Luke turned away from the door after Father ran
down the hallway and out of sight. He had searched
Father's thoughts, and to his surprise - to his
pleasure - he had found nothing but trust there. No
lingering resentment for the lies or disagreements,
no real concerns about leaving him and Mother to fend
for themselves. Father had been telling the truth.
Luke couldn't help feeling glad of it, even in the
midst of these trying circumstances. Because
of these trying circumstances, he was glad that
something, at least, felt settled.
He planned to move Mother to the main guardpost.
It was near the center of the headquarters, which
meant that the Rebels would have to make a great deal
of inroads to reach them. There would be plenty of
officers there to act as a first line of defense, and
Luke would be able to get the latest word from the
various battlefronts from there. The communications
failure meant that the command center was nearly
useless in that regard. He'd rather wait for the
various guards and officers who might come back from
the front lines with reports, than contribute to the
hysteria of trying to fix an array that was
But before leaving, Luke couldn't stop his eyes
from wandering over the communications room. Or what
was left of it.
The bodies had been cleared out before Father had
come here, so Luke had not seen the guards Leia had
killed. But the room was still a mess, and his gaze
eventually landed on the array itself. He was soon
beside it, letting his fingers skate over the
misshapen metal and melted wires. His skin was
lightly singed and sparks occasionally flew up here
He tried to picture Leia doing this.
Leia, with the lightsaber she had stolen from him,
killing Mother's guards, destroying Mother's
Leia, with the training she had received from him
and Father, fighting her own family.
He could almost see it. It shouldn't have been so
difficult anyway. Leia had been fighting them in one
sense or another since Bespin. And he had seen her,
first-hand, when she faced both him and Father to
escape from Naboo.
But he still found this hard to grasp for some
reason, and thinking about what she had done here and
what she was doing elsewhere on Tatooine made him
No, it makes you angry. Genuinely, furiously
angry with her.
That wasn't a surprise, or some great revelation,
given the circumstances. But being angry at Leia at
all - much less this angry - was something
that Luke still felt unaccustomed to.
Luke had always denied idolizing Leia, back when
she or Han or some other Rebel would tease or joke
with him about it. But he knew (and she knew) that he
had put her on a pedestal from the first moment he
had seen that hologram, begging Ben Kenobi to help
her. She had stayed up there during their years
together in the Rebellion. Leia had always impressed
him as one of the strongest, bravest, smartest people
he'd ever met, and it hadn't bothered him to
recognize that. So many of the things he'd done
during that time were motivated, at least in small
part, by a desire to impress her or help her. Maybe
he had lost that wide-eyed, farm-boy wonder he used
to regard her with, but the way he looked at her had
always been colored by his first impressions of her,
and by his belief that she was his closest friend.
But now he felt angry. Betrayed. Leia had always
railed on and on about how he and their parents had
hurt her, betrayed what she believed in...but wasn't
she the one who fled Naboo the first chance she got?
Hurting Mother and Father so deeply in the process?
Wasn't she the one who was destroying his and
Father's home as a way of getting back at her family?
Getting back at us for what? For loving her?
For taking care of her when she was injured?
Finding out that he and Leia were twins had let
everything fall into place for Luke, once the initial
shock wore off. The draw and pull between them made
perfect sense, and now Leia was family, the sister he
hadn't even realized he had been wanting. A missing
piece in his life had been found.
And to her, it was nothing more than a reason to
ruin the closeness they shared, to rip apart their
He missed her. He wanted to throttle her.
Mother's eyes snapped to him. She was lingering by
the door, where she had stood to watch Father leave.
Luke wondered if he had ever seen her so tense.
She had heard what he said, and was clearly
distressed by whatever she imagined he was thinking.
"Don't, Luke. She doesn't realize what she's
"Yes, she does. She absolutely does,"
Luke muttered grimly. He had no desire at all to
upset his mother further, but to think that Leia
wasn't aware of exactly what she was doing was too
much for him to stand.
"Your father never told her what happened
with the Tuskens. He's never been able to bring
himself to tell that story again. And she's not even
from Tatooine, she had no way of knowing the kind of
trouble she was asking for." Mother's arms went
around her midsection and she held herself tightly.
"We should have told her. We should have told
you both everything, all of it. Keeping things from
one another has only caused this family pain. I guess
that's a lesson we still haven't learned yet."
Her eyes were haunted, but not mindlessly so...she
appeared thoughtful and reflective, and had an
expression on her face that Luke had not seen very
often. He gave the console a final touch and then
stood before his mother, drawing her away from the
"Mother, don't blame yourself -"
"Who else should I blame? Who knows better
than I do what lies have done to us?"
"You didn't lie."
"No, I just let Ani keep this secret. And
again the secret has come back to us..." She
shook her head slowly.
Luke was curious to find out exactly what
happened, what it was about the Tuskens that had so
frightened and sobered his parents. The Tuskens were
certainly feared on the farms when he was growing up,
but they were also accepted as a part of the threat
of desert life. This kind of reaction confused him.
But he could also tell that Mother, despite her
protests to the contrary, didn't want to talk about
it. He sensed from her the belief that it was
Father's story to tell. So he didn't press her. She
was agitated enough already.
"Luke, it's almost like it's happening
"We're being torn apart again, this family.
We're pulling ourselves apart. When I gave you and
Leia away -"
"Mother," Luke said seriously, drawing
one of her hands into both of his, "this isn't
the same. No matter what happens, no matter what Leia
thinks, this family has been reunited. We're
connected now, and nothing is going to tear us apart
again. Leia's stuck with us now. We're all stuck
together." He gave the hand a squeeze.
"Besides, you did what you felt you had to, you
followed the advice of people you trusted. And you
did well by Leia and me. Don't feel guilty over the
To his surprise, a faint smile touched Mother's
lips and she squeezed his hands back. "That, I'm
eternally grateful for. Oh Luke, Owen and Beru were
so good to your father and me. Whenever we needed
them - and it seemed that we never saw them except
when we needed them - they were there for us."
She sighed. "Sometimes, I have to admit, I was a
little jealous of them."
"They lived simple lives, on their own terms.
And they were raising my son. I used to think of
Anakin and I winding up on Tatooine together, raising
Luke was startled, and found himself trying to
picture his parents tending to a farm outside of
Anchorhead. He couldn't make it fit. At all. He
couldn't understand why they would want it.
But, he supposed that wasn't entirely fair. He
might not have had fond memories of the particular
lifestyle he had been raised in on Tatooine, but that
was mostly because of boredom, and boredom was not
such a terrible thing in a dangerous and violent
And Owen and Beru were great parents to him, in
their own way. They had loved him, and had wanted to
protect him at all costs, something that Luke deeply
regretted not having realized until they were gone.
Maybe they hadn't always understood him - Luke
doubted they had always understood his parents either
- but family had always won out in their minds, and
they had risked and sacrificed much for him.
Beyond the larger issues though, there were the
smaller things, the little things that Luke missed
about them. The way Aunt Beru would sing to him and
sneak him sweets when he had trouble sleeping...how
Uncle Owen would get a kind of gruff pleasure out of
Luke fixing one of the speeders or vaporators on his
own. How they both tried to indulge his love of
flying, how they smiled to themselves when Luke would
be chattering on about something or another...how
they mussed his hair or clapped his shoulder when
they were pleased with something he did. Being back
on Tatooine had brought back those thoughts and
memories and feelings of home. He was surprised by
how forcefully he missed it all.
He wondered what Owen and Beru might think, to see
him now, to see their farmboy son ruling the galaxy
with his parents.
They would be pleased. And proud.
Of course they would be. They'd have to be.
"I'm sorry, Mother, my mind wandered."
Luke slipped an arm around her, and led her out of
the door. "We should head to the main guardpost
until Father returns."
"Lead the way," she whispered, "my
Together, they made their way through the hectic
hallways of the headquarters, to await Father's
The Empire was in chaos, though beyond Tatooine it
hadn't yet realized it.
The destructive command to the Imperial system was
only beginning to work its way outward, causing
routine grievances that no Imperial had as yet
recognized as a serious threat - garbled images,
mangled sounds, messages arriving at unintended
destinations or dissipating into the vacuum of space.
Within a day, the distortions would be too great to
ignore, but by then, it would be too late to make a
concerted effort to remove the command.
On Tatooine itself, the comlinks were silenced;
the nerves connecting the military body to the
Imperial mind were severed and useless. Panic was
In Bestine, the capital of Tatooine, the members
of the Guard who had been staffing the base while the
majority of the staff marched in what was to have
been a triumphant parade were now barricaded behind a
rock wall. Not many Rebels had made it to the
township proper; the battle had taken place on the
road from headquarters, and neither Rebel nor
Imperial had arrived to bring news. Commander Arisede
Raryth, the temporary commander, had realized
immediately when planetside communications went down,
because she had been trying desperately to reach her
commanding officer, Colonel Nesem, when the empty
static she had been able to summon suddenly turned to
Most of the Rebels in Bestine were local recruits,
smugglers and gamblers for the most part, to whom the
Lady's ascension meant financial ruin at the very
least. For some, it would mean execution. They were
matched in number by farmers from the outlying
provinces, whose vision of life on Tatooine was a
clean break from the kind of Core World seediness
that they thought the smugglers represented. So the
fight was even, and small, and the Guard's only
participation so far had been making a few arrests
and keeping non-combatants out of the way. The
on-duty staff was mostly young and inexperienced - a
year in the Rebellion before the Empress had taken
control to fix things was Arisede's training, and she
was the senior officer - and the near revelry that
both sides were taking had swept them into acts of
rude defiance. Arisede knew that she should be firing
her weapon, but... well, they were...
"We should do something!" Ensign Karso
said urgently, looking over the edge of the wall into
the fight. She had only recently mastered Basic, and
she seemed unable to elaborate on the thought in that
language. She slipped back into her native Rodian,
her speech patterns becoming higher, more rapid, more
panicked as she went. Somewhere in the middle of it,
she took off her uniform cap and started pulling
nervously at the protrubences on her head. In the
end, it degenerated into high-pitched keening.
Arisede grabbed the girl by her shoulders and
shook her, hard. There was a great deal more
satisfaction in doing so than Arisede wanted to admit
to herself. "Shape up, Karso! You're in Her
Ladyship's Guard! Act like a sentient!"
Karso fought for self-control, found some, and
straightened her shoulders. "We should
act," she said. "Her Ladyship wouldn't want
us locked away."
"I - " Arisede bit her lower lip, caught
herself at it and stopped, then sighed. "I don't
know what her Ladyship would want. Should we help the
others on the road, or should we try to break up the
fighting? They're civilians... "
Arisede swallowed. As much as she hated to admit
it, Karso was right. "All right. We signed onto
the Guard to get Tatooine under control. The rest of
the unit can handle the battle. We should... we
should try to get Bestine back." She looked
around for approval, and was gratified to see some.
With a determined stride - the best she could
muster anyway - she ran at the gate. She'd barely hit
the unlock mechanism when she noticed movement on the
other side. She never knew whether it was a Rebel, a
farmer, or just a kid on a lark. Whoever it was, the
timing was better than her own. Something flew into
the air in front of her, followed by the blast of a
laser, then the air was full of fire and noise and
pain. The explosion threw her backward into the
broken wall of the Guardpost. There was no more pain
when she hit the ground, only an almost pleasant
sensation of draining. Darkness came in closing
circles around her eyes.
Just before she slipped into unconsciousness, she
heard Karso begin to keen again.
"We should do something about the Tuskens in
the residential quarter," Lieutenant Birsalit
shouted over the blaster fire on the street in Mos
Eisley. "This fight isn't going anywhere."
Ter Caldo Maits privately agreed with the
assessment. He also selfishly thought it would be
nice to move out of the Mos Eisley town square and
into the shadowy alleys where the Tuskens were
conducting their nasty business. Gungans were not
built for Tatooine sun. But their orders were to
fight the Rebels, and they were a bigger threat to
Her Ladyship than the Tuskens, who were at present
more of a threat to their own allies. "Wesa
gonna do what wesa ordered to do," he said when
a natural pause quieted the battle for a moment.
"But they're monsters!"
Ter Caldo felt the fire flare up in his mind.
"Dism what the Naboo be thinking of the Gungans
for hundreds of years! Yousa thinkin' these Tatooine
people, theysa better than the ones who live away
from da spaceports!"
"I think the Tuskens are killing
Maybe there's a reason!
Ter Caldo stopped himself from saying that,
horrified that he'd even thought it. Her Ladyship
didn't believe in that sort of thing. There was no
reason why the desert natives couldn't just leave the
city and the farmers in peace... which the Gungans
had done for the Naboo, no matter what some of the
Naboo used to think.
He didn't know what to do.
There was another volley of blaster fire. The
Tuskens who were fighting in the street alongside the
Rebels punctuated the silence that followed it by
striking with their gaffe sticks, but Ter Caldo
noticed that they weren't aiming to kill, and their
choice of targets wasn't random - they were striking
at anyone who was heading for the residential
Birsalit noticed it, too. She was fuming.
"Look at them. They're just keeping us here
while the rest of them are looting the place! They're
not even really with the Rebels!"
"And dism why wesa fighting here and not
there. Wesa got orders to fight the Rebels."
"We also have orders to protect the
"Desa raiders gonna keep coming, if wesa
don't get the Rebels out of here. If wesa beatin'
back the Rebels, then mebbe today's gonna be the last
time da raids happen. If wesa let the Rebels go, da
raids keepin' up forever."
"What do you think the Empress would
"Mesa not knowing," Ter Caldo said, and
he realized that his heart was beating too fast and
his mouth was even dryer than the desert could
account for. The Empress might go either way. It was
hard to tell sometimes. And they were cut off from
contact. He wanted to run back to headquarters, to
set up a chain of command. But there was no time.
"Mesa not knowing," he said again. "So
wesa stick with what we were being told last."
Another volley of laser fire erupted, and there
was no more time to talk.
"What do you mean Tatooine has gone
silent?" Piett asked, leaning over the console.
"There was some difficulty in the transmissions
"Sir, they've gone completely silent. The
only way that could happen would be for the central
communications console to have been destroyed."
Ice crackled somewhere inside of Piett. The
console was far past any reasonable entrance to
headquarters, if he recalled the designs properly. To
get there... how much had the Rebels needed to go
How much... and how many?
"Commander Dihave?" he called.
Dihave, his hair now stringy and hanging in
stress-induced clumps, appeared from behind another
console. "What is it, sir?"
"We've lost contact with Tatooine."
"I know, sir. I heard."
"Her Majesty is in jeopardy. Perhaps great
jeopardy. And we cannot reach her. In your judgment,
is this a catastrophic event?"
"My opinion doesn't count."
"I nevertheless would hear it."
Dihave stared at the blank screens and grimaced.
"Yeah," he said. "It's catastrophic.
And if they've done anything to her... "
"We have no reason to believe that they
have," Piett said. It sounded unconvincing to
him. "But if they have, then there will be
reprisals they will not forget." He took a deep
breath. "Commander, I want you to prepare a
containment field missile for launch. I will wait
twelve standard hours. If we have not made contact
with Her Majesty in that time, I will act on her last
"Understood, Admiral." Dihave stared
resentfully at the screens, then left for his lab.
Piett sat before his empty console to watch and
Alpha Squadron was drunk on its victory, Athuli
thought. Drunk and out of its mind.
Imperial speeders exploded up into the desert sky
like children's fireworks, and laughter followed
them. Oily fires smudged the air with black smoke.
"Regroup!" he shouted into his comlink.
"Regroup and prepare to retreat!"
For a minute, he had the insane thought that the
attack on Imperial communications had shut down Rebel
communications as well, because no one - no one at
all - responded. A speederbike was revved, the
crashed, wild and riderless, into the mesa.
"Regroup!" he called again.
"We hear you!" someone shouted back.
"That's an order, not a request!"
