Vader watched the cruiser disappear into space,
feeling Leia's presence wrenched away from the world
of Naboo. The sensation was not dissimilar to the
loss of a limb. It ripped a fresh wound in his soul,
and the poisoned blood of the Dark Side flooded in to
cleanse it. The anger was invigorating, the pain
empowering. He raised his hand to the sky and pushed
the Force through the atmosphere, chasing the sonic
boom of Solo's ship with a second, lower-pitched
boom. Clouds split open, and one began a lazy swirl
as the air pressure changed around it. A funnel
dipped down slightly.
A buzz announced the belated coming of the guard.
It was as well they had not arrived earlier. They had
not seen Luke shamed in combat, which would also have
shamed Vader. Authority could not be maintained by
leaders who allowed themselves to be made fools of.
"My Lord," the captain of the guard
said, jumping out of his speeder as he swerved into
the clearing. He bowed. "Wesa begging
forgiveness. Yousa daughter... "
"I am aware, Captain," Vader said
simply. "I will modify the guards' speeders
appropriately in coming days, but my daughter
commandeered two vehicles for which your own were no
match. You have no blame in this. I know where the
responsibility for it lies." He looked across at
Luke, who was staring at his feet, his jaw set
He squared his shoulders and looked up defiantly.
"Return to the Palace with the guard and
explain the situation to Her Majesty."
"Remain in the common room. Do not leave her
side until I return."
"I will speak to you at that point."
There was a long pause. Luke glared at him. Then
he spoke softly and slowly. "Yes, Father."
Luke turned away and went to the guards' convoy,
climbing into the captain's speeder without looking
to see if he would be followed. Vader watched the
guards disappear back toward Theed.
He had no true business in this place, but he
would not endure the return with Luke. He wasn't
certain that his anger would remain under control,
and he recognized it as a killing anger. He had a
great deal of experience in gauging this particular
He took a moment to inspect the speeders Leia had
stolen, but found nothing of use. Calrissian had left
behind the cap from his guard's uniform.
How did I miss his presence in my own house?
His face grew hot beneath the mask, and he tore
the leather cap into two pieces. With a surge of the
Force, the speeder launched itself into the
cliff-face and exploded. The other followed it.
It was foolish, he supposed, to destroy them, but
the release of energy spent some of his anger. He
needed to teach Luke, and teach him vigorously, but
the mistakes had not been entirely unilateral. It
would be inappropriate to maintain fury only at Luke.
A boulder flew across the clearing and landed on
the wrecked speeders with a satisfying crash of
The pile of scrap trembled and rattled, then
suddenly burst apart, scattering shrapnel in all
directions. Vader repelled all of it that came his
way without thinking.
He had known she was hiding something, and her
potential as a Force-user was obvious. As a master,
the development of her abilities pleased him.
But she had turned them against her own family.
That was... unacceptable.
She had hurt Amidala.
That was unconscionable.
She would pay for it.
He called his speeder down from the place where it
was hovering, and returned to the Palace.
The guards in the hangar did not meet his gaze
when he landed, and those stationed in the hallways
merely saluted as he passed them. He saw no need to
approach the administrative areas of the building -
the hangers-on waiting for a glimpse of Amidala would
be disappointed today, and his own appearance tended
to discomfit them somewhat. Instead, he went straight
to the family quarters. He began to feel the presence
of Luke and Amidala almost immediately.
"She is coming back!" Amidala's voice
rose frantically, bouncing against the stone walls.
Vader increased his pace.
Luke's reply was quieter and indistinct. Another
voice seemed to be present as well, but he could not
immediately place it.
"I won't have it! I won't!"
He rounded the corner and came inside. Amidala ran
to him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Ani! Oh, Ani, you have to bring her back!"
Vader let her hold on to him, and wrapped an arm
over her shoulders to make her feel safe. Luke rose
from his place by the hearth, and the figure behind
him came forward. It was Piett.
"My Lord," he said, bowing slightly.
"I came as soon as news reached me. Do you have
"I told you already!" Amidala said, not
turning toward him. "Bring me my daughter."
Piett frowned. "My Lady, I will need time to
formulate a strategy." He looked to Vader.
"Do you wish this to be a military operation, my
Vader was surprised. It was the closest Piett had
ever come to openly disagreeing with Amidala.
"Admiral, the order stands. My daughter had
access to a great deal of vital Imperial
intelligence. She is returning to the Rebellion with
it. This will become a military matter."
"Where were your men when this... Solo... was
breaking into our home?" Amidala demanded,
turning on him.
"I apologize for my failures, Your
"And Leia. You spent many hours with her at
the command center. Why didn't you stop this?"
Piett took the barrage with patience. "If it
had been within my power, my Lady, I would have done
Vader squeezed Amidala's shoulder. "Admiral
Piett is commander of the Imperial Fleet, my love.
Household security is not his responsibility."
She looked at him for a long time, then nodded and
pulled away from him to sit down on a small velvet
chair by the balcony door. She drew her knees to her
chest and wept great, silent tears. Luke knelt before
her and took her hands. "It will be all right,
"She hates me," Amidala whispered,
looking up. Her eyes had a far-off, ghost-like look
to them. "I made her hate me."
"My Lady," Piett said. He started toward
her, seemed to think better of it, and stood straight
instead. "If I may comment? I spoke often with
Leia, as you said. She does not hate you. She simply
couldn't make the adjustment to the end of the war.
She was a Rebel for many years. It isn't... Oh, my
Lady. How could she hate you?"
It was the right thing to say. Amidala smiled
gratefully at him before going back to her tears.
"Admiral," Vader said, "I
appreciate your tact, but I require your presence at
Command. You are aware of Leia's levels of access,
and I need you to analyze that intelligence for any
"Yes, my Lord." Piett saluted and left.
Vader waited until his footsteps had faded away
entirely before he spoke. Luke's instruction was not
a matter for public consumption. "You have
failed us, Luke."
Luke's shoulders stiffened and he stood up.
Amidala rose as well, her eyes wide. "Ani,
no. Luke didn't fail. He's here. Ani, he's stayed
with us. He is a good son." She stroked his
cheek. "My good son... "
"I am not commenting on his role in the
family," Vader said. "He failed in his
Luke turned around. "Is it necessary to
discuss this right now?"
"It is." Vader stepped out onto the
balcony. "My love, if you would prefer not to
"I'm not leaving, Ani. Don't even think I
He nodded, still not looking back at her. "As
you wish. But it will have no impact on this
"Father," Luke said, "Leia escaped
on her own. I didn't assist her."
"You concealed Solo's survival from me,"
Vader said, modulating his voice into an even
register in the hope of not upsetting Amidala any
further. "You failed to secure him properly, and
you failed to guard your sister properly. And you
allowed your weapon to be taken from you in combat
and used against both of us."
"I'm not the one who was teaching her."
Vader ignored this taunt. The idea of not teaching
Leia was absurd. "You showed no more presence of
mind than a common stormtrooper. To allow your
lightsaber to be -"
The move was sudden, vicious. The boy had learned
well. In a movement too quick to see, Vader found
himself backed against the balcony rail, his own
lightsaber in his son's hand, poised to strike across
his throat. He had not even felt it fly from his
This, he thought, would be a fitting way
to die, at the very least.
But he did not intend to die. Nor would he kill
Luke - what would he gain by the destruction of his
son and apprentice? If he killed Luke, he would
render his life pointless. Leia had chosen treason
today, and there would certainly never be another
child of his own broken body.
So he merely remained still, not challenging Luke.
"Do you intend to strike the blow?" he
Luke's jaw clenched. This close, Vader could see
the tendons in his neck standing out. The saber blade
"I am not a child to be lectured about my
decisions, Father. I will make those decisions I see
fit to make. When they are wrong, I will make amends.
But I won't be lectured or humiliated by you."
Small hands appeared on Luke's shoulders, pulling
him back. "Luke, don't. Please. I can't stand
Luke rose, not letting the lightsaber go. For the
first time since his arrival, he looked fully a
warrior, fully Vader's heir. "For your sake,
Mother," he said, and turned off the blade.
Vader rose and regarded his son evenly. "You
are prepared," he said. "But you are also
weak. You do not see the consequences of your
decisions. You choose to ignore obvious
"I know your weakness, too. You'll never kill
me, Father, and I'll never fear you again." He
held out Vader's lightsaber hilt.
Vader did not take it. Luke was well aware of the
insult he was offering, and Vader would not humbly
play along with it. "You are in need of a
weapon," he said with a dismissive wave.
"Keep it. I will construct another."
Luke nodded curtly and left the room.
Amidala took Vader's hands and sat down before
him. Her face was somber and frightened, but achingly
the face of the woman who had once stood beside
him on another balcony on this world, overlooking a
lake and an island to which she'd swum as a girl.
"It isn't a weakness, Ani," she said.
"Or if it is, he has the same weakness. He will
not kill you, either."
"I am aware of that, my love."
"It's our strength," she said. "All
of our strength." The muscles began to tighten
around her eyes, the strange glow returned to them.
"And that's why we have to have Leia back. The
information she has means nothing. Only she
matters. We have to be together, Ani. Bring her
"I will find her. I promise."
Yoda's eyes opened slowly as he drew out of his
For the first time in a long, long while, Yoda had
seen many things, many images and visions.
The Force was no longer quiet, or in mourning, as
it had been since the Skywalker twins had rejoined
their parents. It had been stirred and moved, and
Yoda felt the inklings of a change about to come.
He had experienced a similar feeling when Luke and
Anakin had come before him to begin their training.
And the changes that came then were cataclysmic.
If anything, training this one would be worse.
A deep frown creased Yoda's faced and he slouched
back, heavy with burden. He thought that maybe he
should have been pleased with the knowledge he had
gained through the meditation. After all, nothing had
yet taken away Yoda's faith or his hope. He still
completely believed that the Force was working in
intangible ways throughout the galaxy - eventually,
those ways would manifest themselves, and the path
out of darkness would be revealed.
But now the revelation had come, and Yoda was full
Doubts about himself. Yoda was dying. He knew it,
and had realized it coming on over the past few
months. He was at an advanced age, even for his
species, and his small body was slowing and weakening
at an increasingly noticeable pace. And he could feel
the beginnings of twilight upon him. He no longer
wandered far from his hut, and was spending the
majority of his days in quiet contemplation or
His one regret was that he would not live to see
the Order restored...that he would not even live to
see from where the deliverance might come. But he
knew that it was a selfish thought. In the end, no
Jedi was so important in the greater scheme, and it
was inappropriate for him to think that way. He would
accept his path as the Force laid it out before him.
And now...now it was clear that he could not
simply die quietly on Dagobah, removed from
civilization. Unlikely though it seemed, Yoda would
have to remain alive long enough to help Leia, now
that she had escaped her parents.
Leia. That's where his other doubts were focused.
Her training started even later than the other two
Skywalkers...and she had started training under a
Sith. That alone made Yoda wonder what kind of an
effect he could truly have on her now. She had been
strong - staving off despair and resisting most of
her family's teachings, but that strength had come
out of resentment, and anger, and hatred, and that
would not be easy for Leia to overcome. And still,
there was within her a spark of love and attachment
to her family, especially her mother. Yoda could not
be sure which would be more dangerous to her...would
she allow the hatred to overwhelm her? Would she let
her let her other feelings for her family lead her to
follow her parents, as Luke did? Leia was not safe
from either path.
Yoda pondered it all for a short moment, before
reaching for his cane and pushing himself up onto his
feet. He hobbled over to the door, pausing for a
brief look back. He was certain this would be the
last time he saw it. The Force was compelling him to
take action, and his doubts would not stop him from
obeying its mandate. Yoda left his home behind, and
headed out into the deep forests and swamps of
Leia needed guidance more than anything. Yoda had
seen her in one of the visions, and she had clearly
learned several Force-skills already, even if she was
not proficient at them yet. She would not need him to
teach her saber techniques and run through drills -
at least, not as much as Luke had. What she needed
was to learn the basics of Jedi philosophy, to learn
the dangers of the Dark Side, to learn to control her
emotions. Studying under Vader had certainly warped
her perception of her powers. Yoda hoped it was not
too late to try to instill the proper values in her -
she had held on to her Rebel values, and that would
help, but she knew absolutely nothing about being a
Jedi. And her perception of the Order was not likely
to be favorable.
Yoda continued making his way through the marsh
and plants with great effort. There was a small
clearing up ahead, empty except for some brush and a
few stray bushes. It would not have stood out to any
visitor (not that there had been a visitor beside
Luke), and it hid well enough the little technology
Yoda had brought with him to Dagobah all those years
ago. He had not used it in quite some time - there
had only been a few occasions where it was worth the
risk to directly contact Obi-Wan on Tatooine - but he
believed it would still work well enough for this
A sudden communication from a Jedi Master might
not be what Leia was anticipating, but Yoda suspected
she would be more accepting of that than a Force
suggestion or dream telling her to come to Dagobah.
He trudged on, closing the last of the distance,
ignoring how tired the trip had made him.
Once he reached the bushes, he immediately pulled
out the small, old communications device, and
activated it. As it gradually came to life, Yoda
tried to focus his sense of Leia on coordinates
specific enough to put out a message to.
The array beeped and flashed, showing that it was
ready, and Yoda began putting in the coordinates, and
a brief message requesting Leia's response to the
"Jedi Master on Dagobah." He waited
patiently, tapping his cane on the ground
absent-mindedly and glancing at the speakers,
listening to their static.
Finally, a light flashed, and the static gave way
to a voice.
"Identify yourself," a female voice
ordered sharply. It was Leia.
"Jedi Master Yoda," he replied calmly.
"Pleased to finally speak with you, I am."
"No," Leia responded, "That's not
possible. There are no Jedi left. I want to know who
you are, and why you are trying to reach me."
"Impossible? Answered this call you would
not, if you believed that," Yoda pointed out.
"Felt - knew - you did, that this was no lie.
Trained your brother, I did."
She was quiet for several seconds. "Your
message is from Dagobah..."
"Luke once asked me to go to Dagobah with
him...I never really knew why. I couldn't figure out
what we'd be doing there."
Yoda nodded. "Yes...yes. Asked him to bring
you, Obi-Wan did. To begin training for both of you.
Unfortunate it was, that you could not come."
"Well, your training didn't seem to help Luke
very much," Leia said, and Yoda did not need the
Force to sense her irritation. "Perhaps it all
worked out for the best. I don't understand why
you've contacted me anyway - what is it you
"To help, Your Highness," Yoda said
kindly. "Escaped your family, you have, and
brave you have been, but prepared for the larger
battles, you are not. You do not know what you will
face. Continue your training, I will."
"My training?" she gasped. "I have
no desire to keep -"
"Tainted your perceptions are. Twisted your
training, your father has. But learn the ways of the
Jedi, you must." He tapped his cane on the
ground for emphasis, though Leia wasn't aware of the
gesture. "Fighting with the Rebellion is not
enough. Along a different path, does your destiny
Leia sighed, and did not respond for a long while.
"Maybe it's not enough for you, but I've just
arrived back with the Rebellion, and they need me
here now. That is my first priority. I'm not about to
pick up and leave, and come all the way to Dagobah.
Yoda was not deterred. "Then a ship, you will
send to me. I will come to you, Your Highness. Know
you, in your heart, that the ways of the Force are
part of your life. They can be used for good or for
evil, but impossible to ignore. Need guidance, you
do. Provide it, I can."
Another long silence. "I'll see if the
Rebellion can spare a ship."
"Thank you, Your Highness," Yoda said,
certain that she would send him transportation.
"May the Force be with you."
The connection cut off.
Yoda looked about the forest with a grim
determination on his face. It seemed that it wasn't
quite time for him to die after all.
There will come a time - and it is not far off
- when this gnawing sense of self is at last absorbed
fully into the peaceful stream of the Force. There
will come a time when I will know no more, when I
neither haunt nor am haunted by my failures, by my
successes, by my lies, by the truth, by hate, or by
love. There will come a time when destiny sets me
But that time is not yet, and freedom is a
luxury I cannot have.
Obi-Wan became aware of himself in the mists of
Dagobah, hearing the last of Yoda's words to Leia
Organa. He didn't need to make the effort to form
himself into an image with Yoda - communication was
possible with neither words nor shape - but he did so
habitually. It seemed poor manners not to.
