the need to kill dissipating like a foggy veil. Vader was backed up against the same wall he had thrown Han, fists clenched at his sides, waiting for the final death blow that never came.
Spinning around, lightsaber still in front of his body, Han faced the cowled, shriveled face of Emperor Palpatine. The man Vader had told him was his father. Han didn't believe it for a second, but that didn't change the fact he felt drawn to this powerful being.
"Very good, my son," Palpatine old voice crackled. "You would have killed Vader right then. Quite remarkable."
"Yes, I wanted to kill him," Han snarled back, the hairs on his neck prickling.
"But that would be such a waste. I need Vader right now, just like I need you."
"You need me? For what?"
"You are my Hand, and as such you must obey my every command. I have your body, I have your mind. Now I want your soul. Is it mine, son? Will you obey me without question?"
The Emperor's voice was hypnotic. The very essence of Han's own self seemed to be pulled toward Palpatine. Han wanted to obey. "Yes. I will obey you."
"Good. Very good. Now call me Master, and kneel before me, my son. My Hand."
Turning off his lightsaber, Han dropped to his knees and bowed his head. "I will obey you, Master."
Pleased, Palpatine looked over Solo's head and grinned at Vader as if to say... See? You should not have questioned me.
Chewie looked down at the dead slaver, his broken neck tilting the head at an unnatural angle. The foolish man had been easy to kill, standing too close to the Wookiee slave he was guarding, and not paying much attention. These slavers were stupid and lazy, but of course, that described most slavers. The Wookiee quickly removed the controls to his binders from the waistband on the human's belt and released his tight collar and wrist bands.
Moments later, the door to the Falcon sealed tightly shut and the old ship lifted off into the hazy atmosphere of Kessel. A few fighters belatedly attempted to intercept the stolen ship, but they were too few and too late. Chewie left them quickly behind, no match for the speed of the freighter he knew so well.
The Wookiee intended his first stop to be Kashyyyk, then he would seek out the rebels. No one would stop Chewbacca from his mission now. The Empire would pay dearly.
Dagobah, one week later.
"Very good," Yoda nodded as Leia and Luke sparred with lightsabers. "Much talent do you have. Runs strong in your family, the Force does."
Stepping back, Leia turned off her lightsaber yelled at the Jedi Master, unable to keep hearing his references to Vader. "Don't keep comparing me to that monster! He's not my father. My father died on Alderaan, killed by Vader and Tarkin, and don't you forget it!"
Yoda moved forward and poked his stick in Leia's leg. "Temper you have, just like your father!"
With amazing speed, Leia reached down and snatched the walking stick out of Yoda's hand, snapping it over her knee and throwing it with a splash into the murky pond. "I hate you, and I hate that stick. I hate your stupid little hut...and I hate your slimy cooking." The Princess turned and stomped away from the silent pair.
Luke cleared his throat. "She didn't mean it."
"Meant every word, she did. More Vader in her than does she think."
"No," Luke argued. "She isn't like Vader. She's fair and decent. I'll go talk to her."
"Once Anakin Skywalker fair and decent was."
"Yoda, please give her another chance. The training is hard, and sometimes the heat gets to you. I lost my temper a few times when I was here before, too."
"Hard?" Yoda shook his head in disappointment. "Hard will be the Darkness of the tree-cave you both will face."
Red-robed guards escorted Solo the Emperor's throne room. It was the first time Han had been in the gaudy chamber, and he looked around more in amusement than awe. Vader was not present in the chamber. A movement next to the throne caught his eye. A pretty female with red hair stood next to Palpatine's chair, an expression of contempt plastered on her face.
"Mara, meet my new Hand," Palpatine grinned at the woman. "His name is Han. He is my son, as well."
Startled, Jade glanced down at her Master before quickly looking back at the Corellian. The Force radiated off the man in powerful waves. Jade had always been under the impression that the Emperor and Vader were the most powerful Force-sensitives in the galaxy. Apparently, she was mistaken. "I wasn't aware you required the services of another Hand," she said. Or that you had a son.