A few men made their way back to him. One was a
teenage recruit whose mother, a saloon-keeper, had
been killed by the Guard on Reabo as a punishment for
refusing to obey the curfew they had imposed. The
boy's name was Ippoz Something, and he was frantic to
take on the Empire. "We're this
close!" he cried, gesturing at the gate to
headquarters. The Imperial forces had thinned as they
formed a communications line, and the Rebellion could
That was the worst of it. They could. All
that stood in the way was Princess Leia's order.
"We're not to attack the Empress,"
"Oh, come on!" Ippoz gnashed his teeth,
almost certainly unconscious of it. "That comes
"She's our commanding officer."
"She's loyal to them. Why can't you see that?
We should take them out while we can!"
"She's loyal to the Rebellion, Ippoz."
Ippoz spit on the ground. He hadn't been in the
Rebellion when Leia had brought back the plans for
the Death Star, or when she'd set up the Hoth base.
His first sight of her had been in her mother's
shadow. "She's one of them."
Athuli hit him. It wasn't planned, and it wasn't
the way the Rebellion did things. But this was
Princess Leia he was talking about. "She's one
of us, and she gave us an order to behave with honor.
And you will follow that order."
Ippoz had fallen into the dust from the force of
the blow, and he glared up resentfully. "Picking
up habits are you?"
"I'm sorry about that."
Athuli offered a hand up. Ippoz slapped it away
and pulled himself to his feet. He looked like he
wanted to say something, but he didn't.
Alpha Squadron was gathered now, looking anxious
The desert shadows were growing long and the suns
were growing low. Athuli looked out as his squadron,
watched the shadows playing over them, wondered whose
orders they would follow now.
Leia had been sensing Vader's presence for nearly
an hour. She'd tensed at falling pebbles, jerked her
head around to look over her shoulder at every vagary
of the wind.
The ability to sense people at a distance was less
than useless when the presence was ubiquitous. Where
was he? Where wasn't he? He seemed to be the
wind and the heat of the suns. That wasn't helpful in
trying to figure out where he'd ambush her.
She willed the speederbike to go faster, but it
was standard issue, totally unmodified, and when she
pushed the speed, it began to shudder and shiver in
an alarming way. She needed to reach the Tusken camp
quickly, but it would be helpful to actually reach it
in one piece. She checked her speed, frustrated.
Impatience is a path to the Dark Side. Anger is
a path to the Dark Side... even - perhaps especially
- when it is directed inward.
Leia gritted her teeth. Neither Yoda nor Obi-Wan
had said such a thing in so many words, though she
quoted it to herself in a mixture of their voices. It
would certainly do for a summary.
But I have to hurry! And if I'm not
angry at myself for this foolish a course of action,
what kind of a monster does it make me?
She had barely thought twice about inviting the
Tuskens. The whole raid had been aimed at destroying
the Imperial presence - at undermining her parents -
and they had been an afterthought. During Leia's
convalescence, Mother had insisted on hearing the
story of how the twins had come to meet, and Luke had
reached the point where he was taking the droids to
Kenobi. Tuskens had attacked him, he said. Kenobi had
frightened them away.
Mother and Father had looked at one another
soberly across Leia's bed, then Father, without any
explanation, had left the room. Luke had given Mother
a puzzled look, and she had simply said quietly,
"Your father had a more permanently effective
way of dealing with the Tuskens." Then she had
urged Luke to go on with his tale, prodding Leia to
put in her own as she went (though of course, she
would hear nothing of Father's role in her captivity
aboard the Death Star... that was in what she
considered the "bad past").
Leia's mind had filled briefly with images of the
Tuskens as brave natives, probably punished en masse
for raiding Imperial supply camps. For food. For
children who were starving out there in the desert.
They needed only to be set free. She knew better than
to engage in such romanticizing, but still... when
push came to shove, she'd believed it in her bones,
and had simply made the assumption that they would be
her allies if she happened to be fighting on
Tatooine. She had almost forgotten them - the
conversation was long ago - but at the last minute,
she'd thought it couldn't hurt to have extra hands on
It couldn't hurt anything at all.
And so she had invited them.
Maker help me.
But what had he done? And why?
She steered the speederbike into a high walled
canyon that might have once been home to a thundering
river. It was the straightest route through the
Wastes to the Mos Eisley overlook, where Lando was
relatively certain the Tuskens had camped. It was
also terrible strategy - there was no escape except
speed, and, while she could outrun the Tuskens, she
would never outrun Father if he was determined to
She breathed deeply, trying to force her mind onto
a steady track. She would go to the chief, offer
him... what? She had nothing to offer.
And their actions didn't merit an offer. Rewarding
theft and murder was hardly the best way to bring
peace the region. They had to be reined in...
Threatened with deadly force.
But we don't do that! The Empire does that!
The speederbike started shuddering, and she
realized that she'd been revving it again as her
thoughts tightened into circles. There had to be a
reasonable way to -
Father's presence suddenly screamed in her mind.
Leia looked over her shoulder, panicked, expecting
to see him bearing down on her. She couldn't see him
but she could feel -
Her bike swerved abruptly, leaving her control as
the hoverchair once had. She had never learned to
counter it, despite his promises. She dove for the
She hit hard, a stone jabbing into her elbow, and
rolled into a nook against the canyon wall, pulling
her blaster as she went. She got her first view of
Father when she finally stopped moving.
He was ahead of her.
She'd been looking over her shoulder for a chase,
but he had been lying in wait all along.
"Come out, Leia," he said. "Cease
this foolishness. There is no time for it if either
of us is going to stop this slaughter."
Leia shrank back into the wall, listening to his
words but mostly feeling the sense of him around her.
She had become so accustomed to it, loathed it so
atavistically, that she hadn't noticed that it was
different. He was... wasn't...
He wasn't threatening her.
Whatever he thought he was doing here, he didn't
seem to be thinking about capturing a political
Marvelous. He's trying to play Daddy again. I
hate it when he does that.
But the edge wasn't on the thought.
Cautiously, slowly, she pulled herself to her
Vader set down the speederbike, trying to control
his irritation at Leia for jumping off of it. A waste
And yet, he should have anticipated it.
Twenty meters away, Leia pulled herself out of a
small niche and straightened up. She was dressed
Tatooine fashion, her hair drawn up in an off-center
bun. Her arms were crossed around her waist, one hand
cupping the opposite elbow protectively.
The past and the present seemed to join seamlessly
as he watched her there. He could almost feel Qui-Gon
Jinn behind him, beckoning him to choose. And yet
there was no choice now - his family and his duty
both called him here, and he could see no future in
which the paths were unjoined.
If there was a future, of course.
"Leia, come forward."
Reluctantly, she closed the distance between them.
When she stood before him, she looked up once, then
cast her eyes downward. "I'm trying to fix
it," she said. "I was wrong to bring them
"Then you did bring them."
"Yes. I was wrong. I had assumed... "
She shook her head, eyes closed. "I was
careless. It's my fault."
"If you are hoping for a refutation of that
assessment," Vader said, "your hope is in
She glared up at him defiantly. "I've
admitted wrongdoing," she said. "Don't you
dare get self-righteous with me. Whatever you did to
these people, even you're too ashamed to talk about
Vader grabbed her uninjured arm. "I did not
discuss it because I did not care to consider it. I
do not care to begin now."
"You, with all your prating about truth, and
how Kenobi's lies were worse than your murders
"The truth you ask for would have made no
difference in your assessment." Vader dismissed
her with a wave, but the question she'd asked -
implied, at any rate - rose high in his mind. What he
had done to these people... Would it have made a
difference if he had confessed to Leia as he once
confessed to Amidala? No. She would still have
assumed that he was solely to blame. She would have
devised some way to use that horrible night against
And besides, as horrible as it was, it was his
own. He had shared it with Amidala, but she shared
all of his soul, as he shared hers. The pain did not
belong to Leia.
He frowned at her, wishing as he often did now
that he could express himself more clearly without
speaking. "What are you planning, Leia?"
"I'm going to speak with the Tusken chief,
get him to pull back his troops -"
"And you planned to do this alone?"
"I got us into this mess alone."
"Do you know what they do to women?"
"I've heard stories, but Father, surely you
can't make a judgment on an entire species -"
He took her by both arms and lifted her from the
ground, the anger taking him with unexpected speed.
"They tortured my mother for a month!" he
said. "They tortured her until she died from
internal hemorrhaging. And I made them pay for it. Is
that the truth you wanted?"
For once, Leia seemed speechless. He let go of her
and she caught herself easily. She was looking at him
with something that wanted to be disbelief, but
Vader concentrated on the sound of his respirator,
trying to calm himself. His mind was sending out some
strange message to his nerves, and the electronic
connections didn't understand it properly. It left
his limbs humming. It wasn't a dangerous thing, but
it annoyed him; it had happened often at first, but
he thought he had gained more control over the
cybernetics over the years.
Leia took a deep breath. "I'm sorry,"
she said. "I thought they would be angry enough
to help fight the Empire."
"They never knew the name I had then. They
would not know it now. And there was no one left to
tell the story."
"If I'd known why... " Leia started,
then stopped. "But this can't be the same tribe
if you... I mean, if... Father, it's not right to
make a judgment based on -"
"Leia, do you know what is occurring in Mos
Eisley as we speak?"
She struggled with this. Vader knew full well the
principle upon which she was impaled. "Father...
" she began again. "They must have reasons,
someplace where we can speak to them. I can't imagine
anything that justifies... what they did to your
mother... but I'm sure there must be some higher
goal, something we can appeal to... "
"There may well be, Leia, but nothing
justifies the actions they are taking. They must be
She smiled bitterly. "That's never something
I expected you hear the Empire tell the
"It is not. It is something that I am
("Anakin, you cannot do this! You must
(Then the flash of lightsabers, the smell of
sulphur, the long fall with his hair and clothing in
flames around him. )
"It is something I am telling you, as someone
once tried to tell me. This must be stopped."
"That's what I'm trying to do. That's why I'm
"They will only kill you."
"What do you propose? Just go into Mos Eisley
and start slicing them in half?"
"I believe that would be inefficient."
Vader thought very carefully - more carefully than he
had in years - then turned his back on her to let her
decide more freely. "I will accompany you,"
he said. "Or I will go alone. It is your
Leia's speeder trailed behind her father's in
silence as they raced over the remaining distance to
the Mos Eisley overlook. They had said nothing to one
another since he had issued his ultimatum. Leia's
response had been to simply walk away from him, and
mount her speeder. He had done the same, and they
There was no chance that she was going to let him
meet the Tusken Chief alone. Not that she didn't
trust him...well, she didn't, but she wasn't sure
that was exactly the issue in this case. She did
trust that he was as determined to have the Tuskens
leave the city as she was. Maybe she didn't trust the
methods he might use to reach their shared goal.
But even then, she couldn't bring herself to fully
blame him. What the Tuskens were doing, what they had
...When he had grabbed her so suddenly Leia had a
picture in her mind. She didn't know what her
grandmother had looked like, and couldn't really see
her in that brief flash, but the agony - her
grandmother's? her father's? both? - screamed in her
How many people were feeling that way, right now,
in Mos Eisley?
So, no, she couldn't blame him for whatever he was
thinking about the Tuskens, or about what she had
done. But she felt uneasy about the whole thing. He
wasn't about to go alone...she just wanted to keep
him in sight.
She knew his modified speeder could have gone at
least two full settings faster, but he seemed to
sense that it would be futile to do so. She would try
to match him for it, whether or not her speeder was
equipped to do so, which would only cause more
problems, and slow them down. So he maintained a
steady speed, right at the maximum she could handle,
and led the way.
She watched him. Grim determination dictated his
posture as they raced over the desert.
What the hell am I doing?
The thought had been lurking at the edge of her
thoughts during the whole trip, but she didn't allow
herself to fully entertain it. What she was doing was
working with Darth Vader, with her father, as the
only possible way to fix a dreadful mistake. It was a
simple as that.
They were approaching the overlook now, and in the
distance, there was a clear view down into the city.
They were too far away to see exactly what was
happening, and Leia decided to accept that as a
temporary blessing. What she could see was
enough. Mostly smoke - some of it from fires that
seemed to be consuming buildings here and there, some
of it the leftover haze of the weapon blasts and
fighting. There were shots and explosions that could
be heard, and the distant echoes of shouts and
All of it was a blur as she dashed by. Leia had
seen her share of battles during her time in the
Rebellion, and had developed a thick enough skin, a
cool enough head, to stay focused on the issue at
hand, despite the violence or destruction around her.
That ability was serving her now, even as the guilt
for that violence and destruction - something she
hadn't ever truly had to deal with before - continued
to eat away at her.
She shut out the scenes from the city and
concentrated on the overlook ahead. She'd find a way
to stop them. She'd find a way to fix this.
Leia spotted a cave opening on one of the cliffs
of the overlook. She knew they were in there. She
knew her father could tell that as well.
Still, he led them past the opening and to a
craggy, rocky stretch a couple of kilometers away.
They both slowed to a stop, and Vader began stowing
his speeder behind and partially beneath some of the
rock formations. Leia found a suitable hiding place
for hers. He was already on his way to the mouth of
the cave when she'd finished.
She rushed to catch up, fiddling with her comlink
as she went. It had a translator function on it, and
she got it turned on and running. She hoped it would
work well enough for this situation.
Leia could hear the Tuskens deep and far down
inside the cave as they entered. It didn't sound like
a large group, and she sensed that these were a few
soldiers and commanders, and those who were not able
to fight in Mos Eisley. The cave itself darkened
quickly - the path they were walking dipped and
turned sharply from the entrance, and nearly all of
the sunlight was blocked out. Leia waited for her
eyes to adjust, and relied on the Force as they kept
Suddenly, Leia's body went on edge, and her father
had already stopped moving. The Tuskens knew they
were there and -
A chorus of groans and shrieks assaulted her ears.
A Tusken appeared on her left, and two more appeared
in front of her. She could hear more of them coming
and running from the recesses of the cave. The guards
were waving their weapons at them as they approached.
Leia pulled her comm up to her mouth and said,
"We've come to see your Chief. We do not wish to
After a pause, her comm warbled out a
stilted-sounding translation of grunts and yells. It
wasn't very loud - Leia wondered if they would hear
it over everything - but it seemed to be saying the
right thing. They began speaking with one another,
gesturing to her repeatedly. They were speaking over
each other, and her translator couldn't keep up.
Her father's hand was resting on his saber, and
Leia regarded him carefully. She was surprised he
hadn't immediately moved to attack. She sensed
confusion coming from him. The screams had
disoriented him...she found herself thinking that
this wasn't easy for him.
Because he'd killed them all.
Because he'd killed them all, and it still shamed
A deep, booming voice echoed out from within the
cave, and took Leia's mind off trying to figure her
father out. Suddenly, the guards surrounding them
held back their weapons, and moved aside. Leia took
the hint, and marched straight through to the Chief.
Her father stayed very close, just behind her.
As she walked, Leia took in the Tuskens for the
first time. There were only a couple dozen here. The
men, the soldiers were milling about, carrying their
arms and speaking to one another. A small number of
women and children, and what Leia presumed were
elderly men were holed up in a corner around a small
fire that warded off the chill of the dark, damp
cave. They were all in their masks of course, wrapped
cloths and goggles and some mouthpiece thing, none of
which left much room for imagining what kind of race
they were, or what they looked like underneath their
Leia thought they looked - or at least felt -
threatening. Angry. Defensive. She had no problem
picturing them killing and pillaging in the cities.
The Tusken chief was at the very back of the cave.
He sat near his own small fire, and had four guards
flanking him with their rifles. He watched the two of
them approach, and said nothing. He finally stood as
they stopped before him.
Leia stepped forward. "I am here as the
leader of the Rebellion. I am the one who asked you
to join the battle in Mos Eisley. I've come to order
your men to withdraw immediately."
The translator slowly repeated her words in their
language. The Chief's guards began yelling at her in
response. The Chief still said nothing.
