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Title: Hapes
Author: Maia (maia@bastcastle.org)
Rating: PG-13
Category: AU, Adventure, Romance, some Angst.
Characters: Vader, OFC, a few other OC’s, and familiar faces.

Disclaimer: I am not making any money from this, and he doesn’t belong to me. Darn.

Summary: A diplomatic mission to Hapes takes several unexpected turns.

Author’s Note: Immediately follows ‘Falls the Shadow.’

Imperial Center, Coruscant, Core Worlds, Year 4, Month 1.



Morning brings the insistent chiming of the comm. At least it isn’t Palpatine who is our alarm clock today, but I suspect Ani won’t be very pleased regardless of that. We were both up rather late last night at the premier of the new opera. The Agony of Tarkin was about the death of Ani’s colleague and of interest to him, but I was bored until the baritone playing my husband started singing. Somehow, somewhere, they had found someone who could do a passable imitation of the Sith Lord’s voice.

I pull the cover over my head and let out a few protesting noises when my husband allows the comm to ring longer than I would like. So much for sleeping in today.

‘Whoever it is,’ I hear Ani growl, ‘they had better have something important to tell me.’

The bed moves a little as he sits up and reaches down to grab his robe off the floor. I receive a quick kiss on the cheek then he stalks across our bedroom and out the door. My husband is no happier than I am about being woken up early.

After he is gone for ten minutes, I shut my eyes. There’s no point in staying awake. Obviously whoever it was had a report Ani couldn’t put off dealing with.


I let out a few choice Sith curses as I punch the comm controls, adjusting the settings to allow whoever is on the other end to receive audio only. The routing codes indicate that this is a call from Fondor. If this is merely another construction update on the newest Super Star Destroyer’s progress, I will be very annoyed.

The officer who appears is not the one I am expecting to see.

‘My lord,’ he greets me with a deep bow.

‘Where is Captain Fillorean?’ I ask.

A slight hesitation on his part. Bad news is coming, I suspect.

‘There was a Rebel raid early this morning,’ he admits. ‘No one was able to reach the life pods in time. The shipyard’s Command Center was destroyed along with the Super Star Destroyer Deceptive.’

My face darkens. Only two weeks remained before the Deceptive was to be sent to Endor. I needed that ship, which was equipped with the same Sith cloaking device that the Terror was, to be ready and available to deal with the Alliance’s planned future ‘ambush.’

Cursed Rebels. They will pay for this.

‘How much damage was done to the rest of the shipyard?’ I prompt.

‘We are still, ah,’ he dithers a little, ‘working on a report about that. The Rebels targeted their attack on the Super Star Destroyer and ignored the other vessels which were docked.’

So, somewhere there was, and perhaps still is, a security leak, otherwise they would have tried to destroy the other ships as well. This was a precise, targeted attack on the most important Destroyer there.

‘Well, what can you tell me,’ I snap at him, my frustration becoming audible.

‘They were able to approach using a captured shuttle as a decoy,’ he reveals. ‘It was under remote control and probably full of explosives. That shuttle was flown into the Command Center. Our fighters couldn’t stop it in time. A frigate and support craft arrived immediately after that. Unfortunately, our TIEs couldn’t hold the Rebel’s fighters back long enough for the Star Destroyers farther out in the system to arrive.’

‘Send a complete report the instant you have it,’ I order. ‘I will see to it personally that the Emperor is informed.’

‘At once, my Lord,’ he acknowledges with another snapped salute before I sever the connection.

For a moment, I debate returning to bed then dismiss that thought. My presence is needed on the Executor today, to finish the inspections I put off from last week. I can contact my master from there, after I have examined those reports from Fondor. If I leave soon, I might be able to return in time for lunch with my family.

On my way to the bedroom, I peer in at my children. All are sleeping peacefully, completely oblivious to the comm call I just answered. My wife, I discover, has appropriated my pillow and is dreaming, her face calm and eyes fluttering. I lightly kiss her cheek then stealthily go about putting my armour on. She needs to rest and I will leave her a note letting her know where I have gone.

Before I leave, I stand beside the bed, staring down at my wife. Our son will be born in the next month, and I need to somehow put as much distance between them and my master as possible, and the sooner, the better. He has something planned, where she and my children are concerned, and I am sure that I will not like it very much.


I reread Ani’s note while the children finish their breakfasts. He must have been in a hurry today, given that it is only one sentence long: ‘I need to attend to some business on the Executor, but shall be home by midday, Anakin.’

With a sigh, I set it aside. He will, no doubt, be delayed by whatever urgent crisis comes up which no one but himself can see to. It is a rare day when everything goes as planned. Slightly frustrated, I give my head a shake.

‘Mommy?’ Mikal asks.

I suspect he has picked up on my mood.

‘It’s alright,’ I tell him. ‘Mommy is not feeling very good today.’

Son number two moves a little, so I give my stomach a rub. I definitely do not feel quite right, but I am not sure why. Ever since that nightmare about Ani’s funeral pyre, my uneasiness has been increasing, much as I try to ignore it. Change is coming - change I am afraid we will all be caught up in whether we like it or not.


I nod, absentmindedly, as Captain Kallic completes his summary. All has been seen to as I had ordered. He is merely repeating what I had confirmed for myself earlier during my inspection tour. Finally, I send him from my office with a wave of my hand.

‘Enough, Captain,’ I dismiss him. ‘You have done well.’

He makes a hasty retreat. I watch him leave, then return my attention to the report from Fondor. A recording from one of the holocams in the shipyard clearly showed exactly what had happened. Three prototype TIE Hunters, previously stolen by the Rebels’ Rogue Squadron, accompanied a ‘captured Rebel transport,’ and all of those ships were used to bypass security. If the late Captain Fillorean had not recognized the ruse, and began a defense, the damage would have been worse and loss of life much higher. I make a note to add a posthumous commendation to his file. It is unfortunate that more officers do not have his intelligence and insight. It will not be easy to replace him.

I push myself out of my chair and head for the Holonet terminal. Now, I will have to explain the situation to the Emperor, and given his mood of late, he is certain to react in a decidedly unpleasant way.

Stepping onto the raised dais, I kneel and wait for the signal to go through. When it does, my presence is quickly acknowledged.

‘Lord Vader,’ my master greets me. ‘You may rise.’

‘My master,’ I solemnly intone after quickly obeying him. ‘The Rebels have destroyed the Deceptive and her cloaking devices at Fondor.

He pauses a moment and I can sense his amusement at this news. This is not a surprise to him and for a few seconds I wonder if he had planned it. One strategic leak would have given the Rebels all the information they needed.

‘This victory only ensures that they will be over confident in the upcoming battle,’ he states. ‘Even now, the Rebels are being drawn into a trap.’

‘Yes, my master,’ I automatically reply while I consider the implications of what he has said.

‘They will go to Endor, drawn in by today’s apparent success and their foolish assumptions that the battlestation there is incomplete and defenceless,’ he adds. ‘All of their resources will be committed to that battle. We will crush them completely.’

I tip my head up and look directly at him. He was responsible for the Deceptive’s loss. I bristle at that. Does he know what I do of the future? Does he realize that even one more ship at Endor could change it?

‘You will go to Endor next month and ensure that all is ready for when they attack,’ my master orders. ‘Nothing must be left to chance. You may use whatever means you consider necessary.’

No, I think to myself. I am not ready yet. Luke is not ready yet. Maia will give birth soon and I cannot leave her behind on Coruscant.

‘Yes, master,’ I repeat myself to quickly cover the break in my breathing.

It doesn’t work.

‘You have objections to this?’ he notes.

‘Concerns,’ I correct, trying to deflect him a little. ‘Construction is behind schedule and it will be difficult...’

He immediately dismisses my worries.

‘It will be ready for when I need it,’ he simply states, leaving no room for further argument on my part. ‘Since you are so concerned with how much time you will have to finish this task, perhaps I should send you there today.’ 

Rather than antagonize him into doing exactly that, I say nothing. Instead, I watch the fingers of his hologram tap the arm of his throne. The Force stills, almost as impatient as my master, as I debate how to respond.

‘Love is forbidden to a Sith for good reason,’ comes unbidden into my mind.

‘Your concerns...’ he begins, pauses, then smiles as I realize he is fully aware of why I do not want to leave, before he finishes, ‘...are for your wife and unborn son.’

I freeze in place, furious with how easily he has read me, but knowing better than to express my anger in words.

‘Lord Vader?’ the Emperor prods at last.

I stay silent, risking a reprimand.

‘You will go to Gamandar and check on Admiral Tower’s progress,’ he instructs. ‘You were responsible for subjugating that system so you will see to that personally.’

Another pointless errand designed to demonstrate his control over me, and a not so subtle rebuke for my stubborn reticence, but I know any answer confirming his surmise of my feelings on the matter will bring the same, or worse.

‘Yes, my master,’ I flatly agree.

‘Your wife,’ he announces, ‘will remain here. Whether or not she accompanies you in the future will be my decision, not yours.’

‘As you wish,’ I acquiesce without arguing.

His hologram vanishes, leaving me alone to brood.


Maia, Ani calls to me.

I set down the spoon I had been using to stir the hot nuna soup and motion the children towards the table. It’s lunchtime for us, and Ani was supposed to be back by now.

Yes, dear? I answer.

I have been sent on an errand, he informs me, and will be gone for a week or so.

A frown creases my forehead. If the children and I were going with him, he would have told me that first, used ‘we’ instead of ‘I,’ and given me a time frame for when I needed to be packed and ready to go.

The old coot is making me stay here, isn’t he? I ask for confirmation, annoyed with the situation. And you have to leave right now.

Yes, is his short reply to that question.

I don’t bother my husband with my usual litany of complaints. He can sense my irritation and that is enough.

Be careful, my love, I remind him, and come home soon.

Our bond starts to stretch and thin so I know the Executor has just jumped to lightspeed.

I will be and I will return when I can, he tells me, then he is gone, and I am left to myself to once again worry about his safety and explain to the children why daddy won’t be home today.

Gamandar, Iskalon System, Mid-Rim, Year 4, Month 1.



I stalk towards the command deck, three officers trailing behind me. Hopefully this conference will be over quickly so that I can make my inspections on Gamandar and Iskalon, and then leave.

‘Gentlemen, make your reports,’ I order. ‘The Emperor is very anxious to learn how the subjugation of this system is proceeding.’

‘Y-yes, Lord Vader,’ Captain Kallic stammers, his fear of giving offense obvious.

‘The rebellion against the Empire must be crushed - it will be crushed,’ I remind them as we reach the viewports at the front of the bridge. ‘That is why we eradicated all life on the planet Telfrey, to make an example of what happens to those who oppose us, that is why we subdued the population Gamandar and built a fortress there, and that is why we must watch the water planet Iskalon for any signs of Rebel activity. The Empire will be making its final assault against the Rebel forces very soon now and there must be no mistakes.’

No, there cannot be any mistakes on this errand. Far too much depends on my being successful here and pleasing my master.

‘Yes, yessir, Lord Vader,’ Kallic repeats.

‘We understand sir,’ Major Fervis confirms.

‘Do you?’ I muse aloud.

Do they? Somehow I doubt that they do.

‘You needn’t have any fears about Gamandar and Iskalon, sir, and neither need the Emperor,’ Kallic blurts out. ‘Admiral Tower, the man you left in command of the fortress, is most capable...’

I cut him off with the truth, ‘Tower is an arrogant fool and a brute.’

Tower was left in charge to remove him from doing damage in more sensitive places elsewhere, but I suspect he has made a mess of the situation here, which I will, of course, be forced to clean up.

‘Uhm, yes, I see,’ the Captain responds in a much quieter voice. ‘The forces on Gamandar inform us that they are very close to locating Tay Vanis, the Rebel who disappeared after stealing certain vital documents. Once Tower locates him and the threat is eliminated...’

I break in on Kallic again, ‘Tower should be less busy in matters that do not concern him. Vanis will be dealt with in time.’

Vanis, whose location I know and whose droid possesses certain data tapes full of falsified information for the Rebels to discover, is of little concern to me at the moment, but he has been useful for keeping certain Rebels and Imperial officers busy with a prolonged wild goose chase.

‘But sir!’ I hear Kallic protest behind my back. ‘But Lord Vader, we’ve diverted dozens of our best men to search for Vanis and they have found no sign of him.’

‘And our intelligence networks report that the Rebels have had no better luck in finding...’ Major Fervis begins his own report.

‘Lord Vader?’ one of the younger bridge crew interrupts, no doubt playing messenger for someone else higher in the command chain who does not want to risk my anger.

‘Why have you interrupted us, Corporal?’ I ask as I turn to face him. ‘Did you not hear my orders that nothing was to disturb us during this conference?’

‘I...I...I...,’ he stutters, so I wait for him to finish. This must be his first time speaking directly to me, and his fear is rather obvious. ‘Forgive me sir. A holographic message has just come in for you, from the fortress, and...it...the droid said that you...’

‘A droid is calling me from the fortress and you interrupted us for that?’ I growl.

Colour drains from the Corporal’s face and I see him swallow nervously in expectation of a lethal response from me. Letting him fret for a few more seconds, I make a decision. I need an excuse to take a break from the tedium of listening to Kallic, so regardless of my previous command, I will go find out what this is about.

‘Very well,’ I announce as I head to the nearby holonet terminal. ‘I will speak to it. We will continue when I am through.’

When I reach the projector, I see that one of my spies, K3PX, a newer model protocol ‘droid, is waiting for me. Perhaps he has news of Admiral Tower or his hunt for Vanis.

‘I am here, K3PX,’ I announce myself. ‘You may make your report. How is the situation on Gamandar?’

‘I am not contacting you about Gamandar,’ he quickly replies. ‘There have been some serious developments on our twin world, Iskalon.’

‘Has there been any Rebel activity on the water planet?’ I ask, since that is the one thing which would be difficult to monitor due to that world’s geography.

‘There has been,’ the ‘droid confirms. ‘Tower dealt with it before I could inform you. He devastated the entire world with a missile. We do not know if there were any survivors.’

I hiss in fury. Destroying a planet without proper investigation or confirmation of rumors is the act of a fool.

‘Tower has overstepped himself,’ I snap.

‘There is more, sir,’ K3PX adds. ‘One of the Rebels on Iskalon was named Skywalker.’

‘What!’ I shout, causing a nearby crewman jump away in surprise. ‘Luke Skywalker was on Iskalon?’

I reach out towards that planet, searching for my son. There is a flicker in the Force, which quickly fades away at my touch. He has sensed me and is hiding now, but at least he is still alive. It should be simple enough to retrieve him once I have dealt with Tower.

‘Take a squad, K3PX,’ I order. ‘Arrest Admiral Tower and bring him to the holonet terminal. I will speak with him myself.’

After shutting off the holonet, I pace and brood. When Kallic approaches, I wave him away. The conference can wait until later.

‘Incoming transmission from Gamandar, my lord,’ he announces at last.

I intend to make a public example of Tower, to demonstrate what foolishness and arrogance will earn anyone who acts as recklessly as he did.

‘I will take it here,’ I decide.

Stepping onto the holonet pad, I see the Admiral being pushed by a ‘trooper onto the one on the planet below. I don’t bother with a greeting.

‘Tower, you have acted in haste and indulged yourself at the expense of the Empire for the last time,’ I inform him.

‘But sir, Lord Vader, I was only...’

‘I am fully aware of what you were going to do,’ I reveal, ‘just as I am aware of what you have done - more aware of it than you are yourself. There was no need to set in motion the Iskalon effect without first consulting me.’

A single missile was all it would take - all it did take - to trigger a planetwide tidal wave which destroyed everything in its path, including the floating facility called Pavillion, and I would never have approved of that, knowing that Luke would be placed in danger.

‘But there were Rebels in Pavillion,’ he tries to justify his actions. ‘They might have been allies of Tay Vanis...’

‘Your motives do not concern me,’ I snap. ‘What does is that your hasty action may have ended the life of one particular Rebel, a man both the Emperor and myself have been after for some time...’

‘Lord Vader,’ the voice of an on-planet officer breaks in, ‘We’ve started receiving reports from the remains of our forces on Iskalon. There are survivors in Pavillion.’

Confirmation of what I had sensed earlier.

‘Thank the Force,’ Tower says, sounding relieved.

‘The Force is not with you, Tower, it is with me,’ I flatly state.

I must find Luke, but the Admiral needs to be disposed of first.

‘Prepare my shuttle,’ I order Kallic. ‘I shall go to Iskalon at once, as soon as I have dealt with this fool.’

‘Lord Vader, back in the detention area, there are some Rebel prisoners,’ Tower tells me. ‘Perhaps one of them could be...’

I know he is being helpful in an attempt to escape his own fate.

‘The man I seek is not amoung them. Whoever they are,’ I decide, ‘they shall keep until I return.’

I pause, considering my options. Tower is not worth wasting any more of my time on, and I cannot be bothered to eliminate him in person.

‘Guards, execute Admiral Tower,’ I give the order before signing off. ‘Transmission ends.’

Iskalon, Iskalon System, Mid-Rim, Year 4, Month 1



I survey the damage to the floating city. Pavillion is a wreck. Between the massive tidal wave triggered by the missile, fighting between the locals, Rebels, and Imperial troops stationed here, and the attack of chiaki scavengers drawn to the blood and corpses, little has survived intact. The buildings have been levelled, debris is scattered everywhere, all of it punctuated by the bodies of humans and native water dwellers. Any survivors have retreated to their watery homes or been taken aboard the Executor for treatment and transport to Iskalon’s sister world. Luke is gone, as are his friends who were here, escaped before we landed yesterday.

‘The Rebels were picked up by a freighter,’ Major Fervis notes as he draws even with where I am standing. ‘Most likely it was Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon, given that Skywalker and Organa were here, and Calrissian escaped from Gamandar in it.’

I prod the body of a dead chiaki with my boot. The exobiologists on the Executor have been busy taking samples from this deep sea creature, a monster very few offworlders have seen. It looks a bit like one of the dragons my wife once described to me, but without the wings.

‘What of the natives?’ I ask.

‘Fled to the depths and refusing any contact,’ he admits. ‘Any attempt to approach them, and they flee or fight to the death. Our one well-placed spy was killed and I doubt we can replace her. It will be difficult to infiltrate them again because they have no reason to trust anyone from off-world after this and they do not need outside help to survive.’

‘Tower was a fool to waste the assets we had here,’ I growl, angrily.

The Major, wisely, does not reply.

‘Salvage what you can,’ I tell him, ‘and leave the rest. There is no point in rebuilding anything here. The Rebels are gone, and the natives who remain are not large enough in numbers or important enough to waste my time on. They cannot survive off their watery world, and there is nothing for the Rebels to use here. For now, we will leave the place to itself.’

I sense his unspoken agreement with my assessment.

‘I must go to Gamandar today,’ I add, ‘to inspect the fortress and appoint a new commander, so you had best hurry and finish your tasks, Major.’

He backs away and I am left to my meditations again.

I turn my attention to the horizon, staring out across the waters while I think. Did my master know Luke was here? Is that why I was sent? Several times in the past few months my son has slipped through my fingers, always one step ahead, always making a lucky escape. Perhaps this is a lesson to me - my master seems to be able to anticipate Luke’s movements far better than I can. Palpatine knew Luke was on Coruscant and that he eluded me. My son was here, too, and again evaded my grasp. But no one, not even a Jedi, can have their luck hold forever.

I let out a sigh.

Luke will come to me at Endor, of that I am certain, and I have exactly one month to figure out what I will do when that happens.

Imperial Center, Coruscant, Core Worlds, Year 4, Month 1.



With a growl of annoyance, I glare at the turbolift’s control panel. No amount of prodding at the emergency override has prompted the ‘lift to move or the door to open, but I would rather not dismantle it in an attempt to fix the problem. I do not have the necessary tools on hand and would be forced to improvise a repair. Given how my day has progressed, anything I do would probably result in a longer stay, in cramped quarters, with company I would have preferred to avoid.

The other occupant of the turbolift merely raises an eyebrow and maintains an infuriatingly calm demeanour. Few would have followed me into the ‘lift, and fewer still would have stood their ground when I approached, refusing to step aside and let me have the ‘lift to myself, but this, obviously, is no ordinary woman.

I choose to ignore her, as I have done since entering the ‘lift, and resort to alerting security to where I am and what the problem is. Unfortunately, instead of an officer responding immediately to the comm call, I am routed to the automated system.

‘Please state the reason for your enquiry,’ a nameless ‘droid prompts.

‘Turbolift...,’ I begin, then quickly locate the information I need on the control panel, ‘NW12-78 has stalled and the override is nonfunctional.’

‘Don’t panic, sir,’ it smoothly soothes. ‘A tech team will be sent to extract you as soon as possible.’

Sir? Sir? Does it not recognize my voice?

‘This is Lord Vader, and I expect a team to be sent right now,’ I order.

‘Nonpriority situations are attended to in the order they are reported, sir,’ it replies.

I refrain from indulging in a few choice curses. If I was speaking to a human, they would know who I am and act accordingly. This ‘droid will simply follow its programming, regardless of anything I say, and from here there is nothing I can do except wait, impatiently, while my temper slowly simmers, for the repair crew to make an appearance.

I shut off the comm and glance over at the woman. She has not moved from the place she took when she preceded me into the ‘lift.

Rather than suffer the silence, I state the obvious, ‘It seems that we may have to endure one another’s company for a number of hours.’

There is no reply from her, not that I really expected one.

I shift into a relaxed stance, hands resting at my belt, and amuse myself by staring at her, although I know she has no way to determine I am doing that. More than one Admiral has broken under such intense scrutiny from me, yet she does not flinch, nor even acknowledge my presence.

Who are you? I am tempted to ask, but do not voice the question.

“Observe, padawan,” comes unbidden into my thoughts from one of Obi-Wan’s lessons. “Much can be gleaned from small details.”

She is a puzzle to solve, an enigma to decipher. I decide to do so to pass the time.

Her clothing is well out of date, I note. The cut of her dress is the same as one I remember Padmé wearing long ago. Either she has limited means and buys what she can afford, old as it is, or she chooses to make her mode of dress into a political statement, deliberately reminding those around her of the Republic and what it represented. Considering where we are, perhaps the latter is not the wisest of tactics.

I shift my eyes upwards, only to have my gaze returned. Brown eyes. Dark hair. Features reminiscent of another woman from another time, another life. A doppelganger, I suddenly realize, a look-alike, an unrelated ‘twin’ who by sheer coincidence resembles someone else. I had heard of such before, but never expected to encounter my dead wife’s double.

I stand my ground, despite the urge to take a surprised step backwards, and begin to laugh.

My burst of audible mirth finally provokes a reaction.

‘I see nothing amusing in the situation, sir,’ she firmly states.

Even her voice, with its Naboo inflections, is reminiscent of Padmé’s.

‘But I do,’ I admit. ‘I find it very amusing.’

She falls silent at that, so I walk around her, observe her from every angle. If I did not know better, I would have been fooled into believing she was who she resembles. Halting my restless circling, I stop directly in front of her and set my hands on my hips while debating what to do.

Have I been set up? Did my master find her somewhere, school her mannerisms and voice, and send her as a test for me?  If so, does he expect me to let her live or to kill her? What does he intend with this? And if she is not a ruse of Palpatine’s, then why is she here?