He concentrated on his last image and pulled
himself into the form. He could choose another era of
his life - had, in fact slipped into other eras by
accident from time to time at first - but this
business was not play, and he saw no need to make
cosmetic changes to his appearance.
Yoda felt his presence and looked over his
shoulder. His voice was compassionate. "Still
here you are, Obi-Wan?"
"Yes, Master. I have... concerns about the
girl. I always did."
"But the boy, you convinced me to take in,
and fall into the dark, he did."
"Master, Luke is not fully lost. He is
confused and in pain -"
"As is your padawan."
Obi-Wan felt the energy of the Force focus and
swirl around his consciousness, a whirlwind of energy
that felt a slap. "Anakin has chosen to do evil,
Master. Luke has simply chosen not to believe in
"And less dangerous, you think this is?"
There was no argument to that. In some ways, Luke
was more dangerous than Anakin, and Obi-Wan
was well aware of it. Anakin knew he was doing wrong
and sometimes rose up to stop himself. Luke had
convinced himself that he was doing right, as Amidala
had, and that left his conscience with no reason to
rebel against his urges.
Yoda drew his robe tighter, and coughed into a
small fist. "Our last chance, the girl is,"
he said, his voice strained. "Others sensitive
to the Force there may be, but not as strong, and too
difficult to find in... limited time."
"And the prophecy..."
"And the prophecy."
They were quiet together for some time,
communicating wordless things, then Yoda sighed
deeply. "Prepare myself, I must, to teach this
difficult one. For nine hundred years have I trained
Jedi, but never have I trained one who did not wish
to train. Never taken back training from a Sith Lord
have I. Broken, she is. Mended she must be, if access
her power she will."
"Luke is also broken, Master. Perhaps he can
be fixed. He has a good heart."
"As does his mother. As does his father.
"I should have told him the truth. I should
not have allowed the lie to stand a moment longer
than it needed to. He had the right to know. He
"Beginning to follow his thoughts you are,
Obi-Wan. And to think as Amidala and Vader think - in
the past, you cannot live. Mistakes were made,
possibly. But in the past they are, and beyond
repair. Think you that you can mend him now?"
"Then try, you must, while you can. But count
on it, I will not."
"I've tried speaking to his mind. He will not
listen. I have to go to him."
"Go, you must." Yoda raised his ears.
"If repair you will, Obi-Wan, then perhaps speak
to your padawan, you should. His was the original
Obi-Wan let the motion of the Force drift through
him for a moment before answering. "Anakin had
not listened to me for years before he fell," he
said. "I see no reason why that would change
"Heh. Your approval, the boy sought until the
end of all things."
"And I rarely gave it to him. Another
"Remove your mind from the past, you
must," Yoda repeated. "Mistakes, you made.
Mistakes, I made, and the Council. But the choice,
Anakin's was, and he made a choice to become what he
"I don't understand what you want of
"For you, I want it, Obi-Wan. For your
own peace. Love the boy, you do and always did. Try,
you must, to reach him. For your own sake."
Obi-Wan made his image shake its head, though the
sense that came through him was that of trying to fly
backward and away from the idea. He had gone to
Anakin once, tried to convince him, tried to save
him, and it had ended in fire and unspeakable horror.
When he had seen him again, on the Death Star, there
had been no acceptance left. "I cannot," he
said. "And he will not."
"Then to Luke, you should speak. But little
good will it do."
Obi-Wan let his image fade away, let himself slide
for a moment into the currents of the Force. His
self-awareness did not dissipate, and he experienced
even this comfort as disorienting and frightening. He
could hear the gentle movement of a Kaminoan infant
floating in the glass tank where its parents were
growing it, and he could feel the life seeping out of
a Tusken who had fallen from a precipice on patrol
and torn an artery in his leg on a sharp outcropping
of rock. He could feel the weight of the past and the
restlessness of the future. He could see the
fluttering wings of an insect on La'azum and smell
the spices in an expensive dish served in a
All of these things, he sensed in an instant, then
he found the magnetic pull of Luke Skywalker's
presence, and concentrated himself into a place that
was a place and a time that was a time.
He was aware first of a high, vaulted ceiling,
endless catwalks and forcefields, an apparently
The power station beneath Theed Palace. The
strange, dangerous maze where Qui-Gon Jinn had lost
Luke was dueling with a practice droid.
He carried Vader's saber.
The droid cut in low and Luke leapt to avoid it,
turning over and landing on the catwalk below. His
combat skills had improved exponentially; clearly,
that had been the focus of Vader's training regime.
The droid started to follow, but suddenly stopped. It
was off-balance, and clattered to the floor.
Luke's shoulders tensed. "Who's there?"
"Have your senses deteriorated that far,
Luke?" Obi-Wan created his image so that it was
standing on the catwalk in front of Luke.
There wasn't a pause. The red saber swung at him.
As he had on the Death Star, he simply stood and
waited for it to pass through. This time, there was
no alteration in his state of being. "Strike as
you will, Luke," he said. "Though it seems
to me a waste of energy."
"I don't want to talk to you."
"You lied to me, Ben."
Obi-Wan fought an urge to explain himself. Luke
would not take well to self-justification.
"Yes," he said. "I did."
"You tried to trick me into murdering my own
"Anakin turned to the Dark Side of the Force.
He has become... lost. And you are headed
The muscles in Luke's face tightened, making a
deathmask. "Don't judge me. You have no right.
Not after everything you did."
"Your mother participated in the subterfuge.
She believed it was the right thing to do at the
"You brainwashed her. She told me."
"And I believe she believes that now. But it
is not true."
"Yeah. I'll bet. She let you take her
children away while Vader was betraying and murdering
my father, right?"
"Luke, you need to listen."
The blade of the lightsaber was suddenly pointed
at the place where Obi-Wan had represented his
throat. "No, I don't. Not anymore."
"Luke, things are not right here. You know
it. Somewhere in your mind you -m"
There was a surge of power in the Force, a blow of
sheer energy. Obi-Wan felt it shatter his image and
push at his consciousness.
"You can be struck," Luke said quietly.
"And I'll do it."
"Luke, you must -"
The next surge was stronger. Obi-Wan lost coherent
form. When he came back to himself, Luke's arm was
raised at him, palm out, and the bright blue eyes
that had once met his with trust and affection were
narrowed, piercing the shadows like focused lasers.
"Stay away from me."
He felt the Force gathering in dark, violent
currents around Luke, stronger than any power the boy
had handled in the light. He raised his other hand,
then Obi-Wan's world seemed to dissipate, fade to
fog, break down into meaningless white noise.
He fought for the consciousness he had not wanted
for many years, but by the time he found it, he was
alone in the power station.
Luke was gone. Obi-Wan could feel him somewhere
above, in the Palace proper, but he had made his
position quite clear.
If repair you will, Obi-Wan, then perhaps speak
to your padawan, you should...
Obi-Wan could feel Vader's presence as well,
raging throughout this place like a sandstorm. But
Anakin was not within that storm... he could never
survive such a tempest. He wouldn't listen any more
than Luke would.
Obi-Wan kept his form for awhile anyway, thinking,
separating himself from the confusion of the open
Force. But no answers came.
Leia had not been able to stop staring at her
hand. It had been the focus of her attention almost
constantly since Han had first really checked it to
see what he could do with the limited medical
supplies he had on the ship.
It was hollow. And useless.
The point of Vader's saber had struck her directly
in the center of her palm, pushing clear through her
hand before it fell back out of the ship and back to
the surface. It had left a perfect little hole in her
hand, almost completely cauterized. Her two middle
fingers had been immobilized since the nerves had
been severed from the rest of her arm.
The heat from the blow had also flared outward
momentarily, blistering the skin all over her fingers
and down to her wrist. The pain would have been
tremendous, but compared what she had felt when she
first awoke after the Falcon crash...well,
this wasn't nothing, but she could handle it. The
sight of her hand had been harder to take though -
she had held her hand up once and seen through the
hole, and nearly fainted. It just looked so warped
If Han was bothered by it, he rarely showed it. He
treated all of the burns with an ointment, but the
skin was too badly damaged to make any sort of
recovery. Her hand was being kept in some sort of
stasis cast, to hold it over until they could reach a
real med center with the Rebels. He was unceasingly
gentle when he worked on her hand, even though he
knew she had lost the feeling in it pretty quickly. A
flash had come to her once while he was trying to fit
the cast - that he was giving her the same care and
attention that Mother had when she was recovering
from the Falcon crash injuries. But she
refused to think about that too long. At least with
Han she could accept the love behind the actions with
any fear or dread shadowing over her.
He was up in the cockpit with Lando now, while
Leia sat on the bed in their quarters, legs stretched
out and back against the wall, staring at her small
She wanted to look at it again.
She couldn't pin down why exactly - especially
after her initial reaction - but she wanted to see it
before the med droids took over and did whatever it
was they were going to do to try and fix it.
She should see, and understand...and remember.
Remember the scars from the Palace and her family.
Leia fiddled with the clasp near her thumb that
locked the cast shut. It popped free, but she closed
it back. She popped it slightly open again, and tried
in vain to wiggle some of her fingers - the thumb,
index, and pinky fingers had all worked normally for
a short time before her hand went numb. Nothing
happened of course, and she could only feel the
strain of trying to move in her forearm. Her wrist
barely even twitched.
Leia closed the cast with a note of finality.
Maybe she would try it later.
She could sense Han coming back to their room. She
cradled her arm against her stomach, and waited for
There was relief coming from him, and she shared
it completely. Of course, they were essentially safe
once they had made the jump to hyperspace without
anyone on Naboo being able to follow them. But now,
they were nearly back with the Rebellion. Where they
He entered the room, all smiles. "Hey
sweetheart, we're almost there. We're about to come
out of hyperspace. I'm going to take you straight to
the med center when we arrive. I sent them a message
telling them to be ready for us." He flopped
down on the bed next to her, and took hold of her
"How are you feeling?"
She leaned her head against the wall and turned
toward him. "I'm fine," she said softly.
"I know you aren't looking forward to getting
that mechanical hand, but I hear they're not so bad.
You'll be good as new in no time. They say you can
barely tell the difference once you've had it for a
"I'll always know," she said. "I'll
always look at it and know."
A beat followed where they simply looked at each
other, and then Han put his arm around her shoulders
and pulled her in. He looked concerned and agitated.
He shrugged. "It's nothing, don't worry about
"I've...been...I was wondering..." He
stopped abruptly and started over. "When I found
out you were alive, I started imagining all sorts of
horrible things were happening to you in that Palace.
Lando told us otherwise, but I really didn't believe
him. I thought he was just trying to keep me from
doing something completely insane to spring you
"And I saw what was going to happen when we
were trying to get to the ship," he continued,
his words coming out in a rush. "Vader would
have taken your leg off in a second as long as it
meant you couldn't run. And this..." His other
hand went to her cast, running his fingers over it.
"Are you all right, Leia? I mean,
really. What did your parents do? Or that idiot
brother of yours?"
"No, no, I am fine...It's just...It's hard to
explain what it was like there." She frowned,
trying to think of how to describe it. "I wasn't
in any real danger until I decided to leave.
Up until then, they had their problems - many, many
problems - and they were definitely going to make me
crazy if I stayed -"
"Problems?" Han said incredulously.
"It's one way to say it. They didn't mean me
actual harm before the end. I don't think they knew
the harm they were already causing me."
"Leia, I know you're their kid and all, but
you were still living with Vader."
She leaned more fully against him and dropped her
head to his shoulder. "Yes, and he was still
Vader. But I know he wanted to try to be some sort of
father to me. And Mother - sometimes I think she
needed me so much that she let finding me drive her
insane. They just wanted me to play along with their
little happy family fantasy. If I had really been
able to do that, they would have been thrilled with
me." She shrugged. "I know it sounds
strange. At least when Vader's trying to slice me up,
I know how to react. But trust me, that other stuff
was bad enough, in its own way."
"I don't doubt it."
"Which is why it's good to be back."
"Yes...And I think you'll find the Rebellion
even better than you left it, Your Highness."
His tone had taken on a teasing quality, and she
"Is that so?" she said. "You
actually got everyone to pay attention to you?"
"Are you kidding? I've completely whipped
them into shape. Not to say anything about your very
fine work with them -"
"Watch it, laserbrain."
"- but I'm actually a great leader. They'll
go wherever I say."
"Of course, it helped that I was pretty much
doing it all with your authority." His voice
lowered and turned serious again. "You don't
know how happy everyone's going to be to have you
back, Leia. We've been fighting for you this whole
"Well, now they can all fight with me,"
she whispered. "And with all the wonderful
Imperial intelligence I managed to see before I
left." Leia paused, then rolled her eyes.
"And we'll probably even have a Jedi Master with
us this time. Wonderful."
Han grimaced. "I'm not going to pretend to
know anything about this stuff. I just want to know
if you trust this Yoda guy. What's his deal?"
"I don't know. He trained Luke right before
we all got to Cloud City. That's all I know about
"That doesn't make me feel any better."
"It shouldn't." Leia's good hand
tightened into a little fist. "I don't know what
he wants. But what else am I going to do? If Vader
ever gets me in a saber fight again, I'm going to
have to know how to do more than jump out of the way.
As confused and crazy as Luke got, he can use the
Force. He knows how to fight. I have to know,
"You already know how to fight, Leia. You
always have." Han reached out and tried to
unclench her fist.
"This is different, Han...it's just
different. I'd like to think I'll never have to face
them again, but we both know that won't happen. So,
in the meantime, we send the Master a ship."
"Okay," he said. "But I plan to
keep an eye on this Yoda guy while he's here with us
doing his Jedi...stuff."
She laughed. "I know you will."
The ship suddenly slowed and shuddered, and they
felt it come out of hyperspace.
"Time to go Your Highness." Han stood
from his bed and held out his hand to her. She took
it, and they left for the cockpit.
The old Naboo cruiser was never going to be the Millennium
Falcon, but it steered pretty well, had
reasonably good speed (particularly after a few
modifications Han had made to its engines), and it
Han was never going to love this one, but he liked
her fine. He still missed the Falcon, with her
temperamental hyperdrive and well-sprung living
areas, her amazing speed and unexpected grace. He
supposed he'd miss the Falcon for a long time,
and no ship was ever going to replace her. He hadn't
even bothered to name this one yet.
But she landed sweet.
He had to give her that.
He floated her into the docking bay of the
Rebellion's medical frigate, and her gear lowered
smoothly and silently. Lando and Chewie kept a check
on the readouts, but neither had anything to do as
far as thruster corrections went. Leia was standing
behind him, unsecured, and didn't even wobble as the
ship set down.
The gangplank lowered automatically, and Leia led
the way down into the hangar. She was smiling now,
her best smile, the relieved smile of a woman coming
home after a long and arduous trip. Han squeezed her
The only person in the hangar was a Mon Cal
lieutenant whose name Han didn't know. He bowed.
"Welcome back, Your Highness. We've missed
"Thank you, Lieutenant... ?"
"Temiar, Your Highness. I served under you at
Hoth, but you probably don't remember me."
"I'm sure I will once I've had a chance to
Temiar shook his head and looked away. "We
were going to have a formal welcome for you, but we
weren't sure you'd like it." He grinned, an
expression that Han thought looked excessively
strange on a Mon Cal. "And we figured you'd yell
at us for being away from our stations."
Leia laughed. "Good call, Lieutenant. No
wasting time on ceremonial silliness. I've had enough
to last three lifetimes."
"Yes, ma'am." Temiar looked at Han.
"We got word from Commander Antilles just after
you put in for docking permission. He says that the
mission is accomplished. And that we need to change
our databases because - and this is a direct quote -
'It's exactly where she said it was.' Do you know
what he means?"
"Yes. Did Wedge give you an E.T.A.?"
"Yes, sir. He's in our quadrant now. Due any
minute, so we might want to get back behind the
"Good thinking." Han glanced over at
Leia, whose smile had disappeared. So little time,
and the other life was already going to intrude on
She squeezed his hand, then looked at Temiar.
"Lieutenant, Captain Solo and I can stay to
greet Commander Antilles and his... mission."
