Piett finally took his eyes off the chrono on the
wall. He had been watching it obsessively for hours.
For too many hours. It had been more than long enough
since he had last been able to raise anyone on
Tatooine, since Imperial communications all over the
galaxy had started crashing.
She had said, explicitly, that she would trust his
judgment. That he was to act if something
Piett rose, staring at his various senior officers
whom he had consulted about this decision. Most
seemed eager for something - anything - to be done at
this point. His eyes finally rested on Dihave.
"Is the weapon prepared for launch?"
He nodded, looking unusually sobered. "Yes,
"Sir," said General Temlik, "may I
remind you that the Empress has always placed a high
priority on sparing civilian lives."
"You already have reminded me of that,"
Piett said. "Several times. I must act according
to Her Majesty's last orders."
"May I also remind you that it's obvious that
the majority of Rebels are on Tatooine fighting, not
on the base on Ledaga?" Temlik asked.
"Noted," Piett said. "I am aware of
this situation, General. A decision needs to be made.
It is my responsibility to make it."
Dihave rose from his chair. "It will take
some time for the weapon to reach the base, sir. The
propulsion systems are still in development, and it's
been outfitted with standard engines. But once it
arrives, the destruction should be total."
Piett stood to full attention. It was time. This
had to be done. "I order you to launch the
weapon against the Rebel base."
Dihave saluted him, and marched resolutely to the
control console. It only took a few, quick
keystrokes. The missile was launched.
Around the galaxy, the Empire was beginning to
awaken to the news coming from Tatooine.
Phenin Ometak heard Temodi's voice, but he didn't
want to talk to her right now. They'd hit enough
rough patches in the three years they'd been
sort-of-dating, sort-of-not that by now she should
know better than to try and talk to him right in the
middle of one. It was hard enough having to dance
together every day, playing Lord Vader and his
Empress like they were crazy in love, without having
to come up with some deep and meaningful conversation
about why their own relationship sometimes hit spots
when they couldn't stand the sight of one another.
The spots always passed. Phenin figured this one
He turned his back on her and started the duel
routine, trying to imagine Kemizon Vum dancing the
part of Obi-Wan Kenobi a meter or so away. Kemizon
would be taking over the part next week; Ambris Tagio
had managed to break his ankle in their last
But Temodi Meiem was not easy to dissuade, once
she had an idea in her head.
He came down from a complex leap that he'd
invented for the routine and landed as softly as he
could, but before he could move forward, he felt her
small hands on his shoulders. She must have climbed
onto the stage with her usual grace, completely
He whirled on her. "All right, Temodi. Fine.
You want to talk?"
She shook her head, and he noticed now, up close,
that she was pale and her dark eyes were wide. She
carried a handheld holoprojector. "I... Phenin,
something's happening. You'll want to know about it.
I want you with me while I know about it."
His irritation with her vanished as quickly as it
seemed to have appeared. He sat down on the stage,
and pulled her hand to sit down beside him. She did,
gratefully, and squeezed his hand once before letting
go to turn on the holoproj. She set it down on the
floor between them.
Right now, all Phenin could see was a newsperson
he didn't recognize - Twi'lek, male, dressed in what
looked like an old flight suit. Temodi hadn't turned
the sound on.
"The Empress was supposed to initiate a new
Guard this morning," she said. "Remember,
Phenin nodded, though he remembered nothing of the
sort. Playing Lord Vader had not particularly changed
his outlook on the political life of the galaxy - he
simply didn't care about most of it, though he had a
vague liking for Her Majesty and wished the New
Empire well. It was certainly an improvement on the
old one, and it was good to have non-humans back in
the Ostunu School again. But Temodi had adored the
Empress since she'd first appeared as Lady Vader.
She'd taken to wearing a wisp of a red veil clipped
into her hair early on (this had later been dropped)
and, like so many other girls, had stylized scars
tattooed on her back. Temodi's were decorated with a
floral pattern that lit up in gold when Phenin traced
it with his fingers, which always delighted him in
ways he never entirely understood.
It had been her idea to choreograph the story of
the Empress, and going to Theed to perform it had
been the highlight of her career. Her adoration of
Lady Vader had turned into what Phenin could only
call genuine love. He'd discovered it accidentally
when he'd made a risqué suggestion about the veils,
and she had treated him as though he'd insulted her
personally. Ever since then, he'd been careful not to
show anything but complete respect for the Empress.
Temodi took his nod at face value. "Her
convoy was attacked when it left Naboo yesterday. I
heard about that, but they said it was all over and
no damage was done."
"That's good, then, right?"
She bit a trembling lip, then tears spilled out of
her eyes. "I thought that was it! I thought it
was over! But they attacked again this morning, on
Tatooine, and... and... "
Phenin put his arms around her, not understanding
her grief or needing to. "What is it, Tems? What
"No one knows, exactly. It was bad. Then we
started losing communications everywhere. All the
official channels are acting up. Weird things are
coming through and nothing's going where it's
supposed to be." She gestured at the holoproj.
"This is an underground broadcast. The reporter
said they're bouncing off Rebel frequencies today.
Nothing's come off Tatooine from the Empire for
hours. And they're saying it's really bloody."
She turned on the sound.
The Twi'lek was nearly gleeful. He was in the
midst of a celebratory speech of some kind.
"...and it's looking good for everyone who cares
about free speech! How do you like this?" He let
out a stream of expletives that Phenin hadn't heard
away from the Corellian loading docks where he'd
spent much of his early childhood, before the scouts
from Ostunu had decided to make him a high culture
phenomenon. "And no one to stop me from saying
it! The Empire can't even get its own business
together!" He stood and actually danced - or
gave a crude rendition of dancing - then plugged a
listening device in his ear and plopped down behind a
desk. "I've got someone from Tatooine here. Let
me tune him in for you."
A crackle of static, then a voice that sounded
drunk came over the frequency. "... Rebels in
the Command Center... don't know for sure, but there
are rumors that... Skywalker...dead... "
Temodi leaned into Phenin's arms, curling her body
against his chest. He held her tighter. "It'll
be okay," he said. "It's just a
"She's there, though. What if the Rebels
"It'll be okay," Phenin said, trying to
remember his brief contacts with politics back before
Ostunu. "Hey, it's still Princess Leia, right?
She knows what she's doing."
"Yeah... " Temodi shivered. "I
just... I guess it's okay with the Princess, but...
the Empress, Phenin. What if -?"
"Shh. Don't say it." He reached for the
holoproj to turn it off, but she pushed his hand
"Leave it on," she said. "I can't
stand not knowing what's happening."
"Okay. But let's see if we can't find some
other broadcast, all right? Something that's not
so... You know."
Phenin didn't wait for an answer. He picked up the
holoproj - not letting go of Temodi - and started
scanning for more underground reports.
Temodi just sat, silent and warm in the circle of
Ingithe Lypsean hadn't realized for nearly an hour
that her broadcast wasn't going anywhere. All the
indicator lights were working. Her crew hadn't gotten
any notices. No calls were coming in, but she'd
simply been relieved at the lack of interruption -
for once - in the Holonet News studio on Coruscant.
It was extremely early morning here in the old
Imperial district, but even at this hour, there were
usually at least a few rabble-rousers trying to
broadcast their unwanted opinions across the Empire.
It seemed not to have occurred to them that they
would be screened long before they were
allowed on the air.
She'd thought the lack of interruption was due to
her guest, an archaeologist from the team that was
trying to pinpoint the first human settlement on
Coruscant... a man who seemed to exude dullness like
an overbearing cologne. Ingithe had been wondering
just which god she had angered to end up with such a
lousy assignment - she had once been a sought-after
critic and columnist - when her guest had decided to
show footage from the dig that he had stored on a
computer at the site. He was still fiddling with the
controls when she turned casually around to see
whatever mundane thing he meant to show her, and was
met instead with a scene from an old vid, with a mad
Wookieee rambling around Alderaan (of all places). He
had just ripped the head off a young lovely in white.
"Excuse me, sir," Ingithe said,
"but you seem to have brought an inappropriate
The archaeologist glanced up, saw the vid and
knocked his console over. "That's not even on my
computer!" he burst out. "I would never
show that kind of anti-alien garbage!"
Ingithe noticed that the crew in the broadcast
booth had suddenly begun scrambling around.
"Sieps!" she called to the Dug who produced
the show. "What's happening?"
Sieps scuttled out on his strong arms and kicked a
prop desk out of his way. "We're not
broadcasting," he said. "Or if we are, it's
not going anywhere I can predict. Maybe some kid's
picking us up."
"What's happening?" Ingithe repeated,
"We're trying to -" He held up one foot,
sticking it right in Ingithe's face, and listened to
something on his earpiece. "Okay. My techies
just switched to a Rebel frequency."
"How would they know... ?"
"I'm not going to ask them." Sieps shook
his head. "They got word over the underground
that there's a battle going on over on Tatooine. A
lot of the Imperial network is down. Someone planted
Ingithe found herself - for once - with almost
nothing to say. The Imperial communications network?
How was anyone supposed to report on whatever was
going on if the network was down? And what good would
it do the Rebels if no one knew?
Oh, but that would be thinking, and the Rebels
didn't think. They were probably just trying to put a
hydrospanner in the works. "Can we bounce off
their signal?" she asked. "Get back an
Sieps shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not."
"Find out. And find out what's happening on
Tatooine." An idea struck Ingithe. "Wait...
wasn't that where Her Majesty was going?"
Sieps, who generally considered Her Majesty's
movements off Naboo so much socialite trivia, looked
surprised, then nodded. "Good call."
"Do we have anyone there?"
"On Tatooine? No."
"Well, find someone. Let's get this going.
Keep a scan of the communications and -"
"I'm the producer here, Ingithe."
"And I'm telling you, this is news. It's
about time. Let's find a way to get it out
"It's a small battle on a minor world...
"A minor world where the Empress happens to
be. We could come out of this small battle with a new
Sieps frowned, tapping his toes against a nearby
wall. He'd been glad to get back into the business
when the New Empire had taken control - that much,
Ingithe knew - but she suspected he'd have been a lot
happier if the Rebellion had won in the first place.
"Guess we'd better cover it then," he said,
and scurried off.
The archaeologist was just looking dumbly at all
Ingithe waved him off the stage. "You've been
pre-empted," she said. "Go back to work and
get some sleep."
On board the Imperial Cruiser Binks,
Admiral Calpar knew something was wrong, but so far
hadn't found a way around it.
"Whatsa yousa kids doing?" he barked at
the ensigns at comm. "Wesa not getting so much
as a nav re-direct from da Empire for longo
"Systems being down," one of them said.
"Wesa getting lotsa other things. Nothing being
Calpar glowered. He knew all this. "Yousa
tryin' da old Gungan codes yet?"
"Yousa not being that young, Ar-Tor.
Yousa remembering da exile codes."
"But wesa not needing them anymore. Wesa not
being in da exile!"
Calpar pushed him out of the way and sat down at
the console, hoping that the old codes weren't among
the ones the Empire had blocked to prevent
unauthorized transmissions to Imperial vessels.
(There had been concern about morale, if the Rebels
or Palpatine's remaining forces tried to broadcast
propaganda to the fleet. ) Calpar didn't remember
reporting them, but he wouldn't have deliberately
kept them from Her Majesty, either.
He scanned the rotating frequencies they'd used.
Blank, blank, static...
The sound of waves.
Someone was broadcasting.
Calpar breathed a sigh of relief and reconfigured
the transmitters. "Whosa-dere?" he asked.
The waves resolved into silence, then someone
said, "Dis'm Verkam Res. Whosa dis?"
"Dis'm Admiral Calpar, on Hersa Majesty's
ship, Binks. Wesa being cut off."
More silence. "Yousa not being da only ones.
Wesa... " He paused. "Wesa opening disn
system, wondering about da other Gungans. But wesa
not finding nothing."
Calpar rubbed his head. Something had to be
working. "Yousa be listening," he said.
"Mesa knowin' the Rebels, longo time ago. Deysa
used to be using da circulating frequencies - da
comm-sats being moving around. Yousa try to be
finding them. I'm thinking theysa using the same
frequencies as da children which play at making
"Da kids finding da sats and da frequencies.
Deysa always getting in da way, but when mesa knowing
da Rebels, dism just laughed at. Be looking for them.
Then be looking for other things on desa
Calpar kept the channel open, waited for what
seemed forever, then Verkam Res returned.
"Mesa finding them," he said.
"Lotsa stuff coming through. Theres-a a battle
on Tatooine. And nothing getting through. Mesa can
send you da frequencies."
"No. Yousa can find me here, but wesa an
Imperial ship. Wesa no getting outside frequencies.
Yousa just keep telling us what's happening. Desa
Rebels... theysa trying to block you?"
"No, sir. Deysa keeping it open. Mesa
catching someone saying so. Deysa saying deysa no
wanting anyone cut off but... well, yousa."
The Binks powered down and waited to hear
the news of the galaxy.
In Cloud City on Bespin, the New Empire and the
Rebellion had long lived in uneasy knowledge of one
Cloud City had been the heart of the New Empire,
of course - they had declared for Lady Vader
immediately. But in the confusion and devastation of
the battle, many of the Rebels had found their way to
Lando Calrissian's hastily established medical
facility, and had integrated themselves into the life
of the colony ever since. The Empress had given
orders not to treat the Rebels harshly - she'd never
given up hope of winning them - so the local Guard
had merely kept them from acting or producing
propaganda, and otherwise allowed them to go about
their business with no impediment.
The Rebels, for their part, had found it more and
more difficult to retain enmity. Those who couldn't
abide the New Empire at all had found ways to sneak
away; those who remained either joined Her Majesty's
supporters or kept their resistance to occasional
token objections in public forums. They would serve
their time for sedition in relative comfort, and
during it, they fraternized with their captors. There
had been four Rebel-Imperial marriages (the polite
fiction involved a supposed belief that the Rebel
involved had reformed), and three children had been
born of them so far.
The Twi'lek Chirlin, who ran a tavern in the upper
levels, had adjusted to the new life as well as he
could. The New Empire had outlawed the dancing girls
which had once brought in the miners, so Chirlin had
re-focused the business, hiring his girls on as
living statues and catering to an artsy culture that
had sprung up among the New Imperial hierarchy - one
which the rich owners of the mines longed to copy.
Even the miners themselves made noises in that
direction, but they could no longer afford Chirlin's
place. A few of the newly emancipated slaves had made
a living statue garden a few levels down, and that
was where the miners spent their time.
