Disclaimer: "Imperial Entanglements" was written purely for
personal amusement, and involves no money. It is intended as an interpretation
of some events in the Star Wars universe, not as any infringement upon
(Father's Heart, Part 4)
All the empty spaces. They seem to last forever.
"How do we tell her? What do we say?"
"I think she knows, Bail. Look at her."
The dark, lonely spot, where the safe-place was. The still-and-strong
place. She curls into it, and pulls an imaginary cover over herself.
A warm body, curling around her. "My poor little one. Poor
all of us." A kiss, someone else's tear against her face. "But you know,
The word, always stuck in her mouth before, never easy to
get her lips around. But now, the need to say it. And she is gone, to
the empty places. "Mother."
"Yes, love," the other says. "Mother."
La'azum, years later.
Jaet Bishapi fell back into the shadows in a rush, as the phalanx
of stormtroopers turned the corner in formation. The factory was working
at high speed, staffed both by efficient Imperial troops and by closely
watched prisoners. Getting in would not be easy. Getting out would be
next to impossible, but was not as important. He felt the weight of the
detonators in the packsack. He could set the Empire's fleet back ten years
in one night. And tear down something Vader built. That, he admitted to
himself, also held a strong attraction. He was glad of an excuse to finally
A maddening itch made him look down, and he realized that his
mechanical foot had landed in some kind of insect nest. Damnable thing
never felt where it was going until it was too late to get out of it.
He dropped further into the shadow, and brushed the insects off his legs.
There was a time when he would have known (and cared) what they were called,
but Dr. Bishapi had long since lost his interest in knowledge for the
sake of knowledge. Now they were just a nuisance and a --
Lights flashed in the night, and a siren went up. Alarm! For
a confused moment, Bishapi thought they had bugged the nest. Then he realized
that it was just an escaped prisoner alarm.
He sighed. They would go into full lockdown now. He wouldn't
be able to get in. This had happened twice before, and he was beginning
to wonder if these were staged escapes, to excuse lockdowns. He wouldn't
put it past the Empire.
He needed more information. He needed to know the way in, what
the shifting schedule was. He needed someone who might be able to catch
a glimpse behind the Empire's masks.
Luckily, he knew just such a someone.
"... so I told my parents they could just fly off... "
Leia smiled politely at the wildly-dressed boy across the table
from her, as he went on with his rambling monologue. She'd agreed to let
him take her to dinner (though he'd said it would be easier to avoid "his
public" if they ate at her home), but at some point she had forgotten
his name, and it wouldn't be polite to take her calendar out and check
while he was talking.
"... I figure, if they can't take a few loud drums, it's their
He was some sort of musician. Zeria had sent her a message and
asked if she could please-please-PLEASE get a thumbprinted holo of him,
and when he'd asked for a date in return, it had seemed like the polite
thing to do. And Leia was curious. She knew very few people her own age
on Coruscant, and had never been on an actual date before.
She didn't think she would be on another any time soon.
"...and that's when I told my manager, Hey, you want me up there
on that stage, you can bloody well get me a few more credits for it...
She found she could feign interest by staring at one absurd
piece of jewelry after another; the boy obviously considered himself a
tough rebel. She smiled at the thought. He was a singer, for crying out
loud, and had never rebelled against anything real in his life, nor was
he a particularly tough character (though she had to admit that after
experiencing Zokusa or Vader, or, for that matter, Bishapi, she was hard
to impress on that count). He returned her smile, assuming it was meant
for whatever he was talking about.
"...I don't know what these screaming little girls think; they
got no other life. This one little kid told me she'd bought two copies
of everything I sang, and I told her not to buy anymore, 'cause I don't
want any little freaks like that around..."
Leia sipped the ruby bliel thoughtfully. It was too sweet, but
she had a lingering childhood fondness for the flavor. She supposed it
would disappear in time.
"...so they follow you everywhere, and you just want to smack
An Imperial probe droid swooped down and looked in the window.
She had a mad urge to wave to it. She saw more of it than she did most
people now. She restrained herself, barely, and wondered if she could
think of anything unobtrusive that might get her arrested if the probe
saw. That would give her an unimpeachable excuse to end this.
"... but there was this one girl on Tatooine -- this was back
when I was still playing backwaters like Mos Eisley -- slinky little thing,
said her name was Camie. One of those hick country girls that'll throw
themselves at anyone. You should've seen the sorry farmboy she was trying
to get away from. Called him 'Wormie,' of all things..."
Doorbells were a gift of the Force.
Leia was so relieved by the interruption that she didn't bother
to see who it was before keying the door open from the remote on her wristband.
She was standing to greet her visitor when her date -- for the first time
in nearly an hour -- fell silent.
In the silence, the hiss of an indrawn breath. The forced exhalation.
For a panicked instant, Leia thought she really was going to
be arrested (and it suddenly didn't seem like an exciting diversion),
then she realized that Vader hardly would have signaled his arrival if
he were here to arrest her. She turned to him, and offered a smile that
was only slightly strained. "Lord Vader," she said. "Please come in. Welcome
to my home."
He came into her parlor, looking acutely uncomfortable in the
There was a crash behind her, and she glanced back involuntarily.
Her date had gotten up too quickly, and knocked his chair into a free
standing vase. "Uh, sorry... I... " He looked nervously at Vader, then
grabbed his jacket. "I just remembered, I gotta... I got some people to
see. Maybe some other time." He left abruptly, circling around Vader as
surely as if a wall had been built in a large circumference around the
Leia tried to suppress a giggle, and mostly succeeded.
Vader nodded slightly, a gesture that Leia took as a replacement
for a smile. His voice was as good-humored as she had ever heard it (though
that wasn't saying much). "I question your choice of companions," he said.
Leia finally gave up and laughed. "A lot of people say that
Another nod. "I would imagine so."
There was an awkward moment or remembering that they were now
divided, then Leia fell back on her manners. She gestured to the table.
"Would you care to join me for dessert?"
"I am unable to do so, Your Highness."