"If you'd like, ma'am."
"And tell High Command that I have
intelligence to share. I'll debrief them later today,
and I'd like to call a general meeting tomorrow or
the day after."
"Why don't you go back to administration and
debrief Lando and Chewbacca on what's been going on
"Yes, ma'am. Right away."
"I can take a dismissal," Lando said,
with a mock-hurt expression on his face. "C'mon
Chewie. I think they want to be alone."
"I wish," Han muttered.
Lando didn't hear. He just swept off after Temiar,
Chewie walking beside him.
"Sorry," Leia said. "I'm just not
sure how many people I want to know and... "
"It's okay, Sweetheart. I get it. Are you
sure you don't want to go right to the med bay? I can
get this Yoda settled in and have him waiting for
"The hand is stable," she said.
"And he's coming to see me. I'd better be here
when he gets in."
"You sure you want to jump back into meetings
"I want to start putting what I know to use.
I've been thinking. There are some weak spots. I'd
like to work on exploiting them. I need our
strategists and tacticians."
"You need rest, too."
"I've gotten a lot of rest. Now I want to get
back to work."
Han went around the control console and glanced at
the screen. Wedge was maybe ten minutes out.
Wedge and Yoda.
By the time Han was old enough to pay much
attention to the news - well, as much as he ever did
- the Empire was in control of the airwaves. There
were a few underground broadcasters, but you had to
have pretty good equipment to tune them in, so Han
hadn't really heard much out of them. But the name
Yoda... something about it seemed familiar, like he'd
heard it back when he didn't know what he was
hearing. Maybe when he was really little.
During the Clone Wars.
Han didn't think about that time much. A lot of
battles, people dying, buildings falling. He
remembered being hungry a lot. But he'd had a thing
about Jedi stories back then for some damn reason and
he was pretty sure that he'd heard the name Yoda in
one or another of them. The news had been skewed
already, and most of the stories complained about the
Jedi doing this, that, or the other thing wrong, but
still, Han Solo, six-year-old pickpocket and all
around troublemaker, had thought it would be kind of
good to meet one.
Shows what kids know.
A far-off motion beyond the outer forcefield
caught his eye. Just a little long-range transport,
the sort of thing rich families kept around for
occasional planet-hops. How the Rebellion had come
across it, Han wasn't sure, but it had come in handy
more than once. Apparently, Wedge had chosen it for
the trip to Dagobah.
What would a Jedi Master look like?
Han knew that the Order had been multi-species.
Imperial-sanctioned holotoons had often portrayed
non-human Jedi preying on helpless, innocent human
children, so clearly, that had been an issue. But for
some reason, all Han could see in his mind was Luke
Skywalker, only older and not crazy anymore.
Not a good sign.
Leia drew a sharp breath, and Han felt her good
hand tighten around his. He glanced over. She was
biting her lip nervously.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Fine. Nervous." She moved to the
console. "Better get it over with."
Her timing was uncannily good (Han wondered if
he'd have to get used to that or if it was just a
fluke). Wedge signaled for permission to land, and
she hit the release sequence.
Should have coded that; she would know to put
in a security code.
But she didn't say anything about the lapse.
The transport swept in and landed beside Han's
cruiser. The outer forcefield closed, the inner one
dissipated in a crackle of static.
The gangplank lowered.
At first Han thought it was a trick of the steam
that came up from the thrusters, but the steam
cleared, and the figure at the top of the gangplank
still looked the same. He stood maybe as tall as
Han's knees, and was hobbling his way down the ramp
with a cane.
Leia sighed and went forward. "Master
Yoda?" she asked.
The little creature nodded solemnly, coming to the
end of the gangplank. "Your Highness," he
said. "Good to see you at last, it is. Watched
you for a long time, we have."
"And failed to contact me."
"Asked your brother to bring you to Dagobah,
Obi-Wan did. Refused, you did." Yoda coughed
suddenly and violently.
Han stepped up. "You need the med center?
'Cause she could use a trip there, and she's just
been waiting for you."
Yoda brought the cough under control. When he
looked up, Han could see that a lot of years were
pressing down on him. "Need medical droids, I do
not. What is coming will come."
"Yeah, well, Leia needs them. She's got a
hole in her hand thanks to one of you guys."
"Hmmm." Yoda stretched his head up.
"Let me look at it."
Footsteps thundered down the ramp, and Wedge
appeared. "He needs medical attention," he
said. "He's been coughing since Dagobah. And
that planet didn't help it any. I doubt he's been dry
in twenty years."
"We've been over it already," Han said.
"Yeah. Is he what he says he is?"
Han nodded. "Far as I know. But as far as
anyone else knows, he's an Old Republic general that
we called in for help."
Wedge nodded and left the hangar.
Yoda had not acknowledged the exchange in any way.
He was studying Leia's wound with utmost care,
frowning deeply. Han thought maybe he had some magic
healing trick up his ragged sleeve, but apparently he
didn't, because after the long inspection, he simply
said, "A harsh wound, it is, Princess. Need a
working hand, you will, before you see your family
Leia snapped the cast closed again. "Yes,
well, I have other things to attend to. We'll find a
place for you close to the treatment rooms. Let the
computer know how you like your climate settings. I
have a debriefing to plan and -"
Yoda slammed his walking stick down onto the floor
of the hanger with a resounding clang.
"Concentration you need. Your full attention I
"And you'll have it when I'm with you, but
"No buts. With your brother, it was always 'I
don't believe.' With you, it will be 'Time, I do not
have.' Belief, he learned. Time, you will find."
"Hey, whoa," Han said, bending over. He
felt kind of low, threatening a sick old guy that
much smaller than he was, but enough was enough.
"You don't give her orders. You're here at her
"Here, I am, because here, the Force needs me
to be." Yoda's ears swiveled, and he looked over
his shoulder at Leia. "And you, Your Highness,
must be trained. Our last hope, you are."
Leia smiled politely. "I recognize your need,
Master, and I do need to learn to fight -"
"Need to learn which fight you are in, you
do," Yoda said. "Skills you have; you need
only practice. But dangerous was Vader's training of
your mind. Unlearn what he taught, you must."
"I never took anything he said
"Ah, but act on his beliefs, you do. Planning
already, you are, to take your revenge for your
Leia stiffened. "I am planning to use
intelligence I've obtained to plan a Rebel strike. It
is for the good of -"
"For the good of satisfying your anger,"
Yoda finished. "Need that, you do not."
"You want to watch your mouth," Han
said. "Jedi master or not, I'll -"
Yoda was smiling, to Han's surprise. "Brave,
you are, Captain Solo. And lucky the Rebellion is to
have you. But know, Leia does, where her trial will
"It's going to involve a fight," Leia
said. "And I need to be better at it. If all
you're going to do is talk philosophy, maybe I need a
new hand more." She turned and started to leave.
Yoda spoke softly. "A new hand, you need. But
philosophy, you also need. Wait for you I will, Leia
Organa. But short, my time grows. Soon, you must come
to me in the place where I will be waiting."
Leia's shoulders stiffened, then she nodded
without looking back, and swept out of the hangar.
"Like me, you do not, Captain Solo."
Han shrugged. "She's been through a lot
already. I don't want you hurting her any more than
she's been hurt."
"Heal her I will," Yoda said gently.
"But hurt it may, along the way to
Leia turned and smiled at the officer hanging
behind her and shook his hand. He said something
about it being good to have her back, but was cut off
by a young woman to her right, who was absolutely
beaming at her.
Leia wanted to ask them their names, but there was
no chance. There were people everywhere, milling
around her, and she barely had time to register any
They were happy, most of them, and everyone in the
room seemed drawn to her. Trying to catch her eye or
shake her hand or to get any kind of attention. She
was pleased to oblige.
With very few exceptions, none of the faces that
passed by were ones she recognized from her
pre-Bespin days. She tried not to linger too long on
that thought. She knew how heavy the Rebellion's
losses had been in that battle, but had all of
those people really died? All of them?
There had been defections as well, many of them,
but in recalling the people she felt were missing
from this briefing, Leia couldn't figure any of them
as being likely to abandon the cause. No matter how
desperate things had gotten.
"Your Highness, it is an honor..."
Another girl, much younger, so young that she pulled
Leia out of her musings completely.
Leia knew she didn't have time to focus on those
who were lost, not with the people in this room here
and ready to fight. And that was the real story to
take from Bespin. That even after Mother's rise to
power, there were still people - many people -
willing to join the cause.
Most of the newer recruits were watching her with
varying degrees of astonishment. Of course, they knew
about her former time with the Rebellion, and had
been told over and over by Han (and Lando, and
Chewie) how she had resisted her parents until the
end...and once they knew she was alive, a huge amount
of the Rebels' resources were devoted to getting her
back. But still, she was Lady Vader's
daughter, and there was something bizarre about it
all. Leia thought that most of the people clamoring
around her were simply trying to reassure themselves
that this was all real.
They needed her.
She had spent her few days back at the camp buried
in intelligence, trying to get everything she had
seen and heard and learned out of her head and into
some useful form for the Rebel's officers to turn
into plans and strategy. It had been long and
exhausting work, and this was essentially her first
time out with the rest of the fighters. But it had
been worth it. The Rebellion was set with the
information, and she thought it might be enough to
last them years worth of operations.
But the next operation, the first one since her
return...she didn't need help to plan that out. Her
mind had been set from the moment she got here. It
had been set back in the Imperial Command Center on
She shook a few more hands, and gave a few more
smiles, and waited as the blur of the crowd continued
to move by. The only thing that came through with
full clarity was the sensation she got in her hand -
her new one - as people grasped it. She had finally
gone to have mechanical hand surgically attached a
couple of days after she and Han had arrived. A few
days had passed since then, and Leia had to admit
that Han was right. It wasn't nearly as bad as she
had feared. Not quite right, of course, but
not hideously unsuitable either. She could live with
Han's arm went comfortably around her shoulders,
and he began gesturing for everyone to move away from
her and take their seats. The buzz in the room
eventually died down.
"All right everyone," he said, "we
all know why we're here. Normally, I'd be barking out
orders and you'd fall all over yourselves trying to
carry them out -" some jovial chatter was heard
"- but I seem to have been relieved of those
duties for now."
"Not relieved," Leia cut in quickly.
"You'll just have to learn to share."
He winked at her, then continued. "Leia's
back home, where she belongs. And you guys are back
in good hands."
With that, he ceded the floor to her and she moved
out from under his arm to stand alone and address the
"I guess I should have some sort of speech
prepared, but...I just hope you all know how
wonderful it is to be back. And how proud I am of the
Alliance, of all of you, for what you've been able to
do in my absence." She paused, feeling she had
more to say - much, much more - but she wasn't sure
this was the proper time or place for every single
thing that was on her mind and in her heart.
They had business to discuss. "I was able to
retrieve a great deal of Imperial information during
my time at the Palace. All of that information has
been given to our officers, but this briefing was
called to discuss the Rebellion's next raid."
R2-D2 recognized his cue, and activated the
projection screen behind Leia and lowered the lights
in the room. An image of Tatooine rose up behind her.
The map moved constantly over different areas of the
planet, and text information scrolled down the
left-hand side of the image.
"We're going to take the fight to them,"
she declared. "We're going to stop their next
phase of 'development' in the Outer Rim before it
"My par- the Vaders have been planning to
station a garrison out on Tatooine for quite some
time now, and they're nearly ready to deploy the
troops and officers all over the planet. I believe we
can strike a decisive blow against them before they
can prepare for our arrival."
"Your Highness?" ventured one of the
officers, "Forgive me, but the Outer Rim has
never been of particular strategic importance in the
"It is to them," she interrupted
bluntly. "There is nothing more important to
them. This isn't simply another event where she'll
wave to adoring crowds and be whisked away." The
scroll behind her paused, highlighting a section on
deployment to the planet. "We have to disrupt
them before they get a foothold in this section of
the galaxy, before they replicate this plan on
planets and in systems all over the Empire. The
galaxy's mistake will be to think that this will be
confined to Tatooine...that it can be confined at
all. We know better than that."
The map moved and zoomed again, zeroing in on
areas outside several different settlements.
"The troops are beginning to move into temporary
barracks, where they'll stay until my - the Empress
arrives to give them their official orders. Supply
ships will be coming to them shortly. Once they have
their orders, the troops will be dispersed to several
key command centers throughout the planet, centers
that are being outfitted as we speak." She
looked out to all of them, and then said, "I
plan to attack the barracks, the centers and the
supply ships. So I'm going to need all of you."
A low murmur rolled through the room, and Leia
waited for it to settle. She glanced at Han who
nodded and gave her a slight smile. "She'll be
there, talking about ending slavery, and restoring
order, but what she won't say is that the people who
will be jailed and who will...disappear...will
outweigh any slaves who are actually freed. Or that
order is useless when you can have your property
confiscated on a whim...We can't let them hide what
they're really doing out there." She turned back
to the display and readouts behind her. "They
won't be ready for a full battalion assault."
"What about Her Ladyship herself?" asked
a voice from the back of the room. Leia wondered idly
how many of Han's phrasings the Rebels had picked up.
"I know she'll be well-guarded, but we're not
going to hit every Imperial on the planet besides
her, are we?"
A tingle danced over her senses and she had the
strangest feeling...that Yoda was suddenly watching
her, though he had decided not to attend the
briefing. She struggled to figure out the answer he
was expecting, but it wouldn't come.
"That's not the focus of this mission. I
don't want to waste fighters going after Lady Vader
when they'll be more productive elsewhere." More
"You'll all receive your instructions from
your squad leaders," Leia said, finality in her
tone. "You're dismissed."
"My love, this is a military matter. There is
no need for you to attend to it."
Mother sat down quietly on the austere bench at
the front of the briefing room, her face set.
"It concerns Leia, Ani. That makes it a family
matter, and there is ample need for me to attend to
Luke glanced at Father, trying to judge his
opinion from the set of his shoulders and the tilt of
his head. Father's feelings were often too strong and
too contradictory for empathy to be an accurate
barometer, but his body language had become distinct
over the years, and Luke was getting better at
reading it. Right now, his feelings were torn between
his desire for her to stay and his concern that she
would learn something hurtful. There was also a
sneaking impatience, Luke supposed, because Father
would want to use methods that he didn't like to talk
about in front of Mother, even though she knew about
them. They seemed to have an unspoken pact to keep
those things... well, unspoken.
His body language was clearer. He placed his large
hands on her shoulders for a moment, as though to
steady and strengthen her, then stood forward and to
the right, the position of a bodyguard.
She would stay. He would protect her from things
that would hurt her.
Luke nodded. His own place was clear. He sat down
beside Mother and took her left hand to reassure her.
She smiled at him brilliantly, a striking contrast to
her red-rimmed eyes.
Piett, standing two meters or so away, cleared his
throat. "With Your Majesty's leave?" he
Mother squeezed Luke's hand and said, "You
have leave, Admiral."
Piett took a deep breath, glanced quickly at
Father (it was strange, but the military men, while
fanatically loyal to Mother, still tended to look to
Father first for strength), then pushed a button on a
Above it, a map of the galaxy floated. It was
perhaps three meters to a side, and Luke found
himself situated between Gamorr and Barabi. Neither
of these planets had been highlighted, but several
others in the Outer Rim had been. Ryloth blinked near
Piett's hand; Ampinua and La'azum hovered in front of
Father's mask. A cluster of highlighted planets was
directly above Mother's head. Behind Piett - who was
standing roughly at Naboo's position - Tatooine and
Geonosis were not flashing, but glowing in an
alarming red. Glancing through the map, Luke spotted
several other systems marked in that manner.
"High risk areas?" Luke asked, pointing
Piett nodded. "Thankfully, Leia's work was
largely on your Outer Rim concerns, and she has
little vital knowledge of the strategically important
sites in the Core, so much of the damage she can
inflict with that knowledge is incidental to the
Mother's hand tightened. The Outer Rim concerns
were not incidental to her.