Here, in the upper levels, the day had begun in
its usual glory of golden mist. Chirlin had already
set up his holoproj - it was well-known that he got a
few more frequencies than were technically permitted,
but since he only used them to find underground
artists, the Guard looked the other way - but he
hadn't noticed yet that the transmission was spottier
than usual. The girls had just decided to go with a
colonization era theme in their poses and Chirlin was
setting up the grill when Captain Lopahin - the head
of the Guard - had come rushing in, shouting about
downed communications. The New Empire had seized the
holoprojector and technicians had been trying to
receive signals for nearly an hour before Lieutenant
Moge had stood up quietly and suggested that his
"former" Rebel wife, Comari, might have a
Comari had shown up five minutes later, baby in
tow, and had indeed been able to "guess"
where news might be found. Then a few of her friends
had also "volunteered" to help.
The transfer of power had been completely
invisible, and everything was still ostensibly going
through the Guard. The fictions were maintained. But
Chirlin knew the truth, and he supposed all of them
knew it as well: Cloud City was now in the hands of
Comari sat at ops, scanning the information that
was trickling in, trying to make sense of what was
essentially senseless. Two separate reports from
Tatooine had suggested that Lord Skywalker was dead -
there was much grief from the Imperials about this -
but the most disturbing report was that Her Majesty
had been with him, and none of the Rebels reporting
in had seen her since.
"They're all outside," Comari reassured
her husband. "The ones who reported about Lord
Skywalker had slipped out after that fight. Afraid of
Lord Vader's reaction, I bet."
"As well they should be."
She tried to raise anyone in command and got only
static. That wasn't surprising - it was a battle, and
the leaders would have restricted their
communications to those who really would need to
contact them. The general frequencies wouldn't be a
Lopahin asked Chirlin to fix breakfast for the
assembled crew - "You will be properly
compensated, of course" - so he wasn't actually
there when they finally contacted a Rebel who had
seen the Empress after the death of her son. There
was no cheer, but when Chirlin brought out a tray of
hot bread and eggs, the Imperials in the room had
slipped into poses of pure relief. Lopahin was
weeping with it.
"They're talking," Comari said. Moge put
his hands on her shoulders and kissed her head. She
twisted her head to kiss his fingers. "Finally,
"Who?" Lopahin asked.
"The Empress, Lord Vader, Princess Leia. The
man I spoke to thinks that Generals Solo and
Calrissian may be there as well. Calrissian did well
here. Perhaps he -"
She stopped talking, her eyes going suddenly
sharp. Something had flashed across the proj-base, a
face, a word...
"Replay," she ordered the machine.
Lopahin was over in a flash. "What is it,
She frowned, punching at buttons. "We've been
picking up stray Imperial communications all morning.
Things that aren't aimed at us. And that was Admiral
Piett. I'm sure of it."
"Let me see."
"I'm trying to get it back. He was ordering
"Let me try to raise him," Lopahin said,
slipping into the seat beside her.
He worked the console for a long time, enlisting
the aid of Rebels and Imperials alike, but the
message did not recur.
Now, it was the Rebels who looked worried.
Amidala was finished with the negotiations.
She didn't know how long they had been there,
sitting in this room - whether it was minutes or
hours or days - but at some point, she had stopped
caring. She hadn't interrupted the discussions and
hadn't jumped into any of Ani and Leia's arguments or
showed any outward sign of her distraction. But her
mind had gotten her to a certain point, and then
refused to cooperate any further.
They were done. Many of the major points of
contention had been resolved; some grudgingly, some
bitterly, some with a startling ease...but they had
been determined one way or another. Senators would be
elected by their homeworlds. Governors would be
appointed to terms by the Empress. The military would
turn over a good portion of their work to planetary
police forces, which would be created by local
governments. A new Chancellorship would be created to
ease the relationship between the Senate and the
Empress. Certain legal rights would be restored to
galaxy's citizens. New laws would govern the Imperial
And that last point had returned her daughter to
her for good. Leia would eventually take over, and
until then, she would be a part of the Empire, and a
part of the family. Amidala clung to that knowledge
fiercely, holding onto it amidst the ruins of the
broken dreams she'd had for Luke. They had fixed
things in time to salvage Leia's future, and to save
what was left of her family.
Amidala would remain Empress and stay in charge,
dealing with any of the potential problems some of
the more sweeping changes would likely bring. And she
would do it with Leia at her side. Beyond that...
Beyond that were minor arguments, like the one
Leia and Ani had gotten themselves into now, on some
technical questions about the relationship between
planetary rulers and the Senate. All details that
could be worked through later.
They had accomplished enough in terms of fixing
the government and stopping this war that they could
afford to turn their attention to other issues.
He was still out there, of course, shrouded and
unmoving just beyond the conference room door. The
parade of people streaming past him had stopped, and
it seemed that everyone, both Imperial and Rebel, had
finished paying their proper respects.
Everyone, except for Luke's own family, who were
sitting in a room, wrangling over the finer points of
taxes and appointments and...
"Enough," she said softly.
Leia and Ani stopped talking instantly, with Leia
breaking off in mid-sentence. "Mother - I'm
sorry, we can move on to something else and -"
"My son is lying outside that door," she
said, "and I'm tired of trying to ignore that.
We cannot solve every single issue right now. We
should be grateful we've come as far as we
Her daughter and husband both looked as though
they'd be quite content to keep arguing forever, but
Han quickly spoke up. "It might actually help if
we stop for a while, and pick this up again later. We
could take a fresh look at some of this stuff"
"Besides," Lando added, "we do have
multiple pressing issues here, right now. We
shouldn't wait much longer to begin implementing the
unified command for the guard."
"Yes," Amidala agreed, "and I need
to take care of my son. He requested a family
ceremony, and we should...we should honor that. He
deserves..." She stopped, feeling her throat
constrict painfully as her eyes again went to her son
outside the conference room. "He deserves to be
put to a proper rest. We can't just leave him out
there..." And then, she simply couldn't
Her husband reached down to squeeze her hand. Then
he walked slowly to the door. "I will make
preparations," he said. Then he left. She could
hear him giving orders to both the Imperials and the
Rebels, and then he picked Luke up, and carried him
Leia watched her father go, and Han put his arm
around her, pulling her in against him. She buried
her face in his chest. Lando clearly was a little
lost, and he glanced uncomfortably between them and
"I think...I think I should go check in with
Alpha Squadron. Make sure they've gotten into the
mindset of accepting a joint command," he said.
Han and Leia barely acknowledged him. Amidala nodded,
and he took that as a dismissal. He quickly went back
out into main part of the headquarters.
"Han," Amidala said, trying not to sound
as if she were forcing the words out, "you may
join us at the ceremony." He looked surprised,
and Leia even pulled away so her mother could she the
shock on her face. "You were once a friend of my
son, and my daughter considers you family."
There was little else to say, so they simply
waited for Ani to return once the arrangements he had
in mind were completed. It took longer than she
When he finally returned, he said nothing. Amidala
rose from her chair to join him, and Han and Leia
eventually followed. The officers were silent and
solemn as they passed, the Imperials saluting, the
Rebels standing at attention, watching the family
head outside into the Tatooine night.
Away from the base, she saw Luke, resting in a
hastily erected funeral pyre, made from an odd
assemblage of kindling, from materials gathered from
all over the base. She walked right up and touched
her son's covered face. She wanted to say her
goodbyes, to say anything, but she was blinded by her
tears and suddenly felt as though she couldn't
breathe, much less talk. She let her fingers trail
away, and then she stepped back.
They formed a line in front of the pyre, Amidala
standing between Ani on her left, and Leia on her
right. Han was on Leia's other side, holding her hand
After a long, pained silence - Ani and Leia
couldn't seem to find the words for their goodbyes
either - Ani ignited his lightsaber. With a few short
steps, he was next to Luke, and he held his sword to
one of the cross sections of kindling, and waited for
it to ignite.
Once it did, the fire spread up and down and
across almost instantly, and soon consumed her son's
Leia took her hand. She took Ani's. Amidala tried
to draw on their strength, but all they were sharing
was the grief and emptiness, watching as Luke slowly
disappeared before their eyes.
The four of them were still standing there
silently as the fires began to die out.
Lando crept silently behind the Skywalkers,
feeling as though he were sneaking up on them. The
last, last thing he wanted to do was interrupt
their funeral, and he wouldn't have unless it was
something potentially this important.
He couldn't decide whether or not he was hoping
that he had misinterpreted the message he heard.
Piett couldn't have possibly said what Lando thought
he had...then again, Lando couldn't stand the thought
of coming all the way out here for a simple
None of them turned around, even as he was
standing directly behind Han and Leia. He waited.
Then he cleared his throat.
Leia looked furious. The Vaders still didn't turn
"I'm incredibly sorry for interrupting,"
he began. "I've picked up an Imperial
communication that I think you all need to
"Imperial communications are down," Leia
"People are still trying to send messages. I
was working with a few of the Imperial Officers -
bouncing off Rebel frequencies and some underground
channels, trying to see if we could pick anything up.
We heard a garbled message from Naboo."
Lady Vader, her face tear-streaked, blinked slowly
at him. "From Imperial Command?"
"I think so. We think he was trying to send
the message to your personal frequency, we can only
pick up parts of what he's saying." Lando pulled
out his comm, and played back the message. Static
almost completely garbled it.
"...Your Majesty...receive this
"That's Admiral Piett," Lady Vader said
"What is he saying?" Han asked.
"Wait," Lando said. "It'll repeat.
It comes through a little clearer."
"...Majesty...hope you receive this...our
communications are going down...I've
launched...against the base...waited for
catastrophic... before acting..."
The message began to repeat the first version, but
Lady Vader gasped loudly and covered her mouth with
her hand, paling drastically. Lando stopped the
"Oh no..." she whispered. "No...not
when we've settled everything..."
"Mother," Leia said cautiously,
"what's happened? What has he done?"
The Empress looked away from her daughter, and
Lando's heart sank. Whatever happened, it definitely
was as bad as he feared.
"He's launched a missile that will destroy
your base on Ledaga."
The base on Ledaga.
Han Solo sat down heavily on a boulder. "What
kind of missile?"
Leia's parents looked at one another cautiously.
Lady Vader's small hand had risen to her lips, and as
Han watched, she slowly moved it to brush tears from
her cheek. The motion left an ashy smear. "It's
a new design," she said. "There's a
containment field involved, to keep the damage from
spreading beyond the target, but -"
"But destruction of the target is
complete," her husband finished.
"If it's contained, we can order an
evacuation," Leia said, desperately hopeful.
"We can tell them to get clear of the base
Han shook his head. "We can try. But there's
a lot of seismic activity. Earthquakes. Big ones. The
last time I tried to reach them, they said they
weren't getting much through."
"Try," Lady Vader said.
Han pulled out his comlink, and tried to raise the
base. Static, a whine of feedback. Someone saying,
"... not receiv... any... " Then there was
an ominous rumble, and he lost the connection
entirely. A droning electronic voice came across the
frequency: "No receiver/transmitter is available
at the coordinates specified. Please check
"Quakes must have taken it out," Lando
Lady Vader rubbed her head. "How much of your
staff is here?"
"Most of them," Leia said. "But the
ones who are left on Ledaga are young kids, the ones
we didn't want to put in any danger."
"And civilians," Han added.
Lord Vader turned on him quickly. "You guard
your base with civilian shields?"
Han was too busy castigating himself for putting
civilians on the base to bother snapping back at
Vader. "No," he said. "It's natives.
We found them there when we set up. They're
burrowers. They wanted shelter there during the
quakes. We figured it would be safer than their
Lord Vader looked like he was ready to continue
berating Han, but his wife put her hand on his
shoulder. "I would have done the same," she
"What's the navigational system on the
missile?" Leia asked. "Maybe we can stop
"It's controlled through the communications
Leia closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.
"Of course. Can we piggyback a signal off a
Reluctantly, Lady Vader shook her head. "I
didn't want Rebel propaganda broadcast to the
military. All military equipment blocks unsanctioned
"So what do we do now?" Lando asked.
"The missile will need to be
intercepted." Lord Vader turned and bowed to the
pyre where Luke's ashes were smoldering. He said
nothing, but turned and led the group inside.
Han's insides cramped up, and he forced them to
let go. He followed the family into the command
Vader had apparently ordered several officers to
leave. Han could see them filing out. Three remained
- two Rebels and an Imperial - and they'd brought up
a starmap. Vader had highlighted Naboo, Tatooine, and
Ledaga. A launch trace appeared as he watched.
Lady Vader crossed her arms over her chest,
scanned the red line with her eyes, then looked at
Leia leaned forward, as though she could put her
hand into the map and stop the missile.
Lando drew in a sharp breath.
Vader simply looked at it, impassive, his head
cocked to one side. "The missile was never
fitted with modified engines. It will travel
"Could we put something in its path as it
gets near Tatooine?" Leia asked.
"Commander Dihave programmed it to avoid all
impediments," Vader said. "An intercepting
object will have to be steered into it."
Leia's eyes widened, and she turned to her father.
"Father, there's no way to do that. The Imperial
military equipment can't take orders right now, and
our autopilots are programmed not to self-destruct.
We didn't want any of our equipment turned against
Vader didn't look at her. "Someone will have
to pilot a ship."
Lady Vader paled. Leia shook her head.
"Father, there has to be another way. And most
of the Imperial Fleet here on Tatooine was destroyed
in the hangar battle anyway! I didn't see anything
that looked like it would still fly."
Han stepped forward. "Look, I'm the one who
put the civilians on the base. My ship is nowhere
near where the fighting was and -"
"I absolutely forbid it," Leia said,
glancing over her shoulder at him.
"There's no reason to. You're necessary in
this scheme we worked out. So's your father, I think.
I'm just a pilot, Leia."
"You're not just a pilot. You're necessary to
me, and if I'm necessary, you're necessary."
"You know that's not true -"
"It is true!"
"Hey!" Lando waved a hand between them.
"Look, I think maybe we're jumping the gun. Lord
Vader, how much slower are these engines? How
much time do you think we have before it passes
Vader thought for a moment - a much shorter moment
than Han had ever seen another human make a complex
calculation - then said, "We have two hours at
least before it reaches Tatooine. If this trajectory
is correct, then the route between Tatooine and
Ledaga will take approximately five hours."
Han nodded. "I got an old Naboo cruiser. I
modified it a little. It'll be able to -"
"I said no," Leia said.
Lando touched her arm. "Two hours, Leia. We
can go out in the desert. Between us, we can re-work
the autopilot. We can make it work."
"The risk is too great," Vader said.
"I will -"
"You most certainly will not," Lady
Vader said quietly. "I invited Baron Calrissian
to join our discussions because he thinks well.
