Leia let her feet carry her across the sand. She
didn't think about them much. That was one thing that
both Father and Yoda had been pleased with in
training her - she had always trusted her own
surefootedness, and didn't waste their time tripping
over debris in the Palace or rocks here in the
desert. She rarely missed a step.
Except for the big one at Naboo.
Sending Luke's old squadron against Luke and
Father had been -
A sharp tap on her shoulder broke her train of
thought. "Feel it, I can, when lose
concentration you do," Yoda said. "The
past, you cannot change. Going to battle, your men
knew they were. And broke orders meant for their
safety, they did. Forward, you must bring your mind.
Dwell on the past, you cannot."
"The past is only a few hours ago, Master.
It's barely the past."
"To the past, one hour is one thousand years.
No changes can you bring. Only learn from it, you
"What if I didn't learn in time? I have half
a dozen other projects going on that are about as
dangerous as this was supposed to be."
"Soldiers, are your men," Yoda said. His
voice was quiet and sounded sandy. "Know there
is danger when agree to fight, they do."
"No but." He gave a shaky sigh. "To
Obi-Wan's home, we should go. Weary, I am."
Leia frowned, and picked up her speed. She knew in
some part of her mind that she was running
considerably beyond any previous capacity she'd had
for speed, but she wasn't tired. She felt no strain
in her limbs or her lungs.
She slowed when she saw Kenobi's hut, and was
walking by the time they reached the door. Yoda was
breathing heavily in his pack, as though he had been
the one running. She moved him carefully and helped
him out. "Master?"
He looked up at her weakly. "Inside, we must
go. Good for me, this sun is not."
Leia agreed. She opened the door and all but
carried him inside. The medical droid was in the
corner. She started for it.
"Leave it," Yoda said.
She froze. "Master, you need to be
rehydrated. And medication... "
"Already beyond my time am I." He rested
himself on a low bench against Obi-Wan's wall and
smiled. "Ah. Here, Luke sat once. Feel traces of
him, I do. Touch the Force, all things do... shape it
and give it texture. All things... all times.
Everything we do... remembered in the Force it is.
Remembered for good, remembered for evil. Leia...
Leia realized that she was frightened only when
she tried to move and found that her legs were
trembling. She held out a hand experimentally and saw
that it was trembling. "Master... "
"To me, you must come," Yoda whispered.
She forced her legs forward and knelt beside the
small bench. "Master, you were getting stronger.
If you'd let the droid -"
Yoda laughed briefly. "Stronger than the
Force is your droid, Leia?"
"It's not about the Force. It's... "
"Died long ago, I would have, without the
Force. Old, I am, Leia. Old and weak. Nothing can
your droid do."
"But I've learned so little."
"Little had you to learn when you came to
me." He closed his eyes. "Practice, you
need. But a good teacher was your father, in many
matters. Benefited you, a master would have, but the
skills, you have. And learned, you did in the desert,
to see what is beyond what you see with your
"I don't understand. I saw them as they were.
If the past is the past... "
"And learn from it, you can. Know, you do,
who they are, who you are. Know, you do, who you can
become if careful you are not."
"I haven't had enough practice. Master,
"The Force will be with you. Let it guide
you, should you need to fight."
Leia looked away from his wasted body. Questions
boiled inside her, sent steam through her blood. But
like steam, they would not take solid shape. Images
flooded her mind - Mother, as a young woman, hiding
her in a trunk. Mother leaning over her sickbed on
Naboo. Father teaching Luke. Luke lying injured on
Hoth, his face covered by a bacta mask. Father
standing outside the circle of the family, looking in
from behind his impenetrable mask, his sense of
exclusion palpable even to Leia. The faraway look in
Mother's eyes, when the madness fell away for its
ever briefer interludes. Luke, kissing her cheek
gently just before she'd helped Han escape. The
images blurred into one another in a rising bubble, a
question so huge that there was no way to ask it.
She opened her mouth. A single, unintelligible
sound came from her throat, and she bit her lip in
A warm - hot - hand fell on her wrist. "Love
them, you do," Yoda said gently.
Leia shook her head, then nodded, then shook her
head again. "I... Mother and Luke, maybe, once,
"Love them, you do," Yoda repeated.
"What do I do with that, Master Yoda?"
"Know, I do not. But breaks the shadows for
you, it does." One finger tapped the protruding
bone on her wrist in a gesture of comfort.
"Defeat them, you must. On this, all
"I know that."
"But no victory will there be if swallowed by
the darkness are you. Much anger you have.
"I thought we'd decided that I loved
"Like your father... love, hate, anger,
desire... all in one place they are for you,
entangled. Separate them, you must."
"Then all is lost." He sighed, and his
body shuddered. His eyes closed.
Leia pulled a blanket over him reflexively. Her
hands weren't merely trembling now, but full-out
shaking, the nerves jumping. "I'll try, Yoda.
Master. But I need your help."
"Help you with this battle, I cannot.
Understand it, I do not." He opened his eyes
again. "Knew this about your brother I did not
when he left me on Dagobah. A mistake, it was. A
grave loss to the Force was his desertion."
"I know... "
"The Force... " He struggled for another
breath. Leia rubbed his chest to help loosen it. He
nodded gratefully. "Know, you do, the truth in
your heart, Leia Skywalker."
"Organa," Leia said automatically.
"Past is the time for veils and deceptions. A
good man was Bail Organa, and a great kindness he
did. For this, you must honor him. But a Skywalker
you are, Leia. Seek not comfort behind the veil of
your past, or suffer your mother's fate you will.
Seek not comfort behind the mask of a future that
will not be, or suffer your father's fate you will.
Seek not to salve your own wound before the
"Or suffer my brother's fate I will?"
Leia asked, horrified to hear a trace of sarcasm in
her voice, now of all times.
But Yoda didn't seem offended. His lips twisted
upward in a mild smile. "You are yourself,"
he whispered. "Your own fate, you will choose.
Leia... " His voice trailed away.
"Yoda? Master... " She leaned forward.
The hand on her wrist tapped once, twice.
"Leia... Do not let... the Order... disappear.
Do not... be the last... "
Something seemed to move through the hut like a
warm breeze. Leia felt it tug at the strands of hair
that had strayed from her bun. Yoda pulled in a
breath, let it out, and did not breathe again.
"Yoda? Oh, come on, not now... " Leia
reached to pull the blanket down again, to try and
get his heart and lungs going again, but as she did
so, her fingers slipped through nothing. Yoda was
still there, but she could see through him to the
wall of Obi-Wan's house.
And then he was gone.
She was alone.
And she had no idea how to do what she needed to
Vader's strides across the length of Amidala's
quarters were uneven and rapid, as he paced back and
forth, over and over, while the transport finished
the last leg of its journey to Tatooine. He was
trying to work off his agitation and restlessness and
had been for some time now. Nothing seemed to be
He was grateful for this time alone. Amidala had
matters to attend to before they arrived, and she was
currently on the bridge. She didn't need to see him
this way, especially after the battle near the Ciru
Expanse. She had been afraid for him, and for Luke,
and it would do her no good to see him shaken, even
though the Rebels were not the cause.
Luke had decided to stay out with the security
forces that were protecting the transport. There were
only four of the original six Imperial fighters out
there with him, but Vader wasn't concerned. It would
be up to Luke to take on any other threats, and Vader
could be out to help him almost instantly.
So he was here, by himself, trying in vain to sort
through his jumbled thoughts.
The simple proximity to Tatooine hung darkly over
all his other confusion. He had not returned to the
planet after...after his mother...and hadn't allowed
himself many thoughts of it after that occurrence.
The thought of being back there again was unsettling,
no matter how much time had passed, and he was having
difficulty unraveling his anxieties.
Still, he had started preparing himself for this
as soon as Amidala had first began discussing and
planning the idea of the Guard movement. Even in its
infant stages, the movement was clearly designed with
his old homeworld in mind. The boy he had once been
had become a Jedi so many years ago in part because
he wanted the power to fix Tatooine for himself, his
Mother, for nearly everyone there. Now that he had
the power, he knew that no memories or ghosts were
going to keep him from being there to wield it, and
finally see the changes happen.
Tatooine's past was not the problem. Not the
entire problem, at least.
The Force felt splintered around him, pulling him
off in many different directions, none of which he
fully comprehended. He thought briefly about
meditating, but didn't think he'd be able to be still
for long enough to make a worthwhile attempt. He
continued his pacing, and tried to throw his mind
down one of the paths, and wrestle with it until
something came to him clearly.
All that came to him eventually was a vague sense
of Luke, but he decided to follow it along. He was
seeing him out in front of the ship, in his fighter,
exuding a bit more confidence and calm than he had
been lately. Vader knew that letting their arguments
rest since leaving Naboo had contributed to Luke's
settled feeling, and if Vader hadn't felt so
otherwise agitated, he would have shared that relief.
Vader had little desire to restart their
disagreements, and knew it would only be a
distraction once they arrived.
Vader frowned, his steps slowing slightly. He
hoped his apprehension wasn't a sign that something
more was going to happen. Luke had been upset with
his father, but Vader truly did not believe the boy
would do something to further upset things between
Maybe something already had happened.
That thought seemed to be the trigger to his being
pulled sharply in another direction, as he tried to
hold onto the fractious Force around him. He began to
feel a strong sense of loss - not a personal one, so
much as a loss to the Force itself. It was not a
sensation he was unfamiliar with...during the Wars
when so many Jedi had died, he had felt this way
often, no matter what side he happened to be fighting
on at the time. The loss of any powerful Force-user
was a blow felt by them all.
A confused fear ran through him as he made certain
that he wasn't sensing anything centered around Leia.
He just needed to be sure...but it was a foolish
concern. Leia's death would have affected him much,
much more powerfully.
Someone familiar. He could not make out a face, or
a voice, but there was a mixture of strength and
power and criticism and reproach that he had
immediately and always associated with only one Jedi.
Yoda had died. Just now, it seemed. Vader had
assumed that he had died decades ago, but now -
He stopped short. Luke, apparently, had
lied again, at least through his silence this time,
if nothing else. Perhaps that was what Vader had
sensed around his son that was so perplexing.
Perhaps. Luke's lies had a way of twisting the Force
link between them, and that was likely the answer to
his part of the puzzle.
Vader decided he would deal with that later. For
now, he allowed himself to drift back toward Yoda,
and to the place in the Force that was wounded with
his passing. There were many other things there,
things tied up with Yoda and his death. Vader's
pacing finally came to a stop, and he stood unmoving
in the middle of the room.
Tatooine came back to him, but it wasn't thoughts
of his mother. Not clearly anyway. Yoda was still at
Yoda had been on Tatooine?
Even before the question truly formed, Vader knew
the answer. Of course, he had been on Tatooine.
Leia was there.
A familiar burn sparked in him, one that lit every
time he thought of the Jedi meddling in his family's
affairs...like they had when he had wanted to save
his mother...or, like now, with Leia, as they
attempted to turn his family against itself for their
own gains. And of all Jedi to be with Leia - Yoda?
Vader's concerns over whatever it was that Leia
had planned next only intensified as he considered
her taking the Jedi Master's counsel. He was unable
to guess what advice she might receive or whether or
not she would listen. He did know that he didn't want
her under Yoda's influence.
He was suddenly pulled in yet another direction,
as the thought occurred to him that Yoda was not his
biggest problem at this point.
He didn't want Leia on Tatooine. At all.