Before I do anything, I need answers.

‘Who are you?’ I ask the question I had pondered earlier.

‘Who do you think I am?’ she challenges in response.

‘An imposter,’ I answer to see what the reply might be.

‘I claim no one’s identity but my own,’ she states in return.

Stalemate. The only way to obtain her name will be to force it from her.

‘If you will not reveal your name,’ I threaten, ‘then I have ways to extract it from you.’

I reach out, intending to run a finger down her cheek as a form of intimidation, but something stops me short of touching her skin. It almost feels like sacrilege, a violation of memories I hold hidden in my heart, to lay a hand on her. She isn’t who she appears to be, I remind myself, to no avail. It does not matter what you say or do to her, yet in a strange way, it does. Most certainly, her presence disturbs and unsettles me in a way I cannot explain.

My actions have seemingly no effect on her. She continues to stand, motionless, and calmly watch me.

The silence becomes unbearable. One of us will have to break it.

‘It wasn’t my fault,’ I abruptly proclaim, then curse myself for saying it.

I have no need or reason to apologize to the woman who is here, so why am I on the verge of doing exactly that? But the truth is that none of it was my fault and yet all of it was my fault. It all comes down to a few bad decisions in my life. I should be in this ‘lift with the original, not some chance imposter, and if I had made fewer mistakes, perhaps Padmé would be here, with me, and with our child.  

Confusion crosses the woman’s face at my strange change in demeanour and topic.

‘The ‘lift,’ I explain, waving a hand at the control panel to cover my awkwardness. ‘We will have to wait until help arrives.’

‘You are impatient,’ she quietly observes, ‘like someone I once knew, long ago.’

The turbolift jerks upwards then drops just as suddenly. Somehow we both manage to stay on our feet.

‘The techs must have arrived,’ I drily comment, ‘and if that is the best they can do, then I have a bad feeling about this.’

‘He used to say that on a regular basis, too,’ she adds as a smile of amusement tugs at her lips, only to be quickly hidden.

‘I do not like to remember the past,’ I admit more to myself than to her. ‘Some things are best buried and forgotten.’

Buried like Padmé. Forgotten like my past. It is far better to leave them in the dust and shadows.

‘The past makes us who we are, what we are...,’ she begins, but I cut her off with ‘... but we live in the present.’

‘...and plan for the future,’ she finishes, ‘yet we are fundamentally the same individuals, no matter what parts of ourselves we change or replace during our lives.’

‘A paradox,’ I muse aloud. ‘How much can be changed without altering one’s true nature?’

‘Do we go through our lives by shedding, piece by piece, who we truly are to become someone else?’ she asks, curious. ‘Or do you have a better idea...’

She does not finish what she was about to say, and looks past me, to what lies beyond. I turn to see what has caught her attention. A crack is visible in the center of the door. I won’t be able to answer her before we are interrupted. We will be free soon and I am already late for a meeting with my master.

‘Our time is up,’ I note.

‘Yes, it is,’ she says, with a hint of quiet sadness. 

The Lieutenant in front of me takes a startled step backwards as the door slides completely open. He must not have been told who was trapped in the turbolift, and I was not who he planned on finding in it.

‘Life is made up of choices and changes,’ I hear her say, her voice a mere whisper now. ‘Be very sure of yours before you make them.’

‘What do you mean?’ I snap, spinning around to confront her.

‘My Lord?’ the Lieutenant calls to me. ‘Who are you talking to?’

I stare mutely at what I discover.

No one is there.

The turbolift is empty.


My husband has been in a strange mood ever since he returned from his afternoon meeting. Maybe Palpatine said something to prompt this, but my instincts tell me that whatever happened, the Emperor was not directly involved.

I sneak out of the children’s room, leaving them sleeping soundly, and quietly make my way to Ani’s office. He’s still sitting on the floor, staring at the fire, and probably hasn’t moved since I last checked on him. For a moment, I debate asking how long he intends to stay there, but opt to slip away instead. Once he has sorted himself out, he will come to bed.

My strategic retreat is halted by his raised hand and motion to sit beside him. He wants my company. I quickly obey and settle myself as comfortably as I can.

‘Ani?’ I start to question him, but am silenced by his finger across my lips and a shake of his head.

Whatever is bothering him, he wants to work it out on his own.


I sense her presence behind me and her hesitation. My wife knows something is wrong, but not what to do about it. Rather than allow her to worry and hover, I wave her forward. She comes when I beckon her to me and quiets when I let her know my wishes with a touch.

As the evening passes in silence, Maia tires and eventually lies down, using my lap and thigh as a pillow. When she finally falls asleep, I brush her cheek with my hand. With my mask on, I cannot kiss her goodnight.

While she dreams, I continue to struggle with myself.

Why did Padmé appear today, of all times, after more than twenty years of absence? Was she really there or merely a product of my imagination, a hallucination generated by my stressed mind?

On review, the security tapes contained only static. Nothing was visible or audible. A chance malfunction I was told, a byproduct of the same faulty power supply which stalled the turbolift. In my experience there is no such thing as mere coincidence. Assume what you saw was real, I decide, and then work out the reasons for it.

So, why now?

I look down at my sleeping wife. My son could be born tonight, so close is she to giving birth. Perhaps the timing, then, is related to that.

And what of the warning?

Obviously a choice will be presented to me, but what will it be?

In frustration, I curl my fist. Just enough information to tantalize, yet it is still insufficient. A choice is coming. Change is coming. Something will need to be given up. I suppress an ironic laugh. Such has always been my life. There is nothing new in that, only in the messenger who delivered the news.

Maia stirs in her sleep. I will not tell her of Padmé’s unexpected visit. That was meant for me, not her.

‘Hush, little goddess,’ I soothe her when she shows signs of waking. ‘All is well. Go to sleep.’

No, my second wife does not need to know about the ghost of my first.




I risk a nervous glance over at my husband and tighten my grip on his left arm. No one who is watching us can see my face through the veil I am wearing, but I know Ani is fully aware of my expression and feelings. Neither of us wants to be here, walking down the Grand Corridor, heading to what will, no doubt, be a potentially unpleasant encounter with his master.

We stop at the entrance to the audience chamber. Ani briefly rests his right hand atop mine, and I feel his calm, unspoken reassurance. He will protect me as best he can from anything Palpatine might do, but he has already admitted that he has no idea why we have been summoned. Sate Pestage’s message only stated that we were to appear at this time and place, with no reason given, and I know my husband is anticipating trouble because of that omission.

The door opens. To my surprise, we are not alone. Two others besides ourselves and the ubiquitous red robed guards are in attendance. Near the Emperor’s throne, and from her body language not at all pleased with what she has just heard, is a tall, veiled woman with a blonde man kneeling on the floor beside her.

Ani, I ask, what is going on?

Our presence is noted before he can reply.

‘Lord Vader,’ Palpatine greets us, thankfully ignoring me for the moment.

‘My Emperor,’ my husband quickly replies.

We draw even with the unfamiliar couple and Ani moves to kneel, but he is immediately motioned to remain standing with me next to him. I stare at the other two in the room. The woman is dressed in layers of the finest iridescent mothsilk, with her face obscured by a flame coloured veil. The man is wearing a white uniform and is strikingly handsome. They must be extremely wealthy nobles, I decide, who are probably here for a private audience. So, why have Ani and I been called to attend this meeting?

‘As you can see, Ambassador, with your very own eyes,’ the Emperor points directly at my middle, ‘the Princess is in no condition to travel to Hapes or to negotiate a treaty with your Queen Mother on my behalf.’

I somehow cover up most of my startled reaction to that statement. ‘Princess’ is a title which is rarely applied to me, except for formal court functions or when my husband is teasing me, and I am a bit bewildered by the rest of what Palpatine just said. Where is Hapes and why does some Queen want to talk to me? Shouldn’t she be asking for a more qualified diplomat who is trained to handle political discussions? This is definitely not what Ani or I had expected to hear from Palpatine, which was more orders confining me to Imperial Center or sending the Sith Lord on a mission of some sort.

Ani? I give him another mental prod.

I can sense his mind racing as he tries to work out exactly what we have walked into and how to best use it to his own advantage. Rather than continue to push for a response, I decide to wait, observe what I can, and listen to the conversation until he has figured out what he will do.

‘The Erenenda Ta’a Chume will negotiate with no one else,’ the woman states, after her male companion says a few words in a language I don’t recognize. ‘She will not meet with any man or a woman of lesser rank.’

Ani stiffens a bit upon hearing that, yet says nothing in reply. There is far more to this than meets the eye for him to stay silent like that.

I closely watch the interaction between the Emperor and the others in the room. Palpatine is growing impatient with the Ambassador and her demands. He did not anticipate the Hapan’s insistence on my being part of whatever is going on, and given his opinion of women in general, I doubt he has much respect for their Queen. This meeting is more for show and to temporarily appease his guests, I suspect, than anything else.

I shift my attention to the female Hapan. The Ambassador has little use for members of the male sex, I quickly realize, and it sounds like her Queen Mother is of the same mind set. The man kneeling on the floor and the two Sith Lords in the room are not as important to her as I am, regardless of how much power they may wield. She seemingly ignores them and her eyes have rarely left me since I came in the room. Her scrutiny makes me uncomfortable, but I have no idea what I am supposed to do or say.

You need to give her an answer, Ani finally prompts me. I can’t speak for you because Hapan society is strictly matriarchal. She will respect what you tell her, but disregard anything I say.

And what exactly am I supposed to say? I ask, feeling a bit lost. I am no glib diplomat versed in galactic affairs and political intrigue.

Tell her, Ani begins, then pauses to think, I assume, before finishing, that you will come meet the Queen Mother, but with the condition that I accompany you on your flagship.

What are you up to, Sith Lord?  I scold him. You know that will only create trouble. Palpatine is going to have a fit.

Just do it, he orders, and refer to me as your consort, not your husband. I will explain to you why, later.

I let go of his arm, take a step forward, and turn to face the Hapan Ambassador, silently praying that I am making the right decision and hoping that Palpatine doesn’t do something drastic to any of us as a result.

‘Ambassador,’ I state as calmly as I can, ‘I will go meet your Queen Mother.’ I see the Emperor scowl and begin to raise his hand as he looks over my head at Ani, so I quickly add, ‘But with two conditions.’ Palpatine’s hand pauses while he waits for me to finish. ‘My consort will accompany me and I will take my own flagship to Hapes.’

With that said, I retreat back a step to Ani’s side, and do my best not to let my slight hysteria show. I have landed right in the midst of a situation I am completely ignorant of. Diplomacy is definitely not one of my areas of expertise, and I would have preferred to stay quiet and let my husband sort this out. Now, I have no idea what this will lead to.

A finger raps a few times against the throne’s armrest as its occupant sits deep in thought. I risk looking up to see what sort of tempest my little speech may have stirred up, but Palpatine is staring at the Ambassador, not me, and his expression is one of contemplation rather than annoyance or anger. He’s obviously working out how to manipulate the situation and use me for his own benefit. How typical. The Hapans are busy conversing in their own language while we wait for their response.

You have surprised him for a second time, Ani notes with some amusement. He expected that I would refuse to let you be involved in this, rather than allow you to take your own initiative, and he did not anticipate that you would freely offer to go.

That is no thanks to you, I growl back. I was afraid he was going to do something to us if I didn’t agree to stay here. What exactly are you playing at, Sith Lord?

Removing you from Imperial Center and his easy reach for a few weeks, Ani admits, and in exchange giving him an opportunity to secure a few things he has coveted from the Hapans for quite some time.

I mull that over for a few minutes. Will what Palpatine wants from the Hapans outweigh his desire to keep me close to him and able claim my son when he is born? Would he risk Ani hiding us away from his grasp in exchange for whatever the Hapans might offer him?

‘Your terms are acceptable,’ the Ambassador decides.

For a moment, I hold my breath. I suspect that the old coot is going to drag this out as long as he can manage and then refuse to let us go.

‘You will leave in two days,’ the Emperor agrees at last, ‘and conduct the negotiations as expeditiously as possible. Go, now, and prepare for your journey to Hapes. I will speak with you later, Lord Vader.’

Ani’s relief is palpable to me, despite the fact that his master intends to say something to him in private. I squeeze my husband’s arm once the door to the throne room is closed behind us. A part of me can’t help wondering if this little excursion he has manoeuvred us into will not create more problems than it will solve, but I decide to ignore my reservations for now.

An adventure with you along for company, I tease Ani. This ought to be fun.

That, he dryly states, remains to be seen.

The Executor, Deep Space, Year 4, Month 1

DAY 14


With a shake of my head, I finally put down my datapad and look over at Ani. He has spent much of the past few days reviewing every scrap of information available on Hapes, most of it classified, much of it wild stories, and some of it hearsay. The so‑called ‘memoir’ of Grov Bricker I have just finished sounds like more of a tall tale designed to sell datafiles than a true story. At home it would be considered the male version of a bodice ripper.

‘Ani,’ I ask him, ‘how much truth do you think is in the “Planet of the Amazons” datafile I have been reading?’

The Sith Lord turns off his data terminal before coming over to sit beside me.

‘Some of it is based in truth,’ he reveals, ‘but most is rather exaggerated. Hapan controlled space has been closed to outsiders for three thousand years. Few of those who have journeyed there, by accident or design, have ever been allowed to leave, so it is easy for facts to become distorted.’

I give him an exasperated look. That didn't tell me what I want to know, and the classified files he has allowed me to look at have not helped much, either.

‘Very well,’ he concedes. ‘What do you want to know?’

I hesitate and blush a little. Most of what I am curious about is the stuff that Corellian pirate sensationalised in his bestselling datafile, and some of it is rather lewd.

‘Do they really use men just for breeding?’ I blurt out. ‘That seems so cold and callous.’

Ani laughs. I just knew he would do that.

‘Yes,’ he admits, ‘they do. Very few men have formal positions or any power at all, and those who do are subservient to the women ranked above them.’

‘So, in their eyes, the only reason I keep you around is to have kids,’ I tease him, ‘and I am the boss, not you!’

‘Daughters,’ he reminds me. ‘Sons have very little value because they cannot inherit, and for Hapans, maternal bloodlines are far more important than paternal ones.’

I give my head a shake. Hapes is not going to be an easy place to visit. Its strict matriarchy and treatment of men will be difficult for me to deal with, and given that Ani is used to being the one in charge, it will be harder for him than for me. Plus, the Hapans harbour a distinct hatred of Jedi, in particular, and Force users, in general. We will both need to be careful what we do and say.

‘Three days of reading about the place and practising etiquette doesn’t feel like much preparation,’ I decide. ‘Hapes sounds so strange and exotic compared to home. There wasn’t a single culture like theirs on Earth, although there are ancient Greek legends about Amazon women which are similar.’

‘Nor is there a society like it in the Empire,’ Ani reveals. ‘At least not at the scale of the Hapes Cluster’s sixty-three inhabited worlds.’

He reaches over to give my hand a comforting squeeze.

‘Just remember that the Hapans know our customs are different,’ he reassures me. ‘They won’t expect you to treat me as their women treat their men, but I will need to be deferential to you. To them, you are the one with higher rank and status, not I.’

The comm chimes. Ani responds with a wave of his hand.

‘Lord Vader, we have arrived at the transfer point at Roqoo Depot,’ Admiral Okins announces.

‘I will be there momentarily, Admiral,’ the Sith Lord answers.

He turns off the comm in the same manner as he activated it.

‘Now it begins,’ he tells me as he rises to his feet. ‘The Hapans closely guard the two routes into their space. One of their navigators will be sent to the Executor from their fleet to guide us in. Not that it really matters. I could use the Force to find my way, but that would take longer, and be seen as a prelude to an invasion. It’s better to co-operate with them, at least for now.’

I nod in response. The one thing which did come across in what I read about the Hapans was their determination to remain isolated and insulated from the rest of the galaxy.

‘The Mists surrounding the Cluster will make it impossible to communicate with anyone on the outside using subspace frequencies,’ Ani reveals. ‘They value and guard their privacy, so no holonet transponders to act as relays, either.’

No way for the Emperor to interfere, I decide, or call us back earlier than expected.

And no way to send for help if something does go wrong, either, he warns me.

Ani leaves his office, heading to the bridge. The Hapan navigator will be brought there, after they dock. My husband will be busy until we arrive at the planet of Hapes, at the center of the Hapes Cluster. I debate for a moment what to do. For the next ten days my life will be occupied with official appearances, events held in my honour, lengthy meetings, and diplomatic nonsense I don’t really understand. Once I meet the Queen Mother and convince her that my husband is who she should be negotiating with, I can hopefully fade into the background and let him look after whatever it is the Emperor is determined to get. That’s the plan, but past experience has taught me that nothing ever seems to go the way one expects it to.

A resigned sigh escapes from me. What will be, will be. It’s time to go see what the children are up to and worry about tomorrow when it arrives.

Fountain Palace, Hapes, Hapes Cluster, Year 4, Month 1

DAY 15


I settle myself into the ornate chair set aside for me with more than a bit of trepidation. My simple black dress and plain jewellery stand out amoungst the far more elaborate court costumes of those I just walked past. Ani decides to remain standing, on guard, behind and to my right. My aides Cyran and Daini, on bodyguard duty, take up their own positions. All of the Noghri remained on the Executor to avoid any potential incident. The Hapans tend to be rather insular when it comes to aliens.

 One of the Chume’doro, the Royal Guards, enters, accompanied by a woman in royal livery who I assume is a herald. Every Hapan in the room rises to their feet then kneels. I remain seated where I am, while Ani stays standing. No one moves.

‘Ereneda Ta’a Chume, Isolder Chume’da,’ the herald announces before withdrawing from sight.

Down the alabas staircase, and through the arched entrance at the end of the Hall of Masters she comes, clad in the same iridescent mothsilk I had seen once before. I turn and look up at my husband. His thought is the same as mine. The Hapan Ambassador was the Queen Mother in disguise, and following behind her is the young man who was with her in the Emperor’s throne room.

Why? I ask Ani. Why the pretence with the Emperor?

I don’t know, but I suspect we are going to find out, he answers, and I can tell he is a bit annoyed at the Hapan’s subterfuge, although he had told me after the audience with Palpatine that the Ambassador was not who she had claimed to be.

I stay where I am and wait for the Queen Mother to stop in front of me and seat herself in the chair directly across from where I am sitting. It’s larger and more like a throne than mine, as befits her status. Ani sketched a bow as she passed him, and I tipped my head in acknowledgement, but the rest of those in the room don’t move or rise from where they knelt on the floor until Ta’a Chume signals, with a stilted wave, that they may do so. Isolder remains standing behind his mother, mirroring the Sith Lord’s position. Remember the Hapan etiquette lessons, I scold myself. Wait for what she says or does, then go from there.

Ta’a Chume removes her veil. I motion to Cyran to do the same with mine. For a few minutes the Queen Mother and I study each other. She must be older than I am by some years, judging by the age of her son, yet one would never be able to tell that based on her appearance. Strikingly beautiful, her green eyes and red hair would make her stand out just about anywhere. I meet her gaze without flinching and don’t let anything of what I am thinking show. Hers is a cold beauty, I decide. There is no warmth at all in this woman, only ruthlessness and a desire for power and control. In her eyes, I probably don’t meet Hapan standards on any level. All of the Hapan women I have seen are far closer to the classical definition of beauty than I am, and all of them are steeped in the cut throat practices required to survive here.

Realization dawns: I am far out of my depth, with only Ani’s advice to guide me safely through the turbulent waters ahead.


I watch, motionless, as the Hapans present Maia with their gifts. First rainbow gems, then a priceless gold harp, rich clothing fit for royalty for our son and daughters, a flower of flawless crystal which grew in that form rather than being carved by anyone’s hands,...

Wait, I remind my wife, when she seems unsure what to do. Wait until they have brought everything to you then thank their Queen.

More gifts are laid before us. The final gift, a bejewelled dagger, is displayed to show off its craftsmanship and edge, before being sheathed, and added to the rest. I know that whatever the Queen Mother wants must be equally valuable to warrant such excessive generosity.

 What does she want, I wonder, keeping that question, which has nagged at me for days, to myself. The Empire has little to offer the self-sufficient Hapans. They have no need for us as military allies, no desire to expand beyond the ionized clouds protecting them, nor any lack of resources or technology to prompt a trade treaty.

So, what does Ta’a Chume really want?


‘Your gifts are most generous, Queen Mother,’ I manage to say, keeping my voice as calm and steady as I can manage. ‘Thank you.’

I have a pretty good idea what the value of all their presents is and that worries me. The Hapans must want something rather badly to give that much up.

It’s a very small measure of their wealth, Ani reveals, but still substantial, nonetheless.

I refrain from replying to his thought. Ta’a Chume is watching me closely now, waiting for a reaction, and I don’t want to accidentally give her any hint what my opinion is.

‘It is but a small token of my esteem, your highness,’ the Queen Mother replies. ‘And a small portion of what will be yours once an agreement is reached between us.’

My face freezes. More? Why?

‘But it is time for refreshments, now,’ she adds, clapping her hands to summon liveried servers. ‘We can discuss this further, later.’


One would never know it was late at night, I decide, as I stare out the window into the Queen Mother’s garden. Hapes is never in true darkness, thanks to the numerous stars in close proximity to this system. Light might fade a little, but is ever present.

The room behind me is full of women and political chatter. Shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other, my discomfort at being on the margins and an outsider male must be obvious.

‘Lord Vader,’ an aged female voice calls to me.

Not her again.

I turn around, and look down at the old woman who has singled me out. Ta’a Chume’s aunt is petite, grey haired, seemingly harmless, and exceptionally nosy. She could easily be mistaken for someone’s elderly grandmother, although I know from our earlier formal introduction that she is a childless spinster. For over an hour she had bombarded me with questions ranging from what Coruscant is like to details of Imperial inheritance laws before someone distracted her long enough that I could slip away from her. So, what does she want to know now?

‘Yes, Lady Marpesia,’ I reply as politely as I can, refraining from letting any of my impatience show.

The Hapans are quick to make decisions, and instantly take offense if they feel slighted. It would be best to humour her for the moment and make my escape at the first opportunity.

She looks up at me and smiles then lightly pats my arm.

‘Come sit down, dear,’ she suggests. ‘It will be a long evening and you must want someone to talk to who understands Basic, to pass the time. Leave the politics and other duties to the Princess.’

I look over at my wife, who is still deep in conversation with the Queen Mother’s sister, Secciah, to whom she was introduced when we arrived. Cyran and Daini are flanking Maia as bodyguards, alert and at attention behind her chair. The only man in the room is myself, and that was by special dispensation. Of the Queen Mother, there is no sign. On Coruscant, to be left waiting this long by one’s host would be seen as a snub. Here, it is part of how royal business is conducted.

I give in and allow Marpesia to guide me to one of the large chairs. Perhaps I might be able to extract some useful information from her. As I walk beside her, I note how my weight crushes the deep red qashmel carpet, leaving temporary footprints in my wake. The security conscious part of my mind marks where I am in relation to the two main entrances at either end of the hall, doorways into the gardens, and corridors leading deeper into the palace. All are built of pure white alabas and, like the artwork on the walls, are designed to display Hapan wealth in as blatant a manner as possible.