Before any of you rush to martyrdom, we have time to
try another path. I suggest that we waste no more
time discussing the subject." Her eyes were cast
down, and she did not look up as she spoke.
"Yes, ma'am," Han said. "Lando and
I will get to work on it."
Vader nodded. "I will assist you."
"Father... " Leia sighed. "I need
your help with the Imperial military. And you need
mine with the Rebellion." She looked at her
mother. "And we should gather Luke's ashes
before the wind takes them."
Lady Vader finally looked up, met Leia's eyes, and
nodded. Leia put an arm around her shoulders.
"Then that's the plan," Han said.
"We'll make it work."
Han turned to leave with Lando. He'd made it most
of the way to the door when he heard Leia call his
name. He looked back.
She ran to him and threw her arms around his neck.
Her lips pressed against his cheek. "Don't...
Han, if it doesn't work... Please... come back here.
Don't... " She drew away and bit her lips.
"Han, please don't."
"We'll make it work," he said again.
"And I'll come back here one way or another
before we make any decisions. That's a promise."
Leia nodded and let go of him. She looked small
and unprotected. Then she straightened her shoulders
and lifted her head, became the Princess she had been
when he'd first met her. "May the Force be with
you," she said.
Han leaned down and kissed her forehead.
"It'll be okay, Leia. We'll figure it out. Hold
tight and keep a lid on the base. It'll be okay."
She took a few steps back and nodded again. Han
hesitated, then followed Lando out into the desert.
He hoped he hadn't lied.
Han and Lando left quickly so they could get to
work on their ship adjustments, and try to head off
this tragedy without necessitating another one by
losing a pilot to the mission. Amidala was dimly
aware of their exit, but the main focus of her
attention was Leia, whose eyes were filled with
apprehension as Han went off. She hated seeing her
daughter so afraid, though she couldn't blame Leia
for being shaken by Han's offer to pilot the ship.
Amidala herself was not pleased with her own husband
thinking along similar lines.
"I still can't believe he let practically the
whole planet's civilians onto that base," Leia
muttered, mostly to herself, "as if being near
the Rebels would be safer than being out in an
Amidala could almost picture Ani rolling his eyes.
"You would not have left them to their own
devices in the middle of a natural disaster if you
could have helped," he said.
Leia didn't argue that point with him.
"Still, for me to be responsible for that... I
just... an entire people could be wiped
out," she cried in anguish. "All of them.
Gone. Just like that. It's... for them, it'd be
another Alderaan." She shuddered, as she often
did when she thought about what happened to her
homeworld. "And we left the kids to watch the
"Leia, this isn't your fault," Amidala
said, almost automatically.
"But I command the Rebels -"
"Your mother is correct, Leia," Ani
agreed. "It may not have been wise to bring the
civilians into your camp, but Solo could not have
foreseen these types of problems. He was not
expecting an attack, and believed he'd be able to
stay in touch with your officers." Leia
shrugged, not particularly helped by his words, but
at least partially appreciative that he had made an
effort to comfort her. Ani continued, "The true
question is not why Solo chose to allow the Ledagans
on the base, but what Admiral Piett could have hoped
to accomplish by taking this action. He must be aware
of the fact that the vast majority of the Rebels are
here on Tatooine, and not on the base. Even without
the knowledge of the civilians staying in the camp,
an attack on Ledaga now makes little sense from a
"Except to punish us for Tatooine," Leia
said. "He couldn't very well fire off that thing
here. He's getting us the only way he can. And it
could ruin everything. I can't imagine trying to get
the Rebels to go along with any of our plans if our
base is wiped out like this."
Amidala felt a chill inside her and trembled. She
was trying not to remember - the order she had given
Piett, the words she had last said to him, the
instructions she had left him with...
She wondered how pale she suddenly looked; her
face felt completely drained. Then she flushed.
"This isn't Piett's fault. And it's certainly
not Han's fault, or your fault, Leia. I gave the
"What?" Leia whispered harshly.
"You did what?"
"It was much earlier, before the
communications went down," she tried to explain,
"before we were sure what you were... what we
were dealing with here. Piett told me that he thought
he had found the Rebel base, and he needed guidance
on what to do while we were under siege here."
It sounded wholly inadequate to her - how could it
have made so much sense such a short time ago?
"So I... "
"So you told him to destroy the base?"
Leia asked incredulously.
"I told him to be prepared to act if the
situation here reached a - a critical point. That I
would trust his judgment on the appropriate action to
The hostility in Leia's eyes diminished a little.
Ani, of course, all but jumped to her defense.
"You should not blame yourself, my love. Piett
had not shown himself to be unworthy of your trust
prior to this. And circumstances demanded that you
leave him in command."
"In any event," Leia said wearily,
"what we have to worry about now is finding a
way to stop the missile before it hits. Let's just
hope that something can be figured out."
Amidala was hugging herself tightly, even though
it was doing nothing to ward off the chill she was
still feeling throughout her body. She wanted to
believe them. What she had done was neither unusual
nor inexplicable given the situation she had found
herself in. And assigning blame would do no good to
anyone at this point anyway, and should be put off
She didn't feel comforted by any of that though.
"I wish there was something I could do. I want
"There's really nothing that can be done
right now, Mother."
"But if I could -"
"Your mother has never been good at leaving
these matters to others," Ani said, interrupting
her in mid-sentence. "At least, not in all of
the time that I have known her."
Usually, that kind of comment from Ani would have
spurred a shared smile, and more than a few shared
memories, both pleasant and painful. She couldn't
find any smile right now, but the memories came
quickly enough anyway. Of how they had first met
while she was stuck on this awful planet, unable to
do anything for her people on Naboo, who were trapped
and suffering under the Trade Federation invasion.
Ani hadn't known the full story of what she was
dealing with until they were on their way to
Coruscant later, but he had been perceptive enough to
feel her anxiety and urgency. And her frustration.
Now, decades later, here she was again. Stuck on
Tatooine while a disaster was in the making
"Perhaps," Ani was saying, "we
should give thought to a course of action if the
attempt to send an unmanned ship fails. One thing we
can do - and must do - is find a way to mitigate this
problem with the Rebels."
She had been a child, really, during the invasion.
She probably hadn't been ready for the throne, even
under normal, peaceful circumstances. Dealing with an
attack, with a blockade? It was out of her experience
and beyond her training - it wasn't part of the way
Naboo was ruled or the way the planet had previously
dealt with its neighbors. People knew that. Had
things gone differently, or ended badly, she would
have been the object of a great deal of pity, and
people might have rightly wondered why they voted a
young, inexperienced girl into office... but no one
had expected her to be able to take charge herself
and save the day. Her enduring popularity after she
expelled the Trade Federation was a testament to how
surprised and impressed people were with what she had
been able to accomplish.
Still, she would have blamed herself if she had
not been able to save her planet. That was all that
had mattered to her at the time.
Leia's brow was furrowed, and she was deep in
thought. "I'm sure we have people who would be
willing to take on this mission." She sighed.
"The fact that the Empire is working with us to
stop this might be enough to convince them that this
alliance is serious."
"If an Imperial Officer were to
volunteer," Vader said gravely, "it might
do more to further relations between both
She had been so hard on herself then. Every
problem that happened when she was Queen (or Senator)
had been her problem, and she had found a way
to tackle each of them without retreating in the
slightest. How had she been able to do that? Were
things really so different then?
Was she really so different?
"I can't believe we're talking about
this," Leia said. "To just send someone to
do this knowing that they'll never come back...
"There are honorable people, on each side,
who will volunteer."
"Yes, you and Han were certainly out to prove
When she had become Mayor and Queen and Senator...
each time, she had felt the weight of her position,
of what she was about to do. Where had that feeling
been when Palpatine had been overthrown, and she had
become Empress? She couldn't remember it. There was
just a sense that what happened had been inevitable,
that the throne was hers, and she was where she was
meant to be. The problems of her Empire were
Palpatine's fault. Or the Rebels' fault. Or the
criminals. Or the bureaucrats. Of course, she had
wanted to fix everything, but none of the problems
had ever really been hers; she'd never claimed
ownership of them as an Empress responsible for a
"Let's hope for the best with the
autopilot," Leia decided. "In the meantime,
I want to take charge of the joint command. We have
to start giving directives to the officers in the
Amazingly, there was no argument, no disagreement.
Ani simply began to lead Leia toward the Command
Center, where the Rebels and Imperials were working
together on the communications and messages. They
both turned back when she didn't follow right away.
"Mother? Aren't you coming?"
She nodded absentmindedly, and trailed behind
them. It was time for her to remember her forgotten
duties. However this impending tragedy resolved
itself, Amidala knew that a new era was again
beginning for the galaxy. She needed to be ready to
Lando took the speederbike he'd grabbed in Mos
Eisley (Han, with no hint of surprise, identified it
as Leia's), and followed Han up and over the mesa. A
large opening in the south face caught Lando's eye.
"Is that another hangar?" he asked, leaning
in toward his comlink to speak over the wind.
"Probably. But if they had another ship in
there, I think Her Ladyship might have mentioned it.
I'm guessing they were all down in the North Hangar.
And they're all scrap."
"Either we're really good," Lando said,
"or we're really stupid."
"I'm trying to figure that one out myself,
old buddy. Solo out."
The communication cut with a loud burst of static,
and Lando pulled back from the comlink.
They went across the desert to the Rebel
encampment outside of Anchorhead. It was deserted
with the exception of six guards. Leia had wanted to
leave more - if they hadn't gotten a leg up on the
Empire immediately, a strike here could have stranded
the whole damned Rebellion on this dustball - but
they couldn't be spared.
"General!" An ensign saluted, snapping
to attention beside Han's ship.
"Not now," Han said. "At
The ensign spread his feet and stood at parade
rest. "We've been getting strange reports,
"Then you've probably been getting the right
ones." Han lowered the gangplank. "We've
got work to do, Ensign, and not much time to do it.
We'll have to save the debriefing for later."
Han rubbed his head as he went into the ship.
Lando took a deep breath and followed him in.
"What are the odds?" Lando asked,
staring at the navigational console.
"When did I ever give odds?" Han
switched on the monitor and called up the autopilot
routines. "Whose great idea was this?"
"One of the kids. Remember, you wanted them
to think of things the Empire might do now that it
had some brains in its administration?"
A holographic command structure appeared in the
air, and with a command from Han, displayed a
sequence of red lights that formed a thin braid
throughout the form.
Lando drew a sharp breath. "It's totally
"It was that Mon Cal kid," Han said.
"He came up with the idea that the Empire could
cut into our systems and start turning our ships
against us. So he put in lockout on allowing remote
or automatic piloting that would actually hit any
object. And he made it harder to cut in."
"Makes enough sense in theory."
"Let's pack up and move to Theory, what do
you say?" Han waved the comment off. "Okay.
We're not going to get in from the top, not in two
hours anyway. Let's see if we can wire around the nav
Lando hunkered down beside him, and they tried for
forty minutes to re-circuit the navigational systems
on the old Naboo cruiser.
At first, it looked easy - just strip a few wires,
re-direct, maybe send navigation through the
communications computers, then put in a quick
program. Nothing too complex, nothing they hadn't
done before. Lando had wired around a faulty
naviputer four times, and Han had never run across a
ship he couldn't re-design from the circuits up.
But Naboo technology was stubbornly integrated. A
single console was used in communications,
navigation, and the ship's log. The same button would
bring up starmaps and broadcast messages, depending
on how the system was toggled. Wiring around it
wasn't a simple matter.
"Should we try wiring it to the defense
network?" Lando asked, pulling himself out from
under the counter. This corner of the cockpit was a
mess, but even Han hadn't been able to make the rest
of the cruiser look anything but sleek and luxurious.
"They don't have a lot of gunports, so I'm
guessing they've got a smart system."
"Oh, it's a great system," Han said,
rolling out from the other side with a sneer on his
face. "Only problem is, it's housed way back at
the other end of the ship." He jerked his thumb
aft. "Guess they didn't want to bother the
dignitaries with it. You happen to have twenty meters
"No way to do it by remote?"
"Naviputer actually needs to be attached to
something. Right now, we're the galaxy's biggest
paperweight." He stood up. "I can get the
defense network plugged in to the propulsion system
from where it is. There are plenty of access points
for that. But if we're going to get any navigational
control, the nav files have to be in the
"Can we communicate with the defense system
from here? Send the files it needs?"
Han looked at the tangle of wires. "Not until
we get this thing hooked back up."
"Let's get back to work then."
Han made no move.
Lando raised an eyebrow. "Are you thinking
it's not going to work?"
"I'm thinking we might figure it out in five
minutes. Or we might keep trying new things until
that missile drops in on Ledaga. We don't know
this is going to work."
Well, Leia needs you, Lando tried to hear
himself saying, and the Empress seems to want her
husband around. I'll go. I'll take the ship and I'll
fly it into a missile that will vaporize whatever it
hits. I'll do it.
But he couldn't. He didn't think he was a coward -
he just hadn't tried all the other options yet.
People who decided to bow out of the game before the
last hand had been dealt had always struck Lando as
not quite right in the head. There was still a
"Come on," he said. "Let's get this
Leia felt curiously comfortable now in the
headquarters of the Imperial Command Center.
When she had first walked in the room, she wasn't
entirely sure where she was supposed to begin. Her
parents stayed back, much to her surprise, trying to
give her the space she needed to formulate a real
plan for taking charge.
Since intercepting Piett's message, the Rebels had
been working frantically to use their comms to pick
up any other stray messages of import, and to try
repeatedly to raise the base on Ledaga, to no
success. The Imperial Officers weren't quite sure how
to make use of themselves, and Alpha Squadron still
wasn't fully committed to working with them anyway. A
few of the more insistent ones had been allowed to
help strengthen the Rebels communications system,
using some of the stray parts and pieces of the
Imperial network. They had occasionally snuck on the
system itself, trying to get the Rebels in the
various settlements to put Lady Vader's forces on the
comm link, so they could at least be updated as to
what was going on.
Nothing else in the Command Center was working.
Everything in the room had been tied in some way or
another to the main Imperial network, and when that
went down, everything here was reduced to blank or
flashing consoles that would not respond to any
So, there was a fury around the Rebels' small,
makeshift transmitter. That was what was passing for
a command structure. For both sides.
Leia dove into the disarray headlong. This was her
first real act of command over Imperial officers, and
it was the first true, organized attempt to get them
and the Rebels to work together under one authority.
She needed this to work - she needed to make a
statement about the future of the Empire, and how
they had decided things would work from now on.
She didn't even stop to wonder how she had gotten
to the point where she was concerned about
establishing the future of the Empire. There was just
too much to do.