It was a visceral reaction, one that had little to
do with the trouble she was no doubt plotting for her
family upon their arrival. He could almost see her
there now, wincing against the glare of the suns and
shielding herself against the sand and wind.
She appeared to him clearly for a moment, and it
almost looked to him like she belonged there, simply
from her dress and hair...
My place is here, my future is here...
No good had ever come to his family on Tatooine,
and he could sense nothing good for them there now.
He didn't wish to dwell on the past - on his
enslavement, on his mother, on Owen or Beru -
especially since this was supposed to be the start of
a new time on the planet. And he knew that Amidala
was determined to go ahead with her plans in defiance
of Leia, and that the sentiment behind that was
probably the correct one.
But the sense of dread was there. Too painful to
consider and too familiar to ignore.
Vader violently shook his head then, and tried to
pull himself out of the throws of the Force. This was
all still too puzzling to sort through. For now, he
had to focus on the mission.
Almost on cue, his communicator came to life.
"My Lord, we have entered Tatooine's orbit.
Her Majesty requests that you join her on the bridge
as we approach the main headquarters."
"I will be there shortly," Vader
replied. He gave his head a final shake, and then
left to join his wife.
Luke had felt a profound sense of peace when he'd
come out of hyperspace over the Tatooine system, a
sense of anticipation, of impending completion. He
had time to think, So this is what it means to
come home, then suddenly, the feeling collapsed.
He felt as though he'd been rising with the water in
a pool, only to have the drain thrust open, sending
him swirling down into the blackness.
Out of the shadows, a voice came. Found someone
you have I would say, mmm? ... No. Stay and help you
I will! ...Yoda. It is Yoda you seek, mmm?
His hand jerked on the controls of the fighter,
sending him in an unexpected direction. He swerved to
avoid his wingman, drawing in a shaky breath and
trying to pull away from the feelings that were
coming at him through the Force.
Yoda was here.
Or rather, Yoda had been here.
He had passed into the Force.
And there was no chance at all that Father hadn't
Luke waited for the blast of anger to come at him.
That it did not do so immediately was hardly cause
for relief - experience with Father had taught him
that anger could easily erupt belatedly, over a
seemingly unrelated incident. But no matter what
ground he chose to fight the battle on, it would be
about this, the last lie.
Why had he perpetuated it? He owed Yoda no
It didn't matter. Whatever storm was coming would
come. Luke did not believe that Father would destroy
him - it would be self-defeating - but life could
become very uncomfortable very quickly. He could feel
Father's disturbed and distracted presence on the
cruiser... it would have to boil into something.
He gritted his teeth and resigned himself to the
inevitable fight that would come on the surface, then
began the landing sequence.
The sun glare blinded him for a moment when he
entered the atmosphere, then the familiar expanse of
the Dune Sea swam up before him. There was a group of
mesas at the center of the Sea, equidistant from
Tatooine's three major spaceports, and it was here
that Mother's Guard project had built its
headquarters. The sight lines to the cities were
clear, and the internal communications system that
Mother would ceremonially start up tomorrow would
give instant access to the full Guard, to any
individual member of the Guard, or to any group of
the commanders' choosing, at any time. Receivers and
transmitters had been implanted in the men
themselves, giving them nearly the power of
communication that Luke and Father shared. They could
be awakened or recalled from any point to any point,
with no time wasted. The central headquarters would
be able to keep an eye on cities, settlements, and
Tusken camps equally, and its security equipment -
also set to trigger the comm system - would alert
them to all questionable movements.
The system had proved its effectiveness elsewhere,
and Luke thought that it - combined with unbending
Imperial law - might well be what could finally tame
He guided the fighter into the hangar, which had
been built directly into a mesa, using the natural
rock as a cooling mechanism. A regiment of the guard
was waiting there, forming up to greet him.
Undoubtedly, other regiments were creating a larger
honor guard for Mother's arrival.
He popped the hatch and climbed down, giving the
captain of the guard a nod. "Her Majesty's ship
should be only minutes behind me," he said.
The captain bowed. "Yes, Lord Skywalker. We
received word to prepare for her at the North
"Thank you. I will join them."
"I... " The captain swallowed hard.
"Lord Skywalker... your... ?"
Luke closed his eyes. "My father?" he
prompted. It was worse than he thought. Father had
neither tried to communicate through the Force nor
contacted him directly.
"Er, yes. His Lordship -"
"Suggests I not attend?"
"Yes, sir. He asks you to meet him on the
"We've converted the top of the mesa into a
training area for operations carried out in desert
extremes. Access is through the turbolift in the rear
"Very well, Captain. You may attend Her
The guard turned smartly and marched in unison
toward another hangar. Luke divested himself of his
flight suit, put his lightsaber on his belt, and
headed for the turbolift. It rose quickly, and opened
out onto the sun-scorched rock.
He concentrated on his body, trying to help it
adjust more quickly to the environment. It was a
trick he'd needed to teach himself, though Father had
told him about it - Father's suit took care of such
regulatory matters. In this case, it didn't take
much. Adjusting his body to Tatooine was rather like
turning a computer back to its default settings.
By the time he had finished, he could hear the
applause as Mother's ship touched down on the other
side of the camp. Father's presence still felt
distracted, though Luke caught the idea that he was
meant to begin training alone; Father would join him.
He looked around the mesa and found several loose
rocks, which would serve for the exercise Father
generally insisted on at the Palace. He was far more
focused on levitation and non-conventional combat
tactics than Yoda had been.
Luke gathered the Force to him, and sent the rocks
up into the air, creating patterns of motion in the
space over his head. Once they were all going and he
had detached himself enough to treat their flight as
nearly random, he drew his lightsaber, and began
calling them to himself. As each flew at him, he
sliced it easily and let it clatter to the ground.
It was pointless as an exercise - no matter how
much he tried to fool himself, he knew he was
controlling the rocks and he knew which one he was
going to call from which angle - but it was
physically satisfying in some way, and he kept it
going until he felt Father's presence surge as the
turbolift doors opened and let him onto the deck.
Four rocks came at him simultaneously. He swung
cleanly and got three in one swipe. The fourth, he
hit with an upstroke... just as a fifth hit him
between his shoulder blades, hard enough to send a
sharp tingling along the nerves that spread out from
"You are distracted," Father said
"I missed one, Father."
"One is all that is needed in combat, as I
have told you repeatedly when you have failed this
exercise." Father's voice was electronically
modulated, and showed very little variation in tone,
but to Luke, it sounded tight and on the verge of
breaking control. He let himself dip into Father's
feelings, and pulled away quickly - there was
something disturbing him deeply.
Yoda. It's Yoda. You've lied, and he knows it.
"You must never have an unguarded side,"
Father went on. "Be aware of all your
surroundings. Be aware -"
Father stopped, cocked his head to one side.
"I am well aware of that, my son, and we will
discuss it in depth at a later date. There are more
pressing concerns than your errors at the
"Yoda trained me. On Dagobah, after Ben...
Obi-Wan... died. Obi-Wan also -"
The rock came from his left, and he never sensed
its motion before it slammed into his shoulder.
"Father, please, I am trying to tell you
Another rock struck him, this one just above his
"You are distracted," Father said again.
"I'm sorry. I'm trying to tell you that I'm
He felt a slight disturbance in the air behind
him, and spun to send a rock crashing to the ground.
Just as quickly, he spun back to face Father -
Only to find Father's ignited lightsaber only
inches from his face, too close to have formed a
defense if Father's aim had been an actual attack.
For a long time, Luke stared across the laser at
him, trying to read his face through the mask, trying
to make sense of the strong but nameless feeling that
was coming from him.
Father stepped back and sheathed the lightsaber,
hooking it onto his belt. "We are not subtle to
one another, Luke. You should not have missed
"I'm trying to apologize."
"I care for neither your apology nor your
regret. Your sister is undoubtedly planning some sort
of attack. You cannot afford the weakness of
"I understand, Father."
"Be alert, Luke, to all things on this
"You must not allow yourself to lose track of
"This world is full of hidden dangers."
"I know." Luke waited for the rocks to
begin flying again, but they didn't.
He turned away. "I was aware that you must
have had further training after Obi-Wan's demise. And
I was aware that your mother had been concealing some
long ago contact with another Jedi master. It was
simply the identity of that master which had eluded
me. That identity is no longer relevant."
Luke frowned. Father did not seem to be lying. His
emotion level was high and his anger was real, but it
seemed to genuinely be directed at Luke's failure in
Father looked back at him. "When the attack
begins, as it undoubtedly will, I want you to remain
at your mother's side here at headquarters, whatever
else is going on. I want her constantly under your
"Yes, Father. Although I might be able to
protect her better from the lines."
"You will remain at headquarters." He
squared his shoulders, almost a challenge to
argument. "I have lost one of my children to the
Rebellion," he added simply, as though it were
the most obvious thing in the world. "I will not
lose the other, nor will I lose my wife."
Luke nodded dubiously. He was accustomed to
Father's possessiveness about the family, but this
went far beyond what he had experienced so far. It
was more frightening than his rages.
The turbolift doors opened again.
"Meditate," Father instructed as he stepped
inside. "Learn to sense everything moving near
you. Master this lesson, Luke. Today." The doors
Luke stared after him until he could no longer
hear the motion of the lift.
With Yoda gone Leia found herself feeling
completely untethered, without a sense of direction
or a point of reference to center her. She wanted,
more than anything, to have him back.
She wanted to ask one more question. She needed to
clarify one last confusion. She needed...she
She had no idea what exactly she would have asked,
even if she had somehow been given the chance. It was
all just too much.
But then, any question that came to mind would
have to be helpful. She was certain she needed every
bit of help she could possibly get.
She was annoyed at herself for becoming so
attached to someone whom she knew wouldn't be with
her long. It was the first thing she had told herself
upon seeing Yoda - small, sick, old, Yoda -
but in the end it hadn't stopped her from becoming
comfortable in his presence, and even glad to have
him around. Most times. And now?
Now she was even more acutely aware of the burden
that rested on her, and she hadn't thought that
possible after leaving Naboo.
Leia pulled her head up out of her hands, and
looked at the spot where Yoda had rested one last
time. He still wasn't there.
She had been sitting in Kenobi's home for far too
long. There was precious little time left before the
Rebels' attack and she wasn't doing a thing to help.
Yoda's place had never been in the planning and
the fighting anyway. This was something she could
still do on her own.
Yoda's last words were ringing in her head, but
she also felt that there were things that were
simply...bigger than her personal issues with her
She snorted to herself. Was anything bigger
than her issues with her family?
Well, some things were certainly simpler to deal
with. With that, she pulled herself up and moved
slowly out of the hovel. She was back in the desert,
but she barely registered the heat as she trudged
back to where the Rebel's makeshift base had been set
up. It was a long and lonely walk.
The first person she was able to make out upon her
return was Han. He was surrounded by several
officers, explaining things and giving out orders,
but was obviously waiting near the edge of the base
for her to return.
As soon as he noticed her, he dismissed everyone
around and began jogging toward her. His hands went
to his shoulders when he reached her, and he almost
instinctively looked behind her and to either side of
her, a puzzled look on his face. The question he had
almost didn't need asking.
"He's gone, Han," she whispered.
"He died shortly after I took him back to the
"The med droid couldn't help him?"
Leia glanced up at him, and found him much more
surprised than she had anticipated. "No...it was
too late. It's probably been too late for a while
now. He was sick, and old. It was a matter of time,
Han shrugged. "I know. But I guess I don't
understand how this Jedi thing works. I guess I
thought he'd just be able to hang around as long as
he needed to."