Laughing, Palpatine realized that Jade was too observant at times. But in a strange and bizarre way, the Corellian was his off-spring, for it was the Sith's genetically altered and enhanced midichlorian's that flowed through Solo's veins. Palpatine looked at Jade and continued speaking, "You will assist Vader in training Han. I want him fully prepared, as quickly as possible."
"Prepared, my Master?"
"He will return to his undercover work, the work he was doing when he was captured by the rebels - they tortured him and brainwashed him. Stole his memories. Vader is retraining him in the ways of the Darkside."
"I will assist Lord Vader, Master," Jade replied, unable to keep the annoyance out of her voice. She was the Emperor's Hand! His only Hand. Why did he think he needed another?
"Once he is ready, you will go with him and find the rebels. Tell them you helped their friend escape. They will have no reason not to believe you."
"How will we contact the rebels?" she questioned the Emperor.
"Go to Kashyyyk with my new Hand. Be seen in public places. There is an animal there that pretends to be his friend. The Wookiee animal will find you, and take you to the rebels."
"I see," she nodded, rankling at this stranger being called a Hand. "I will obey. When do you wish us to escape?"
"As soon as my son is ready. Vader will be the judge of that. With his Force-strength, it should not be long at all." The Emperor looked over at Han. "Do you understand this plan, my son?"
Han nodded. "Yeah. I meet some Wookiee on Kashyyyk, then get taken to the rebels. Kill the rebel leadership. Snatch some young kid named Skywalker and bring him back to Coruscant. I don't need this woman to help me. I can do it myself."
"Jade will be of great help to you, do not underestimate her abilities," the Emperor snarled at the insolent Corellian. Then he waved at his guards. "Escort Han back to his room. Vader awaits to continue his training."
"He's got quite the ego, doesn't he?" Jade sneered at the departing new Hand.
"The smuggler's real name is Han Solo. Solo has only been recently given these enhanced Force abilities through the miracle of Imperial science. He has been told he is my son, a necessary deception to help ensure his loyalty to me. "
Jade doubted the accuracy of that last statement. It did not appear to her that Solo had accepted he was the Emperor's son, but she continued. "Do you really wish for him to return to Coruscant with Vader's son, my Master?"
Palpatine thought for a moment. "Vader has outlived his usefulness, and I need his son for another purpose. After you and Solo return with young Skywalker, I will give Solo another assignment. I will order him to kill Vader. When you are with the rebels, I want you to observe Solo in action - let me know if he is loyal and obedient to me. Only assist him if necessary, otherwise, stay in the background and watch."
"Does he have the power to kill Vader?"
"Yes," Palpatine nodded. "I have seen his raw talent in action. He almost killed Vader, and he wasn't even fully trained. It's ironic that Vader is training his own assassin, don't you think?"
"If Solo is that powerful, don't you fear he will soon desire your position as Emperor, my Master?"
"I would think that is a good possibility. But if there are any doubts at all about Solo's complete servitude to me, you and young Skywalker will dispose of the Corellian after Vader is dead." Palpatine stood up and looked in the reflection of the duraglass behind his throne. "After Vader is gone, I will use the power of the Darkside to possess young Skywalker's body. I look forward to having his strong, healthy form as my own."
Hiding her concerns, Jade bowed and left the throne room.
Yoda shook his head sadly as Luke stumbled out of the tree-cave, a look of horror on the young man's face.
"I thought I was fighting Vader," Luke said in a defeated tone. "But it turned out I was fighting myself."
"Told you your weapon not to take," Yoda informed Luke. He then looked at the frightened Princess. "Your turn is it now."
"I don't think I want to go there," Leia replied as she took in Luke's pale face, the perspiration dripping from his hair.
"Part of your training this is," Yoda snapped. "Look at your demons you must, or the Dark Side you can never face and defeat."
Reluctantly, Leia stood and moved to the tree. It felt ... cold and evil at the entrance. Involuntarily, she shivered. "I want my lightsaber, too," she said suddenly. Going in there defenseless seemed the height of stupidity.