"The worlds displayed with a flash pattern
are worlds which she either was involved with here or
has studied independently, but upon which there are
no particular targets for her to strike." Piett
pointed at Ryloth. "Ryloth, for example, does
not have an official Imperial presence, largely
because during the Revolution, the Twi'lek slaves
were inspired by Her Majesty to overthrow their
masters, and have been enthusiastic supporters
Luke was nodded. "And it wouldn't look very
good for her to attack a native population that's
living as it chooses to and has abolished slavery on
"Precisely. The other flashing worlds have
similar drawbacks from a Rebel point of view."
He looked away nervously. "If Lord Skywalker has
a different opinion based on his knowledge of the
Rebellion, I would be grateful for the insight."
Mother started to protest - she did not like
Luke's past brought up - but Luke gave her hand a
squeeze and answered Piett's question. He wondered if
someone was going to get around to asking him.
Although now it seemed unnecessary... despite the
Rebellion's confidence that the Imperial military
could not comprehend actions moved by idealism (and
that the Rebellion, simply by thinking in terms
outside Imperial constructs, was safe), it seemed
that Piett did understand the Rebels rather
well. "I think you've given an accurate
analysis," he said. He glanced at the
lesser-alert planets. "I might question La'azum.
Few people are... well-disposed toward it. It might
be a legitimate target." He frowned. "But
it doesn't feel right."
Piett didn't question this. He never questioned
such things. He simply keyed a sequence that changed
the flashing blue-white of La'azum steady red.
"The planets you appear to have chosen as
high risk," Father said, "are of greater
"Yes." Piett walked to the first one,
far in the Outer Rim. "Mon Cal, of course, has
long been a center of Rebel activity. Her Majesty has
made some inroads, but sentiment is still
rather strongly Rebel. More to the point, the
recently opened Imperial consulate in the capital
city provides a direct target."
"I will place security on alert," Father
"I've already taken the liberty."
"Well done, Admiral," Mother said.
"I don't wish our ambassadors to be hurt."
Piett nodded, and moved on to the next.
"Kessel is a legitimate positive goal for the
Rebels. The supply of both spice and fuel will be
"Not Leia's style," Luke said. "She
won't strike for practicality."
"I was thinking of General Solo."
"Han'll be happy to have Leia back in charge.
He's a good leader, but he never wanted to be in the
Rebellion in the first place."
Kessel switched from steady red to blinking
Piett moved to the area that contained several red
planets, one of which, naturally, was Naboo. It also
included Geonosis, Tatooine, Rodia, and Indala.
"As you can see, we are in the middle of what I
would consider something of a 'hot spot. 'Naboo is
always a high-risk target, and Leia is very familiar
with both the layout of Theed and the security at the
Palace. I consider Naboo to be her most likely
"It is rather well-guarded for the
Rebellion," Father pointed out. "Our
intelligence does not report the vast numbers
required to attack the capitol."
"I believe we should not take risks with the
possibility that our intelligence is incomplete.
We've had operatives in the Rebellion since Bespin,
but none are highly placed. There may be matters
about which they have not been informed."
Father nodded. "Go on, Admiral."
"As a result, I believe that we should
increase security here." He looked acutely
uncomfortable. "And that Her Majesty should
refrain from travel, particularly within the Outer
Rim, until this crisis is resolved."
Mother looked up sharply. "I beg your pardon,
"Your Majesty, I beg your forgiveness. But as
a strategic analyst, I must point out the possibility
"That my daughter will try to assassinate
"That she may... consider it a sacrifice for
the sake of the Rebellion. My Lady, please understand
that I must point this out... "
"Leia is not going to try to kill me. It's
not in her nature." Mother blanched suddenly,
and covered her face with her hands, but did not
share whatever thought had gone through her mind.
"Leia will not try to assassinate me, and I will
not allow the Rebels' foolishness to prevent our work
in the Outer Rim. There's still too much to do."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Piett said.
"As you wish." He went back to the
briefing. "Indala feared Palpatine's Empire
after a street riot caused the destruction of an
Imperial boarding school, and Her Majesty's
government has continued the prosecution of those who
seem to bear responsibility."
"As would be expected," Father said.
"A crime of that magnitude is not erased by a
change of government. Over one hundred boys
"My nephew was among them." Piett
sighed. "I did not mean to question the
decision. I consider it a good one, though of course
my opinion is of little interest. I simply meant to
point out that the New Empire does not hold the
popularity on Indala that it holds elsewhere, and
that the tribunal court, like the embassy on Mon Cal,
provides a legitimate Rebel target."
Luke shook his head. "No. I don't think so.
Leia never said a word about those tribunals. I can't
imagine that she would oppose them."
"She will see it as an inroad to the
military," Father said. "It is a
possibility worth considering."
The status of the planet did not change. Piett
moved on to Geonosis and Tatooine, casting baleful
red light on one another. "There isn't much left
on Geonosis after the Clone Wars, but it is an
historically significant site, has many deposits of
iron ore, and factories which could be refurbished.
More to the point, Imperial control of the prison
system there is a favorite propaganda point among the
Rebels. They claim hypocrisy at the punishment of
Geonosians while the Empire uses Geonosian
technology. And... " He sighed. "And -
again I beg Her Majesty's forgiveness - it is a place
known to be of personal significance to you."
"As a place I loathe."
"It is nevertheless an historical site
associated with you. The Ladies' Philanthropic
Association has been making a concerted effort to
open a museum there. It was delayed for several
months by problems within the system, but the opening
will occur next month. Your Majesty has seen the
"I do not wish to disappoint the people. But
my daughter will know I loathe the world of Geonosis,
and if you are determined to assume that she wishes
to hurt me, a strike at Geonosis hardly seems the
most obvious course."
Piett nodded. The status changed. "Very well,
Your Majesty. But you should perhaps not attend the
opening of the museum."
"Her Majesty was otherwise occupied in any
case," Father said. Mother smiled slightly.
"Which brings us to Tatooine," Piett
said. "Again, a world historically tied to all
of you, and therefore of high interest to Leia. The
garrisons are set to be opened soon. It would be an
unusual target for the Rebellion - difficult to
attack a full garrison in hostile environmental
conditions - but I also consider it a high
There was no argument.
"Finally, Coruscant itself. It is high
profile, centrally located, and certainly associated
with you both. A symbolic retaking of the Senate and
the Old Imperial district could quite easily occur -
it has not been well-guarded since the capital was
moved to Naboo, and Leia is quite familiar with the
world and its inhabitants from her years in the
Senate. This would be psychologically devastating.
Coruscant was the capital for millennia. The people
of the Empire, regardless of the official relocation
of the capital, will see the taking of Coruscant as a
powerful move, and will look to it for direction.
Under no circumstance should we allow the Senate to
Mother nodded. "Of course. Perhaps I
shouldn't have moved back to... "
"The capital will be wherever it pleases you,
my love," Father said briefly, then looked up at
Piett. "Covering all of these locations may
spread our resources more thinly than is optimal. I
would concentrate security on Coruscant, Naboo, and
Tatooine. The others are possibilities, but I
consider them unlikely. Postpone the Geonosis event
indefinitely. Put all other likely targets on high
alert. An attack is coming. Leia will want to prove
herself to the Rebellion by a public repudiation
"It is a fact we must face, my love. Were I
in her position, I would do the same."
Luke absurdly found himself wanting to laugh. He
had never considered it before, but Father was right:
what he would do might well be a good indication of
what she would do.
Mother pursed her lips and looked stubbornly away
(she seemed to be focusing somewhere near the
Kashyyyk system), crossing her arms over her chest in
a defensive way. But she didn't argue.
"Lord Skywalker, do you have any tactical
hypotheses about how the Rebellion might choose to
Luke looked at the various planets. "They'll
go with the environment when they can," he said.
"On the dry planets - Tatooine or Geonosis -
they'll dress for the desert and try to draw out
troopers in full armor at midday. On forested worlds,
they'll keep it in the woods where some of our
technology won't work right. And if they go for
Coruscant, Han'll be able to get street fighting
organized." He shrugged. "You're doing
better at making the Imperial military adaptable, but
we still have some problems that held over from
Palpatine. Leia will know about them. The whole
Rebellion knows about them."
"I beg your pardon?"
Luke shrugged. "The old Empire was pretty
rigid. The Rebels liked to play on it, snap it where
it was brittle. Leia knows we've been working on
that, but we're still not quite as likely to be...
Luke shook his head. Nothing would be able to be
implemented before Leia's attack, because what they
really needed was to learn to fight and think like
Rebels, and that wasn't going to happen overnight.
"We have thus far avoided attacking the
various encampments intelligence has reported,"
Father said. "Her Majesty has not wished to
acknowledge the Rebellion as a threat -"
"I still believe they can be convinced to
join us," Mother said from far away. "We
can't hit them."
Father waited respectfully for her to finish, then
went on. "A direct assault on one of the
training facilities or medical bases may well prevent
any assault they plan to make."
Piett nodded. He would not formally disagree with
Mother, but it was obvious that he agreed with Father
here. "Leia was never given access to military
research due to lingering -" Mother looked up
sharply, and Piett looked away before continuing.
"Due to her emotional attachment to her former
life," he said. "She is unaware of many
weapons under development, some of which do in fact
address the environmental issues Lord Skywalker
mentioned. Shall I plan an assault?"
"No," Mother said.
"My love... "
"No, you will not plan an assault, Admiral. I
will not have the Empire behave as it did under
Palpatine. And I will not risk Leia's life. She may
choose to risk it herself, though I wish she would
not, but I will not instigate the risk." She
rose with dignity. "That is my final word on the
matter, and it will be respected."
She left the room, veils trailing behind her.
Piett sighed. "My Lord?"
Father didn't look at him. "She is your
Empress, and her word is the law."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Prepare a briefing on these matters to
senior staff and tacticians. And be prepared for a
retaliatory strike, should one become
"Yes, my Lord." Piett bowed and left.
"Father, do you think she's wrong?"
"I think that she has closed off an avenue
which would prevent an assault, but she is
better-versed in politics than either of us. I will
defer to her judgment."
"Father, she -"
Father cocked his head to one side, a challenge
Luke had learned early on. It said, Do not presume
to complete that thought. You will regret it if you
"I'll start working on her security
details," Luke said. "If she's going to go
on with her appearances, then she'll need them."
"Very well. I will... review the military
research to which Piett is certain Leia had no
access." His voice never betrayed sarcasm, but
Luke was certain it was present anyway.
"Come to see me, have you, Your
Leia pulled a smile up from somewhere. "I
promised I would come, Master Yoda. I keep my
promises. I've brought my... well, my brother's
"Hmmm." Yoda held out his hand and Leia
handed him the lightsaber. "Ah, yes. Your
father's, it was, as well." He handed it back.
"Good, it is, for such a weapon to be away from
"Where would you like to begin
training?" Leia stood in the combat pose Father
had taught her, and ignited the lightsaber.
"I've gotten better at levitation, but my saber
skills are nowhere near enough to face Luke, let
alone my father."
"Stay and talk, you should. Sit, sit. Tea,
I've brewed. A meal, your droids can bring."
Yoda sat down on the child's chair that Han had dug
up somewhere for him, coughed loudly, then smiled.
"My cookfire, I miss, but good it is to have
many hands ready to help."
"I really don't have time to sit and talk,
Yoda. There's so much to do. We're planning to hit
the new garrisons on -"
He banged his cane on the floor. "Your
attention I need! Your concentration!"
"To train or to have a chat about the kitchen
Yoda coughed again, a long and grinding one that
alarmed Leia. She went to him and soothed it by
rubbing his back, as she remembered her adoptive
mother doing when she'd had the Rensilian flu as a
child. The fit passed, and he held up a shaky hand.
"Thank you," he said. "A kind heart,
you have. Like your father once did. Tell you, did
he, that he helped sometimes with the children in the
Temple? Fond of him, they were. In the before."
He sighed, coughed, sighed again. His large eyes
Leia bit her tongue, not sure if it was against
her irritation at being compared to Vader or against
a laugh that was struggling to escape at the image of
Vader - cape, mask, and all - pint-sized and
babysitting. "Master Yoda," she said,
"while I appreciate your attempt to speak well
of my parents, I really do need to attend to several
Yoda opened his eyes and shook his head.
"Attend to them, you should then. When present
you can be, return."
Leia frowned and resisted responding. She did
have a lot to do, assignments to send out, meetings
to take with strategists and tacticians. She was
happy to help the Jedi Order come back to life if she
could, but her first priority was the Rebellion. The
Order would have to work around it.
And she did not feel guilty about it.
Han never thought he'd see the day when he wished
Threepio were around. The translator droids the
Rebellion did have were probably pretty good, probably
good enough to send along with Lando and get the job
done... but he wasn't sure. That was the thing.
Threepio had been an annoyance and a headache, but
his language database and processor, Han grudgingly
admitted, were really high end.
"Don't worry about it," Lando said for
the eighth time. "This one will be fine. Right,
The droid, basically a vocoder and processor with
six insectile legs, didn't answer.
"Well, at least he won't talk your ears
off," Han said. "You sure about this?"
"You assigned me to it."
"That's 'cause you can charm a settler out of
his last working vaporator." Han looked over his
shoulder. "Leia says the Tuskens are our best
friends on Tatooine, but they're dangerous. I've
heard stories. I think I'd feel safer in Jabba's
Lando grinned. "The way she's making
alliances, she'll have you there in a week, trying to
get his guard to attack the new garrison. She's good,
Han. I'm glad to see her in action."
"I'd forgotten how good." Han
shook his head. "I'm not sure I ever knew
how good. We were in hiding from Yavin to Hoth. Never
had much of a chance to see her do this. She's
Lando secured another supply crate to the gravsled
at his side, then sent it up the ramp into the
transport he and Chewie were taking to Tatooine.
"You sending anyone to the settlers?"
"Probably not. Leia thinks they'll sympathize
with Luke. The Tuskens are a safer bet."
"She's probably right." He frowned.
"But if you do decide to talk to them,
you might want to make sure they know I'm
dealing with the Tuskens. We don't want them to walk
out when we need them, just because they see we're
playing both sides."
"I know. Bad enough Chewie's hitting the
spaceports to look for spies. The spacers and the
farmers don't much like each other, but at
least they're not trying to wipe each other
out." He sighed. "What a mess."
"That's the Outer Rim. Sooner or later somebody's
got to clean it up. Too bad the Vaders are... well,
A few barks and a short howl - directions to the
droid fuelling up the ship - announced Chewie's
presence. Han raised a hand that was half wave, half
summons, and Chewie loped over.
"You all set?" Han asked when he got
Chewie ticked off a list of supplies he'd packed,
then shrugged an affirmative.
"Good. You watch yourself, okay, pal?"
The answer was brief and impatient - Chewie wanted
to get on with things.
"All right, then." Han put one hand on
Lando's shoulder and the other on Chewie's arm.
"Send word by code when you get to Tatooine, so
we know Her Ladyship didn't grab you along the way.
Do what you can. And if you're in trouble, go to the
one place they'll never think to look for you - the
wreck of Luke's farm. He won't figure anyone else
will go there, and I'm betting he won't want to take
a tour if he drops by. Other things to think about
these days." He grimaced. Maybe a trip by the
old homestead Luke had talked about incessantly after
Yavin - the place he'd been so glad to get away from
that he couldn't stop thinking about it for ten
minutes - would do the kid a galaxy of good. But he
didn't think it would be a welcome suggestion.
"Don't use your comlink there. If we haven't
heard from you for two days, we'll come looking for
"Got it. Watch yourself, Han. We'll see you
on the other side of the battle."
The idea that there may not be an other side for
any of them wasn't brought up. "Good. See you
Lando and Chewie were swallowed up by their ship,
and the ship was swallowed by space.
Han stayed in the hangar alone for a long time.
"You know, I don't like this."
His voice strained with uneasiness, and Leia tried
to give Han her best reassuring look as they drifted
to a stop in the hallway outside of the main hangar.
She was sure she wasn't pulling it off very well.
"I don't like it much either, Han."
"So then wait awhile," he said quietly.
"Give me a little time to straighten things out
here, and we can leave for Tatooine together. It
won't take all that long."
Leia crossed her arms over her chest and let her
eyes drop to the floor. She was tempted - maybe there
was someone else she could send out today to
take care of things, even though most of the people
she really trusted had already left on various
assignments. Was anything she planned on doing so
important that she had to leave Han?
