"I've done everything you've asked," Leia pointed out to Vader. "Now we need to help Han."
"And we still need to destroy the Death Star," Luke added. "You said if we went along with this, that was part of the bargain."
Vader stared with pride at his daughter. She had taken the role that was rightfully her mother's. The role both Obi-Wan and Palpatine took away from Vader's wife. Empress Padme should have ruled the galaxy, with her husband, the Chosen One, leading the Jedi. Now things were finally back on the right course. Vader, with his son by his side, would restore the Jedi and rule them until they became one with the Force. And then Luke's children would take their place.
Empress Leia would rule the galaxy, and her children ascend to the throne upon her death. Leia deserved better than the Corellian by her side, fathering her children. But she loved him, and Vader knew all too well how strong the emotion of love could be. Still, Solo had better behave and submit his will to the Skywalker clan - if he knew what was good for him. Just like Luke's choice better understand her place as well.
"It would be foolish to destroy the Death Star," Vader finally replied.
"You promised!" Leia argued instantly. "I've kept my word. Now you need to keep yours."
"The Death Star is too costly to simply destroy. It is a powerful weapon that was used incorrectly the first time."
"Incorrectly?" Leia could barely believe what she was hearing.
"I did not give the order to destroy Alderaan, my daughter. It was not even your stubborn refusal to reveal the rebel hideout that made Alderaan a target." Vader walked up to Leia and held her shoulders. "Palpatine picked Alderaan weeks before you were even captured."
Leia looked at the ground. All these years of guilt and remorse. It wasn't her fault.
"The Death Star needs to have its weapons recalibrated to be less powerful, and it can be used as a moving military base. It will never be used again to destroy another planet. You children need to understand there are threats outside our galaxy that will need to be dealt with, and soon. If we pretend they do not exist, they will destroy everything when they eventually arrive. Keeping the Death Star is our first and greatest line of defensive against evil enemies we cannot yet even imagine."
"What if it falls into the wrong hands?" Leia whispered. "It could end up destroying us."
"Not if we make it our new home," Vader replied.
When the three Skywalkers arrived back at the laboratory, Leia ran to the stasis chamber, wiping the moisture from the tube and staring down at Solo.
"Has she made any progress?" Luke asked Mara quietly, nodding to the doctor.
"She poked me and took my blood!" Mara whispered, folding her arms across her chest and frowning. "I think she's demented, if you ask me."
"The best scientists are often those that are a bit off center," Vader noted as he watched Dr. Xalac. "She is our best chance of saving Solo."
Luke wandered up to the doctor. "Do you think you can save Han?"
Dr. Xalac spun around to face Luke, holding a long needle that was pointed in his direction. "Too many people here! I can't think! Go! You must all go, or I will never solve this problem!" She waved a hand at Chewbacca. "And take that smelly Wookiee, too! I have allergies! Take them all and go up to my apartment, or I will stop working! I will tell you when I have a solution!"
Holding up his hands, Luke backed away. "Fine. We'll all wait upstairs in your apartment." He looked at Chewie. "I think we'd better leave."
Very reluctantly, Chewie and Leia followed the group up to the apartment to wait.
One week later
"Many Bothans died bringing us this information," Mon Mothma spoke quietly to the small crowd of Rebels. "If we do not destroy this Battle Station, many more beings will die as well."
Rieekan stepped forward. "I will be assembling a strike team to take out the generator on the surface of the planet. This generator is the force-field protecting the Death Star, and must be destroyed before our ships arrive over Endor. Although Wedge Antilles is still not well enough to fly against the Battle Station, he will be overseeing the X-Wings and commanding Home One." The General paused. "We will have one chance to take out this Death Star. If we fail, this Rebellion is over."
"What about Princess Leia?" Hobbie Klivian spoke up. "Has it been determined that she has turned on us?"
"We now consider Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Captain Solo the enemy," Mon Mothma said sadly. "We attack the Death Star in three weeks. Any longer than that, and it will be too late."
"Oh dear, Artoo," the voice of a prim and proper protocol droid could be heard saying in the otherwise quiet room. "I do believe Master Luke and Mistress Leia are no longer functioning properly!"
"I have brought you a prisoner, Empress Leia," Governor Byrnstar said with a pleased smile. The man was short and very fat, with a thin black mustache and strands of graying hair combed over his balding head in an effort to make it appear he had hair.
Leia looked down from her throne where she'd spent the past two weeks meeting with various ambassadors and governors from many systems throughout the galaxy. The one person she wanted to see had yet to contact her - General Rieekan. The new Empress desperately wanted to make peace with her former comrades and friends.
"A prisoner?" she said with a sigh. Much of her time had also been spent reviewing prisoner records with Luke and Vader, and deciding who really belonged in prison, as opposed to beings put in confinement because they displeased Palpatine. Thus far, over two hundred had been released. "Bring him in."
Guards entered the room backwards, straining and grunting as they dragged someone or something in the room. Leia stood to see over their heads. A Hutt was struggling and fighting as his thick body was slid across the floor in chains.
"Let me guess," Leia commented dryly. "Jabba."
The Hutt let loose a loud and lengthy discourse in his own language.
"Do you have any idea what he's saying?" the Empress asked the Governor.
"Yes, my Lady. He objects to his treatment. Claims he was unfairly arrested. Denies having anything to do with illegal spice. You know... the usual."
"Thank you Governor, for bringing this Hutt to Coruscant to face justice. I will accept his wealth into Imperial accounts and it will be used to help the poor on Tatooine." Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Byrnstar. "You have transferred his credits into Imperial accounts, haven't you?" Dealing with crooked governors seemed to be a common problem for Leia.
The Governor shifted nervously. "I haven't had time, Empress, but I will do so immediately."
Leia smiled. "Please be sure all the credits are transferred, Governor Byrnstar. I'd hate to have you join Jabba in his cell for stealing."
"Never, my Empress. The full amount will be sent over today!"
"I'm sure it will. You are dismissed." Leia almost laughed as the toady Governor bowed and hurried away. Then she returned her attention to Jabba. "You will have a full and fair trial, Jabba. It's more than you deserve." She looked at the guards. "Take him away."