Yoda gave a deep sigh. The Princess was even more stubborn than her brother. "Do as you must."
Grasping the lightsaber, Leia entered the cave, and worked her way past the dangling vines and dripping rocks. The further she went, the colder and more oppressive the air became. Luke said he saw Vader... Leia shuddered, not knowing if she could bear to face the Dark Lord again, even in a vision.
Rounding a tight corner, she entered a larger area and stopped. A figure stood at the far side of the cave, dressed in black. Even from a distance, Leia could see it was a man, but he wasn't wearing a helmet or a robe. The Princess stepped closer, finally able to see the man's face.
"Han?" It was like seeing a ghost, and Leia felt her knees grow weak.
Solo moved toward her, limping severely. "Your Royal Holiness," Han grinned evilly, giving a mocking bow. "You left me to die. You didn't even care enough to try and help me."
Leia shook her head. "No..... Luke saw your ship disappear into the hanger of the Destroyer, just as there was a huge explosion. You died."
"I didn't die." Han stepped closer, and Leia could see his eyes were glowing a sickly yellow. "But you're going to die. Right now." Solo raised a lightsaber, and the amber shaft started humming.
Lifting her own saber, Leia switched it on. "I don't want to kill you, Han." I love you!
"Love?" Solo snorted, as if he read her mind. "You treated me worse than the dirt under your boots. I was nothing to you - less than nothing. As soon as you thought I was dead, you started having an affair with Wedge. And now you will pay." He lunged at her, bringing his weapon down.
Almost too late, Leia raised her own blade to defend herself. "Please Han. I'm not having an affair with Wedge! I don't want to fight with you."
"That's all we ever did, sweetheart," Solo sneered at her, using the word sweetheart like a curse. He brought his blade down again and again, driving her back.
Leia knew he was overwhelming her strength, and that she was no match for his power. He's going to kill me, she thought in horror, watching his twisted, enraged features, turning his handsome features ugly and cruel. This was not the happy, free-spirited man she remembered. Hate flowed freely from Solo's emotions. Leia caught her heel on a root, stumbling backwards and landing on her back. Solo began laughing, the voice no longer his own, but rather that of the Emperor's. Raising his blade above his head with both hands, he moved to slice the Princess apart. In a last, desperate move, Leia flung her blade at the Corellian, catching him at his abdomen and cleaving him in half. Instead of falling to the ground, Solo's image wavered and disappeared, leaving Leia once again alone in the cave.
That was my test, and I failed it.
"I failed," Leia stated as she exited the cave, sitting down on a log next to Luke and Yoda.
"Take your weapon, you should not have."
"Well, it's a good thing I did take it! Do you know who was in that cave?" she stood up, shouting down at the Jedi Master. When he didn't reply, she went on. "Han! Of all people! I saw Han in that cave. And he was a Force-strong Sith." Leia shook her head in disgust. "He tried killing me. Accused me of all sorts of untrue things. It was the worst nightmare I've ever had."
"A nightmare it was not. The future you saw," Yoda replied calmly.
"Future? What sense does that make? Han is dead!" Leia yelled. "And he certainly was never Force-sensitive, much less an evil Sith!" Luke stood up and put his arm around his sister, trying to comfort her.
"Lead to death all paths do eventually," Yoda said before he turned and hobbled away. The twins could only give each other puzzled looks as they tried to figure out the strange Jedi Master's words.
Kashyyyk, two weeks later
Malla threw her arms around her husband. *I thought you were lost to me."
*I have been working the mines as Kessel as a slave. The Empire wished everyone to think I was dead.* Chewie knelt down and hugged his son, Lumpy. *I have missed you as well, my son.*
*How did you escape?* Malla questioned, noting Chewie's much thinner frame and his unkempt fur.