She shook her head abruptly, as much to clear out
her thoughts as anything else. This was not the time
to start doubting herself. "You know I don't
want to leave you...but I have to be there. I
probably should have been there earlier. I don't feel
like I can wait any longer, honestly."
Almost on cue, the hangar echoed with the sounds
of Leia's ship coming to life as the mechanics
finished the preparations for her flight. Han sighed
and leaned back against the wall, staring across the
hallway at her.
"Why?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Why do you have to be there?" Han
shrugged. "Look, I'm not trying to second-guess
you here. And I know I'd want to be there. If they
were my parents -"
"If they were my parents," he continued,
"I wouldn't want anyone else handling things for
"Don't do this," Leia pleaded.
"This is the biggest offensive the Rebellion has
ever even thought about attempting. There's a lot of
legwork we need to do on Tatooine. I'm the leader of
this mission..." She stepped across the hallway
to him. "I do have legitimate reasons for being
"I know, I know." His hands rested on
her shoulders and pulled her close. "I just
worry about the other reasons."
"They won't even be there. And you forget, I
was the Outer Rim point-person for Her Majesty. I'll
bet they're having trouble even getting to Tatooine
without me around."
"I'm sure they are," he answered. His
head ducked down so that his eyes could search hers
out. "Be careful, Leia. Don't go and do anything
crazy before I get there."
"And make you miss all the fun? Not a
His reply was to simply kiss her cheek. They
lingered there in the hallway for some time, with her
feeling very comfortable in his arms.
She wasn't happy when Yoda approached.
She tried to ignore him as he entered the far end
of the hallway. But she was sensing Yoda more acutely
now - he was the first non-family Jedi she had been
exposed to, and she was surprised how different his
signature was compared to Vader's or Luke's. There
was something pure and focused about it that she knew
none of them had. She wondered if Vader had ever had
it...before. She doubted it.
Yoda's cane was making a tapping noise that
bounced off the walls as he struggled toward them.
Han heard it and immediately looked up to call out to
him. "Hey, should I hope you're here to give her
some sage advice about Tatooine?"
Yoda made a funny noise - it almost sounded like a
giggle to Leia, and she nearly laughed in response.
"Have plenty of advice to give, I do. Yes, yes.
But that is not why I am here. Going with you to
Tatooine, I am."
"Busy you are, Princess. I know -"
"I must be there. Find time for my teachings,
you might." He almost smirked at her. "Miss
that, I cannot."
"Master Yoda," Leia began, "I don't
mean to difficult, or disrespectful, but I'm going to
be busier on Tatooine than I've been here." She
withdrew from Han's embrace and knelt before him,
looking at his frail form with concern. "And
you're in no condition to travel; certainly not to a
"Face your family, will you? Without a single
lesson?" His little hands folded on the top of
his cane, and his ears pulled down as he frowned at
her. "Wish to fight them, you do...but you
cannot without learning more."
Leia closed her eyes tightly and bit her lip. She
was tired of intimations that she doing all of this
merely out of a need for revenge. That wasn't true.
"Coming with you, I am."
"All right, all right," she said, and
glanced back in time to catch Han's surprised
expression. She rolled her eyes. "You should be
happy. I can't get myself into too much trouble with
a Jedi looking over my shoulders."
"Sure," Han said. "Just
great." He frowned at Yoda and added, "You
better at least take a medical droid with you,
Leia nodded, and Han headed into the hangar to
take care of it. She smiled at Yoda and stood up,
towering over him. "I guess it's time to
go." Yoda began ambling along ahead of her.
They found the small transport ship completely
ready to go, and a medical droid was rolling up the
ramp. Yoda followed it slowly. Han was at the bottom,
furrowing his brow at the Jedi. "The two of you
will have fun."
"Take care of yourself, Princess," he
said before giving her a soft kiss goodbye.
She gave his hand a final squeeze before turning
away and walking up the ramp.
Yoda was waiting for her in the co-pilot's chair -
Leia couldn't figure out how he climbed into it -
with his eyes closed as though he were meditating.
She decided not to disturb him, and instead got the
ship out of the hangar and into the sky, shooting
He remained perfectly quiet and still as they
passed through the orbit. Leia decided that it was a
good thing - at least he wasn't coughing or shaking
any more. She wasn't convinced that her med droid
knew much of anything about treating Yoda's
species...whatever that might be. He looked so calm
and content; she couldn't help smiling at him.
"Happy with me, you will not be, Princess.
There is much to discuss."
"Then go ahead, Master. We have some time
before we reach Tatooine."
The eyes flew open, but he did not look at her.
"Practical, you wish your training to be. Oblige
you, I will."
Leia's eyebrows arched with skepticism.
"For now, at least," Yoda conceded.
"Immediate concerns, there are, which you have
not yet considered."
"No," Leia shook her head. "You're
wrong. You think I'm not worried about them sensing
me on the planet? I am. I've learned to block my
thoughts from them...but I can't tell how well I'm
doing it. I don't think I block my presence
completely. I don't want to endanger the mission, and
I don't want to face them yet." Yoda's head
turned to her then, and his eyes narrowed on her.
"Yes, I know, you think I'm on a revenge
mission, but I have no desire whatsoever to see my
father again. At all."
"Unresolved are your feelings, Your Highness.
Angry you are at them - and confused. Dangerous that
is." Yoda shifted in his chair to fully face
her. "But promise to be practical, I did. Teach
you to hide yourself, I shall."
"That is practical," Leia told
him, with a grin on her face. "But I feel that
they...they know me too well."
"Perhaps. But try, we must. Clear your mind,
and draw the Force to you. A protective shield it can
be. Let it cover you, conceal your thoughts."
"How?" she said, as she tried to picture
the Force enveloping her and hiding her. She couldn't
grasp onto the image solidly enough.
"Concentrate," Yoda intoned.
"Difficult this is, hard. Control your emotions,
or betray you they will."
She felt Yoda guiding her, and she tried to let
him as much as she could. But it was still
uncomfortable having him floating around in her mind.
He was not being intrusive, but her motivation to get
him to stop helping her pushed her to follow his
direction as best she could, trying to get her
shielding to a point where he was blocked out from
She heard him sigh sharply and start another
coughing fit. "You must stop learning for
spite," he said emphatically. "Trust,
Princess. Surrender to the Force, you must."
He sounded like Vader, but she didn't say that to
him. Instead, she asked, "But did I do it
"The point, that is not."
"Master Yoda...I am trying. I am. I
understand what you're saying. But you're asking a
lot of me." Leia shrugged. "I am
"And that is the first step, Princess,"
Yoda said kindly. "But come the rest of the way
willingly, you have to. Pull you along, I
cannot." Yoda hopped off the chair more nimbly
than she would have expected. "Tired, I am.
Rest, yes, rest...Leia?"
"When reach Tatooine, we do...land near Mos
Eisley. Know it, do you?"
She nodded. "I know that's where Luke grew
up. But that wasn't where I was planning to -"
"If trying you are, listen to me, you will.
Work, you can do from there. And it is there that
your training will begin." The Master turned
away, and walked slowly to his quarters.
Han stayed in the hangar until tracking reported
that Leia's ship had jumped into hyperspace.
I ought to be there with her. Someone else can
close up shop here.
Not true, of course. He'd gotten this base
started, and it was his responsibility, just as much
as the Tatooine raid was Leia's. Maybe if they were really
closing up shop, someone else could handle the actual
shut-down, but as it was, most of the combat troops (all
of the better-performing squadrons) were headed to
Tatooine, leaving the administrative corps of the
Rebellion behind with only a few guards. Han wanted
to make damned sure that they weren't in danger.
He made his way to the command center first. Most
of the people here were young and inexperienced. One
or two were teenagers. Han had objected to their
enlistment - objected strenuously - but they were
orphans, and in the end, they had nowhere else to go.
Better to keep them here in administration,
relatively safe, then to turn them out into the
galaxy to fend for themselves. Han had been there. It
was doable, but what the hell... if he could lend a
hand to some other kid, why not do it? Better him
than Her Ladyship, anyway.
To his surprise, Leia had shrugged it off when
she'd gotten here. Apparently, she'd been
considerably younger when she started running with
the Rebellion, and, while she was concerned for their
safety, she didn't see anything unusual in their
desire to be in the fight.
"All clear, Captain?" one of them asked,
slithering down off a catwalk and landing in an easy
crouch. She straightened up and smiled at him. She
had been trying to get him to allow her into the
combat units for seven months now.
"Everything's a go, Redenou. You're going to
break something jumping around the command center
"Oh. Sorry." The girl glanced nervously
at a bank of data readers.
"I meant your ankle or something," Han
said. "But it wouldn't hurt to look out for the
"It's not too late to get me out of
here." Redenou grinned. "Come on, General.
I can hitch to Tatooine with you. I'll be
"You'll be dead of heat stroke in about
thirty minutes. Do you know how hot Tatooine is? It
makes Ledaga look comfortable, and you've been
complaining about the heat since we got here."
Redenou stuck her tongue out playfully. Wedge had
found her on Dhavea, a world just coming out of an
ice age, the sole survivor of a human outpost wiped
out by plague (she believed, on no evidence Han could
ascertain, that the plague had been engineered by
Palpatine and tested on her village). Han often found
her wandering the food lockers, just trying to cool
"Do me a favor and run a comm check," he
"Sure thing. I mean, yes, Sir."
"We're taking the battle away from here, but
I want to be able to contact you and evacuate you
right away if things turn around."
Redenou ran a scan of the comm system.
"Are you picking up Lando's signal on
She checked. "Loud and clear."
"Okay. Check my transmitter."
She took small portable transmitter off the table
and plugged it into a scanner, then shrugged.
Han picked it up and tucked it under his left arm.
"Now, if I call you on this thing from Tatooine
and tell you to get the hell out of here, what are
you going to do?"
"Get the hell out," Redenou said,
frowning and wrinkling her nose. "Bet we could
take 'em, though."
"You'd make a lousy gambler, Redenou. That's
a bad bet."
She sniffed. "Yeah, well. Anyway, that
Ledagan chief is here to see you. I told him I wasn't
sure if you were still here. Do you want me to tell
him you're gone?"
Han's insides sank a few inches. It wasn't going
to be a clean departure, that was for sure. "No,
I'll talk to him."
"Okay. He's out in the exercise yard. Didn't
want to come inside."
Han nodded and headed out. The Ledagans had been a
complete surprise. The Rebellion had always made it a
practice to build bases far from civilian
populations, and since Alderaan, Leia had been
adamant about using worlds that were otherwise
altogether uninhabited. Han had done his best to keep
to that when he'd found this place, but Ledaga had
never been properly surveyed, and since the Ledagans
were burrowers, with all their building in vast
underground caverns, their civilization hadn't been
apparent from surface scans. The base had been built
and fully operational for a year before the Rebellion
had discovered its sentient neighbors. Leia had
been displeased to learn about this, but she knew
that moving the base at this point, particularly when
she was planning the raid, was more trouble than it
was worth. Even Leia was willing to admit that the
Vaders weren't likely to build another Death Star.
The chief was standing at the base of a tree,
chatting comfortably with a translator droid in the
high-pitched, trilling Ledagan language. Han raised
an arm in a greeting. "Aziti!" he called.
"Good to see you."
Aziti turned toward his voice - Han was almost
sure the Ledagans' eyesight was poor to non-existent,
though he'd never asked - and made a whistling sound
through his long front teeth. His long, thick
whiskers rose and fell in a deliberate pattern. Han
recognized it as a greeting.
"What can I do for him?" Han asked the
translator droid. Experience had taught him that the
Ledagans would refuse to treat the translator droid
as a tool. They seemed to view it as a semi-divine
entity, allowing them to communicate in ways that had
been previously impossible.
The droid did not have a head to turn or a face to
direct. Like Lando's droid, it was a vaguely arachnid
model, just a vocoder on legs. A few red lights
indicated that it was working. Its voice was
metallic. "Chief Aziti says he has been told by
the gods that the planet will shake soon."
Han put on his best smile. "Well, let's hope
the gods are just being real careful."
The droid translated, and Aziti went into a long
explanation. Han listened - he was picking up a few
words, but not enough to keep up - then waited for
the translation. The words sounded strange in the
techno-centered voice of the droid. "The deep
rock cries out from strain, and the god of the
hotlands rumbles beneath. The digger god hears a
sound like steam."
"Dammit," Han whispered. The droid
didn't translate. The seismic monitors had
been picking up a few tremors. If the Ledagans lived
by the lay of the land, maybe they could sense things
on their own. And maybe they knew their world well
enough to know when a tremor was just a tremor, and
when it was a warm-up for the big show.
Aziti regarded him silently, small, round black
eyes expressing nothing. The fur on his face was
unruffled and neatly slicked.
"Well, thank him for the warning," Han
said to the droid. "I'll get us set up."
Aziti frowned at the translation, and explained
something more carefully.
"What is it?" Han asked.
The droid processed it. "Chief Aziti did not
come to warn. He says that upper levels are safe.
Broken walls, but no drowning in soil, as there will
be below. He has come to ask for your help, not offer
"Oh. Well, what can we do for him?"
"He asks leave to take shelter here on the
base, if the earthquakes begin."
Han bit his lip. Living nearby was one thing... he
worried enough about battles that way. But actually
putting civilians on the military base?
Han had military training, but when it came down
to it, he was feeling his way around here, based on a
few general ideas about how to fight a war, and even
more general ideas that he classed under "How to
be a good guy," a subject on which he'd never
imagined trying to find guidance. One of these ideas,
boiled down to its essence, was, Good guys don't
hide behind civilians. "I don't know,"
Aziti spoke at length, then looked up hopefully.
"The chief says he will harm nothing, and
they will not come here until the shaking becomes
dangerous. It may not. Sometimes, the god of the
hotlands only mumbles in his sleep, then falls silent
again. But in the last shaking season, fifty were
lost when a tunnel caved in. He wishes only safe
"I... " Han sighed. What was he supposed
to say to that? Sorry, but I can't give you a
place to shelter against something that's probably
going to happen because I'm afraid of exposing you to
something that's probably not going to happen?
"What the hell," he muttered.
"Okay, tell him that he can bring 'em here if
they need to be someplace. But they can't stay
afterward. It's not as safe as I want it to be."
The droid relayed the information, and Aziti
smiled graciously and touched his palm to his
forehead, an action that Han had decided was the
Ledagan equivalent of bowing. Han bowed in return,
and Aziti slipped back into the woods.
If it was a bad decision, it was a bad decision.
At least they were taking the battle away
from Ledaga. It wasn't like the Empire was the one
doing the attacking this time.
The air on Tatooine at dusk was cooler and crisper
than Yoda had anticipated. The sand was still harsh
against his skin every time the wind kicked it up at
him, but generally, he found the climate healing to
his fragile state.
And the Force - the Force was powerful here. That
could only help. He had never been to this planet
before, but had suspected that the echoes of Anakin
and Luke would still be present. They definitely
Leia was clearly picking up on this, and it was
agitating her, though she had remained silent since
they landed. She had found a small dune surrounded by
scraggly rocks to hide the ship in, and now they were
making the short trip from there to Obi-Wan's old
hovel. Yoda had gotten the sense from her that she
wanted to carry him there - she was that worried
about him trying to walk through the desert - but she
couldn't quite bring herself to ask him if she
should. She stayed behind him, walking slowly beside
the med droid, musing over him, and over many things
about the planet.
Yoda had not told her where they were going or why
he had been so insistent on landing outside Mos
Eisley. He was pleased that she had accepted his
orders with a minimum of questioning and complaint.
He knew that in her heart, Leia truly wanted to do
the right thing. He could sense that on some level
she even wanted to trust him. Yoda wondered if she'd
ever be able to unlearn her fears and suspicions.
He thought so. He hoped so.
Yoda stared into the sunset, watching the second
of Tatooine's suns lower slowly beneath the horizon.
He could see Obi-Wan's home just ahead of him.
Leia frowned, and broke her silence. "That's
not Luke's old home."
"No, no," Yoda replied. "Sense, can
you, whose home it is?"
Leia furrowed her brow and carefully scrutinized
the outside of the hut. She seemed confused.
"There isn't another Jedi around, is
Yoda shook his head. "No. Dead for several
years has Obi-Wan been. But here, his presence is.