Leia blushed, suddenly realizing that of course he couldn't
eat outside his bubble, and her invitation would only remind him of it.
Her embarrassment faded to a vague pity, and she wondered how long it
had been since he'd broken bread with another sentient creature. "I'm
sorry," she said. "I didn't think about it in time."
"You need not apologize. It is... somewhat rare for a companion
not to take notice of this condition. I take no offense."
Leia nodded. "Is there something you need of me, Lord Vader?"
Vader looked out the window, noticed the probe droid. "Walk
with me, Your Highness. We have matters to discuss."
There was no question of not going. Leia took a cloak from her
closet, locked her door, and followed him out.
He set an uncomfortably quick pace, and despite his professed
desire to speak to her, said nothing as they walked. He led her past the
Senate chambers, up a level, and across a series of walkways to another
narrow staircase. They went up for several more levels, until Leia began
to lose her breath from the altitude and exertion. Finally, they emerged
onto what seemed to be a landing platform, many levels above the main
part of the city. There was nothing special about it, except for the sheer
drops on three sides... and the fact, Leia realized, that they were above
the altitude at which the standard probe droids were able to function.
She was alone with Vader. Was it for her protection? For his own? Was
he planning to kill her here? Or to defect to the Alliance? To arrest
her, or to help her?
She wished she understood him better.
He walked to the very edge of the platform, still saying nothing.
His cape flew back in the wind. Leia pulled her own cloak more tightly
around her shoulders -- it was cold up here. She glanced down and noticed
that the platform was made of interlocking squares of metal. Between them,
they looked like the end of a chess game, the last piece on either side,
moving aimlessly around the board. She wondered who had been checkmated.
Finally, her turned to her. "Your Highness," he said, "you could
have a brilliant career in the Empire."
"I don't want a career in the Empire."
He came to her, knelt before her so they were eye to eye, and
wrapped his large hands around her upper arms. It wasn't a rough gesture,
nor did it seem meant to confine. It was merely a connection, almost a
The thought crossed her mind that her opponents would have a
field day with the image, as it would feed into their perverse fantasies.
And she could imagine herself slipping into his arms right now,
letting him hold her, wrapping herself inside his overwhelming presence.
She thought he wanted her to. But it wasn't what they would make
of it. It was a different sort of holding altogether.
"I cannot protect you forever, Leia," he said. "If you place
yourself as my enemy, you will be my enemy. Do you know what that
Leia nodded dumbly, not knowing what to do or say.
"It is not what I wish," Vader said. "I ask you to reconsider.
If you move through channels, as you have in your relief efforts, you
could accomplish a great deal more than you will with your Rebellion."
"What do you want of me? I have reconsidered. Then I reconsidered
again. And again. The answer doesn't change." She bit her lip. "I have
to do what's right."
She had expected the hands to tighten on her arms, possibly
to snap a bone like a twig. Instead, his grip became looser, and one hand
came up and cradled her face. His thumb ran lightly across her cheekbone.
She felt something both soft and sharp under her finger, and realized
that her own hand had risen to his wrist, and was skating along the neat
crease of his leather glove. She had never stood so close to him before,
so close that she could see, behind the deeply tinted eyeguards, the shadowy
suggestions of his eyes.
For an instant, an image came unbidden to her mind -- a young,
strong man with blue eyes so bright and intense that they were only partially
offset by his casual grin and easy laughter. Leia knew those eyes from
somewhere, knew she could place them if only she had time.
Then he was gone.
Vader let go of her abruptly and stood up. "Of course, Your
Highness," he said. "We must all do what we feel is right. I apologize
for that... indiscretion."
A bitter wind blew up from below, and stole what little warmth
there had been on the platform, tearing it harshly out of the folds of
Leia's cloak. The top of an Imperial transport came into view, and its
engines drowned out all speech. It landed at the far end, and Governor
Tarkin stepped out of it. "Lord Vader," he said without ceremony, "your
presence is required on La'azum. The Inferno awaits your arrival.
You will leave immediately."
Leia had never directly seen Vader take an order before. He
had always seemed perfectly in control of his surroundings. But when Tarkin
delivered his instructions, Vader simply nodded curtly, wished her farewell,
Tarkin smiled at her. "You assume far too much of Vader, and
give him more credit than he has earned," he said. "He is under my command,
not vice versa."
"I'm well aware of Imperial bureaucracy," Leia said, not wanting
to let Tarkin know that she'd tacitly assumed Vader operated outside of
it. "It's hard to miss a system that manages to combine all the inertia
of the Republic with all the brutality of the Empire. But at least it
seems to be blessedly inefficient."
"As charming and respectful in midair as you are in the Senate.
What a lovely trait." He gestured to his transport. "Come, Your Highness.
I'll give you a ride back to your quarters."
Leia realized with dismay that she hadn't been paying close
enough attention when Vader brought her here, and it would take some time
to find her way back alone. "Thank you," she said. "But I prefer to walk."
Vader had swallowed the humiliating order on the landing platform,
and now, on the shuttle to his Star Destroyer, it sat heavily inside of
him, turning loathsome and poisonous. Tarkin hadn't needed to issue his
commands in front of Leia. He could have waited. And he could have remembered
that, no matter what the bureaucratic structure was, Vader had ways to
pay back such an insult.
And, yet, he'd taken it, and he supposed there was nothing to
be done about it now. Leia had seen him in a far weaker position before
Tarkin's arrival. He regretted that. His intention had been to try to
convince her of her potential within the Empire, not to use... whatever
it was between them... to manipulate her. Yet when he'd seen her standing
there in the wind, a small white creature in the cold sky of Coruscant,
he'd wanted to be close to her, to shelter her. And when she'd said that
there were things she couldn't do, places she couldn't follow him --
No, that had not been Leia. Leia had not said that. That had
been another voice, echoing Leia's words in his mind. The beloved voice
that somehow always made him weak. His mind had flown back to the last
time he'd seen HER, held her in his arms. He'd sought her out on Alderaan
without any clear idea why, and followed her whispering voice to a balcony
where she'd been hiding with Saché, whispering just below his understanding.