Leia had quickly grabbed a handful of Imperial
Officers and ordered Alpha Squadron to work with them
on creating as reliable a system of communication as
they could under the circumstances. That meant
letting the Imperial engineers get to work on the
transmitter. It meant working on a combined list of
squadrons and battalions, and their leaders who would
need to be kept in contact with headquarters. It
meant getting about half the Rebel leaders out in the
cities to give up their comlinks to their Imperial
counterparts, so one side wasn't completely out of
touch, or at the mercy of people they considered
their enemies. It meant running Rebels and Imperial
officers on foot to various locations to make sure
they believed what they were hearing over the comm.
There were difficulties, of course. A very few
people who were actually still fighting in random
pockets out in the dunes; people on either side who
weren't going to listen to anyone if it meant
compromising with their enemy; settlers and other
parts of the native population who still resented the
encroachment on their homes, and blamed one side or
the other, or both, and were still trying to stir up
Still, things had gone more smoothly than Leia had
hoped. She realized that both sides had already been
working together quite a bit, since she and her
father had brought Mos Eisley under control, and Han
had apparently worked something out with the Vader
sympathizers in Mos Espa. Everyone here in the
headquarters had seen the Empress herself sit with
the Rebels and talk. There were bridges there to
build on, and Leia reached out to those who had
bought into the idea of cooperation first, and let
them try to convince the others. She sent of few of
her own officers to speak directly to townspeople and
the farmers and the settlers, to try to bring them in
as well. They were being more reluctant, but at least
if they were being talked to, they were occupied with
something that wasn't firing at Imperials and Rebels.
She wondered idly where her parents had gotten to.
She hadn't even noticed them leave.
Leia found an Imperial ensign staring warily at
"Am I supposed to report to you?" he
"Yes," was her blunt reply. She decided
to ignore his discomfort and get him used to the
idea. "You may address me as Princess
Leia," she said calmly, "and I will receive
He gave her a half-hearted salute, but his
demeanor did become more serious. "Princess
Leia, we believe we have all the commanders and
captains you requested on the comm system now."
"They've all checked in?"
"Yes," he replied. "We're getting
full status checks from each of them."
At least she had everyone listening now, finally.
She just had to make sure they followed her as
well. "Can I send out a general message? To all
"I believe so..."
"Then set up the main transmitter," she
said. "I need to speak to everyone at
It didn't take very long to make the necessary
adjustments, and she was holding a small
microphone-like device before she knew it.
"Well," Athuli said wryly, "you've
got everyone's attention. We don't know how long this
system is going to hold up though. I'd say whatever
you have to say now, Your Highness."
A fleeting thought passed through her mind right
before she began to speak.
Welcome to the new era.
She didn't say it, of course - she would never say
that. But she couldn't help thinking that it might
have been even more appropriate now that it had been
back during the battle at Bespin...since they weren't
about to replace one dictatorship with another this
time. They were at least trying to bring real change.
She realized that everyone was staring and waiting
for her. She took a deep breath.
"This is Princess Leia, speaking to all the
forces on Tatooine. You all are aware by now that
I've assumed command, and that we will all be working
jointly from this point forward.
"I will give you orders that you each are to
carry out. We need to maintain peace and control of
the settlements, and restore and rebuild what was
damaged in the fighting." She paused before
launching into her laundry list of items that needed
to be acted on. "Ter Caldo, I need you to head
to the residential districts in Mos Eisley and make
absolutely certain that anyone who needs medical
attention is receiving it. I'm sending Rebel medics
from Mos Espa to assist you. Lenna, you and your
people should help the farmers out in the
Orders went out to people in every corner of
planet that the comm was able to reach. The slow
process of healing Tatooine slowly began.
"I should return to the command center,"
Ani said, looking over his shoulder. "Leia is
unaccustomed to Imperial protocol."
"Leia spent several years in the Imperial
Senate, and she worked with us in Theed. She'll be
fine." Amidala linked her arm around Ani's and
leaned against him. They stood together at the top of
the mesa, among a litter of stones where Ani and Luke
had trained yesterday. "As fine as any of us can
be, at any rate."
"We will stop the missile."
"It's been over two hours already, Ani. Han
and Lando have made no progress."
"We will stop it," he said again,
"All those civilians... what have I
"You did what you felt was right."
"I did what seemed most convenient." She
sighed. "I need time to think, Ani," she
Ani didn't answer, but a gentle motion in the
Force - or the wind, Amidala was sometimes not sure -
wrapped her in the folds of his dark cape, sheltering
her in his shadow.
She breathed deeply, taking in his strength. The
smell of the machinery had never become pleasant to
her, even with the numerous pleasant memories it now
evoked. But it was the smell of Ani now, and
it was therefore comforting to her in some obscure
way. "You don't need to stay with me," she
said after awhile, when the cape lifted and let in
the starlight. "You can go to your chamber and
take care of the maintenance."
"I would be honored by your company, my
"I'd like to stay out here for awhile and
think. Maybe we all need time to think, Ani."
He paused. "I do not care to leave you alone
tonight, my love. It has been... a troubling
"I'm not alone. Luke is with me. He promised
he would be, and he is."
"I do not sense... " But he stopped.
"Amidala, there is no necessary
She looked over her shoulder at him. "It's
been a difficult day and you've exposed yourself to
many things. Just like Bespin. And I... that
infection frightened me, Ani. I don't know what would
happen to me if I lost you. So please, take care of
Her voice was soft, and she was attempting
to get some space alone to think, but it wasn't a
lie. After the battle of Bespin, when he had gone
through the gas and the different toxins and then not
taken the time for his usual maintenance routines,
he'd had a sepsis infection at the cybernetic
juncture point in his neck, and a fever had raged for
three days. She had been frightened, and
"You are certain?" Ani asked.
"Yes." She squeezed his hand. She wasn't
sure if he could feel such a slight change in
pressure, but he would at least see her hand move.
"Will you be all right, Ani? You worry
about me so much, and I seem never to be there to
"Your presence is a comfort to me, Amidala.
Even when walls stand between us." He paused.
"Even when worlds stand between us. You are a
comfort to me."
"And you to me. But I do need to think."
"As you wish." He started away, then
turned. "Will you come to me before you retire,
Amidala? We could speak of Luke."
She nodded. "I will." She looked toward
the pyre, now invisible in the shadows, marked only
by the white smoke that still poured a thin line into
the sky. "No mourning would seem adequate, would
"And yet we are forced to move forward. We
must. It's so hard, Ani. I want to wrap myself in my
memories and hide there. But we must push
He said nothing.
She looked at him over her shoulder. The night
wind caught her hair and rippled it out toward him,
twisting it into meaningless tangles as it went.
"Go on, Ani. I will come to you. I
He bowed slightly and went inside.
Slowly, Amidala turned her face back to the open
desert. The three moons lit it gently, but the stars
were only hard points in the night.
They gave themselves to you for love, and their
problems are yours as surely as Ani's are.
Somewhere up there, between those cold stars,
death sped through the endless night.
She sat down on a battlement and drew her knees up
to her chest. She had never been taught to meditate,
never made it a part of her daily routine as Ani
did... but she understood it intuitively, and she let
herself go deep into her own mind. Her eyes slipped
Somewhere in the darkness, she could feel another
presence calling to her, reaching for her. She opened
her inner eyes, let them see.
A small boy stood before her, blue eyes wide,
right hand outstretched.
He didn't answer, only blinked slowly and
continued holding out his hand.
She took it.
As he led her away from the battlement, the sky
grew light and the world became the gardens of Theed
Palace, lush with summer. Marble statues lined the
walk. Luke wordlessly led her to the first one.
The statue moved.
Amidala cried out in shock. The living marble was
in the shape of a girl with a crown of braids, with a
wide mouth and slightly upturned eyes, always looking
forward. Padmé Naberrie.
"You've betrayed me," Padmé intoned.
"I am you."
"You became all I fought against, all I hated
in the galaxy. You've become the oppressor and the
tyrant, and you've let Ani shelter you from even the
knowledge of it."
Amidala saw the worlds suddenly spun out before
her, all the dreams she had once had, all the beliefs
she had once lived by. "I am you," she said
The statue reached out its right hand.
Amidala glanced down at the little boy who had to
be Luke - with those eyes, he could be no one else.
He let go of her hand and nodded.
She reached out, took the marble hand, and grasped
The statue faded, and Amidala felt something pour
into her, a kind of deep, cool well of strength.
Luke led her further down the path to a second
figure, this one sparkling in the sunlight. It was
made of spun glass. A young woman, her hair tumbling
in ringlets over her shoulders, her gown flowing in
the wind. Padmé again, older now.
"You've betrayed me," she said.
"I am you."
The glass figure spread her arms, and Amidala
could see Ani reflected inside of her, laughing in
the Naboo sunshine, professing his love for her in
front of a fireplace, drawing her to him in the
nameless hangar where he'd lost the first part of his
humanity. "You had the power to help him,"
this Padmé whispered. "Your love could have
saved him, but you chose not to. You held his heart,
but you did nothing to save him."
Amidala watched the images deep inside of the
figure, longing for the days when they had been so
young together, but the memories would not come with
the immediacy she longed for. More urgent were the
memories of the days after they had been reunited,
the days when she might have backed away and asked
him to come with her... the days when she had instead
become so single-minded in her drive for vengeance
against Palpatine that it had ceased to matter to her
that Ani was destroying his soul every day. She
looked up at the glass figure's face. "I am you,
as well," she said.
"Remember." The figure nodded and held
out its hand. Amidala took it. A warmth seeped into
She stood still for a moment, though Luke was
tugging at her sleeve. She smiled down at him.
"You are here, aren't you?"
He cocked his head in a bemused way, not answering
her. Was he Luke, or was he just some part of her own
mind? Then he grinned in a sunny way, the bright
smile that had been all his own. He took her hand and
led her further down the path.
A life-sized hologram stood on the path, clad in
white, carrying a child in her emaciated arms. She
turned to Amidala with haunted eyes - the eyes that
had been her own in the years she had fled through
the galaxy to escape from Palpatine, her small,
beautiful daughter in her arms. It was the time
before Alderaan, before Camp One-A, before she had
returned to Ani.
"You've betrayed me," the hologram said,
its voice terrified.
Amidala considered not answering, but the
compulsion was too strong. "I am you."
"I tried to keep them safe, but you hunted
them. I tried to shelter them from the war, but you
brought the war to them. I tried to make them happy,
but you split Leia from the man she loved, and when
Luke wished for your affection above all things, he
had to pay for it with his soul."
Amidala wanted to protest. It wasn't my fault -
I was tired, I was lonely, I, I, I. But looking
into those eyes that she had once seen every day, she
found she couldn't do so. Instead, she looked down at
her feet. "I betrayed you," she whispered.
"And I am you."
The hologram didn't reach out immediately, so
Amidala looked up. It was gazing at her with
compassion. "And I, you," it said. Then it
reached across and whispered, "Remember."
As this Padmé came into her, she felt a deep
sadness settle around her heart, but it was a just
sadness, a sadness that belonged to her. It was grief
for a life that had been stolen against her will.
The light from the hologram faded. The sky
darkened. The garden disappeared. Only one figure
remained, standing in the middle of a great arched
doorway ten meters ahead. Beyond her was a hangar,
with only one ship visible, a bright yellow Naboo
Beside her, the boy who had to be Luke looked up,
fear on his small face. She leaned down and kissed
him. "It will be all right," she said.
"Mother will take care of it."
He nodded uncertainly and led her forward.
The last figure was not another image of herself.
It was a great white flower - a lotus - folded up on
itself. Amidala could see three petals, each bearing
a sketched image of the figures she had seen already.
She reached out to touch it, and the petals opened,
folding down to form a pedestal. Only one remained
upright, behind the figure that had been hidden
within the bud.
From deep inside the lotus, Queen Amidala of Naboo
arose, her face painted white, her purple gown
falling heavily to the white petals at her feet. Luke
went to her, and hid himself in the folds of velvet.
Lady Vader knelt. "I know. I have betrayed
There was no response from the impassive figure
standing in front of her.
She sighed. "I turned my back on my duties to
my people. I thought of myself before I thought of
those for whom I am responsible. I -"
Lady Vader looked up.
Queen Amidala was smiling slightly. "I am
you," she said, and opened her arms.
Lady Vader, Padmé Naberrie, Amidala of the Naboo,
rose to her feet, and stepped into those arms,
letting herself be embraced. Instead of feeling
something flow into her, she felt a wholeness, a
sense of transfer and balance. The Queen glowed
Then there was darkness.
Amidala opened her eyes.
She was standing alone at the entrance to the
South hangar. The fighter Luke had flown to Naboo sat
by itself near the far wall. He had landed it there
for some reason that she would never know, even
though the rest of the fleet had been in the main
hangar on the north side of the Command Center.
Of her vision... dream... whatever it had been,
only one thing remained. In front of her was the last
tall petal of the lotus, with one last sketched
imaged on it.
It was Padmé again, but not the soft and romantic
Padmé of meadow or the terrified young mother. It
was not the queen in hiding. This Padmé wore a
simpler costume, one Amidala only remembered vaguely
because Captain Typho had not allowed her to wear it
It was the uniform of a Naboo fighter pilot.
The petal faded and disappeared.
Amidala breathed deeply. She had many things to
do, and a promise to keep.
Lieutenant Gistra's head snapped up when he heard
the voice of the Gungan who had been manning
communications while he took a short break. Whatever
Princess Leia said, Gistra didn't think that the
Empress ought to be too close to the fragile
communications system. Every time she gave a speech,
the Rebellion ended up losing people. People said the
Jedi knew about mind tricks, but the Empress... well,
in Gistra's opinion, she could have taught them a
thing or two.
But when he turned to block her, she was simply
watching quietly, her dark eyes scanning the keys
that the Gungan was hitting. She looked up briefly at
Gistra. "Has there been any contact with Naboo
Gistra started to answer, but found himself caught
in those eyes. They were a gravitational force. By
the ghosts of all the Teachers, she was beautiful.
"No, ma'am," he managed, and fought
against what he was certain was some kind of mind
control. "They wouldn't be able to hit your
missile anyway. Hasn't been a priority."
She raised an eyebrow, but did not reprimand him
for his tone. He nevertheless felt ashamed.
"What channels are you scanning?" she
"A few frequencies toward the high end of the
spectrum, mainly." He showed her a list, and
pointed to one number that glowed brightly.
"We're bouncing everything off this. Anything we
- that is, anything the Princess decides needs to be
broadcast can go out to everyone who's picking
anything up at all."