The elderly Hapan seats herself across from me. For a minute, she says nothing, obviously deciding what topic to interrogate me about next.

Then she leans forward and reveals, ‘The Duchas all want to marry their daughters, sisters, or cousins to the Chume’da Isolder, but he has already chosen Lady Elliar.’

Marpesia is not just nosy but a gossip, too. I shift a touch to let her know I am interested in hearing more. She quickly obliges me.

‘His mother does not approve,’ she adds, in a lower voice, ‘and the Duchas hope he will change his mind, to their advantage, or that he might be persuaded to abandon his choice for someone more suitable...’


A part of me feels some sympathy for my husband, who has been cornered, once again, by that same old woman he was talking to earlier.

Being interrogated again? I tease him.

Collecting intelligence, he replies. Gossip, mostly, but some of it might be useful. Yourself?

The more I listen to what Secciah says, I admit, the faster I want to leave this place. The Imperial Court feels far safer.

My comment must have hit a nerve because Ani’s helmeted head turns to look straight at me.

We can’t leave, he reminds me, not until I have what Palpatine wants, and that wasn’t in the gifts presented to you.

Gifts. More like expensive bribes. Hapans always present those first, before asking for what they want. Clearly they want something important, but what it is has not been made apparent, at least not yet.

You accepted the gifts, Ani continues, so hopefully the Queen Mother will present her offer tonight. Then, you will have to see if they will give what Palpatine wants in exchange for more of what they want. It’s standard negotiating tactics.

I resist rolling my eyes at him. Diplomatic duties are not my area of strength. I can’t tell a convincing lie and am too honest to be involved in these sorts of negotiations. It would be better if someone else, anyone else, handled it.

I turn my attention back to Secciah. If anything happens to Isolder, her daughter will inherit and become Queen Mother. From her questions and responses to mine, she is working out how I might be of use to her.

There is a lull in the conversations in the room, then silence. The Ta’a Chume has returned.

‘I will speak with the Princess in private,’ she issues a command, with no warning or preamble. ‘All of you. Out. Now.’

I sense Ani’s startled reaction. He had not been expecting this, and he doesn’t like the idea of my being alone with the Queen Mother at all. This is definitely not going according to plan, which was for the brief formal introductions to be finished tonight so that I could return to the Executor with the Sith Lord to rest until tomorrow’s first round of official negotiations.

The courtiers in the room quickly exit. The Queen Mother’s guards wait until Daini and Cyran step away from me before moving to do the same. Isolder hesitates, holds back, but his mother waves him away before taking her throne across from me. Ani, I note, tries his best to be the last to leave, save for the lone Chume’doro following after him.

The doors close, sealing us in, but I can sense that my husband is just outside, waiting for me to call if I need him.

‘Better,’ she states, settling deeper into her seat. ‘Some discussions do not need an audience.’

I wait for her to continue speaking.

‘We have already met on Coruscant, and from what I learned during that mission,’ she reveals, ‘there is no point in wasting my time attempting to negotiate a treaty with anyone other than your consort, but for appearances here, I had to ask for you, and through you gain access to him.’

I nod my understanding to her. Political expediency on her part, and driven by cultural motivations as well. On Hapes, the Queen Mother must be seen negotiating with a female of high rank, not a male. For her to do otherwise would put her at a disadvantage with her own people. A man will always be weaker than a woman, in her opinion, but if she thinks she can manipulate Ani more easily than Palpatine, or that my husband would bend to her will simply because she is female and he, male, she will be in for a big surprise.

‘Very well, then. I shall convey to him what you say to me. What do you want from the Empire?’ I ask in as even a tone as I can.

‘Access to external trade and technology,’ Ta’a Chume admits, ‘but Hapes has no interest in becoming an ally or subject of the Empire.’

‘And in return?’ I wonder.

She smiles at me for the first time. It does not instil any trust of her in me.

‘Our cybernetic technology is far more advanced than yours,’ she tells me, ‘and so is some of our military weaponry.’

Both are areas she knows Ani would be interested in, personally and ‘professionally,’ but from my experience, I doubt he will let himself be influenced that easily. Given what he had told me earlier, that the Hapans do not really need anything from the Empire, there must be more to this than she is telling me. This must be her opening gambit, I decide, an attempt to see what Ani’s hand is holding, before she ups the stakes, and she won’t show the rest of her cards until it is to her advantage to do so.

‘I see,’ I reply, to buy some time while I try to come up with what to say next.

‘Speak to your consort tonight,’ she suggests, then shrewdly notes, ‘since no agreement can be approved without his consent.’

She rises from her chair at that, heading to the door my husband is standing behind. I follow, suspecting that this is the end of today’s discussions, and that nothing more will happen until tomorrow.

The door swings open for the Queen Mother.

The Sith Lord on the other side steps back, watches her pass, and waits for me to join him.

‘Let’s return to my flagship,’ I suggest aloud. Silently, I add, Ani, I want to go home. I don’t trust her or anyone else here.

‘To the Executor, my Lady,’ he agrees. We’ll talk there, where it’s safe, later, after Mikal has his birthday cake, and the children are asleep.

I wait until we are in my husband’s shuttle, safely away from the Hapans’ sight then wrap myself around him, not caring what my bodyguards might think of it. Today has been too stressful not to ask him to be a bit indulgent in this way.

The Executor, Hapes, Hapes Cluster, Year 4, Month 1

DAY 16



I move Mikal's new storybooks from the top of my desk to the floor and set my datapad in their place. Maia and the children are still sleeping and I need some time alone to think.

Palpatine wants access to the Hapan’s military technology, and their Guns of Command, in particular. From what Maia told me last night, it sounds like the Queen Mother might be willing to part with that, but at what price? Access to external trade as she claimed? The Hapans could have that easily, without a treaty or the Empire's help. All they would need to do is set up a well-guarded outpost outside the Cluster and use that as a point of contact, ensuring their continued isolation from the rest of the galaxy. Access to outside technology? That's rather pointless when so much of their own is more advanced than what the Empire possesses. Anything they want, they could probably obtain through the same contacts they used to deliver Isolder and his mother to Coruscant.

No, the Queen Mother wants something else, something she has not disclosed yet, and whatever cards she has to play, she will not show until and unless she has to.

While I consider the various possibilities, Michael decides to put in an appearance, giving me one of his typical grins before sitting down in the chair across from me. Hopefully his spying has been of some use.

‘Well?’ I prompt him. ‘Anything useful to tell me?’

‘Not much,’ he reveals. ‘They might not be Force sensitives, but they do seem to know when someone is sneaking around, eavesdropping, or trying to see what they are up to. Every time I thought I might hear something important, they stopped talking, switched from Basic to Hapan, or went into another room where I couldn’t easily follow them. There’s no point in being visible and attempting to blend in, either. Most of the palace is off limits to males of any type.’

‘You could disguise yourself as a woman,’ I suggest, using the opportunity to tease him a bit.

To my surprise, he doesn’t take offense, merely looks amused.

‘I’m too tall, and I don’t know their language,’ Michael admits. ‘I couldn’t bluff my way to where I could be of help, either.’

He throws his hands up in the air, obviously frustrated by his inability to provide any intelligence to me.

‘There’s nothing you know that you can tell me?’ I prod, hoping he will divulge anything he might know of the Hapans.

Rather than pull his usual vanishing act when I push him to reveal what he knows but doesn’t want to discuss, Michael stands, rests his hands on the front of my desk and looks at me.

‘You probably know more about the Hapans than I do,’ he tells me. ‘If there was anything I could tell you about them that might keep my sister safe, I would have already done so.’ He steps back, then adds, ‘Don’t trust anything the Queen Mother says or does. She reminds me too much of your boss.’

With that he does disappear, leaving me alone to consider his words.


Ani was up early, I note, when my hand discovers his side of the bed is empty. He’s still worried about what the Queen Mother wants, and is probably in his office brooding about that. After Mikal’s birthday party last night and after all three of our children were asleep, we had spent an hour discussing what to do today and how I should handle the Queen Mother. I give my head a shake. My husband should be the one dealing with Hapan monarch, not I. Rather than wait for Ani to return to our bedroom, I retrieve his robe from the floor, wrap myself in it, and go to find him. Hopefully we will have a few minutes alone before breakfast. I discover him in his office, at his desk, as I expected, and staring at his data console.

‘Hi there, handsome,’ I tease him.

The Sith Lord glances over at me, reaches his hand out, and pulls me to his side when I take it.

‘You should have slept longer,’ he scolds me a little.

‘You should have stayed in bed with me, then,’ I counter back.

He knows when I am worried or stressed that his absence from my side often rouses me, even if he is careful to be quiet and not disturb me as he gets out of bed.

‘Point taken,’ Ani concedes, shutting off the screen and turning to look at me. ‘Palpatine’s instructions give me some latitude in what to do, but there is only one thing he really wants from the Hapans - their total subjugation to his will.’

‘Somehow, I can’t see that happening any time soon,’ I reply, a bit amused. ‘The Queen Mother and her nobles will never allow themselves to be ruled by a man.’

‘Not yet, anyway,’ he corrects me.

‘Do you know something I don’t?’ I ask him as he gets out of his chair and pulls me in close to his chest.

‘Gossip and rumours,’ he teases. ‘I need more information than what I have at hand, but I do know that Isolder has made public statements about giving Hapan men more rights and a higher status than they have now.’

‘And his mother can’t be very happy about that,’ I decide. ‘I can’t see her wanting to share power with anyone, male or female.’

‘She is not pleased with his choice of future consort, either,’ Ani reveals. ‘The court gossip provided all the details of that to me yesterday. Most consider Lady Elliar too much of a pacifist, unsuited to be the next Queen Mother, and an obstacle to be removed to promote their own candidates. We need to avoid being drawn into any of that.’

I thought that Imperial politics was a minefield to avoid, but Palpatine’s court feels safer than what I will face in the next week. At least I know what to expect on Coruscant and who to stay away from, but here there are far too many unknowns. 

I lean against him, close my eyes, and set my head on his chest. My husband has been doing his best to gather as much information as he can to help us both, however as a male, in Hapan society, there is only so much he can do given that the women here won’t tell him much of any importance. It doesn’t matter that he is second to Palpatine in the Empire, either. On Hapes, in public view, he has to defer to me, wait for me to invite him into a room, and obey my every command.

Fingers brush down my cheek. I know he’s trying to reassure me, but I can’t shake the feeling that these treaty negotiations are not going to end as anyone expects them to.


Fountain Palace, Hapes, Hapes Cluster



I kneel by the reflecting pool, stare into its depths, and do my best to shut out the chatter of the two female Hapans nearby. In another place and time I would do something to encourage them to go. Eventually they walk away, leaving me to meditate in peace. Closing my eyes, I reach out, touch the Force, and ask it for some direction, some sense of what needs to be done, but there is no clear path shown to me, only a myriad of confused and branching futures. Disgusted by the lack of clarity in my visions, I open my eyes and consider the morning’s events.

The Queen Mother had insisted on the negotiations being conducted semi-privately, with only her, her son, my wife, and I in attendance. I know the Duchas would have preferred a larger audience and some way to influence the discussions, but none were foolish enough to voice their wishes aloud - not that their opinions would have any effect on what their ruler does. 

My wife was grateful for the lack of witnesses and all too relieved to hand the diplomatic tasks to me, something she could never do publicly. Isolder had no idea what his mother intended, and was quite surprised to find himself entertaining my wife, instead of me, while I spent the next two hours trying to convince the Queen Mother to open the Cluster to traders. I know she anticipated that as my opening position, but she will never agree to it. The Hapans will not allow that sort of easy access to their territory. No, the most I can expect from her is a positive decision on setting up a trading station, designated as a Hapan outpost, in Imperial space.

I sense my wife’s approach and turn to watch her walk down the gravel path towards me. Daini and Cyran are following after her, and behind them, a male Hapan, in servant’s attire, who is carrying what I assume is her noon meal.

‘Stay where you are, my Lord,’ my wife tells me, before seating herself carefully on the grass nearby. ‘I’ve decided to have a picnic lunch.’

She gestures to the server, points to the grass between us, and waits for him to cover it with a cloth and set out a number of dishes. His dismissal is the same - no spoken words, only a wave of her hand indicating he is to leave.

‘You’ve learned the local court etiquette,’ I tease her, once the manservant is out of sight.

‘And I don’t like it very much,’ she admits, reaching her left hand out to where I can catch it in my own, ‘but if I treat them too politely or with too much respect, it looks out of place, and the Hapans stare disapprovingly at me for doing it.’

I give her fingers a light squeeze and with my free hand touch the jug, glasses, and each covered dish in turn, using the Force to check that all are safe and none have been tampered with. The Queen Mother, trusting no one, has a taster do the same for her, after a ‘droid examines anything she might consume.

‘The juice to start,’ my wife decides, releasing my hand as she does so.

I humour her by filling a glass and handing it to her. Here, I am hers to command, and I know she is enjoying our role reversal, to a certain extent. She accepts the drink from me and quickly brings it to her lips in an attempt to hide her smile.

I could order you to do something else, she teases me in thought.

Like? I ask, curious what she could have in mind.

‘Something to entertain me,’ she suggests.

‘Saber forms. That must be what she is hinting at. I haven’t run through any of those in her presence in weeks.

‘As my Lady wishes, so it shall be,’ I declare.

I rise to my feet and make a quick survey of the area. No Hapans are in sight, but that won’t last for long. Beginning with an opening flourish and salute, I choose to do one of the simpler patterns first before shifting into more complex ones. My efforts have attracted more than my wife’s attention, I note, as a spin allows me to look at the Hapans who have come to see what is happening, drawn by the sight and sound of my blade, and my rapid movements. When Isolder’s chief bodyguard, Captain Astarta appears, I decide it is time to finish in a suitable manner by ending the last turn of the ‘saber form on one knee in front of my wife.

‘Well done, my Lord,’ Maia praises, clapping in appreciation.

‘That was most impressive,’ I hear one of the Hapan women comment in Basic. ‘Does he perform as well in other ways?’

As I watch, Cyran helps my wife to her feet. I stay where I am and wait. I sense several Hapans draw closer, but they stop behind me a few paces from where I am kneeling.

My wife steps forward to stand at my side and lightly rests her hand on my shoulder. Although I cannot see it, I know she has looked down at me before raising her eyes to the women in front of her.

‘My consort,’ Maia firmly states, emphasizing her possession of me, ‘rarely disappoints me.’

I resist the urge to give her a silent warning to be careful what she says. She needs to handle this in her own way.

‘Consort?’ the same woman questions. ‘Then he must be shakal, worthy.’

‘Ducha Galney, …’ Astarta begins, only to be interrupted.

I turn my head to see this Ducha I have not yet encountered. Flanked by two female retainers clothed in matching livery, she is beautiful, impeccably dressed, and emotionally cold in the same manner as her ruler. This is another woman to be wary of. A smile, which does not reach her eyes, curls her lips as she realizes I am looking at her.

‘Has he sired a daughter to inherit for you?’ the Ducha asks. ‘Or a son?’

I return my gaze to the reflecting pond in front of me. Control, I remind myself. Let this play out as it will and if necessary sort out the consequences later.

‘Both. Twin daughters and two sons,’ my wife answers, and while there is no hint in her even voice and calm demeanour that she is finding this conversation disturbing, I can feel her discomfort and unease at the direction that it is taking.

‘My daughter requires a suitable mate to breed an heir,’ Galney states, as my wife’s fingers on my shoulder tighten. ‘But I do not think you are willing to share him,’ she observes, obviously seeing my wife’s reaction to her statement, and continuing, ‘A pity, that, when he would be in high demand with a proven breeding record, stamina, and physical prowess.’

I hear my wife’s slow inhalation. It takes me a moment to realize that she is seriously considering the Ducha’s offer and weighing what to say to her. Surely she would never agree to it nor expect me to willing comply?

How would you like to stand at stud? she teases me. Please enough of the Hapans in the bedroom and with your reproductive talents, and maybe the Queen Mother will let Palpatine have whatever he wants.

This conversation reminds me of similar ones I have had with my master where Maia’s breeding potential was the subject of debate. It’s rather uncomfortable to find myself on the receiving end of exactly the same sort of evaluation as she was. I resist shifting about or revealing my discomfort at what I am hearing. Control, I remind myself again. Don’t react. Don’t speak. Just be patient and look at the water in the pool. It’s not my place to say or do anything about what they are discussing - at least not here in public.

Not interested, then, my wife confirms, interpreting my silence as a negative and giving my shoulder another gentle squeeze.

‘My consort’s services,’ Maia finally replies, ‘are neither available nor negotiable.’

‘Ducha Galney, Ta’a Chume,’ Astarta says a few words I recognize in Hapan before going on at length in that tongue.

The Ducha responds in the same language, adding in Basic as she leaves, ‘Take the time to reconsider my offer, your highness, it will stand for as long as you are here.’

I hear Astarta come closer, see her walk past my wife to face me, and watch my wife turn to look at Isolder’s Captain.

‘I know your traditions are different from ours,’ Astarta states, shaking her head, obviously displeased by what she had witnessed. ‘It is permitted to arrange such liasons for unattached males you have governance over, with the intent of producing heirs or cementing alliances, but for the Ducha to ask for such when he is your acknowledged consort…’

‘It is of no matter,’ Maia tries to smooth over the situation, ‘I am not surprised that my consort is seen as desirable, but I do find it strange that she would assume his services in that way are mine to freely barter.’

‘Isolder Chume’da has sent me to inform you that Ta’a Chume is ready to continue your discussion from this morning,’ Astarta tells us, ‘and that he has the objects the princess requested.’

‘We will be there momentarily,’ my wife responds, motioning me to rise as Astarta retreats back to the palace.

I wait until the Captain is gone and I am on my feet before setting my hands on Maia’s shoulders. In response she raises her left, to rest it on mine.

‘The sooner these negotiations are done, the treaty signed, and we are leaving,’ she admits, ‘the happier I will be. That Ducha was most displeased that I refused to let her daughter have you.’


Ani trails behind me as I lead us through the gardens and back to the palace, to another round of negotiations for him and an afternoon to fill somehow for me. While I would prefer to have him walk at my side rather than at my back, I know that will only earn me yet more disapproving looks from our hosts. The Chume’doro guarding the entrance onto the gardens recognizes us and opens the door into the Hall of Masters. From there, it is several minutes’ walk on qashmel carpets and ornately inlaid stone floors through various rooms filled with artwork and elaborate furniture, and past security check points back to the Queen’s Drawing Room. This palace is far smaller than Palpatine’s on Coruscant, but the intentions are the same - to overawe any visitors with an opulent display of wealth and power.

Before entering the Drawing Room, Cyran and Daini return to the chairs they had spent the morning sitting in, waiting for Ani and I to finish with the Queen Mother. Astarta is already there, having arrived ahead of us. The doors of the room we need to go into are closed, and I expect that this is yet another political ploy on the part of the Queen Mother.

She’s playing it up for the locals, again, and making us wait, I tell my husband. What a pointless waste of time.

Isolder swings the doors open from the inside before Ani can answer.

I nod at the Prince and step through, with the Sith Lord at my heels. The Queen Mother is already seated and does nothing until the doors have been closed behind us, obviously not wanting anyone outside the room to hear or see what any of us say or do.

‘Shall we continue from where we left off this morning?’ she asks my husband.

Ani moves to sit in the chair across from her, glances briefly over at me then returns his attention to Ta’a Chume, and resumes his attempt to persuade the Hapan ruler to agree to opening the Cluster to traders.

Good luck, husband, I think to myself, better you than me.

On the other side of the room, two comfortable chairs and the small table I requested has been set up, with a box in its center, hopefully with the other items I asked for in it. Isolder quickly takes one of the chairs for himself, and I settle myself in the other one. I can tell he is curious what I am going to do, but he doesn’t ask. Lifting the lid from the box, I discover that the Hapans had filled it with exactly what I need. Good. We should be able to keep ourselves amused for a few hours while the other two debate trade.

‘Gomoku, the strategy game I am going to teach you,’ I tell Isolder, ‘is at least two thousand years old on my home world. It might be similar or identical to one you already know because the rules are fairly simple.’

I take the sheet with the grid on it from the box and lay it out on the table. Since I don’t know how skilled he is, rather than take the black stones and their advantage, I give them to the Prince and keep the white ones for myself. If he proves to be a good player, I will use my mathematical skills to compensate for the handicap of not having the first move. The box ends up on the floor beside us.

‘We each take turns placing stones on the board until one of us has five stones in a straight line,’ I instruct him. ‘The line can be in any orientation - horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. There are other rules which make the game harder, but those can wait until we need them. Black goes first.’

At this, Isolder smiles and with that I know that the Hapans must play a similar game. This should be interesting, I decide, as he places the first stone and waits for me to position mine.

Two hours later, we have both figured out the other’s favourite strategies and played to the point where neither can gain an advantage over the other, even with adding the rules designed to eliminate the benefit from black’s playing first and to make the game more difficult.

‘It’s time for something else, your highness,’ I concede, ‘since we will just end up in a perpetual tie if we continue.’

He looks over to where his mother and my husband are doing their best to verbally outmanoeuvre one another over who will be responsible for the security of the trading outpost that the Queen Mother had won as a concession from Ani earlier. I had been ignoring most of their discussions, assuming that I would be briefed on the more important points later.

‘I think that they will be an hour or two more on that particular topic,’ Isolder decides, ‘given how long it took them to reach that point in their negotiations.’

‘There is another game which uses the same board and pieces,’ I suggest. ‘We could play that one, if you like.’

The Prince smiles at me, and I suspect he thinks that what I am going to teach him will be another game he already knows or one which is fairly simple, like Gomoku. I return his smile. This ought to be fun. Go is far more complex than chess, with much more involved strategies.

‘This game, Go, is even older than Gomoku, and there are more rules to follow,’ I explain. ‘The object is to encircle your opponents pieces to remove them, and to capture and occupy as much of the board as possible. Whoever has the most squares and captured stones wins, but the game only ends when both players agree they don’t want to make any more moves or someone resigns.’

I push the black stones over to Isolder as I warn him, ‘Having the first move gives no advantage and I usually play against my consort with a four stone handicap on my part. I’ll let you know the other rules as we need them.’

Our first ‘game’ is more for teaching Isolder the refinements he will need to understand to play well. From his frown and look of concentration, I realize that Go must not have any Hapan equivalent and that he is trying to quickly figure out what will work in order to win. Good. Keeping him busy, myself entertained, and both of us out of the Sith Lord and Queen Mother’s negotiations is exactly what Ani had told me to do, and I am learning quite a bit about how Hapans deal with strategic problems in the meantime. When we finally begin a proper game, I quickly notice that Isolder’s primary tactic is to strike out aggressively with the intention of capturing as many of my pieces as he can manage. There is little long term planning from what I can see, which is completely different from my more cautious play aimed at the endgame and encircling territory rather than trying to intimidate or overwhelm him from the start.

Isolder and I are entirely engrossed in our game, such that when Ani and the Queen Mother finally reach an agreement on the trading outpost, neither one of us notices. It isn’t until my husband comes over, to stand beside me and look at the board, that I realize he is no longer talking to Ta’a Chume.