She continued, "Your men are committing
crimes against the civilians in the city. I cannot
allow this to continue."
Something Leia took as a derisive snort came from
the Chief, and his guards stopped their yelling. He
barked at Leia.
From the comlink came the words, "We continue
as we wish."
"The Rebellion will protect the city against
your people as our first priority," Leia spat
He shook his head. "Too busy. Fighting
The translation was stilted, but her father
understood it immediately. "You are mistaken if
you believe the Empire will allow your actions any
more than the Rebels will," he said sharply.
"You would be wise to heed her warning, and
The Chief glanced at him, certainly more impressed
and cowed by Vader's visage than he was by Leia.
Still, the next words that came from him were defiant
"Too late to remove us," intoned the
comm. "And we answer to no one. Will do with the
settlers as we always have."
Father's anger snapped, and Leia felt it as a
physical blow. His hand was around the Chief's neck
and he had raised him high up the ground. Vader's
other hand waved at the guards, and they flew to the
back of the cave, slamming against the wall.
"You will order your men back," he said,
his voice twisting into a snarl.
The Chief swore at him, and then struggled to
"Father!" Leia cried, "This won't
help." He didn't answer. "He won't listen,
and killing him - fighting them here - won't help the
situation in the city." Leia moved over to him
and tried to grab his arm and pull it back down.
"You...you don't want to do this!"
That got through to him. His hand opened and the
Chief fell hard to the ground, gasping and wheezing
"We should leave, Leia. This discussion with
them is useless."
Leia blinked at him, nodding. The other Tuskens
were staring at her father in confusion and fear,
trying to understand what he had done to the guards,
and stunned by his display of strength. She wanted to
get out of there right now, while they were too
afraid to fight and while her father had regained
control of his temper. She began running back toward
to the opening. He followed. None of the Tuskens did.
She didn't stop running until they got back to
where they had hidden their speeders. He had started
to pull his out to mount it, but then stopped. He was
staring at her hard.
"Yes?" she asked.
"We must decide on a course of action."
Leia shrugged, and pulled her speeder around the
rocks. "We go to the city. We fight them back.
What else can we do?"
"I am not sure. But -"
"Wait!" Leia said suddenly. "That is
what we can do." An idea had come to her, and it
was a strange one. She wasn't sure how he'd react to
it - or how anyone else would.
What the hell am I doing?
I'm doing what can be done. I'm doing the right
She stood before her father and took a deep
breath, exhaling it forcefully. "When we get to
the city, we're both going to order our people to
expel the Tuskens first. Right?"
"That was what I intended..."
"Then we should cut to the chase. We should
order them to stop fighting one another while they do
Father's head snapped sharply toward her.
"You propose ordering the Rebels to work with
"No, I propose that we each order our sides
to not waste time with one another while the Tuskens
are murdering civilians. If they actively work
together, all the better, but we need to make it
clear that until the Tuskens are subdued, we're
fighting a common enemy."
"And you believe the Rebels will follow such
"They will as much as your people will. Think
how quickly they could deal with the Raiders if they
were working together. They would have superior
numbers and firepower, and a clear directive...I
think it's our best option. Call your people, and
I'll call mine."
She gave him a few moments to consider it. He
paced back and forth, his hands clamped behind his
back. Finally, he said, "It seems that you have
already forgotten your actions back at headquarters.
Or do you propose I somehow change the officers'
orders with no communications?"
Leia looked away and let her eyes close.
I can fix this. I will fix this.
She opened them. "Rebel communications are
working fine." She fiddled with her comm until
it picked up Lando's frequency. To her relief, he
answered right away.
"Lando, it's Leia. What's your status?"
"It's still a melee out here, Your
Highness...we're driving them out of one of the main
residential districts, but..."
"Lando," she broke in, "I have new
orders for you. Fighting the Tuskens and protecting
the civilians is your first priority."
"That is what I've been trying to do
"And you are to work with the Imperial
forces in the city to do it."
"Lando, I'm with Lord Vader right now. It's a
long story, but we've come to the decision that
neither of us wants to fight the other while we leave
the city to be destroyed."
"Leia, I -"
"He will be giving the same order to the
Imperial troops. You are to act together to expel the
Tuskens and bring the city under control. Then we'll
go from there."
"Leia, this is the craziest thing I think
I've ever heard."
"It's a crazy situation."
"That it is," he replied. "Look, I
agree with you, getting the Tuskens out of here is
the most important thing. I think this is for the
best." A pause. "So... when can we expect
those guys to stop shooting at us?"
Leia nodded at her father. "Lando, Imperial
communications are down. I need you to take your comm
to one of their officers. Lord Vader will give the
order to them." Vader nodded back to her, and
then put his hand out for the comm. She handed it to
"Calrissian, a Gungan named Ter Caldo is
commanding the forces in Mos Eisley. Are you able to
seek him out?"
"Did you say a Gungan? There's one shooting
right at me from the other side of the street. Think
he'll be happy to talk to me? Should I come waving a
red flag or something?"
Lando's voice was sarcastic, but Vader ignored the
tone. "If you do so, he will assume you are
coming to surrender. He will cease-fire. That will be
long enough for you to hand him the comlink. Then I
will speak to him."
"All right... " Lando said, clearly
still unconvinced that this plan was going to work.
"Just hang on a minute!"
Leia and her father listened to the sounds of the
battle and waited. Leia thought it sounded worse than
Han had tried to describe.
Finally, they could hear Lando saying, "Hold
your fire! Please! Hold your fire!"
"Yousa here to surrender!"
"I have a message for you."
"No message! Unless yousa here to stop
fightin' mesa have nothing -"
"Here! Listen to this Commander Caldo! Just
"Ter Caldo," Vader intoned, "This
is Lord Vader. There has been a change in
"Yes, Commander. Your troops are to -"
"This bein' a trick!" Caldo yelled.
"Yousa Rebels bombad! How Vader being on Rebel
comm, brought here by Rebels?"
"Commander, this is not a trick."
"This not bein' what it sounds. Yousa -"
"This is Lord Vader. Imperial
communications are down. I'm using the Rebel
frequency, as it is the only one available. I'm
speaking to you under command authorization
five-gamma-six-alpha. Do you understand?"
The command code seemed to work on Caldo as an
acceptable proof. He was quiet for several seconds
before saying, "Well... ?"
"You are to stop fighting the Rebels
immediately. Your sole priority is to remove the
Tuskens from Mos Eisley and bring the city under
control. You are ordered to work with the Rebels as
necessary to carry out that objective. Is that
"Y-yes, my Lord. Wesa do that
"Princess Leia and I will be heading there
shortly. Vader out."
He shut the link off, and handed it back to Leia.
"You are correct, Leia, it is the wisest course
of action. I believe that both our forces will be
glad to fight the Tuskens. We can handle their desire
to fight one another once we arrive."
She nodded, and glanced out and down into the
city. "I hope you're right." She turned
back to him. "We should head down there. Let's
go fix this."
Those damn Imperials.
Those damn, stupid Imperials.
Couldn't they recognize when a battle was over?
Couldn't they be content to take their losses and be
grateful they hadn't suffered more of them?
Of course not. And now the whole headquarters was
going to go down because of it.
Athuli had felt as though things were going to
fall apart during that ugly scene with Ippoz. But
now, now he was feeling true panic.
They had gone over the edge. He had lost them.
He had half a mind to simply get up and run out of
there. To grab the nearest speeder - to grab the
nearest anything - and head for one of the
main cities. He could some other squadrons, help them
wherever they needed it, and get away from what was
happening here, at the headquarters front door. He
could leave Alpha Squadron to its own devices. They
were acting on their own now anyway.
Athuli's hands were painfully rigid around the
handle of his blaster, and his head was starting to
buzz. Yes, this was definitely panic.
But he knew that he couldn't leave. He would just
have to keep trying to get his people back under
After he hitting Ippoz, Athuli had waited through
several charged minutes for it all to break loose,
for Alpha Squadron to start fighting him, fighting
each other, the Imperials, whoever. Instead, things
had turned, started to calm almost. Eventually, the
squadron had regrouped as he had ordered.
Granted, it was because most of them believed they
were gathering to discuss a new strategy, one that
would get them into the base. None of them were
pleased to hear Athuli announce, repeatedly, that his
intention was to withdraw as Leia had instructed
before she left.
Still, a few - a very few - hadn't gotten
completely giddy with their success, and there were
more than a few loyal enough to Leia to ignore
Ippoz's rantings and consider her orders. It was only
the tiniest speck of reason that was returning to
them, but Athuli thought it might be enough to get
them to pull back to the mesa until Leia finished her
business and came back. Maybe.
That was the moment that some Imperial officer
thought it a good idea to launch an attack on the
idling Rebel group.
Alpha Squadron was caught by surprise, and one of
his ensigns was hit squarely in the back, and he fell
to the ground in a heap. A captain - an older woman
named Arralla - was hit in the shoulder and gave an
awful howl of pain.
She was all right, and would be as engaged in the
fight as any of them, but the initial shock of seeing
her wounded, of seeing the other man dead, had
snapped the brittle, tenuous restraint that the squad
The Rebels had charged, blindly, at any Imperial
who had the misfortune to get in their sights.
They overran what was left of the guards in the
vehicle hangar with dispatch. Those had been
essentially defeated anyway, and the rest of the
troops had fallen back to protect other strategic
areas that led into the headquarters. The large
munitions storage area had a bigger contingent there,
hunkered down for a fight.
And there had been a fairly decent fight going, at
least for the first few minutes. Then, someone had
screamed for Alpha Squadron to fall back. For a
brief, foolish second Athuli thought someone else had
finally taken up his side, and was asking them all to
begin a retreat. He should have known better, of
course, and almost immediately saw the plan - once
they had all gotten to a semi-safe distance a blaster
shot was aimed directly at a stash of grenades in a
high corner of the room.
The explosion blew all of the Rebels back, took
out or injured most of the Imperials, and destroyed a
section of the wall. Debris from the ceiling started
to reign down. His people barely noticed any of it.
As soon as they had recovered from the blast, they
were up and running. They made it through the rest of
the hangars and supply areas with relative ease.
They hadn't been stopped until they had reached
one of the main entrances that led into the heart of
the Imperial base. Troops and guards were filing out
of the building, ready to fight. Lookouts were
sniping at the Rebels from lookout towers high above
the corners of the building. Athuli wondered if more
troops would try to cut off their escape by coming up
on them from behind. He was almost beginning to hope
"Arralla!" he called out in a strangled,
frustrated tone. Her shot arm was hanging limply at
her side, but she hardly seemed to notice it any
more. She was gleefully trying to pick off the
lookouts, or at least scare them back off their
towers. She turned to him and gave him a wide
smile...which quickly faded when she saw the look on
his face. Athuli figured he was flashing her a
combination of anger and disgust.
"Commander, we're doing all right here. Quit
trying to take this and turn it into some kind of
"I need you to help me," he said
urgently. "We can't just storm the HQ. Help me
tell them to pull back."
She was shaking her head before he could even
finish what he was saying. "Come on. Leia
couldn't have known we'd be able to get inside.
Events on the ground have changed." She paused
to shoot at a Gungan who was firing down on them.
"I'm with you - Leia's not loyal to them,
and I don't think she'd want us to waste an
opportunity because we're more worried about
following her orders down to the smallest
"We're out of control! You're out of
control! Do you realize how many people they could
have killed firing like that in the munitions room?
Are you all planning to shoot everything that moves
when we get inside?" He was getting the urge to
hit someone again. "You know this isn't
Leia what had in mind. You know better than this.
Help me get them back under control. Once they get
"Once they get inside," Arralla said,
with cold finality, "they could bring down the
Empire in one fell swoop. We don't need you tagging
along, trying to hold us back!"
"I'm still the Commander of the squadron.
A big explosion sounded in his ears and burned his
eyes, effectively ending the conversation. When the
fire and smoke cleared, the entrance to the
headquarters was fully exposed.
Athuli watched the first of his people run and
shoot their way inside.
Vader had been to Mos Eisley once, in the long-ago
childhood of a boy named Anakin Skywalker. Watto had
heard of a starship wreck that the salvager was
auctioning off, and he'd brought seven-year-old
Anakin along to judge the usefulness of the parts.
Vader remembered that ship well, remembered the hands
that had once belonged to him skimming over cracked
casings and melted circuitry, their smooth and almost
translucent skin covered with engine grime as it
always was. He remembered telling Watto that the
naviputer would be perfectly fine if he fixed the
circuits with some wires he had back in the shop. He
remembered saying that the rest was only good for
melting down. And he remembered a never-ending line
of Jawas, loading the ship in pieces onto a
sandcrawler for transport to Mos Espa. They'd sold
the scrap metal for a solid year, and made an equal
amount on the repaired naviputer in one lucky sale.
He remembered flying over the city, as a reference
point, on the way to the Lars farm and the horror
Beyond that, he remembered nothing at all about
It was a filthy place, seedy and broken even in
places where the battle wasn't raging. It made Mos
Espa look paradisiacal by comparison. But the layout
of the streets was the same: a rough wheel,
surrounded by docking bays, working its way in
through run down residential neighborhoods. The
business district would be at the center, but his
duties here would not take him to that level. The
Tuskens would already have taken anything worth
taking in the business district.
He reached out with his senses, and was
immediately flooded with the panic and outrage of the
townspeople. They were near. He pulled his speeder to
a halt, and waited for Leia to pull up beside him on
"They are nearby," he said. "Can
you sense them?"
She nodded and pointed down an alley to the left.
"That way, I think. I feel... " She went
pale suddenly and leaned heavily over her handlebars.
"All the tribesmen who came in have joined the
raiding now. Probably when the Rebels turned on
"That was to be expected, Leia. They would
have little motivation for maintaining the fa?ade of
fighting with the Rebellion."
"I know." She slid off her speederbike
and turned it to park mode. "The speeders will
only be in the way."
"I agree." Vader got out of his own
speeder, and drew his lightsaber. "There will
not be a command structure as you know it among the
Tuskens. This may be somewhat more... complete...
than you are accustomed to."
"I understand." She drew her own
lightsaber and held it tightly, more a talisman than
Vader reached over and corrected her grip without
speaking. She frowned, but said nothing, and Vader
realized that the correction had been unnecessary;
she had merely been gathering herself for battle. He
looked down the long narrow street to their right. At
the other end, he could see the flickering motions of
the battle. A laser blast hit a building, sending a
brief red flare into the white sunlight. "Very
well," he said. "We should begin."
She reached over suddenly and touched his wrist.
"May -" She closed her eyes, breathed
deeply, then looked at him steadily. "May the
Force be with you, Father."
Her voice was forced and cool, but Vader
recognized the effort it had taken to offer the words
to him, and was oddly touched by it. A long dormant
instinct rose, and he hesitantly squeezed her hand.
"And with you, my daughter."
Without another word - a battle was not the place
for the kind of long discussion Amidala would have
wished for at this juncture, and Vader thought that
he was not alone at being relieved by this - they
charged down the narrow street, and into battle.
The two armies had engaged the vast majority of
the sandpeople, and much of the loot they had been
carrying from the homes was lying unattended in the
streets. Civilians huddled in their doorways, parents
clutching children, other adults clutching at
whatever feeble weapons they'd been able to find or
fashion. Here and there, dirty children darted out
into the fray to rummage through the abandoned
treasures. Vader saw Leia pick one of these up and
return him to his frantic mother, then the battle
It was fast - no more than ten minutes, surely -
but as always, it seemed to be drawn out in time,
intense and deep-colored. He fought side by side with
men who may have been Rebels or may have been
Imperials. He felt two of them fall. Tuskens seemed
to emerge from the sand of the street, and there was
screaming. There was always screaming.
At one point in the battle, Vader saw a Tusken
running toward the banthas clustered at the end of
the street, a slave-woman slung over his shoulder.