Leia bristled as the isolated feeling came back at
her and made her feel cold in the desert sun. She
looked away from him and tried to regain her
"Are you all right, Leia? Did your...training
"I think we're going to have to wait and see
on that count. Too early to tell," she replied.
"He seemed to think that he had done enough,
Han's face contorted into a look that plainly said
that he didn't know how to reassure her or help her.
Leia didn't answer, because she didn't know either.
He finally settled for a long, solid hug, and Leia
thought that might do for the time being.
The sound of a speeder roared up loudly behind
them and Leia pulled away from Han as Lando came up
right next to them and jumped out of the driver's
She was feeling pleased that Lando didn't look any
worse for wear, but that initial evaluation didn't
hold up for very long. His eyes met theirs dismally,
and his whole countenance was grim. She checked him
over again, and could find no real sign of injury.
"You all right?" Han asked, also looking
his friend over. "What happened out there?
What'd they do?"
He looked back and forth between the two them, and
then shook his head several times as though he were
having a silent conversation with himself. He didn't
answer Han's questions.
Leia glanced at Han, then ventured,
"They decided to help us."
He tone was bitter, which only confused Leia more.
"That's a positive thing, isn't it? Lando,
you're back sooner than we anticipated, you seem to
be safe and sound and the Tuskens have signed
on to joined us. That's more than I was counting on
and the most that anyone could have done." She
tried to give him a smile. "I knew we had sent
the right man to do the job." His only response
was a withering look. "What? What is it? Are
you all right? Please, Lando, you need to tell us
"Your Highness, I did exactly as you asked,
"But what?" Han prodded.
"Leia, how much do know about these Tuskens?
"I know pretty much what I told you before
you left." She knitted her eyebrows and stared
at him, trying to decipher what he was getting at.
"I don't send my people into missions blind when
I can help it. You know what I know."
"Please, remind me."
"They are people my father...'dealt
with'...in his own unique way the last time he was on
this planet. It was years ago - decades ago, before
Luke and I were born, but I doubt it was something
any of them would have forgotten. Can you imagine a
primitive race having to face Darth Vader? I thought
"Why did he do it?"
"Leia, I know your father doesn't always need
a real provocation to do what he does. But the
Tuskens strike me as a people who would happily
provide a very good reason."
"Do you know the circumstances?"
"Lando!" she finally snapped, her voice
rising with her frustration. "Get to the
"These people aren't innocents, Your
Highness, not at all, not in any meaningful way that
I could see. If the basis for you aligning with them
is that you see them as victims of Vader...well, you
had better be sure. What did they do? What was
the story you heard?"
For the first time, Leia faltered. She searched
her memory for any stray piece of information she
might have missed, but came up with nothing.
"The story came to me in bits in pieces. Neither
he nor mother liked to discuss it in any great
detail. He was shamed about it, Lando. Can you even
imagine what he must have done? To still feel shamed
into near silence about it after all this time?"
He looked as if he were about to continue to argue
the point, but Leia cut him off. "Enough. What
did they say when you went to them? What
"They said they'll help. But they don't plan
on officially joining us, and don't seem to have any
intention of following anyone's orders."
Han's reaction came immediately. "What the
hell is that supposed to mean?"
"They weren't terribly interested in giving
me explanations." Lando's eyes rested on Leia,
and he waited for her response.
"They're nomads, Lando, and they're somewhat
primitive. I'm sure they don't often join organized
military resistance of any type. The fact that
they've expressed a willingness to help-"
"Don't they often raid the settlements and
farms and cities around here? And they're planning to
be there under no one's supervision in the middle of
"You made the offer. They accepted. What do
you want me to do? We've played our hand to them
already, and we can't exactly take back the knowledge
they've been given. They're aware of the
attack." Leia pulled herself up tall to give
Lando a conversation-ending stare. "You forget
that they have as much to lose - more! - than almost
anyone else on this planet. What's done is
Lando was now looking to Han for help, but Leia
ignored that and walked away, telling them she had an
attack to finish planning. She tried, again, to
ignore the wish that Yoda would come again so she
could talk to him. She had decisions to make, and she
had to make them on her own.
Piett had been somewhat nervous when Lord Vader
had decided to meet with Commander Dihave.
It wasn't Dihave's skill as an engineer - Piett
had met him during a brief stint he'd done as a
professor at the Academy, where he had been a
brilliant student... brilliant enough that Piett had
covered for him when he was caught tinkering with the
check-in droids to make it look like he wasn't coming
in four hours past curfew. They had something of an
understanding after that; Dihave had steeled himself
to put on the right face to finish up his education,
and Piett helped smooth over the feathers he ruffled
trying to get things done.
Lord Vader would certainly have noticed the
ruffled feathers lying around. Piett - whose way
Vader had eased more than once - was worried that he
would lose the Dark Lord's trust. It could be deadly,
but Piett's concern was more personal. He did not
wish to lose Vader's good opinion, or that of the
But Vader had not been angry with him. When they
had met shortly after Vader's conversation with
Dihave, the Dark Lord had simply complimented Piett
on assembling a talented engineering team, and asked
him to review Imperial capabilities with Dihave
before settling on a strategy. Piett already held
Vader in high esteem; this unexpected response raised
Even more surprising than Lord Vader's attitude
had been Dihave's response to it. Piett had visited
the workshop four times in as many days, and Dihave
had been in uniform every time. It was even possible
that the uniforms were being properly laundered
between wearings. Dihave hadn't quite been able to
cut his hair, but it had been neatly combed and
Of course, he still forgot to stand and salute
when Piett came in, choosing instead to look over his
shoulder and flash a greeting smile.
"Admiral," he said. "I was just
wondering if you'd be coming again today."
"I will be here every day, Commander."
"Good. We cleaned up around here, just for
Piett glanced around the workshop. There were some
streaks on the floor that looked like they may have
been made by a janidroid, and several items which had
been strewn carelessly on the long tables appeared to
have been thrown carelessly into long storage bins.
For Dihave, this was a sincere effort. "I
applaud the intention," Piett said, trying not
to sound too dry.
Dihave nodded proudly. "Yes, well. We were
here all night. Not cleaning up, obviously, but
getting a few more prototypes built. There should be
a few things that Princess Leia is totally unaware of
ready to go if she starts anything."
Piett sighed, wishing that there had been a way to
avoid telling the engineers what the parameters of
their research needed to be. But when he'd given them
the time constraints and location constraints, they
would have needed to be a good deal more foolish than
they were to not deduce who the security threat
actually was. Leia had been a bit brusque with the
Imperial military while she'd been at the Palace, not
actually rude, but edging up to it. The men had often
taken notice of it, and she had not been well-liked
Except by Piett. He'd grown to appreciate her
sharp tongue and sharper insights, and to look
forward to seeing her in the Command Center every
day. Once she had grown accustomed to any given
officer, the brusqueness faded, and she had been able
to work well with many of the people around her. Like
her father in the Old Empire, she seemed to detest
the overall structure, but to respect various
individuals within it. Piett had been honored to be
one of those individuals, and he was sorry that it
was all going to disappear in the storm of conflict
she was determined to trigger.
"Do you have a reliable prototype of the
contained destruction missile?"
"We've built two of them."
"Why are you asking that? I never built an
"Because if this is your first mistake, it
will be a costly one."
Dihave bit his lip, then swung his chair around
brought up a diagram on his computer. "We've run
several simulations, and so far there has been no
error in the navigational systems. Once the missile
is launched, it is able to follow its path. Glancing
blows from space dust or asteroids shouldn't
interfere. It will circumvent ships in its path, but
immediately return to its prior heading. Its locator
is top notch. We're very much aware of Her Majesty's
concern for innocents caught in the violence. And if
it seems to be failing, we will still have the
communications system to control it manually from
here." He let Piett scan the programming codes,
which did indeed seem flawless, then cleared his
throat and turned his chair around again.
"Admiral... we heard rumors that the Empress'
entourage was attacked this morning as they left. Is
"Yes. A small squadron of X-Wings made an
attempt on Her Majesty."
Dihave clenched his teeth, and Piett suspected
that he was trying to avoid swearing in front of a
superior officer. For all his surface rebelliousness,
Dihave adored his Empress as much as anyone else in
the Empire. "Her own mother," he
muttered, then blinked. "Did they learn anything
that might impact what we're doing here? Get any
At least twice a day, Piett was reminded of how
grateful he was to be in the New Empire instead of
the Old. Under Palpatine, Dihave's question would
undoubtedly have been ignored. Under Empress Amidala,
Piett had the freedom to address it, and to let
Dihave make necessary adjustments. "Lord Vader
and Lord Skywalker made rather easy work of the
squadron. They dampened all communications fields and
relied only on... on the way they are able to
communicate with one another."
"A good plan." Dihave looked back at his
diagram. "I'll see if there's anything I can do
about communications blocks. If the Rebels hadn't
thought about them before, they will now."
"Are you going to need these missiles
"The timetable is not set, but I would
request that you move any modifications to the top of
"And with that, I will wish you good
day." Piett didn't bother waiting for Dihave to
remember that he was supposed to stand and salute. He
just left the workshop and headed back to Theed. It
seemed somehow empty without the Empress, even though
most of the usual staff was still present. The heart
was out of the city. Piett's father had been among
those campaigning to change Naboo's constitution to
allow Amidala to remain queen indefinitely, back
before the Empire, and Piett could recall no time at
which Her Majesty had not been known in his household
by her royal title. Her successor had always been a
pale imitation, trusted only insofar as she had
allowed Amidala to advise and guide her. When Amidala
had disappeared, Theed had died. Now, she had
returned, and brought life and hope back with her.
While she was absent, the activity continued, but
Piett could feel her absence acutely.
He pulled into the command center and made his way
to his office. Yesterday, he had reassigned several
intelligence agents to the exclusive task of locating
the Rebel base. The agents within the Rebellion were
unreliable on many levels, and, by sheer bad luck,
had all been at the periphery, and had not yet been
brought back to the Rebel base.
The reports that had been sent to him had little
of value, even according to the agents who sent them.
One from Anoat reporting seeing a small squad of
X-Wings, another near the moon of Endor thought he
had traced a cruiser. A young woman who pretended to
be a down-on-her-luck singer in the various Outer Rim
spaceport lounges reported on what she politely
called "casual conversation" that a Rebel
officer she'd "spoken with" kept a
nine-pointed leaf in his belt pouch, which she judged
to be a recent acquisition. It came from a tree that
was native to Tandocum, but had been spread to many
other planets. The last report came from an agent
posing as a journalist doing reports on various
out-of-the-way systems. She sent holofootage from
Osedi, Meraca, Ledaga, and Aggin, none with
commentary on why she'd sent it. Piett had told her
not to bother - he could usually tell why something
was suspicious. His instincts about such things were
generally good, as Lord Vader had noted at Hoth when
he'd disagreed with Ozzel.
He settled in to analyze the footage.
Han cut a winding path through the various
officers who seemed to be running all over the place
to make their last-minute checks, and headed for the
large hastily erected tent that was serving as the
central meeting place for the senior members of the
Rebellion. He was grateful for a chance to escape the
glare of the suns - he almost didn't care that it
wouldn't be any cooler in the tent's shade. He had
gotten as used to the heat as he thought he possibly
could (if you didn't adjust to the heat on Tatooine
quickly, you'd pay for it dearly) but his eyes were
burning and watery, and needed a respite. He'd be
glad to focus on a holoprojector for awhile. And on
He found a couple of the squadron leaders milling
outside the tent, discussing their preparations and
questions before they went in for the final official
briefing. He acknowledged each of them briefly before
pulling back the tent's flap and ducking inside.