‘Playing Go?’ Ani asks.

‘Attempting to, my Lord,’ Isolder admits, ‘with time, I might actually win.’

‘If you do, I want you to tell me how you managed it,’ my husband requests, sounding rather amused, ‘because I have yet to win a game of Go against her.’

Isolder’s mother joins us and I see her studying the board. Her eyes meet mine, and she smiles at what she had seen on the table. I suspect she finds it amusing that I am so easily beating her son at what appears, at first glance, to be a simple game.

‘Never let a man become so deluded as to believe that he is the intellectual equal of a woman! It only leads him to evil,’ the Queen Mother states. ‘That is an old Hapan saying and one I completely agree with.’ She turns away, beckons to Isolder to follow her, before looking back at me and adding, ‘It seems that you apply the same principal to your consort, at least in some areas.’ Her attention shifts to Ani, ‘I will see to it that what we agreed to today is properly recorded, so that it can be corrected tomorrow, if necessary,’ then she walks through the doors which are opened for her by the Chume’doro outside, her son following at her back, while Ani and I watch them leave.

For a moment, I am at a loss for words.

‘I don’t…,’ I begin, only to be interrupted by my husband.

‘No,’ he agrees, ‘you don’t, and some day we really do need to find enough time to finish a game of Go instead of having to abandon it, partially played, due to an interruption of some sort.’

He offers his hand, so I take it and allow him to help me to my feet. Although I haven’t done anything strenuous today, I am tired physically and mentally drained from hours of pitting my wits against the Prince. I also need something to eat and drink, and access to a ‘fresher, but I prefer to do that somewhere else than the palace.

‘It’s time to return to the Executor, my Lord,’ I decide, ‘unless you have a reason to stay later or for the night. If not, we will come back in the morning, to start the talks again.’

‘To your flagship, then,’ he agrees, and I can hear his light hearted mental laughter at my silent, amused reaction to his words.

Fountain Palace, Hapes, Hapes Cluster, Year 4, Month 1

DAY 19


I pick up the puzzle box Isolder had gifted to me and resume studying it. There is supposed to be a surprise hidden inside it, but I have yet to work out the combination of rotations and turns required to open it. The Prince, I am sure, is finding my inability to solve this conundrum as entertaining as I had his failure to beat me at Go.

‘Your move,’ he tells me once he has placed a black stone.

I give up on the box and turn my attention to the board. At least I seem to be making some headway in our game, which is more than my husband has in his negotiations. He spent all of yesterday trying to pry from the Queen Mother what she wanted from the Empire militarily and was willing to part with to obtain it. Risking a quick look over at him, I see Ani resume his pacing in front of Ta’a Chume, while she stays in her chair, her faced concealed by a veil. She must be baiting him again, I decide, when I feel a distinct spark of irritation from my husband. Taking verbal jabs at the Sith Lord might provide her with some sort of amusement since she knows he can’t do much about it, but I know that if he has a chance to pay her back in some way, he will.


I deliberately ignore the Queen Mother’s latest attempt to elicit a reaction from me. All morning she has either blatantly flirted with me, or used any available opening to insinuate that I should have agreed to Ducha Galnay’s ridiculous request to sire a granddaughter for her.

‘Surely you are willing to be of service to your Emperor in any way needed to secure what he desires from me,’ she states.

‘Your desires are of more concern to you than his,’ I return in kind, ‘and you need a military advantage over your potential rivals.’

My attempt to return the topic back to what we are here to discuss fails miserably.

‘If the Ducha’s eldest daughter does not appeal to you, perhaps her younger one might,’ Ta’a Chume suggests. ‘Or would you aim higher than the mere daughter of a Ducha…’

I cease my pacing, stop in front of her and set my hands on my hips.

‘Enough of this,’ I growl, letting some of my irritation finally show. ‘She is not just a Princess, not just my mate, but L’elesa shakal, my most worthy wife. I will never have any interest in another woman, regardless of her titles or what might be offered in return.’ I step closer, aim my finger at the Queen Mother’s chest, to make my point even clearer and finish, ‘Not even you.’

My comments have no effect on her.

‘Not even if one of your daughters were to become the next Queen Mother?’ she persists, making no attempt to be subtle in her proposition to me. ‘Not even if the Hapan fleet were yours to command?’

I don’t consider her offer. The Queen Mother might be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, the Hapan fleet a rival for the Empire’s, and the worlds of the Hapes Cluster wealthy beyond measure, but none of that would ever compensate for what I would lose if I were to accept -  Maia’s love, our marriage, and my family. 

‘No,’ I abruptly reply.

That brief response silences Ta’a Chume and I can sense her measuring me, although I am not sure what it is she is evaluating. Is it my stubbornness, my loyalty to my wife, or my refusal to be so easily manipulated by her?

‘Very well,’ she concedes, ‘this is what I need: access to technology which increases the recharge speed of turbolasers.’

She wants a tactical advantage over the Duchas and, perhaps, her sister and rival Secciah. With a faster recycle rate, her ships would be able to easily outgun those of the others.

‘And you will give in exchange?’ I ask directly, not bothering to waste my time with diplomatic language that would only drag this out.

‘A Gun of Command, since that is what your Emperor wants and I am willing to give,’ Ta’a Chume answers, ‘and I will demonstrate one for you now, so you can judge its effectiveness for yourself.’


‘Isolder,’ the Queen Mother calls to her son, ‘bring the Gun of Command to me.’

I look at the Prince then my husband. Something is going on, but I am not sure what.

A demonstration of the weapon, Ani reveals. Do not worry yourself about it. She is doing this purely for show, since I already know what it can do.

Isolder picks up the secured case he had by his feet and carries it over to his mother. She opens it and removes what looks like a small, if simply designed, gold-plated blaster pistol from inside it.

If this is a demonstration, Ani, I ask, then what is she going to shoot?

Not what, he tells me, but who.

Before I can ask him the next obvious question, Ta’a Chume has raised the gun, pointed it at her son, and pulled the trigger. Blue sparks ring the muzzle and a wave of energy emerges which quickly engulfs the Prince. Isolder freezes in place, his eyes rapidly dilating and glazing over.

‘The effects can last for almost an hour on a human, depending on how strong willed the target is,’ the Queen Mother states. ‘They will obey simple commands, even suicidal ones.’ She sets the gun on the arm of her chair. ‘That is how we execute male prisoners on Hapes - the Gun of Command then an order to use a blaster on themselves. Women are protected from that fate as it is forbidden to execute or harm a female.’

She looks at me, then Isolder, and I wonder exactly what she has in mind for this demonstration she has promised the Sith Lord.

‘Isolder, open the puzzle box for the Princess,’ she orders.

He promptly does so, and in only a few moves, too, setting the open box on the table in front of me. Curious, I reach for it, intending to find out what is in it. His mother’s next command stops my hand in place.

‘Now reset the box,’ she tells her son, ‘and give it back to the Princess.’

I watch what he does intently, trying to memorize the moves so I can copy them in reverse, and accept the closed box when he hands it to me. What else will she make him do, I wonder.

‘Now sit down, and be quiet until I tell you otherwise,’ is the last instruction Isolder is given.

He promptly obeys. I stare at him but there is no reaction when I wave my hand in front of his face. Whatever state that gun has put him in has left him completely at the mercy of others. This is not a weapon I would want Palpatine to have, I decide. It would be far too easy to abuse it.

‘He will recover quickly, once the effects wear off,’ the Queen Mother reassures me, ‘and if you tell him to forget what happened, he will, for a while, but the memory of it will eventually return.’

Her attention shifts back to the Sith Lord, who had said nothing while Isolder was ordered about.

‘A most satisfactory display,’ my husband acknowledges, ‘and a small price to pay for the technology you want, so what else do you have to offer in addition to it?’

They go back to their discussion, and I decide to see if I can open the puzzle box. It takes several false starts, but the sequence I had memorized from what Isolder did finally works. I set the open box on the table rather than look into it. The surprise can wait until the Prince is acting normally again. After twenty or so minutes, he is still sitting there, silent, unmoving, and obviously completely under the compulsion the gun had allowed his mother to put on him. If I have to sit here for an entire hour with nothing to do I am going to become rather bored.

I shift uncomfortably in my chair. My son is moving about again, doing his best to stretch out, so I rest a hand over him and try to settle him with a touch of the Force. He doesn’t co-operate and my discomfort draws Ani’s attention.

‘Perhaps it is time for a break and a walk,’ he suggests, ‘since my wife needs to move about a bit.’

My husband’s use of ‘wife’ rather than a more official title has me wondering what he is up to, but I am not going to argue about it.

‘Isolder,’ the Queen Mother orders, ‘Escort the Princess to the Grand Gallery and show her the paintings. She might enjoy seeing the artwork.’

The Prince rises from his chair, goes to the door, and waits for me to join him. His eyes are close to normal, so he must almost be free of the gun’s effects. Before leaving, I glance over my shoulder at the Sith Lord. He waves me out of the room, obviously intending to finish whatever he and the Queen Mother were dealing with rather than take a walk with me.

The Chume’doro close the door behind us, and my own body guards quickly fall in place after me, trailing along as Isolder leads us deeper into the palace. Hopefully Ani will be done soon because I don’t know how long I will be able to contemplate the Hapans’ idea of fine art without starting to yawn.


For a few minutes more after Maia has left, the Queen Mother debates the other concessions Palpatine had wanted from her in exchange for improving her fleet’s armaments. Most of the items on his list were simply to satisfy his curiosity or to add to his personal collections - a Selab tree, Hapan gold wine for his private cellar, finely carved rainbow gems… many more curiosities and luxuries, and none of it will be of any practical use to the Empire.

Finally, we have an agreement where she will receive what she wants and so will the Emperor, and she knows it.

‘We are done with this, now,’ I declare. ‘Send the drafted agreement to me tonight, and I will make any corrections immediately.’

The Queen Mother coolly regards me, and that feeling of being measured by her returns.

‘You have requested nothing for yourself, personally,’ she observes, ‘not even a new set of prosthetics from us which are far superior to the ones you currently have.’

‘I require nothing from you,’ I reply, amused by her assumption that I need to be bribed.

‘But I do from you,’ she states.

She moves quickly, far faster than I would have expected from someone with no apparent training or access to the Force. In an instant the Gun of Command is in her hand, and the blast it emits impacts against me. My mind freezes, turning ice cold and my thoughts slow to a standstill. Before I can muster an effective defense, fight against the mental torpor I have been seized by, and throw off the compulsion, the Queen Mother speaks.

‘Don’t fight the effects or resist my orders, and be silent,’ she commands, setting the gun down again, ‘and don’t try to contact your wife like I know you can telepathically.’

I stare at her, angry that she has done this to me, and furious with myself for giving her the opportunity to do it. Michael had warned me not to trust her, that I needed to be careful, and by sending my wife away and being alone with Ta’a Chume, I stepped right into her trap. All I can do is hope that Maia senses something is wrong, although there is not much she can do as far as a rescue goes. On Hapes, the Queen Mother does as she pleases and her word is law.

Ta’a Chume leaves the chair and steps closer to me. She runs a single finger down the side of my mask, drags her hand across my chest, around to my back to squeeze my buttocks then moves it back again to my front. Her hand rests over my groin, but she makes no attempt to remove my codpiece.

‘More than adequate,’ she decides, ‘and suitably tamed, if only for the moment.’

She would not be saying that if she could see the fury on my face.

‘So, what shall I do with you?’ she teases. ‘I am too old to bear an heir, and I have no desire to mate with you. Someone else, however, someone younger, innocent, fertile, and more to your tastes…’

Her veiled face turns from me to the door into the Queen Mother’s Bedchamber. Kreth, I think, there is someone in there, waiting for me. She has obviously had this planned for days.

‘Follow me,’ she orders, as she goes to that door and opens it.

My feet move to obey her command, despite my desire to stop them, and I trail obediently after her into the adjacent bedroom,.

Sitting on the edge of a large, ornate bed is a young girl who promptly kneels in front of the Queen Mother. Her waist-length hair is the same shade as my wife’s and her eyes are a matching blue. She is not quite a doppelganger in her facial features, but close, very close. A younger version of Maia, perhaps, in appearance, but not in any other manner. For a Hapan, she is rather plain. Someone more to my tastes...

‘Lady Liora Galnay,’ Ta’a Chume addresses her.

‘Erenenda Ta’a Chume,’ the girl acknowledges in return. ‘L’aldaraia …’

‘Speak to him in Basic,’ the Queen Mother orders. ‘He does not understand Hapan.’

‘Queen Mother,’ Liora translates, ‘I will do as you and my mother require, but I ...’

‘Good, then prepare yourself,’ the Queen Mother cuts in, preventing the girl from finishing. ‘And quickly, too. We only have a short time.’

I watch her as she stands, turns her back to me and begins to undress. From her voice, body and features she can be no more than seventeen or eighteen standard years old, but with Hapans age is a difficult thing to gauge. When there is only a thin shift left covering her, she faces me again, but refuses to look up into my mask. It seems that I am not the only one who wants no part in this and has had to be forcibly coerced in some way.

Ta’a Chume’s attention returns to me.

‘When you are finished, you will leave this room, forgetting all that occurred within it, and leave the Drawing Room, knowing only that a treaty agreement has been made,’ she commands.

I know she is deliberately dragging this out as a form of torture for me, and perhaps for the girl as well.

‘Now,’ the Queen Mother orders, ‘I want a child of yours from her, and this is the best time for that to happen. You will mate with her and she will allow you to do it.’


‘… and this landscape is by the painter Valix. It shows the highest peak on Gallinore,’ Isolder describes the fifth painting we have looked at.

Rather than being boring, the Prince’s tour has been surprisingly interesting. He has not just given the usual museum spiel - what it is and who the artist was - but gone into some depth about the planets and scenes depicted.

‘What about that ocean scene over there?’ I ask to cover what I am suddenly experiencing.

I feel slightly dizzy, sick, nauseous, as if something terrible has happened or soon will. Something is wrong, but I can’t tell what it is. It’s not my son or myself this is centered on because I would know that immediately. This is related to someone or something else. Perhaps the Sith Lord has an idea of what is going on.

Anakin? I prod my husband, but he is silent in response, and probably too busy with his negotiations to answer me.

I give my head a shake. Hapes and all of its courtly intrigues must be affecting my mind. Now I am starting to jump at half-sensed shadows and vague premonitions. If there really was something to worry about, I know my husband would be quick to contact me.

‘Ah, that one. That is on Hapes, at the Reef Fortress, our summer retreat,’ Isolder tells me, missing my spell of disquiet and unease by turning to see which painting I was interested in. ‘It’s unfortunate you won’t have time to see it. The rare fish that inhabit the coral reefs are quite beautiful…’


Amused laughter fills the room. Ta’a Chume claps slowly, in warped appreciation of our private performance for her.

‘Well done,’ she praises. ‘What a truly magnificent lover you are, and hopefully your efforts will bear fruit.’

The Queen Mother says something in Hapan to Lady Galnay, who promptly covers herself with a blanket and rests her back against the cushions, holding the bedcover tight to her chest with her hands, staring at me, her eyes wide and childlike. The poor girl is in a state of shock after that experience, I decide, and thinks she is now pregnant with my child, too.

‘Go over to the table, Lord Vader,’ I am instructed. ‘Clean yourself with the water and towels, and make yourself presentable.’

This command is one I don’t resist. I move from the bed, reach for the water and towels on the table, and wipe myself clean. If only I could wash the last fifteen minutes away as easily, I decide, replacing my codpiece and belt.

My wife, once she discovers what has happened, will understand and forgive me this forced infidelity, knowing that I was an unwilling participant and that there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

I, after my memory of this event returns, will be enraged, and when I have the opportunity to do it, I will come back to this place to hunt down and kill the Queen Mother.

That, however, is in the future.


Isolder finally brings me back to the Drawing Room, but before I can go in, my husband steps out. For a moment, there is a feeling of confusion from him, as if he had forgotten something important and was desperately trying to remember what it was, then that strange sensation is gone.

Anakin? I lightly brush against his mind.

I feel him give himself a mental shake. Perhaps he has spent too much time discussing politics with the Queen Mother and has had enough of that at last.

‘The treaty negotiations are successfully concluded,’ he rather formally tells me. ‘The draft should be in my hands tonight, corrections finished for tomorrow, and it signed tomorrow afternoon. Ratification by the Emperor will wait until we return to Coruscant.’

The Sith Lord draws closer to me, raises a gloved hand to rest it against my cheek. Mixed with his usual strong scent of leather is the distinctive smell of a heady perfume, the same one that the Queen Mother wears. Somehow I manage to not wrinkle my nose in disgust. He has spent so much time in her presence these past few days, without changing what he is wearing, that he is starting to reek of her. I will ask him to strip off this set of armour and send it for cleaning once we are back on the Executor. For now, I will just have to put up with it and hope I don’t have an allergic reaction.

I smile at my husband and lift my hand to cover his before lowering both of them to my chest and wrapping his in both of mine. Ta’a Chume watches us from inside the Drawing Room, and I wonder why she let Ani make the announcement about the treaty rather than do so herself. Isolder, who had gone to join his mother, retrieves the puzzle box and brings it to me.

‘Open,’ he admits, sounding a bit annoyed. ‘I know you must have done that by copying what I did.’ Extending the box to me, he concedes, ‘The prize is yours.’

‘Only if honestly won,’ I decide.

He considers my words before responding, ‘Honesty is a rare and sometimes dangerous thing, but I must insist that you take it as a keepsake, a private present from me, to help you remember Hapes,’

I yield to his insistence and peer into the box. Inside the small chamber is a delicate mothsilk bag with something in it. Curiosity gets the better of me, so I give the puzzle box to Ani and open the bag.

‘An opal?’ I question, as I examine the piece of milky white stone in my hand.

‘No,’ Isolder tells me, ‘an ice moon, the rarest of all gemstones.’

‘And one only a select few outside of the royal family are allowed to own,’ the Queen Mother adds, pointedly.

I know she must be rather annoyed at her son for giving me something he probably shouldn’t have, and without her knowledge or approval, too. Still, their lack of geological knowledge is amusing. Somebody must have convinced them that opals are far rarer and much more valuable than they really are.

‘It’s a type of hydrated silica and quite common in certain places on my homeworld,’ I reveal. ‘The white variety is called moonstone, but it can occur in a wide range of colours with white being the most common, and black the rarest.’

The Prince looks rather taken aback at my words.

‘Common?’ he finally manages to say to me, shaking his head.

‘Yes, common,’ I confirm. ‘My mother had a necklace with over a hundred stones in it, all of them larger than this one.’

Ani uses his hand to slowly close mine overtop of the stone. I look up at him, a bit baffled by both his and Isolder’s reactions. Ta’a Chume’s face is still veiled, so I cannot see her expression.

‘What you think is common on your homeworld is the rarest of gems, here,’ the Sith Lord reveals. ‘A single stone from your mother’s necklace would easily buy a planet.’

‘Oh,’ I quietly say, wondering what other things are rare here but common at home, or vice versa.


I take pity on my wife and decide to rescue her from the major political gaffe she has, in complete ignorance, just made by relegating an important source of Hapes’ wealth to that of a common mineral. She cannot save herself or salvage the situation because she is far too honest to do it.

‘Given your family’s prominence, and their preference for being seen as members of the populace rather than royalty,’ I easily add to my previous statement, ‘I am not surprised they told you it was a common gem, rather than admit how truly rare and valuable it really is. Your mother is not one to flout her wealth or power in public.’

Don’t, I warn Maia in thought and by squeezing hard on her hand, before she has a chance to say anything more or chastise me for my fiction.

Anakin, she growls back at me anyway, you know I am telling the truth. The stones are mineralogically identical.

The truth has nothing to do with this, I chastise her. You have, however, just insulted them and Prince Isolder’s more than generous gift to you. If the Queen Mother takes offense, I will have a treaty to salvage, so stay silent while I do so.

Her eyes drop to look at where my hand is covering hers, and she bites her lip, uncertain what she should do. I offer the puzzle box to her with my free hand.

‘It could even be that the stones look very similar, but are not the same,’ I continue, ‘since we do not have one from your homeworld to compare it to.’

Maia lets go of my hand, takes the box from me and puts the ice moon, in its bag, back inside it. She is being very controlled and methodical in her actions, and I can feel her anger and withheld tears of frustration just below the surface.

In smoothing over a potential insult to the Hapans, I have deliberately and publically derided my wife’s knowledge in her academic field of expertise, humiliating her in the process, and I know I will pay a high price for that, necessary as it was.


‘It would not be the first case of mistaken identity,’ Isolder offers, his offended tone thawing a little. ‘There have been attempts to sell other lookalike stones as rainbow gems or dawnstars. When something is valuable, it’s inevitable that somebody will create a fake.’

Fake, I think, furious. I know what an opal looks like and what its properties are. It’s one of the simpler gems to recognize, too. Somehow I refrain from saying anything as Ani, Isolder, and the Queen Mother banter back and forth about how easy it must have been for me to confuse two similar looking minerals.

If this is what diplomacy requires - political expediency, duplicity, blatant lies, and shutting up the inconvenient truth - then I want no part of it.


Maia shifts restlessly from one foot to the other. She’s stayed silent as I ordered her to, but we have been standing here long enough that she needs to sit down somewhere and relax.

‘Your wife needs to rest,’ the Queen Mother states. ‘I will have the proposed text for the treaty sent to your ship. The formalities will wait until tomorrow.’

That sounds like a dismissal, so I take it as one.

‘Until tomorrow, your majesty,’ I agree.

There is not a word from my wife while we make our way to the Royal Hangar and my waiting shuttle. That’s a measure of her anger, I decide. She won’t talk to me unless she has that in check or we are in private, without an audience or witnesses to hear. Once in the shuttle, rather than sit down and strap in, Maia drops the puzzle box on her seat and bolts for the ‘fresher, hand to her mouth in an attempt to reach her goal in time.

I don’t intrude on her privacy and leave her alone. She’s throwing up again, like she did yesterday when we were leaving the palace, and it’s probably from the stress of being here. My wife is too honest a person to tolerate much more of the toxic swamp that is the Hapan royal court, and what I just did to her has not helped matters. The sooner we leave Hapes, the better.

After a few minutes, Maia exits the ‘fresher and sits down, her face pale and drawn. She’s far more ill and upset than she is letting show. I go to take my own seat beside her, but she waves me away and covers her mouth and nose with a hand.

‘Is something wrong?’ I ask.

‘You reek of another woman,’ she flatly states, ‘and the stench is making me ill.’

I freeze in place, knowing exactly what that insult implies, but shocked that she would ever use it. I haven’t touched another woman in years, not since Shira, and my wife knows that. Her two bodyguards, Daini and Cyran, who are sitting at the back of the shuttle, exchange looks with one another, then do their best to have their eyes anywhere but on me, giving us what little semblance of privacy that they can. They are both fully aware of exactly what I have just been accused of doing, too, and really don’t want to see or hear what might follow. Thankfully Thirsk and my pilot are in the closed cockpit and unaware of what is happening in the passenger compartment.

‘What did you just say?’ I question her, careful to keep my tone even and neutral.