As the guards dragged the uncooperative Hutt away, Leia felt a sense of relief mingled with sadness. Han would be pleased, if only she could tell him. It had been two weeks since Palpatine's death, and the Corellian still lay in his metal coffin, unaware of the passing of time and the events unfolding around him. And Dr. Xalac was still lost in her own little world, trying to find a cure.
Lost in her own sad musings, Leia was surprised when she lifted her head to find Luke standing at the base of her throne, looking up and smiling at her.
"Hello, sister. Dr. Xalac wants us to come to her laboratory right away."
"I think we may have found a solution," Dr. Xalac told the anxious Empress. "But it comes with a price, yes it does."
"What kind of price?" Vader hissed at the woman. "You are being well paid, doctor."
"No. No. Not credits. Not credits."
"Then what are you talking about?" Luke questioned her more gently. Luke had decided two weeks ago he would need to talk to his father about trying not to intimidate people. Gathering up the courage to approach him on the subject was another matter.
"If we put in enough unaltered midichlorians, they will overwhelm the dying ones. Yes, they will, since the dying ones are weakened. That's what my tests are showing. But I will need to clone many unaltered ones. Many. Strength in overwhelming numbers. Many numbers. They will replace the enhanced, dying ones," she repeated as she nodded to herself.
"Then what price are you talking about?" Leia asked her.
The doctor looked at Leia, as if noticing her for the first time. "Midichlorians are attached to their donor for all time by the Force, through the Force. Time. Space. Body they inhabit. Not an issue. It is not something I created. It just is." She walked over to the stasis chamber and looked down at Solo. "He will be the recipient again. Just like the Force compelled Solo to obey Palpatine, and the midichlorians started dying when he defied his donor, the same will be true again - if that is what the donor wishes."
"So you are saying whoever donates the midichlorians to replace Palpatine's dying ones.... that's who Solo will be compelled to obey," Vader said in understanding. "And Palpatine was the one that triggered Solo's cells to start breaking down when he became disobedient."
"Yes. Yes. The midichlorians will obey the donor. The donor is in complete charge of the midichlorians. Even to the point of ordering those midichlorians to break down and self-destruct."
Leia felt ill. "That's not fair."
"Life is seldom fair, daughter," Vader said with a shrug. "Since he will be your consort, it is only fitting that your midichlorians are used to replace Palpatine's."
"Han would rather die than live his life as a slave," she whispered, shutting her eyes.
"It doesn't sound to me like Solo will be a slave, unless you want him to be one," Mara said, looking at the doctor, who nodded in confirmation. "Do you want to just let him die, instead?" she asked Leia gently.
"No. I love him." Leia turned pleading eyes at Chewie, who was standing quietly by Solo's tube. "What should I do?"
*Save his life. He loves you, too, Princess. But never, ever, treat him as a slave, for that would be worse than death to Han.*
Luke glanced down at the monitor that was keyed to interpret the Wookiee's words. "I agree, sister. Give Han a chance." Luke sincerely hoped for both his sister and his friend, that Han's love for Leia would be what caused the Corellian to stay by Leia's side, and not midichlorians. "I don't want him to die."
"How long will it take to clone enough of my midichlorians?" Leia asked the doctor softly.
"Week. Ten days. I cannot rush things. No. No. I can't."
"Then take my blood, and get started cloning. I want Han to live, too."
Four days later
"Artoo!" Threepio protested as the astromech droid entered the small shuttle. "Stealing equipment is against my programming! The rebels need this ship!"
"What did you just call me? A coward? A traitor?" Threepio threw his metal hands up. "I'm not the one slinking off in the middle of the night."
The R2 unit gave a long series of beeps in reply.
"I know Master Luke would never betray us. But what makes you think you can help matters? Coruscant is a long way! We could get lost! Someone could blast us into space dust! We could get sucked into a blackhole! Do you even know how to fly a ship through hyperspace?"
"Verrop bee dooo."
"What do you mean... there's a first time for everything?" Threepio said, his voice rising in panic. "I'm not going with you, you defective bucket of bolts."
Artoo whistled and rotated his head to the entrance of the small ship, then headed up the ramp. At the top, he stopped and extended his "arm" into a control panel. The ramp started to close.
"Wait!" Threepio yelled as he hustled up the moving ramp. "I can't let you do this alone. Who will possibly keep you out of trouble?"
Artoo beeped again as the ramp closed, and Threepio's last words were cut off. "What do you mean, you're the one keeping me out of -"
"General Antilles," the pilot saluted his commander.
"A small shuttle was stolen last night from our hanger."
"How did they get past security? And our shields?"
"Someone tapped into the controls before they left, and overrode everything, including the shields."
"A deserter?" Wedge asked, hopefully. Since Princess Leia's announcement from Coruscant, desertion in the Rebel ranks was running at an all time high. If it was only a deserter, their position and plans would not be compromised.
"I don't know, sir. No one seems to be missing."
"No, sir. Everyone is present and accounted for."
"It gets stranger, sir. Whoever it was, stole two droids when they left."
"Droids? What kind of droids?"
"A outdated protocol droid, and an even older model astromech droid, sir. It's not likely they were worth too much."
"Do you have their number designations?" Antilles asked, already getting the feeling he knew which droids would be the ones to turn up missing.
"I can get that for you, sir."
"Do that." Wedge watched as the officer left. But I already know the answer to my own question.
Coruscant, three days later
Leia watched nervously as Chewie gently picked Han up, removed him from the stasis tube and placed him on a narrow table in the center of the lab. Part of the Princess didn't want to watch the procedure - the other part knew she had to be there. If Han died during this, she would never forgive herself for not being by his side.
The doctor turned and looked pointedly at Mara and Leia. "Many needles must be placed in his body. If you are squeamish or easily embarrassed you leave. Leave now."
Mara looked at Leia. "Do you want me to go?"
The Princess hesitated. She wasn't certain she wanted to watch, either, but she couldn't stand to leave Han's side. "I... I don't know. You can do whatever you want."
"Stay," Luke asked as he took Mara's hand. "I have a feeling Han might need all of us giving him strength before this is over." He embraced both Mara and his sister before heading over to help Chewie undress the Corellian, then covered Solo's hips with a cloth to protect his modesty. After a little consideration, Luke thought perhaps it was Mara's and Leia's sensibilities that needed protecting, since Han probably wasn't the shy type.