Blinking, he allowed his eyes a moment to adjust
to the darker setting. He saw several of the other
leaders walking around and talking, looking both
anxious and excited. Most were gesturing toward the
holos at the front, which were displaying detailed
maps of the Rebels' plans.
He finally settled on Leia, who was standing at
the front, alone.
He watched her for several moments, trying to get
a solid read on her - trying to figure out where her
mind was. Part of him insisted that that wasn't too
hard of a task. This was Leia, after all, and her
mind would be on the impending attack. Running
through all the possible scenarios. Tweaking the
plans. Getting her people prepared. Simple.
But even if he thought he could guess where her
thoughts were, he couldn't help wondering exactly what
she was thinking.
Her response to Lando's report from the Tuskens
had surprised him. Somewhat. On a practical level,
she was, of course, right - he certainly couldn't
think of a viable way to dis-invite the Tuskens now
that they knew about the Rebels' plans. And if they were
willing to help, they could make a real difference in
some of their efforts. While he trusted Lando's
unease about what the Tuskens might do, he understood
Leia's position that there was little to be done
about it at this point.
But there were non-practical points to consider.
Whatever news Lando had brought back, Han knew that
Leia saw the Tuskens as victims of Vader. To her,
that automatically meant that on some level they were
on the same side. Or, at least, the Tuskens were on
the side that Leia wanted to see herself on.
That didn't mean she was wrong, he reminded
himself. Han was pretty damn sure that being against
Vader usually was the right side to be on. And
Leia had always known her own mind; she could handle
this. Maybe she and Yoda had figured something out
before he died.
For now, he just needed to support her.
Leia's holoprojector came to life beside her, and
Han realized that the rest of the squadron leaders
were in the tent and settling down for the meeting.
He moved to the front to stand beside her, taking her
hand and gave it a quick squeeze before she started
"All right everyone," she said, taking a
deep breath. "This is it. Let's review your
The room fell into complete silence, and she began
gesturing to the holos. "The attacks will begin
simultaneously during the Empress' speech - all
squadron leaders will have communicators set to a
frequency where they will receive Han's mark to
commence." A list of information streamed beside
her. "Mother's... Mother's speech will precede
several key developments for the Guard's
installation. The new communication system will start
up shortly after her speech is finished. Also,
battalions of soldiers who haven't yet been deployed
will head out from the main headquarters to their
barracks in the settlements. Patrols, which have
already been positioned in the towns, will begin
their first sweeps.
"All of our efforts will be focused on
stopping the Empire from establishing a hold here -
we're going to destroy their communications
capabilities, break up the patrols, and stop the
set-up at the barracks, while taking out as much of
their housing, equipment, and weaponry as we
She gestured to three people to her left.
"Red, Blue and Gold Squads will be positioned
along the routes leading from the main Imperial HQ to
the barracks near and inside the settlements."
The routes flashed in each squadron's colors on the
holo map, and scattered dots indicated the best
hiding places for the squads to lie in wait.
"They will intercept and engage as many of the
ships as they can."
She paused briefly and glanced at Han before going
on. "Lando will lead Gamma Squadron into Mos
Eisley, where the soldiers' barracks have been built
in the center of town, and where patrols have already
started canvassing some of the streets." Han
noted the impassive look on Lando's face...but knew
right away that he was still unhappy and uneasy about
the situation and how it had been dealt with.
"The Empire's forces are rather heavily
entrenched here, and there's a large civilian
population to deal with. We expect help from several
indigenous groups who should provide insights on the
city itself and assist us in directing the civilians
away from the fighting." Lando shook his head
slightly, but didn't protest out loud. When Leia's
eyes fell on him, he simply gave her a curt nod.
"Han will take Beta Squadron into Mos Espa,
where the main ceremony will take place, in the old
podracing arena. The Empress will be removed from the
area immediately with the start of any trouble, and
security will be so focused on protecting her, that I
believe it'll gain the squad some time in engaging
the soldiers and moving out to the barracks.
"Finally, I'll lead Alpha Squadron to the
Imperial headquarters for an assault on the main
transmitter of the communications array. If we can
take it out, the Imperials on the planet won't be
able to communicate with one another, and won't be
able to contact any ships in orbit, or stations on
The holoprojector shut itself down with a dull
hum. "That's essentially it. When the time
comes, head for the rendezvous point - we'll regroup
on the far side of the planet before we disembark
"And that's where we'll celebrate our
victory," Han interjected.
"Of course," she replied, with a rare
smile. "We're ready for this," she said
simply. "We're ready to show the Empire exactly
what they're up against."
Winama sits at her loom, and Amidala watches as
she always watched. The threads are rich and
beautiful, but as soon as they are woven into the
warp, the cloth disappears into the crimson shadows.
Amidala cannot see the shape of the pattern at all.
The relentless noise of the loom sounds more like
metal against metal than wood against wood - Amidala
is sure she knows that cacophony from somewhere - but
it seems not to matter.
"The thread is running short," Winama
says, and her voice is strange, hoarse. She passes a
pair of vibroshears over her shoulder without
looking. "Go, granddaughter, and fetch me a new
The air seems thick as Amidala turns toward the
corner where the spinning wheel should be. She knows
she will not see the familiar, old-fashioned tool at
all, and she is right.
In the corner are two figures, standing behind
a blood-red screen. Their faces are lost in the
shadows, but Amidala knows them. Closest to her,
playing out a length of new thread onto an oblong
spool, is a woman in a flowing gown. The gown in life
was yellow, but now, like all other things, it has
taken on the ever-present red hue of her life. Her
long ringlets catch the light, as they drape over the
distended belly of a pregnancy which will never come
to fruition. To her left, spinning the thread with a
drop spindle, is a young girl with a crown of braids,
her blue peasant costume now in shades of red. The
spindle drops, rises, feeds from a cloudy substance
behind the screen.
Amidala goes forward with her vibroshears held
out in front of her. She approaches the screen and
looks down, and barely stifles a scream.
Ani, beautiful Ani with his fine bones and deep
eyes, with his golden hair and smooth skin, is laid
at the feet of the two women. He has been cut open,
and the cloudy substance rises out of him. Each time
the spindle drops, a look of agony crosses his face.
Neither woman notices.
"Cut it, girl!" Winama calls in her
strange, harsh voice, and Amidala dutifully raises
the vibroshears toward the spool.
Ani looks up and pleads with her, and she
understands that if she does this, it will destroy
She looks over her shoulder at Winama, who is
now standing beside the loom, her gown a deep hooded
black robe, her white hands outstretched. "Do it
The hood falls away, and it is not the face of
Winama. It is the face that has been the core of her
nightmares for twenty-five years, the face of the man
who had once been trusted, once seemed kind and
compassionate, but turned out to be a monster. The
face is age-riddled and grotesque, with crooked teeth
and misshapen eyes. "Listen to me girl! Do it
Amidala yanked herself up from the dream, her lips
forming the word, "Now" in the darkness of
her bedchamber at the Imperial headquarters. The room
did not have the reassuring lines of light that she
would see on Naboo, the edging lights that marked the
contours of Ani's chamber. They had agreed it would
be a waste of resources to install a hyperbaric
chamber here; he had returned to the royal cruiser
for the night. The thought of awakening without him
nearby had not occurred to Amidala when that
agreement had been struck.
She pushed her covers back and got out of bed,
calling for the lights to come on full and drive away
all the shadows in the corners. They hurt her eyes,
but she didn't care. She considered changing before
she went to the hangar, but decided it would take too
long. Instead, she simply grabbed the silk robe from
her travel wardrobe and slipped it on over her
nightdress before going out the door. The hall was
dim, but she thought if she hurried, she could abide
the shadows. The need to see Ani was too overwhelming
to bother with such things.
Amidala stopped abruptly, realizing that she'd
nearly been running down the corridor. Luke was
coming toward her with a concerned look on his face.
She found a smile for him, though her feet and legs
were tingling with the desire to keep moving, to get
to the hangar, and her eyes were aching for the sight
of Ani's face. This was not Luke's concern.
"Mother... " His gaze tipped down, then
he turned away, as though it had hurt his eyes.
"Mother, you shouldn't run around... like that.
I've got security all around here. I need to know if
you're going to leave your room."
"I'm sorry, Luke." She put a hand on his
strong arm. He was a good boy, a good son. "I
wasn't thinking about that. I just was going to see
The bright blush on Luke's cheek was apparent even
in the dimness of the hallway. "Yes. Of course.
I'll... I'll escort you there."
"It's all right, Luke. You just keep people
out of headquarters who don't belong here. I trust
the people who do belong here."
"Are you sure you don't want something
heavier? The hangar will be cold at night."
"Your father will have the cruiser's heat up.
You know that."
He gave another half-glance at her, then nodded.
"All right, Mother."
Amidala rose to her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
"I love you, Luke. You know that, don't you? My
"I love you, too, Mother." He kissed her
forehead. "I'd better get back to
Amidala watched him until he rounded a corner,
then continued on to the hangar.
Cool light spilled from the hatch; Ani genuinely
slept on only rare occasions, and almost never when
she wasn't with him. His nights were taken up by
quiet meditation that simulated controlled dreaming.
In some ways, Amidala envied him.
Ani had built an intermediate room outside the
hyperbaric chamber on board the cruiser much like the
one in the Palace, so that she could come and go as
she pleased. It took a little preparation, but
nowhere near as much as it had when they had been
trying to survive in Palpatine's Empire, thank the
Maker. She sealed herself inside the small room, put
on the Gungan face shield that would protect her from
the heavily oxygenated atmosphere, then turned the
dials to change the air around her. By the time she
had finished, Ani had sensed her presence, and the
jaws of his chamber opened.
She ran to him.
His mask and helmet were off, being cleansed by
the mechanical arms that were attached to the
ceiling. Amidala sought his eyes, found them, held
them with her own. The scars didn't matter, the
horrible jutting shelf of the vocoder didn't matter,
nothing mattered except those eyes, and the hands
that wrapped around hers tightly. The rest was
ephemeral, a thin veil projected over the man she
knew he was, the man she had seen lying in pain in
"I'm not going to hurt you," she said.
His eyes narrowed in vague puzzlement. "The
thought had not occurred to me, my love."
"I just... " She wanted to explain, to
try to convey the terror of the nightmare, and the
worse terror of waking up alone, but here with him,
she could no longer feel fear. She was safe, and her
panic seemed silly and insubstantial. "Oh, never
mind," she said. "I don't sleep alone well.
I wanted to be here. I hope I'm not disturbing
"You never disturb me." He led her to
the small gilt bench he'd made for her, and she sat
down on it. His hand smoothed her hair over her ear
and came to rest gently on her cheek, the face shield
creating a rather pleasant electricity against her
skin. "What is troubling you?"
"Nothing, as long as I'm here. May I have a
He smiled. She knew it caused him discomfort.
"As you wish, my lady." He leaned forward,
dipping his head slightly to keep the vocoder plate
from catching on the bottom of her face mask, then
pressed his lips against the flexible shielding. The
glimmer of it distorted, then Amidala felt his mouth
touch hers. She reached into the kiss, locking her
hands behind his neck, careful even now to avoid
touching his fragile skin with her nails.
He stood away from her after a few moments, then
sat down beside her on the bench, holding her hand
gently. She leaned against his shoulder. "I was
frightened earlier," she said. "When we
left Naboo, and the Rebels attacked."