‘You stink,’ Maia paraphrases her previous statement. ‘I can’t stand the Queen Mother’s perfume. It’s cloying and vile, and after days of being in stuck in the same room with her, your cloak and armour are saturated with it. Consider yourself lucky that you can’t smell it with your helmet’s filtration system keeping it out. The steam tunnels of Fondor were not so bad in comparison.’

I look at her then at the two other women in the shuttle.

‘Apparently, I stink,’ I say lightly, with some humour, trying to defuse the tension I can sense was beginning to build. ‘I wish you had said something sooner, rather than make yourself ill putting up with it.’

I step away from my wife, giving her as much space as possible. All I can easily remove here are my cloak and surcoat, so I do that, tossing them both into a sealed compartment.

‘Thirsk,’ I order over the comm to the cockpit, ‘I have decided to fly the shuttle. You will take my seat back here instead.’

The Commander opens the cockpit door, nods in my direction, then stops in his tracks and makes a face. He does his best to not sneeze, but a loud one escapes from him anyway. His sensitive nose has picked up on my problem already.

‘Did someone drop a bottle of cheap perfume in here?’ Thirsk complains.

‘My wife will explain,’ I say quickly, as I bolt for the pilot’s seat before that task falls to me.


I set the book on the third saber form beside me and close my eyes. Before restricting my time in the salle with him, Ani had been rather focussed on training me in all the defensive attributes of Soresu. Just in case, he had said, I ever needed to protect myself from a better duellist and had to buy time for him to get to me. Since I am too pregnant to practice, I have resorted to studying the theory behind the form instead.

Resisting the urge to go check on him, I decide to stay where I am, comfortably sprawled on the bed with my feet propped up with a pillow. Ani is taking his time cleaning up, procrastinating for as long as he is able, in an attempt to avoid the discussion with me about what happened on Hapes today.


I rest a hand against the wall and lean forward, letting the water from the shower fall down my back. Maia was right about the Queen Mother’s perfume, a fact I discovered after removing my helmet. It was quite a strong scent and sickly-sweet smelling to even my damaged olfactory system. My leather body armour stank as if I had bathed in it. I pity my aide who has the chore of cleaning that up. Hopefully he won’t be made as ill as my wife was.

Turning to face the stream of water, I relax as the heat warms my body. I know I am engaging in delaying tactics. My wife has every reason to be upset and angry with me, and I don’t want to deal with that just yet. Perhaps a suitable distraction and quick apology might be in order.


I look up when the ‘fresher door finally opens. Ani’s short hair is a mess and still damp from his shower. He’s wrapped a robe around his body, but that can’t conceal what I am sensing. I know from the intensity of his desires that the usual measures I take to satisfy him when he is in this sort of mood won’t be enough for him tonight. The Sith Lord wants me right now, pregnancy and doctor’s orders be damned, and I know that I won’t be able to physically resist him if he decides to insist on it. His eyes move from mine to the door to the children’s bedroom. It’s already locked, so he nods and strides to the bedside.

‘Anakin,’ I warn him, ‘we shouldn’t do this…’

He sits down beside me and silences my protests with a kiss.

We can and we will, he decides the issue, because I know once will be safe for you and because I owe it to you for today.

His lips move to my forehead, then my hair. He breathes in deeply, deliberately.

‘You smell good,’ he whispers to me, ‘like sunshine and rain and fresh millaflowers.’

I run my fingers through his wet hair. He’s scrubbed himself so thoroughly that most of the normal odours I associate with him are gone. There is no aroma of leather or his distinct male scent, only that of the medicinal soap he has to use.

His second kiss on my mouth is patient, gentle, designed to relax me and to give him time to prepare himself. I kiss him back, give him a peck on the nose when he pulls up and away from me.

‘You taste good, too,’ he observes with a laugh, teasing, ‘Sweet enough to eat. Shall I devour you?’

He moves from where he is sitting to lie down beside me. I reach for him, but he catches my hands and places them on the bed. When he pulls open the front of my nightgown, I don’t reciprocate with his robe. Ani intends to take the lead, to spoil me a bit, so I let him.

‘Soft,’ he tells me, running his fingers from my face to my waist, ‘so very soft and delicate - and cold. Let’s warm you up.’

Our third kiss is deep and intense, breaking down what little will to resist him I had left. His hands continue to caress me, gentle, then firm, teasing and seducing. My husband is as much an expert at this as he is with a lightsaber or the Force. He knows exactly what he needs to do to produce the reaction he wants.

Anakin, I call to him, letting my own desires seep into that thought.

He doesn’t hesitate and for the next twenty minutes, I let him do as he pleases, offering no resistance to what he wants. When we are finished, he freezes in place, looking down at me, and the strangest of fleeting expressions flicker across his face, to rapidly disappear. I sense confusion from him across our bond, but that strange set of feelings is soon gone. The Sith Lord quickly rolls away from me, pushes himself upright and sits on the edge of the bed, his back to me, elbows on his knees, with his face in his hands.

I shove myself upright and go to him, slide my arms around his waist from behind and rest my cheek against his robe between his shoulder blades.

‘What’s wrong, Ani?’ I ask him.

‘I shouldn’t have done that to you,’ he quietly admits. ‘It was selfish of me, and potentially dangerous for you and our son.’

I squeeze him tighter to my chest and let out a sigh. He wanted makeup sex without having the fight beforehand, and is now feeling guilty for having the more pleasant one without the unpleasant other.

‘I am fine, your son is fine,’ I reassure him. ‘Check for yourself, if you are worried, or comm Leanan and have her examine me instead.’

‘Not a chance,’ he ruefully decides, and I feel some of the tension leave his body. ‘That dragon of a doctor would enjoy lecturing us both, at every opportunity, about ignoring her orders if I did that. Or, she might insist on admitting you to medical for the next month just to ‘keep you two out of trouble,’ as she would put it.’

‘Then we should curl up and get some sleep,’ I gently suggest. ‘We are both tired and stressed out from today and need the rest.’

His hands move to cover mine, and I feel a finger trace my wedding band.

‘I want to clean up a bit, first,’ he reveals. ‘I’ll be back soon.’

I release my husband from my arms and watch him go to the ‘fresher. The Sith Lord is in an odd state of mind and acting a bit peculiar. Something must be bothering him, and he is unable or unwilling to share it with me. Shaking my head, I get up and straighten out the blankets before crawling under them. If he had wanted to avoid a confrontation with me about his behaviour today, he has succeeded, at least for now. Tomorrow, I decide, as Ani comes back to bed and wraps himself around me, we will have to deal with it then.

DAY 20


I wake earlier than I normally do and immediately realize that Ani is no longer curled up next to me, but on the other side of the bed, flat on his back instead. He must have moved sometime in the night without disturbing me. Carefully rolling over to my other side, I slip my hand under my cheek to prop my head up a little and watch him sleep. He looks tired, even with a night’s rest, so I decide to leave him be for as long as I can while I figure out what to say to him.

There have been times when my husband has scolded me privately for something I have said or done in public. Usually, my mistakes have been innocent ones, or ones made from ignorance because I just don’t know everything necessary to avoid making them. He has always understood this and been reasonable when I mess up, but yesterday…

I close my eyes and refrain from sighing. Yesterday, my habit of speaking without thinking it through almost ended in disaster. The Sith Lord was far more concerned with keeping the treaty he had just negotiated intact than he was with whether or not my feelings might be hurt by how he chose to smooth over what I had said. Had I known the importance of that stone to the Hapans beforehand, I would never have mentioned opals from Earth.

Hindsight always clearly shows you your mistakes, I admit, and while I am still a bit annoyed at my husband for how he made me look like a fool, I can’t blame him for doing it. His first priority was the task Palpatine sent him to accomplish, and I had jeopardized that, potentially risking the Emperor’s displeasure in the process. No, there is no point in staying angry at Ani for what he did for the sake of political expediency.

I just hope that the next time somebody thinks it’s a good idea to have me play diplomat that he remembers I don’t know enough to play the part and have a tendency to put my foot in it.

You would make a decent diplomat if you had the proper training, Ani tells me.

I open my eyes and find myself looking into my husband’s. He’s awake.

Obviously, he notes with amusement. You were thinking rather loudly.

‘I would be a disaster as a diplomat,’ I warn him. ‘I am hopeless at lying, as you well know, and I can’t stand the political game playing.’

‘I dislike it as well, but for my own survival I have learned how to play and win at it,’ he admits, rolling onto his side to face me, ‘and if verbal sparring fails, there is always aggressive negotiations - with a lightsaber.’

A smile creeps onto my face. That sounds exactly like what he what he would do.

The Sith Lord brushes his fingers down my cheek. I catch his hand in mine and squeeze it. He’s expecting an explosion of temper from me, but I have already sorted out my thoughts and hurt feelings, and let them go.

‘You’re rather calm,’ he observes, ‘given what I did to you yesterday.’

‘I’m practicing being a Jedi, Sith Lord,’ I tease him.

I can sense him trying to puzzle out what I mean.

‘I let it go, love,’ I reveal to him. ‘I know why you did it, and it’s not worth staying angry with you over it.’

To reinforce my words, I shift myself closer and kiss him on the forehead.

‘I still owe you an apology,’ he decides.

‘You gave me one last night,’ I remind him. ‘Remember?’


Remember she tells me, and of course I do.

I brush my hand across her stomach, sense my son within, and know that all is well and no harm has been done. There will be no birth triggered prematurely by what we did last night, by what I selfishly insisted on last night.

Enforced celibacy has made me yearn for her the last month, and driven my passions and self-control to the breaking point. A Sith can only rein in his desires for so long before they must be released in some way - through anger, through fear, through hatred, through violence. I far prefer the sexual route I have chosen to any of those. It’s far more pleasant and for both of us, less dangerous.


Ani is still in the ‘fresher looking after his medical chores when I help the children dress in their play clothes. While the Hapans had asked for all of us to be at the official nonsense today, I am reluctant to put the children on display here or into any situation where there is a possible risk to them. They will stay on the ship, where they will be safely out of harm’s way. I give another tug on Mikal’s tunic. He’s started another growth spurt and will need a new wardrobe once we are back on Coruscant. That shopping trip should be entertaining, if I can persuade my husband to come with us.

‘Go play in your room until daddy is ready to go,’ I suggest to my three youngsters.

They promptly run for their toys, so I pour myself a glass of juice and sit down at the table to wait for Ani to join me. He’s taking his time today, giving me a chance to let my mind wander.

I don’t trust the Queen Mother at all, and ever since we arrived, my misgivings have only grown stronger not diminished. In the stories Isolder told me this last week, his mother did not fare very well, although to a Hapan, her actions and decisions would probably be seen as justified and admirable. She is cunning, ruthless, and only interested in maintaining her position and hold on power. It does not matter to her who is harmed in her quest for those, either. Her attempts to manipulate her son’s choice of wife and disapproval she has shown for Lady Elliar are not how a mother should behave towards her son and his betrothed, but heeding Ani’s warning to stay out of Hapan politics, I have kept my personal opinions about all of it to myself.

I pick up the datapad on the table, quickly scroll through the file still open on it, then set it down again. The Sith Lord let me read through that treaty yesterday, and little of it is of direct advantage to the Empire other than the trading post which will allow goods from the Cluster to be available outside of it. The most obvious military benefits are for the Hapans; however, Palpatine has what he wanted, a bunch of weird, rare oddities for his collections, and that Gun of Command. It makes me wonder if there isn’t something else going on, some other secret bargain made behind closed doors that I am being deliberately kept unaware of.

The ‘fresher door opens and Ani steps out, his hair wet from another shower. That’s the third time he’s thoroughly washed himself since we came back from Hapes. He must be worried that the perfume had penetrated his armour and soaked into his skin. I pour out his breakfast and take his hand when he offers it.

‘You don’t need to scrub your skin raw,’ I tell him. ‘There’s no trace of that perfume left on you.’

‘If I ever smell like that again,’ he says to me, ‘I want you to tell me right away, since I won’t be aware of it, and I know I will stink of it tonight, after being on Hapes all day.’

He squeezes my hand then releases it.

‘I want you to wear your heraldic gown today, the one with your family’s arms on it,’ he orders, ‘and the set of jewellery with the red corusca gems and coronet.’

I make a face at him. Those had been specifically made for just this occasion and are heavy and uncomfortable to wear for very long. It’s obvious he wants me to put on a show, and that gold and red gown coupled with the gems and heavy golden crown will certainly do that.

‘If it wasn’t necessary,’ he tells me, his voice softening, ‘I wouldn’t insist on it. The Hapans thrive on pageantry and you need to give that to them. I will have something simpler stored on my shuttle, for you to change into after the treaty is signed.’

‘I’ll go pick something out to wear,’ I decide.

I want to be comfortable and fade into the background as much as I can after the pomp and ceremony is done with. Finishing the last of my drink, I get up from my chair, give my husband a quick kiss, and go to look through my choices. In the end, I narrow it down to three possibilities then opt for the plainest one in black mothsilk. The material is soft and feels nice against my skin. That selection made, I go to where Ani keeps his cloaks and remove the gown he wants me to wear. Putting it on will wait until Cyran comes to dress me. For now, I will keep Ani company and help him with his armour.

‘Playing squire?’ he teases me as I retrieve his spare set of armour from its storage compartment and lay it out on our bed beside my gowns.

‘Being useful,’ I reply. ‘Sitting about doing nothing of any importance for days on end becomes boring after a while, and leaves one feeling a bit redundant.’

I feel his arms slide around me from behind as I take his surcoat and cloak from where they are hanging. Turning about in his embrace, I tip my head up to receive the kiss I know is waiting for me.

‘You, my love, will never be redundant,’ he reassures me.

Then, he kisses me again.


I help Maia from her seat and wait for Cyran to put the veil over her hair and coronet on her head. She will be stuck with wearing both until after the formal signing ceremony, when I can bring her back to the shuttle to change into something more comfortable. My wife makes a face as her aide steps back. She hates being put on display in this manner, but as with much of this trip, there has not been any choice for either of us. As Hapan custom dictates, she leads us out into the hanger, the sweep of her gown trailing after her.

We are met by the Chume’da Isolder, with his guards as our escorts. It seems that the Queen Mother has decided to err on the side of as much ritual to impress her subjects as she can muster. When we leave the Royal Hangar, Isolder’s guards fall to the back of our procession, to be replaced in the lead by the Chume’doro. The women chosen for this task are close to my height, strong, fit, as well as striking in physical appearance. Their black and purplish-blue uniforms contrast starkly against the white alabas walls of the chambers we pass through on the way to the palace’s throne room.

Isolder easily keeps pace with me, our speed set by my wife moving slowly ahead of us. The Royal Guards are not in any hurry, so I use my time to memorize the layout of the palace, possible routes to the outside, and locations which can be secured against attack, if necessary. This is an old habit born of a lifetime of needing to have both entrance and exit strategies planned out in advance. At times, this routine has saved my life.

Reaching the throne room doors, our group stops while those are thrown open and our presence is announced. Ta’a Chume is seated on a raised dais, above the female courtiers who are kneeling below her. No one rises to their feet until the Queen Mother allows them to. In the background soft music begins playing, the musicians hidden from view, in accompaniment of our progress towards the throne. To the right of the Queen Mother is a table with parchment copies of the treaty to be signed rolled out on its surface; to her left is what must be the chair for my wife. That it is not at the same elevation as the Ta’a Chume’s is a deliberate political statement of how she views the Empire - secondary to Hapes.

When we reach the area in front of the dais, the Royal Guards move to flank it. Maia takes her seat and waits for Cyran to arrange her gown before waving her two aides to their body guard positions behind her. I wait until she is settled then stand to her right, keeping myself in a defensive stance to send my own message. The Empire might be a petitioner here, but is by no means an inferior. Isolder goes up the steps to do homage to his mother and position himself at her right.

The music ceases as the Queen Mother raises her hand and once the principals of this act are in position. Cue the start of the political speeches, I think, preparing myself to listen to a lengthy monologue by the monarch.

She does not disappoint.


Only the Jedi training Ani gave me prevents my mind from wandering too much. Political speeches are bad enough when one understands the language, but after twenty minutes the Queen Mother is still speaking in Hapan, to the acclaim of the crowd. To keep myself focussed, I turn my attention to studying those around us. There are very few men in the room and the ones closest to me are Isolder and my husband. Most of the women are elaborately dressed, so my own gown is not out of place. My physical appearance, in other ways, is. Hapan women are on average far better looking than I am - in comparison I am rather plain featured, and stand out for that.

I feel eyes on me and sense the intense scrutiny of someone nearby. They are more curious than hostile, so I don’t bother trying to make them uncomfortable in return. Instead, I narrow down who it is in the crowd, only to discover that it is a teenage girl, whose violet coloured veil prevents me from seeing her face. When she realizes I have found her and starts in response to my own stare, I shift my attention back to the Queen Mother. Just knowing I have identified who she is should be enough to discourage her from anything more than looking.

Ani, I am tired of listening to her go on and on, I admit. At least during long drawn out academic speeches at home I could fake being interested.

The woman in the sapphire dress, he replies, she reminds me of a peko-peko - covered in beautiful blue plumage, but toxic to the touch. Your turn.

What? I answer, puzzled by what he wants me to do.

Pick someone and describe what they remind you of, he explains. It’s a game I would sometimes play to amuse myself when I was stuck at one of the Emperor’s court functions.

The girl in violet, near the pillar, I decide to humour him, she’s like a squirrel from home - curious, but wary. One loud noise or sudden movement and off to her safe nest she will run.

Near the door, the old woman in gold with what must be her two daughters - a female dire-cat guarding her cubs, Ani offers.

I don’t bother asking him what dire-cats or any of the other creatures he mentions are as we trade our comparisons back and forth. He’s more concerned with keeping me quiet and occupied than providing explanations.

The Queen Mother ends her speech in Hapan and has to wait until the cheering stops before she can repeat it in Basic. I listen more intently than I had to the Hapan version, but quickly realize that she has tailored it for us and the few members of her court who will understand it.

She’s almost finished, the Sith Lord warns me.

He must have been following the flow of what was being said more closely than I have been because Ta’a Chume finally wraps up her speech a few minutes later. I know I won’t be expected to say anything. The Hapans do not like attention to be drawn away from their Queen Mother by another woman and I am an outsider, at that. Not sure what to do next, I watch Isolder descend from the dais, go to the table, and write on both copies of the treaty. My husband soon takes the Prince’s place to add his Sith sigil. Before I move to do the same, a gold plaque to use as a writing surface is brought to me then the documents and the same ink stylus the men had used. After writing my name in Sith below Ani’s, everything is taken up to the Queen Mother for her endorsement.

Once both parchments have been returned to the table, rolled and slid into transparent tubes, I know we must be just about done. One copy, the one Isolder now presents to his mother, will remain here, in Hapes’ archives, while the other, taken from the table by Ani and handed to me by him, travels to Coruscant with us.

‘It is done,’ the Queen Mother proclaims, ‘The beginning of a new relationship with the Empire.  Now, it is time to celebrate.’

She claps her hands, signalling the end of the formal ceremony, and chaos ensues. The courtiers flock to the base of the dais, surrounding it, and trapping me in place with the press from their bodies. From what little I can make out of what is being said, none of them have been given the exact details of the document I am holding on my lap, and each is demanding to hear how they, or the planets they represent, will personally benefit.

I feel someone brush against my hand with their own, and quickly hide the small piece of paper I have been given. It is obviously a secret message intended for me, but I have no idea who the messenger was or what might be so important for them to risk passing it to me.

There is a shift in the Force, a subtle movement of it around Ani and I, and it takes a few seconds for me to figure out what he is doing. Although it would be easy for him to do, the Sith Lord cannot shove the women who come too close out of the way because that would make his Jedi-like abilities apparent to all of them. Instead, he has created an area of slight physical resistance to discourage anyone from entering our personal space.

‘It’s time to escape to the shuttle,’ I tell Cyran, who has been pushed forward and into the back of my chair. ‘If we stay too long, and someone doesn’t like what they hear, we could be in trouble.’

Isolder must have noticed my predicament because Astarta is busy trying to clear a path to reach me. The Royal Guards are occupied keeping people back from the dais, so there is no help to be expected from them.

Enough of this, Ani decides when no rescue attempt is successful.

He grabs me by the hand, pulls me to my feet, and steps into the crowd. The Sith Lord nudges those who refuse to move out of his way with the Force, using just enough strength to shift them off balance and allow him to push past them. Cyran and Daini stay close behind us. I suspect they know that if we become separated they will be on their own until they can free themselves from the crush of the crowd.

My husband doesn’t slow his pace until we have left the throne room behind and are walking up his shuttle’s ramp. Once inside it, I let myself collapse into my seat and hand the rolled up treaty to him.

‘I hope that all of this was worth it,’ I tell him when he accepts the document, ‘because I really don’t want to come back here if there are any problems.’


If only we could leave immediately, but we are constrained by what the Hapan’s Queen Mother has dictated. There will be a formal feast and entertainment tonight, events we must attend else risk giving offense.

‘We will leave as soon as is politely possible,’ I promise her.

I watch as Cyran removes the coronet from my wife’s head and places it in its carrying case. A ridiculous expense, that, when it will never be worn again. The matching necklace and earrings soon join it. Maia quickly runs her fingers through her hair, loosening the elaborate hairstyle and destroying an hour of her aide’s morning work.

‘Better,’ she sighs, dropping her hands to her lap. “Some of the loops were pulled too tight.’

‘Much better,’ I agree. ‘I like it loose and unhindered.’

‘My Lord?’ Cyran questions when I make no move from where I am standing.

Her eyes flick between me and the door leading to the shuttle’s ramp at the front of the passenger compartment.

Cyran wants you out from underfoot while she helps me get out of this gown and into the other one, my wife interprets for me. Not that it bothers me if you are here to watch, but it will upset her.

I’ll go outside for a few minutes, I decide, humouring them both.

When I reach the bottom of the shuttle’s ramp, I allow myself a short laugh. Once, my wife was so shy she refused to change her clothes in the same room as I, and if forced to, was careful that I saw nothing of her naked body in the process. Now, she would strip in front of her aides and me without any hesitation. The change in her self-confidence is remarkable, and I don’t know if she is even aware of it.

Movement at the hangar door attracts my attention. Isolder has returned, accompanied by a young woman in a green gown, but without his usual personal guards. They rapidly cross the floor to reach me.

‘We need to speak to you,’ Isolder says, ‘in your shuttle, in private, and quickly.’

We have guests, I warn Maia, so I hope you are dressed.

I walk back up the ramp, gesturing to Isolder to follow me, and wondering what is so important he felt it necessary to seek me out in this manner. Maia’s aides jump and step away from her when I open the door. She didn’t warn them I was coming back, probably to avoid distracting them from their task of dressing her.

‘Out,’ I order, pointing to the door I just came through. ‘Only my wife is to remain.’

Maia stares at me then adds, ‘Both of you go. We shouldn’t be long.’

It isn’t until the four of us are alone that she sits, smooths the black mothsilk of her dress and takes a look at our visitors.

‘This is unexpected,’ she says to us. ‘Please, sit, be comfortable,’ continuing once everyone does so, ‘Why are you here, Prince Isolder?’

I watch the Prince carefully. He’s nervous and a bit uncertain, but covering that up under a surface calm.