That is what you feel."
"This was General Kenobi's home?" she
asked incredulously. "You Jedi sure pick
interesting places to live out your days." It
was a few seconds before the sense of what she said
struck her, and she quickly added, "I'm sorry, I
didn't mean to say that you were...I know that you're
sick, but that doesn't mean..."
"Don't apologize, Princess," Yoda said
with a smile. "Old, I am. Know that, I do."
She simply sighed.
They arrived at the home and Yoda led them inside,
quickly taking a seat in what served as Obi-Wan's
common room. The med droid tootled over to a corner
and shut itself down for the night. Leia, her
curiosity piqued, began roaming throughout the house,
combing through piles and picking things out of them.
"What are you looking for, Princess?"
Yoda called out to her.
"I don't know," she replied. "I
heard about General Kenobi for years, growing up...my
parents never really talked about him as a Jedi
though. I never did get the chance to meet
"Well, know how he arranged things, I do not.
A mess this place is." Leia came out of one of
the back rooms and smiled at him. "But sure, I
am, that there is plenty here of interest to
"Yes," said a third voice, "there
Yoda was pleased to see Obi-Wan materialize. He
seemed to have recovered from whatever had happened
to him when he had tried to speak to Luke.
Leia's eyes widened. But something told her to
accept this as normal, and she quietly ventured,
He nodded. "It is a pleasure to meet you
properly, Your Highness. It is a shame we could not
do so earlier." He gestured toward the room she
had just exited from. "There are items in there
that I think you should see."
"Can either one of you explain why you insist
on me seeing my parents as something as other than
what they are?" she said with sharp frustration.
"Because," Obi-Wan said simply,
"what they were is just as important. You
want to put up barriers and breaks where they do not
Leia gave him an incredulous look. "If I
understood correctly, you were the ones who put those
'barriers' up for Luke. Is all this just a result of
you both being unable to lie to me the way you did to
him? You sent Luke off ready to kill our parents, but
with me -"
"Left, Luke did, before able to instruct him
properly we were," Yoda interrupted. "Take
responsibility for our choices we do, but made under
difficult circumstances, they were."
"Jedi history is so intertwined with your
family," Obi-Wan said in a resigned, almost
wistful tone. "We can no longer afford the
luxury of you approaching one without understanding
Leia rubbed her temples and let out a long, tired
breath. "I suppose this would fall under
'trying'?" she asked Yoda. He nodded. Leia left
the room in a huff, and Yoda and Obi-Wan listened to
her rummage around. Eventually, she made a decision,
and Obi-Wan's small holoprojector started running.
Yoda couldn't see what she was watching from his
seat in the common room. He saw her face, bathed in
the blue glow from the holos, and watched her as she
viewed a few seconds here and there from each of
Obi-Wan's recordings. Surprise was etched on her face
throughout, along with concern and uncertainty.
"Good for her it is, to see her parents this
way," Yoda murmured to Obi-Wan.
"I wish I had kept more of them...I wish I
had more of everything. What's in this house can't
explain enough to her."
Yoda didn't answer. They watched Leia for several
minutes in silence.
"Do you plan to test her, Master?"
"Yes. Done, it must be."
Obi-Wan watched Leia for awhile longer, then
allowed himself to quietly disappear.
Yoda strained to lower himself from his chair, and
went to join Leia in the other room. She was looking
at the celebration that followed the Battle of Naboo,
watching her parents smiling at one another. She
glanced down at Yoda and shrugged. "They're
so...young...I've been looking at so many of
these and...I don't know. I don't know what to think.
I don't know what it is that you want me to
Yoda poked at her with his cane. "Meditate on
these things, you should." Leia rolled her eyes,
but Yoda ignored her and continued. "Go out into
dunes, you should. Search out meaning in the
Leia looked out the nearest window, into the night
that had now almost completely fallen over the
desert. She wrapped her arms around herself and shook
her head uncertainly. "Something's wrong. That's
why you want me to go out there."
"Afraid, are you?" Yoda asked.
"Shouldn't I be?"
"Go, you must, Princess."
Leia wandered out into the Tatooine night, feeling
a sense of dread consume her. Yoda and General Kenobi
were watching her, that much was clear.
Meditate...well, she could try it, at least.
Leia found herself drawn to a small depression in
the sand, and slid down into it. She looked up at the
moons and the stars, and wondered if Luke and Vader
had once done the same.
With that thought on her mind, Leia let herself
fall into a meditative trance. It came very quickly -
she usually had trouble calming herself - and soon
her surroundings had dropped away completely.
She was back on Naboo, on the plains, running
frantically from her family. She was on foot this
time, and Han and the others were not with her. Her
saber - Luke's saber, her father's saber - was
ignited. They were following her, and she could hear
her mother's voice trailing behind her.
"Leia! Come back to me!"
She continued to run.
"I need you here, with me!"
She could not listen. Those words were a trap
leading her back to the Empire, to the Dark Side...
"My dear, precious daughter! Come back!"
Leia came to a sudden stop and whirled around,
slashing wildly with her saber at the air behind her.
She needed Mother's voice to stop. Her saber hit
nothing, but Leia kept up her fight, swinging as hard
as she could, until finally, she was exhausted and
She turned around to continue running forward, to
reach the area of the plains where Han's ship had
been. She was moving much more slowly now, and
Mother's voice still rang in her ears.
Just as on Naboo, Leia did not sense him coming
until it was too late.
Vader seemed to materialize directly in her path,
and Leia came to a screeching halt. She pulled up her
lightsaber between them, and was surprised when he
did not do the same in return. She looked up in the
sky above him for Luke, but there was no one up
there, and Vader's speeder was nowhere to be found.
Her surprise only lasted a moment. Leia reared
back to swing at Vader, and took a clear, strong
slice...which seemed to go right through him. He
looked at her, completely unaffected. Then he stared
past her, to where Mother's voice was coming from.
She swung again, and again she hit nothing. He
continued to focus on his attention on Mother,
refusing to fight her. He barely acknowledged her.
Frustrated, Leia turned from her father and saw
Mother approaching, red veils thrown back and
trailing softly behind her. Her hands were
outstretched, reaching toward them.
"Won't you come back?"
Leia's saber seemed to be buzzing very loudly in
her ear. Her arms were nearly shaking with the urge
to take another swing. She had the feeling that with
her mother, the blow would connect. Vader would try
to stop her, of course, but would he be able to do
Her mother's face pleaded with her. Vader stood
there and waited.
Leia pulled back, and Mother gasped in shock...and
Leia watched as her face changed, morphing into the
beautiful, younger woman Leia had seen in those
holos. She looked so different. She almost looked
Leia was suddenly shaken with horror, and she
forcibly wrenched herself out of the vision. She was
instantly back sitting in the sand dune, frightened
and shaking. Yoda was standing above her, looking
down at her.
Leia ran her hands through her hair, and stared at
the sand for several minutes. Questions, so many
questions, ran through her mind. She finally managed
to focus on one. "Master Yoda...how can I face
"Have within you the strength, Leia," he
replied. He frowned deeply. "Control, you must
Vader had not yet visited the new munitions
There was no good reason for it, and as he
traveled across the broken plains to the remote,
craggy hills where it had been hidden away, the true
reason stared blankly at him: He had allowed himself
to fall into Amidala's fantasy, as he always did. It
pleased her to have him in the Palace, overseeing its
repair. It was done under the auspices of security,
and he had justified it to himself as a necessary
thing, for the sake of the twins' training... but in
truth, he had simply fallen into her vision, and the
engineering of the Palace had taken precedence over
the engineering of the military. He had allowed other
men to see to it while he had seen to walls and
There was a lie to be told, a comfortable lie, in
which he did it only because it pleased Amidala, but
Vader loathed lies, even those he was tempted to tell
himself. In truth, he did it because it pleased him,
deeply, in a way that Imperial munitions did not and
never had. He took pleasure in the rebuilding, in
seeing the grand arches form again, in seeing the bas
relief murals chiseled from stone under his hand.
There were times deep in the night, after he had
carried Amidala from his chamber to her bed, after
she had drifted off to sleep, when he could come to
the unfinished world of the shattered hallways and
almost forget about the mask and the respirator,
almost lose himself in the work. It was the same
reason he modified the speeders for his own personal
use, though that, at least, had some practical
justification, as Leia had proved.
You are weak, the memory of Palpatine's
voice whispered into his mind. You have neglected
great power for the sake of a mediocre craftsman's
It sounded right - it was certainly what Palpatine
would have said. For that matter, it was what Obi-Wan
would have said, replacing "great power"
with "duty," of course.
And they would both be right. It was a great
power, and it was his duty to control it. He had
forsaken it for a temporary illusion of normalcy.
He crested the last grassy rise before the
desolation, then dove down into the brown ruin. The
munitions lab was a low metal box, ugly and
utilitarian, and far out of place on Naboo. Amidala
had - quite rightly - not wanted it in Theed. It had
a cold atmosphere, not like the Dark Side, but like a
wound in the Force, where nothing existed.
Vader stopped the speeder outside the door, took a
moment to accustom himself to the atmosphere, and
The man who greeted him was young and wore his
uniform uncomfortably, as though he were not used to
its shape. His fingers kept tugging at the collar.
"Lord Vader," he said. "I was glad to
hear you were coming, but it was short notice. I'm
afraid that things may not be -"
"May not be what, Commander Dihave?"
"Er, precisely up to regulations. We didn't
have time to clean up."
"The regulations are not intended to be
observed only upon inspection."
The man didn't have the good sense to show fear.
Instead, he simply shrugged, gave what was obviously
meant to be an impish smile, and tucked his over-long
hair behind his ear. "Sorry." He seemed to
remember his manners, and gave a brief bow.
"Would you like to inspect our laboratory, Lord
"I've come to inquire as to your more recent
work. A recent event may have... compromised certain
Dihave nodded in a distracted way. "No need
for most of that, anyway. We got your directive about
creating more versatile weapons, and we've been
developing much more mobile arrays. And," he
said importantly, "as to Her Majesty's directive
about collateral damage, we've been developing
weaponry that targets a base only, with
minimal damage or aftereffects in the surrounding
"Such things have existed for many
"Nothing this total that doesn't harm the
surrounding area." Dihave's manner was becoming
less insouciant and more interested in his topic,
wanting to display his research. He led Vader into a
long gray room full of terminals with holos of
machine parts lined on several steel tables.
Technicians stood and saluted. Vader offered them a
small bow - their work was important, and they had
been largely neglected. Perhaps even Dihave could be
tolerated, with that in mind.
Dihave moved through the room, looking at each
project. "This one isn't functional yet... that
one had a problem in a test run, but it's promising;
we're fixing the bugs... this is a close range
blaster we're developing, would you like to examine
Vader had never had much interest in blasters and
handled them only with great distaste, but close
infantry weaponry was of importance, should Leia
bring the Rebellion's military into direct conflict.
"How is it improved?"
"The beam is tighter, for one thing, more
able to withstand shielding and easier to aim."
He picked up a prototype from under the table, and
pointed to a small generator on its underside.
"We've also fitted them with a small energy
binder, which serves the dual purpose of keeping it
attached to a soldier's hand rather securely and
providing at least a modicum of protection to the
shooting arm, a common target, according to the field
soldiers we've spoken to."
Vader was surprised. "You've been speaking to
For the first time, Dihave blanched. "I'm
sorry, my Lord. I thought it would be useful."
"You misinterpret, Commander Dihave. That is
the first statement you have made that has inspired
confidence. It was a wise choice."
All of Dihave's demeanors faded for a moment, and
his face became that of a child, first shocked, then
fully pleased with himself. "Thank you, my
Lord," he stammered. "I... "
"Perhaps you should continue the inspection
of ongoing projects?"
"Yes, of course." Dihave straightened
his shoulders (unconsciously, Vader thought) and
slicked his hair, then opened a door into a darker
room toward the center of the building. They went
inside, and Dihave started the holodisplay machinery.
A small moon which Vader couldn't identify appeared,
floating over the chasm. On its surface were at least
twenty Star Destroyers, all of which seemed to be
badly damaged. Most were clustered in the center,
standing on end and buried nearly half their length,
but four were set a narrow distance beyond, forming a
"These were decommissioned," Dihave
said, pointing to them. "I asked Admiral Piett
for use of them in a test."
Again, it was an intelligent idea. It didn't make
Vader like Dihave any better, not with his
defiant sloppiness and poor manners, but he
understood why Piett had put him in this position.
"What were you testing, Commander?"
"We haven't come up with a name for it
yet." He shrugged. "I like to invent a
thing before I name it."
"This seems to be invented."
"Yes. Well, I... " He sighed. "It
is a powerful weapon, Lord Vader. Quite honestly,
naming it seemed frivolous and disrespectful of what
it can do."
"On that note, this is what it does."
Dihave hit a button, and a small missile came into
Vader could see no ship. "From what distance
was it launched?"
"From Naboo. The moon is three systems from
here. It's designed to travel distances, and is small
and difficult to detect. High impact, low danger for
Cowardly, Vader thought, but shook it off.
He was commanding neither battledroids nor clones,
and if lives could be spared, they should be. The men
were not unaware that sacrifice might be required;
that did not mean such sacrifice had to be
deliberately sought. "Go on."
The missile made its silent way to the moon. It
hit the cluster of decommissioned Star Destroyers,
and a bright light shone from their midst. The middle
Destroyer glowed for less than a second, then a
series of white explosions began to topple the others
in a ripple pattern. The flare was immense. Vader's
eyeguards barely protected against it, and Dihave
covered his own eyes.
The flare blew outward like a violent wind, then -
A crackling energy seemed to mark the wall of
light, then the reaction collapsed into itself.
The four Star Destroyers that had formed the
perimeter were undisturbed. At the center, where the
others had been clustered, there was smooth white
"It goes down fifty meters," Dihave
said. "Fine as ash. Well, it is ash. But
we set up a perimeter field which will follow Her
Majesty's injunction to not deliberately create
collateral damage. When intelligence finds a
stronghold, this will remove it without causing undue
damage to the world in question. There are no
lingering effects in the atmosphere, and no
biological or chemical agents released."
"And the destruction within the impact area
is total. There would be no survivors."
Vader thought of Leia, stationed at some Rebel
terminal, watching the approach of a missile that
would kill her. She would stay. She would stay to
spite him. He nodded. "Your work is appreciated.
I will discuss the strategic possibilities with
Admiral Piett, and he will continue to work with you
and with Imperial intelligence."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Commander, how controllable is this
"It's simple. The control goes through
standard communications equipment."
He took time to recognize the work of the various
technicians in the room outside - he should have come
here earlier to do so - then left, his mind going
over the possibilities as he returned to Theed. A
single strike on a Rebel base that would not inflame
other would-be Rebels could end the war and restore a
But Leia would be there.
He found that his anger at her grew as this
realization was internalized. Leia would be there,
and she would die for the sake of making the day of
final peace in the galaxy forever hateful to her
mother. She would spill her own blood to hurt her
Vader would not allow her to do so. There was no
strategic purpose to avoiding Rebel casualties -
other than Amidala's desperate desire to integrate
the Rebellion into the New Empire, which he would
have to take into account - but he would not have
Amidala destroyed by her own victory, or by Leia's
(she is not well)
He pushed the velocity upward on his speeder, and
the city began to leap into view. She was not
ill. She was merely fragile. She would learn to
accept the pain if it was necessary, as he had after
his accident, after he believed her dead, after he
believed his only child dead. But there was no need
for such acceptance, not as long as he could shield
her from the blow, or prevent it from falling.
As to Leia herself, she would be made to pay for
her treason, but her death would not serve his
You think like a Jedi, the memory of
Palpatine's voice sneered. Kill them all, if you
would not be made a fool of. Kill them all and have
done with it. The spoiled girl-child has made her
A spoiled girl-child Leia might be, but she was Vader's
girl-child, and more importantly, she was Amidala's.
She might force destruction of herself one day, but
it would not be at the hands of an impersonal
He would instruct Piett to explore other options,
unless circumstances changed.
Wedge's X-Wing sped through space, silently making
its way toward Naboo. He switched on his communicator
to speak with the other pilots.