"You were not in danger, Amidala. Neither
Luke nor I would have allowed them to harm you."
"I wasn't afraid for myself, Ani. You were
the one they were all firing at. I saw that on the
viewscreen." She squeezed his gloved hand,
brought it to her mouth, kissed it through the
shield. "What would I do if I lost you? I
couldn't keep going."
"Of course you could."
"I don't think so. I'm afraid when you're not
with me. I feel lost. Unprotected."
"Promise you won't leave me, Ani."
"Amidala, I -"
"Promise." Amidala shifted on the bench,
rose a bit, and tried to kiss him. The edge of her
mask hit the vocoder plate and sent a spark of static
electricity scurrying over her shield. It had
happened before, and she had laughed about it once,
but this time it just seemed unfair, a cheat, the
apotheosis of all the kisses that had been taken from
her, never to be returned. The chamber blurred, and
she felt tears of impotent rage spill out of her
eyes. "I hate it, Ani! I hate that mask! I hate
everything about it!"
"If you can't promise me that you'll try to
stay safe, will you at least promise me that after
all this is over, you'll go to Dr. Kei and see if she
can help you find... some other way? Any other
way?" She reached under her mask carefully,
taking shallow breaths while it was open, and wiped
the tears savagely away then raised her wet
fingertips to his exposed face. He closed his eyes,
seeming to meditate on the feel of it. "Promise
His lips captured one of her fingers and kissed
gently. "I promise. I will speak to Dr.
Amidala nodded. Ani crooked his arm, and she slid
back into it, as she had so often in the past. It was
a comfortable place to be. The nightmare was nothing,
just shifting mists in her mind. Her heartbeat slowed
and she took deeper breaths.
Sleep was at the edges of her consciousness again
when Ani spoke, and it seemed to come from a great
distance: "Are you well, my love?"
Amidala snuggled deeper into his embrace. "I
am safe," she whispered. "As long as I'm
with you." Sleep made a sudden and unexpected
advance, and she yawned. "My Jedi
protector," she teased.
Her eyes were closed before she finished speaking,
and she did not see the pain that crossed his scarred
face at the memory, or the tenderness that followed
it as he gently stood and moved her into a more
comfortable position to sleep. She didn't see those
things, but she felt them as she drifted, and she
felt his hand on the curve of her hip, a warm, solid
presence that was still there when consciousness
She was safe. And as she slid into her dreamworld
and heard the strangely metallic workings of a loom,
she knew that she did not need to open that door.
Whatever was behind it, Ani would protect her from
Vader knelt beside the bench where Amidala was
curled up, her hair cascading to the floor in dark
ringlets. A few strands of white had threaded their
way in over the years, but they were striking and
attractive. Her presence in the Force was still
jumpy, but it was calming as she drifted into deeper
sleep. He watched over her as O... as he had once
been watched over as he went into deep meditation, to
meet the monsters that had often waited for him
When she had first returned to him, he had tried
frequently to read her, to catch the flavor of her
thoughts, even to hear them directly. There had been
some successes, although she was difficult to read...
but he had drawn back as he grew to trust her again,
given her the privacy of her mind. At some point, he
had realized that he had no more right to be in her
mind without her consent than he had to be... well,
to touch her body without consent.
But now, he wondered. What was she dreaming? What
strange turns had her mind taken to bring her here
tonight? Something was hunting her from inside her
soul, and if he was going to protect her from it, he
needed to know what it was. Tentatively, he reached
out to her, touched, drew back.
"It's not an intrusion if you mean to protect
Vader froze, his senses filling suddenly with a
third presence. "You are unwelcome here,
Obi-Wan," he said.
"Yes, well, if you'd like to banish me,
Padawan, I ask only that you do it now and save both
of us time."
"It is not a skill I had thought to
acquire." Vader turned and rose to his feet. A
meter behind him, in front of his meditation chair,
was the image of Obi-Wan Kenobi, edged in a slight
blue glow that was almost lost in the bright white
light of the chamber. He appeared to be in his
mid-thirties. Vader could see the opposite wall
through him. He realized dimly that he was not
entirely surprised by the visit. "So I will
merely remind you that you are unwelcome."
"You should speak with Luke. It appears that
he's been acquiring some skills without your
guidance." Obi-Wan glanced casually around the
hyperbaric chamber. "As a fellow master, I must
encourage you to find out where he's learning these
things. Not knowing may prove hazardous to you."
Vader ignored Obi-Wan's attempt at dark humor.
Only one thing he had said mattered. "So. You're
still trying to interfere with my son."
"No. You've broken Luke beyond my ability to
Vader might have lost his temper then - he had not
destroyed Luke, he had been more patient with Luke
than any Jedi Master had ever been with him -
but his eyes fell on Amidala, sleeping peacefully,
unmindful of what was going on nearby. He didn't want
to wake her. So he kept his voice low. "And my
daughter? Are you responsible for this affront from
her as well? Did you perhaps suggest that she order a
strike at her mother?"
Obi-Wan finished his cursory exploration of the
room and looked back at Vader. "I feel your
anger at me, Anakin. Yet I also feel your
"That name is not mine."
"I have no interest in helping you continue
this deception, Padawan."
"How dare you speak to me of
Obi-Wan did not answer. He crossed his arms and
looked at Amidala instead. "I'm approaching this
matter poorly," he said thoughtfully.
Vader said nothing.
"She is ill, you know," Obi-Wan
said. "I know you've considered the possibility,
"She is not ill. She is... "
"Ill. And you know why."
Vader turned away from both Obi-Wan and Amidala.
"She has been through a great deal. She's tired.
She works too hard."
"Anakin, when you chose this life, you knew
what you were choosing. I will be generous and assume
you saw yourself serving a greater good. But you knew
that the things you chose to do were not, shall we
say, manifestations of your best self."
Vader tried to work up a rage. Obi-Wan was
intruding in his space, speaking of things he knew
nothing about, and chastising him as though he were
still a padawan fresh from Mos Espa. In the end, all
he could find was a resigned familiarity. This
disturbed him, but he was not in the habit of
falsifying his emotions, so he did not try to project
anger. He simply turned back to Obi-Wan and sighed
(here in the chamber, it was possible to at least
simulate that). "Is there some point to this,
Obi-Wan smiled. "I've missed you,
Vader waited; he knew well that Obi-Wan would go
on. Obi-Wan never left a lesson unfinished, and it
was becoming increasingly clear that he meant to
teach a lesson of some sort.
Obi-Wan looked again at Amidala. "Padmé
never chose this life. She has allowed it to seduce
her, but she can't reconcile herself to it. Look at
her and listen to her, Padawan. Listen to yourself,
wanting to protect her from any knowledge of your
actions. And even so, you can't pretend that she
hasn't gained that knowledge. She has simply built
walls in her mind to keep herself from understanding,
and the walls are shaping who she is now. She can no
longer see even her own actions for what they
are." He looked over his shoulder. "And
that brings me to the oddest thing of all, Anakin:
you have very little to hide from her now. She is
hiding far more from herself than you are hiding from
her. Do you have an explanation?"
"There is less need for such behavior in the
Obi-Wan clearly had an alternative theory, but
Vader was not interested in hearing it. "Do you
mean to offer a cure for her alleged illness, or
merely to comment on it?"
"She needs to face the truth about what she's
doing here, Anakin. You need to stop protecting her
from it... you need to protect her from her own
"She is bringing order to a broken
world," Vader said. "I know that matters
little to you, but it matters to her, and to
"All these years, Anakin, and you still see
only the surface." Obi-Wan shook his head.
"You will need to see beyond the surface, and
soon, if you are going to save your family."
"What do you care about my family?"
"Because they are powerful."
"Because you love them. Understanding that is
a lesson I believe I have finally learned." With
that, he faded, then disappeared.
Vader stared at the spot where he had been for a
long time, then knelt beside the bench and took
Amidala's dangling hand in his own.
This was why she had entered politics.
This was what made all the meetings, all the
stress, all the frustrations worth it. It even
covered some of the personal pain she had endured
because of her various positions in various
governments. Not all of it - Leia wasn't here, and
nothing could quite take care of that - but she
couldn't help but revel in a moment like this one,
where everything finally came together.
She had felt it when she had first woken up early
that morning. She had enjoyed a long, heavy,
dreamless sleep after joining Ani in his chambers,
and had risen feeling calm and refreshed. She had
opened her eyes to find him watching her quietly, and
lightly holding her hand. He was concerned - she
wished she hadn't worried him the night before, and
decided that she would plan out their living
arrangements in advance of these trips from now on -
but he soon saw that she was fine, and ready for the
day's event. The two of them had breakfast with Luke,
and she had chatted happily with them about the
Guard's installation, about making last-minute
changes to her speech, about returning to the pod
arena. She told Luke an animated version of Anakin's
triumph at the race, and both of them enjoyed the
hearing the story again, and looked pleased to see
They had left for the arena shortly after their
meal, and had stayed in the staging area in the back
with her guards and handlers while the crowds
gathered and final preparations were made.
She could hear the people out there. She felt as
though she could touch every one of them - as though
she could touch every person on Tatooine, and effect
some change that would better their lives.
When she was younger, and more na?ve, she had
thought that most of her work in politics would be
like this. She was disabused of that notion with an
almost cruel swiftness, of course. But that didn't
make it any less rewarding to think of those people
filling the stadium, to think of those people
throughout the Outer Rim that she was helping.
And to think of those closest to her...of Ani and
Luke. After everything that had happened to them
here, they were now experiencing the triumph of
returning to fix their broken home. She thought it
was a great gift, for her to be able to give that to
She looked in the mirror and smiled at herself. If
she could fix Tatooine, there wouldn't be a place in
the galaxy that she couldn't handle. And that
knowledge would give people hope.
What more could she ask for than that?
The buzz in the arena was increasing, and the
crowd - which seemed like the full population of Mos
Espa - knew she would be out there soon. There was
also a charge that came from the arena itself. The
entire place had received an upgrade, and the
improvements could be seen all over the stadium. The
crumbling and damaged walls and stands had been
rebuilt or shellacked over. The remnants of the
racing days - pods, spare pots, pit droids, had been
cleared out completely (she suspected that Ani might
be hiding an interest in where it all went). Flowers
were placed throughout the stadium, and scarlet
decorations adorned the stage and the stands. It was
a fairly remarkable transformation from the place she
visited all those years ago.
Her attendants began fussing at her again,
straightening her dress and touching up her hair. For
a second, Amidala felt a pang tug at her heart.
She should be here.
Why couldn't Leia be here, helping her? Sitting
with her before the speech?
Tatooine wasn't as important to Leia as it was to
the rest of the family, but she could have shared
this with them. And after this, Amidala did plan to
do something equally as significant for the
Alderaanian refugees. Would she be forced to do that
without her daughter there?
Why couldn't Leia see that they were on the same
side, fighting for the same things? Did it matter if
their methods were different? Just because Leia
wouldn't necessarily choose to set up a Guard, or
give them the power to do what was needed to restore
Amidala shook herself from that thought. They
wanted the same things. They were family. No
other...disagreements mattered in the face of that.
And none of it mattered now. "It'll be
fine," she whispered to herself. She waved off
her attendants, and they left her alone.
Ani saw this and made his way over to her. She
gave him a radiant smile.
"Are you ready, My Lady?" he asked.
"It's nearly time."
"Absolutely," she replied.
He signaled to Luke, who was standing several
yards away, speaking quietly with her personal guard
contingent. He left them to join his parents, and
Amidala rose from her chair. "If you're ready,
Mother, we will escort you out to the stage."