The same tubes and catheters were inserted into Solo's body. Then came the needles - dozens of them, long and thick. Leia felt lightheaded just watching the doctor insert them into Han's veins and bones. She looked over at Vader, who was silently watching.
"How could you have done this to him when he was awake?" she said, her voice trembling in accusation.
"Palpatine wanted his mind, and he was too strong-willed. The pain snapped that willpower."
"We were lucky to be able to bring him mentally back," she said quietly as she continued to watch, glad that Luke was standing there supporting her.
"Ready! We are ready," the doctor called out happily. "I have never witnessed this....my turn now. My turn."
"Proceed," Vader told her shortly.
Several switches powered on, and the machine lit up and began a deep rumbling. Chewie let out a mournful howl as red blood flowed through some tubes, and thicker marrow was pulled through others.
The long wait for the machine to mix and combine Leia's midichlorians with Solo's blood and marrow began.
"Well, it's quite remarkable we are still in one piece, if you ask me," Threepio said primly.
Artoo gave a beep.
"I am well aware you did not ask me - that is beside the point." Threepio looked out the viewport. "At least there appears to be quite a number of droids outside. Perhaps no one will notice us."
The small droid headed for the ramp.
"Where do you think you're going?"
More beeping as Artoo kept rolling.
"The Imperial Palace? You think that's where we'll find Master Luke? Of course I'm coming.... wait up, you ungrateful, outdated, knee banger!"
Mara sat on the floor, resting her head against Luke's chest, while Leia and Chewie paced the floor. It had been nearly five time-parts, and the waiting was exhausting and nerve wracking. Several times during the procedure Solo's life signs had weakened, and his heart rate had become erratic. The three young Force-users had used their combined talents to flow strength back into the Corellian. Mara wasn't sure how many times it would work - the Princess had been close to panic duriing these episodes.
Vader had received a com-link call several time-parts back, and had left abruptly and without explanation, and no one was upset when the Dark Lord left the room.
Finally, Dr. Xalac spoke. "All the midichlorians are in his system. Wait. Now we must wait."
"Wait?" Leia snapped out. "That's all we've been doing. How long until we know if it works?"
The scientist was unperturbed by Leia's outburst. "Test his blood every half time-part. Test and test and retest. In one day we should know if your midichlorians had the ability to overwhelm the dying ones. One day."
It would be one of the longest days of Leia's life.
"I feel guilty leaving her alone," Luke mumbled as they climbed the stairs.
"She's not alone, Chewie is there and Solo's life signs are stable," Mara pointed out. "We need to eat, and we'll bring them food back."
When they entered the apartment, Mara took his arm. "We'll know if anything is going wrong, Luke. But it won't. I just feel that everything will be okay."
"The Force?" Luke smiled.
"That, and the Corellian has too many people pulling for him. He doesn't dare up and die now."
While Leia had been busy setting up her new government, Luke and Mara had been getting closer and more comfortable with each other as they practiced their Jedi skills. Luke had wanted to ask Mara to marry him, and he could not wait another minute.
"Will you marry me?"
The ex-assassin felt her heart soar. "What?"
"I know it's fast, but I feel like I've known you my entire life. I don't want to imagine being without you. Please?"
Mara laughed. "You don't have to say please, farmboy!" She threw her arms around him and kissed him deeply.
"So...." Luke mumbled against her lips. "Is this a yes, then?"
"Yes and yes and yes," Mara said, mocking the weird scientist. Then she kissed him again, much longer this time.
One day later.
"What do the tests show now?" Leia asked for the hundredth time.
"It was touch and go for a bit there," Xalac mumbled as she peered into a microscope. "But your midichlorians are taking over. Hardly any altered midichlorians remain, and those are quickly being displaced. Solo's blood count is rising."
"He's going to be okay?" Leia said, gasping in relief as Chewie raised his fists and roared.
"Quiet!" the scientist yelled at the Wookiee. "He is too noisy. Much too noisy." She glanced over at her patient. Han had not stirred the entire day, but at least color was returning to his face and his breathing was no longer so labored.
Leia wrapped her arms around the Wookiee. "I hope he forgives me."
*You did what you could, little one,* Chewie woofed softly, so as not to upset the doctor. *You did what you had to do.*
"Chewie?" a hoarse whisper sounded from across the room.
"Han?" Leia exclaimed.
*Cub! You are awake! Do you remember me? Do you remember the Princess?*
"I remember, pal," Han said quietly, keeping his eyes closed against the spinning sensation and nausea.
"QUIET!" Xalac screamed. She walked over to Solo's bed, pushing aside Leia and Chewie. "Lazy smuggler. Wake up. Now."
Han forced his eyes open, squinting in the brightness. Leia was holding his hand tightly and Chewie brushed the hair off his forehead. "Who is this woman?" he asked, weakly pointing at the doctor.
"Who am I? Who am I? How about the woman that saved your worthless hide, you ingrate."
"It doesn't matter, does it sweetheart?" Han croaked out as he looked up at Leia.
"What doesn't matter?"
"Even when I'm unconscious, women still can't resist my charms, can they?" Han turned his head and winked at Dr. Xalac.
"You'd better learn to watch your mouth, Corellian," the doctor said in a huff. "Or your new donor will teach you a lesson or two. Yes." Xalac headed for the stairs, to head up to her apartment. "Yes. He's going to be in for one big surprise, that... recipient. Yes he is."
Han frowned, watching the woman leave. Donor? Then he looked back at Leia and Chewie. He felt a strange connection to the Princess - different than anything he'd felt before with her. "Does anyone care to fill me in on what I've missed?"
Chewie exchanged a worried look with Leia. *Later, cub. When you are stronger.*
Evening, the same day
Vader looked up as Luke and Mara entered his chambers holding hands. "Thank you for coming so quickly, Luke."
"No problem, father. I have some news for you," Luke said smiling. "Several pieces of news, actually."
"Mara and I just came from Dr. Xalac's apartment. Han is awake. Dr. Xalac says he'll make a full recovery."
Vader nodded, uncertain if that was good news or not. If the smuggler refused to accept his new role, he could prove to be trouble. "And the other news?"