Saché had left hesitantly, dragging the trunk back inside with
her, leaving them alone for the last time.
It was after his accident, but before the miserable suit was
complete. The mask covered half his face, and he had draped his misshapen
form in a deep hooded robe. SHE had seen him, and lowered the hood, and
looked upon him with sadness, but no horror.
"Oh, Ani," she'd sighed, and somehow, from her, the name didn't
send up a wall of fire in his mind. "My poor Ani." She kissed the burned
skin under his eye, and held his ungloved hand to her face. There was
still some flesh on it then. Infections had taken what little was left
in the years since.
But her eyes were faraway, her voice coming from beyond a great
divide. He hadn't yet mastered the vocoder that read his speech patterns,
and was still trying to time his speech to the enforced breath rhythms
of the pneumatics, instead of depending on the motions of his mouth to
activate the machinery. It was his own voice, attached to his own vocal
chords. Perhaps a bit deeper, but his own. But he couldn't seem to make
it speak the words he would have it form. For now, he was only able to
speak short, inadequate sentences. "Our child?" he asked, seeing that
her gown once again fell flat against her. "Where?"
She closed her eyes. "I lost our child, Ani."
He felt she was lying, remembered something, some sense he'd
gotten from Kenobi. But her grief was real. It was so real he could feel
it even through the blocks she always kept up in her mind. She was in
pain over the child. "I, too," he said. "I lost him."
"Yes," she said. "I know." She turned to him, and leaned her
head against the machinery of his chest, and he wrapped his arms around
"Come with me." He stroked her hair. He could not say there
would be another child. They both knew there never would be, not anymore.
But there could be... something. "Come, my love."
"The answer doesn't change. I have to do what's right."
No. That had been what Leia had said, just now. Not what Amida
-- what SHE -- had said so long ago. His mind had no business taking him
back there. He didn't want to go. He had a different life now. There were
no more pitying glances, only fear and quick obedience. It was better
this way. The other man he had been was gone. With HER, and with their
The shuttle docked, and Vader went out into the bay of the Inferno.
Captain Derjan was waiting for him, and gave the usual courtesies. They
calmed Vader. Things were in order. He reached the bridge, and Lieutenant
Piett gave him a report on the disturbances on La'azum.
"Nothing of significance," he said. "An escaped prisoner who
was recaptured. A bit of a riot on the assembly line, easily controlled."
"Why is my presence required, if there is nothing of significance?"
It would have given Piett a chance to place the blame on someone
else's shoulders, to say, "Well, I, of course, told them you needn't be
bothered." But Piett was a good and honest officer, who would not have
said such a thing even if true. Vader respected him, and that was not
a common honor for Imperial officers to receive. Piett took responsibility
for what happened under his watch. "We have noted signs of rebel surveillance,"
he explained. "In examining the perimeter after the escapee was returned,
we found several small camps. There is either one persistent spy, or a
group of them. It could also be natives, but Kel Rejuo and I thought it
prudent to assume the worst."
"You have done well, Lieutenant. I will examine the disturbance
"Thank you, my lord."
Vader acknowledged his thanks publicly, and privately resolved
to recommend him for a better post than La'azum the next time he spoke
to Palpatine. Perhaps Rejuo could resume that command in time, though
he would have to approach the subject carefully.
He considered going to his chamber to meditate, but decided
that he could be of more use on the bridge. Meditation seemed like a poor
idea. He'd spent too much time with his own mind already today.
Leia found that her feet remembered the way home better than
her mind did. Without thinking about it -- she wasn't sure she could have
thought anyway; the conversation was swimming in her mind, that strange,
gentle gesture -- she followed the narrow staircases and the walkways
Vader had led her along earlier, and much sooner than she had anticipated,
she saw the top of the Senate's vast dome. She wondered if she was finally
becoming accustomed to Coruscant.
The first thing she noticed when she got home was that her door
was unlocked. A hot fury rose up -- had Vader led her so far away, pretended
such tenderness that her heart had almost broken, just to send a team
of searchers into her quarters while she was gone? What a fool she was!
A silly, deluded child, to believe that... just when she'd thought he
The voice came from inside the apartment, and Leia realized
that she had opened her door, and was just standing and staring at the
locking mechanism. She looked up, and saw her mother standing beside the
table. She'd been picking up the last remnants of Leia's dinner date.
Had it only been an hour ago?
Leia blinked and smiled widely, unambiguously glad of her company for
the first time today. She ran to Saché, and hugged her tightly.
"Mother! I'm so glad to see you! Why are you here?"
Saché pulled away, a surprised smile on her face. "Well,
I'm happy you got to 'glad to see you' before 'why are you here?'!" She
linked her arm through Leia's, and they sat down together on the sofa.
"As it happens, I'm here to see someone very important."
"The new Senator from Alderaan. I understand she's distinguished
herself quite well."
Leia blushed. "Did you really come to see me, Mother?"
"Yes. And it's not even in your official capacity. It just gets
lonely back on Alderaan. Your father has his other responsibilities. My
own have been altered somewhat of late."
"It's not important." She glanced over Leia's shoulder as subtly
as she could, and Leia realized that the probe droid must have come back.
It wouldn't do to discuss Mother's "other responsibilities." "I had Threepio
let me in. I still have an override. I hope it's all right?"
"Of course it is!"
"You seem to have had company earlier," Saché said, glancing
at the table. Anything you want to tell me about?"
"Nothing I even want to think about." She laughed, then told
her mother briefly about the date.
Saché rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Leia, you don't need
to date a boy just because he asks."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"How did you finally get out of it?"
Leia's smile fell. "An old friend stopped by," she said tensely, and knew
from her mother's face that she didn't need to specify which old friend.
All the day's strangenesses -- her utter failure of her first date, her
walk with Vader, that strange tender gesture, Tarkin's interruption --
came into her mind at once. She burst into completely unexpected tears,
and put her arms around her Saché's neck, clinging to her as she
had when she was small. "I'm so glad to see you!" she said again. "I'm
really, really glad."