She nodded, and Luke turned to lead the way. Her
husband stayed closed behind her. The guards flanked
her, moving ahead and behind her, and along both her
Eventually, they came out into the suns and into
the clamor of the crowd, which increased greatly once
they noticed her standing just off the stage. It was
a bright, clear day out, and Amidala squinted against
the sunlight as she looked to the sea of people in
Her guards walked past her, spreading out into
their positions behind her podium. Anakin and Luke
waited beside her.
She took a deep breath, and pulled herself up into
her most regal posture, and then moved toward the
podium. Her son and husband followed, and stood
beside one another, a few feet directly behind her.
The crowd's cheering hadn't let up. Amidala
wondered briefly if the sound system would even let
her be heard above it.
"Thank you," she finally called out. Her
voiced echoed through the arena, and seemed to carry
out into the desert. "Thank you."
The crowd slowly began to quiet, and she waited
for the volume to go down enough for her to start her
"Citizens of Tatooine, your day has finally
Another cheer went up, and she happily waited it
"Never again will you be ignored. Never again
will you be denied your rightful place in galactic
affairs." A constant undercurrent of applause
was accompanying her words now. "From this point
forward, Tatooine will receive the full protections
and rights that any planet should expect as a member
of the Empire.
"The criminals and slavers and raiders who
have terrorized you will now pay the price for their
lawlessness, and will no longer be allowed to lord
over you with impunity. The Guard being established
here is the largest one I've ever created, and has
every means at my disposal to serve each city, each
settlement, and each farm on this planet. They will
be both visible and vigilant, working each and every
day on my behalf to give your lives the order you
have longed for and that each of you deserve."
She let the echo of her voice play out, and gave a
couple of seconds for the applause to slow. It became
as quiet as it probably could in the stadium. Then
she continued. "As you all know, my family has a
long history with this world. We have not forgotten
it. And we have not forgotten you. We will never
forget. We join you in rescuing this world.
"Right now, troops all over the planet are
receiving my deployment orders. They will begin their
patrols as soon as I -"
She cut herself off abruptly as she felt Ani's
hand, heavy on her shoulder. She barely had an
instant to turn around to look at him before his hand
tightened painfully on her and she was yanked back
from the podium and nearly thrown to the ground.
She could see the shot, a flash streaking well
over her head and sailing behind her. Then came the
It was loud and bright and close...even with Ani
crouched over, protecting her, she could still feel
the flames and smell the smoke coming from the back
of the stage. She could see security people running
into the stands, trying to settle the crowd and go
after the shooter. Blaster shots rang out.
Amidala had a sudden desire to break free of her
husband and retake the podium, and tell everyone to
stay calm and remain where they were. No assassin, no
Rebel would disrupt this event. Not like this.
But Anakin was already barking out orders to
protect her and control the crowd, and was pulling
her quickly off the stage. She scrambled to keep up
with him and stay on her feet. She could see people
in the crowd firing blasters, but they were no longer
aimed at her or the stage. A firefight with the
guards was on now. Some in the crowd were trying to
help the guards and were fighting the troublemakers.
The rest of the people were fleeing the arena.
"Luke!" she cried out. He was already
following them out.
Anakin headed through the preparation area and out
of the stadium toward her small, private ship. She
tried to get a last look in at the growing chaos
behind her, but her husband impatiently nudged her
inside the vehicle. He and Luke joined her inside,
and Anakin immediately sped them away, back toward
"We must protect you, my love," he said
abruptly. "We will deal with this problem once
your safety is assured."
She decided not to waste her time arguing.
Instead, she turned around in her seat, and watched
the arena shrink behind her as she was hurried away.
"Keep away from the stands!" Han yelled
into his communicator as the motley collection of
armed speeders, swoops, and speederbikes swarmed into
the arena, providing cover for the foot soldiers who
had first broken the line. All of them were wearing
patched together uniforms, with Beta Squadron's
symbol drawn clumsily on handmade armbands. Leia
insisted on uniforms for anyone who was going to be
fighting in civilian areas, to make sure the Empire
didn't start shooting randomly. Han didn't know how
much good the precaution was going to do today - who
knew how the Empire was going to respond to anything
these days? - but he reinforced it anyway.
"They're civilians up there, no matter whose
side they're on."
"Gotcha, General," someone responded,
almost cheerfully. They were all cheerful. The
atmosphere at the makeshift base this morning had
been nervous but upbeat, as though they were athletes
preparing for a major competition.
Han didn't like it. He didn't want them losing
their morale, but he didn't like this at all.
"Don't shoot anyone who hasn't started
fighting," he said.
"We got it!"
The Empress' guard was pouring into the arena now,
firing indiscriminately at the Rebels. To Han's
dismay, members of the crowd were joining in - on the
Imperial side. As he watched, a civilian grabbed a
blaster from the hand of a fallen soldier, and
blasted a speederbike out of the sky. It was too far
away to see who was on it. Whoever it was jumped, but
the fall was from nearly five meters up. He lay on
the ground, dazed, and the civilian shooter lowered
the blaster and shot him at point blank range.
A speeder - it was one of the modified
snowspeeders rescued from Hoth, so it had to be one
the Rogues who hadn't accompanied Wedge's doomed
mission - swooped down and fired. The shooter fell.
It was time to join the party.
Han revved the swoop he'd bought in Mos Espa, and
flew down into the arena, shooting at the small fleet
of Imperial guard vehicles that had been brought in,
mainly for show. Two of them exploded beneath him -
and then seemed to explode further in laser blasts
coming from within the debris cloud.
Han dodged them and dove again. Four figures, all
wearing the thigh-length red tunics of Amidala's high
guard, had been hiding among the vehicles, and had
used their destruction as cover for a fierce
counterattack. Han had dodged the bolts, and simply
assumed they were meant for him, but apparently the
attack hadn't been quite so focused. Three Rebel
speederbikes had fallen from the sky.
Han's head snapped around. Beside him in the air,
a young Mon Cal recruit was gesturing in a panicked
way toward the staging area.
"What is it?" Han asked.
"Mobilizing," the Mon Cal got out
between sharp breaths. "They're coming in."
As he said it, the entrance to what had once been
the garage exploded with TIE speeders and
stormtroopers, all firing into the mass of Rebels.
Han did the math. They weren't going to hold the
arena, and that had never been the object. They were
supposed to cause enough confusion to give the other
squads time for their assaults.
How long, Leia?
He didn't know if they'd been fighting long
enough. Time was funny in a battle - every second
seemed longer than it was, but there was never enough
time to get things done.
He flipped his communicator to long range, and
hoped that the other attacks were far enough underway
that he wasn't giving anything away.
"Yeah, we're underway all right," Lando
muttered into his communicator. "If you decide
to dump the arena, bring anyone you can get here. I
"No can do, Lando. We have to hold Mos
Lando fought an urge to curse. "You do that.
Calrissian out." He snapped off his comlink,
madder than he had a right to be at Han. Han had his
own nexu to declaw. But no way was Gamma Squadron
going to be able to do this alone.
Oh, sure... the Guard facilities themselves had
gone down already. More than half of their staff
hadn't arrived yet. Lando had ordered Gamma Squadron
to attack when Leia's order had gone out - at the
beginning of the Empress' speech, he guessed - and
the Mos Eisley Guardpost had fallen within a few
The problem was everything else in Mos Eisley.
The Tuskens hadn't appeared at the camp at the
appointed time. Lando felt relieved about it at first
- he really hoped they would opt out of the
invitation on their own - but the more he thought
about it, the less relieved he felt. They were a wild
card. They knew what was happening. And he had a
feeling that if they did show up, it wasn't going to
be easy giving them orders.
Chewie, good as his word, had gathered up the
smugglers and pirates gotten them to put down the few
other Imperial holds that had managed to take root.
But Mos Eisley wasn't just spicers and spacers,
gamblers and rogues. Mos Eisley was also slaves and
farmers left homeless by raids, living destitute in
the city's slums. Mos Eisley was war orphans and war
widows who could no longer afford to go elsewhere.
Among these, the only ones who did not love the
Vaders were those who had been loyal to Palpatine,
and they would rather spit on a dying Rebel than help
him. The rest had joined the battle, and they weren't
on Lando's side. Amidala had already provided them
with some relief, and promised them more. And the
damning thing was, she meant it. As long as they
worshipped her, they'd never have to starve another
Is that such a bad deal, really?
Lando shut the voice out of his mind. He couldn't
listen to it anymore. Dictatorship was never a good
thing. No matter what it accomplished, no matter that
it did it more efficiently than -
Stop it. Don't do this to yourself in the
middle of a battle.
There was an almighty roar to Lando's left, and
the wall of a building blew outward in a rain of
yellow stone and yellow dust. The small group of
Rebel soldiers who had been guarding the intersection
disappeared under the rubble. Six teenage boys
scrabbled to the top of it and started throwing
chunks of rocks at Lando.
"We don't want you here, Rebel! You and your
scum are done in Mos Eisley! It's ours now!"
Lando backed into an alley and dashed onto another
street. He wasn't going to start shooting at kids
with rocks, but he wasn't going stay there until they
killed him, either. "Chewie!" he called
into his comlink. No answer. That's right. He'd
turned it off. He flipped it back on. "Chewie,
we lost the safe area. Get your part of the squad out
onto the road. Meet the Guard before it gets into
Chewie barked something. Lando only caught the
gist of it, but his impression was that Chewie's
group was involved in a skirmish.
Please, let it be with some big, tough farmers,
Lando prayed vaguely. And let them be armed
farmers, he amended. With blasters.
"Get out of here, Rebel!"
Lando looked back at the alley mouth as a rock
blasted into the wall beside him. The boys had made
their way down and were chasing him.
I am not drawing my blaster.
Another rock came hurling at him. This one grazed
his shoulder. A sharp edge drew blood. He turned to
try and find cover.
The wind suddenly picked up.
Something clattered behind him. A rock. Dropped
onto the street.
One of the boys cursed softly in Huttese.
Lando looked up.
From here, he could see the forbidding rise of
rock that overlooked the valley where Mos Eisley had
been built. A sandstorm seemed to be coming down from
it, unforgiving, implacable.
As it drew closer, Lando could see the figures
inside of it, like demons made of the sand itself.
The boys ran.
Somewhere in the city, an alarm began to sound.
Red Squad was stationed alongside the road to Mos
Eisley, but no one really noticed the passing
sandstorm half a klick to the east. Fighting was
fierce and bloody, and the Imperials were a better
match than they'd been anticipating. Some of them
were Rebel trained.
Senber Tof and three of his squadmates had taken
cover behind a boulder, and were exchanging blasts
with a group of the Guard who had disappeared behind
a standing rock formation on the other side of the
road. The rest of the battle raged - it looked almost
hand-to-hand from here - about fifty meters back on
"I like space battles better," Isa Verhi
grumbled, rolling back after taking a shot. Her short
blond hair was matted with sand. "Cleaner."
"No joke, little girl," Senber said.
"I got sand in places I'm never going to get it
She laughed, but they both knew it wasn't the
sand, and it wasn't the heat. It was the bodies. In
space, you didn't have to worry about the bodies.
They blew apart from decompression, usually, if they
weren't incinerated in their ships. There was nothing
left that you could recognize when you saw it lying
there. Nothing that you could wonder about... was it
part of a guy who used to sit in the mess hall with
you? Or maybe a girl you'd stolen a kiss from at one
unsanctioned party or another?