"Mara and I are going to be married." When the dark Lord made no comment, Luke asked slowly, "I hope you approve, father. I've already told Leia, and she's thrilled for us."
"I do not disapprove."
"Damned by faint praise," Mara mumbled to Luke.
Vader walked over to the couple, looking down at them. "I approve, provided you understand your role in this family, Jade."
"She'll be my wife," Luke protested. "What other role does she need?"
"She will also be your Hand, my son. Her ambitions must be your ambitions - not her own."
"I understand perfectly, Lord Vader," Mara said tightly. "I'm not marrying your son to further some hidden agenda. I love him."
"Good. Be certain those ambitions do not change." Vader walked over to a closed door. "Now I have some interesting news for you, my son." He reached a gloved hand up, and the door opened, revealing a turned-off C-3PO and R2-D2.
"Threepio? Artoo? How.... where...?"
Vader actually made a sound like laughter. "Surprised?"
"They actually came to Coruscant to find you, Luke. And they have some interesting information stored in their databanks, as well."
Solo looked up at the embarrassed Princess from his hospital bed, barely believing what he was hearing. "You've declared yourself the Empress? You're kidding me, right?"
"No. Fath...Vader made me do it - to save you. I explained this already," Leia said, exasperated at Han's repeated questions and exclamations of disbelief. She and Chewie had been filling Han in with what he'd missed for nearly a time-part already. "It's only a temporary situation, Han. As soon as systems have elected governors, I will call on those governors to hold an election for a President. Then I'll step aside."
"Does Vader know you're planning on holding elections?"
"Not yet," she admitted reluctantly. "He won't be happy." That is a huge understatement, she thought.
"And the only reason I'm alive is because your midi...midichlorians replaced Palpatine's?"
"Yes," she said with a sigh.
Han rubbed his hands across his face. "So that makes you my new Mast... errr... Mistress? Someone I have to obey, or die?" It would explain the sensation he felt when he first looked at her. Now that Leia explained it, Han was able to make the connection. The desire to obey her was the same desire he'd felt when Palpatine first ordered him to kneel at his feet and call him Master. Han had obeyed Palpatine then, without question, because the desire to obey had been overwhelming.
"I'll never order you around, Han, I promise. Please don't be upset... I couldn't watch you die and do nothing when I could save your life. I love you. I want you to be happy." Leia brushed the sheets on the bed, smoothing out the wrinkles, unable to look Han in the eyes. What if he hated her now? It was a thought she couldn't bear to contemplate.
"You'll never order me around?" Han grinned at how upset the Princess was. "You sure you can keep that promise? You've been ordering me around for three years now. Well.. trying to, anyway."
Leia opened her mouth to protest, then realized Han was expecting her to argue. "You're right. It's a promise I probably can't keep," she acknowledged. "So what can we do about it?" She felt her heart race as she worried that he would want them to go their separate ways.
"I don't know. You're the boss, remember?"
*I suggest you get married,* Chewie woofed down at the Corellian. *Then, when she bosses you around and you have to obey, it will be no different than any other married couple.*
"What did he say?" Leia asked Han, who looked away, reluctant to translate. "Han..." she said, pretending to be stern.
"Oh.... just some stupid thing about us getting married, so you can order me around with a clean conscience."
Looking askance at Chewie, Leia suddenly started laughing. "That makes perfect sense. Besides, there's absolutely no way I'm letting Luke get married before I do!"
"Hey! You just got through promising you wouldn't order me around!"
*She's not the one ordering you to marry her, cub. I am.*
"Since when do I have to obey you, furball?"
*Han, you've always obeyed me. I was just sneaky enough that you never knew it.*
"Master Luke!" Threepio cried out. "The stormtroopers turned me off! It was most rude."
"I'm sure it was," Luke said soothingly to the droid. "Why did you come to Coruscant?"
"Artoo insisted! He claimed you are malfunctioning, and need assistance."
"I'm not malfunctioning, Artoo," Luke said as he looked down at the little droid. "Everything is just fine."
Artoo beeped and rocked back and forth on his 'feet'.
"Artoo says that ...." Threepio looked over at Vader and lowered his voice. "That he fears for your safety."
"Because the Rebels plan on attacking the Death Star," Vader rumbled. "Therefore we must prevent them from doing so."
"Leia won't want to fight the Rebel forces," Mara pointed out.
"Then she must try again to reason with them," Vader returned. "If they remain set in their ways, then she must accept that they are the enemy."
"Do you think Leia will accept Vader's plan to keep the Death Star," Mara asked as she nuzzled Luke's neck.
"No," he murmured, turning into her embrace. "She won't give up pushing to get rid of it - I know her too well."
"Did you think she'd accept being Empress so easily?"
"It's only temporary, until she can set up elections. Do we have to talk about Leia right now?"
Luke's door chimed, and he groaned in dismay, then reached out with the Force to sense who was at the door. "It's Leia, Chewie.... and Han! He's out of the hospital."
"I told you he'd be fine," Mara said with a smirk.
Luke hit the open switch, and grabbed Solo in a hug. "Glad to see you're up and feeling good."
"I think you and Leia had a lot to do with the fact I'm alive, kid."
"Yeah, you. I doubt Vader would have hauled my rear outta the throne room if you wouldn't have been around."
"He might have," Luke replied, looking up at a doubtful Wookiee.
"Ha. Anyway.... I hear congratulations are in order - you and Mara got engaged. I'm out of it for a little while, and everyone gets delusions of grandeur."
"Are you including me in that statement, flyboy?" Leia asked, tugging on Solo's sleeve.
"Especially you, Empress Sweetheart."
"So," Luke questioned carefully. "Did Leia tell you about the, um, midichlorians?"
"You mean how my life was saved by having Leia's midichlorians infused into me? And now I have to be a good boy all the time?"
Mara snorted. "Serves you right, Solo."
"Ah, Jade. Don't you ever plan on forgiving me for how I acted when I was under Wrinkle's influence?"
"You'd better make 'eventually' real soon. Leia wants a double wedding with you."
"Han!" Leia chastised. "That's not the way I wanted to announce our engagement!"