Saché smoothed her windblown hair, and kissed the crown
of her head. "It's okay, Leia." Her voice was soft and gentle, but confused.
"Everything's just fine."
After a long while, Leia explained what had happened. "I just
don't understand him. I really don't. Why can he be so kind one minute
and then... do what he did to Bishapi?"
Saché sighed. "What he did to Bishapi is a mild thing,
comparatively. Vader kills, brutally and frequently. He doesn't take delight
in it -- at least I don't believe he does -- but he certainly doesn't
"But when he talks to me..."
"I know, Leia. At first, I thought it was a game, but what you
tell me... I'm disturbed by it." She shook her head. "I can't tell you
that his affection for you is unreal. I think it's real enough to disturb
even him. But it will not stop him from hurting you if he feels he has
a reason to do so. Don't give him your trust, Leia. He'll break it."
"Of course I don't trust him." Trust Vader? Hadn't she immediately
suspected that he'd broken into her quarters?
"You don't distrust him, either," Saché said, her eyes
narrowed. "Not really, or at least not enough."
"Maybe if I did trust him... I mean, if someone did... I mean...
you know what I mean, Mother. Maybe... "
"Maybe he'll suddenly reform and rejoin the human race? I've
heard the theory before. From someone who knew him better, and for whom
he had a good deal more affection. It didn't end happily." Saché
gave Leia a bitter smile. "The Empire owns Vader. He left the human race
a long time ago. I'm not sure it's worth wanting him back."
Rejuo was waiting at the factory's entrance when Vader arrived
on La'azum, and led him out to the perimeter without any preliminaries.
She had changed a great deal since Motibi, in an aggressive attempt to
gain the respect that should have been hers by position and talent. Her
wings had been surgically removed, her hair cut short and styled severely.
Her soft, traditional Ampinuan clothes had been replaced by something
that resembled an Imperial uniform (she had still not been granted a commission,
and was addressed only by the Ampinuan honorific "Kel"). The situation
was unacceptable, but Vader had been able to do very little to ease it.
When he was Master.
"...and you can see here, Lord Vader," she said, stooping to
point to a pile of ashes on the ground, "that this camp was set up for
some time. It may well have been for observation."
"Was a fire observed?"
"No, sir. This is just beyond our perimeter, and I'm afraid
it went unnoticed."
"Very well, Kel Rejuo," Vader said. "What else has been found?"
"Three similar camps. And this." She led him along the perimeter,
about ten meters from the camp, to a collapsed frinchesil nest. The burrowing
insects were crawling everywhere, trying to rebuild it. "We have been
meaning to destroy this nest for some time -- the frinchesils have been
pests -- but we've now put off action until we can properly inspect the
damage. It wasn't caused by any of my people. We discovered it the morning
after the escape."
"It wasn't made by your escapee?"
"No. He ran the other way. And there is some indication that
whoever stepped on the nest was headed toward the factory, not
away from it."
Vader reached into the Force, trying to find any traces that
had been left on its surface here. It frequently was more effective than
trying to read any particular person. Here, he sensed frustration, impatient
waiting, anger, lust for vengeance. And annoyance.
He bent, to look more closely at the footprint in the nest.
Solid, unremarkable. He looked at the one behind it. Smaller, less heavy.
More carefully placed. Real... the other was mechanical.
The feelings could have belonged to any number of rebels, and
the mechanical foot could have belonged to anyone. But the combination
of the two things pointed to one obvious conclusion.
Bishapi. The rebel scum who hadn't even had enough honor to
stay with the princess on Ampinua, after he'd blundered her into the situation
in the first place.
"I need to contact the Empire, Kel Rejuo," he said. "I must
use your private communications room."
She nodded, and led him into the factory. Her office was on
an upper floor. She keyed in her security codes, and left the computer
waiting for Vader's higher level clearance. Vader thanked her, and waited
for her to leave.
Tarkin responded with his usual contempt. Why Palpatine had
given him authority -- over his own apprentice, no less -- was a mystery.
"Yes, Lord Vader? Have you found something, or is this merely a courtesy
"Bishapi has been investigating the factory."
"That thug? Well, remove him at once. I believe him to be responsible
for the sabotage of a transport that killed two Imperial governors last
Vader thought Bishapi might well go up in his estimation, if
he kept choosing his targets so wisely. "Bishapi has disappeared again.
He will certainly make contact with the Alliance soon."
"Probably with your... friend... the young princess."
Vader didn't want to agree with him, but knew he was right.
Bishapi would think Leia a primary link to the Empire, and try to use
her to get inside. He was not convinced that she would resist the temptation
to do so. "In all likelihood," he said.
"Very well, then. Return to Coruscant, and have her followed
until he makes contact with her. I won't have this petty troublemaker
wandering around free. It is time to put a stop to him once and for all."
"As you wish."
Leia had had little contact with the Alliance since her initiation,
which her father had told her to expect -- sneaking her out of Imperial
range had been dangerous, and a cool down time was necessary to deflect
suspicion. Let them think she'd run off to meet a boy. Leia hadn't much
liked it, but she supposed she understood it. Her father himself had left
a few days later, knowing that a social family visit would look suspicious
if it lasted any longer.
A mother visiting her teenage daughter for the first time in
a year and half, on the other hand... it could go on indefinitely, as
long as Leia remembered to act annoyed from time to time, which wasn't
all that easy. Leia was developing a whole new view of Saché Organa,
and it fascinated her. This woman had assembled a real army! Up until
now, Leia had assumed that the Rebellion was carried out on a case by
case basis, by loners like Bishapi. Saché agreed that it had been
so for most of its existence, but that things were about to change. It
was coming close to the time to really take on the Empire. Most of this
was conveyed by coded language, or in quick bits of conversation when
Saché was convinced the were alone. Leia wanted to know and learn
"You need to be patient," Saché told her, darting through
the garment district of Coruscant two weeks after her arrival. The constant
motion -- in the places where a mother and daughter could be expected
to be -- was a foil for the probe droids. Leia had suggested climbing
above their range, as Vader had, but Saché had told her (through
a laugh as she examined a particularly ugly piece of jewelry) that it
would only raise suspicions and bring real spies, who weren't as easily
fooled. Today, they were looking at formal dresses, giving them an excuse
to drape cloth over their faces and lean in and whisper to one another.