Then a blast shivered the rock, sending pebbles
tumbling down. The firefight started again, and there
was no time to think about it.
Gold Squad had executed a perfect ambush, and the
fighting was over in less than an hour. About half
the Imperial Guard was dead, and the other half was
Kinlo Tems was suspicious of the easy victory, but
there didn't seem to be any subterfuge in the
prisoners. Red and Blue squads were reporting full
engagement - Red actually seemed to be having
trouble. Blue Squad, on the way to Mos Espa, had lost
communications while he was speaking to them. He
hoped the rest of their battle was going better.
But here, in the open desert, he had only forty
Imperial soldiers, immaculately dressed for the
ceremonial parade, sitting slumped in the sand with
binders on their wrists.
He had no idea what he was supposed to do with
them, and neither did any of his squadmates.
"Hey," a Guard leader called. "You,
Kinlo turned, trying to assume the air of a
winning commander. "What?"
"I'm local," the Imperial said.
"There are caves. If you're holding my people,
maybe we'd all be a lot more comfortable in there.
There's water in them."
"And maybe you have a back-up arsenal?"
"In caves where the Tuskens can pick it up?
"I don't know... "
"Look, if you're going to kill us, do it with
blasters. But leaving us tied up out here is a lousy
thing to do. And if you're planning on staying, you
might have a long wait right here with us. I can tell
by looking at you that you're not ready for desert
Kinlo was suspicious, but couldn't think of any
other reason not to get out of the suns. Gold Squad
outnumbered the prisoners significantly, if they
tried anything. "All right," he said.
"People! We're moving into the shade."
A muted cheer went up, and the assorted troops
moved away from the road.
Blue Squad had chosen a spot just beyond sight of
Imperial headquarters, as far from Mos Espa as they
could get, to avoid drawing attention before the
strike on the arena. Princess Leia and Alpha Squadron
were camped out with them, but hadn't taken part in
the ambush. They were needed for another battle.
This was easily the biggest operation that Ordo
Ryn had participated in, and it was exhilarating in
some sick way.
A lot of the Mos Espa Guard had gone in early, to
help the city guards with the Empress' security. But
those who were left for the ceremonial entrance were
fighting well. Whatever else had happened since the
Empire had changed its face, it seemed that military
training had gotten a very quick overhaul.
All the deserters, Ordo thought,
remembering empty stations, belongings left on chairs
or in ships, as the Rebellion had slowly bled to
death before Palpatine fell. Now we know where
they are. Must've decided that joining up with Lady
Vader wasn't really treason, not like joining up with
Traitors. Filthy traitors.
It didn't matter. Ordo and Blue Squad weren't
there to take revenge. They were there to disrupt
this Guard unit, and if they could finish this battle
early, maybe they could go in and help General Solo
hold Mos Espa.
"Commander!" A young lieutenant
scrambled over to Ordo, looking winded. She saluted.
"Alpha Squadron has launched. They're on their
way to headquarters."
"Great. Put a local dampening field out. I
don't want any of our Imperial friends putting word
out on them."
There was a flash of something, brighter than the
suns, then someone yelled, "Watch out!"
A towering rock formation shivered, then, with a
terrible grinding sound, began to crumble in a dusty
There was no time to watch out. Ordo jumped as far
as he could, but the falling rock was too fast to
outrun and too large to escape.
The last word to cross his mind before the sky
went dark and solid was, Traitors.
The alarm signal sent from one the Guard's
captains had gone off less than ten minutes ago. The
communications had started breaking up nearly five
minutes ago. In Piett's mind, those minutes had
stretched out into a taut tension. It filled the
Command Center, and he knew that everyone there felt
He, along with nearly all the Command Staff, had
gathered in Imperial Headquarters just off the Palace
to watch the Empress give her speech. On their
largest projector, they saw the Tatooine crowds and
the Empress' procession as she arrived at the arena.
As they waited for her speech, other officers kept
regular contact with the Tatooine headquarters, and
received updates from the commanders of the Guard
units. Lord Vader had sent a brief message that
morning, confirming that everything was going
according to expectations. They were only awaiting
the new communications system, which would go online
within seconds of Her Majesty announcing it in her
speech. The Command Center was ready for the enormous
amount of information they would receive at that
point. Piett was looking forward to seeing the system
work for himself. It was quite an achievement, to
have even individual soldiers linked up to the
The Empress had come out to the adoring crowd and
begun her speech. Everyone was watching her now.
Piett thought she was doing wonderfully.
He almost didn't believe it when he saw the
explosion flare up behind her. He even had asked a
nearby lieutenant whether she had seen the same
thing. The picture became fuzzy and pixilated shortly
after that. The sound was intermittent.
From all over the Command Center came sounds of
battle, reports of down comlinks, shouted orders, and
general confusion and fighting from nearly every
location of consequence on Tatooine.
Piett ordered someone to focus exclusively on
trying to raise the royal family or a member of the
Empress' personal guard. She was his first concern,
and the last pictures on the planet had not made her
personal situation clear.
"Sir, our communications with the planet are
sporadic. Her Majesty's channel is operating and
open, but there's no response. I have been unable to
raise her guards."
Piett nodded. He would assume that meant that they
were too occupied to respond. He hoped they had moved
her to a safe position.
"Admiral," the captain continued,
"there's been no clear indication of what's
happened on the planet."
"Continue to speak to anyone you can raise.
Find out what's going on."
"Raise the Imperial ships and bases closest
to Tatooine. Make sure they are aware of the
situation and are monitoring it. Tell them to be
prepared, and await orders from the Empress on the
"I will contact as many ships as I can,
Piett frowned, worried. The new communications
system had not gone online yet, and it seemed the
Rebels were already making headway in disrupting
their normal communications. He needed to speak with
He relieved an ensign at the nearest station, and
began trying her personal frequency himself. He was
still met by an open, but silent, link. He kept
As he waited for a response, Piett found himself
hoping - against both his good and his common sense -
that this problem wasn't the result of Leia doing
something terrible. That it was something, anything
else...perhaps one of the many problems on Tatooine
that had necessitated the establishment of the Guard
in the first place.
Piett wished, yet again, that he had been better
able to make Leia understand, make her feel as though
she did fit in here. It might not have been his place
to do so, but he felt responsible for what he assumed
must be happening on the planet now.
A crackle snapped from the terminal. It could have
simply been more of the static he had been getting
anyway, but Piett jumped on it, convincing himself it
sounded different. He began adjusting his
frequencies, chasing it. "Ensign, boost the
signal on this console immediately. Raise it to the
Suddenly, the signal from Tatooine came in fully,
and the comm screeched from the overcompensation of
his adjustments and the signal boost. Piett scrambled
to fix the problem, and soon the noise was replace
with the Empress's voice.
Piett was utterly grateful to hear her speak.
"High Admiral Piett, please respond."
"Your Majesty, it is a joy to hear your
voice. Our communication with Tatooine has been
intermittent at best since you were attacked during
your speech. May I inquire as to your status,
"I've been returned to the Main Headquarters.
I'm fine," she said tersely. Piett could hear
orders being given in the background, including
several being called out by Lord Vader. "The
Rebels have been attempting to put out a dampening
field, but we've been working around it."
Piett's heart sank with the confirmation of what had
happened, and who was behind it, but he chastised
himself for the reaction. He had known it was Leia
all along. "It appears as though all of our
interests are under attack. We are trying to
ascertain the size of the Rebel forces, and organize
a counter-attack as quickly as possible."
"Your Majesty, I have reason to believe that
nearly the full Rebel force is on Tatooine."
Piett sighed and reluctantly launched into what he
had found. "In the past few days, I have been
reading reports from our scouts on the possible
locations of the Rebel base. None of the information
is definitive, or wholly reliable, but I think I've
found the most likely location of their base."
"Ledaga," he said. "A planet in the
"I'm not fully familiar with that world,
"It does not fall within the Empire," he
explained, "and the native population is small,
and not technologically advanced. The information I
received points to members of that population taking
over a nearly abandoned military base."
"Then why do you believe the Rebels are still
using it as their active base of operations?"
"It's the largest base that's been reported
on, and an underpopulated, far-off world would be an
attractive spot for the Rebels. Their low numbers on
the planet are simply an indication of the attack
they were planning against you, Your Majesty."
She didn't answer right away, and Piett could
almost see the expression on her face. Thoughtful.
And worried. Perhaps a bit sad. "She wouldn't
hide behind civilians, High Admiral. My daughter
would not do that." Her voice didn't leave room
for discussion of the subject. Piett agreed with her
on the point anyway.
Still... "Your Majesty, the fact remains that
this is the best lead we have on the Rebels. If we
were to act now, we could cripple their ability to
wreak this kind havoc against you in the
future." He waited for her response. Then, he
cautiously added, "Also, Your Highness, it seems
certain that Princess Leia is on Tatooine. Attacking
now would allow us to avoid...certain dangers that
would otherwise be inherent in any assault on the
He hoped he had been tactful enough to get his
point across with upsetting her or angering her. She
responded guardedly. "Admiral, I have gone great
lengths to avoid the unnecessary deaths of civilians.
This would nullify everything I've had our military
work toward since I came into power. And while I do
trust your analysis, the information isn't
"With all due respect, Your Majesty, we may
not be able to get certain information before the
Rebels switch camps again. It is unlikely they will
stay in the same place after committing an assault of
this size. I share your concerns, Your Majesty. But I
believe this may be our best chance."
The silence was longer this time. Much longer. He
could sense that she was close to giving him the
order he needed, the one that could truly, finally,
end this war - and would do it without costing her
the daughter she loved so dearly. He was being honest
about worrying for the civilians - he had no desire
to kill any innocents, and was feeling repulsed by
the circumstances the Empress found herself in. But
his job was to give the best tactical analysis he
had, even when that left few options, and no good
"I will wait to see the outcome of the
situation here, first, Admiral."
"Wait for my orders before taking any
action." A pause. "If, for some reason, the
situation here becomes so...catastrophic...that you
feel action is warranted, I'll trust your judgment,
Admiral Piett. But I have no real desire to see
things happen this way."
"I understand, Empress."
Something that sounded like an explosion cut off
whatever she was going to say next. A general
proximity alarm added to the noise.
"I must go, Admiral."
"Understood. Be safe, Your Majesty. Piett
Leia guided her speederbike behind a tall rock
formation, her breathing quick and shallow. Almost
fifty meters below, as small as insects, her family
ducked into the shadows of the Imperial headquarters.
Mother and Father were easily identifiable, Force or
no Force, from any distance. And Luke... Oh, Leia
knew his presence. He might dress like a member of
the high guard, but she could feel him, like an echo
in her nerves. And did he glance up? Did he sense
No. He just continued walking.
To her surprise, she was overcome by neither anger
nor hate, but by a deep sadness that seemed to
resonate in the marrow of her bones, making her limbs
heavy and her head throb. And, though it shamed her
to admit it even privately, it stirred a sense of
longing in her. She didn't want to join the
Empire, not even in her most secret mind... but she
longed to see Mother's face, or feel Luke's hand on
her arm, or hear Father's carefully modulated voice.
Just for a moment. Just to remember who she was.
But I am not that person. I am not a daughter
of that family, to be petted and prodded as they
wish, and trained to attack over the causes they
Mother's face. Luke's touch. Father's voice.
I am a part of them. I wonder if they
think of me and miss "Leia's tongue."