Luke laughed and hugged his sister. "Congratulations. If you want a double ceremony, that's something you'll have to discuss with Mara. Weddings are the woman's domain."
*See, cub?* Chewie barked out. *Luke listens to Mara, and he doesn't even have her midichlorians in his system making him.*
"Mistress Leia!" Threepio called out to a surprised Leia as he came around the corner. "How wonderful to see you again! And Master Han, too! It certainly has been a while!"
"Not long enough," Han said with a heavy sigh. "Not nearly long enough."
Vader sat at the head of a long table, looking at his children and their fiancés. "The information in the droids tells us that the Rebellion is planning a full scale attack on the Death Star. We must stop them."
"I've told you, I'm not fighting my friends in the Rebellion. Let me negotiate with them," Leia said stiffly.
"You've already tried. They did not even bother to respond."
"I won't give the orders to attack them," Leia responded to Vader.
"Do you realize that there are over ten thousand civilian contractors working aboard the Death Star? These are not military personnel, like those that died when the first Death Star was destroyed, but ordinary people trying to feed their families."
"Maybe they should have been aware of the risks involved with constructing that thing," Han said with a shrug. "They had to know it isn't a real popular government project."
"Perhaps," Vader conceded, inclining his head. "But does that give the Rebellion the right to wipe them out?"
It stunned Leia to realize that Vader seemed to care about the people aboard the Battle Station. How was it possible that Lord Darth Vader could have any compassion? Was this the same man that watched as Alderaan was destroyed? "Then we need to evacuate them."
"It is very likely the Rebels have moved up their time table since these droids escaped. Do you really think we have time to evacuate everyone?"
"We can try," Luke said, leaning forward. "But I think we should head to the Death Star, anyway. Leia's right - she has to have the chance to talk with General Rieekan face to face."
"And you must agree to allow the Death Star to be dismantled," Leia added, looking at Vader. "Or I'll step aside as Empress."
"I can't allow that," Vader hissed at his stubborn daughter. "You will remain as Empress. It is your destiny."
"I think Leia can pretty much do whatever she wants to," Han snapped out. "Do you really think you can make her stay as the Empress? You'll have to come through me, first."
Vader stood up, towering over the four humans sitting at the table. "Do not threaten me, Solo. You no longer have enhanced midichlorians running through your system. I could easily defeat you now."
Han leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest and refusing to let any fear show in his face. Vader was correct. Han's connection through the Force was far weaker than it had been before, when Palpatine's altered cells were a part of him. It wasn't something that particularly worried the Corellian, but it did puzzle him that while his Force-connection to Leia was growing, other parts of his Force-sense seemed to be faltering and fading. "I suppose you could. But can you defeat all four of us?"
"Han," Luke said, trying to diffuse the situation. "We're all on the same side here. Right, father?"
Slowly, Vader turned his mask from Solo to Luke. "Leia may negotiate with the Rebels. The Death Star can be dismantled. But if the Rebels refuse to cooperate, we must protect those onboard the Station. Do you agree to this?"
"As long as you agree to dismantle the Death Star, and give me a chance to speak with the Rebel leaders, I will agree to protect the innocent," Leia agreed. Just who was 'innocent', Leia left unsaid.
"We must head to Endor immediately," Mon Mothma told Rieekan. "The droids were programmed by Skywalker and Organa to spy on us. They will know of our plans to attack."
"It may already be too late," Rieekan said quietly, heartsick over Leia's defection.
"No. Not if we leave now. They think we plan on attacking in two weeks' time. We can still surprise them."
Rieekan turned to Wedge Antilles, sitting quietly in his hoverchair. Wedge's back was healing, and the therapy was working, but it would be months before he could walk unassisted or fly again in an X-Wing. "I agree with Mon Mothma. We shouldn't wait."
"We'll head to Endor tomorrow, then."
"It amazes me this ship can lift off the ground," Vader remarked as the group entered the Falcon.
Han shot a glance over his shoulder at his amused passengers. "You're welcome to take your own shuttle up to the Destroyer, but I'll get you there ten times faster."
"Or not at all," Mara said, rolling her eyes.
"Why does everyone feel the need to insult my ship?" Solo asked his shaggy co-pilot as they headed for the cockpit.
"Master Luke?" Threepio started out tentatively. "Are you certain you require my assistance? Artoo and I could certainly stay on Coruscant and wait for your safe return."
"No, Threepio," Leia said, grinning. "Han wants you to come with us."
"Master Han wants me? Is that a fact? I wasn't aware he requested my services."
"Oh, Threepio, Solo loves you - really. He always threatens to blast apart those he cares about," Mara replied to the droid. "As a matter of fact, you should go sit in the cockpit with him during liftoff. He'd love your company."
"Really? Well, I must say, this certainly comes as a surprise. I will endeavor to spend more time with Captain Solo, then," Threepio remarked as he headed to the cockpit.
"That was very mean of you two," Luke chastised, barely able to keep from laughing. "Almost dark side, I'd say."
"If the dark side existed," Vader added as he sat down, looking around at the old freighter.
"Luke tells me you don't think the Force has a dark side. Or a light side, for that matter," Leia said, questioningly.
"Those that use the Force are evil, or not. The Force doesn't care. It is incapable of caring, anymore than the wind cares if it supplies you with a gentle breeze, or a gale strong enough to uproot trees."
"So the Force isn't alive?" Mara asked.
"It is a living thing. But it has no self awareness."
"Are you evil?" Leia asked suddenly.
Vader didn't reply immediately. Finally he spoke. "What do you think?"
"I don't know anymore. I would have said yes, after you tortured me on the Death Star...after.. Alderaan. And after everything you did to Han. But then you helped save his life. You are honoring your word, and you show signs of caring about the workers on the Death Star. I just don't know what to think."
"Everyone has good and evil within their souls. It is unavoidable," Vader answered.
"What does that mean?" Luke asked.
"It means we can all be capable of great evil, or great good. Sometimes you cannot tell the difference, for what appears good to one person will be evil to another. It all depends on your point of view."
"I think speaking in riddles must come with the territory," Leia said dryly, thinking about a short, green Jedi.
"Do you think it bothers your father that we're sharing a room?" Han asked as he looked around at the large, but spartan officer's room.