‘This is the only place I know of on Hapes where my mother cannot spy,’ he admits.

He turns to face me, ignoring Maia, for the moment.

‘Lord Vader, I know that you are the Emperor’s heir and that your wife will be the future Empress, despite that not being officially designated,’ Isolder states, ‘and as Lady Elliar will be the next Queen Mother and I her consort, I thought it best for you both to meet her privately.’

The woman who is sitting beside him pulls back her green veil, revealing a young blonde with brilliant blue eyes and an oval face. She is not as nervous as her betrothed. Perhaps she is less familiar with who I am and what a Sith Lord is capable of.

‘And?’ I prompt.

‘I want a guarantee from you,’ Elliar boldly tells me, ‘a guarantee of continued peaceful relations between Hapes and the Empire.’

‘The Empire has no interest in invading the Hapan Cluster,’ I inform her. ‘There are other more pressing problems to be dealt with elsewhere. Had the Emperor not insisted that I negotiate the treaty personally, I would not be here, but with the fleet.’

‘Then you will guarantee peace?’ she persists. ‘You will give your word on this?’

‘Unless I am given good reason to do otherwise, I have no plans to attack Hapes,’ I reassure her.

The Rebels pose far more of a threat than the isolationist Hapans. If necessary, the two routes into their space can be blockaded, trapping them rather effectively within the Mists which protect them from the rest of the galaxy. No competent admiral would risk his ships trying to find a more hazardous alternate way out. Their best defense can easily be turned against them.

‘Time,’ Isolder warns.

‘We must go before we are missed,’ his betrothed decides.

She replaces her veil, stands, and stares at me.

‘I have no choice other than to trust what you have said, and I am not sure how much I can rely on that,’ she says before leaving, ‘but I do trust your word more than the Queen Mother’s.’

I move from my seat to the doorway and watch them go down the ramp, past Cyran and Daini, and across the hangar. They risked much for a guarantee of their world’s safety from me, a surety I cannot keep if Palpatine decides to attack them.

I feel arms slide around my waist from behind and rest my hands on top of my wife’s.

‘She’s afraid,’ Maia tells me.

‘Of me?’ I tease her.

‘No,’ my wife quietly replies. ‘Of the Queen Mother - and for good reasons. It is not unusual for those who are in her way to meet an unpleasant or untimely end.’

She places a small sheet of paper, one which had been tightly folded, into my hand.

‘Someone slipped this to me in the chaos after the treaty signing,’ Maia admits. ‘I finally had a chance to look at it just before they arrived. It is a warning to us to be careful whose words we believe, and to never trust the Queen Mother or risk being alone with her because she has something planned. The note doesn’t give any details on what that could be.’

I look at the message in my hand, the tiny letters written on it barely legible. It’s either a general warning or a not so veiled threat that could have been given to her by anyone. Tucking it inside my right glove, I opt to examine it in detail later.

‘The feast does not start for another hour,’ I remind her. ‘We must go to that and attend some of the following entertainments. I want your aides to stay close to you, and I will be as near to you as I can manage.’

I step back inside the passenger compartment before shutting and locking the door. Her aides can stay outside on guard duty. We need privacy for a while, and this is the only place on Hapes where we will find it.

‘Stay here, with me, for as long as you need to,’ I offer, pulling her into my arms and settling her head against my chest, soothing her uneasiness.

My wife needs this brief respite from public scrutiny and I need the time to think.


The Hapans’ idea for what constitutes a feast is not much different from other formal dinners I have attended elsewhere. I pick at the dessert. It is far too sweet, even for me with my sugar cravings, to eat more than a few bites of it. At least the pink bliz eggs were tasty and the ice fish delicately flavoured. Ignoring the glass of Hapan gold wine, I select the one filled with mineral water next to it and slowly take a sip to avoid answering another question from the Ducha beside me. Part of me wants to find whoever was responsible for the seating plan and Force choke them. At least Elliar, who is seated to my left, has tried to carry on a conversation without delving into politics or other topics I want to avoid. I risk a glance over at the Queen Mother seated on the other side of her son’s betrothed. She’s been listening to what we have been saying, which is one of the reasons I have kept to what should be uncontroversial subjects like the food.

‘The flowers on the tables are beautiful, Lady Elliar,’ I observe, changing the topic.

‘The blue roses are at their best this time of the year,’ Elliar replies, ‘and in full bloom in the gardens. I can show you, if you wish, your highness.’

This is an opportunity to escape, for a few minutes, before the musicians begin their performances.

Ani? I ask my husband, knowing that he has heard everything from his guardian position behind me and between Cyran and Daini.

A short walk should be safe, he decides. Take your aides. I will follow as soon as I am able.

He must be eavesdropping on the Queen Mother again and wants to hear how what she is saying finishes.

‘Let’s go and have a quick look,’ I agree. ‘I would enjoy seeing them.’

Elliar is faster than I am at leaving the table. She waves away Astarta, who goes to follow her, and waits for me to join her at the door.

‘The Princess’ bodyguards will be with us,’ she tells Isolder when he looks over at us to see what we are doing. ‘We are just going to the paan and tik tree grove by the reflecting pools to see the roses and should be back quickly.’

I watch Elliar walk ahead of me, down the path towards the garden with the roses. Isolder’s betrothed is a good match for him, I decide, regardless of his mother’s opinion of her. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Queen Mother will ever let their marriage happen, despite her son’s wishes in the matter.  Elliar is too strong willed to be dominated by her potential mother-in-law, and determined, along with Isolder, to improve the status of Hapan men, a position I am sure that few of the women who rule here would support.

Cyran and Daini are behind me, following at a discrete distance as they have been instructed to do, but I don’t hear their footsteps on the gravel any longer. Turning with the intention of locating them, I find myself facing one of the Chume’doro, her gun raised and pointed at me. There is a flash, the air ripples away from the muzzle, and then I am falling, my legs and muscles failing me, before I hit the unyielding ground.

I wake to the sound of panicked voices, none of which are familiar to me, most of whom are women speaking in Hapan.

‘She’s over here,’ someone nearby says in Basic.

‘Is she hurt?’ someone else asks in the same language.

I don’t open my eyes or move from where I am lying on my side. Ani must know something has happened to me, so where is he?

Anakin… I start to call to him, but one of my rescuers decides to help me, pulling on my shoulder in an attempt to roll me onto my back. Pain sears through my body with that movement, and I begin to breathe in ragged gasps. No, I think, horrified, as I feel liquid run down the inside of my thigh to the ground below.

‘Out of my way,’ I hear the Sith Lord snarl at those around me.

‘Move! Now. All of you,’ Isolder loudly orders, repeating what I assume is the same in Hapan immediately afterwards, when my husband’s command must have been ignored.


Isolder’s commands work where mine had no effect, and the women who had surrounded my fallen wife, carrion birds flocking to a kill, finally back away from her. I feel her pain and confusion as I kneel beside her. Something is wrong, terribly, horribly wrong, I decide, as she tries to curl into a ball and block out what is happening to her.

‘What has happened to you?’ I ask her.

There is no response to my question. She can’t answer or doesn’t know how to, I decide.

‘Show me,’ I ask of her instead, lightly touching her cheek as I do so, ‘if you can’t tell me, then show me.’

I share her memory - the flash, the air rippling, her weakness, and collapse.

‘She’s been stunned,’ I tell Isolder, ‘just like her bodyguards.’

Concerned now, I move my hand from her cheek to rest above our son within her, then yank it back once I feel his distress and see the blood staining the ground beneath her.

‘Kreth and sithspawn,’ I begin to curse. ‘She’s miscarrying.’

Time is critical now, so I slide one arm beneath Maia’s shoulders and the other one under her knees. Moving her is going to hurt her, but there is no help for that. In one swift motion I stand, lifting my wife as I do so, and ignoring her cries of pain as best as I can.

‘She needs medical attention, right now,’ I tell the Chume’da. ‘Where is the closest Medcenter?’

Isolder, with a gesture, indicates I am to follow him. As we run through the gardens, shadowing Astarta and his personal guards who clear the way for us, he snaps commands in Hapan through his comm-link. There is no time to return to the Executor, no time to have Leanan sent here. I have no choice other than to rely on the Hapans and whatever medical facilities they have on hand.



I am lost in a sea of pain.

My body and mind are swamped by the terrible burning, cramping, and tearing inside me. Every step Ani takes only amplifies it.

I don’t try to talk to him and leave our bond alone. He knows exactly what I am feeling.

It is all I can do to not scream or cry out, and hang on until someone is able to help me.

I am set down on a bed, and eased onto my side. Needles slide into my veins and then blessed oblivion claims me.


I lay her on the bed and step back, allowing the Hapan doctor and medical staff to do their work. The only way I can help my wife, now, is by not interfering. Rather than be ordered out, I retreat from the triage area, knowing that I will sense any problems before they become apparent to anyone else.

‘You can wait in here,’ Isolder tells me, leading me into a room down the hall. ‘If they need you, they will know where you are.’

Then he is gone, presumably to investigate what happened tonight and locate Lady Elliar. I stare out the window, but my mind is elsewhere, my senses focussed inward on my bond with Maia and outward to the room she is in. She is unconscious and unresponsive to my light mental touch, and likely to remain that way for hours. The door opens behind me, so I turn, to see one of the medics enter with a worried expression on her face.

‘Your consort has lost too much blood and…’ she starts, but I interrupt her.

‘… you need a match for her, but cannot find one,’ I finish for her, ‘because Hapan space has been isolated long enough that her blood type is extremely rare here.’

In other circumstances, her startled reaction at my ability to read the uppermost thoughts in her mind would be almost comical, but not now.

‘I am a match,’ I offer. ‘Take what you require from me.’

‘I will be back right away,’ she promises then leaves to presumably retrieve whatever medical supplies are required.

To save time, I seat myself in the most comfortable appearing of the chairs, and strip off what is necessary - chest plate, gauntlet, and sleeve from my leather body armour on the left side. When the medic returns, I am in the midst of rolling up the sleeve of my bodysuit.

‘Here,’ I indicate with a finger, pointing to the vein running between shoulder and elbow. ‘The lower half of the arm is a prosthetic.’

I ignore the brief spike of pain from each failed attempt and the final successful one which enters the vein. She’s afraid of my Jedi-like Force abilities, I quickly realize, as my blood begins to flow out and I see her hands shaking while she holds the quickly filling drip bag.

‘It’s safe to take one,’ she admits, ‘but your consort needs more than that.’

‘Take two,’ I order. ‘I am large enough to handle that, and there is more stored on the Executor. I shall send for it.’

Isolder returns as the medic finishes with me and leaves. His distress is obvious to me through the Force although there is no outward sign of it on his face or in his voice.

‘Lady Elliar is missing,’ he announces. ‘Your consort’s bodyguards have been brought to the medical center, but a search produced no sign of her.’

I reseal my leather sleeve and shrug the chest plate and attached pauldrons back into place. There’s a com-call I need to make without too much delay.

‘She may have fled to safety and hidden herself, if she realized there was an attack occurring in the gardens,’ I suggest, hoping to avoid a long conversation with the Prince.

‘Perhaps,’ he agrees, ‘a search in the morning…’

This time when the door opens it is the doctor.

‘Doctor Torve,’ Isolder acknowledges her.

She gives him a brief nod, but her attention is on me rather than him. Bad news of some sort is coming, I decide.

‘Your wife is recovering from the surgery,’ the doctor states. ‘The child, we had no choice but to remove from her. He could not survive the separation of the placenta, nor his could his mother maintain the pregnancy with the damage to her uterus.’ She stops, looks at me intently. ‘She will sleep until late in the morning and it is best not to wake her, but I will let you see her, briefly.’

I follow Torve, resisting the urge to outpace her, or to bombard her with questions about my wife and son. The room we enter is different from the treatment and triage area that I first brought Maia to. It looks more like an elegant bedroom than an intensive care medical suite, and I suspect that is more to make the occupant feel comfortable than to impress visitors. I stop when the doctor indicates I am to wait, and watch while she checks the monitors. All seems to be normal, but my wife is pale, perhaps too pale against the sheets covering her.

‘You may stay for a few minutes,’ I am quietly told. ‘Normally this would not be allowed at all, but you are not from our world and I am willing to bend the rules in this case.’

The doctor steps back, letting me take her place at my wife’s bedside. I reach down and cautiously take Maia’s left hand in mine, touching the gold band she wears with a finger while being mindful not to disturb her sleep. For a few minutes, I let my tightly held control go, and simply allow myself to feel grateful and relieved that she is alive. Had I waited to bring her to the med center or insisted on sending her to the Executor, she probably would not have survived. I set her hand down gently on her chest, brush her cheek with my fingers, and carefully look at her. Maia’s face is peaceful, her body still, the only sign of life her chest rising and falling with each slow breath. Her stomach is flat, no longer curving outward, her pregnancy abruptly ended less than an hour ago.

My regulated breathing breaks its normal pattern with my sharp inhalation.

I spin about, but Torve has anticipated my realization and response to it. She opens the door, quickly motions me through it and into the medical suite across the hall.

‘He’s in here,’ she answers my unspoken question.

I stare through a glass window into what must be their intensive care nursery. The infant inside is barely visible amoungst the monitors attached to and surrounding him. From his Force presence I know he is small, weak, fighting to stay alive, and failing. Lifting my right hand, I rest it against the glass, and close my eyes. No, not my son, I think to myself in an attempt to deny what has happened.

The doctor takes my silence as an opportunity to give me all the details I would prefer not to hear, but need to know regardless.

‘He is premature, was starved of oxygen during the abruption and subsequent haemorrhaging, and was affected neurologically by the same stun blast which triggered those,’ she informs me. ‘If it were only one or two of those problems we had to deal with, we could probably manage his care, but our facilities are not as advanced as what yours are rumoured to be. Here, his chances are slim, at best.’

I make a quick decision, based on her evaluation, hoping that it is the right one.

‘Can he be moved?’ I ask.

‘I will take no responsibility for what might result if he is,’ Torve replies.

How typical, I think. Doctors are the same everywhere.

‘Then I will make the necessary arrangements myself,’ I state, pulling out my comm-link and heading back to the waiting room as I do so.

What I need to sort out and set up does not require an audience, only Prince Isolder’s co-operation and approval.

An hour later, Maia’s bodyguards and my son have been successfully transferred to the Executor, and my wife has received another unit of blood from those stored on board my ship. The other tasks I needed Isolder’s help with, he was unwilling to consent to, but few can resist the persuasive powers of a Sith Lord when they are applied directly and forcefully, and he had eventually, if reluctantly, agreed.

Leanan had not said a word to me while conducting her medical evaluations, merely shook her head once she saw what she had to deal with. Before entering the shuttle to leave, however, she had reassured me that any change in condition would be reported to me immediately. My wife will be moved to my ship tomorrow, after she is awake and stable, and after I have tracked down her attacker.

I fully intend to deal with whoever harmed her and our son myself, personally, Hapan law and traditions be damned.

DAY 21


Standing outside the palace, I look towards the gardens and wait for Isolder to join me. Allowing an outsider access to a crime scene he has charge of has cost him some of his pride, but he needs my help, although he is reluctant to admit that.

‘Lady Elliar is still missing,’ he confesses. ‘She has not tried to contact me, and a search of the palace and grounds has failed to find any trace of her.’

‘I can track her,’ I reassure him. ‘Even if she is well hidden, her Force presence will be obvious to me - if she is still alive, that is, and if not, I should still be able to narrow the location you need to focus on.’

Astarta, Captain of his bodyguards, shifts uncomfortably. Like most Hapans she has a healthy distrust of Jedi, and Force users, in general. I know she must have argued vehemently against my involvement in their investigation, only to be overruled by the Prince.

‘Go, then,’ Isolder urges. ‘My mother will have her own security team investigate once it is light enough for them to work. You should have a few hours before dawn, at the most, without their interference.’

‘Has anyone entered the gardens since you had them cleared?’ I ask.

‘No,’ Astarta answers. ‘I saw to that, personally.’

Her resentment is almost palpable. She sees no reason to include me in what she considers to be a purely Hapan matter.

‘Since you do not trust me, even when I have good reason to honestly offer my help,’ I challenge her, ‘why don’t you accompany the Prince and I? Perhaps you might learn something. Just stay well out of my way.’

I take a few steps away from them, stop, and stretch out with my senses to make sure no one else is nearby to distract me. Anchoring myself in the Force, I reach back in time, grasping at the fleeting emotions of those who had walked along this path the previous evening. Most of what I read is of little use, like the brief flickers of courtiers and Chume’doro moving in and out of the building. Far stronger than those are the traces of Maia’s Force presence. Following that impression, I begin to walk slowly away from the palace, halting whenever I lose contact and need to reconnect with it.

Fifty meters from where I first began my task, the fear and shock from the attack on her aides is apparent. This is where Cyran and Daini were stunned from behind, fell to the ground, and were dragged off the path and out of sight by their attacker. Unfortunately neither woman has recovered enough to give me any useful information, or a description of who was responsible for that, and what I am sensing through the Force does not reveal who it was, either. Too many others followed along the same path in the ensuing confusion and their presence has obscured anything of use to me.

‘Here,’ I tell my audience of two. ‘My wife’s bodyguards were stunned here then were moved to and concealed where we found them.’

I don’t wait for a reply but continue down the gravel path. When I stop again, I know I am standing where Maia became the next victim. Her pain has marked this place, branded it emotionally in a way any Force sensitive would easily recognize.

‘This is where my wife fell,’ I reveal, not bothering to confirm that by looking down to see her blood on the ground beside my feet.

Turning to face the reflecting pools, I decide to try that direction first. The grove with the roses was what the two women were heading towards, with Elliar in the lead. If she did not hear the earlier attacks, she may have gone ahead, for a short time, before realizing there was a problem behind her.

As I leave the place where Maia was ambushed, I block the traces she left from my mind and concentrate on the young woman I had met, albeit briefly, yesterday. I sense nothing until I reach the rose hedge between the trees. Caught in the thorns are a few green threads which I pick up and examine.

Surprise. Fear. Panic. Flight.

Each emotion rolls over me in turn.

I stop in place as I suddenly realize what I sense means.

My wife was not the one being hunted. Lady Elliar was the target. She was stalked, trailed, and pursued when she tried to flee.

‘Lady Elliar was here,’ I tell Isolder, handing him the threads which had been ripped from her veils by the thorns. ‘She was surprised by whoever attacked the others, and fled. I will try to determine where she went from this point.’

His fingers close over the fragments of his betrothed’s clothing. He is beginning to suspect the same things I am, but chooses not to voice them aloud yet.

I push past the roses, much as Elliar must have, ignoring the briars’ attempts to grab at my cloak. In the center of the grove is a small fountain ringed by more roses, stone benches, and an elaborately patterned pavement. No footprints can be seen, but directly opposite of where I have forced an entry are two white rose bushes with broken branches between them. The green veil I find snagged head high on one of them provides more information to me.

Dread. Entrapment.

Elliar had run to this side of the grove and backed into the bushes, breaking their branches and losing her veil during her escape attempt. I give that piece of delicate, ruined fabric to Astarta.

‘She tried to run and was trapped,’ I bluntly state. ‘With your poor night vision you missed the threads and veil when you searched this area earlier.’

I drop to one knee and study the ground in front of the damaged roses. Two small indents mark the dirt, without any evidence of a struggle.

‘She fell to her knees, then either stood up on her own or was pulled to her feet,’ I tell them. ‘I cannot determine which one it was because whoever else was here remained on the paving stones. There is no way to tell if she was stunned at this point.’

‘And where did they go from here?’ Isolder asks.

I stand up and pivot about, my eyes following the rose briar hedge around the grove. Only the spot where Elliar forced her way in and I followed afterwards shows signs of a successful breach.

‘Either back towards the palace or down to the pool by using the appropriate path instead of breaking down any more of the greenery,’ I decide. ‘Since no one saw them returning to the palace, it’s more likely they went the other way.’

Moving away from the roses, with Isolder and Astarta close behind me, I walk out of the grove and towards the pool, trying to catch a glimpse of Elliar’s emotional state as I go. A few meters from the water, I stop.

All I can sense of her is pure terror, mixed with horror and desperation, all of those feelings so potent that I am forced to sever my contact to keep them from swamping my mind.

I know what happened to Isolder’s betrothed.

Only a recent violent death can so strongly mark a place.

‘There,’ I reveal, pointing to the reflecting pool.

Isolder is silent, staring out at the water. He does not ask me what I meant by that word, for he already knows. Astarta, however, is not as accepting of my conclusion.

‘Prove it!’ she demands angrily, refusing to believe I am correct.

I look at the Prince. Does he really want to see this, to see her as she will be? What condition she will be in I do not know and cannot tell him in advance. For a moment, I hesitate. Were the situation reversed, with my wife the drowned victim, I would not waver, but I have seen many a dead body, and in various states of dismemberment and decay. Isolder, I am sure, has not.

‘Do it,’ he orders. ‘Bring her back to me.’

‘As you wish,’ I concede.

Focussing my attention on the water, I stretch out my hand and send my senses beneath the surface, below the lilies and delicate plants floating upon it. Down into the depths, into the dark, into the cold; she is resting there. I gently swirl the water, moving her gown to cover her form, then slowly, carefully, I lift Lady Elliar, only pausing when I know she will break the surface. Astarta gasps when she sees the body separate from the water, continue to rise, and float above it towards the pool’s edge, a shower of droplets marking its course. After setting Elliar down, I let my hand fall and step away, allowing Isolder room for privacy and his grief.

There are no marks of violence on her body, no indication on her beautiful, peaceful face that she fought against or struggled with someone, yet she did not go willingly into the water. This was no voluntary suicide. She was ordered to her death, much as the Queen Mother described an execution, only this time the method was by drowning, not blaster.

Maia’s words from the previous day echo through my thoughts. ‘It is not unusual for those who are in her way to meet an unpleasant or untimely end,’ she had said about the Queen Mother, and I have no reason to doubt that Ta’a Chume will not welcome the removal of her son’s future bride. Harming my wife, however, would serve no purpose for her, and only invite retaliation and retribution from me. No, tempting as it is to blame the Hapan ruler for Elliar’s murder and the attack on Maia, someone else is responsible, and that someone probably expects me to go after the Queen Mother as a result.

So, who would benefit both from Elliar’s death and provoking me into killing the Queen Mother? Answer that question and I will have a rather long list of suspects. Far too many covet the position she holds and the advantage gained by marrying a relative to her son, the Chume’da. Solving this crime will be a long, convoluted affair, and I do not have the time or means on Hapes to do it. My primary concern right now is moving my wife and son to proper medical care as fast as possible. Punishing those who harmed them will have to wait.

Isolder raises his eyes from the woman he loved, and has now lost, to meet mine. His face is a mask, unreadable unless one has the Force as an ally. He cannot afford to let anyone on Hapes know just how much her death has affected him.

‘Lord Vader, you don’t need to worry about whoever murdered Elliar, and attacked your wife and son,’ he promises. ‘They will be my prey, as was the one who killed my brother, and I will stalk them for as long as it takes, as I did him, and when I find them, I will utterly, completely destroy them.’