The Empress merely nodded. "Then you are
doing all you can. The Princess will lead you
With that, she disappeared as abruptly as she had
The Command Center was no longer one crisis after
another, but it was still hectic, and Leia had not
been off her feet for an hour or more. Most of the
problems were technical now, and things were running
smoothly. She thanked the Maker for engineers and
their single-minded devotion to technology... none of
them seemed to care who was an Imperial and who was a
Rebel, unlike the military leaders who sometimes only
worked together grudgingly. The engineers were surly
and didn't like taking any orders from anyone, but at
least they didn't care which commander they were
She checked her chrono. Why no word from Han? He
had promised not to do anything foolish without
coming back here first to check in with her, and she
trusted him. But why hadn't he gotten back to her
about the cruiser yet?
A tech cursed loudly in a far corner, and Leia
stood and turned to go see what was happening. As she
did, she saw Mother standing in the arched doorway of
the room, her simple red gown fading into the shadows
of the hall. But her face was clear.
She didn't answer. She just smiled sadly.
Leia was going to go to her - she had to; there
was something about that smile that was wrong - but a
console overheated, spraying sparks into the air and
shorting out several other terminals around it. The
tech got up - still cursing - and called her over to
see what needed to be done.
When she finished sorting it out, Mother had gone.
In the quarters of the Empress, the door stood
open. A traveling wardrobe was flung wide, its
contents scattered as though they had been rifled
quickly in a desperate search. Expensive gowns and
veils, in varying shades of red, lay across the
floor. One veil had fallen into the remains of a jar
of facial cream that had been knocked off the bureau
The destruction stopped at the second drawer of
the bureau, where the lost item had apparently been
found. It had been carried ceremonially to the bed
and placed on the pillow.
The box was exquisite, made of tiral, a
rare pliable metal that reflected all surrounding
colors perfectly. It had been shaped and decorated
with loving care by Lord Vader's hands, its shape
suggesting the wings of the birds of Naboo - or the
feathers of a white cape worn long ago by a girl he
had loved. Its top had been opened, to reveal its
soft lining, made from a gown rescued from an
Imperial museum - an orange, yellow, and red gown
whose pattern had been designed to resemble flames.
This cloth had been stuffed to cushion the one item
that the box held, the one possession Amidala had
never relinquished in the years since her childhood,
though she had often had to keep it hidden.
Amid all the luxury, the japor snippet would have
looked dull and dreary to any other eye - it was
beaten and weathered, its arcane symbols faded over
time. But its place alone was enough to tell the
owner of that theoretical eye that it was the most
important possession in the room.
The droids had finished the first and second
levels of disconnection, and Vader wished, as he
always did when he reached this point, that he had
simply allowed himself to be swallowed by the fire.
His limbs were totally inaccessible to him, a
hulking, non-functional life-size droid that happened
to be attached to what was left of his body. The
sensory equipment in the helmet was high above him -
his natural hearing had been dulled in the... the
accident... and his vision had naturally deteriorated
with age. It was still passable, but it put a soft
blur around everything that was disconcerting with
everything else gone as well. His vocoder had
separated and opened, the microphones that caught his
subvocalizations going off to either side for their
Why had he, with so little left of himself,
survived today, while his son, the boy who carried
all of their hopes, had perished?
Luke did not exist to carry your shattered
hopes. Do not dishonor his memory by considering him
nothing more than a replacement for your broken body.
Vader closed his eyes, losing himself in the void
of nearly total sensory deprivation. He had not taken
the time to know Luke as a man in his own right, not
really. He had been a student, a son, a military
leader. He had been Amidala's confidante - she would
be able to tell him more - but he had not known Luke,
not really. For so many years, he had simply relied
on the Force to tell him the things he needed to know
immediately that the simpler things, the
conversations they might have had, just never
occurred to him, or when they had, they had been
distant concerns. There would be time After. There
was always an After somewhere.
And yet, he had known Luke in ways that
Amidala never would. He had felt Luke's mind and soul
for years, had battled him and taught him and...
Vader had never fooled himself about this last,
though he had never known how it fit into his life.
He loved his family. He had managed to love Luke onto
a funeral pyre.
He sensed the change in the Force when Amidala
came into the antechamber, but he couldn't hear her
yet, and he knew his eyes wouldn't focus on her until
she was closer than the door. At this stage in the
process, it was certainly impossible to greet her.
He opened his eyes, expecting to see a hazy red
form somewhere beyond the barrier, making blurred
motions as she adjusted her breath mask.
Instead, she stood before him, close to him, her
uncovered face lovelier than he had remembered. The
mask cleared his vision, but it stole warmth from the
colors of the world. It -
"Your mask," he tried to say, then
remembered that the vocoder was still cleaning.
She read his lips. "It's all right, Ani. I
can't stay long."
"What do you... " But no sound came out.
He shifted his eyes to the two microphones then
looked at her significantly, but she didn't notice.
She leaned forward and kissed his mouth, her lips
pressing softly against his, no barrier between them
for the first time in more years than Vader was
willing to remember. Her hands stroked the sides of
his face, clear of machinery. She let her lips linger
on his for a moment, then kissed his nose and his
head. "Oh, Ani," she whispered.
"Loving you is the most important thing I've
done with my life. The best thing."
He tried to answer. She noticed the microphones
and moved them in. "Thank you," he said.
"Amidala, you should not breathe this air. The
"... will make me dizzy in a few minutes, I
know." She brushed her finger along the
microphones. "I'm sorry I waited, Ani. I did see
you ask. But I needed to kiss you like that. I needed
to touch you without all that in the way."
Vader considered saying something light, but he
was troubled by her mood. A deep sadness was seeping
out of her, grief beyond what she'd felt earlier. But
it was tinged with peace.
Vader did not trust the combination. "My
love, you need rest."
"I'll rest soon," she said. "But I
promised I would come to you first."
"I know who you are, Ani," she said.
"I have always known, from the moment we met.
Stop hiding. Please promise me you'll stop
"Promise. I beg you, Ani. Stop this. All of
it. Come back. Be Leia's father and my husband.
Promise me you'll stop hiding."
"Amidala, your mood is... "
"I will promise, but you must -"
"I will do what I must," she said.
Vader tried not to understand, tried to will it
away from himself. But the truth was written in her
eyes. "Amidala, no. Please... "
She kissed him again, deeply, and leaned her
forehead against his. "I have to, Ani. I did
this. I've spent too long pretending not to be
myself. And I can't go back to pretending
"Padmé, please... "
Her eyes roamed over his face; he could almost
feel them tracing his scars. "Stop hiding,
Ani," she said again. "Stop pretending.
You've done horrible things. I know that, and you
know it. But you're still here. The same Anakin
Skywalker who saved me and my world, the same Anakin
Skywalker... Shmi's son. Obi-Wan's padawan. My
husband. The children's father. You're still there,
Ani. And you don't have to drown in what's
She stood back. She was crying, he saw now, her
"Amidala, Padmé... "
"Amidala," she corrected softly. "I
have to be Amidala now. Padmé could never leave you.
And I have to." The trembling lips gave way to
shuddering muscles in her cheeks, and the gentle
crying became a sob. "Oh, Ani. I wish I'd done
it all differently. But I didn't. And now... "
"It was cruel to come here. But I couldn't
leave without saying goodbye, without seeing your
eyes one more time... "
"Don't do this... "
But she turned and ran.
Vader reached out with the Force, but he was too
late to close the complicated valve system before she
was in the antechamber, and she left only the outer
door to seal him inside.
But she was gone.
The droids went on with their work.
Leia's eyes roamed over the Command Center. It was
operating under a sort of controlled chaos, which she
was guiding and directing. A great deal of headway
had been made in restoring order to the cities, but
there still seemed to be so much left that needed to
But she was pulling away from it. The Center was
increasingly becoming a low, dull hum in the back of
Something in the Force was calling to her, was
demanding her attention. She had tried to ignore it
at first - there were too many things here she needed
to deal with - but that hadn't lasted very long. She
was being drawn to one or both of her parents, but
her attempts to follow the trail of whatever this was
tugging at her consciousness got lost and confused
when she got close to either one of them.
She hadn't gone off to find Mother because she
wasn't convinced that something was truly wrong with
her. The sense Leia got from her now...she felt the
same way she had looked a little while ago when she
had made her wordless visit to the Command Center.
Sad and smiling at once. Grieving and distressed, but
It was the first time she had sensed that from her
mother since...well, she wasn't sure she had ever
sensed her mother feeling this centered before. She
found it hard to believe that this was an indication
that something was wrong.
So she turned to her father. But she couldn't get
a proper read on him at all. She had never tried to
before; she had spent so much of her time trying to
close herself off from him that she wasn't sure where
to begin trying to sense where his heart and mind
were. She couldn't break through to get a clear
impression, and she was left with a confused jumble.
Leia's feet were moving now, stumbling in an
uncertain way toward one of the Command Center's
exits. Several people called to her, some asked her
if she was all right, data pads were thrust in front
of her by officers trying to get her to approve this
or that order. Many of them didn't register with her
at all, and she ignored the rest.
She made it out into a hallway, and heading
blindly in the direction where she believed her
father's quarters to be.
He was feeling...trapped...hopeless? What was
She still got nothing from her mother besides that
Where was she?
Her feet were beginning to feel heavy, like they
couldn't decide which way to carry her. She was
And someone was grabbing her arm.
"Leia! Leia, what's going on?"
She gazed up at Han, blinking slowly. He gently
turned her around so that she was facing him, and
touched her face. He was clearly concerned. She tried
to bring her mind around and focus on him and on what
he was saying to her.
"Sweetheart, are you okay?"
She shook her head no in a slow, deliberate
motion. "I - I need to find my parents, Han. I
think something's wrong."
"Like what? What's happened?"
"I don't know yet," she said.
"Okay, okay, let's find them," he
replied. "We need to talk with them
anyway." He glanced back over his shoulder at
Lando, whom Leia noticed for the first time, and they
shared resigned expressions. Her heart sank. "We
couldn't find a way to get around the auto-pilot. I
really don't think there is a way around it.
We need to sit down with them and discuss what we
want to do next."
That was finally enough to pull Leia out of her
stupor, and give Han her complete attention.
"Are you sure there's nothing left to try? What
"I'm sorry, Leia," Lando said, "but
we've done everything we could think of, and tried a
few other things I can't believe we even came up
with. We dragged Artoo in there to take a look at it,
and he knows the systems better than we do. We can't
get to the root commands, and there was no way to get
at it through other systems."
"Besides," Han added, "time's
running out. If we're going to stop this thing, we've
got to make a decision now."
The hopelessness of the situation hit Leia, as she
thought about the limited and dreadful options they
were left with. She locked her eyes with Han's and
said coldly, "You can't do this. Don't even
think about volunteering again."
"Leia, someone's got to go. I'm not saying it
has to be me. But there's no reason I
can't...be considered. I'm the reason so many people
are going to be killed by this."
"Han -" she began. She didn't want to
think what it would be like to watch Han fly off,
heading toward his certain death. "I won't let
you do it." To lose him at all, no matter how
noble the cause might be...
Tears stung her eyes, and she almost couldn't
breathe. She was surprised by how strongly the
emotions came to her. After all, she had meant what
she said. Han was not going to be the one to go. So
why was she so affected by the thought of it?
She felt hopeless. Trapped.
"Father?" she whispered harshly.
Han and Lando looked at her blankly, but she had
already freed her arm from Han's grasp, and was
flying down the hallway, resuming her interrupted
trip to her parents' quarters. She didn't pause to
check if the other two were following her.
The feelings were so strong because that was the
way he was feeling now. With that realization
she was suddenly reading him easily, and almost
becoming overwhelmed his panic and despair.
Why would he feel this way? She didn't want to
consider the possibilities, she didn't want to know.
She rounded a corner, and to her surprise, her
father was there, in the hallway, running toward her.
She barely had time to register the way he looked
- out of sorts, almost disheveled - before he reached
her, and grabbed her roughly by her shoulders.
"Your mother, where is she?"
And that's when Leia understood.
She understood her mother's odd moods, and why her
father's feelings had mirrored her own about Han
possibly taking on this mission.
She paled, and beseeched him. "Father...she's
not going to...she hasn't..."
"Have you seen her in the last few
"No," she gasped. "Please, she
hasn't gone, has she? She wouldn't - she couldn't!
Where would she even find a ship? I thought all the
ones on the base were destroyed."
That triggered something in her father's mind. He
abruptly let her go, and broke into a run. Leia did
her best to keep up with him, as Han and Lando
trailed behind them.
He was leading them to the south hangar, a hangar
that Leia had believed held ships and vehicles for
traveling on the surface of the planet, from city to
city. She didn't think it had any of the Imperial
But, even as they approached the hangar, Leia
could hear the sound of engines starting up, of a
ship preparing for launch. The sound tore at Leia's
She and Father reached an entrance at the instant
Luke's Naboo fighter left the hangar. It soared for
the atmosphere, and was out of sight within seconds.
The two of them stood there, perfectly still,
watching the sky - as if she would simply reappear,
as if they could do something to bring her back.
A loud crash startled Leia, and she took her eyes
from the sky. Her father had smashed his hand into
the wall in utter anguish, shorting out the mechanics
in his arm. Sparks briefly flew up from his wrist. He
cried out, and brought his hand back for another
"Father!" Leia grabbed his arm, and felt
the slight burns of the sparks. "Father,
He easily removed his arm from her hands, but she
reached up to catch it again. She wasn't worried
about him hitting the wall again - now she was scared
that he would take that arm and pull out his power
packs from his chest, or disconnect his
respirator...he knew Amidala could not be stopped, he
knew that she was gone. The grief of it was making
"Father, don't! She wouldn't have wanted you
to do this, you know that." She continued
struggling with him. "Please, I can't lose you
too!" Her voice dropped, and she whispered,
He kept fighting her, and fighting himself, but
Leia stayed beside him, steadfast and firm, while
still pleading with him, begging him to come back to
her, to stay with her.
Finally, his arm went limp, and then awkwardly
went around her. Leia accepted his embrace and moved
into her father's arms.
Amidala didn't bother trying to judge the
missile's trajectory, or use the unreliable
communications equipment to pick up its signal. It
might take any number of routes through deep space,
and an object less than two meters long and half a
meter wide would be easy to miss in all the black
But she knew where it was going, the one place
where it would have to be. There was nothing wrong
with the fighter's sensor arrays; she would see it
She set course at top speed for Ledaga, to wait
for the missile she had ordered Piett to launch.
I will never see Ani or Leia again.
She squeezed her eyes shut against the thought and
punched the hyperspace key. The fighter shuddered,
then slipped into lightspeed. When she opened her
eyes, white starlines streamed around her.