"It shouldn't, since he didn't even ask if we wanted separate quarters. Luke and Mara are sharing, too. As soon as this confrontation is over, we're having a big, double wedding ceremony. Mara thinks it's a great idea."
Han limped over to Leia and put his arms around her. "I love you, Princess. I hope we survive this confrontation."
"We will. I feel it."
"I know you feel that. And it's funny, 'cuz I hardly feel anything through the Force anymore - except what you're feeling, and what you want. I don't know what to make of it."
Leia looked up, concern in her brown eyes. "Dr. Xalac took a shuttle up, and is already onboard. I insisted she come with us. I'll have her test your blood again."
"I don't feel weak, Leia. Or tired, or headachy. I feel fine. I just.....can hardly feel the Force anymore. It doesn't upset me, really. 'Sides, if she takes anymore of my blood out, I won't have any left."
"I'm still having her run tests," Leia insisted. "And right after the wedding, you're having the best surgeons in the galaxy fix your legs, too. Or would you rather have your legs fixed before the wedding?"
Han laughed. "You don't want to wait that long."
When the Princess flushed, Han winked at her. "I told you I can tell what you want. That part of my Force-sense isn't fading at all - in fact, it seems to be getting stronger all the time. It's strange."
"Maybe Vader can explain what's happening to you," Leia suggested.
"I'll tell you what.... let's forget about the Force, and midichlorians, and the Death Star, and my legs..... and let's just concentrate on this." He lifted her chin, kissing her slowly and passionately. Leia forgot about everything else.
"Do you have a difficult time disconnecting from your sister?" Mara asked, hands on hips as she glared at a nervous Luke. "Or your father?"
"No." Luke shook his head. "It just feels so... odd. Father just gave us this room together, like he expected us to want to share a......" Luke trailed off, embarrassed.
"A bedroom? You mean -" Mara swung her arm to the adjoining bedroom. "A BED?"
"We haven't yet...."
"So? We're engaged, farmboy." Mara walked up to Luke, taking his head in her hands and looking into his blue eyes. "Tomorrow may never come. I've waited my entire life for the right man, and the first time I saw you, I knew you were my soulmate. So... do you want me, or not?"
"I .... I've never wanted anything so badly before in my entire life. I love you, Mara."
"As far as I'm concerned, we're already married through the Force. I think your father is wrong... the Force is not only alive, it cares about what happens, or doesn't happen. Tonight, this is going to happen, because we love each other." With those words, she kissed Luke and using the Force, they melted into each other's souls.
Executor, over Endor
Leia gazed out of the viewport. It was difficult to look at the half-completed Death Star - intense emotions swept through her soul as she thought about Alderaan. Han squeezed her fingers, his Force-sense locked so firmly on the Princess he could barely breath as he felt her emotional pain.
"It has to be dismantled," Leia said flatly. "There is no other choice."
"Ultimately, the decision is yours, my daughter," Vader said with a nod. "You must then find alternatives for protecting the galaxy from the evil that lurks outside our boundaries."
"I will," she replied. "But whatever else happens, I have to dispose of this .... thing. This killing machine of Palpatine's."
"We will need to send down a squadron of stormtroopers to prevent the Rebels from destroying the shield generator."
"I can go down with Chewie and supervise them, Leia," Han volunteered. "I'll make sure Imperial weapons are set to stun, not kill."
Leia nodded. "Bring them up to our ship, Han. And don't you do anything foolish."
"Who, me?" Han winked at Leia and gave Luke a slap on the back before he headed out to his ship.
Leia watched him leave, pushing aside her feelings of worry. Dr. Xalac had tested his blood everyday since leaving Coruscant, assuring her everything looked fine. The new midichlorians were doing well. Han's blood count was back to normal. Except for the fact Han could no longer draw on the Force to sense things out of his visual range, or use his lightsaber with the same skills he had before. "Why is he losing his Force-senses?" Leia questioned, barely aware she'd spoken out loud.
"For the same reasons Solo killed for Palpatine," Vader answered.
"What? That doesn't make any sense," Leia protested, frowning at Luke and Mara in confusion. "Han didn't lose any Force-abilities while he was under Palpatine's control."
"Palpatine did not wish Solo to lose his Force abilities. You do."
"I don't understand."
"I think I do," Luke said, stepping into the conversation. "Your midichlorians are under your control - whether they're in your body, or Han's."
Mara nodded, suddenly understanding as well. "You don't want Han to be Force-sensitive, do you, Leia?"
Eyes wide, Leia stared at her brother. "I'm doing this? I'm blocking Han's abilities?"
"Subconsciously, you are," Vader agreed. "You love him. You want his happiness."
"And Han isn't happy as a Force-sensitive," Mara added with a shrug. "Strange, but true. The man is an anomaly."
"But.... he can still sense me!" Leia argued. "He knows what I want, and what I'm thinking, unless I shield from him."
"Because that's what you want, sister," Luke said with a laugh. "I know you're not doing these things deliberately, like Palpatine did, but you're still doing them."
"I can't keep doing these things to Han," she told them, feeling a rush of guilt. "I have to control what I want. And I have to ask Han what he wants." She turned to Vader. "Can I return his Force-abilities, if he wants them back?"
"Yes, I would think there would be no reason you couldn't. You have placed shields around the midichlorians in Solo's system, much like you can shield yourself to other beings. You can remove those shields."
"And I can block all of them, if that's what he wants? So he doesn't have to sense me, either? Or obey me, without even being aware he's obeying?" Leia didn't think she'd been 'ordering' Han around... but if she was doing things subconsciously, what if she had been? Now that she thought about it, she had wanted someone she could trust to supervise the stormtroopers on the surface of Endor.
"Yes. That might be a little more difficult, since you are the one that desires the Force-connection with Solo. But with effort, and some practice, you will be able to block that ability as well. Keep in mind that Palpatine's midichlorians inside Solo broke down because that's what the Emperor wanted them to do."
"Don't assume Han wants you to eliminate that connection, Leia," Luke told his sister.
"That's exactly what I have been doing," she objected. "Assuming what he wants."
Surface of Endor
"There's the generator," General Rieekan told his troops. "It looks like there's only two stormtroopers at the entrance."