"I know, I know," Leia said. She stopped at a small store, and
looked in the window at an absurd purple dress. Saché pulled her
on by -- very maternal, but also a sign that the shop was known to have
snoops. "But there's so much to do."
"You don't know the half of it."
"That's the problem!"
Saché laughed, and looked up at the sky, where traffic
of all sorts flew above them. "How I wish there were real birds!" she
said. "There are in other places, you know. A whole flock of them, in
fact." It was an obvious code -- she was telling Leia that the Alliance
had assembled a fleet; Leia had lived with her parents long enough to
know that -- so she padded it with extraneous talk. "When I was growing
up on Naboo, there were birds everywhere, and I loved to see them..."
Leia listened eagerly. Much of what she said really was about
the flocking habits of birds on the ruined planet of Naboo, but it was
enough of an in for Leia to ask how many "birds" were in a "flock." She
wasn't sure what kind of ships each bird species referred to, but Saché's
tone of fond reminiscence was very convincing when she explained that
there were several hundred in some kinds, but only a few in others. "You
should see them fly, though -- really very skillful!" She was starting
to speak vaguely about a large nest when a fruit peddler approached them.
"Ruby jerises! Makons from Sullust! Pallies!" The peddler held
out a small round fruit. "Try a pallie, Ma'am?"
Saché took the fruit. "My very favorite, I'll take two."
She paid the peddler, and took two pallies.
Leia was about to bite hers when Saché suddenly grabbed
it and switched, muttering about clumsiness. She turned it over, and Leia
saw a pattern of red lines drawn into the fruit's skin. Saché glanced
at it briefly, closed her eyes, then opened them to check again, then
bit the design away. She pointed toward a dress shop at a small intersection,
then led Leia briskly toward it, and past it, down the small street, and
into an alleyway. Leia wasn't given a chance to ask questions.
The fruit peddler tried to run after them when she saw two "merchants"
leave their stalls to follow, but she never had a chance. Four stormtroopers
emerged from the shop behind her. They didn't bother to arrest her, just
marched her off. She was certain she would die. After nearly ten years
in an Imperial prison camp, she wished she had.
They had taken a complicated route to the old city, braiding
one traffic pattern to another, travelling almost aimlessly, circling
the transit system at high speed but managing to take nearly three hours
to reach anything that looked like a stopping point. Saché had
spoken cheerfully the whole time, pretending to inspect her purchases.
Leia was growing exhausted by the time they finally arrived at the battered,
vandalized door -- one of many such in this forsaken neighborhood. She
had not been surprised when Jaet Bishapi himself answered the signal.
Mati and Tral were also there, along with a small group of people Leia
did not know.
Bishapi was in high spirits, and, Leia thought, a little drunk.
Mother briefed him on the fleet, not bothering with the code; this was
apparently considered a safe house. She also said that there was a base
on a moon of Yavin, and that it was fully staffed.
Bishapi gave a joyous whoop. "Well, I say it's time we get this
going, don't you Saché? Let's hit their fleet. It's almost over!"
He started to reach for Saché, then changed his mind and picked
Leia up. He swung her around. "They have a lot of resources sunk into
this new fleet Vader is building. And the same old Imperial idiocy --
they have it all in one place. We can set them back ten years in a single
"Very good," Tral said dryly. "Then we'll only be ten years
behind them, instead of twenty."
Mati rolled her eyes. "Our fleet is in fine shape. I've seen
it. We aren't flying junk."
Bishapi ignored them both, and turned to Leia. "And, Your Highness,
that brings us to you."
Saché looked up sharply, but said nothing.
"Yes. We're having a little trouble getting into the factory.
We'll need you to go in for us."
"I don't think that's wise," Saché said.
"All she has to do is bat those pretty brown eyes of hers in
the right direction, and she's in."
Leia's heart sank. She supposed the request was inevitable,
but she'd hoped the day wouldn't come. She tried to deflect it, though
she knew better than to pretend she didn't know what was meant.. "I haven't
spoken to Lord Vader regularly in several years," she said.
"But you have his ear and his trust," Bishapi answered.
"If I do have his trust," she said, "I couldn't... it wouldn't
be proper for me to betray it."
"Proper?" Bishapi nearly leaped off of Mati's couch, his white
hair flying wildly around him. "It would be proper for you to march into
his Star Destroyer and pull all the plugs out of that machine!"
"Please, Jaet," Saché said quietly, "let it go."
Bishapi acknowledged her with an impatient wave, then knelt
in front of Leia. For a moment, she expected him to touch her face gently,
say that he could not protect her forever. Instead, he spoke in a quieter
voice. "I admire your sense of duty, Your Highness," he said, "but Vader
does not deserve your trust, nor to have his own respected."
"That's not right..."
Bishapi had stood again, and was pulling at his hair. "He murdered
my brother with a flick of his wrist! He vaporized a shipload of physicians
near Corellia. He cares nothing for anyone's life, including his own,
and that is not human at all. Not any kind of thinking creature. Vader
is Palpatine's attack dog, Your Highness. If you start thinking of him
as anything else, he will only end up tearing your throat out."
"I will not do as you ask, Jaet."
She didn't see it coming. The back of Bishapi's hand came at
her like a hammer's blow, and she was thrown into the ratty couch. "What
kind of game do you think you're playing?" Then, his face horror-stricken,
he tried to help her up, muttering that he was sorry, that he hadn't meant
Leia stared at him, eyes wide. She'd always suspected he was
crazy, but in an eccentric, amusing way. Now, he was just mad. The man
she was seeing now was the man who had cut off his own foot to spite the
Saché pulled him back, and Mati and Tral helped subdue
him. Saché turned to Leia, who was still sitting on the couch,
stunned into immobility. "Get home, Leia. Take the longest route you can
and keep your eyes open. We'll take care of this."