"Rogue Squadron, this is Rogue Leader. We are
approaching the designated coordinates. Prepare to
drop out of hyperspace. We will reach the Ciru
Expanse within a few minutes."
Several the pilots each responded with an
"Aye, sir," and Wedge began making his own
preparations, going over the plans in his head. The
next step - hiding the ships from Imperial sensors
while waiting for the Empress to leave Naboo for
Tatooine - would be the trickiest. The Expanse was a
large swath of energy currents just a system away
from Naboo. It caused interference with even the most
advanced Imperial sensors, and would provide
shielding to Wedge's squad.
Unfortunately, the energy was also extremely
dangerous to any ship that tried to pass through it.
The currents had a tendency to focus on a ship's
engines, or weapon's systems, or anything that
produced a certain amount of power, drawing to the
ship in a powerful, destructive display. There had
been many, many stories over the years of ships that
never made it out of the Expanse, despite efforts to
avoid an energy build-up.
It was a crazy plan, but Wedge figured that it
wasn't any more ridiculous than some of the other
missions he had gone on. They'd just have to be
careful, and hope for the best.
Wedge went back to his communicator. "All
right guys, we need to go through the run-down again.
We won't be able to talk to each other while we're in
the expanse, so we need to make sure that everyone's
together on this.
"Once we drop out of hyperspace," Wedge
continued, "everyone needs to shut down their
engines as soon as is safely possible. You'll begin
coasting on manual controls toward the Expanse. Shut
down all your systems except for life support. You'll
have to keep your eyes open once we're in there - we
all should stay a good distance apart from one
another. And we should stay away from the edge of the
Expanse. Their sensors shouldn't be able to pick us
up until we're out and away from it, but I don't want
to take any chances of us being exposed early.
"We've got about an hour in there before we
need to get out of the Expanse, and move into
position to intercept the Empress's procession,"
he said. "I'm going to leave my ship's
chronometer on...the rest of you will just have to
follow my lead. When the time comes to go, you must
start up your auxiliary engines only on the
lowest setting and guide yourself through. We can
only go one at a time, so make sure you're paying
attention to the order."
"Rouge Leader, this is Rouge Five," came
a voice over the comm. "Are we sure that the
auxiliary engines will get us out of there?"
"They should," Wedge said. "I know
that's not a great comfort, but we should coast a
good way through the Expanse initially. We cannot go
above those minimal settings."
Wedge made a few adjustments on his console. The
hyperspace portion of their trip was very nearly
"Once we've all cleared the Expanse, we'll
stay near its edge at minimal power to continue to
hide our presence. Lady Vader should pass us by
shortly after that.
"Remember, this is a diversion. If we can
delay them getting to Tatooine, great. If we make
them think that the Rebellion is more interested in
assassinating the Empress than in actually fighting
in battles, even better. They don't think we're
prepared for a full-scale attack, and if they see us
sending ten X-Wings against the Empress's forces, it
will only reinforce that image in their minds. And
that will help everyone else.
"But let's be clear about something - even
with Leia's intelligence, we're no match for what
we're going to be facing."
"Don't worry, Rogue Leader," said Rogue
Two. "We'll put on a good show for Her
Some of the other pilots chuckled. Wedge smiled,
and gave the last of his instructions. "Leia's
information on the shields might give us a bit of an
edge, but we have to assume everything's been
changed. We also know a good amount about their
fighting and flying maneuvers, but we still need to
stay on our toes here, guys. We'll put up a fight,
then make a run for it. We'll meet up at the
rendezvous point, and then head back to base.
"Good luck guys."
With that, he closed communications, and pulled
his ship out of hyperspace. As soon as the stars
around him slipped back from straight lines into
small specks, he began shutting down his engines
Wedge heard the rest of his squad coming in behind
him, and after a few seconds, an eerie silence filled
his cockpit. He put all of his other systems in their
off modes, and switched the life support to as low a
level as he thought was safe. He glanced at the
lightly glowing chronometer, and then grabbed the
The Ciru Expanse was just before them. It looked
enormous - just a large, pale yellow, milky area
hanging in front of them where stars and planets and
moons normally would be. Even at a distance, Wedge
could see small currents flashing through it, like
very quick lightening strikes.
He turned his ship to the left to avoid those
charges, and his pilots followed them as they entered
Wedge's cockpit filled with the strange yellow
glow as he continued to glide lightly through. He
didn't have to do much - he was gliding on a straight
path, and could see nothing ahead of him that would
cause a problem. He couldn't see the pilots behind
him, and had no sensors to know what was happening,
but he didn't sense any problems.
The ship felt like it was riding little waves, and
Wedge was almost starting to enjoy the ride. It was
peaceful and soothing, and there was nothing he could
do for the next hour anyway.
Finally, the ship began to slow down considerably,
and Wedge knew that his momentum was finished. He
thought they had come far enough to get out of the
Expanse on minimal power later.
The ship floated in place, and Wedge took the
controls and flipped it back over upside down. As he
went, he got a look at the rest of his squadron
behind him. They had all also stopped, and were
His ship came back in place right side up, and
Wedge then banked to his left, trying to turn around.
The ship moved slowly until he was facing the
squadron. He could see into the cockpits of the
others, and some of them nodded to him.
A few of the small charges were seen around them,
but not close enough to cause any immediate danger.
Wedge trained an eye on his chronometer, and waited.
"Be aware," Father said. "Do
nothing to attract attention, but be aware."
Luke felt his jaw tighten - he didn't need to be
lectured on the obvious - but he said nothing. They
were standing at the Great Arch of Theed Palace, in
view of the crowd, and it wouldn't do to show
dissent. He nodded, and stepped out into the
"Welcome, Naboo!" he called, giving them
a smile that didn't feel right today. "Welcome,
Gungans and visitors!"
They cheered wildly for a long time, celebrating
the beautiful day, the peace of the Empire, and, most
of all, the chance to see their beloved Empress.
Mother spent most of her time inside the Palace now,
and the Naboo reveled in their chances to see her as
an inhabitant of their world.
When the cheer faded enough to speak, Luke raised
his hands to get their attention. "Her Majesty
will be out in a few moments," he said, then,
carried on a giddy wave from the crowd, added with a
grin, "She's trying to decide what to
There was fond laughter. Mother's wardrobe, while
all in various shades of red with long veils, was
always growing, and was a favorite topic of style
writers. What cut would she choose? What sort of
fabric? Would it reveal the scars on her back, gauzy
white lines beneath the floating silks? (It had
become quite fashionable in some quarters for young
women to have stylized claw marks tattooed onto their
backs to match the mark of the Empress.) The
frivolous tone bothered Father, as it implied a lack
of seriousness in the way people approached her, but
Mother herself was delighted by it and played to it
as "it makes the people happy."
"She won't have time to speak today - we're
headed out to Tatooine to install the new Outer Rim
Another cheer. The Guard was a popular movement.
There were many refugees from the Rim who had come
into Naboo and the Core to escape the kleptocracy,
and the thought of putting the Hutts and pirates in
their place was always cause for joy.
The first unit of the Guard - instituted not long
after Mother had taken power - had been a roving unit
devoted to breaking up the slaving rings. Father had
allowed a Wookieee slave to conduct the execution of
the man who had kidnapped him from Kashyyyk. It was a
symbolic act, of course. The rest of them - those not
killed in the battles for their ships - had been
executed more normally, either by Father or by Luke
himself (though Father insisted on being present).
The people had felt vindicated. The new Guard units
had the more nebulous job of bringing order to the
Rim, but the people knew that it was all part of the
same grand project, and they cheered every operation.
Luke smiled more normally, the crowd giving him a
greater sense of ease. He didn't forget to be aware,
but there was no sense of malice in the crowd, only
an outpouring of pure affection.
The volume of the delirious shouts jumped
suddenly, and Luke needed neither his senses nor the
Force to tell him why. He turned and bowed to Mother.
She was radiant in simple clothes, with a
translucent ankle-length crimson skirt and a darker
overdress that came to her knees. The veil was a
single length of synth-silk anchored by a golden
circlet. She took Luke's hand and kissed his cheek
when he rose.
"It's a glorious morning!" she called to
the crowd. When the eruption of clapping ended, she
beamed at them. "I hate to make a liar of my
son, but I just can't leave without speaking to you,
to tell you how it lifts my heart to see you here and
feel your affection for me."
The crowd offered another generous outpouring.
"Someone dear to me was taken recently,"
she said, "but I know, I can feel, that she will
come home to me, safe and sound. In the meantime, I
will not forsake my duty to the people of the
"Once, I ran from my title, hid from
responsibility like the child I was. I do not regret
it - perhaps we all need to be children together
sometimes - but I will not repeat it. Now I know I
have a purpose, a reason to be here among these stars
at this time. I will bring justice. I will bring
peace and order, to those who have lived without it
for too many years. I am Amidala of Naboo, and I will
be the Empress I have promised to be."
Whistles and cheers washed over her. Mother leaned
her head back and closed her eyes. To Luke, it looked
like she was drinking the noise, taking sustenance
from it. And when she opened her eyes, it seemed as
though she had. They sparkled brilliantly.
She squeezed his hand. "It's time to
go," she whispered.
Father slipped into the space in front of her and
Luke took up his position behind her. Both held their
lightsabers at the ready as the family descended the
steps and walked up the aisle through the crowd that
was immediately created by the Gungan guard. The
royal transport was docked at the far end, flanked by
two fighter escorts. The Gungans escorted Mother up
the ramp into her ship, and the hatch closed. Father
took the fighter to the right; Luke, the fighter on
the left. A squadron of six more fighters was already
in the air.
The transport lifted off gracefully - Naboo
technology was a marvel of maneuverability - and Luke
and Father followed it at close range until they had
cleared the atmosphere.
Once in deep space, the fighters formed a box
around the transport. Father took point at center
front; Luke brought up the rear.
Father's voice came across the general comm
channel. "Hyperspace coordinates set. On my
But there was no lead.
Out of the darkness and the strange glow of the
Ciru Expanse came a volley of laser blasts, then
another, then another.
"Protect the Empress!" Father ordered.
The X-Wings themselves leapt into view, executing
a complex, shifting attack pattern, darting into
range and then darting out again.
Luke knew the strategy.
"It's Rogue Squadron!" he called into
the comm channel. "Engage!"
The command had barely left his mouth as Luke
watched his father evade a heavy barrage of fire.
Every X-Wing fired directly at him as they prepared
to fly past him and headed for Mother's transport.
The six other Imperial fighters had immediately taken
to obey Father's orders, and were collapsing in tight
formation around her ship, shooting in the direction
of the Rebel ships even before they moved fully in
Luke quickly moved his fighter from its position
in back of the transport, flying over to the head of
the ship. Father was still the focus on nearly all of
Rogue Squadron's firepower, and while he was deftly
outmaneuvering the blasts, he hadn't yet gotten in
position to go on the offensive. The transport ship
tried to provide some cover, but the X-Wings were too
small and too fast for its gunners to provide any
Most of the X-Wings passed Father and began
running a complex weaving pattern over, under, and
around the transport. Luke picked out the lead ship -
undoubtedly piloted by Wedge - and began pursuit.
Luke had half a mind to simply blast him out of
the sky, but he could tell that Rogue Squadron was up
to something...they weren't flying circles around the
ship for no reason. He wanted an idea of their plans
before he began to engage them directly.
Wedge carved a dizzying path straight through to
the back of the ship, then jerked his X-Wing around
and under, flying upside down along the transport's
underside before flipping back up near the front nose
of the craft. As Luke came back up, he saw his father
relentlessly pursuing one of the Rebel fighters, not
letting it out of his sights.
The Imperial fighters seemed more interested in
avoiding collision with the wildly flying Rebels than
with taking them out - an observation Father had no
doubt made, and Luke almost felt sorry for what the
pilots would be facing later as a result of their
caution (well, cowardice). These were the advantages
the Rebels had that the Empire had tried so hard to
counteract - speed, fearlessness - and so far, it
looked to Luke as if they still had a ways to go.
Luke followed Wedge through another run at the
transport's belly. He racked his brains to recollect
any information about the ship's design or any
flaws...anything that Leia might have noticed and
told the squadron to be looking for.
He blew past the landing equipment and went under
the quarters and hangars that took up the bulk of the
body of the ship. Once they came near the back again,
he saw the section that held the life support
systems, and the engines.
Luke opened his secure comlink and hailed his
father, continuing his pursuit of Wedge.
"Father, I think I've figured out the aim of
"The aim of this attack," came the terse
reply, "is to kill the Empress." A large
explosion was bright in Luke's eyes as he flew over
the top of the transport again. Father had caught up
with the X-Wing he had been chasing. "Our aim is
to stop them, not follow their flying patterns."
Luke hands went tight around his controls, but he
bit back the urge to begin a fight with his father.
This wasn't the time, and it wouldn't help.
"Agreed," Luke finally said. "I'll
be underneath the ship, protecting the weak spot in
the shields the Rebels are looking for." He
abruptly changed direction and did just that. He saw
the remnants of another explosion; Father was
definitely on the offensive now. "I think Wedge
has seen the engines...he'll order all the fighters
to attack there soon. Perhaps you'd care to join
Father gave no answer, and Luke shut off his comm.
He began firing on Wedge, who had indeed returned to
the same spot. The engines of Mother's transport gave
off a static field that occasionally weakened the
shields in that section of the ship. A highly
concentrated volley of fire at that point might be
enough to penetrate the soft spots.
Wedge began to run from him, and two other X-Wings
entered the area, but Luke continued his pursuit,
easily dodging the other Rebels and firing until he
The right upper wing of Wedge's craft was
momentarily lost in a wave of sparks and debris and
fire. Luke waited, but the X-Wing didn't explode.
Instead, Wedge limped out of the way of the
transport's slower shots, trying to gain full control
of his ship and move out of the way of the battle.
Luke watched him for a second, then saw Father,
three of the Imperial fighters, and the seven
remaining X-Wings fly beneath the transport, and head
straight for the engines in the back. He promptly
raised the transport.
"Yes, Lord Skywalker," answered the
"The Rebels seem to have found a potential
weak point in our shields. Continue your evasive
actions, and concentrate your firepower on protecting
the engines. And jam the Rebels'
"We've tried, Lord Skywalker, and we can't
seem to find the frequency -"
"Then jam all the communications in
this immediate area. Send out a dampening
"But sir, then we wouldn't be able to contact
"I'm aware of that, Captain. You just fly
your ship. My father and I can take care of the rest,
and we don't need to speak to each other in the
comlinks to do it."
"Yes, Lord Skywalker."
Vader was impressed with the Rebels. He had
already learned not to underestimate them - the Death
Star battle had certainly taught him that. But these
ten were certainly the elite of the Rebel pilots. It
was a testament to them that seven had survived, and
that the battle had essentially shifted to the
territory they desired. Two of the Imperial fighters
had also been taken out in the fight above the
But he had the remaining X-Wings in his sight, and
Vader could feel his son truly begin to settle down
into pitched battle. This would not go on for much
Luke reached out to him with the Force, and with
no more direction than that, the two began to move
against the remaining seven Rebel fighters.
Vader saw Luke pursuing a ship that had gotten too
close to the engines, and driving that ship in his
Vader didn't hesitate, moving swiftly to cut off
the X-Wing forcing it into an abrupt change of
direction that Luke had been anticipating. Vader saw
the flash of Luke's lasers, and another X-Wing was
He and Luke were then flying together, focused on
chasing down another Rebel ship. This one managed to
go several seconds before being hit, but there was
little he could do with the two of them right behind
him, firing away.
Part of his X formation was blown clear away, and
Vader saw him try to steer his out of control ship
directly at the transport. Luke accelerated past
Vader and destroyed the X-Wing before its destination
Vader was already turning around to face the five
remaining fighters, certain that Luke would follow,
feeling his son anticipate his moves almost
effortlessly. It was good, flying and fighting with
Luke like this. He felt proud, but also enjoyed the
simple pleasure of connecting with his son. His
disagreements with Luke had fallen by the wayside, at
least for these moments.