Vader threw his lightsaber, counting on the Force
only to block the blaster shots that were coming
toward him. The lightsaber cut the Tusken's legs out
from under him, sending the woman sprawling into the
dirt. She took the Tusken's rifle and shot him. Vader
called his lightsaber back into his hand. At another
point, he saw Leia standing on top of someone's porch
rail, her hand outstretched as she used the Force to
hurl a rusty speeder at a group of Tuskens.
Beyond that, the repetitive motions of battle
melted into one another, and merged into a general
drive to push the remaining Tuskens into a circle at
the center of the residential area where they were
fighting and surround them. There were perhaps thirty
Tuskens left when this was accomplished. Vader was
starting to move in when Leia's voice boomed across
the battlefield, amplified by her comlink.
At first, Vader wasn't certain he could stop. The
blood was flowing freely, and there was an
intoxication to battle that he had always found
difficult to resist. He looked at the now disarmed
Tusken a few meters ahead of him, on his knees in the
sand with his arms upraised in a warding gesture.
For an eternal instant, something hovered on the
edge of Vader's consciousness, some shimmering sense
of Otherness, a glimpse of another life, the endless
night journey over, the sounds of terror silenced
inside his mind. It unnerved and disturbed him on a
level far deeper than the simple battle, made the
world around him fragile, his very name brittle and
ready to break.
Ani... my grown-up son...
(I can't. )
Your focus determines your reality.
(It's too late. )
The instant ended, and reality came back to him.
He was standing on a dusty street in Mos Eisley, a
helpless Tusken kneeling before him in abject
surrender. He could still strike. It would be
sensible. There was no vast reform of Tusken society
on the horizon. He sensed no true remorse in the man
before him, only fear.
There was something else. The Otherness. The sense
of wholeness. He was home again, in the place where
choices were made, the place where he created
(But it is necessary to be what I am. If it
were not, I would not have chosen or perpetuated it.
If it is unnecessary, then my life is without
He lowered his lightsaber to a defensive position.
(And they will strike again. To not finish this
is to invite repetition. )
He didn't know what he had decided, or if he had
decided anything at all. He knew only one thing with
any certainty: The screams had gone on long enough.
He looked up and saw that Leia was conferring with
Ter Caldo and Calrissian. From his position on the
front lines, Vader could see only that her face was
grave. Her hands were on her hips, and she was
nodding. He touched her through the Force, and felt
neither the nervousness he'd rather expected in
battle or the shame she had been exhibiting earlier -
Leia was still mortified by the consequences of her
action, of course, and clearly had no particular
liking of battle, but the dominant feeling coming
from her was resolve. She was back in her own arena,
and she was getting things in order. She had been
born to lead, and she was settling into her natural
She nodded to the commanders one more time, then
made her way around the front lines to Vader. As she
drew closer, he saw that she had taken some minor
injury to her arm, and bits of her hair had escaped
the bun to fly in the desert wind. "Your General
Caldo says there is enough prison space in the new
Guardhouse to hold all the survivors," she said
without preliminaries. "I instructed him to see
"And then what, Leia? Do you plan to try
them? Have them serve time and then release
"I don't know. But I don't want them killed
while they're clearly surrendering. Neither would
Mother, and I guess you'd care more about that."
Vader didn't answer. He had no argument. It was
sometimes hard to know what Amidala would do, but on
this matter, there was no doubt. Her own Guard was
involved, and she would not want them seen murdering
men on their knees.
"At any rate," Leia went on,
"General Caldo and Lando seem to have some
working system. General Caldo is going to see to the
prisoners, and I've told them to set up patrols to
guard against attack from the camp on the
"It is populated by old men."
"I don't want to take any more chances."
She sighed. "They were going to split on
Rebel-Imperial lines, but I ordered them to have
mixed patrols. I know it seems like I'm just trying
to save the Rebel reputation but -"
"But re-creating the initial schism would
lead to later conflict," Vader finished.
Leia looked up at him, surprised. "Yes."
"I am not ignorant of politics, and I am
certainly not ignorant of the mindset of war. You
need not explain yourself further. It was a wise
choice, and one I believe your mother will approve.
It is, if you recall, what she originally wished - an
alliance with the former Rebels."
"On her terms."
"As you wish it on your own."
"I don't -"
A sudden surge of fear flared up through the
Force, cutting off Leia midway through whatever she'd
planned to say. Vader felt it like a sudden sandstorm
raging through his soul.
"Headquarters," Leia whispered.
"Something is happening."
Vader said nothing. He grabbed Leia's arm and led
her back down the narrow street they'd come from, to
his modified speeder. They both ignored her
Together, they set off at top speed, racing
against the panic that was flooding the very air
Amidala was in danger.
"Luke, tell me what's going on."
The officers next to Luke hastily cleared away
from the station where Luke was trying in vain to
monitor the activity outside. Everyone in the
guardpost seemed nervous at having Mother right here
with them, especially since things were becoming
increasingly chaotic and dangerous within the
headquarters. Most of the officers had seen Mother in
person for the first and only time when she arrived
on the planet, and that was at some distance. Now
they would look at her, and then quickly turn away as
they scurried about, speaking to one another in
hushed tones, giving furtive orders to their men.
They were almost desperate not to upset her, or to
appear incompetent before her, as the Rebels tried to
crash into the base.
She noticed the men fleeing, and frowned. Then her
gaze settled on him. Luke stared back and realized
immediately that his officers' concerns were
misplaced. She wasn't fearful or panicking, and she
certainly wasn't angry with them. She was grave, and
serious - with her mouth pressed into a grim, thin
line and her eyebrows knitted - but her concerns for
the outside battle were overshadowed by thoughts of a
more personal nature.
Luke wanted to offer her comfort. But there was
little to be had from what was happening just outside
the headquarters. The best answer he could find was,
"The Rebels have approached the main entrance of
the base. Our people are engaging them."
Her frown redirected itself toward the blank
console that Luke was standing in front of. "Can
we even give orders? Do we have enough men to send
He sighed. "We have officers acting as
couriers, and they're doing their best to deliver
orders and information from place to place in the
base. It might not be the most efficient system, but
it's the best we can do. I'd rather have everyone
gathered in one place until we get a working comlink,
but we need people to protect the entrance." He
gave her shoulder a squeeze. "We're sending
anyone available to protect the entrance, and once
they're down there, they can coordinate with each
other face-to-face. It'll be all right, Mother."
"No it won't be. I don't care what the Rebels
wish to do. This won't be all right until your father
returns with your sister, and the four of us are
somewhere that's not under attack." She
swallowed hard and said, "I'm scared for
"We both know that Father won't allow
anything to happen to Leia," he responded.
"And I'm here to stop anything from happening to
you. Just stay strong, Mother. This all will be over
She didn't look convinced, but Luke was beginning
to think he was out of words to say. Besides, he very
much agreed with her - he needed to see his
father and Leia again, and right the turmoil that
surrounded them. He needed that more than he needed
to give another order to be relayed at foot-speed to
his officers, and more than he needed another delayed
report about whatever was happening at the entrance.
The cry came from a lieutenant, who had burst into
the room wildly, nearly causing an uproar. He didn't
bother to collect himself or catch his breath.
"The Rebels have entered the base! They've
broken through the main entrance!"
Now there was a definite uproar. Luke's hand
instinctively reached out, clamping around his
mother's wrist like a vice. "They are coming
after the Empress," he said through clenched
teeth. "I'm taking her out of here before that
"But sir," the man replied, looking
distraught, "there are so many of them."
Luke gestured to three guards nearby. "I'm
taking them with me."
"Perhaps the officers at the entrance will
stop most of the Rebels before they can reach Her
Majesty. And here, we can all try to protect
"You have not been able to hold them off at
all so far," Luke said sharply. "And if
they do find their way in here - which I have little
doubt they will, eventually - I doubt such close
quarters will be the safest place for the Empress,
whether you believe yourself able to fight them or
"Luke..." Mother touched the hand that
was holding her wrist, and gave him a look of slight
He understood. He was shaming the man in front of
his fellow officers, when he had shown nothing but
concern for protecting her. It certainly was not his
fault that Luke had to wait for someone to run
through the base before finding out the Rebels were
Luke loosened his grip and said, "Lieutenant,
I know you and your people are doing your best under
terrible circumstances. But the headquarters have
been breached. It is no longer safe for the Empress
to remain here."
"Yes, my Lord."
"I know orders are going out slowly, but
engage and stall them as much as possible. I will
attempt to leave through a less...direct route than
the main entrance."
Luke could now faintly hear the sounds of blaster
fire. He pulled his mother along gently, and the
guards he had picked out stayed close behind her.
They stepped out into the hallway and sprinted for
the nearest lift.
As they entered, Mother, without ceremony or
explanation, put her hand out to one of the guards.
"Your weapon, Captain."
He did a double-take, and then stammered,
"I require a weapon," she said simply.
The man looked to Luke for approval, and he gave
it with a wave, though he was as surprised by the
request as the guard was. Mother had already taken
the extra blaster, and was expertly working the
controls, re-setting them from stun to kill.
Luke tried to remove the startled look from his
face as the lift doors closed behind him. He reminded
himself to keep a sharp eye on her if they did run
into resistance. She seemed as though she were ready
to run headlong into battle, when what she needed was
to be protected.
As if she had heard that last thought, Mother's
head bent toward him. "I know you can protect
me, Luke, and I know you will. But the fight has come
to me personally now. And I've never liked going into
this type of situation defenseless. I might even be
able to help."
Luke punched the button to take them to the
basement level, and the lift began to move. "I'm
sure you will." He had never even seen his
mother handle a weapon before; there had been no
reason for her to in the time he had known her. He
had heard stories of course, when Father seemed as
animated as he ever got, about her considerable
skills in battle. Still, actually seeing her now -
tense and confident, and ready to fight - was
something of a revelation to Luke. She reminded him
of Leia a great deal. Luke wondered idly if seeing
Father fight as a Jedi, in another lifetime, before
the mask, would have reminded him of himself.
The hum of the lift changed pitch as they
descended through the main floors. Luke listened to
it, and tried to focus more completely on the task at
hand. "I'm taking us to the basement, which will
put us outside the servants' quarters. The Rebels
must have gotten layouts of the base from Leia, so
they know that everything of interest to them - the
Command Center, the guardpost - is on the higher
levels. While they're busy up there, we'll try to get
out through one of the back exits."
"The servants usually keep a couple of
speeders out there," one of guards said.
"Yes," Luke nodded, "and I doubt
the Rebels noticed." His attention returned to
his mother. "Stay beside me. Don't wander off,
even if it doesn't look like anyone's after us."
The lift slowed to a stop and the doors opened.
Luke sensed little down here beside the fear of the
servants, who were thankfully in their quarters,
confined in them since the Rebels had first attacked.
But things were still in flux. He could almost hear
his father chastising him to stay aware.
Luke led his mother out of the lift, with the
guards in tow behind them. One or two of the servants
were defying the order and poking their heads out, or
running from room to room, but they cleared out,
shocked to see Mother down here.
Luke sunk deep into the Force, letting the path
before him show itself. Letting any threats to her be
seen in time to stop them.
Something wasn't right. He could feel it.
He slowed down, and Mother matched him for it,
looking at him quizzically.
In his mind's eye, Luke saw a bright flash blow
He grabbed her, pulling her into a small corridor,
and waited. The guards followed. He heard a lift door
open, and a blaster was fired, and the shot sailed
down the hallway where they had been standing and
impacted on the far wall.
"Surrender to the Rebels, Imperial servants!
Come out! Surrender! We have no wish to fight
Another shot was fired. Luke was stunned. Whoever
was down here - he could sense maybe four of them -
was completely out of control. That they were down
here at all was proof of that, claims of not wanting
to harm the servants notwithstanding. He knew the
Rebels didn't behave this way, and he knew that the
rest of them were concentrating on the more
legitimate targets elsewhere in the base, as he had
But it only took one crazy soldier...it would only
take one shot to kill his mother.
Luke whispered to a guard, "Create a
distraction. They don't know she's down here. The
Empress and I will find another route out of
He didn't wait for a response, but merely led his
mother down the corridor they had hidden in. As soon
as they turned the corner, putting them out of sight
of the guards, Luke heard one of them yell, "No
one here is surrendering, you Rebel scum!" Then
the shooting began.
Luke and his mother broke out into a full-fledged
run. He was completely in tune with the Force around
her, with any hint that danger was coming to her.
When the first attack came, Luke felt himself moving
to block it before the woman behind them had even
fired. He returned the shot to her, and she barely
rolled out of the way in time. She was back up and
shooting quickly, but Luke was able to hit her in the
shoulder and knock her out.
Then the danger was ahead. Luke leapt over his
mother, just in time to block a new barrage of
blaster fire. The man, whom Luke did not recognize,
screamed, "Traitor!" at him, and continued
firing almost blindly. Luke turned his shots against
him as well, and now Mother was firing too. The man
turned and ran, scrambling and dodging her fire. Luke
heard him screech, "Traitor!" one more
time, but he was retreating, and no longer a threat
A few more Rebels had found their way down here.
Luke could also see that he was now within sight of
one of the exits.
Two of the Rebels appeared between them and the
door. One was clearly stunned to come face-to-face
with the Empress. His hesitation cost him, as she
fired on him before he could react.
Luke charged the second man, who hadn't waited
even those brief moments to take his try at killing
her. Luke easily repelled the blasts aimed at Mother,
eventually getting close enough to cut the Rebel's
blaster in half with his lightsaber. He delivered the
killing blow before the man could make any move to
Luke turned back and retook his mother's hand.
"That's it, we're getting out of here now. Stay
behind me once we -"
Luke felt the impact on his chest, which slammed
him against a wall, felt the fire blazing in his
ribs, before he even realized he had been shot. He
looked down at the burn as he slid to the ground.
He saw, in a daze, Mother shoot the Rebel who had
shot him. The man went down immediately, but not
before he managed to shriek, "Traitor!" at
Luke one more time.
Luke took a somewhat useless pleasure out of that.
He was trying to figure out how he had missed a
threat to his mother. He hadn't. He had missed a
threat to himself.
Mother crouched beside him, and the guards rushed
in behind her. Luke guessed they had finished dealing
with the Rebels for the time being. He couldn't hear
any more shooting or fighting. Servants were peaking
out of their rooms, and gasping and crying in horror
when they saw him. Mother yelled for a medic, and
several people ran off to find one.
"Help is coming, Luke," she said, lying
him fully on his back and trying to assess his
injury. "Just hold on. Be strong...please."
Luke nodded. His hand weakly intertwined with one
of hers, which was trembling. They gave each other
comfort as they waited for that help to arrive.
The sky was beginning to take on the orange tint
of early sunset when Imperial headquarters loomed
into view. The sense of hurry was stronger than it
had been in Mos Espa, the implication of imminent
danger that made Leia feel helpless in its shadow.
Father, too, seemed more troubled as they flew
across the desert. The speeder had been pushed to its
acceleration limit, but still he leaned forward,
trying to will it to go faster. The energy coming
through the Force was frantic, intense.
Without warning, something seemed to explode in
Leia's chest, burning outward like a thermal
detonator charge. She gasped, her mind flying out,
flying forward to the mesa whose shadow now loomed
over them. "Luke," she whispered. She could
feel her eyes wide and her lips drawn back against
her teeth. "Father... "
Father didn't answer. He was still at high speed
as they approached the wall of the mesa, aiming
straight for a small door at ground level. He hooked
it around neatly and stopped so abruptly that Leia
was thrown forward. She used the momentum to jump out
of the speeder, feeling Father a step behind her.
She ran through the door, Luke's presence
screaming in her mind as it hadn't since an infancy
remembered only by her nerve endings. She couldn't
shut it out or deny its impact on her, and couldn't
resist its clarion call. Someone was shooting at her
from a side corridor. She blocked it with her
lightsaber without looking. Something clattered, and
Leia registered vaguely that Father had sent several
blasters flying at the ceiling.