Leia got up, dazed, and she stumbled out the door. She didn't
even head toward home. No matter how shocked and surprised she was, she
had enough wits to know that she might be followed. It wasn't until she
got back to the marketplace that she learned that the damage had already
been done. She didn't bother to hide her route back.
If there is an irony to betrayal, it is this:
Vader was more deeply fond of the princess than she was of him.
He valued being with a person who no longer shuddered at his appearance,
who spoke to him as she would speak to any other human being. He felt
fiercely protective of her, as he had of someone else, long ago.
Yet it had never occurred to him -- not even as she risked her
position to avoid betraying his trust -- that he should not complete the
task assigned to him.
He might have refused had he been asked to dispose of the princess
herself, but that order would not be given; she would too easily become
a martyr. Hurting her feelings was not a serious consideration.
As to her companions, he didn't give them a second thought.
Bishapi had ceased being a non-threat with his attack on the gubernatorial
shuttle. The others, whoever they would turn out to be, were undoubtedly
well aware of it, and involved just as deeply.
The spies had temporarily lost her in the public transportation,
but she had been spotted again, in the company of a woman whom the spies
had been unable to identify. It had taken only a few minutes to ascertain
which door they had disappeared behind.
As he had hoped, the princess left the meeting early. She disappeared
down an alley, then Vader ordered his troops inside.
The twelve stormtroopers blew the door inward with no trouble,
and a woman's scream told Vader that damage had already been done. He
walked through the smoke, and saw the broken body of a woman on the floor.
Dark hair, fine red gown. Half of her face was gone, but in a moment of
terrible memory, he recognized the other half. In another life, she had
been his friend.
Saché. The princess had come here with her mother.
The voice in Vader's mind howled in inchoate regret, but it
was too late to change this. Vader did not care for its input, and turned
it off as coolly as he could turn off a holo-projector. It fell silent.
Two more shots, and a man and woman went down. Senators. Tral
and Mati. He memorized their faces as well as he could. They were known
rebels, but had served their worlds honorably. He burned their faces into
his mind, so he would not forget the price paid to end this war once and
A wild yell, and Vader felt himself pummeled from the side.
There were shots, but Vader deflected them. He wanted some answers from
this, not just death. He took Bishapi by the throat, and held him a foot
above the floor. The bones in his neck were fragile, his windpipe easily
crushed. Vader's anger was hot and powerful. It was all he could do to
keep it under control.
He reached into the Force, pushed his way into Bishapi's mind
as far as he could go. It was easier like this, holding his life in one's
But the image that came first was what was first in Bishapi's
mind. Vader saw his fist rising, saw it striking Leia, saw her falling
back toward the wall. Before he could stop himself, his fist had tightened,
and he heard the crack of bones. Bishapi's eyes bulged outward. Vader
thought he was smiling in satisfaction. He threw the corpse across the
"Burn it!" He stooped to pick Saché up off the floor.
She, at least, would be properly honored.
Naboo, one week later.
Leia stood beside the pyre on the desolate world of Naboo, where
her mother had always expressed a desire to return at the end of things.
She tried to imagine it as it once was, but her mind was as scarred as
the land, and she could only see it through the veil of destruction. Her
father was by her side. A hot anger burned in her soul, blazing brighter
than the pyre before her. And a deep shame. It was her fault.
Always, it came back to Vader, in the end and in the beginning.
She had found him at the apartment, carrying her mother out of the fire.
Her first thought had been that he'd rescued her -- rescued! --
and then she'd seen the open wound on her mother's head, and understood
everything. He'd followed her. He'd used her to kill rebels, and to kill
her own mother. She had screamed in her fury. Vader had simply put her
mother's body in her arms. He had expressed some kind of sorrowful platitude,
and she had screamed again. She didn't know what she'd said. She had stayed
there, holding Saché's body until authorities arrived to take them
Vader. In the end and in the beginning. But now and forever,
it would be the end.
"It is not your fault, Leia," Bail said, putting his hands on
her shoulders. "It's a danger we all know. We all live with it. Your mother
knew this could happen."
"I didn't distrust him enough. She said so."
Bail said no more, and Leia knew it was because he couldn't
argue with it. She had allowed this to happen. It wouldn't happen again.
She looked across the pyre. People had gathered her on the ruined plains.
The Empire had the gall to send representatives. And far back, a prisoner
was guarded by a phalanx of stormtroopers. Bail had looked disturbed,
but said only that she was the last of Queen Amidala's handmaidens, now
that Saché was gone. The woman stood in lonely silence, heavily
hooded and weighed down with grief. When she had first appeared, Leia
had commented that she must have some clout to be released for a funeral.
Bail had said that, in all likelihood, it was not a privilege, but a punishment
-- she was being forced to witness the end of her world.
As was Leia. A tear burned out of her eye, cutting a path down
her cheek. Then the tears ended, and she watched her mother's body burn
with her anger rising higher and higher inside her.
Finally, the pyre collapsed, and the crowd began to disperse.
Leia paid little attention to the people passing her, wishing peace to
her and to her father. She nodded curtly to them. Then suddenly, the last
handmaiden stood before her. Her hood hid her face almost completely.
Leia waited for her to say "Peace to your soul, child" -- the common consolation
-- but instead she put her hand on Leia's shoulder and said, "Be mindful
of your anger, Leia. I see it in your eyes. It will have you."
Leia looked up, the hate rising with the anger. "I have a right
to be angry! That's my mother!"
"Take care not to buy your rights with your soul. Your mother
wouldn't want that."
The voice was gentle and soft, but Leia couldn't stand it. She
pulled away from the hand on her shoulder, and went to stand by the remains
of the pyre. The stormtroopers took the handmaiden away. Leia's father
waited until she was out of sight, then came to her. Leia wouldn't allow
his touch, either.
She stayed until the last ember burned out. Every flame was
recorded in her mind. She would push them back out, burn the Empire with
the heat of her fury.