"That seems strange," Wes Janson replied, wishing he were flying an X-Wing instead of assisting the Alderaanian general on the surface. The squadron was already missing Wedge - it seemed to Wes a waste of his talents to be on the ground. Unfortunately, since the deaths of so many command personnel, and the defection of the Princess and Luke, many Rebels had deserted, claiming they wanted to give Empress Organa a chance to prove herself. It left few choices when it came to picking who would aid Rieekan. "You'd still think they'd have more than two troopers guarding the place."
"Maybe they don't think they'll have any local trouble," Rieekan answered.
Wes snorted, remembering the brief encounter they had with the Ewoks. "Yeah. Short and furry. Even with those pointy sticks, they don't look intimidating."
"You didn't have to stun all of them," Rieekan sighed. "They might have been valuable allies."
"You're kidding, right, sir?"
"I suppose." The General signaled to his small group of men. "Let's go."
"The Rebels are dropping out of hyperspace. I hope Solo stops those on the surface, or thousands of lives will be lost," Vader said quietly, looking out at the arriving rag-tag bunch of ships. The Imperial ships were already in place, hundreds of support ships and TIES already peeling out of the fifty Star Destroyers positioned around the planet and the moon. The Imperial Navy outnumbered the Rebel ships thirty to one, and their firepower was vastly superior.
"Open a channel to Home One," Leia ordered the communication officer.
Mon Mothma's slim form appeared, standing next to Wedge Antilles who was sitting in a hoverchair. "Empress Organa," she said tightly in response to Leia's hail.
"Mon Mothma, we must stop this. All of the Rebels will be granted full pardons. I have every intention of having the workers start to dismantle the Death Star," Leia said, almost pleading.
"You killed General Madine, Admiral Ackbar, and General Dodonna, didn't you?" Mothma said accusingly, not replying to Leia's request.
"No. I did not."
"You are a liar and a traitor. May you and your brother burn next to Palpatine in a special hell reserved for people like you. Today, the Rebellion will prevail, or you will be forced to kill us all."
The screen went dark.
The Rebels almost made it to the small building before they realized they were surrounded by several hundred stormtroopers that rose up like a mist from the forest floor. Rieekan heard a familiar voice call out.
"Surrender, and no one gets hurt."
"Solo?" Wes mumbled in shock, knowing their effort was doomed to failure.
Several frightened Rebels opened fire at the stormtroopers, and the sound of blaster fire rang out as the two groups fought briefly. The Rebels quickly became overwhelmed by sheer numbers, and slowly began dropping blasters, holding their hands in the air. Continuing to fight at this point would only mean dying on the surface of Endor. They had no idea the Imperials' blasters were set on stun and their fellow freedom fighters, now lying on the ground, were still alive.
Stormtroopers quickly gathered up the weapons, snapping binders around the Rebels' wrists. Han Solo appeared, followed by his ever present Wookiee companion. Limping up to the General, Han looked in the older man's face. Disappointment was etched deeply in his expression, and contempt clouded Rieekan's eyes.
"Why?" was the man's single question.
"You wanted us to take out the Emperor," Han replied slowly. "We did that, but then.... things spun out of control. No one did this on purpose."
"So the opportunity to rule the galaxy just presented itself, and none of you could resist? Is that it?"
"That's not what happened," Han started to argue, then stepped back in shock as the General spat in his face. Chewbacca roared and moved forward, but Solo stopped him with his hand. "No. I understand what you must think, General," Han said, wiping the spittle from his cheek. "I hope Leia can explain it better than me." He turned to the troops. "Take them to the Executor, and no rough stuff. Or you'll have to answer to a Wookiee. Remember that, if you like your arms where they are."
"The shield generator is still in place," Wedge told Mothma, watching as his fighters engaged the Imperial forces. It seemed odd.... the Imps were not attacking - only defending the Battle Station and the main Destroyers. "We can't take out the Station with that generator still in place."
"Give Rieekan a chance," Mothma replied. "He will succeed."
"He'd better succeed fast, or we won't have any fighters left to do the job."
"The Imperials don't seem to be attacking us," she remarked, looking at the readouts.
"Maybe we should have listened to Princess Leia. Are we making a mistake?"
"You mean, Empress Leia Organa?" Mothma said with a sneer. "No. We are not making a mistake. She is."
"Han has stopped Rieekan's forces," Luke reported to his tense sister. "He's left half of the troopers on the surface to guard the station, but Han and Chewie are returning with the prisoners."
"Prisoners," Leia said, the word bitter on her tongue.
"Once Rieekan sees and understands, he'll come around," Mara said encouragingly. "They just don't know the real truth, that's all."
"Mara's right," Luke put in. "As soon as Rieekan's onboard, he'll call off the attack. Everything will be fine."
"He'd better," was all that Vader would say as he walked away from the group.
Rieekan was brought into the Command Center between Han and Chewie, his hands still in binders. His shoulders were straight and he stared at Leia as if he could not believe his eyes. "You are a disappointment to the memory of Alderaan."
The Princess flinched and took a deep breath. "I can understand your feelings, Carlist...."
"General!" he spat out. "My name is General Rieekan to you, Empress Organa. Or should I say Empress Vader? Using the name 'Organa' is a disgrace to your father's memory."
Vader walked up behind Leia and approached Rieekan. "Apologize to my daughter."
"I would rather die."
"Your choice," Vader said. Before anyone could react, Rieekan's neck made a sickening crack - the General's eyes widened for a brief second before his head lolled to the side and he fell to the floor.
Leia screamed as she fell to her knees next to Rieekan's lifeless body, gathering his head into her lap.
The others in the room could only stare down in shock at the wailing Princess and the dead General.
"He was like my father!"
"He was not your father," Vader replied calmly. "Neither was Bail Organa your father. I am your father, and you would do well to remember that. The fool was right about one thing - you should cease using the name Organa."
Leia looked up, her face tear streaked. "Bail Organa was my father - in every way that counted." She glanced at Han who knelt beside her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, trying to comfort her. How could she ever have thought Vader had changed? How could she ever have thought he had compassion? Luke was wrong- there was nothing worth saving in Darth Vader.