Being here in Luke's fighter was the only comfort
she had here in the dark. He always made the places
he lived and worked his own. The music he had enjoyed
on long flights was available to her at the touch of
a key, the food he kept on hand was in the small
compartments at her right. The smell of the soap he
used still hung in the air. Amidala didn't feel
completely alone here, with so much of him
But I will never see Leia and Ani again. Or
Theed in the summer. Or anything but deep space. I
will never dance at my daughter's wedding, or hear my
She took a sharp breath.
There was nothing to be done about it. She had
grasped at those visions so desperately that they'd
broken under her clumsy touch, and now they were gone
for her. Maybe they would still be there for Ani.
That goodbye had been painful, and it had been
cruel, so cruel to do it as she had. Nothing she had
done in the mad years she was leaving behind had been
so wretched as waiting to go to him until he was
helpless to stop her - but she knew she'd had to do
it. Ani had never laid a hand on her in anger, but
she knew well that if it had come to a physical
struggle, she would have no more chance against Ani
than she would have trying to catch the missile with
her bare hands.
So she had gone.
Maker help her.
But it would have been as cruel - maybe more cruel
- to leave with no goodbye, to let him think she had
forgotten him or dismissed his importance. And she
couldn't have done it. She'd had to see him,
touch him, one last time.
Her mind circled around what she'd said to him.
Had it been everything she'd meant? Had she told him
she loved him? She'd said something about loving him
being important, but had she actually given him one
last I love you? She couldn't remember.
She had been so busy, doing what she was meant to
do, and there had been no way to interrupt her. Was
it better to leave as she had?
There were so many things left to say, but they
never would have formed themselves in time. They
barely formed themselves now, when she knew it was
her last chance... or that her last chance had
passed. She would use the frequencies that
she'd gotten from Lieutenant Gistra - she had them
programmed into the fighter's transmitter already -
but the things she wanted to say to her husband and
her daughter would not be broadcast to everyone who
could hear. They did not belong to the galaxy; they
belonged to her family.
Nothing would remain of the fighter. There was no
message she could leave behind other than the japor
snippet she'd left on her pillow. She hoped that Ani
would know that it meant she would stay with him if
it turned out there was anything beyond what she was
about to do. She hoped he wouldn't see it as
symbolically leaving him behind.
She hoped that Leia wouldn't take this as a second
abandonment, a re-opening of the wound she'd left so
long ago, when she'd left her on Alderaan to be
raised without so much as her own true name.
If she could only reach them, privately, long
enough to say all the things that were left...
Ani, my love will always remain with you, as it
did when you believed me dead before. There is a
place in your heart that is clean and strong, and you
can look for me inside it whenever you need me. Let
that place grow, let it overtake all the shadows. And
don't forget me, please don't forget me. I live in
you. I love you. Take care of Leia - she will carry
us forward, and the galaxy with us. And she needs you
more than she will admit.
No, even that might not have been enough, even if
she could have gotten all of it out with Ani
straining to convince her to stop. There would never
be enough words, enough caresses, enough time, even
if they spent the next century together. The galaxy
had been brutal and unfair to them - that had not
been a delusion of her madness. But they had made
what they could of the time they had, and Amidala
would not allow herself to waste the last hour of her
life seething in anger about what could not be
Leia, the memory of you - of your smile and
eyes - carried me through twenty years in hell, and I
repaid you by making you a captive and allowing you
to be desperately unhappy. There is no way to say how
sorry I am. But the love was real, the need was real.
Please never doubt that. I will love you now as I
should have all along, sheltering you and protecting
you. That was my responsibility, and I failed it.
Please accept my love, and let it no longer be
painful to you. Take care of Ani - he is hurt and
fragile, and has let the truth of himself be hidden
in shadows for so long that he fears the light. And
he needs you more than he will admit.
How inadequate, how weak.
No. Perhaps it was best - perhaps it was fitting
- that her final words would go out to strangers, a
political message of the sort that had always been
her strength, her downfall, and her duty.
The fighter shuddered out of hyperspace above a
small green world. Amidala scanned the surface for
the location of the base and found it easily - it was
the only concentration of technology on
Ledaga. A few bursts of energy seemed to come from it
sporadically, but the ship's sensors detected massive
seismic activity throughout the region.
Without much hope, Amidala hailed the surface,
opening several Rebel frequencies. "This is the
Empress. You must evacuate this base immediately. You
A harsh crackle of feedback and static burst into
the earpiece of her comm equipment and she cut off
the connection. They had not gotten their comm
systems back online. It was the last chance.
She took up a stationary orbit above the base, and
turned her scanners outward to find incoming objects.
She didn't think she would have long to wait.
In the momentary silence, she arranged her dress
and her veils so that she would be recognizable,
recorded a short message and double-checked to make
sure it said what she wanted, then prepared it for
mass transmission. It was the last thing she would do
to serve the galaxy, and it was the best she could
A blinking light appeared on the sensor screen,
coming in toward Ledaga quickly. The size was right.
The trajectory was right.
Amidala looked up.
The missile was visible now, a small silver speck
in the endless night. Panic gripped her, the voices
of desperation and the will to live at all costs
screaming in her mind.
She forced herself to be deaf to them. The people
below her were innocent of this. She was not.
With a trembling hand, she hit the transmit
button, sending her final message across the galaxy.
Then she unlocked herself from orbit, and launched
the fighter at the incoming missile.
It swerved around her first pass - its systems
were good - and she looped around it from underneath.
There would only be one more chance.
She brought the nose of the fighter up, only
meters in front of the careening missile. The impact
was immediate and cacophonous, metal screaming
against metal, the transparisteel of the cockpit
cracking around her. Her body was yanked upward
toward the dome by the vacuum effect, the cold of
space freezing her skin and the pull of the vacuum
tearing at her flesh.
She tried to scream in fear and pain, but there
was no air left.
And then fear was gone, and pain was gone, and the
universe was filled with white light and silence.
Tucked away, in a corner of the basement of the
Imperial Command Center on Naboo, a couple of ensigns
were tooling around with a few of the lesser-used
frequencies on the comlink. Their commanding officers
were locked in the conference rooms above them,
having left behind strict orders to interrupt only
for the most pressing and urgent issues. The missile
should have hit by now, and there was nothing to do
but sit and wait.
Except down here. Rebel defectors had always been
welcomed in Lady Vader's armed forces, but not many
of them had risen to the upper echelons of the
military yet. So while the commanders and admirals
sat around and waited for the ruined Imperial systems
to come back online - which they were doing, in
completely unpredictable fits and starts - a few
ensigns were trying to put their knowledge of Rebel
tactics and communications to use.
Of course, their information was fairly outdated,
since nearly all of them had abandoned the Rebellion
after Bespin. But after a few tries, they were
hitting the right frequencies, and were receiving all
sorts of random messages. Bits of underground news
channels, some actual Rebel communications (someone
thought they heard a Rebel reporting to an Imperial
captain, but everyone decided that he must have heard
wrong), random people on both sides from all over the
galaxy who had also stumbled on the Rebels' working
channels trying desperately to raise anyone
else...nothing useful or informative, and nothing to
justify the effort that had put in so far. But they
And then...Someone thought they heard her voice.
Someone else tried to strengthen the signal. Someone
realized there was a visual with this message. Soon,
everyone was crowded around one of the small
viewscreens, looking at a frozen image of their
Empress and waiting. As the playback began, one of
the more technically gifted ensigns quickly overrode
the viewscreens in the commanders' conference room,
so they would see the message as well.
The last time I came before you, I ushered in
my ascension as your Empress. Today, I come before
you to tell you that I have failed. I have failed you
in my years in the public realm as Lady and Empress
You gave me your faith, your hopes, and your
dreams. And I answered your gifts with betrayal.
In Mos Espa, Amee and Seek looked at one another
in utter confusion, while their Imperial patients
strained up from their cots to get a better view of
Lady Vader on the viewer stationed near the front of
their tent. The Rebels had their own viewscreen on a
few yards away. The townspeople were watching in a
nearby store. There was a slight echo effect from all
the different comms tuned to her speech.
"What is she talking about?" Amee
whispered, feeling a sudden fear that she couldn't
"Where is she?" Seek replied.
"I thought she was here on Tatooine. Does that
look like Tatooine to you?" Amee shrugged
You placed your faith in me to bring you peace.
You believed I would restore order. You trusted that
I would not be the same ruler as Palpatine was.
And perhaps I was able to do some of that.
But the methods I used to fulfill those
promises were shameful, and corrupted the good I
tried to do for you.
The platforms on Coruscant were packed with
people, on every level, from the highest spires to
the lowest ghettos. Humans and aliens of all kinds
watched as an eerie silence held the city, broken
only by her voice, and the buzz of engines in the
The Empress was truly loved here, and Coruscant
had never really been the same after she decided to
move the capital to Naboo. They missed her,
especially the alien population of the lower levels
that had flourished under her rule after years of the
harshest oppression from Palpatine. They supported
her strongly, but had to do so at a distance, and it
wasn't the same.
Now, she was apologizing for failing them, for
letting them down. To the Grans and Wookieees and
Twi'leks listening, none of it made any sense. She
had never failed them. She couldn't.
You offered me your hope that the hostility and
wars could end. You wanted me to bring together the
fighting factions, to calm the troubled regions, to
end the hostilities that have plagued the Republic
and Empire for generations now.
And I tried to do that. But I mistook stifling
dissent for bringing consensus, and believed that
total control was the only condition under which
peace could flourish.
The Rebels in Mos Eisley should have been more
surprised by Lady Vader's words than they actually
were. But too much had happened for them to feel
shocked by anything, including hearing the leader of
the Empire essentially admit to every accusation the
Rebellion had ever hurled at her.
They had already worked with Imperials to expel
the Tuskens. They had seen Leia come into the
settlement with Lord Vader at her side. They had
watched Lando leave for Imperial headquarters, to
join Han and Leia there.
A few of them were suspicious, thinking that the
transmission was fake, was a trick of some kind. Why
would the Empress send out such a message? From the
cramped cockpit of a fighter? It made no sense.
But then, nothing had made sense since the battle
had started. And who knew what had gone on at the
headquarters? Maybe Leia had managed to talk some
kind of sense into her mother after all.
It was possible, at least. So they stood back and
You gave me your dreams for a new galaxy. One
that would not fall into the morass of the Republic
or the oppression of the Old Empire.
You gave me all of this, and I failed you,
giving you many of the same problems, and subjecting
you to much of the same tyranny as you lived through
I apologize. And now, I will do as I should
have done from the beginning.
There were still resistance cells in the less
populated sections of Coruscant. No more than a
handful were active throughout the whole planet, but
they existed. Many of them were older people who had
served under the Old Republic before it fell. Some
were the children of former Senators and governors.
They had despised the Empire in any form, and took
Amidala's rise to power as a direct betrayal. A
Senator, one of their own, overthrowing Palpatine to
set up another Empire? They could hardly fathom it.
There were only one or two left who had actually
served with her when she represented Naboo. They
didn't share this sentiment with the others, but they
thought they saw something of that young, fiery
Senator in the older woman who spoke over the
skittish comlinks now.
By the time this message is received...I will
have died. I am dying to save the Rebels and
civilians on the planet Ledaga, where a missile was
sent, on my orders, to destroy their base.
The choice to do this was mine and mine alone.
I have realized what the right path is for me to take
as a leader - and the deaths of more civilians, of
more Rebels, of more of my citizens is unacceptable.
With no other options remaining, I have chosen to
stop the missile with this ship, and take
responsibility for what I've done. It was the only
thing I could do.
Piett felt dizzy, and had to lean against a table
to stop himself from falling over completely.
He gasped for air. "What does - what has she
No one answered, as they were to busy staring in
horror at the viewscreen one of the ensigns had set
up in the main conference room. The same realization
was coming to them, and a terrible understanding
began hitting the officers all at once.
"That can't be, Lord Vader would never let
her do -"
"Has it already happened? She's already
"How could she have changed her mind? Why
would she do this?"
"Our own missile. Our own missile killed her.
The last was said in a whisper, by Dihave, who sat
in a chair, staring at nothing, pale and ashen.
Piett still hadn't found enough air to speak, and
didn't know what he could possibly say regardless.
He had killed her.
A captain was looking to him, hoping for some sort
of command in the midst of the growing panic that was
sweeping their ranks. He was looking to him for
orders. After his last order had killed...
"I am relieved of command, Captain,"
Piett said abruptly. He pushed pass the man and
through the crowd at the front of the room. He didn't
know where he was going, and he didn't care.
He had killed her.
How was he was supposed to live with that? By
giving more orders to his men? He couldn't. He had to
He was dimly aware of the fact that her message
continued, and that she was still speaking. He
glanced back at her beautiful face, and listened
briefly to her voice as she spoke her last words to
the galaxy. Then he stumbled away, eventually winding
up inside her office, sitting at her desk, numb and
oblivious and drowning in guilt. He would not get
back up to face anyone else again for many long
Do not grieve for me, because I have finally
left you the galaxy you deserve. My husband,
daughter, and I worked together on Tatooine, and
found a real solution to the problems that have
plagued this government. Reforms have been agreed to
and changes are in place. Your rights and freedoms
will be returned to you, and the government will
serve you as it was meant to.
The changes will be seen most clearly on your
homeworlds, and in the Imperial Senate. The royal
throne of the Empress will remain. With my death, the
throne will pass to my daughter. I pray that you will
accept her in this role as willingly as you accepted
me. Leia will not fail you in this position. She is
more than ready to take up my crown.
In the Imperial Headquarters on Tatooine, no one
had noticed that Lady Vader was not in the building
with them any more, not until the message had started
playing. Only a few of them had even noticed that
Leia was no longer giving orders in the Command
Center, or that Vader had not returned from his usual
nightly personal time. No one had any idea where they
Word of the attack on the Rebel base had spread
quickly, but they had all assumed that something had
been figured out by someone, that by some means or
another, the danger had been dealt with, and had
The Rebels - all of them, even the wilder ones
from Alpha Squadron - were sobered completely by the
realization that the Empress had gone off to stop the
weapon personally. A sense of shame hung over them,
as they watched the woman they had gleefully tried to
kill make the ultimate sacrifice...a sacrifice that
none of them were sure they'd be so willing to make
if they had been in her position.
The news that Leia was going to take over
surprised the Imperial officers. Some of them knew
her personally from her time in the Palace, but most
found her a confusing figure, someone connected
directly to the Empress but unable to stay on one
side of the fight. But now, she had come to enough of
an understanding with her mother to accept the
throne, to accept the existence of an Empire at all?