It was not evident to the people around her. When she returned
to Coruscant, she was subdued, but she returned to her business, arguing
cases before Tarkin and organizing disaster relief for the unfortunate
worlds of the galaxy. She even used Imperial channels. It wouldn't do
to call attention to herself. No one blamed her for not speaking to Vader
anymore, and Vader never attempted to contact her.
There were rumors that she had been recruited by the Rebel spies
in the Senate, but there was no corroborating evidence. Bishapi's lair
had been burned clean. The Empire did not question her presence, because
they had been reminded that a senatorial inquiry into the "tragic accident"
might prove awkward. So Leia was allowed to go about her business.
She used her freedom well.
She had Zeria send her speeder bike from Alderaan. She could
use some other vehicle, but she had plans for this one. She contacted
Tarpals and Madine, and sent them to gather troops for assault. She prepared
the Tantive IV for a voyage, and scoured it for tracking devices.
She had no intention of following her scheduled flight plan. It wouldn't
take her directly where she was going, of course. It would develop engine
trouble somewhere near Sullust, where Madine had arranged for new transportation.
She had it planned. She would finish what Bishapi started, and
use the army her mother had built. She would go to La'azum. As soon as
everything, and everyone, was in place.
Vader arrived on La'azum a week after Rejuo informed him that
the final assembly work was set up. He wanted to inspect the components
for himself. Rejuo's modifications looked promising, providing steadier
and more precise handling. She had surprised even him by improving the
propulsion system on a whim. The new fleet would be able to outfly anything
the Alliance had.
Vader had been forbidden to join the Imperial contingent at
Naboo for Saché's funeral, and he suspected that he wouldn't have
been welcome. He had never seen such hate as had been in Leia's eyes when
she screamed at him. And screaming was all it had been -- a crazed, inarticulate
accusation. He'd thought she might lose hold after that. But the reports
from Coruscant said that she was adjusting after all. Vader had pulled
back the spies. Her circle of rebel companions was gone. Including Saché.
Vader's mind kept circling around memories he did not care to think about.
Leia was not the only one who would hate him for this death.
"My lord?" Rejuo said, breaking into his thoughts. "Are you
satisfied with the components?"
"Yes, Kel Rejuo. You have done well. I will see to it that you
are properly compensated. You have my personal apologies for the rather
substandard treatment you have received thus far."
"You owe me no apologies, Lord Vader," she mumbled, and looked
away. Vader picked up on a streak of embarrassed affection -- even a strange
kind of attraction -- and was taken aback by it. Surely, she was joking.
She led him out of the work area, where the component prototypes
had been placed for his inspection, and toward the offices. It was night,
and most of the workers had been given leave while the factory was converted
for its final push. Vader could hear his footsteps echoing.
Into this barely broken silence, the attack came without warning.
Most of the defenses around the plant had been placed to deflect
guerilla warfare, and had proved effective in stopping all rebel sabotage.
The rebels had never launched a full scale attack before, and precautions
had been woefully small in this area.
An explosion rocked the north wing of the building, and the
roof above them was torn away. Vader saw the shadow of a boxy X-wing fighter,
then the blast of a laser canon. He pulled Rejuo toward an exit. Flames
lit the hallway as another X-wing fired on the building.
"The components!" Rejuo shouted, running toward the workroom.
Vader pulled her back. "Leave them!" he ordered. "Get out of
Another ship began its bombing run. Vader used the Force to
knock it violently off course, and was gratified to hear it crash into
the rocks beyond the perimeter.
Vader and Rejuo reached the factory's exit just as the roof
fell in behind them, sending out a cloud of metal fragments. Vader looked
back at it involuntarily, then noticed that Rejuo had fallen still beside
him. He turned back to her, and noticed the rebel ten feet away, sitting
quietly on a speeder bike,
wrapped in camouflage from head to toe, goggles over her eyes.
"Goodbye," she said, and raised a blaster. It was not aimed
at either Vader or Rejuo, but at the ground. She fired before Vader comprehended
what she was doing. A wall of flame shot up in a semi-circle around the
door, closing them in. A flame tasted the edge of Vader's cape, and licked
The rebel watched this, then turned the speeder bike around,
and deliberately accelerated past the normal range. Into the range he
had installed four years before.
Vader pushed the fire away, and got Rejuo out of the circle,
pushing her back toward the wall to stand between her and a further attack,
though he didn't believe one was coming. Leia had done what she'd come
to do. He let part of his cape burn away, but stopped the flame before
it did any real damage.
She had watched him burn. Stood and watched and waited for it.
And let him know who she was. She had --
An explosion rocked the building, and the wall burst outward
in a shower of metal and fire. Vader was clear of it, but Rejuo, standing
in its protection, was struck from behind. He saw it like a terrible nightmare,
her small body crushed under a pile of bricks, her hair lit in an obscene
halo of fire, her face distorted by the heat of it. He used the Force
to push the bricks outward, unheeding of them as they glanced off his
armor, then picked her up carefully. She was gasping for breath, and blood
trailed from her nose.
There would be time later for anger at Leia -- a lot of time
-- but now, he had to get medical attention for Rejuo. He carried her
to his shuttle -- somehow missed in the general destruction -- and flew
her up to the Inferno, where a medical droid would be waiting in
his chamber. He could hear her labored breathing from the shadows, a horrible
echo of his own. Worse, he could hear her moaning in pain. She was awake,
and he didn't dare let her slip into unconscious oblivion.
A squadron of TIE fighters flew out in formation to defend the
shuttle. Most had been involved in the attack on the Rebel ships, but
the short battle seemed to be over. They escorted him to the docking bay,
and then he sent them to hunt down any remaining ships in the sector.
The Rebellion would not emerge from this unscathed.
He stayed with Rejuo in the chamber as the droid tended her.
Her eyes flitted from fixture to fixture, terrified of her reflection.
"All will be well," he said.
She coughed, then cried for the pain of it. Her lungs were crushed.
She would need a respirator, and soon.
The feather weight of her hand on his arm. He turned to her.
"You are in need of something?"
She nodded. "Can't... " she said. Her good arm gestured weakly
at her chest, her body. "Can't... do this."