*Too easily, I'm afraid. It was like someone wanted me to see the Falcon. And there was only one human guarding me at the time. It reminded me of the time we escaped from the Death Star. That time, pilots were sacrificed to make it appear as if they were trying to stop us. I would have come back sooner, but I did not wish the slavers to follow me to Kashyyyk, so I spent a little time repairing some of the damage to the Falcon before coming back home.*
*I'm sorry about Han, husband,* Malla said slowly. *I know he was meant more to you than just a life-debt. He was a dear friend. We all miss him deeply.*
*Malla, the Imps told me the Falcon was destroyed. They told me Han was dead, and they let everyone believe I was dead. If the Falcon was not destroyed, and if I survived, then what are the odds my cub survived?*
The female Wookiee looked into her husband's blue eyes. *You are correct. The odds are very good Han would have survived.*
*I must try and contact the rebel base. If my cub is alive, the Emperor has him as their prisoner. I do not want to contemplate what they have been doing to him. But I must be careful. I fear the Imperials may be watching me, perhaps believing I can lead them to the rebellion.*
*We will be careful. If the Empire has hurt Han, they will pay the price,* Malla said firmly.
*If they have hurt him, there is not a high enough price they can pay.*
Four weeks later.
It frightened Jade to see how easily Solo could handle anything Vader threw at him. Whether it was lightsaber dueling, levitating objects, shielding his presence from Vader or Jade - he could do it all, with very little instruction.
Yesterday, Vader had taken them to the prison cells, and the guards brought out a terrified old Gamorrean. At some time in the distant past, he had been a petty thief, stealing food to survive on the lower levels of Coruscant. The past fifteen years he'd spent in confinement - a permanent 'guest' of the Imperial Stormtroopers, who tormented him with stun rods and whips when they were bored. Loose flesh marked by oozing sores hung in folds around his once large frame, and the Gammorean's eyes were clouded and sightless.
"You will use the Force to stop his heart," Vader ordered Solo. "Imagine his heart beating in your hand, and squeeze it until it cannot move."
Solo stared at the prisoner, wryly deciding that killing and putting him out of his endless misery would actually be a kindness. The Gamorrean began gasping, grabbing his chest. In moments he was dead. Vader was very pleased. "Is that good enough for ya?" Han grinned as he looked down at the emaciated body.
"Quite adequate. I believe your training is complete." Vader turned to Jade. "Please inform the Emperor that his son is ready to rejoin the rebellion."
"Yes, Lord Vader."
"I can't stay here any longer," Leia told Yoda as darkness settled over the area the Jedi called home. "The rebellion needs me."
"Incomplete is your training. Too soon, you are leaving."
"If I stayed here for years, you'd still tell me the same thing," Leia argued. "I can't stop thinking about that vision, the one you said was the future. If there's a possibility that Han's alive....."
"Help him you cannot."
"You don't know that. Didn't you say the future is always changing?"
Luke had been listening to the exchange between Leia and Yoda. "She's right, Master Yoda. All this time I thought I was just imagining the terrible pain Han was suffering. It wasn't my imagination, was it?"
"Foolish would it have been to rush to Coruscant. Unprepared were you."
"I have to go with Leia and rescue Han. I told you how many times he saved my life. I can't just ignore the fact he needs my help now."
"Help your friend you cannot," Yoda insisted stubbornly. "Finish your training, you must,"
"Our training is finished," Leia replied, just as stubbornly. "It has to be. Han needs our help, and that's what we must do."
"And what of the vision your friend as a Sith?"
"That's just...." Leia stopped and thought for a moment, not wanting to say the wrong thing. After her display of temper and failure at the tree-cave, Luke had spoken to her. Eventually, Leia calmed down and apologized to Yoda. The training had gone more smoothly after that, even if she had been tempted at times to leave Dagobah and return to the rebel base. "It wasn't a vision, it was a nightmare. Han isn't a Sith, because he isn't Force-sensitive. It's just impossible."
"Impossible?" Yoda sighed. "Right you may be. Never has a Force-blind being changed suddenly to Force-sensitive. Still, careful you must be."
"We'll be careful, Master Yoda," Luke said confidently. "When everything settles down, Leia and I will come back for some more training."
"If face this new danger you successfully do, more training you will not need, for Jedi you will be. Fail in your efforts to face this danger, more training you will not need, as dead you will be."