They all listened together, each side truly
beginning to see the other's leader in a new light.
With my daughter leading the new government,
and my husband...working to restore...his Order, you
should rest assured that you are in good hands. And
now, I have fulfilled my obligations to you.
With that, viewscreens across the galaxy went
blank, and the message ended.
The desert night was cold and unforgiving.
Vader and Leia might not have noticed it as they
stood in the hangar, their arms folded around one
another in an embrace that should have seemed surreal
but didn't. They didn't seem to take note of anything
but the absence of the ship that had just launched.
But Lando noticed. He also saw that Han was
rubbing his arms sharply, taking small steps back
toward the base. They couldn't stay here all night.
Lando guessed that Han didn't want to risk stepping
into the moment Vader and Leia were sharing - he had
something to lose if they resented it - so Lando
decided to do it himself. He took a deep breath, then
reached out to touch Leia's small shoulder.
She didn't respond at first, but after a few
seconds, she looked up, turning her face away from
"We should go inside," Lando said.
"We need to know what's happening."
"We do know," Leia said.
But Vader nodded and released her from the embrace
(she merely turned and wrapped her arm around him
from the side, not letting her touch leave him).
"Amidala will speak again," he said.
"I would hear it. I must hear it."
In silence, they made their way back to the small
conference room where they had spoken earlier,
adjacent to the command center. Lando quietly broke
away from the group, arranged to take a small
holoprojector from the Rebel commander, and
double-checked the comm settings that were being
used. Gistra looked mildly surprised, and mentioned
that the Empress had asked for the same information.
Lando couldn't think of any answer for that, so he
When he got back to the conference room, Vader was
sitting at the head of the table, leaning forward
with his helmeted head in his hands. Lando had never
seen anyone look so miserable. Leia, sitting beside
him, had placed her hands on the upper part of left
arm. Han was standing behind her, his hands resting
lightly on her shoulders.
Leia looked up when Lando came in with the
holoprojector. "Just put it on the table,"
she said. "No sound until... " She took a
shaky breath. "Thank you for bringing it,
"No problem." He set it up where they
could all see it, and tuned it to the frequency
Gistra had said was the central one, the one he had
given the Empress before she left. Random images
flickered in an out of it, views of a galaxy that was
about to disappear forever.
Quite suddenly, Leia screamed, putting her hands
to her ears like she was trying to block out a
Han knelt beside her. "Leia... what is it?
Leia let him hold her, but said nothing. She just
rocked against his chest, her eyes squeezed tightly
shut. It was uncomfortable to watch, and Lando found
his eyes shifting to Vader himself. One black-gloved
hand had reached up to something at his neck.
Lando realized in time what he was doing.
"Lord Vader!" he called, not sure what good
it would do.
Leia jumped and threw herself at her father. His
hand moved away from the circuit he'd been touching.
They embraced awkwardly in the chairs.
"Father," she whispered. "Don't. She's
gone, isn't she?"
"Don't leave me, Father. Please."
Lando glanced at Han, who shook his head in
Then there was a burst of static from the
holoproj, and when it cleared, the red-clad form of
Lady Vader, the Empress, hovered above the conference
Lando hit the sound.
"The last time I came before you, I ushered
in my ascension as your Empress. Today, I come before
you to tell you that I have failed."
Vader shook his head in negation, pulling away
from Leia, though her hands remained on his arm. He
reached one gloved hand toward the image. It
flickered when he touched it, and he drew the hand
away quickly, as though afraid it would disappear. He
leaned forward, as if he could will her back.
Lando could see Leia's hands tightening on her
father's arm. As her mother went on, accusing herself
of crime after crime - the crimes of which Leia had
always accused her in the past - her eyes slipped
shut. Tears slipped silently down her cheeks, cutting
tracks in the dust that had accumulated over the
course of the day. Vader just continued to shake his
head. His hands were now around the base of the
holoprojector, trying to hold the image to him
without actually touching it.
"... I mistook stifling dissent for bringing
consensus, and believed that total control was the
only condition under which peace could flourish...
Lando slipped back to stand beside Han, and
whispered, "What happens now?"
Han's reply was barely louder than a breath.
"We start over."
"If it happened while she was recording...
"I don't think she'd do that to them."
Lando wanted to continue the conversation, wanted
to talk about anything other than what he was seeing,
but Han wasn't listening anymore, and words wouldn't
come anyway, at least not words that mattered.
Instead, he turned back to the Empress and her
"... By the time this message is received...I
will have died. I am dying to save the Rebels and
civilians on the planet Ledaga, where a missile was
sent, on my orders, to destroy their base. The choice
to do this was mine and mine alone... "
Leia made a tight, strangled sound, and resumed
the rocking motion she'd been making before the
speech had begun. Han soothed her with his hands, and
she quieted. Vader's hand moved slowly to rest on her
shoulder, though his face never turned from the last
image of his wife.
"Do not grieve for me, because I have finally
left you the galaxy you deserve... "
As the Empress sketched out the compromises they'd
made together here a few hours ago, Lando had the
distinct impression that neither Leia nor Vader was
even listening anymore, at least not to the words.
They responded to the tone of her voice and watched
with rapt attention, but there was little reaction to
the words themselves. Leia didn't react at all when
her mother passed on the crown of the highest power
in the galaxy.
"With my daughter leading the new government,
and my husband...working to restore...his Order"
- neither Vader nor Leia responded to this, but Lando
gave a start; had she actually left that instruction?
- "you should rest assured that you are in good
hands. And now, I have fulfilled my obligations to
The transmission ended and static hung in the air.
Leia made the strangled sound again, then began to
weep. "Mother," she whispered.
"Mother, Mother... "
Vader pulled the holoprojector to him, and began
to play the message again. Leia gathered herself and
looked across at him. "Father, don't. Don't do
it. That wasn't for us. It was for everyone
"But we have nothing else," Vader said.
His voice was soft and sounded almost lost. "It
is all we have left, Leia."
"It's not ours. Maybe as Princess...
Empress... and Lord Vader. Instructions. But as Leia
and Anakin... she wasn't talking to us, Father. She
said goodbye to us earlier. Didn't you feel it,
Father? She said goodbye to us before she started
"Then we have nothing."
"We have each other," Leia said.
"And we have jobs to do."
Vader shook his head. "I cannot, Leia."
She started to say something, then shook her head
and leaned on his shoulder. They stayed like that for
a long time - nearly an hour, Lando guessed later,
though there was no sense of time at all while it was
passing - with Lando and Han moving aimlessly and
wordlessly about the room, then Vader sat back and
gently plucked Leia's hands from his arm. "You
are tired, my daughter. You should rest."
"I'm not going to leave you here alone,
"I do not require sleep. You do. So do your
"I don't want you to be alone."
"We'll stay with him."
Lando turned to the door; they all did.
Two middle-aged humans stood there, dressed in
desert clothes. The man had a medical case. The woman
carried nothing, but her face held great compassion.
"Who are you?" Leia demanded.
"They're from Mos Espa," Han said.
"They were helping at the medical center."
Vader only looked at them, his head cocked
The woman spoke to Han, but her eyes didn't leave
Vader. "We came to tell you that things have
been properly arranged and all is in order. I'm sorry
to disturb you at a time like this. But we also came
Vader stood. "It is unnecessary, Amee,"
he said. "You also need rest."
"We've rested," the man said.
"I can stay with my father," Leia told
them. "I -"
"Leia, you must rest," Vader said.
"You will have many duties after sunrise, and
you will not have an opportunity again. It is
unnecessary for any of you to watch over me."
The woman - Amee - knelt on Vader's other side.
"Anakin, when my mother was taken, your mother
came and sat with my father and me. Let me return the
kindness, for her sake."
Vader was quiet for a moment, then nodded.
"For her sake." He looked at the man.
"Seek, will you do the kindness of examining my
daughter and her companions for injuries, then seeing
to it that they get rest?"
The man nodded solemnly. "Yes. And then I'll
check on you."
"Father -" Leia began, but Vader raised
his hand, and she fell silent.
"I will... You need not concern yourself with
me, Leia. I will not leave you."
Leia looked at him doubtfully.
"Leia, rest. I regret frightening you, and...
will not do so again."
After a long moment, Leia nodded. The exhaustion
of the day was obviously pressing in on her, and,
with a last prompt from her father, she let Seek lead
her out of the conference room. Han and Lando
followed her. Lando spared one last glance back at
Lord Vader - the man who was being called
"Anakin" - and saw him sitting quietly, his
childhood friend at his side, looking alone and
Then he followed his own companions further into
the base. Seek examined each of them gently, cleaning
and re-bandaging cuts, checking bone and joint
injuries, scanning them for incipient infections.
When he had finished, he brought out a hypospray, and
pressed it to each of their arms in turn.
The effect was quick and soothing. Lando felt
sleep steal over him, saw it stealing over Han and
Leia. He stretched out on a small, uncomfortable cot,
and let weariness take him, as the long desert night
finally drew to its end.
When he awoke, Tatoo I had risen, and Tatoo II was
on the ascent.
Naboo was not a planet that had strictly defined
That was part of its appeal, of course, part of
its wonderful and near-idyllic nature. There was
almost never a need for layers of clothing to ward of
a chill, and the sun was never hidden by clouds long
enough for people to miss its rays. You could almost
become unaware of the passage of time here, as days
and weeks went by against a barely changing backdrop.
It was beautiful, peaceful, and comforting, with very
Leia realized now that she had allowed herself to
be lulled into Naboo's calm, at least a little bit.
That surprised her. Her time on Naboo had begun with
her confined to her bed all day as she slowly
recovered from the injuries she had sustained from
the Falcon's crash. Lying in that same room
every day, seeing the same people - she was nearly
driven mad from the sheer repetition of her
existence. Eventually, she latched on to the large
window that provided her only contact with the world
beyond the Palace, and gave her the only chance to
see something change on a daily basis. She had
figured out certain patterns, some focusing on the
most minute of details. She watched the wind pick up
slightly and flutter the leaves of a tree with great
interest. Cloudy skies were an event. A five-minute
change in when the sun went down never escaped her
She knew the rhythms of Naboo very well, and the
fact that it had not rained today - that it didn't
even look like rain as she stared out at Theed from
the Palace throne room - meant that the wet season
was nearly over. And that meant she had been on the
planet for...for quite a long time. Months now.
Tatooine was practically a lifetime ago.
The grief was still there, a part of her, and who
she was. The sense of loss had never gone away, and
she knew it wouldn't. But at some point after
Mother's death she had learned to pick up, and do the
work she needed to do, in spite of the way she felt.
Or maybe because of the way she felt. She
could not abide the thought that Luke's and Mother's
deaths had been meaningless, and had an insatiable
urge to do whatever she could to create the kind of
galaxy where Luke would not have been so senselessly
killed, the kind of galaxy that she and her mother
had imagined and crafted.
It hadn't been easy, though Leia preferred to
focus on her blessings, because she knew things could
have been much worse. The general reaction of the
galaxy to Mother's message and death had been pure
shock. There had been no organized opposition to
Leia's ascension to the throne, mostly because none
of the factions or groups could come to a decision
about what exactly had occurred. And the plain fact
of it was that the vast majority of people in the
galaxy were either followers of Mother's Empire or
sympathetic to Leia's Rebellion, and neither side
felt they could mount a serious objection when the
Empress willingly turned over control to the leader
of the Rebellion.
Leia had done her best to cut through the
confusion and malaise as she began implementing the
reforms that would give birth to her new Empire. The
work was slow and at times tedious - each
governmental change seemed to affect a hundred other
smaller things, and decentralizing certain facets of
the Empire without having them fall apart was a
tricky business. Leia moved deliberately, not
introducing a new reform until the last was working
reasonably well. Her caution had paid off so far, as
no crisis had come up, and her wary citizens were
relieved to see her dedication to making things truly
work, and to leaving the old divisions behind.
A few of the biggest reforms would be coming up
very soon - her appointment of regional governors,
and the popular election of a new Senate. After that,
Leia was certain the rest would begin to fall into
place, and Coruscant would be home to a truly free
government again after decades of oppressive rule.
The time had come for the Empress to leave Theed.
It was past time.
"You're going to miss it here, aren't you,
Leia could see Han's wavy reflection in the
plasteel, and had sensed him approaching before he
had reached the door. She didn't turn around.
"Are you sure you aren't a Jedi?" she
"Quite," he replied as he crossed the
"I don't know. I think I'll miss her
more than I'll ever specifically miss here."
He was behind her now, and he wrapped his arms around
her, pulling her back against his chest. They watched
the city in silence for several moments.
"Sometimes it's hard to separate the two. It's
hard to tell the difference."
"I know. That's why you decided to
She nodded. "Part of me still wonders at
times if I'm doing this as some sort of...repudiation
He pulled her closer, and shook his head.
"You know better than that. You've thought this
through. The galaxy needs a fresh start. It would be
too hard to do that from here."
That was what he had said to her before, when she
was still trying to sort out her feelings on why she
felt it necessary to leave Naboo. He was still right.
Even her father had eventually agreed with her
reasoning. This wasn't a slight against Mother -
against the woman who had carried and borne her, who
had raised her those first few years, who had held
and comforted her after Luke's death, who had given
her life once she realized what was right...No, this
was a way of breaking off from the Empress Vader, the
one whose cult of personality had twisted the Empire
into a false and repressive regime. That cult was
strongest here, on Naboo, and the new government
needed to disassociate itself from that, just as
Mother herself had done in that final message. A
return to Coruscant was necessary.
"It's the right thing to do," she
finally said to Han. "But, like everything else,
being right doesn't make it easy."
"No," he agreed, "but if it helps,
most of the officers I've talked to understand why we
all have to leave."
"I think so. They're disappointed that they
have to go back to jammed-up sky-lanes and durasteel
buildings, but I told them that missing the cushy
life here on Naboo wasn't a good enough reason to
doubt your orders to get back to Coruscant."
She couldn't help grinning at his tone, and she
twisted her head around to give him a teasing look.
"And I have no doubt that when High Admiral Solo
gives an order -" he groaned and rolled his eyes
"- the officers are quick to obey."
"Leia, would you please stop calling me
that?" he asked with an irritation that sounded
"What would you call yourself then?"
"I don't know," he said. "But I
didn't even like being called General by the Rebels.
And I don't remember getting a commission yet, Your
"A formality, which will be taken care of
once we reach Coruscant," she said simply.
"I don't know why you bother pretending to fight
"You chose it!" His response was a blank
stare. "I'm afraid you got so used to running
the Rebellion in my absence that you can't help but
put yourself in charge any time a group of two or
three officers get together," she explained.