I wake to silence and open my eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. Curious now, I turn my head to look around me, trying to determine where I am. This is not the medical section of the Executor, so I must be in a Hapan hospital, albeit a rather luxuriously furnished one. I slide my hand down to my stomach, intending to check on my son, but instead of his bright Force presence within me, there is nothing. Shocked to find that he is no longer there, a bit bewildered and growing alarmed, I push myself upright, ignoring the pain which comes with that as best I can, frantically shoving the blankets down and moving the white robe I have been dressed in out of my way.

My middle is flat, a neat surgical scar across the bottom of it. Hoping to spot him somewhere, I look around the room, only to see nothing resembling a cradle. When I cast outward with my senses, the only Force user I find nearby is my husband standing outside the door. My son is gone, I realize, horrified by what must have happened.

 ‘No,’ I moan softly to myself, ‘no, no, no.’

The tears come next but I make no attempt to stop them.


I feel her pain, her grief, her need for me to be with her, and don’t hesitate before making my decision. Hapan customs demand that I wait for my wife to summon me before entering her room, but this is one time I will ignore that, diplomacy, etiquette, and propriety be damned. I simply push the guards Isolder had stationed on her room out of my way, open the door, and step through it.

Her face is hidden in her hands, and she is still almost as pale as the white robe she is wearing, even after receiving blood from me to replace some of what she had lost.

The door opens again behind me. I need to do this quickly and in a way to placate our Hapan hosts before they object to my actions. Slowly, deliberately, I take the few necessary steps to reach her side, and kneel by the bed, resting my hands on my thighs, with my helmet tipped towards the floor in what I hope is a suitably submissive posture.

Ani? she calls to me, once she realizes I am there.

I don’t reply.

Her eyes move from looking down at me to staring at the guards who are standing in the doorway. One word from her and they will remove me or kill me, regardless of my rank in the Empire.

‘My consort may stay,’ she firmly states. ‘You will leave us.’

They immediately step back, closing the door once they are clear of it, and leaving my wife and I alone.

I keep my eyes lowered and wait. While I would prefer to hold her in my arms to comfort her, and take her away from here back to the safety of my ship, this has to be done on her terms and under the Hapans’ intrusive, unwelcome gaze. A hand reaches down, slides along the cheek of my mask and tips it up. Her face, still streaked by tears, is etched with grief and pain, but there is neither blame nor anger there.

‘Tell me what happened,’ she orders. ‘I want the truth of it - all of it.’

There is no point in concealing anything I know from her and she will feel it if I am lying.

‘You were followed into the gardens,’ I tell her. ‘Someone stunned you. Lady Elliar was found this morning, dead, having drowned in one of the garden’s large pools.’

Maia’s eyes close as she absorbs this information.

‘Why?’ she questions me.

I pause before answering her. This room, like almost all of those in the palace I have spent time in, is probably being monitored and I do not want my speculations to be made public or to make their way to the wrong individuals.

‘I don’t know,’ I tell her aloud, but give a different answer silently.

One of two reasons or perhaps both of them, I reveal my thoughts to her. Someone targeted Elliar and you were in the way, or less likely, you were the target and Elliar was in the way.

My wife is silent at that, thoughtful.

‘My bodyguards?’ she asks next.

‘Stunned as you were, but recovering now, on your flagship,’ I state, more for Hapan ears than hers.

She hasn’t asked about herself or our son yet. I gird myself mentally and emotionally, expecting those questions, the hardest ones to deal with, will be next.


I sense the Sith Lord preparing himself for what he is certain I will want to know next. He can stay where he is for a while and think about what he will say to me, I decide - I need to consider what he has already told me. Someone waited until Elliar and I were outside the palace with only a few guards to protect us. Cyran and Daini had been stunned, not killed, and the same had been done to me. Only Isolder’s betrothed had been killed, and I am sure that she was murdered, despite what Ani was implying. Lady Elliar was too strong willed to ever take her own life. No, I do not think I was the intended victim - she was. I was just unlucky enough to be an inconvenient potential witness in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ani is still quietly watching me, so I ask my next question with a gesture, rather than speak. I don’t know if I can bring myself to say it aloud, so I move my hand, rest it above my stomach and look at him. His breathing stills and I can feel his own emotional pain and reluctance to speak of it. He raises his left hand, so I take it in mine and gently squeeze it. What happened was not his fault.

‘An unfortunate side effect of stunning someone,’ he admits, ‘is that it can sometimes trigger miscarriages in pregnant females.’ He stops, so I squeeze his hand again. I need to hear this. ‘The placenta separated from the uterine wall, according to the doctors, and you started to bleed out.’

I shut my eyes and remember what I had felt: pain, tearing, and what must have been blood running out of me.

‘There was not enough time to take you to the Executor, or to have your doctor sent here. The Hapans did their best, replaced the blood you lost with what they could of mine because no one here was a match, but…,’ his voice trails into silence before he can bring himself to tell me the rest of it. ‘They had no choice. To save your life, our son had to be removed to allow them to repair where you were torn and to …’

‘Where is he?’ I interrupt him, finally working up the courage to ask.

‘On the Executor. Leanan took him there, to care for him properly,’ the Sith Lord reveals, ‘but she does not expect him to survive.’

I tug on his hand, prompting him to get to his feet from where he had been kneeling. Both of his hands are in mine now, my head resting against his chest, while our mutual grief is shared over our bond. My mother once told me that there was no pain greater than that of losing a child, but this must come close to it.
‘I want to go home,’ I whisper to my husband. ‘I want to see him, to hold him, even if it is for only a minute.’ Please, Anakin, just take me home.

I will, my love, he promises me. I will.


‘I will go make the arrangements,’ I reassure my wife, easing her back against the pillows and giving her hands a light squeeze.

She is in shock, traumatized by the attack and emotionally stricken by the looming loss of our son. I barricade my own feelings of grief and anger away, putting them aside to deal with later. Right now, she needs me to be a secure pillar of strength and calm in the midst of a storm, and I will give that to her despite the personal price I will pay for doing it.

‘I will be back soon,’ I tell her before leaving.

Going to the waiting area for privacy, I quickly finish the comm calls to Executor, ensuring that Trever will arrive shortly with Thirsk and an appropriate set of guards for my wife. Then I focus my attention on the glass of the window and release my frustration and grief into it.

It instantly shatters into a million fragments.


I don’t want to be sedated or pumped full of pain killers because I hate being fuzzy-headed, but Trever refuses to move me without them. Leanan, I am sure, would not be so insistent, but she isn’t here and he is, along with his rotten bedside manner.

‘Fine,’ I finally concede after none of my arguments against it succeed in swaying him. ‘Dope me up, then.’

I want to go back to the Executor to see my son, and if this is what is necessary, I will do it.

‘I don’t know which one of you is a worse patient,’ the doctor grumbles, ‘you or Lord Vader.’

My husband doesn’t react to Trever’s observation. Instead he slides back the sleeve of the robe I am wrapped in and holds my arm steady while the doctor finds a vein and injects the medications.  The effect is immediate. I feel myself go limp and everything seems distant and detached from me.  Even the dull ache in my stomach recedes a little.

‘You will be more comfortable during the transfer this way,’ Ani tells me.

He steps away from the bed and watches the medics bring the medical capsule into the room. A regular hover-stretcher would probably have been fine, but I am not going to argue about it. If Ani and the doctor want to make a fuss, I will let them. It takes a few minutes for the Hapan medical monitors to be replaced by the small portable ones Trever had brought with him, and the doctor makes a point of checking Torve’s records against the current readings.

‘Ready to go?’ I am asked, so I nod in response and rest my hands on my chest to keep them out of the way.

When the medics start to roll me onto my side, to get me into position to be lifted, it sends sharp stabs through my middle. I hiss in pain and bite my lip. That hurt. They freeze in place and look over at Trever.  He frowns and grabs his medical bag. Not more pain meds, I think, that will knock me out completely.

‘Allow me,’ the Sith Lord volunteers.

He motions the medics and Trever away. I feel myself lift from the bed and realize he has chosen to levitate me with the Force. Cool. Ani has never done this with me before. It’s a truly strange sensation to be floating in mid-air with nothing touching you, and to be moving without any effort across the room to be set down in the capsule.

That was a neat trick, I tease my husband. Can you do that again? Please? It was fun.

Not now, wife, he scolds a little. The medication is making you a bit giddy.

I resist sticking my tongue out at him, tempting as it is. If he wants me to be silly, I can give that to him. Trever checks the monitors again and ensures that I am comfortable, but I am only wearing a light robe and starting to feel a bit cold.

Here, Ani tells me, laying his cloak overtop of me. You need to keep warm and I don’t want you becoming chilled.

Thank you, love, I reply.

His cloak is warm from his body and smells like his leather armour and roses. He must have been out in the gardens this morning. I pull it up to my chin and settle in for the trip.

Smell’s good, I tell him. Smells like you and smells like roses. I like it.

Go to sleep, little goddess, he soothes. You will be home much sooner, if you do.

There’s no reason to stay awake and I am sleepy from the medications. My eyes slowly close so I don’t resist.


‘She’s finally stopped fighting the sedative and fallen asleep, doctor,’ I tell Trever.

‘We should move her quickly, then,’ he decides. ‘I don’t want to use more meds to manage her pain and she will need that if we wait too long.’

I step back and allow the medics to steer the capsule through the door. My shuttle is nearby so there won’t be a long walk to it. As I follow my wife through the corridors, I am aware of the stir our party is making. Word has spread about the events of last night and the Hapans are not sure how to react.

Thirsk and the men he chose to act as guards join us once we leave the Medcenter. All of them are alert, ready, and more than willing to deal with anybody who might be a threat. What happened to my wife and son has generated sympathy for them amoung the Executor’s crew. There was no lack of volunteers to pick from for this escort duty.

Approaching the landing pad, I see that a parting delegation has been sent. Isolder is there, outwardly composed, but inwardly still in turmoil from Elliar’s death. Astarta hovers protectively behind him. The Queen Mother is nowhere in sight, having relegated this task to her son. I stop in front of them, making a point of watching the medical capsule with my wife going up the shuttle’s ramp before saying anything.

‘I expect to be kept informed of the progress of your investigation into the attack, your highness,’ I warn them both. ‘I do not want to return here to deal with that myself, but I will if I must.’

My threat hangs in the air between us, an openly declared challenge for him to meet.

‘Lord Vader, those responsible will be yours to deal with as you see fit,’ he promises in return. ‘I shall send for you once they are in custody.’

I turn away, intending to hurry into the shuttle and leave. There is nothing more to be said and I have little patience or time for the traditional diplomatic niceties.

‘Wait,’ Isolder stops me.

I pause, giving him a chance to finish what he wants to say, but do not face him.

‘There is another route through the Mists,’ he reveals, continuing over Astarta’s protests, ‘a faster way to travel to the Core, but it is more dangerous and requires one of us to go with you, to guide you along it.’

‘Your highness!’ Astarta tries to silence him from saying anything more.

I let out an amused laugh. This is something I had already suspected and he has now confirmed it.

‘I need no navigator,’ I state. ‘The Force will be my guide.’

Thirsk runs down the boarding ramp. Maia must be secured and he has come to see what has delayed me. It is time for us to leave.

‘Tur conter ti'doro nui,’ Isolder bids me farewell in Hapan, ‘and may the Force be with you, Lord Vader.’

‘Brightness guard you against the night,’ I give the Basic translation in return, then I follow Thirsk into the shuttle and turn my mind ahead to the next task I must accomplish.

‘She’s still stable,’ Trever announces once I am seated next to my wife’s medical capsule, ‘and should sleep for several hours. It would be best to transfer her out of the capsule using your method rather than the standard procedure.’

Her grasp on my cloak’s collar had loosened in her sleep, so I reach over, tuck her hands under the fabric and lightly touch her cheek with a finger. The repulsors in the capsule will cushion the shuttle’s take-off and landing, but removing her manually from it to transfer her to a bed in the medlab will only produce more pain.

‘Keep her sedated and quiet until I am able to come to Medical to move her for you,’ I order. ‘We need to reach Rhinnal as quickly as possible, and I am the only one who can plot the necessary course.’ Turning to Thirsk, I add, ‘You will guard her, yourself, Commander. See to it that there is always someone she knows and trusts in the room with her, even if she is unconscious. If she wakes, I do not want her to find herself alone.’

No, Maia does not need more emotional upset heaped onto what she must already deal with, and not having someone she considers a friend nearby will have that effect.

I tap a finger on the seat’s armrest while I consider the possible flight plans to Rhinnal. First, we must clear the Transitory Mists, a group of nebulae which screen the Hapan Cluster from the rest of the galaxy. From there, the Perlemian Trade Route is well known and heavily travelled. If only the Hapans had not been so isolationist, I think in disgust. Had they been willing to open their worlds to trade before now there would be a well-established, fast, and safe route between here and the Core.  

The shuttle settles gently onto the floor of the Executor’s small hangar. A countdown starts to run in my head. How fast can I reach the command deck? How quickly can I get my injured son and wife to Rhire on Rhinnal, to the best medical care available to us?

Pushing up from the seat, I look down at Maia and brush a hand along her face. She doesn’t stir so strong is the hold of the drugs on her. There is nothing more I can do for her at the moment other than ensure we are underway as soon as possible.

‘I will be on the command deck, if you need me,’ I tell Trever. ‘Comm me immediately if she wakes.’

By the time I reach my destination, those I need to consult with have arrived, some in hologram form.

‘Commander Tosack,’ I address the image of the old engineer. ‘Best speed you can extract from the hyperdrive?’

‘She’s rated at two, as you know,’ he answers, ‘but…’

‘Yes?’ I prod.

He’s modified and tweaked and fussed with the Executor’s engines from the time she was under construction. What the ship is rated at on her blueprints and what she can actually do under extreme need are no longer the same.

‘If pushed, for a short time, perhaps she could run at one,’ he reveals, ‘but I wouldn’t recommend it for everyday use.’

That alone would cut our travel time from five days to less than three.

‘Three days,’ I state aloud. ‘I need three days at top speed. Can it be done?’

‘If your lordship and milady require it, it will be done,’ he offers, saluting as he does.

Tosack’s hologram vanishes and I suspect he is now busy driving the engineering crew to prepare the engines for the stress they will be under.

‘Shields, Kallic, can they handle travel through the Mists?’ I ask that question of the Executor’s Captain.

‘Provided we don’t approach too close to the heart of one of the nebulae,’ he answers.

I know the crew are wondering what I have planned, and from what I have asked some of them have probably figured it out. Looking at the nav projections, I can see that we are almost clear of Hapes’ gravity well. In a few minutes, once I hear back from Tosack that he is ready, I will have to take control from the helmsman. Flying my flagship won’t be like piloting my fighter. She will be sluggish and slow in comparison, and I will need to choose my course carefully because of that.

The engineer’s hologram reappears.

‘Clear to go in engineering, my Lord,’ he announces before disappearing again.

‘Clear of the planet and ready to jump,’ Bachenkall echoes him.

‘Give me the helm,’ I order, waving the helmsman aside and taking his place.

Since I designed it, the layout of the controls is a familiar one. Choosing to make our course visible to the crew, I set the nav-projector to broad view so that all on the bridge can see it as a hologram between the crew pits. If they know where we are going, they are less likely to panic or be a distraction while I work. Shutting out the noise around me, I drop into the Force in this place.

Where? I query it. Where is safe? Where is shortest and fastest? Where must I go?

My hands dance across the controls as the answers come to me.

Here and here, the Force leads me along the safest path. Not there. Avoid that area. Turn now, alter course slightly, detour around that young star then onwards once more…..

I lose track of time and place, driven by necessity and caught in the concentration needed to keep to the twisting route I must follow and program into the nav-computer. Only when there are no further obstacles to avoid and my course has taken us to the other side of the Mists, exiting right onto the Permelian Trade Route, do I allow myself to return to the here and now. On the projection, a crazily convoluted flight path has been plotted, but it is a safe one and far quicker than any the Hapans could supply.

Around me is silence and the respectful looks of the crew.

I activate the hyperdrive and watch the view through the front ports shift to that of hyperspace.

‘I will be in Medical,’ I tell them.

No one speaks until after I have left the bridge.


I find my mind wandering, caught in a grey world of strange shapes and flashing colours. Voices come and go - Trever’s, my husband’s, Thirsk’s - but nothing they say is clear to me. The grey finally fades, replaced by a distorted and fuzzy view of a throne room. Ani is there, sprawled across the floor in defeat, as is the Emperor, looming above him, and between them is Luke, dressed in black holding a lit green lightsaber. Palpatine’s laughter rings out as he praises the young Jedi’s skill, before ordering, ‘Kill him.’

I react by screaming at them all and striking out at the Emperor’s ugly face.


It’s been hours since we returned to the Executor, and my wife has shown little sign of waking. She’s been dreaming, though, her eyes fluttering in her sleep, and I wonder what she is seeing. A few minutes later she is calm again, so I pick up her left hand and hold it close. While having her conscious would allow us to talk about what must be done, I dread having that conversation with her. I have lost a wife, thought I lost a child, and have been through the grieving process for both. She has never had to deal with a loss of either type. At a time when I will need her to be at her strongest, she will be at her most vulnerable.

Her hand pulls hard on mine, her head tossing from one side of the pillow to the other. Nightmare, I quickly realize, and that nasty one about my death which always upsets her.

‘No!’ she screams, suddenly sitting upright and lashing out with her hands before I can soothe the dream away.

I catch her flailing arms, preventing her from falling backwards, and pull her against my chest, pinning her hands between us.

‘You’re safe,’ I repeat until she stops shaking in fear. ‘I am here and I will protect you.’

‘Anakin,’ she softly calls my name.

I tuck the hairs which had escaped from her braid behind her ear and rest my palm on her cheek. The fear induced adrenalin surge she experienced will soon fade, allowing the pain from her injuries and surgery to come to the surface.

‘I am going to help you lie down,’ I warn her, ‘and unless you let Trever give you something for the pain, every time you move it is going to hurt.’

Easing her backwards, I note just how much effort she is putting into concealing the pain she is in. She is stubborn as always, but this is something she needs help with regardless of her desire to avoid the drugs. I nod at the doctor who had entered the room upon hearing his name. He comes to the bedside, looks over at me before turning his attention to my wife. She won’t want to listen to what he has to say, necessary as it is for her to hear it.

‘Lord Vader has already been told what I am going to say to you,’ Trever begins.

Maia stares at him, silent. She’s going to let him finish without interruption. Good. That will make what comes after this that much easier.

‘Emergency surgery like yours has a much longer recovery time than a normal birth, and there was damage to your uterus which had to be repaired as well. You will need to stay here for several days, and your activities will be restricted for weeks after that,’ the doctor continues. ‘You will not be able to lift anything larger than a newborn for at least a month - including your children, and there will be abdominal pain if you move before your body heals enough to be released. I will keep you here as long as necessary rather than let you go early, if you persist in being belligerent about proper pain management.’

My wife looks at me, and I know she is going to come out with a protest of some sort.

‘I won’t let you out of Medical unless he allows it,’ I tell her bluntly. 

She needs to heal properly and I intend to ensure that happens, even if I have to stay in the critical care suite myself to make her behave herself. Her eyes drop to her hands resting on her stomach.

You know I hate being drugged, she reminds me.

If it wasn’t necessary, I admit to her, I wouldn’t insist on it.

‘I will co-operate, doctor,’ she gives in without an outward fight, but I know I will hear private complaints from her about this for quite a while.

If Trever is surprised by her quick compliance, he gives no sign of it. He merely positions the feed for the medication and sets it at the lowest dosage level. At least she should be able to sit up in bed, now, without too much trouble.

‘Leanan will be in to talk to you in a few minutes,’ the doctor tells us as he leaves.

Another report I am already familiar with, and one my wife will have difficulty accepting. There are limits to what medicine can cure even in the Empire, even on the most advanced ship in the fleet, and limits to what the most highly trained and experienced doctors can accomplish. My wife’s personal physician is one of the very best and she is at the point where there is nothing more she can do except pray for the best outcome given a hopeless situation.

When Leanan comes in, she doesn’t bother to ask for permission to sit, she simply drags a chair over to where I am standing and collapses into it. She’s exhausted after almost a day on her feet dealing with one medical crisis after another.

‘I could give you a very long and detailed report of everything that has happened in the last few hours, but I think you would prefer the short version,’ she states, looking back and forth between my wife and I.

‘Go ahead, doctor,’ I encourage her to keep speaking.

Maia’s hand finds mine. I hold it gently, wrapping it inside both my own. What comfort can I give her once she hears all the doctor has to say?

‘First, there is the prematurity - not by much, but that is easily dealt with compared to the other issues,’ she reveals. ‘More difficult is the prolonged lack of oxygen from the placenta separating, and worse still the effect of the stun blast on his incompletely developed nervous system.’

For a moment she turns her face away from us, struggling with her composure and fighting tears.
The dragon has a soft heart under all her armoured scales and does not want to deliver the news no parent wants to hear.

‘I can do no more for him,’ Leanan admits. ‘The brain damage alone - even on Rhinnal there is no cure for that. I can maintain his bodily functions, for a short time, but those will eventually fail, too.’

My wife pulls her hand away from mine and brings it, shaking, to her mouth. Her eyes dart between the doctor and I as she processes what she has just been told - that our son cannot survive and will soon die. I seat myself on the edge of the bed, half-leaning against it to stay in place, and open my arms, anticipating her need for their shelter and the storm of weeping which will follow. She stays in them for what seems like an hour, her body wracked with sobs and face streaked with tears. The doctor slips away, leaving us to share our private grief, and to go deal with her own sense of loss and failure.

‘Maia, my little goddess,’ I softly call to her, once her weeping has subsided. ‘There are things which must be done, and quickly, while there is time left to us.’

She stills against my chest so I know she is listening to me.

‘He needs a name, love,’ I remind her. ‘Do you have one for him?’

‘Anakin,’ she quietly replies.

‘Yes?’ I answer.

‘Anakin,’ she repeats. ‘That’s his name.’

Named for me, his father, named for a hero long gone - named for the one she loves most.

‘Do you want to see and hold him?’ I ask her, remembering what she had said on Hapes.

A nod in response. She’s far too upset to speak more than a few words at a time.

‘Leanan will bring him to you if you wish,’ I tell her, ‘but he will have to be removed from the life support system. Do you still want to hold him, knowing what will happen?’

Our son cannot survive long on his own, but without Maia’s consent to stop treatment, I will not ask the doctor to do it. Arms tighten around my waist. She knows the consequences of what she wants and cannot bring herself to make the decision. I, however, can sense that time is rapidly running out. If she truly wants to see him before he dies it must be soon.

‘Do you want me to bring him to you?’ I repeat the question.

This time I brush the tears from her cheek and tip her face up so she cannot avoid giving me an answer. She closes her eyes, nods again and buries her face in my chest.

I beckon to Thirsk, who had been lurking outside the door on guard duty, motioning him into the room.

‘Commander Thirsk will stay with you,’ I tell her. ‘I don’t want you to be on your own while I go get Anakin.’

She allows me to ease her out of my arms and accepts the soft cloth Thirsk hands to her. My old friend will help my wife compose herself and perhaps distract her a little.

I step out of the room and walk down the hall to where Leanan is standing nearby, waiting for me.