"It is unpleasant," Vader agreed. "But livable."
"Can't," she said again, turning her wounded face from him.
A jumble of images came into his mind, as she pushed them out
at him in a desperate plea. She saw herself within the Empire, the constant
snickering raised to a new level. She saw herself among her own people,
shunned for the life she'd chosen off-world. And her face...
He heard her sob. Her beautiful face was a ruin. She wasn't
a vain woman, but this seemed to cut her most deeply. Vader understood
this better than she thought.
"Help me," she whispered again. "Please."
He stood beside the examining table, tilted up to forty-five
degrees to ease her breathing while the droid worked. "You are certain?"
Her eyes blinked rapidly, and she nodded. A gasp for air.
Vader dismissed the surgeon droid. "Then it comes to this."
"Yes... Lord Vader... I... "
He sensed the words she meant to speak, and did not wish her
to say them. He wouldn't have her last experience be a rejection. "I shall
miss you," he said. "You will not be forgotten."
"...thank you... for... all. I would not... have it... otherwise."
Her eyes slid shut, and he thought the she might slip away on
her own, but she didn't. They opened again, deep with pain and grief.
He placed his hand over her throat, caressed it gently. "You are certain?"
he asked, one last time.
"Certain," she whispered.
He brushed her hair carefully away from her face with his free
hand. "Goodbye, my friend," he said, and pressed down with his thumb.
He felt her windpipe collapse under the pressure, and the life slipped
out of her quickly. The corpse did not look peaceful. They never did.
It just looked empty. He called for the medical droids to have her taken
care of. She would be buried with Imperial honors.
Leia's face rose up in his mind, the hateful, cold set of her
chin as she'd fired. He saw the flames rising up again, the wall collapsing,
Rejuo falling beneath it. And Leia, watching. Waiting.
His rage was not hot, but cold and reassuring. The game was
over. She had chosen, and she had betrayed him. There would be no more
coddling of this child, no more protection. She had put herself outside
the circle of his life. The voice in his mind could howl all it liked;
he would give it no quarter.
At least not now.
Later, perhaps, on Coruscant, the walls closed around him and
the thin gold chain twisted around his fingers... then, just maybe he
would let that voice speak, if it still had something to say. Maybe he
would mourn his own broken heart. Maybe he would speak to... to HER...
in his mind, as he had been wont to do in the past, holding her few remaining
possessions to his heart.
Or maybe he would finally throw them into the incinerator where
they belonged, and have done with it.
Leia was shaking when she reached her transport, hidden in the
hills of La'azum, and her stomach couldn't take the pressure change upon
liftoff. She had never been sick in flight before.
The pilot was in high spirits, congratulating her on a successful
first mission. It wasn't a victory, precisely -- the Alliance had gained
nothing but time -- but hadn't it been grand? Hadn't they showed the Empire
that they were to be taken seriously now?
Leia saw the flames in her mind, creeping up the edge of Vader's
cape. The woman beside him, jumping desperately away.
What have I become?
She arrived on Sullust, and General Madine led her back to the
Tantive IV. "Engines are fixed, Your Highness." He flashed her
"I watched a man burn."
Madine said nothing to her. He led her onto her ship, and got
her to her quarters. "Rest," he finally said. "You need sleep."
"I wanted to kill him."
"Get some rest. I'll get Captain Antilles. He'll have you safe
on Coruscant in no time."
Leia took the order. She laid down on the great, soft bed that
had been provided as an ambassadorial perk. She'd never slept in it, but
now, she was so tired, so...
I watched him burn.
The tears didn't come suddenly. They began slowly and unimpressively,
building bit by bit into a torrent. But they were silent. Leia didn't
even know she was crying when she finally drifted off to sleep, though
crying was the first thing she was aware of in her dream.
It was not her own. It was just a soft sound in the abyss, far
below her. She was trapped again in the web of spun glass, her hands and
feet bleeding from the cuts. The web shattered, and she fell into the
A cool wind caught her, placed her gently down on solid nothingness.
Beside her, her birth mother was sitting on a rock, back to the world,
crying in the dark. Leia reached out to her.
"Go away. You are not my daughter."
Leia looked down at herself. She was dressed in one of her white
gowns, but it was drenched in blood. She screamed.
"What did you expect?" her mother asked.
"I didn't mean to -- I never wanted to -- "
"That is a lie."
Leia fell to her knees in front of her mother. "Please! Forgive
me! I'm sorry! I'll never... Oh, I swear, I can't be like this! Please!
Time in dreams is strange -- it seemed both instantaneous and
an eternity before Leia felt the cool finger lift her face up. Her mother's
eyes, blue as the desert sky, glowed softly in the darkness. "My Leia,"
she said. "My beautiful girl."
The relief was palpable. Leia felt her entire body relax, and
she fell into her mother's arms. When she looked down at herself, she
saw that the blood was fading from her gown. "I won't go down that path,"
she promised, over and over. "I won't. I can't."
"You can. But you won't. You're turning back now." A gentle
hand cupped her face, the thumb caressing her cheekbone. She looked up.
Her mother was smiling again, soft and sad.
There was a crackling sound in the darkness, and Leia looked
up to see the web reforming itself in the emptiness, beautiful and distant.
Then she became aware of the other sound, the harsh breathing.
Her mother stood, agitated. "He is angry, Leia. You need to
hide, and hide well. He will not forgive you. Do not ask."
Leia glanced around fearfully. The sound was everywhere.
"You'll be safe here," her mother said, pulling around the rock
she had been sitting on, which Leia could now see was a trunk, or perhaps
it hadn't been a trunk until she saw that it was. "But you must hurry.
He'll see. He can't miss his own -- "
Leia shook her head, willing the sentence not to be finished.
"You have your father's heart and your mother's love," she said.
"Be still and strong."
Leia climbed into the trunk, and the cover closed. She was still
and strong She was wrapped in the warm sent of flowers and her truemother,
hidden once again, and safe.
The trunk was set carefully aside, in its place beside the door.
It was not opened again. Nor was it incinerated.