"You need to readjust your thinking, Princess," Vader said with a shrug. He turned to a speechless Luke, and wide-eyed Mara. "Help your sister pull herself back together. Then contact Mothma. It will be her last chance to be reasonable." Vader turned, his cape billowing behind him as he strode purposefully out of the Command Center. "I will return in a few moments."
"He hasn't changed, Luke," Mara whispered to her fiancé. "We were wrong - we were all wrong."
"I see that," Luke snapped back, then immediately looked regretful. "I'm sorry, Mara. This is just... so unbelievable."
Han helped Leia to her feet. "How is this so unbelievable, kid? Mara's right - he is still the same Sith he always was. I'm sure he'd kill me too, if he wasn't using me to dangle as some sort of incentive for Leia to obey him."
Luke buried his face in his hands while Mara wrapped her arm around his waist and exchanged grim looks with Solo.
"The Executor is signaling us again," General Antilles told Mon Mothma. The mood inside Home One was becoming bleaker every second the shield generator remained in place. Attempts to signal Rieekan over a private frequency had failed, and the Rebels were now surrounded by Imperial Forces. If the Imps were to go on the offensive, the Rebellion would be crushed.
"Open a channel," Mon Mothma finally said.
Leia Organa appeared on the large viewer, her brother and Vader standing on either side of her. The former Rebel's face was pale, her eyes red rimmed. "Thank you for taking my hail."
"We have already declined your demands to surrender, Empress," Mothma said coolly. "So unless you have something new to say, I really don't see the point of this discussion."
"I'm offering you proof of my desire to start over, with a fair and just government. You will have a prominent role in setting up this government, Mon Mothma."
"Proof? You mean to offer evidence that you intend to dismantle the Death Star?"
"I will dismantle the Death Star. But that is not my proof."
"Then what is?"
"This." Without warning, Leia took one step back and ignited her lightsaber, then drove it through Vader's chest. The Dark Lord looked down at the green blade, shimmering through his torso, then he fell face forward while Leia stood motionless, still holding the humming blade. "I offer you the last, dead, Sith Lord as proof. This is your last chance. If you refuse me now, I will order the TIES to start shooting to kill. You have ten minutes to decide. Empress Organa out."
The viewer went black before a stunned Mon Mothma could reply.
"What have you done?" Luke asked as he dropped to his knees beside Vader. The Sith was still gasping for air, as his life blood drained from his wound.
"We are all capable of great evil, or great good," Leia replied coldly, throwing Vader's words back at him. "Sometimes you can't tell the difference - what appears good to one person will be evil to another. This seemed good to me, even if it seems evil to you, Luke. I guess this is my point of view."
Luke turned the black helmet to look at him. "Father? Hang on.... we'll get you to the medics."
"I am ... dying, my son," he hissed out painfully. "It is too late for that."
"Do as I asked you.... restore the Jedi, and serve the galaxy under your sister's rule. Only then I will have fulfilled my destiny."
"But....she... Leia... just..."
"She did what she felt necessary. Now she is finally a true ruler...a decision maker.... the Empress of the galaxy."
With those words, Vader died.
"Home One is hailing us," the communication officer said nervously, looking down at the two dead men lying on the floor.
Luke stood up, roughly brushing the tears from his eyes, and stood next to Leia.
"Put them on," Leia replied, still holding her glowing lightsaber.
Mon Mothma's face appeared, and she still appeared to be shaken. "General Antilles and I have discussed the matter."
"And we will surrender and hope you are merciful."
"I will be merciful to those that deserve it," Leia replied. "I accept your surrender. Order your fighters to cease shooting, and lower your shields. You will be boarded and taken into custody aboard the waiting Star Destroyers. Then we will proceed to Coruscant, where I will have personal meetings with you and General Antilles, since you are the only two remaining leaders of the Rebellion."
"The only two?" Wedge asked.
"I'm sorry to report that General Rieekan did not survive. Empress Organa out."
"Leia won't come to father's funeral," Luke said sadly. "She called him a monster."
Mara sat down on the sofa next to Luke. "He did cause her a lot of grief, Luke."
"Do you still want to marry me?" Luke asked unexpectedly. After everything Mara had witnessed, he wouldn't blame her for changing her mind.
"More than ever." Mara turned Luke's face to her, and kissed him. "We have a lot of work to do, you know. Reestablishing the Jedi, and Leia is planning this big double-wedding. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually looking forward to a big, fancy wedding. It's something I never thought I'd have."
"I'm not so sure Leia intends to step down as Empress anymore. Not since...."
"Do you think she's turned to the dark side?"
Luke shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think she's turned to the dark side, but who am I to say? I thought father still had good in him."
"I don't feel she's turned to the dark side either. Vader might have been right, and the dark side doesn't really exist - it's the individual that's good or evil. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens. Maybe she'll be a good ruler. Maybe the people of the galaxy will love Empress Leia Organa."
"Have you met with Mon Mothma yet?" Han asked as he rummaged around in the closet for a shirt.
"Yesterday, briefly," Leia replied. "We signed a Peace Treaty, and she agreed to take a position in my government overseeing the dismantling of the Death Star. I also signed pardons for all the Rebels, so they've been freed."
"You're not stepping down as Empress, are you?"
"No, not in the foreseeable future. Does that bother you?"
"Can't you tell?" Han grinned.
"You feel conflicted. Worried about me."
Han shrugged the shirt over his shoulders and fastened the front. "I know you won't turn into Palpatine. You're too goodhearted for that."
"Even after I killed Vader? My own father?"
"He deserved it, Leia. I don't think what you did was evil, if that's what you're asking me."
"Do you believe what Vader said, about the Force not having a light or dark side?"
"I honestly don't know, sweetheart. It's all a mystery to me."
"He told me I'm the one cutting off your general access to the Force. And I'm the one making you stay connected to me through the Force. Do you want to be Force sensitive, Han? Or do you want me to cut off our connection, too?"
"I'm not crazy about being Force-sensitive," he admitted.
"I didn't think so. What about our connection?"
Han walked over to Leia and kissed the top of her head. "Let's just see how it goes, okay? We'll just take things one day at a time."
"Sometimes, Han, you do have your moments," Leia said, burying her face against his chest.
I love you.