The hall turned, and she saw them there, crumpled
near another door. Mother cradled Luke in her arms,
her drifting veil partially covering the huge scorch
mark of a blaster hit that seemed to have engulfed
his whole chest. Another blaster lay beside her, in
easy reach. Her head came up. "Ani!" she
Leia fell to her knees and reached for Luke, not
sure what she wanted to do. Her mind couldn't let go
of all the bitterness, but her soul was bleeding,
reaching for him, needing to -
"Don't you touch him!"
Leia jumped, her eyes rising to meet her mother's.
Mother's eyes were blazing, full of irrational
hate and rage. Tears streamed down over her high
cheekbones. She was laboring to pull Luke away from
Leia, toward herself. She bit her trembling lip. Her
hands were shaking badly.
Luke reached up with a weak hand, and let it fall
generally in Leia's direction. "Came back,"
Leia grabbed his hand fiercely. "I didn't
mean for this to happen. I ordered them not to
"I know," he said, then moved his head
slightly toward Mother. "We know."
Father bent over him. "The wound is
severe," he said. "We need to get you to a
"Luke, it is your only chance."
"No." He smiled wearily, and for a
heartbreaking instant, he was the boy around whose
neck Leia had once placed a medal of recognition, the
carefree, innocent boy who still experienced a wonder
at the vastness of the galaxy that Leia had lost
years before. "Don't think we'll make it,"
he said. "Don't want to rush... not much
"Don't be silly, Luke," Mother cooed,
kissing his head. Her tears slipped down across his
forehead, mingling with the sweat of his pain.
"We'll fix you right up. Ani will fix you. Ani
can fix anything."
Luke looked instinctively at Father, almost
hopefully, and Leia felt a wave of anguish coming
from Father. And she knew, or rather she understood
what she had known all along. Luke seemed to sense it
as well. "Father," he whispered.
"Outside. I want to see... the suns set."
Mother shook her head violently. "No, Luke.
We can't move you. It will hurt you."
"My love." Father crouched down and
looked across Luke at her. She didn't meet his eyes.
Leia could remember no point since her mother had
come back into her life that Mother had refused to
meet Father's eyes behind the mask. He waited
Mother's sobs became frantic, her head moving to
avoid his gaze. "Ani, we can't move him. It
would... destabilize... "
The erratic movements of her head slowed, the
trembling of her lips and jaw became more pronounced.
Finally, she looked at him. Leia didn't know what was
passing between them, but Mother leaned away from
Luke and let Father gather him up. A low, persistent
moan was coming from her throat. Leia didn't think
she was even aware of it.
Father stood, lifting Luke easily in his arms, and
carried him toward the nearby door. Through it, the
sky was beginning to grow red. Leia got to her feet.
Mother was still kneeling where she had been, her
arms open, as though she expected Luke to appear in
them again. She looked desperately sad and lonely...
but not trapped in the prison of her madness.
Leia drew in a harsh breath, an ancient memory
resurfacing with the power of total recall. She had
seen Mother like this before, in the days when Mother
had been the biggest person in the galaxy, the one
from whom all good things flowed. Leia herself had
been very young, barely old enough to speak, and
didn't know everything that had led to it. But she
remembered awakening in the night to this soft
moaning, because it had frightened her badly. Where
had they been then, where had their hiding taken
them? Had they even been on Alderaan yet? Leia
remembered only a dark, anonymous room, and Mother in
her white nightdress, kneeling on the floor, her arms
open and empty, moaning and speaking a name.
Luke's? Father's? Leia's infant memory had not
recorded it, and she didn't hazard a guess now. She
remembered only her own terror at seeing those open,
empty arms. She had crawled out of some small bed and
run to her mother to fill that scary, gaping wound
before it ate up the whole galaxy. Those arms had
come around her so tightly that she almost couldn't
breathe, but that was all right, because Mother would
breathe for her, they would breathe together, and
everything would be all right.
Without thinking, without remembering Mother's
rage at her - or her own rage at Mother - without
considering the blaster at Mother's side, Leia leaned
forward and threw her arms around her mother's neck,
pulling her close, feeling her heart beating.
Slowly, Mother's arms rose from her empty lap and
crossed weakly behind Leia's shoulders. The grip
tightened. "Leia," she whispered.
Leia nodded, and pulled both of them to their
feet. "Come on," she said. "We need to
be with them."
By the time the got outside, Father had laid Luke
down on the ground, facing west to watch the suns
set. He was not cradling Luke, as Mother had, but
kneeling beside him, his strength useless, even his
power in the Force coming to naught. Mother passed by
Leia and went to kneel beside him. She took his hand
on one of hers, and Luke's in the other.
Leia knelt on his other side.
Luke's eyes were unfocused, gazing dreamily at the
reddening sky. Tatoo I had already sunk halfway down
the horizon; Tatoo II was an angry orange flame in
the sky. "Father," he whispered, "when
it's over... no Imperial funeral. Just...
Father nodded, but spoke only after a long pause.
"As you wish, my son."
Luke nodded weakly. His gaze drifted to Mother.
She caught it and held it. "I missed you
so," she said. "I never should have let
them take you from my arms. How can I do it
He didn't answer her directly. Instead, he smiled
softly up at her, and Leia saw a flicker of motion as
he gave her hand a slight squeeze. "You're so
beautiful," he said. "I missed you, too.
But... everything... was... " He faded for a
moment, but Leia could still feel him through their
bond; it wasn't time yet. His eyes opened again.
"All is well, Mother. We were always...
together. And I won't... leave you." He reached
up with his free hand and pressed it against her
breastbone. "You know that."
Mother nodded, her eyes squeezed shut.
Luke's hand came down, moved across, landed near
Leia's knee. She picked it up in both of her own and
squeezed it tightly.
"You still think I'm wrong?" he asked,
his voice barely more than a breath in the wind.
Leia nodded, but said, "It doesn't matter
"Matters." He shuddered with some sudden
chill, and Mother wrapped her veil around him.
"Leia... it matters. I shouldn't have... there
were things... "
"Don't think about that, Luke. That's
He nodded, the shudder passing. "Let them
in," he said. "You are part... of us."
"I'm so sorry, Luke."
He tried another smile. It didn't get as far as
the others, but it touched his eyes. "Missed
one," he said. "I wasn't concentrating. I
should... " Wince. "... listen to Father
"Luke," Father said, "you should
"You're a good teacher," Luke said,
letting his eyes take Father in. "I learned. The
mistake... was mine."
His eyes came back to Leia. She could feel him
slipping away, looking out over a precipice, feeling
the hot drafts coming up from below. "I think...
I'm going now... " he said.
Leia leaned forward, brushing his hair off his
forehead with one hand. She kissed his cheek, as she
had over another precipice, and whispered, "For
His smile broadened, became full, and then he was
There was no sensation of being torn away. He was
Leia searched for his presence in her mind and
heart, frantically combing the Force for him, but he
wasn't there where she had always felt him.
His body shimmered for a moment - Leia was certain
that she could see through it - then solidified
again. Later, Father would carry him back inside to
prepare him for burial, and Leia would cleanse his
wound while Mother sat in her silent shock, but for
now, the three of them were alone, watching the alien
suns sink beneath the horizon. Tatoo I had gone;
Tatoo II was falling fast.
The world of Tatooine was wrapped in the comfort
The suns slipped beneath the horizon without Vader
He could not tear his eyes away from Luke's face.
The last, sad smile had faded shortly after he had
passed, and had relaxed into an unreadable look, into
something blank and expressionless. It was a very
different sight than his mother's face had been - her
face had been distorted and grotesque, and when her
last breath had left her, the pain was evident in her
still-open eyes. Luke was almost peaceful in
But that made his face no less horrendous to
Vader. And yet he knew he could not look away.
When he had looked away from her, the fury had
flamed up, shredding through his conscience and his
soul. The screams and shrieks of the Tusken camp had
begun shortly after that.
The thought of adding the screams of Rebel
soldiers to the din made Vader almost light-headed
with rage and the need for revenge. And there was the
confusion and despair of not knowing what he and the
remainder of his family could possibly do next...He
did not want to feel or think about any of it. So, he
stayed focused on his son's face.
He listened to his wife weep and sob as she
continued to hold tightly to Luke's slackened hand.
Leia seemed unable to shed her tears, and all Vader
sensed from her was an angry, guilty, and jumbled
mess that too closely mirrored what he felt in his
He did not know how long they had been out there
before the winds picked up, and a cool gust kicked up
the sand around them. Amidala winced against it, but
made no move to cover her face or protect herself.
Instead, she gently slipped her hand from Luke's, and
took the edges of the veil she had used to keep him
warm in his final moments. She pulled it up slowly,
until his face was covered completely. A sharp sob
escaped her as she straightened the pale red linen
around her son's body.
Vader did not know what to look at now, or where
to turn his eyes to. The energy in the air around him
Leia shakily pulled herself to her feet, and
stared at the headquarters in a dazed way. "I
have to go -"
"No," Vader said flatly. "You are
not going in there to confront the Rebels."
"Confront them? That's my squadron in
there...I'm going to order them to stop
this..." Her voice was as low and weak as Vader
had ever heard it. She was still shaking.
"None of us is going to do anything until
we've agreed on a workable plan," he replied.
"You want to go to in there every bit as much
as I do," she said, her voice taking on an
angry, menacing tone. "And I'm responsible for
what's happened here. I need to be in there."
"Those facts are beside the point, Leia. I
will not allow my - my only child -" he nearly
choked on the phrase, but pushed himself to keep
going "- to rush into another battle. Please,
Her response was to close her eyes and turn away
from him. Finally, she said, "We need to bring
The journey back down into the headquarters
basement was a blur to him. The servants were out of
their rooms, and Vader could feel their eyes on him
as he carried the veil-covered body of his son. Some
of were crying, some whispered blessings or prayers
as he passed. Most simply stared, stunned and
horrified at the site of his broken family. The
familiarity of the situation - of this particular
walk - sickened Vader. By the time he had reached an
empty set of quarters and put Luke down on the bed,
he was feeling almost dizzy.
He gave Leia a curt order to stay in the room, but
it was unnecessary - she was now focused on
comforting her mother, who was crying silently. He
left the room, and wandered out into the hallway and
away from the servants and Imperial officers,
half-listening to the muffled sounds of the fighting
on the floors above him.
Vader stopped walking - he found himself far from
the room where his family was, near a staircase that
would take him out of the basement and into the upper
floors of the headquarters. Obi-Wan stood at the foot
of the stairs, a shimmering, blue vision of his
"This is not an appropriate time for another
"I have not come to lecture you," he
replied. "I have come to tell you how sorry I
"Yes. Anakin, when your mother died, I don't
believe I ever adequately expressed my sorrow to you.
Or, I did it in a way that you didn't relate
to." Vader said nothing. "I think that I
have a particular understanding of the pain of losing
a son," Obi-Wan said softly. "I am grieved
beyond words that you must go through it now."
"Obi-Wan..." Vader didn't know where to
begin. He was not prepared to share his grief, and he
had never been able to share his anger or his rage
with Obi-Wan, at least not in civil conversation. And
besides the grief and fury, what else was there to -
"You're also afraid," Obi-Wan said
gently. "But then, you never much shared your
fears with me either."
"Would it have mattered if I had?"
"I have to believe so, Anakin. Even though
I'm still not sure, to this day, what the right thing
to say to you after your mother's death would have
been. There must have been a better way to do things
then, and there must be one now. That is why I am
Vader was pacing slowly, back and forth before his
old Master, glancing at him occasionally, but
generally keeping his eyes low and on the floor.
"You cannot tell me to let go of my anger. Not
over this. And unless you plan to suggest how to end
this fighting without my losing someone else, then I
think you have little to say to me."
"Anakin, you've lived so long cultivating
your anger and acting on it that you've lost faith
that you are able to handle a situation in any other
way. You have no real desire to do to the
Rebels what you did to the Tuskens. Yet, you'll drive
yourself to it anyway, because the thought of doing
anything else is so foreign to you."
"I am what I am," Vader said gravely,
"I am what I've become. If you cannot accept
"But you have made yourself forget what you were,
Anakin," Obi-Wan said insistently. "And
you're denying what you truly are."
"And you believe that is...?"
"A father. A husband. As you were once a son.
You want to save your family. It cannot be done by
avenging Luke's death. You know this, Padawan. Leia
will not be helped, nor will she be safe, if you
inflame the fighting with the Rebels. And your wife
will be brought no closer to peace or sanity by
watching her husband and daughter continue a battle
on opposite sides." Obi-Wan folded his arms
across his chest, and stared hard at Vader. Vader
stopped pacing and forced himself to look him in the
eyes. Obi-Wan continued, "You're right in
thinking that the safety of your family is not
guaranteed, no matter which path you choose to
follow. But that is not a reason to give in to
despair. You can bring peace to your family,
and to this world. And to yourself. You must at least
"Have you found peace, Obi-Wan?" he
asked. "Or have you simply found that you are
chasing a futile dream?"
"I continue the chase. But I don't consider
it futile. Giving up has not spared you any measure
of pain or heartbreak, Anakin. And without that hope,
you find yourself where you are now, trapped in your
anger and sorrow with no path leading you out of
it." Obi-Wan sighed. "I suppose I am
telling you to let go of your anger, Padawan. There
is no other way."
Vader sensed that Obi-Wan was about to leave him,
and realized that he was disappointed. He wanted to
talk more, or at least listen a little longer.
"What I've said is enough," Obi-Wan said
gently. "I have faith that you will find a
proper solution to this. May the Force be with you,
Vader watched his Master disappear. After a
moment, he decided to return to his family.
Leia had never realized how
small Mother actually was.
In her early childhood, of course, Mother had been
her whole universe and everything in it. There must
have been a time that she'd seen Mother with taller
people - almost everyone was taller - but in her
memory, Mother had reached up into the sky itself,
and everyone else was dwarfed beside her. This
impossible goddess had lived in her mind all the
years of her childhood, arched over her and
protecting her, appearing in half-remembered dreams
and gauzy memories.
When an intercepted transmission from Lady Vader
to her husband had come into Leia's hands and she'd
seen those beloved eyes laughing gaily at the monster
the woman called "my love," she'd taken on
a whole new illusion of size. The thought of her
betrayal had pushed into every aspect of Leia's life,
had taken over the way she considered issues and made
decisions. The huge crimson shadow of Lady Vader had
darkened everything until Han had found a way to make
it go away.
After Bespin, Mother had been Empress and Leia had
been a powerless invalid. She had looked up from her
bed, and there was Mother, leaning down to her, huge
again, vast, limitless.
But Mother's limits had been reached.
Her supports had fallen away. Her world was
collapsing. Her "good son" lay dead in an
anonymous military bed, wrapped in her own veils. Her
husband might be going off to commit a massacre. And
it was her daughter's fault.
She now wept silently beside Luke, holding his
hand again through the linen, her eyes distant and
haunted. She didn't answer questions or respond to
And she was small, so very small and lost.
Are you satisfied now? a mocking part of
Leia's mind asked. Isn't that what you were after
all along? To make your mother small, so that you
could be big?
"No," Leia whispered, feeling her face
Mother didn't look up at the sound of her voice.
It wasn't about competing with Mother. She had
been in the Rebellion long before Mother appeared as
Lady Vader, long before she'd known that she had a
connection to Father at all. The Empire under Mother
was still the Empire, and if she had ever been
tempted to give up on the assumption that she only
fought for a personal grudge, she remembered Mon
Mothma crumpling to the floor of Theed Palace with a
lightsaber wound in her chest.
Mother was so very small.
If there was anything to the idea that she was
fighting this battle to diminish Mother, success had
brought no satisfaction. Seeing Mother like this felt
like someone had ripped a hole in her, and the pain
of it bled out into the air around her. She wanted to
go to Mother and wrap her in an embrace, help her to
her feet, straighten her bent shoulders, bring her
eyes up to meet the world again. It wasn't right
for Mother to look like this.