‘She wants to hold him,’ I tell the doctor, ‘and she knows that he won’t survive for very long once you remove the life support. You have my permission to do so.’

‘If there was anything more I could do…’ she starts to speak, but I silence her with ‘… you have already done all that you can, doctor, and I owe you my gratitude for keeping him alive long enough for his mother to say goodbye to him. You do not need to apologize or say anything more to me about it.’

‘It will take a few minutes. I will let you know when he is ready,’ she replies.

I watch her go into the second of the Executor’s critical care suites and turn away for a moment to compose myself. Maia has not seen our son yet, and I have. She has no idea how frail and damaged he is, how hopeless the attempts to save him have been. If only I had reached her sooner, if only the Hapans were better equipped, if only… I ruthlessly cut off that thought. There is no point in considering what ifs or debating the past which cannot be changed. The future is what I should worry about.

‘My Lord?’ Leanan calls to me.

Cradled in her arms, wrapped in a brightly coloured blanket is my son, Anakin. His bright blue eyes are open and tufts of blonde hair cover his small head. She has dressed him in a tiny tunic so that his arms and the places needles had been put in them are not visible. Accepting him from her hands, I rest him against my chest and touch his cheek with my finger. There are no connected thoughts to be detected, nor a response of recognition to a brush of the Force from me. His brain has been damaged, I remind myself, and he is incapable of reacting on a conscious level to anything I might do.

‘Thank you,’ I tell the doctor. ‘I will take him to his mother.’

When I return to Maia’s room, I discover that Thirsk has been joined by Cyran and Daini. Their conversation stops when I arrive, and they quickly excuse themselves, leaving us alone to say goodbye to our son.

‘Here he is,’ I say to my wife as I carefully transfer him from my arms to hers.

‘Anakin,’ she names him, kissing his head, ‘our little boy.’

I push aside some of the blankets and sit beside her, to be close to her for when she needs me. She sings to him the same cradle songs she used to put our other children to sleep, seemingly unaware of the time going by, her focus entirely on our child. As the minutes pass, I watch his breathing slow. He’s gradually slipping away, peacefully, quietly, without a sound, secure in his mother’s arms.

Thirsk peers in at us from the doorway and retreats when he sees that I notice him.

‘Come in, Commander,’ I order, ‘I need someone to take a holo for us, and you are conveniently here.’

He takes off his helmet and removes the communicator from his belt. I wait for him to set it on record mode, then gently slide my arm around Maia’s back, pulling her and Anakin in close to me. This will be the only image we will ever have of the three of us together, and I know my wife will want to keep it with her other family pictures. Thirsk nods as he stores the file, hands the device to me, and excuses himself, returning to guard duty.

Tucking the communicator inside my surcoat, I look down at Anakin again. He’s fading, barely breathing now and his heart beat is gradually becoming irregular. Maia continues singing to him. That’s her way of coping, I decide. A minute later, when he finally takes his last breath and his heart stops, she knows the instant that he is gone. I center myself, find my anchor point in the Force, hold tight to it, and thicken my mental shields. For Maia, our son’s death is a shatterpoint, and I must be prepared to deal with any reaction she has.

It soon comes.

She screams aloud in realization of her loss and soundlessly into the Force, a cry of a mother’s grief and agony amplified a million-fold by her empathy. Her emotions blast invisibly away from her, to impact on me and the Executor’s crew. I sway at the effort needed to deflect them and dull their effects on those around us, but with his close proximity to its origin, despite my attempt to protect him, Thirsk is doubled over on the floor. He takes a few minutes to recover, and in that time Maia has collapsed backwards into my chest, unconscious and exhausted by what she had done. Leanan soon runs into the room, followed by Trever and a few of the other medical staff. All of them are visibly shaken and some of the younger women are in tears.

‘What the flack was that?’ Thirsk, who is leaning against the wall to steady himself, voices what they all are thinking.

‘Empathic blast,’ I admit. ‘I expect some of the crew will be in shock, in spite of my blunting the worst of it. You should go prepare for their arrival.’

Trever quickly leaves, taking all but Leanan with him. She comes over to me, and touches my arm in a gesture of sympathy. Allowing her that brief physical contact, I rest my hand on hers a moment before removing it, then lift Anakin from his mother’s grasp and give him to the doctor. She cradles him carefully, gently, as if he were still alive.

‘She will need to see him again once she recovers,’ I tell the doctor, ‘so have a crib brought in here and place it near the bed with him in it.’

I had spoken to her before about what should be done, what is necessary to help my wife and family with the grieving process, so she is expecting these orders.

‘I agree with you that his siblings should see their mother and brother,’ I decide to heed her advice from earlier in the day. ‘It will be easier for them to accept what has happened if they do, and I will explain it to them in a way they can easily understand.’

Waiting until after the doctor is gone, I close the door behind her with a gesture and hold Maia tightly in my arms, rocking her limp form in them and allowing some of my own held in grief to escape at last.


The Executor, Rhinnal, Core Worlds, Year 4, Month 1.

DAY 24


I have been stuck in bed for days, but I am not going to complain to anyone about that, not after everything I have been through. It is quite a relief, though, that Leanan has taken over my care from Trever. Her bedside manner is better than his, and she has been fussing over me like a lioness with one sick cub to care for. This morning, she had Ani transfer me into a regular private room in medlab by levitating me with the Force again. It still hurts if I try to do much of anything, so my husband insisted on moving me himself, and was willing to put up with my teasing him about it.

Pulling his cloak up to my cheek, I rub the soft fabric against my skin and let the feel and his smell on it soothe me. The Sith Lord had sent the Emperor a recorded message when the ship dropped from hyperspace for a few minutes after exiting the Mists and before making the jump from there to Rhinnal. I know he had to tell his master what happened on Hapes, about the treaty, the attack on me, the assassination of the presumptive future Queen Mother, and the death of our son, but how Palpatine will react to that news worries me. None of it was my fault or Ani’s fault; however, we both might be blamed for the mess it turned into anyways.

A tear slides down my cheek before I can stop it. I want my little boy back, I want my son back, and I know that’s impossible.

You are upset again, my husband realizes.

Ever since our son died and I somehow incapacitated a large number of his flagship’s crew, he’s been careful to keep an active telepathic line open between us to let him sense the details of my emotional state. If I start crying or if I am in pain, he knows instantly and comes quickly to be with me, if he isn’t in the room with me already.

I will be there in a few minutes, he informs me.

Shifting from my back to my side, I curl up a bit, close my eyes, and wait for him. This is the position it hurts the least to be in. As I daydream a little, I hear Ani’s regulated breathing and footsteps before I see him.

‘Hi, handsome,’ I tease him in my usual way.

‘Hello, gorgeous,’ he responds in kind.

He’s in a good mood, for the moment.

‘You are still in pain,’ he notes, ‘so I will ask Leanan to raise the dosage and have someone from the Medical Academy check on you.’

‘It will go away eventually,’ I tell him. ‘You don’t need to make a big fuss about it.’

‘Actually, I do,’ he admits, adding, Palpatine wants you examined by someone of his own choosing to confirm what I have told him about your medical condition and the circumstances surrounding Anakin’s death.

He must have been speaking to his master over the Holonet today. It sounds as if I am to be poked, prodded, and evaluated for readiness for breeding, just like a prized brood mare being put back to the expensive stud for mating.

He just wants you to get me pregnant again, as fast as possible, as soon as you can manage it, to replace Anakin with another son for him to take, I guess, completely disgusted by it all. The earliest you can ‘service’ me for him is in six weeks, so tell him that and leave me alone until then.


Then a sigh from my husband.

You have every reason to be upset and come to that conclusion, given how you have been treated in the past, he admits, but that’s not why the Emperor and I are worried about your health.

There’s something I haven’t been told yet, and he was holding off on that for some reason.

I feel him sit beside me on the bed and his fingers reaching for mine.

‘The doctor the Emperor is sending to see you is the best fertility expert at the Medical Academy, and probably the most qualified for this task in the Empire,’ he reveals. ‘I was going to have her look at you myself, for confirmation, before telling you what Leanan had already determined.’

‘Confirmation of what?’ I ask. ‘What’s so important that it needs a second opinion of that type?’

His hand tightens on mine. I open my eyes and look up at him. Whatever it is that could be wrong with me, it is not good, and he didn’t want to scare me with it before he was sure it was true.

‘Leanan suspects that the uterine scarring you have sustained will make it impossible for you to carry a child to term again, and that attempting to do so could lead to a rupture,’ Ani quietly tells me. ‘Another pregnancy could easily kill you.’

I spend a few minutes considering that information and its implications.

‘No more kids?’ I finally question.

‘No more kids,’ he confirms, ‘and once the second opinion verifying that is sent to Palpatine, I will personally make sure there won’t be any chance of an ‘accident’ occurring.’

He wouldn’t do that to himself, would he?

To protect you, I would do it without any hesitation, he promises, but from what he said today, I don’t think my master will allow it, even though I would willingly offer to do it. He will insist that you be the one who is operated on instead.

He intends to put you to stud with someone else, I decide, feeling a bit miffed that I might have competition of that sort.

No, he doesn’t, Ani reveals, and I can feel his amusement at my jumped to conclusion. He knows I would refuse to do that under any circumstances because it would be too much for you to bear. The negative response I expect to hear is actually his personal reaction to the idea of being cut in that manner. Most human males are terrified of it because they see it as an affront and attack on their manliness.

And you aren’t at all scared of it? I ask, curious.

No, not really, he admits. I’ve lived through far worse procedures, and I have a family with you already. Retaining the ability to sire more children is less important to me than your safety.

A sudden realization hits me.

If I can’t have any more kids, and he wants your son, and you won’t have one with another woman, what will happen to Mikal? To the girls? I start babbling at him, my panic level rising. Will they be taken away? How will we protect them? There will be no future sons for you to bargain with now…

I sense my husband rapidly spinning shields built from the Force around me, layering them and anchoring them in place on top of me. He’s making sure I don’t flatten any of the Executor’s crew with another wild emotional outburst.

Control, right now, Maia, he orders. Lock it down. You are projecting your emotions again.

I shrink into myself at his words and do as I am told. He knows that I am not able to effectively manage or control the projective empathy our son’s death has unlocked, and that the more upset I am, the worse it gets.

Come here, love, he soothes, offering to hold me for a while and calm me down. I need to train you how to control that before it creates any more problems.

I tuck my head under his mask’s chin and rest my cheek on his chest armour. More lessons from him, and these will be necessary ones for me.

Since you are so worried about it, I can tell you that Palpatine will never take Mikal, Shmi, or Cat from us, he reassures me. He made that promise to me before and repeated it today. You are far too fragile emotionally to handle any stress like that, and he won’t risk a breakdown by you affecting me through our bond. He needs me and I need you to be stable if I am to be of any use to him.

He won’t risk it now, I think to myself, but that tells me nothing about what might happen in the future, when Palpatine no longer requires my husband.

Coruscant, Core Worlds, Year 4, Month 1.

DAY 26



I ease my wife out of my arms and settle her on our bed, being careful to not rouse her out of the sedated sleep Leanan had drugged her into. The pain from her injuries on Hapes is almost gone, but the surgery she underwent yesterday has left her with another incision and some discomfort from it. As I pull my cloak over her shoulder, the cuff on her arm flashes, indicating that the latest dose of medication has been administered. She will sleep for several hours, I decide, giving me time to do a few things I had put off.

‘Rest, my love,’ I tell her, tracing her cheekbone with a single finger.

If she stirs or wakes, I will know.

Cyran has taken the children to play in the garden, to prevent them from waking their mother and to let me work undisturbed. My quarters are quiet and feel empty with their absence, but I know they will be back and full of stories to tell me about their adventures around my castle, too.

The various gifts from the Hapans to my wife have been transferred here from the Executor, and the more valuable ones are piled in shipping crates in my office. I survey the stacked boxes and debate what to do with them. Palpatine has a strong penchant for collecting trophies - artwork, weapons, exotic and rare artefacts. He has a need to publically demonstrate his wealth and power, and likes to cultivate a reputation for cultural refinement, both of which I can’t be bothered with. My preference is to avoid that sort of pointless clutter.

I open the first, small box. This one has the court clothing for the children in it, so I move it to a corner of their bedroom and leave it there for later. The next one I pull the lid from is full of packing material, with a golden harp in its center. Perhaps that should be a gifted onwards to an orchestra. In another small container is the jewelled dagger. I slide the blade out of its sheath and admire the workmanship. Beautifully made and with a razor sharp edge, it is completely impractical for combat and of little use to me, but maybe my wife would like it to wear with one of her formal gowns. It needs to be locked away somewhere safe, so I stash it in the same hidden compartment as the Sith soul trap, away from the curious eyes and hands of my children.

An hour later, I have only a few crates left to sort through. Randomly selecting the smallest one, I find in it a stoppered metal jar. Unlike most of the Hapans’ gifts, it is unornamented, its beauty in its form, and the richness and soft glow of the gold it is made from. I set it in the center of my desk and stare at it. This is something I do have a use for. Pulling my attention away from it, I open the largest remaining box and find a letter resting on the top of what is packed inside. That can wait while I see what else is in it, so I set it aside for later. The first item is a leather jewel case, and I know that this is not something Maia had been presented with at the gifting ceremony. Under that are four medical storage units, clearly labelled in Basic as containing custom made prosthetics for me.

I snatch the letter from my desk and start reading.

“Lord Vader, I will not have the opportunity to publically or officially thank you for returning Lady Elliar to me. That would raise too many questions, and discretion on both our parts is required, for now. We have both suffered losses, and while there will never be a way I can ever compensate you or your wife for yours, in friendship between us, I can at least offer to you what I know you might have need of. - Isolder”


‘Mommy’s sleeping,’ I hear Mikal say.

‘No, she’s just starting to wake up,’ his father corrects him.

I open my eyes but I am still feeling a bit groggy. Ani is out of his armour, for the first time in days, and wearing his favourite set of black Jedi Master robes instead. Our children are seated around him on the floor, and they are all busy putting together one of the large puzzles.

‘Don’t move,’ my husband warns. ‘I want to check on you before you do anything.’

He shoos the children away to their bedroom, and comes over to sit down beside me. His hands are warm against my skin when he folds back the cloak and blankets, and opens my nightgown to look at the latest incision.

‘Healing well,’ he decides, ‘and there won’t be a scar once the bacta peels off.’

‘So much for you getting ‘the cut’,’ I tease him. ‘You were right about your boss cringing too much about that to let you go through with it.’

The thought of that conversation between the two Sith Lords makes me smile. I bet neither one of them expected they would ever have to deal with that topic. Ani isn’t bothered at all by the prospect of a vasectomy, but Palpatine must have been squirming inwardly when my husband made his request to have it done.

‘He was rather … uncomfortable,’ Ani admits, ‘and he was concerned about putting you through another surgery so close to the first, but knew it would be necessary. He will keep me on Coruscant for a while and send you with me when I rejoin the fleet, to allow me to look after you, because of that.’

I tug on his sleeve. He responds by helping me to sit up and letting me lean against him. The pain is less today than it has been, and I am starting to itch where the scar from the emergency c-section is healing.

‘I need a bath,’ I tell him, ‘and Leanan said I could have one.’

‘You just want me to move you around with the Force,’ he replies, amused by my request, ‘but I want you to try standing and walking on your own.’

‘Ani,’ I begin a protest, only to have it cut short by his mouth on mine.

It’s our first kiss since…

Since before Anakin died, my husband finishes my thought.

He doesn’t let me pull away from him and escape from the kiss he started. I yield to him, and he doesn’t hold back. This is a lover’s kiss, seductive and intense, but comforting and gentle, too. When he does release me from it, I set my head on his shoulder and shiver a little at what I feel from him and for him. The Sith Lord has loved me from the day we first met, and my love for him predates our first meeting by years, but there are times, even so, when I wonder about the strength of what exists between us.

‘Let’s see how you are on your feet,’ he decides.

He stands up and I rest my hands in his when he offers them to me. I know he can pull me up onto my feet effortlessly, but I need to do this for myself. His hands are there to steady me, nothing more. Taking a deep breath, I push up off the bed, willing myself not to fall over. When I take a step forward, Ani matches it with one in reverse. Once in the ‘fresher, he lets me sit down carefully on the chair he had brought in there and fills the bath with warm water for me.

‘I don’t think I can climb in and out of it,’ I admit. ‘Standing up from the bed is one thing, from sitting at floor level is another.’

‘Then I will help you,’ my husband tells me.

He does exactly that, but only the minimum and only when I require it. I know that this is deliberate on his part because he does not want me to become too dependent on him. Once my bath is done, my hair washed and dried, we retrace our path, me stepping forward, him in reverse in front of me until we are seated beside one another on the bed.

‘I think you will be fine by tomorrow,’ I hear determination in his voice and a bit of worry, too.

We both know what has been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, and it is something I really don’t want to attend. The finality of it. That inevitable, unavoidable last goodbye. I look away from my husband and bite my lip, hard, drawing blood. Control it, I remind myself, before he gives you a sound mental rap for losing it. A few tears escape from me, but that’s all.

‘You can always share it with me,’ Ani offers.

The barriers he normally keeps around his mind drop. I touch his cheek, then hold his hands in mine, knowing what his generous offer means and what it will do to him. He will feel every bit of my grief and loss, and I can’t bring myself to do that to him, not after he has been my safe haven and strength.

‘A mother’s grief,’ he whispers to me, ‘and a father’s pain.’

I feel a drop of water splash on the back of my hand and look up at him, startled. The Sith Lord is weeping soundlessly, his eyes closed, his own feelings of loss and despair, which he had kept hidden from me, now revealed. I lean forward and take him in my arms, holding him to my chest and rocking him gently in the same way he had held me, being strong for him, and easing his sorrow as best I can.  

DAY 27



I wait for Cyran to finish helping my wife dress and debate what I should say, if anything at today’s ceremony. There is no requirement for a speech on my part, so perhaps I will simply stay silent.

‘Stop fussing so much,’ I hear Maia say to her aide. ‘I am not going to wear any jewellery. Just put the veil on and leave it at that.’

A minute later she comes to join me. Her gown is plain in cut, but rich in material, black mothsilk without anything to break its starkness - a formal mourning dress. I meet her eyes though her face is not visible under her veil. That will be her only shield today at what I had wanted to be a quiet, private event, but which at my master’s insistence has become a semi-public official ritual.

‘You might want to wear this,’ I tell her, showing her the open jewellery case Isolder had sent.

Inside is a royal coronet. Delicately made of silver coloured mythra wires and the rarest of black stones, the dark equivalent of the ice moons she had called opals, it is a crown worthy of her and suited for a Sith Lord’s wife.

She stretches a finger out to touch it then pulls her hand back, uncertain what to do. Cyran quickly removes the veil, but lets me place the coronet on Maia’s head before covering it with the fine mothsilk again. The stones flash beneath the veil with every movement she makes. My wife is not aware of it, but she is wearing the equivalent of half my personal fortune today.

I wave her aide from the room. Today will be difficult for both of us, and a few minutes alone now will make what will come later easier. My wife reaches for me, so I pull her close, hold her hands tight in mine to reassure us both.

‘Don’t start crying, little goddess,’ I soothe her. ‘I know it will be hard, but do your best.’

‘Anakin,’ she whispers.

‘If it becomes too much for you,’ I offer, ‘just turn around and I will be there for you. You don’t have to look. You don’t have to watch. No one will expect that of you.’

I slide my arm around her waist and give her the physical support she needs to take the walk to the hangar. It is a short flight in my shuttle and soon I am guiding her out of it and to the funerary temple.

She looks about as we walk, orienting herself as I have taught her to. The place we need to go to is at the end of the street and lining the route are thousands of my troops. Thirsk and the 501st are here, forming an honour guard, and they bow their heads in acknowledgement as we pass. At the door, red garbed royal guards are waiting, but do not bar our passage. Beyond is a semi-open courtyard, ringed with the few I had personally invited and others the Emperor had insisted be there. I ignore all of them, including my master. The only person I am concerned with today is my wife.

Our place is at the center, next to the pyre with our son resting on it. I lead Maia there slowly, letting her adjust to the situation and not rushing her. I know how hard this will be for her. Palpatine is directly across from us, too far away to speak to, but close enough that he can see everything that happens. There is silence around us as those in attendance draw closer.

I am brought the torch. Maia stares at it and I feel her begin to tremble. This is the moment she has been dreading; her grief and pain will be on display for all to see.

Turn around and I will catch you, I tell her.

She does exactly that, collapsing against me the moment I throw the torch away from us and ignite the pyre. I pick her up, cradling her in my arms and settling her face against my body so she does not see any of what follows. Palpatine’s insistence that she be here for our son’s cremation is the worst cruelty he could inflict on her. If he had wanted a public demonstration of exactly how fragile she is, he has now seen it for himself with his own eyes.

Don’t look, I remind her when she stirs a little. It is almost finished.

The flames have died down now, leaving only ashes in their wake. I stay where I am, holding my wife, until those are gathered up and placed into the golden jar I had sent here.

Are you able to stand on your own? I ask her.

She nods in answer so I set her down, steadying her for a moment. When the jar is brought to her, she accepts it without any hesitation.

I want to take him home, she tells me.

This is something she needs to do on her own. I step back from her, giving her some space, but staying close enough to help her if she asks for it. The crowd parts for her, silently watching us leave. There are no cameras to record this, no reporters from the media, here. Any description of my son’s funeral rites will have to come from one of the witnesses, and none here would be so foolish as to speak with the press directly.

When we leave the temple, a ripple passes through the assembled troops, weapons reversing and the troopers resting their hands atop their blaster’s butts, with their heads bent and eyes to the ground. This gesture is the greatest mark of respect they can show, and one only used for the dead. My wife must realize this because she stops in place, motionless and unsure how to proceed.

Walk just ahead of me, I advise her. Don’t look at the men, keep your eyes up and forward, and pace slow and even. I will be right behind you.

She manages well enough, until we reach the security and privacy of my shuttle. Then her hands begin to shake and she immediately sits down in her seat. I take the golden jar from her, set it aside gently and lift the veil off of her face. There are fresh tears there, but these are ones born from gratitude at the care she has been shown by the troops she has never met, and not a result of her grief.

‘My men adore you,’ I reveal to her. ‘They owe their loyalty to me as their commander, and they respect and fear me, but you and our children, they love.’

I take my seat beside her, hold her hand and give her the time she needs to dry her face and compose herself.

‘They would do anything to protect you,’ I continue, ‘and when word got out, as it always does, about what had happened to you, and Anakin’s death, they wanted to do something for you to demonstrate that.’

I gently squeeze her hand. Every man who was on shore leave, and every trooper and crewman who had made the request to come was here today. Not one of the 501st remained on the Executor, and the ship’s bridge is staffed by a skeleton crew. Few military leaders can command such respect as she has earned from them by simply being who she is.

Thirsk comes into the shuttle and pauses when he sees us. His helmet is off and face calm, but I know he felt Maia’s grief that day, as did many others. It has marked them all.

‘My Lady,’ he says to her.

‘Commander,’ she replies. ‘Thank you. Please tell the rest of the men, thank you.’

‘I will,’ he promises, snapping a salute to me before departing.

‘Let’s go home,’ I decide. ‘You need to rest and I want to spend time with my family.’



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