"I never asked you to start integrating the
armies or implementing the military reforms - but I
didn't have to. I just looked up, and there you were
giving orders and running things."
He sighed heavily, apparently realizing that he
was beaten. "Well...someone had to do it."
"You've done a wonderful job, Han. We could
have never gotten everyone working together so
smoothly if you hadn't made it your top
"You were so busy with the political stuff,
and Lando doesn't have much interest in military work
when he can be off doing something else. I didn't
want this to get ignored by accident or anything like
that, and the Rebels still listen to me, and the
Imperials were mostly willing to work with me since I
wasn't looking to arrest them or strip them of their
command - and Chewie offered to help..."
"So, naturally, you stepped in, and
everything is sort of falling into place?" Leia
finished. "You should give yourself more
"Maybe," he said, "but I don't know
how I feel about this 'High Admiral' thing. In a
legitimate army? That's outside of my
experience." Leia laughed and Han joined in.
She sobered suddenly, and asked, "Has Piett
been up to helping you at all?"
"A little. Not much. He's so reluctant."
Han shrugged. "He's afraid of himself, he
doesn't want to do anything. He thinks if he tells me
how to do anything, or tells me anything about how
things work -"
"- someone else will have to die," Leia
Han rubbed her arms gently. "Yes. I asked
your father to talk to him about coming to Coruscant
when we leave. Maybe he can convince him."
"I hope so." Leia gave Han a significant
look. "Of course, I've been trying to do my
share of convincing with Father himself..."
"Are you still trying to get him to see that
boy?" Han asked. "I didn't think he was
willing to do that yet."
"Maybe he's not. But I think he's waited long
enough, Han. This is his - his calling. It's time he
got started. Rebuilding the Order is not going to be
A family out in the farm country had contacted
Leia a few days ago - their youngest son seemed to
exhibit Force-sensitivity and powers, and after
Mother's message, they thought someone in the Palace
might know what they should do. Leia knew what a huge
first step a visit would be for her father, and she
hoped he'd take it. There had been no additional
suicide scares after Tatooine, and Father had been a
huge help to her on any number of issues. He had
claimed to be perfectly content in supporting and
protecting Leia, just as he had done with her mother.
But, he was a Jedi at heart, and she no longer wanted
him to deny that. They occasionally meditated
together and Leia knew he was looking for guidance in
the Force for what he should do next.
"If he's interested," Han was saying,
"I think the Jedi Temple could be restored. I've
spoken to people who have some ideas about what to do
She nodded absentmindedly.
"The officers on Coruscant say they're ready
for our arrival," he continued. "Lando's
already working on preparations for the new Senate,
getting everything set up for them so they can get to
work as soon as they're all elected."
Leia smiled. "Good for him. I think Lando
will make a great Chancellor once the Senate is ready
to elect one."
"He definitely thinks so!" Han
said, and they both laughed again.
Leia finally turned away from her view of Theed,
and looked at the throne room, which was completely
cleaned out and packed up. The throne itself sat in
the middle of the nearly empty room. It would remain
here after she left, as would several of Mother's
things. The Palace would stand as a testament to her,
as a reminder of her sacrifice.
Leia swallowed back her grief as she walked
through the room, and eventually stopped to touch the
throne. She would miss Naboo, because she and her
family were tied so deeply to it. But she knew that
Mother and Luke were with her and Father, and would
continue to be, as they started the next phase of
She reached back for Han's hand, and pulled him to
her. "Let's go, Han."
They left the throne room together.
The clothes had belonged to Kenobi.
Leia had asked Seek and Amee to go out to Kenobi's
hut and have his things packed and sent to Theed. She
had wanted his datapads and books, his holos and his
artifacts from the Temple. Amee - at least Vader
assumed it was Amee - had decided that the clothes
should come as well, and she had altered them herself
to fit Vader's larger frame.
For a long time, Vader had not opened the parcel
in which she had bound them, though Leia had
encouraged him to. There had been little point to it
until today. The most disturbing parts of his armor
were the ones that were integrated into his
cybernetic respiratory system, the ones he could not
Tinera Kei had been overjoyed to declare her lung
cloning experiments a failure and clear them out of
the resp lab. Before coming to Theed, she had worked
with the miners on Bespin to develop cybernetic
replacements for lungs damaged by the gas, and she
had a viable prototype nearly ready, though ignored
for three years while she worked with biotechnology.
Commander Dihave had asked to be reassigned to her,
to offer his technical assistance. (Palace gossip, of
which Vader had become morbidly aware in the long and
empty days since Tatooine, held that he had offered
her more than technical assistance, but Vader had
seen no evidence of it. )Between them, they had been
able to complete the prototype, test it on four
willing patients, and take it into mass production.
Vader had not initially planned to make use of the
new technology himself. He had a working
respirator, and there were certainly those who would
need the new machinery more. There were certain
cosmetic improvements - the filtration system was
built into the neck gear, leaving the face free - but
they seemed unimportant. But
(Stop hiding, Ani... Stop pretending. )
her voice had recurred to him more and more often
as the months went on. He could get out of the suit,
out from behind the mask - stop hiding behind the
symbols she had hated. He remembered her frustrated
tears when she'd come to him after her nightmare, and
her pleas just before she...
Stop hiding, Ani.
There was one other thing he had taken note of as
he observed her patients coming up from their
convalescence: Tinera's system had several
redundancies, and independently functioning parts. He
would never have to be fully helpless during
So he had come here, to the laboratory. He was the
last patient, and he had taken pains to assure Tinera
that she was not obligated to perform this service.
She had nodded soberly, then begun her examination.
It wasn't just the respirator. The structure of
the suit had been unified, and other adjustments
needed to be made. She covered his legs with a faux
skin - he had objected to it as a mere cosmetic
touch, but she insisted that it was protective - and
re-wired his vocoder to respond to a working flow of
air, more akin to a natural voice. Implants had
needed to be placed in his ears, and corrective
surgery had to be performed on his eyes. She wanted
to re-cover his arms, but he felt reticent about it.
They would be largely protected by sleeves, and he
felt that he was being greedy with her time already.
Nor would he allow her to cosmetically remove the
scarring on his face and head.
He was who he was.
The final implantation - the lungs themselves -
had been last night, and when he'd awakened from the
anesthetic, he had drawn breath through his nose and
mouth, and felt it pass into his body for processing,
and he had nearly wept at the sensation.
But the clothes... the clothes were a different
story. They meant something. He had rejected the
traditional garb even before he'd left the Temple. To
take it on now? It was a decision of somewhat more
importance than what sort of covering Dr. Kei had
chosen to stretch over the cybernetics.
But in the end, it was all that was left to him.
He put them on carefully. The boots were new, and
the trousers non-descript beige ones that Leia had
obtained for him. The tunic was one of the long ones
that Obi-Wan had apparently favored in his later
years, layers of heavy, warm fabric, the color of the
desert sand. Vader's hands shook as he remembered the
wrapping pattern that had once been second nature to
him. And the cloak. He held it in his hands, unable
to draw it onto his body.
He turned. Piett was standing in the doorway,
bowing slightly. He did not raise his eyes. "Dr.
Kei has asked me to remind you that you must wear the
hooded robe. Your skin is not prepared for the
sunlight. I'm sorry, my Lord. It is not my place
"To relay my physician's instructions as she
"To intrude at all."
"My daughter asked me to speak to you,
Admiral. You are not performing the duties of your
"My Lord... "
"My wife had great faith in you, Admiral, and
I would not have you suggest that she misplaced
Piett was surprised into looking up, and Vader saw
for the first time how miserable the man was.
"My Lord, I -"
A rusty instinct came to him, to comfort the man
in front of him as wished often now that he had
comforted Luke in his distress. But Piett was not
Luke, and his expectations were not familial. He was
speaking to Lord Vader, or whatever shadow remained
of him. "You are not relieved of your
commission, Admiral," Vader said. "Mistakes
were made. They do not absolve you of future
Piett straightened, almost imperceptibly.
"Yes, my Lord."
"Report to High Admiral Solo and assist him
in all matters he requires of you."
Piett bowed, muttered, "Yes, my Lord,"
and left. Vader didn't know whether he'd managed any
more good than Leia's cajoling or Han's camaraderie,
but he had done what he could.
His business with the Imperial military was
Slowly, deliberately, he drew Obi-Wan's cloak
around his shoulders, and raised the hood over his
It was warm.
He pulled it around himself tightly, suddenly
unable to feel it clearly enough to satisfy him. His
sense of smell was still dulled, so it had to be his
imagination that he could still pick up the misty
scent of the Temple gardens in the fabric.
I've come home, Master. I've finally come home.
"And you are welcome, Padawan."
Vader spun around toward the voice, but the room
was empty of visions.
My work is done, Anakin, the voice
whispered into his mind. I can rest at last... if
you will allow it.
Vader didn't answer. He didn't know how. Instead,
he made his way out into the main laboratory. Tinera
was packing up the last of her files; Dihave was
collapsing the machinery. Tinera quickly checked his
robe to make sure it would keep him safe from the
sun, then let him go about his business, as she had
after every stage of the medical process.
He took the stairs up into the Palace courtyard.
During the first awful month after Tatooine, he
had devoted himself to creating this space for
Amidala and Luke. It was lush with the Naboo flowers
that Amidala had loved, interspersed with the kinds
of rock gardens Luke had grown up with. Two urns sat
in niches on the wall. One held Luke's remains. The
other held only an ancient piece of japor, carved
with arcane symbols of a shattered past. He had
carved a bench from a block Naboo marble, and he sat
down on it now, in his accustomed spot, meditating on
the urns and the green vines that were already
beginning to grow around them. A groundskeeper had
tried to move those vines once, but Vader had asked
him to refrain - Amidala would have liked to be
surrounded by something living.
"It is finished, my love," he said
quietly. "The mask is gone. I'm not hiding
There was no answer from her. There never had
been, nor had there been an answer from Luke. But he
could sense them both around him, as close as the air
and the sunlight. They were not lost. If there was
anything he could hold onto, it was that certainty:
they were not lost, not fully. Death was powerless
over the bond that held them together.
If only he had understood that simple truth
twenty-five years ago.
He felt Leia's presence long before he heard her,
but he didn't look away from the urns. She came to
him and sat beside him.
"Father, we're almost ready to go."
"I wasn't expecting you to be up yet. I had
wanted to be there with you."
Vader smiled slightly, the most his damaged facial
muscles would allow. "There was no reason for
you to be there, Leia."
"I wanted to be there."
"I apologize. It did not occur to me."
A small, warm hand rested briefly on his shoulder,
then rose to the edge of the hood. She started to
pull it aside, but Vader turned with the cloth,
turned until he could look his daughter in the eye.
She was lovely. He took her hand. "Dr. Kei
recommends that my face remain shaded."
Leia nodded. She pulled her hand away from his
gently, and let it rest on his cheek for a moment.
"You were right not to have her fix the
scars," she said. "I questioned it. But you
Vader drew the cloak close again as Leia moved her
hand back to her lap. "I spoke to Piett. I
ordered him to work with Han."
"Thank you. I really don't blame him, you
know. He's a good officer. I want to see him make
something of his life." She bit her lip.
"Which brings me to you."
Vader laughed softly, marveling at the ability to
do so. He had not had it for many years. "To
me," he repeated. "The boy?"
"Yes, Father," Leia said, her voice only
beginning to be edged with impatience. "The boy.
Mother wanted you to re-establish the Jedi Order. You
have to start somewhere."
"I can't, Leia. Don't you understand?"
Leia closed her eyes, then turned her face to look
at the urns. "I never thought I would see you
refuse her wish."
"Nor did I."
They were silent for several minutes. Vader was
well aware that he was denying Amidala's wish, and
Leia's. He was denying something in himself - the
idea of meeting the child interested him, fascinated
him. The idea of rebuilding the destroyed Temple, of
cleaning the sacred spaces and bringing the garden
back, of taking in students and seeing the Order
first return to life then thrive... and it could all
begin with this boy in the farm country. It was a
path that was laid out before him and he longed to
But he had murdered Jedi, he had joined their
deadliest enemy, he had taken part in the very
destruction he now sought to undo. The thought of
suddenly having his name attached to the restoration,
to some glorious new order... it stank of
whitewashing and hypocrisy. "I am Lord
Vader," he said at last. "I can't do what
she asked, what you're asking. It would be...
"Father, you've given up the mask. When will
you give up the false name?"
"When I've earned another."
"You're not going to do that sitting at her
grave. She knew that. That's why she asked you to do
something. She knew who you are on the inside. So do
"What kind of teacher would I be? I got every
"The kind who knows where the real danger
lies. And the kind who will understand and love his
students, even when they stumble." She looked at
him again. "Father, Luke and I both learned from
you. You were a good teacher to us. It's one of the
last things Luke said - 'You taught me well.' And he
was right. You had the wrong philosophy, but you know
how to guide a student. And you won't be teaching
that philosophy anymore."
Vader could think of no good counterargument.
There had been rough moments in their training -
particularly Luke's - but he had not, in truth,
trained them terribly differently than he had been
trained. Jedi training was not all soothing
meditation. He shook his head. "Leia, what if I
"Then I'll catch you," she said simply.
"Will you do the same for me?"
Vader nodded. He looked up at the sky. The sun was
hot on his face and he turned away from it quickly,
but the warmth of it lingered. "I'm frightened,
"So am I." She stood and held out her
hand. "I have the speeder waiting. I can take
you out to meet the boy, and if he's as strong as his
parents think - and if they consent - maybe we can
all go back to Coruscant together."
Slowly, he reached up and took her hand. He didn't
want to stand, to leave this place where Amidala's
presence was so clear and strong. He didn't want to
leave the dust and ashes that remained of his only
He gathered his strength and rose from the bench.
Leia smiled at him, and slipped her small arm around
his waist. He put his own arm across her shoulders.
She led him away from the garden, through the
sun-dappled shadows of the path that led to the world
As they reached the gate, he was overcome by a
sense of being watched by kind and gentle eyes -
Amidala's, Luke's, Kenobi's, his mother's... all of
If I could only look back, one last time, I
would see them there, could join them and be with
them all again. I would feel their embraces, and hear
their laughter. I could be with all of them forever.
If I could only look back, one last time.
Leia leaned against him. "Don't look
back," she whispered. "Don't look
Vader took a deep and shaky breath, and did not
look back. As he passed through the gate, the urge to
look back faded, and he understood that he didn't
need to look back at all - they were with him still,
inside him and a part of him. Death hadn't won.
He let Leia lead him out of the
garden, to the waiting speeder, to the uncertain
paths of the future.