"Mother... " she began.
Mother didn't answer, but Leia could see a slight
shift in the position of her shoulders, a tilt of her
head that said she was hearing.
Leia dropped to her knees beside Mother's chair.
Mother's long curly hair, looking bereft without its
veil, had dropped down over her face, and Leia tucked
it up behind one ear. "Mother, I would take it
back if I could. I'll find a way to fix it, no matter
how long it takes. I'll -"
Mother's head came around so quickly that it
seemed instantaneous. Her eyes were wide with fear
for a moment, then they glazed again, and she went
back to looking at Luke. "Let it be, Leia. You
can't bring him back. You can't fix it. Let it
be." She blinked slowly, and when she spoke
again, she didn't even seem to be speaking to Leia.
"The past is in the past." Then she fell
silent again. Leia wasn't sure she knew she had
They sat together in silence only broken by an
occasional hitch in Mother's breath as she reached
for another sob. Leia crossed her legs and sat on the
floor beside the chair, not having the energy to look
for another and bring it over. After awhile, one of
Mother's hands drifted listlessly down to rest on her
hair. Leia reached up for it and took it, squeezing
it almost convulsively, worried that she might be
hurting Mother but unable to stop. Mother didn't
From a distance, muffled by stone and metal, Leia
could hear the sounds of the ongoing battle. The
thought of trying to contact the Rebels with her
comlink briefly occurred to her, and she was reaching
for it before she realized that they could trace it,
and in the mood they were apparently in, they would
follow it straight down here, straight to Mother. All
the repetitions of the order not to go after the
Empress had been in vain before; Leia couldn't
imagine that they would be any more effectual now.
You should have realized that. How many times
after she appeared again did you wish everyone in the
Rebellion would hate her as much as you did? That
they would realize she was no more than a charismatic
dictator, no more likely to grant their freedom than
Palpatine was? You got your wish with the New
Rebellion: the ones who loved her stayed in the New
Empire, and you got too many of the fanatics, the
ones who breathe resentment and drink hate. And now
Luke - Luke, who might have been the best of them -
has paid the price for your fantasy.
They'd never even really talked about their
twinship. It had come on them suddenly, and they'd
found out separately. By the time Leia had awakened
from her injuries enough to have a conversation, it
was an accepted fact of their lives. But now she
wished it had been different, that they'd found out
from one another instead of separately, from their
parents. She would have liked to ask him if he'd ever
felt the connection between them, if he'd ever sensed
anything strange, as she had when she'd kissed him in
the infirmary on Hoth. It might have been nice to
compare their childhoods, to find out if they had
shared anything on that subconscious level where
they'd done so much communicating as adults.
Had Luke been plagued by dreams as she had? Did he
sometimes wake up thinking that there was someone
else in the room, only to find himself alone? When he
had a moment as the center of attention, had he
looked around, certain that someone else should be at
the celebration? Oh, the moments of attention would
have been different in scope, but to a child, the
notice of everyone in Anchorhead would have been no
different in quality than the notice of every noble
on Alderaan and her surrounding worlds. Had he looked
over the heads of the people cooing at him, thinking
that surely someone was coming through the
door, although everyone who was expected was already
there? She had been always plagued by that nagging
sense that someone was missing. She'd barely noticed
its absence over the last four years but now, in the
silence left in her mind, she realized that she
hadn't felt it once since the door of her cell on the
Death Star had opened, and an earnest stranger with
untidy blonde hair had said, "I'm Luke
Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you."
She had never asked, and she would never know.
She'd spent their time together arguing about
politics and plotting her escape.
Do you still think I'm wrong? he'd asked as
he slipped away, and the question was still in Leia's
mind. She did still think he was wrong, they
were all wrong... but right now, it seemed like the
least important question in the universe.
She rose to her knees and then to her feet. Mother
showed no signs of noticing, instead just clutching
Luke's hand, rocking slightly.
Leia looked down at the veiled shapes of her
brother's face, the ridges and concavities softened
by the gentle draping of the cloth, undisturbed by
the stirring of breath. It was profoundly unnatural
to see a human face covered like this, with no
fluttering breath to show life. He was like a statue,
waiting to be revealed. Luke shouldn't look like this
any more than Mother should look small.
Slowly, carefully, Leia leaned over the bed and
pulled the veil down. Luke's glassy eyes stared up at
her, bits of sand from the last blast of wind
embedded on their surface. There was no other damage
to this part of his body at all. He looked like he
might grin and make a joke, or look up hopefully
through his too-long bangs and ask her to make sense
of the universe for him. Like he might -
The tears came suddenly, in a hot flood. They fell
on Luke's cheeks, slipping down onto the pillow,
darkening the veil. She leaned forward, needing to
steady herself, needing to hold on, wrapping her arms
around her brother's still body and pressing her face
against his poor ruined chest. It smelled of burned
flesh and the beginning of decay, even through the
veil, but she didn't care. She had done this, she had
destroyed him, and she could give him one final
embrace without recoiling in disgust.
She registered the warm pressure on the back of
her neck before she was capable of making any
judgment as to what it was, but as the storm of grief
subsided, she realized it was a hand, soft and
lightweight, stroking her neck in small circles
beneath her hairline.
She opened her eyes.
Mother had stood up. She still held Luke's hand
with one of hers, but she had extended the other to
Leia, and was looking down at her, arching over her,
comforting her. She leaned down and kissed Leia's
temple, her soft lips as Leia remembered them from
"Shh," she said. "Mother's
Leia nodded, gulping back a sob. She rose and
wrapped her arms around Mother's waist, bending a
little to lean on her shoulder. Mother let go of
Luke's hand, and put both of her arms around Leia.
Her hands made light, comforting motions on Leia's
neck and shoulders.
"I'm sorry, Mother."
Leia shushed, and let herself be small again, and
let Mother be what she most needed to be.
Mos Espa had settled into a wary sort of calm. Han
was grateful for the quiet.
Amee's people weren't very happy about the
situation, but they had limited their expression of
that to dirty looks and curses under their breath.
Mostly, they went about treating the injured
Imperials without causing any problems with the
Rebels or the Rebel sympathizers in the city.
Cooperation had settled in - an icy, detached
cooperation to be sure, but a working one
nonetheless. No one really much liked one another,
but the time for fighting had clearly passed.
The citizens of Mos Espa were starting to come out
of their homes and trickle into the streets again,
and Han let them. There wasn't as much need for a
total crack-down any more. Any Imperial officers who
looked like they might want to cause trouble were
being closely guarded on the outskirts of town. The
Vader sympathizers in the city saw Amee, Seek, and
the rest of the caretakers from the old slave
quarters and that seemed to defuse any smart ideas
some of them might have gotten. The sight of Rebels
and Imperial supporters working together, even on
something as simple as providing medical care, was
taken as a sign that things might have somehow been
With that settled, Han found a solitary spot
underneath one of makeshift medical tents, and was
trying to make contact with the other Rebel
squadrons. It had been awhile since he had heard
anyone check in, and he wanted to see how the others
He wanted to know how Leia was doing. Hell, he
wanted to know what she was doing.
She hadn't answered any of his hails since that
last conversation, when she had decided to
"fix" the situation in Mos Eisley. He had
no idea where she was, or what had happened with the
Tuskens. He had tried her every five minutes - five
seconds - or so, and was going to keep trying until
he was able to get a hold of her.
He broke up his hails to Leia with checks on the
other squadrons. Han hadn't been na?ve enough to hope
that they'd all be doing as well he was, but to his
surprise, most of the commanders reported that they
had things in hand. They were concerned with watching
their prisoners, but they had hit the strategic
weapons or communications sites they were supposed
to, and had eventually won control of their areas and
people. A few were still fighting Lady Vader's
forces, and Han worried that one of the smaller
groups was in serious trouble. He ordered some of his
men to go out and help them. Things were going as
well as could be hoped.
But he hadn't been able to get a hold of Lando,
which only made him more worried about whatever was
happening in Mos Eisley. He also couldn't raise Alpha
Squadron at Imperial Headquarters.
He sighed, and decided to make one more call
before he drove himself crazy trying to get a hold of
Leia again. He raised the main Rebel base on Ledaga.
At first, all he got back was static. But, just as
he was about to get worried, it cleared, and a young
voice answered the hail.
"Ensign Terel here, General Solo."
"Terel?" he asked, surprised. He knew
the kid - he had been commissioned as an ensign right
before everyone had left for Tatooine. "What are
you doing answering the comm?"
"No offense, kid, but I'm pretty sure I left
at least a captain or two back there at the base. Why
aren't they running command? I could be calling in
with some critical orders here."
He had said it jokingly, but Terel sounded put-out
when he answered. "If you are, I'll carry them
out immediately, General."
"I know you would. You just keep holding down
the fort for us."
"Yes, sir!" he replied enthusiastically.
"I do need to know where everyone else is
"Oh, well, they're all over the base, trying
to deal with the mess from the earthquakes. You're
actually lucky that you caught us while everything's
Han suddenly felt a lot worse for leaving kids
like Terel in charge. And for his orders before he
left... "The quakes really started? Are the
Ledagans on the base?"
"Yes and yes," he answered, almost
cheerfully. "The quakes started not too long
after you left. We got the Ledagans in here pretty
quickly after that...kind of fun having them...need
more translator..." The static had returned.
"What's wrong with the comm?"
"It's the earthquakes, sir. They've disrupted
our..." Terel was interrupted again. He seemed
to realize it this time, because he waited for it to
pass before continuing. "Our receivers were
damaged in the first quakes. The rest of the system
is touch-and-go. That's one of the things the
captains are working on."
"What about the base? It's still holding
"So far. I think this is probably the safest
place on the planet. We can take a hit from the
falling trees, stuff like that. If the Ledagans had
been outside, they would have been running and hiding
and probably still wouldn't have been safe."
"Listen, tell the Captains that they're right
to try to keep the vital systems on the base up and
running," Han said. "You guys need to be
alert. I know I was the one who said the Ledagans
could stay if they had to, but you're still running
our headquarters. And now you've got a couple of
freighter loads of civilians to worry about."
"It's more like a whole planet of
civilians!" he said. "You wouldn't believe
how many people we were able to squeeze into this
"That's great," Han said flatly.
"But you guys need to stay sharp. Got it?"
"Yes, sir. Of course. I'll make sure the
Captains get your instructions."
"You can also tell them that things are going
well here. Mostly. I hope to get back to them with a
full report once I get a hold of a few other people.
And then we'll return to Ledaga as victorious
"I'm sure you will, sir."
"All right. Han out."
Han sighed heavily, flipping his comm between his
Han jumped, and found Amee just behind him,
underneath the tent. "No, of course not."
He tried to convince himself of that. He decided
there was too much on Tatooine to worry about to be
afraid for those far from the battle on Ledaga.
"How long were you eavesdropping?"
"Somehow I doubt you were going to reveal
some crucial information that would let us drive you
out of this city." She gave him a smile that
almost seemed sincere. "There's nothing else
that I'm terribly interested in."
Han rolled his eyes. "At any rate, I did want
to thank you for -"
"Don't," she interrupted. "I told
you we weren't here for you, and I meant it."
"Whatever. You helped make the city
"After you came and disrupted it in the first
Before Han could answer, Lando's voice
"Han, you there, buddy? Come in."
Han raised an eyebrow at Amee, which he thought
was a fairly plain sign that he wanted to be alone,
but she stayed where she was. He had the feeling
she'd follow him if he walked away, so he didn't
bother. "Han here. Things sound better on your
end, Lando. What the hell's happening out there?
"You haven't talked to her?"
"Not since I called her about your situation.
"Well, then you might not believe
In the background, Han thought he was hearing a
Gungan say, "Yousa Rebels helpin' the shop
owners," or something like that. It was strange;
Han couldn't think of a Gungan in the Rebellion, and
they certainly weren't native to Tatooine. "Try
"Leia and Vader showed up here together to
help us drive the Tuskens out of Mos Eisley. They
ordered all of us to work together."
Han found himself staring at his comm as if it
were some foreign object he had never seen before.
Even Amee, who had been standing nearby
straight-faced, could no longer pretend she wasn't
listening. She glanced at him, and said, "What
the hell does that mean?"
"You took the words right out of my
mouth...Lando, what the hell does that
"I've been working with the Imperial Officers
here to get things under control. Those were Leia's
orders. And Vader's."
"Put her on."
"Put Leia on," Han snapped. "I need
to talk to her."
"Can't do that. She isn't here now." He
paused. "She and Vader flew out of here awhile
ago. I don't know where they went."
"She left without saying anything?"
"They were gone so fast...I don't know, Han.
They were racing out of here."
Han was stunned. Leia, working with Vader? Now?
"Are things under control there?"
"They're getting better."
"Fine. I gotta find Leia. Han out."
He barely looked at Amee as he left the tent to
head for the center square. She followed him closely.
He found Seek with a Rebel commander, and he looked
back at Amee. "I'm leaving. Try to keep things
the way they are."
"What?" she said in disbelief.
"Keep watching the city, all of you." He
looked pointedly at Seek. "Don't start a fight.
We still outnumber you, and you'll lose. Keep your
His commander asked, "But where are you
"I'm going to Imperial HQ. I need to try and
figure out what the hell is going on. That seems like
a good place to start."
All three looked at each other and nodded their
acknowledgement. That was enough for Han. If Leia was
crazy enough to work with Vader, this little
Imperial-Rebel collaboration would be simple in
Han found himself a speeder, and sped toward the
There wasn't enough moisture on Tatooine for mud
to occur naturally, and Lando was momentarily puzzled
at the muck on his shoes as he crossed the battle
site. Then he looked at the bodies being carried
away, realized what the moisture in the sand was, and
leaned against the wall until the wave of nausea
I'm not cut out for this, he thought. No
way. I make deals and speeches. I'll fly a space
battle, where everything is icy and clean. But mud
that smells like oxidizing iron and bodies being put
under tarps to protect them from the sand? Not my
But it had become his game, and he knew it. He'd
made one deal too many, betrayed a friend, and now he
had to do his time in hell for it.
All of which was great in theory, except that he
wasn't one of the bodies under the tarp. What had they
done for the privilege of being bit players in his
"Yousa not being in the war very long,
Lando looked up. Ter Caldo was standing beside
him, leaning against the wall in a casual way that
made him look like a street tough on a corner on
Coruscant. "Not long," he answered.
Ter Caldo sniffed and nodded. "Mesa bein' in
the Rebellion for fifteen, mebbe twenty years before
Hersa Majesty coming to the Empire. Mesa seein' lotsa
"Do you get used to it?"
"No. Yousa never getting used to it. When
Hersa Majesty comin' to the throne, mesa thinkin'
it's all being over. But yousa pickin' a new
fight." He sighed. "Mesa muy sorry,"
he said. "This not being the time. Wesa all
bein' tired. And da Vader and yousa Princess wanting
us to be working together."
Lando wasn't sure what to say, so he just nodded,
leaning his head back against the wall. The nausea
was gone, though the nagging thought of what he had
all over his shoes wasn't. The fighting was over.
Rebels were rebuilding an area around the square.
Imperials had taken to counting the survivors and
analyzing the damage. As Lando watched, the Rebel
medic for the mission, Hatwa, made his presence known
to an Imperial guard, then knelt beside a human woman
who didn't appear to be injured, but who was weeping
uncontrollably and hiding her face. She scuttled away
when Hatwa touched her arm.
Ter Caldo was blinking his large protruding eyes,
clearly expecting some sort of answer, but Lando was
saved by the high-pitched hailing bark of a Wookieee.
With relief, Lando waved at him, and gave his best
approximation of a Wookieee greeting. Chewbacca
rolled his eyes and barked something about humans not
trying to do things they weren't suited to do.