Vader refocused his attention on finishing off the
Wedge's ship had come to a dead stop a short
distance from the battle. He was out of range of the
transport's weapons, and no one else bothered to pay
him any mind. He was trying desperately, over and
over to raise his squadron, but was continually met
with static. He watched in horror as the half of his
fighters who were left were chased by Vader and Luke.
"Rogue Squadron, this is Rogue Leader.
Retreat. Retreat. This is an order for full retreat.
Disengage immediately and head for the rendezvous
coordinates. Retreat, Rogue Squadron."
Nothing, and the fight continued without signs of
any of his pilots moving away. Wedge smashed his hand
against his console in frustration. Five of the ten
were down or killed. What were they waiting for?
He understood their desire - despite the briefing,
despite their orders - to try and get the hit in on
Lady Vader's ship. They had actually made more
headway than they had anticipated, and had gotten a
shot or two off on the spot Leia had told them about.
It was feasible, if not entirely likely, that one of
them could hit that spot and cut the Empire off at
That was something any of them would be willing to
die for. And technically, they hadn't received a
retreat order, so maybe it was worth the try.
An understandable impulse, but so damnably
Another X-Wing exploded. Four left.
Finally, finally, one of the remaining Rebel ships
broke away, flying furiously toward Wedge. Wedge
tried to wave him off, and wanted to order him to
just jump to hyperspace and not worry about the rest
But the X-Wing kept coming until it was close
enough to shoot and hook a towing mechanism to
Wedge's craft. He was going to drag Wedge along with
him through hyperspace to the rendezvous point, which
was only a short trip away.
The last two fighters were also headed Wedge's
way, under close pursuit by Vader and Luke. Wedge
watched helplessly, trying to will them to make the
hyperspace jump before they were destroyed.
The X-Wing he was attached did make the jump then,
and Wedge saw nothing but starlines and felt his ship
shake violently as it was dragged along.
There was a final, forceful jerk as they withdrew
from hyperspace. Wedge immediately turned on his
communicator, and found that the signal was no longer
"Rogue Leader, are you all right?" It
was Rogue Four.
"Yes. How's your ship?"
"It looks like we'll both be limping home. I
think we -"
He was interrupted by the sound of another ship
coming out of hyperspace just behind them. Rogue
"Is the last fighter coming in after
you?" Wedge asked.
"No sir," said Rogue Nine with a weary
voice. "He was destroyed right before I made the
Wedge exhaled sharply, dropping his head back
against his seat, staring at some nondescript point
in his cockpit's ceiling. He stayed that way for
"What are your orders, Rogue Leader?"
"My engines are shot, and so are Rogue
Four's. It's going to take us some time to get back
to base. We'd better get going."
Luke's fighter fell in beside his father's as they
returned to Mother's transport. He could see some
damage had been done to her ship, but nothing
critical had been hit.
Father's voice came through the comm, even though
Luke could feel what he wanted to say. "You
fought well, son."
Luke didn't bother to fight the pleased impulse
that came with the praise. "Thank you,
Father." They flew together in amicable silence.
They brought their fighters into the small holding
bay on the transport ship. Mother was already running
out toward them.
"Ani!" she cried, throwing herself into
a hug against his armor as soon as he had
"It is all right, my love," he said.
"Luke and I were more than able to handle this
assault. You were never in any true danger. We should
return to Naboo for repairs and -"
"What?" she asked. She didn't pull away
from him, but Luke could see that her face was set in
a determined frown. "We're not delaying the trip
"My love -"
"No, Ani. They made their attempt. They
failed. That is no reason for me to hide in fear from
a few Rebels."
Luke shook his head. "I don't think that was
their best shot, Mother."
Her eyes blazed. "You think Leia has
something more wretched in mind than trying to kill
me the second I leave Naboo?"
"To be honest, Mother, I'm not sure Leia
wants to kill you," Luke said. "I don't
know what she has planned or how far she'll go, but
something about this doesn't feel right."
Father's head turned to him and Luke felt an
appraising glance flick over him.
"I know that the Rebellion, since Bespin, has
taken to running small raids and quick, strategic
operations. This attack would seem to fit that
"But what, Luke?" asked Mother.
"It isn't Leia's style. It's Han's more than
anyone. The Rebellion might not be as strong or a
numerous as it once was, but sending in ten X-Wings
isn't what Leia would do. She wants to make a
statement. This isn't the way she'd do it."
His parents looked at one another thoughtfully.
"I believe your assessment may be correct. Which
would be even more reason to postpone the trip,
She was already shaking her head. "No. We
will face whatever our daughter has planned when we
get to that point. Until then, we have a Guard to set
up. The people of Tatooine are waiting for us. Let's
Coming out of hyperspace in a radar shadow was an
old smugglers' trick, though Han had no idea why it
was still effective on Tatooine, where all the
smugglers pretty much used the same space between two
of the moons. Tatooine was a careless world for the
underside of the galaxy.
That sanctuary was going to disappear soon, one
way or another.
But it was good at least this one last time. The
Naboo cruiser - she needs a name, I can't just
keep thinking of her as "the ship" -
slipped out of the eerie silence of hyperspace, and
her open comm channels began to hum with ghost
chattering. He opened the Rebellion's secure channel
and sent his hail out to find out just where on this
ball of dust Leia had ended up.
The hail was picked up immediately.
"Captain Solo," a young recruit said
soberly. "I'm glad you've arrived safely."
Han's guts sank. "Why is that?"
"I... well, maybe you better just come
There was a sound of shuffling feet, then Leia's
subdued voice came over the system. "I'm here,
Han. You weren't in danger. We just... I'm just glad
to hear your voice. We have a camp set up in the
desert not far from Anchorhead. There are some rocky
overhangs where you could keep the cruiser." She
breathed slowly. "There's bad news from
"I'll tell you when you come down.
She cut off the comm - no reason to keep it open,
he had her coordinates. Why risk open channels longer
than necessary, just because he wanted to hear her
voice for a little longer?
He guided the cruiser down through the atmosphere,
putting up the glare shields for the momentary burn,
and leaving them in place against the Tatooine
Why anyone would settle on this world voluntarily
was beyond comprehension.
The Rebel camp blended well into the surroundings.
It was set up like an indigenous camp - Han wondered
briefly if Lando had suggested it after a meeting -
and they'd even rounded up a few banthas for set
dressing. He knew to look for the glints of ships in
the shadows and found them, but someone else
approaching wouldn't have noticed.
A flash of pale skin against the dark rocks caught
his eye. Leia was standing near a large opening in
the rock wall, the small form of Yoda not far away.
Han guessed he was meant to land here. The maw was barely
large enough, but Leia knew him well enough to know
he could make it.
He was out of the ship before the gangplank had
finished lowering, and he ended up jumping off the
end of it. Leia met him in an embrace, but said
nothing at all. She just clung to him for a moment.
She had changed into desert clothes - a long-sleeved
homespun dress that felt rough under Han's hand. He
knew the style - it would criss-cross over her chest,
like most Tatooine clothes did for some reason. High
cloth boots protected her feet and lower legs from
the sun. Her hair had been pulled into a simple bun
that was gathered off-center, under her right ear.
She looked as though she might have grown up here,
and the weary set of her shoulders only accentuated
He patted her back. "It's okay. Whatever it
is, it's okay."
She took two sharp breaths, then pulled away,
becoming crisp and business-like. "It's not
okay, Han. Wedge lost seven pilots."
Han drew back. "Seven? From Rogue
"Father and Luke... hunted them. Luke knew
the Rogues' tactics. Father... is Father."
Han fought against the urge to let out a river of
curses, most aimed at Luke, and just clenched his
teeth sharply enough to make a whining sound in his
head. "Seven. Out of ten."
Leia nodded. "I shouldn't have sent them. It
was careless, and it wasn't necessary. 'Clumsy and
stupid,' Father would say. Unless it was Mother
giving the order, and she's the only one who -"
"Whoa, hold it right there, Your
Worship," Han said, trying to overlook the fact
that she was actually thinking about what her father
would consider good strategy. "I heard you give
the order. You told them not to engage unless they
had to. Did they follow that order?"
"I couldn't tell. Wedge and the other two
survivors are disabled and we didn't want to keep the
comm channel open long enough for tracking in open
Han touched her arm. "Leia, did they follow
She fought with herself, then shook her head
miserably. "Probably not."
A long sigh came up from behind her, and it was
broken by a cough. Han noticed with alarm that Yoda
had lost quite a bit of weight even in the last few
days. Water weight probably, but it made him look
half-dead. "Risks, there are in a war, Leia.
Tragic, this was. Avoidable, possibly. But poor
strategy, it was not. Tell you the same would your
father, as matter to you, this seems to."
"It doesn't. I just hear his voice in my
"Outmatched were your pilots."
Han turned on him. "Rogue Squadron has our
best pilots. They -"
Yoda just waved his cane vaguely. "No insult
did I intend. Fine pilots, I am certain they were.
But against Vader and Luke, joined by the Dark Side
of the Force... outmatched they were. Not to blame is
"It was only meant as a diversion."
"Mmm. Long before the madness took Amidala,
used a similar diversion she did."
"You're not helping much," Han said.
"It's all right, Han," Leia said.
"I know what Yoda is doing. I don't like it
much, but I understand it now."
They stood quietly together for a long time, then
Han took a deep breath and jumped back into business.
"Have you heard from Lando or Chewie yet?"
"Chewie reported in from Mos Espa. He's
gotten a few ships and a few pilots to join us. I
haven't heard one way or another from Lando, but he
has an emergency beacon, and he'd have set it off if
he'd run into trouble."
"Where do you need me?"
She gave him half-hearted teasing smile. "I
have an idea or two, flyboy." The expression,
not firmly in place to begin with, faded quickly.
"I've got a strategy planned for the attack.
Lieutenant Commander Yleof can fill you in on it.
Then I need you drilling the squads. You've done a
great job training them so far, and I want them
ready. No more unnecessary casualties."
"Got it. And thanks for the compliment."
"Just the truth."
"And now," Yoda said, "depart we
must. Much have we to study. And little time for
Leia nodded. She picked up a device made of cloth
and metal tubes, and helped Yoda into it. To Han's
surprise, she lifted him, and placed him on her back
like a pack. He looked over her shoulder, now a bit
closer to Han's eye level. "Careful with her, I
will be, Captain. But time, I no longer have."
"I'll be back soon," Leia said. She
turned to the open desert, and ran into the Wastes.
Han watched her until she disappeared into a heat
Lando squinted, his eyes burning from the glare of
the suns. He was able to make out the Tusken Camp on
the edge of the horizon. He slowed his speeder down
considerably, and prepared for his approach.
He had an emergency communicator strapped to his
hand, set to alert the closest Rebel unit to come get
him on a second's notice. He was armed with blasters
both viewable and concealed within his poncho, pants,
and boots. His translator droid had also been
outfitted with a crude, hidden weapon.
His speeder was filled with items that were
valuable on this planet - farming equipment, tools -
and there were more hidden in a trick section
underneath the craft. He was as prepared as he could
Leia had told him to be careful, but she wasn't
much more concerned for him than she was for anyone
she had sent out on these missions. Both she and Han
were convinced that he could talk anyone into
anything, and Leia had left no stone unturned in
gathering support on the planet for the raid.
But Lando's dread was swelling the closer he got
to the camp. One of the other Rebels, a friend of his
who had lived briefly on Tatooine, had gone out of
his way to warn Lando about this mission before he
left. He had never seen a Tusken himself, but had
heard stories...stories that had Lando on edge right
now. His friend's parting advice was to consider
escaping alive a success and not to worry about the
Lando had decided he'd just have to trust Leia.
She wasn't blind to...whatever these creatures were,
and certainly didn't believe them to be either
honorable or harmless people. But she knew they had
been wronged by the Vaders, and she knew they could
fight. That was enough to make the mission worthwhile
He was close enough now to make out the people in
the camp. Adults and children were milling about
outside the huts, doing whatever it was they did at
midday. Lando had decided that he wasn't going to try
this at any time remotely close to night, but
arriving now meant there were plenty of people to
pick up his ship flying toward their settlement.
Indeed, one of them easily spotted him and began
screeching. Tuskens came streaming out of their huts
and starting running in his direction. They looked
like ogres, with their masks and weapons and that
insane noise that passed as a language.
Lando slammed his speeder to an abrupt stop,
parking it and jumping out. His translator droid
pulled itself out of the speeder as well and crawled
over beside him. Lando put his hands up in a peaceful
gesture, as the group descended on him.
They were looking about frantically, as if waiting
for an ambush. Lando doubted that they often got solo
He had least half a dozen rifle blasters pointed
at his head. He kept his hands up. Two of the Tuskens
dashed over to him, and Lando braced himself for an
attack, but they pressed the end of their weapons to
his chest instead, and continued their search for
The rest were pulling his equipment out of his
speeder and inspecting it. Lando nodded to them to go
ahead - not that they would have waited for his
permission, but he wanted to make it clear that they
could have it all as a gesture of goodwill.
The droid also took the nod as his signal, and
immediately began talking. He said that Lando meant
them no harm, and that he hoped they were pleased
with what was in the speeder.
And that he had a proposition for them, one that
carried the promise of more equipment if they would
The answer he received was a swift strike to his
ribs with one of the rifles. He was knocked to the
ground hard, and was kicked twice. The Tuskens
nearest him took the two blasters they could see, and
one underneath his poncho - but they didn't get the
one in his boot or the other tucked in his waistband
against his back. The whole group was shrieking and
howling, and Lando was beginning to think it was the
most horrible sound he'd ever heard.
He was about to draw the blaster in his boot and
activate his emergency call when the noise suddenly
stopped. There was now only one Tusken talking and he
was speaking directly to Lando.
"What? What is he saying?" he snapped at
"He wants to know where the rest of the
equipment you planned to offer him is. He wants it
now, and doesn't plan to wait to listen to you."
"Fine, fine," Lando responded,
"Tell him where it is."
The droid grunted and squeaked, and a couple of
Tuskens rolled under the speeder and let out the
bottom. They all began inspecting the rest of the
He returned his attention to the droid. "You
tell them what I'm saying, even if it looks like they
aren't listening," he ordered.
"Tell them that I'm with the Rebellion
against the Vaders' Empire, and I'm here to bring
them in on a raid we're planning soon."
The droid translated. The Tuskens were taking
something apart and didn't acknowledge him. The two
near him jabbed him again with their rifles.
"We need their help to keep the Empire from
settling here, and destroying their way of life. They
don't realize what's coming. Lady and Lord Vader have
a vested interest in them, and there won't be
anything they can do to save themselves." Lando
wished he knew more on this point, but Leia had been
purposefully vague...Lando wasn't entirely sure how
much of this story - whatever it was - that she knew
herself. But there was one thing she did say to
mention. "They should know full-well how a Jedi
will treat them. This Jedi in particular."
That at least got the attention of the one who had
spoken to him before. He didn't quite turn away from
the tool he was holding, but he glanced in Lando's
"Your little settlement here will be wiped
out by the end of the day," he continued.
"This is your one chance to stop it, and we're
not asking you to do much. It'd be easy for you to
help. We'll take care of the main attack."
The Tusken barked a short sentence. The droid
said, "He wants to know if you're attacking in
the main cities and settlements."
Another sentence. "He says they could
certainly be helpful with that."
The Raider motioned to the others to quiet down,
and they began paying attention to the conversation.
He said several things, and it took a second for the
droid to understand it. "I think he's saying
that they would never allow themselves to be under
someone else's authority. But they agree to be
Lando frowned and tried to sit up. The two
guarding him allowed it. "What is that supposed
Another translation back and forth. "They'll
join the attack on their own."
He was met with another sharp blow to his ribs.
The droid finally translated, "They do as they
Lando held his side and looked at them uneasily.
"The target of this attack will be the Imperial
Forces that are -"
But he was already waving him off and
"He says that's the end of it. You'll get
your help, and...and they'll get theirs as
Lando suddenly had a bad feeling about this.
Something told him they weren't worried about
Vader, and they weren't about to just fight and go
home with the cities in confusion after the battle.
"He's telling us that we better leave,"
the droid said.
Lando's friend's voice suddenly rang in his ear,
and he decided not to question it now. He slowly
gathered himself and walked over to his now
completely empty speeder.
He decided to be glad he was still alive. And to
leave while he could.