He was in the company of several men, some clearly
recently recruited smugglers and pirates, whose only
concession to the command structure had been tying
bright cloths around their arms to identify
themselves as combatants. Three young regular Rebels
tagged along, looking at the older men with great
admiration. When they noticed Ter Caldo in Her
Ladyship's uniform, all of them stopped.
Chewbacca shook his head, gave a few short barks,
then launched into a long question that - if Lando
remembered his Wookieee right - boiled down to
"What's really going on?" There was
something in there about Leia and Vader, and Lando
thought he could probably reconstruct the rest of the
"Yeah, they came in together," he said,
and was glad to see by Chewie's face that it did, in
fact, address the question. "Decided that the
Tuskens were a worse problem than the battle, and
told us to work things out here."
Chewie's growl was only questioning, but the looks
on the faces of the men in his little platoon looked
Lando nodded. "Look, you all know how bad it
was here. I don't know what made Vader decide to drop
"Deesa people being hurt!" Ter Caldo
interjected, standing away from the wall and taking
up a defensive stance. "The Empress and hersa
Lord aren't standing still while theysa people being
"Yeah, right," one of the smugglers
said. "Unless 'theysa people' think 'theysa'
full of -"
Lando held up a hand to stop him, and it
miraculously worked. He gave Ter Caldo a look that he
hoped said, "Be a leader and don't start
anything." It may have worked, or Ter Caldo may
have come to the conclusion on his own.
"Leia and Vader came in together. If two
people who disagree that strongly and that frequently
can manage to work together, I suppose we can."
The smuggler just waved his hand in an irritated
way, but the young Rebel behind him bit a full lip
and looked up. Lando realized for the first time that
this one was a woman. She was thin and flat-chested,
and had worn her hair in a short style... but it was
obvious that she'd recently started growing it. It
was just at the slightly-out-of-control stage, not
long enough to be grabbed by the things ladies used
to hold their hair, but not short enough to stay in
place by itself. It looked like a mop on her head. A
lot of the women on the base had started to grow
their hair when Leia had returned. "Sir...
" she said hesitantly. "I... That is, we
were wondering... "
"Has your Princess dumped us here?" the
smuggler asked. "Gone back to Mommy and Daddy
like we figured she would?"
The young woman looked miserable, but nodded.
Lando didn't know the right way to answer that,
because the fact seemed to be that Leia was
with her parents, at Imperial HQ, and probably
talking with them, given the way she'd acted in
concert with Vader. That she had good reasons
wouldn't make much difference to this man.
Chewie growled threateningly.
The young woman pushed her too-long hair back,
using a string to keep it away from her face a
little. She looked wounded. "Please, General
Calrissian... tell us. Is the Princess still with
"That one, I can answer," Lando said,
praying that he was right. "The Princess is one
of us. She's the first of us. Don't doubt it.
Whatever she's doing with her parents, it will be
with the interests of the people of the galaxy in
mind. Believe it."
"What does she say?"
"Her comlink is inactive."
"Did they kill her?"
"I don't know." But thanks for giving
me something it hadn't occurred to me to worry about
"When will we know?" one of the other
pirates, a taciturn Rodian with a great red scar down
his green face, asked.
Lando shrugged. "Look, I'll head up to
headquarters. I'm guessing that's where they are.
I'll find out what the situation is. Han is already
on his way -"
"Great!" the smuggler exclaimed waving
his open hand at the sky. "Now they're both just
dropping out on -"
He didn't finish the sentence, because Chewbacca
had grabbed his neck with both hands and started to
Lando put a hand on the Wookieee's arm. "I
think he gets the point, Chewbacca. Let him up."
Chewie didn't obey the order immediately, though
Lando could see by the man's face that the grip's
intensity had let up. Chewie was going through a long
string of curses and insults.
Lando looked at Ter Caldo. "Do you speak
Ter Caldo shrugged. "Mesa knowin' enough to
know hism sayin' things hesa mother not liking
"That's about where I am. Good enough."
He looked up. "Chewie, let him up and listen to
Chewbacca let go of the smuggler and barked an
"Can you keep these guys under control?"
Thought. A few affirmative yelps. A shrug.
"Good. Work with Ter Caldo. He sort of
Chewbacca looked flabbergasted, then barked in a
soft way - trying not to be heard - that he wasn't
sure how well he understood the Gungan dialect of
"You'll get the hang of it. I trust you. I'm
just going to make a run out to Imperial HQ and see
what's happening there. You've got command of the
"Try not to strangle them."
Lando grinned. "I'll see you in a couple of
hours. Keep them out of trouble 'til then."
With that, he left - avoiding the horrible mud
patches - and made his way out of town, looking for a
vehicle. He found an abandoned Rebel speederbike at
the end of a long alley leading away from the battle,
climbed on, and headed out into the desert.
Han leapt off his speeder before it had come to a
stop, his sense of trepidation growing with every
moment that he didn't know what was happening with
There were no guards or officers at the main
entrance to Imperial Headquarters to take notice of
his arrival. He could hear occasional blaster shots
and yelled order coming from the inside. It seemed
Alpha Squadron had been busy during the time they had
ignored his hails.
Han wondered if he had been wrong - if Leia and
Vader had dashed off for somewhere else. He couldn't
imagine Vader allowing this battle to continue, and
Leia hadn't wanted Alpha Squadron to charge the base
in the first place. They certainly would have gotten
things under control by now, wouldn't they?
He frowned, and then decided that it didn't matter
what seemed to be going on inside. He couldn't start
searching the whole planet for her, and couldn't
think of anywhere else that would be more likely for
them to wind up. He readied his blaster, and ran
The hallways rooms he first passed were empty.
There were scorch marks on the walls, and
occasionally blood on the floor. He decided that
would be as good a trail to follow as any, and kept
moving to wherever the battle was being waged now.
He had almost reached the main Command Center
according to his memory of the layout plans before he
began to see Imperial Officers in any great numbers.
They were running all over the place, and none of
them seemed to take any notice of him. They dragged
their injured away and barked orders at each other.
They seemed to be trying to regroup.
Now, Han was really worried. There was no chance
that Vader was commanding this bunch. Where the hell
was he? Where was Leia?
Han ducked, as a blast flew by his head, barely
missing him. He was almost at the Center now.
As he closed the last of the distance, he suddenly
felt a hand latch onto his arm, and yank him aside.
He instinctively struck out at whoever grabbed him,
and looked down to see Athuli stumbling to the
Han helped him up quickly, but didn't waste time
apologizing. "What the hell is going on?"
Athuli rubbed the bruise that was forming on his
face. Then he said, "I tried to stop them! They
don't even know what they're doing any more! They're
fighting for no reason now."
"I don't know," Athuli snapped.
"She left. She ordered us not to storm the base,
but they want a shot at the Empress. They're not
happy that they haven't found her yet. That's the
only reason they're keeping this up."
"So, the Empress isn't anywhere on the base?
Are you sure?" Han thought this could be the
best possible news. Until Alpha Squadron settled
down, he didn't want any of them finding Leia with
Vader, or with her mother. He just wanted her
somewhere safe for now - if he could bring himself to
call being with her parents safe.
Athuli shrugged. "I don't know. Most of the
squadron is in there -" he gestured to the
Command Center " - or in the guard tower. That's
where most of the Imperials were when we first got
inside. A few others ran off, but I'd think they
would have reported back if they had found her.
"She wouldn't exactly be unguarded," Han
answered. "Anyone foolish enough to go after her
without the rest of the squad might not have had the
chance to call back." Han pulled up his blaster
again, and waved Athuli forward. "Come on, let's
get these guys calmed down."
Athuli gave him an almost comical look of
skepticism and aggravation, but he followed.
Han went in yelling instead of firing. "Cease
fire! Alpha Squadron, stand down!" Han took a
look around the Center, and could immediately see
what Athuli had meant - the Imperials that were in
the room and not injured were outnumbered, and
crouched behind a large console, trying to dodge
fire. The Rebels were firing at them blindly,
apparently not realizing that they already had
control of the room, even with some Imperials left
standing. "Cease fire!" He was almost
directly in front of the Rebels now, and a few of
them were trying to shoot around him. "That's an
order, Alpha Squadron!"
Eventually, the blasters were silenced, and the
squad's attention focused on Han. The Imperials
stared and waited.
"General Solo!" Arralla said, looking
too pleased with herself, and too disappointed that
the fighting had been interrupted. "Here to help
us get the Empress?"
Han's first instinct was to say "No!"
and then launch into a tirade about them not
following orders, and fighting so foolishly as they
made their way through the base. His second instinct
was to say, "No!" followed by, "The
hell with all of you!" and go find Leia, which
was all he really cared about at this point anyway.
Luckily, his better thinking managed to overcome his
instincts, and he decided on focusing on a way to
diffuse the situation instead.
"No," he said, "I'm here to tell
you guys to get the base under control."
"The Empress isn't here, Arralla. She
high-tailed it out of the base the minute you guys
got inside. The rest of the planet is
relatively...calm. You're fighting for nothing. I
need you guys to cut it out, and focus on holding
this section of the base."
The lie about the Empress - well, Han wasn't
certain it was a lie - had the intended effect. He
could almost feel the air go out of the room: the
Rebels had lost their driving cause, and the wild
look left some of their eyes. The Imperials no longer
felt they had to hold the Rebels back from finding
Lady Vader, and they were relieved. Han let the
moment hang, wanting to allow the let-down to sink in
on both sides as much as possible.
Finally, he said, "Secure this part of the
base, and then sit tight, okay?"
Arralla frowned. "What about the rest of the
base? I'm sure there are still Imperials guarding
"Arralla," he said impatiently,
"you're still only one squadron. You can't take
the entire headquarters, and you know it. Hold the
Command Center and the guard tower. That's an
order." He gave her his most pointed glare.
"Do you think you can handle that until I come
She looked more than a little offended. "Of
course we can."
"Good. Make sure the rest of your squad knows
what their orders are then. If there's any trouble,
I'm holding you personally responsible. I've got
other things to take care of, and I don't want to be
dragged back here because you all are trigger-happy.
Got it?" Han waited for a few mumbled,
"Yes, sirs" and then abruptly grabbed
Athuli and pulled him out of the center. Once Han
felt they were out of earshot, he asked, "The
other people you mentioned, do you have any idea
where they took off to?"
"The basement maybe," he answered.
"They wanted to 'liberate' the servants, I
Han nodded, and glanced back at Arralla and her
people. They were rounding up the Imperials -
probably being rougher than they had to be, but they
weren't so eager to shoot at anything in an Imperial
uniform any more. "All right, I'll be back soon,
with new orders...do what you can to keep things
This time Han didn't even wait for a response. He
was running to the nearest lift, and heading down for
the basement level.
He found nothing there but servants weeping and
consoling one another. Han had no idea what to make
of it, but consoled himself with the thought that no
one here would shed tears if something happened to
There were Rebels lying in the hallway, shot dead
and left behind. Apparently the few that had come
down here had managed to cause some trouble before -
Leia - that was Leia's voice coming from a room
that was guarded by several Imperial Officers. She
came running past them and flung herself into his
arms. He held her tightly for a few seconds, but then
tried to push her away so he could see her. She
resisted, but Han could see her face was
tear-streaked and flushed, and her eyes were
bloodshot. She was trembling.
Han wanted nothing more than to get her the hell
out of there, no matter what had happened, but she
was now pulling him back to the room she had run out
of, waving off the guards, who were eyeing him
warily. "Leia, what's happened? What's
wrong?" She continued to drag him along.
"Where's Vader? Are you all right?"
They entered the room and Lady Vader stood,
looking as shaky as Leia did. Han barely noticed her.
He saw Luke, lying on top of a bed, with one of his
mother's veils covering part of his body.
"Luke?" he started to ask. But he
already knew. Luke was dead. "Damn," he
whispered, curling his arm around Leia and drawing
her closer to him.
Han had been so furious at Luke for so long that
even now, looking at his old friend's lifeless body,
he couldn't quell the first wave of anger that he
felt. But it came, and it passed, and Han wondered
what good carrying a grudge to the grave would do.
Luke had done some terrible, traitorous things, and
if Han had been given a real opportunity, he thought
he might have wrung the kid's neck without much of a
second thought...The kid...that's all Luke was
really, even after everything that happened. Just a
wide-eyed kid. Whatever he had done, Han couldn't
help thinking that Luke didn't deserve to wind up
How had he wound up like this?
"Han?" Leia whispered.
"Damn," was all Han could manage to say
in response. He almost asked if Alpha Squadron had
done it, but Leia's anguish was so acute that he knew
the answer without being explicitly told. Leia's own
squadron had killed her brother, in an attempt to
kill her mother. Whatever the Vaders were, and
whatever they had done - how was Leia supposed to
deal with this? "Leia, I'm sorry." She
looked away. "What do you want to do now?"
To his surprise, Leia looked to her mother. Han
took real notice of Lady Vader for the first time.
She was standing next to the bed, looking drained and
depressed. When she spoke her words were slow,
deliberate. "We have to stop this. This has to
Han wasn't sure what that meant in her mind,
though he had to admit that despite what happened,
she didn't seem nearly as crazy as Leia had described
her. He had thought she'd be hysterical, but she was
composed. Han supposed she could be in shock. Some
traumas were just too much to deal with.
"Yes," said a voice at the door to the
room, and Han and Leia turned to see Vader standing
behind them. "We must bring an end to this
Han cleared his throat. Vader didn't acknowledge
him, or take his eyes off Leia. Han continued anyway.
"I think the fighting upstairs has mostly
stopped. For now. But the Rebels are in control of
several key areas of your base."
Vader still didn't turn his head on Han's
direction. His breathing went through several cycles.
"I'm not speaking solely of the base, or of
Tatooine. I do not intend to end things here, and
then fight another day. I am suggesting that we end
Leia's eyes were enormously wide, and they looked
back and forth between her parents, trying to find
understanding. Lady Vader didn't react at all.
"End it?" Han finally said, stunned.
"You...you can't be ready to surrender..."
"No," Vader answered.
"Then - then what do you want to talk
about?" Han asked. "You want to negotiate
for a 'better' Empire?"
Lady Vader rolled her eyes, and for a second, Han
thought she was going to swoon. But she pulled
herself back, and brought her eyes to rest on Leia.
"I can't fight you any more. But I'm not going
to abandon the galaxy to anarchy and chaos because
you think that's preferable to my rule. So we have to
find another way." She sighed. "Really, we
want many of the same things -"
"Mother," Leia said.
"You have never wanted those things in
practice," Leia whispered wearily. "You
just want to be the person who talks about doing them
eventually. In the meantime, you do almost the exact
opposite of what you say you want to do."
"And what have you done here, Leia? Have you
done anything for the people of Tatooine that you say
you wanted to do?" asked Vader. "Or have
you done the opposite?"
"I've fixed what happened in Mos
"And will you fix the next planet? Will you
do it alone if I am not there to help you?"
Vader shook his head slowly. "I am not willing
to wait for this family's mistakes to destroy us
Leia looked up at Han, and he simply shook his
head. He had no idea whether they should be believed.
He also didn't know which way would be more dangerous
for her - to continue to fight them, or to trust
She looked at both parents again, then said,
"We at least must decide what is going to happen
on Tatooine. Here at the base and out in Mos Eisley.
Maybe...maybe from there, there are other things we
"Yes," Lady Vader said, "I think
that we can do that."
"But," Leia continued, "this has to
be done in good faith. Which means that everything
is on the table. This can't just be a ploy to keep me
out of harm's way, or something done because we all
feel...because of...Luke. Our issues with the Empire
are fundamental ones. If you honestly think you want
to discuss them..."
"We can discuss them," Vader said
flatly. "But if you believe you're going to
force your mother to abdicate her throne -"
"She cannot keep it in the fashion it exists
in now," Leia said. "That is the reason
"That is not -"
"Ani," Lady Vader murmured. "I am
not ready to return to the fight. We should begin
with Tatooine. Resolve the situation on this base,
and in Mos Eisley."
"Very well," Vader said. "We should
all go back into the main section of the base, and
bring our people under control. We can continue from
Han felt Leia take his hand, and squeeze it
fiercely. She nodded to her father. Vader went to the
bed, and picked Luke up. Lady Vader led them all out
of the room and back upstairs. The fighting would be
stopped for good, and Luke would be properly tended
to. Then the four of them would continue their talks.
Amidala leaned on Leia as the turbolift carried
them into the upper levels, toward the command
center. Leia's lover - Han, his name was Han - stood
awkwardly to one side. Amidala felt some instinct to
tell him not to be afraid, but she was unable to act
on it. A kind of paralysis seemed to have come over
her. Words came only with difficulty, and when she
moved, it felt like she was fighting a rough current.
In front of her, Ani stood stock still, his
mechanical arms supporting Luke's limp form easily.
He was still wrapped in the veil, which kept his poor
arms from dangling, but his face was uncovered, and
her eyes traced his profile, recording it. It would
be gone soon.
Only this morning, when he had laughed and smiled
as they shared stories over breakfast, she had been
able to think of him as a baby, as a child... she
could feel the potential of the life they had missed
together hovering everywhere.
It was gone. All of the fantasies, all of the
half-memories... just gone. Reality was the still,
limp form in Ani's arms.
The door of the turbolift opened, and Ani led them
out into the base. Imperial officers stood to
attention. Rebel officers who were ostensibly
guarding them simply gaped. Amidala didn't react. She
felt Leia straighten up beside her. The Rebels moved
Ani laid Luke down on top of a natural stone bier
which had been left as an architectural feature of
the command center, then rearranged the veil into
something better approximating a shroud, although he
folded it down to continue exposing Luke's face.
Slowly, he closed the bright blue eyes.
I'll never see them again, Amidala thought.
She tried to remember those eyes on the night he
was born. She could see them, far away and small...
she'd thought they were so like Ani's, except lighter
and clearer. But she couldn't make the memory live,
as she had been able to for so long. The veil of time
had been drawn across it.
Ani set up Imperial guards to stand beside Luke's
body while he lay in state; Han insisted that the
Rebels provide one guard as well. To them, he said it
was because Luke had served honorably in the
Rebellion. To the family, he said quietly that he
didn't want a war around "the kid's body."
Amidala registered this, but didn't respond to it. It
seemed sensible, and she had nothing to add.
When it was done, Han looked at her.
"Ma'am," he said, "are you up to
Amidala glanced at Leia and Ani and noticed for
the first time that both of them had oriented
themselves toward her in a protective way, as though
they were afraid she would break at Han's question.
Leia's face was a study in miserable conflict.
Amidala touched her arm. "The last thing I want
to think about right now is the war," she said.
"But there is no choice." She took a deep
breath, then stepped away from Luke's body and went
into an empty conference room off the command center.
It had been richly appointed, meant for high-level
meetings between the Guard and Imperial High Command.
Amidala looked carefully at the high-backed chair
created to be a throne. If she didn't take it, the
symbolism would be clear: she was willing to
negotiate the tenuous hold the Empire had on the
galaxy. If she did take it, the meaning would
be equally clear: she meant to retain her throne even
against her daughter, at this of all times.
She took it.
Whatever Leia thought, the galaxy was not ready to
go back to the Republic. Too much had happened; the
paths had split too far.
Leia understood immediately, and sighed heavily,
pulling out a chair to Amidala's right. Han sat
beside her. Ani remained standing.
"This is not a family meeting," Amidala
said. "Except by coincidence. We're here to
solve problems. And I don't know the answers."
She let the silence build. Through the still open
door, she could see Luke's head and shoulders on the
bier. She wanted to spin a fantasy, bring him back to
life, wonder where they might be right now if things
were different. But the reality simply lay there,
unmoving, unyielding, and her mind would not
Han spoke first. "Do you know why they're
crazy out there? Do you know what your Guards have
been up to?"
Ani stepped forward threateningly.
"Reconsider the tone with which you address your
Amidala held up a hand.
"They killed a woman for not closing her
saloon at curfew."
"The law is the law," Ani said. "It
was a regrettable overreaction, but the curfew is
intended to protect citizens from criminal behavior
"Father!" Leia moved her hand as if she
meant to strike the table, then set it deliberately
down beside her comlink instead. "Don't you
understand, that's the problem? You can't manage
people the way you set out to. They won't cooperate.
And because your laws are absolute and no appeal is
permitted, you're always going to end up with
'regrettable overreactions.' And the Empire ends up
being the criminal."
"Perhaps better training of the Guard in
matters of -"
Leia let out an explosive breath. "It's not
going to work."
"You have yet to provide acceptable reasoning
of that premise," Ani said. "You take on
faith that your republican ideal is preferable to the
government taking some responsibility for the safety
of its citizens -"
"The Republic I have in mind would do so
"As it did when it allowed Palpatine to rise
in the first place?"
"Please," Amidala whispered. "This
is not productive."
Ani and Leia both stopped talking. They had each
heard the other's position many times.
Han Solo spoke first again. "We need to get
Tatooine settled once and for all," he said.
"Before you say it, we know it's a mess we made.
One of your loyalists in Mos Espa reminded me about
that before I left, just in case I forgot. But the
mess is here, and we have to do something about
"On that matter, there is little
Amidala wished Ani would sit down if he planned to
join the discussion, but knew he wouldn't. He had no
wish to be a politician, only the champion of what he
had once called "someone wise." She took a
deep breath. She wanted to go to sleep, to find a
dark room and wrap herself in shadows and shame. But
she had a job to do. She reached deliberately into
her mind for language, found it, forced it out.
"We have accomplished a temporary truce here,
and it has been done very quickly. We should
"What do you have in mind?"
Quiet, Amidala thought. Calm. Just go
back to the beginning and start again. But she
looked again at Luke, still unmoving, and the
fantasies still wouldn't come. "I don't
"We got everyone mostly on the same page in
Mos Espa," Han said. "And it sounded like
you guys actually got the armies working together in
Mos Eisley -"
"For now," Leia said. "But if we
don't come up with some kind of workable joint
command, it's going to collapse as soon as they
figure out that the Tuskens are back in their
"Then setting up a joint command is where we
better start." Han looked over Amidala's
shoulder. "Think we can work that out with the
military, Lord Vader?"
"The Imperial military will follow orders.
Can you say the same for your Rebels?"
Amidala, who had very little contact with the
military, felt her mind begin to drift. Luke was
dead. It seemed to keep coming to that inscrutable
truth. Luke, whose terrified cries when Obi-Wan had
taken him from her had followed her down through the
years, was lying on a cold stone with his eyes closed
forever. He shouldn't be there. He should be...
But she couldn't create the story of where he
She pulled herself back up. She needed to know
what was being planned.
Han was thinking hard about Ani's question.
Amidala wasn't sure if he'd given an answer or not -
he might have, while she'd drifted - but if he had,
it had apparently not been accepted. Which was fair
enough... if Leia was telling the truth, the Rebel
army was close to full scale mutiny, in which case
peace talks might prove useless.
At last, Han looked up. "I think that the
ones who... who did this... are pretty much in the
minority. Most of them have their problems, but I
think that they'll try it if we order them to."
"And those who will not?"
Han didn't answer. Leia did. "Those who
won't, Father, will find out that military discipline
isn't unique to the Empire. I won't have my people
turning into nothing more than vigilantes."
Beside her hand, her comlink suddenly came to
life. She stared at it. "It could be an
emergency," she said. "We have a lot of
people in battle, and that's a command code from
Alpha Squadron. The one that's here."
"Take it," Amidala told her.
Leia nodded and picked it up. "Organa."
"This is Athuli, Ma'am," someone said.
"General Calrissian has just arrived from Mos
Eisley. Says he wants to see you and General Solo. I
told him you were in a meeting."
Calrissian. It took Amidala a moment to
place the name, but when she did, she was astounded.
All Leia's talk of betrayal, and she had accepted as
an ally the man who had sold her to the Empire in the
Whatever Leia's motives, though, Amidala wanted
Calrissian here. She had found him to be a capable
administrator on Bespin, and maybe he could help them
sort out this local mess.
And then they could move on to the rest of it.
"Have him join us," she said.
Leia raised an eyebrow, but didn't argue.
Lando stepped into the conference room, and felt
like he had entered some other reality. There they
were, the Empress and Vader, Leia and Han, sitting
around a conference table, as though this were just
another meeting, or some perfectly reasonable
occurrence. They all looked weary - well, Vader
looked like Vader, and stood there and breathed - and
the grief from Luke's death was written over all
their faces. Still, they were together, and didn't
seem particularly shocked or troubled by that fact.
He had led the Rebels and Imperials officers in Mos
Eisley, and had seen them work together, and thought
it was a remarkable thing. This was honestly
Leia gestured toward one of the chairs, and Lando
slowly took a seat.
"So," Han finally said, "you ask to
be in on this..."
"And what, exactly, is this?" Lando
asked, unable to hide his confusion. He couldn't
remember his voice ever sounding quite this
Leia looked like she understood what he was
feeling. "This is...an attempt," she began,
"to reach an agreement. Between our two
"I see," Lando said. "And what
exactly has been agreed to so far?"
"Not much," Han said bluntly.
"We were hoping for your help, Baron,"
the Empress said, her voice cool and distant.
"Since you've worked for all of us, on both
sides at various times, we assumed you could provide
us with some needed insight."
Her words hit their mark, and Lando couldn't help
feeling stung at essentially being called a traitor
But Han and Leia hadn't reacted at all, and Lando
realized he shouldn't take the bait. There were real
questions that needed to be addressed here, and
getting upset about old betrayals - on either side,
on anyone's side - would only be counter-productive.
"I'd be happy to help, Your Majesty."
"We have decided to bring both Rebel and
Imperial troops on Tatooine under a central
command," Vader declared.
"And we haven't figured out exactly how
that's going to work," Han added.
Vader straightened his back, making him appear
even taller than he already was. "You claimed
that the Rebels would listen to orders."
"Who's going to be giving them?" Han
asked. "Who will they report to? Who's running
things here? Us?"
"I thought the wisest course of action would
"- to let you run everything, while we go
along with it," Leia finished for him. "If
this is a joint, equal command, it shouldn't matter
if it's us giving out the orders. You still don't
trust us enough to work with us. You want us to turn
everything over to you."
"Leia," the Empress said, her voice a
near whisper, "this isn't a simple matter of
trust. If you say your men will work with ours, we
believe you. But the fact of the matter is you lead a
renegade, revolutionary group, one that is willing to
fight and kill for the so-called ideals of a failed
Republic." She sighed. "We have no desire
to turn everything over to you either."
"And that puts us back at our impasse,
doesn't it?" Leia sat back in chair and glanced
at Han, and then she turned her gaze on Lando. She
was curious to see if either of them could find a way
out. "We can't seem to deal with Tatooine unless
we deal with the larger issues."
Vader shook his head, and he paced his way over
behind his wife's throne. "She will not
"The strength of the Empire, the strength of
my position, is needed," Lady Vader added.
"Maybe she's right."
The words were out so quickly, that Lando had no
chance to stop them, or even think them all the way
through. He wanted to take them back, or correct them
or clarify them, but Han and Leia were glaring at him
furiously, and he wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't
yet fully sure of what he meant.
He tried though, "That isn't what I meant...I
mean...what I think is..."
"Lando!" Han snapped.
"All right, all right," he said. He took
a deep breath. "What I mean, is that the
position of Empress is not the problem. We're not
arguing about a title. It's that she has all the
power. It's that everything is completely centralized
under her authority, and -"
"No offense, Lando, but you do realize that
that's pretty much the definition of an
Empress," Han said, cutting him off.
"That's what they do. They control everything.
They rule everyone. So what the hell are you talking
"We're arguing about the power. That's what
I'm trying to say." He threw up his hands in
frustration. "Why does her power have to
Lando fully expected that the answer he'd get
would be Han yelling, "Because she's the
Empress!" But before he could get out a reply,
Leia's face changed completely, and she leaned
forward over the table. Lando could practically see
an idea - or several - forming in her head, and he
hoped she'd be more coherent in explaining herself
than he had been about his ideas. The attention of
the room was now focused on her, as she silently
thought about, and reconsidered what she should say.
"Leia?" Han said, "What are you
"I'm thinking...I'm thinking that I've never
heard of this being done with someone called
'Empress' - but that Lando might be right. There are
democratic monarchies. I'm part of one, I was part of
one. So were you," she added, staring pointedly
at her mother. "On Alderaan, we had a royal
family to lead the planet, because of our traditions
and history. But outside our family, in other parts
of the government, there were elected officers and
leaders, and a binding law. We were always aware of
our place in the way things were supposed to
work." She was still staring at the Empress.
"Maybe what we should be focused on is making you
Lando nodded to himself, relieved that Leia had
picked up his unfinished thought and run with it,
turning it into what sounded like a workable premise.
To him, at least.
Han looked skeptical, but said nothing. Lady Vader
gripped her armrests tightly, and her husband paced
slowly behind her. He was sharp when he spoke.
"I am still unclear as to what you're actually
"Mother has advisors, and governors and
Senators - she's kept up the appearance of a normal,
functioning government. If things were changed, so
that the Senators, or the regional governors were
legitimately elected by the people of those
"...and those positions were given their own
powers," Han said, "and were sharing some
of the control over the military and the rest of the
"You'd have a real, working government,"
Leia was nodding along with what they were saying.
"With Mother still at the head of it. And that
would allay many of your concerns about maintaining
stability through the change, wouldn't it?"
Lady Vader was shaking her head as if she were
trying to clear it of something. "It's the
Republic with a different name. You want to make me
an ineffective Chancellor, dealing with corruption
and bureaucrats. You just hope the galaxy won't
notice because they trust me, and because I'm already
"That would be part of it," Lando
conceded. "If it's a change instead of an
outright overthrow, people will certainly be more
accepting of whatever's decided."
"But it doesn't have to be the Old
Republic," Leia said. "The two of you need
to let go of that time as much as we should remember
it in trying to avoid making the same mistakes. We'll
help you move on, and you help us avoid the pitfalls
of the past. It doesn't have to be the same as the
Chancellorship was. We can work something else
"I don't understand - you want the Emperor or
Empress elected? To terms? By this new Senate of
yours? To leave me or whoever at the whim of
political factions and alliances again?" Lady
Vader asked in disbelief.
"What's the alternative?" Han asked.
Lando knew the tone Han had used, and that he had
meant for the suggestion to be taken in a flippant
way. But the Empress and Leia snapped to attention,
looking at Han, and then at each other.
The idea clearly hit close to Lady Vader's heart.
Her whole demeanor softened. "I could hardly
oppose that," she whispered.
Leia looked like she wanted to protest, but saw
that her mother was considering a compromise, if only
because the hope existed that she would be able to
pass the reins on to her daughter after all. And Leia
did not want to stop her from thinking along those
lines. She said, carefully, "I wouldn't accept
the position the way it is now, Mother."
Her mother swallowed hard, and looked up into her
husband's mask. Lando couldn't begin to guess what
passed between them, or what is was she could
possibly see when she looked at him. After a moment,
she closed her eyes. She didn't reopen them when she
started to speak.
"Appointment of the regional governors is
critical," she said. "There is no way for a
leader to maintain contact and control over the
further reaches of the galaxy without having trusted
people in those positions. They must be
Leia face relaxed ever so slightly, and an
expression of hope came through. "The Senate,
though, must be elected. All of them. Perhaps a
Chancellor can be chosen by them to work with you -
with the Empress. Or maybe the Empress and the Senate
can choose one together, somehow. That might help
with the day-to-day running of the government."
The Empress opened her eyes. "Perhaps."
Lando caught Han's eye, and they both quietly sat
back in their seats. Vader had also seemed to step
back from the throne. They mostly watched as Leia and
her mother worked together, trying to find a way to
fix the galaxy.