Leia pulled herself out of her thoughts as her
family disappeared into the vast Imperial base so far
below. A high altitude landspeeder hovered beside her
speederbike, piloted by an adolescent Dug named
Revanik. He wore the makeshift uniform of Alpha
squadron, which was no more than standard Tatooine
gear with a handmade armband. She hoped that would be
enough - the Rebellion had very little financial
support, and there was certainly not enough
discretionary income to support such niceties as
uniforms... but Leia would not allow the Rebellion to
go to war in the guise of civilians. Ever. She needed
neither Obi-Wan nor Yoda to tell her that such a
thing was cowardly and unfit for a sentient being,
let alone one with Jedi training.
She hadn't even needed Father to tell her that,
though he had repeated it often enough during their
training sessions (he had, in fact, been almost
obsessive about the subject, for reasons he had never
clarified and she had never inquired about). And Leia
had decided long ago that she would rather sleep on a
bed of spikes over a pit of flesheaters than fight
dirtier than Vader.
For her own part, she had kept the wrap-around top
of her desert wear and wound her hair into a common
fashion, but she had done so out of practicality -
both fashions made sense in the environment. She had
exchanged the drab skirt for drab leggings tucked
carefully into her boots, but to her own mind, she
still looked too much like a civilian for comfort.
Her armband seemed insanely small. But at least she
could count on being recognized. No one would mistake
She manufactured a greeting smile. "Yes,
Revanik circled her playfully. "We're all in
place, Your Highness. Waiting for your orders to take
out the comm system. And anything else we can."
Leia's jaw tightened. "Your orders are to
take out the comm system. We're not assassins."
To Revanik's credit, he looked genuinely shamed.
"Yes, Your Highness. I'm sorry." One long
toe circled aimlessly in what appeared to be a
nervous way. "Your Highness?"
"What is it, Revanik?"
"You were meeting with Ryn when the battle
started in the arena... "
"Well, we were tracking and... "
Leia tried to control her frustration, using a
calming technique that Yoda had taught her.
"What do you need to tell me, Ensign?"
He closed his eyes. "Someone took a shot at
the Empress herself."
Leia managed to control the swing of her temper
enough that she didn't explode, didn't scream, didn't
hit anyone or anything (which was a good thing, given
that she was so far up on a lightweight machine). But
she couldn't control her face, and she felt her eyes
pull open to their widest point, and her lips draw
back into what felt like a snarl. "They had
explicit orders not to-"
"I know, Your Highness. But a shot at the
Empress herself... If we could... "
"We aren't assassins," Leia said again,
keeping her voice cool. She could hardly get control
of frayed Rebel tempers if she couldn't keep control
of her own. She would not use her temper as Father
did, as a cudgel to keep her subordinates in line.
"All right, Ensign. What's done is done. Let's
Revanik sighed with relief, and looped his speeder
around toward the ground. Leia followed him.
Alpha Squadron was gathered at the base of a mesa,
waiting quietly in the shadows. Leia glided the
speederbike down to them and took up a position near
the center in front of them. "Our main objective
is the communications system," she said, though
they didn't need to be reminded. "We've been
sending out low-level dampening fields, and it is my
hope that they've assumed we're mimicking their
tactics from Naboo."
Steely silence from the troops. The Naboo attack
was fresh in their minds. They didn't seem to blame
Leia for it - yet - but they wanted to avenge the
fallen Rogues. Shouldn't have brought that up.
It was too late to take it back, so she just went
on. "So far, it seems to be the way it's
interpreted. I've been watching the base for an hour,
and no one has stepped up security on the main comm
station. I want to keep it that way. I'm going to go
in and do it myself. The rest of you - I want you to
make it look like our main objective is their
mobility. Take out all the vehicles you can, and if
that's drawn enough guards away from the arsenal, hit
that. Don't take unnecessary casualties. That's an
order. Don't inflict unnecessary casualties. That is
also an order. You're a diversion."
Commander Athuli, a scarred veteran with only thin
remains of blonde hair on his sunburned head, cleared
his throat. "Your Highness, perhaps someone else
would be more expendable... "
Leia frowned at him. "Commander, no one is
expendable. I am going to the comm system because I
worked with it. I know it well. When I destroy the
mainframe, that will disrupt Imperial communications
throughout the Tatooine system. But before I do that,
I'm going to send out a small disruptive program.
There's a back door that it will work through, and I
know about it - but I don't think they know I do. The
disruptive program will work its way through the
Imperial network and cut off all communications that
piggyback off of it."
"That sounds like Imperial technology,"
Athuli said. "Centralized to death."
She started to say, Luke's been meaning to get
to that, but hasn't had a chance with all his public
appearances, but decided that it would be better
not to mention Luke at all.
"All right then," she said.
She watched the Squadron lift off on their various
vehicles, then zip out of sight around the mesa. A
moment later, the shooting began.
She waited only long enough to be certain that the
Empire was engaged, then flew low and fast around the
other side of the mesa. She stowed the speederbike in
a crevice at the bottom of the mesa, several stories
beneath a small arched window.
Was someone in that room? Waiting? Did she
have the element of surprise, or would Father see
Use the Force.
She frowned at nothing, knowing perfectly well
that either Kenobi or Yoda was somewhere nearby.
Using the Force was well and good in theory, but
risked drawing attention to her actions as surely as
would announcing herself at the front door.
Then again, leaping headlong into a room that
might well be full of soldiers was a pretty bad idea,
Yoda had taught her several blocking techniques,
and she reached for the ones she had learned best.
He'd told her that she had a natural ability for
it... she could even hide from him. So maybe...
But Father. Father would know she was here.
You hid from Vader for the first twenty years
of your life. He is not a demigod. He is just a man,
just part of a man at that. Part of a man named
Anakin Skywalker who is no more omniscient than you
It had to be done.
Leia reached into the Force for strength, then
quickly used the blocking technique, hoping against
hope that it would hide her. Then she felt her way up
through the rock, toward the window. There were few
soldiers on this side. She had not been spotted. Luke
and Father were elsewhere in the base, with Mother.
There were two... three? ... soldiers on duty at the
comm station. Nothing she couldn't handle.
Opening her eyes and coming back to herself, she
drew the blaster she had found on Naboo, aimed it at
a ledge two meters above the window, and fired the
The harsh side of the mesa flew by her, then the
momentary flash of the window. Then she was stopped,
a few inches beneath the overhanging shelf of rock
where her cable was secured. She let herself sway in
the wind for a moment, getting her bearings, then
swung to an even smaller ledge off to one side. She
dislodged the tow cable and put the blaster back on
For a moment, she felt like laughing. All that
worry about using the Force to check for guards, and
she'd never thought about the fact that her plan was
flatly impossible without the assistance of the Force
at all. She was going to have to risk it. She'd
planned this little raid with the assumptions of a
Jedi rather than the assumptions of a field
commander. She couldn't back off from those
It was time.
Using only the Force to navigate, she made her way
down the nearly sheer rockface of the mesa. The
window had been overhung with a flat plate of
duracrete to keep the suns off the delicate
equipment. Her feet found it, and she crouched there,
taking one last moment to breathe cleanly. Then she
drew her lightsaber with her natural hand, gripped
the edge of the duracrete with the mechanical one,
and flipped backward into space.
At the arc of her turn, she changed the tension in
her arm to shoot herself through the window. She
ignited her lightsaber as she drop-rolled into the
The first guard to stand never had a chance - the
lightsaber cut through his midsection in a
sickeningly easy way. Leia had never used this sort
of weapon in combat before, and there was something
about the closeness of it that just... how was this
The second guard came at her, blaster drawn, and
she sliced the weapon from his hand. While he was
still surprised, she raised her empty hand and pushed
him with the Force, hard. He was thrown across the
room, where he crashed into the wall near the
ceiling, then fell to the floor, stunned.
The third was reaching for his comlink. Leia
called it to her with the Force, and sliced it into
two small pieces in the air.
Five seconds had passed since she'd come through
Blaster fire came at her furiously as she advanced
toward him. She missed one block and a burn etched
itself along her upper arm, but that didn't matter
The guard didn't back down and he didn't try to
run. He kept coming.
Her only option was to strike.
She was alone with the stunned guard now,
listening to his shallow breathing as it
counterpointed the hum of the communications
In the Force, she could feel that there was a dim
awareness of her presence now. She'd used too much
power to keep her shields up. She needed to work
The mainframe was, as she'd known it would be, the
same make as the model she'd used in Theed, on her
endless and ridiculous quests to find Mother's old
propaganda. She hadn't been perfectly honest with
Athuli - she didn't just know about the back door.
She'd put it in herself, tired of going through the
labyrinthine security systems every morning just to
hear Mother's speech before Chancellor Valorum, or
Mother's second coronation address on Naboo, or
Mother's installation as Senator. It wouldn't have
been removed because she had neglected to tell anyone
that she was using it.
She entered the code quickly, and the system
opened up to her. A quick command was all it would
take. It would take maybe twelve hours, but the
entire communications structure within the New Empire
would go down, and it would take at least a week to
She gave the command.
As soon as it was accepted and forwarded through
the system, she drew her lightsaber, raised it high,
then brought it down across the front of the
mainframe. Circuits fried, flames erupted, acrid
smoke blew through the room. A second thrust melted
wires in the heart of the machine, and a third,
sustained one sent molten metal streaming down the
She stepped back. Even Father wouldn't be able to
fix that one, at least not right away.
The bodies of the two guards she'd killed were
becoming lost in the smoke, and the breathing of the
third was getting harsher.
Leia looked around the small room, surprised and a
little ill at how much damaged she'd done this
quickly by herself.
It needed to be done.
The Empire couldn't get a foothold in the Rim. It
had too many footholds already.
Her heart heavy, she went back to the window,
lowered herself with the tow cable, and picked her
way back to her speeder bike.
She'd done her part as a Jedi.
Now, she had a battle to command as a soldier, and
if Revanik was telling truth, it was already starting
to get out of hand.
Redenou was beaming as she handed out rations to
Rebels and Ledagans alike as they converged on the
camp's mess hall. They took their food with a nod and
a thank you (thank you - at least she had finally
learned two words in their language, finally), and
moved to the next table, where a cheerful Ledagan
woman was handing out some orange, leafy vegetable
that grew in their burrows underground. Redenou had
tried them, and thought they were all right, but knew
that anything was better than another ration pack.
The Rebels took the leaves gratefully before trying
to work their way to an unoccupied table or chair -
that was no easy task now. And Redenou thought she
might be the only Rebel on the base that was honestly
glad of that fact. The rest had understood that the
Ledagans had needed a place to go, and that Han had
left instructions to help them, but Redenou wasn't
bothered or put out by the arrival of their guests,
and couldn't pretend to be. In the last two days, she
had found herself in the center of activities on the
base, and was now living in a place filled to
capacity with people, aliens, creatures, and
who-knew-what-else. How could she complain? Instead,
she gave out more rations and continued to beam,
meeting every quizzical glance from a stressed Rebel
with a smile.
She was glad that there were no - well, almost no
- adults or officers left hanging around to supervise
her, and try to "protect" her. She loved
the Rebels and the Rebellion, but since Han left, she
had gotten her first taste of true involvement and of
true freedom. She had been careful to put it to good
use, sticking herself into situations where she knew
she could really be of help to everyone. Like now,
when even the standard dinner hour had become an
The Ledagans had been in the camp for barely two
days. They had quickly insisted on adapting to the
Rebel's schedules and habits as a sign of respect and
gratitude. It was a gesture that Redenou could
appreciate, but one that had caused unexpected issues
to pop-up throughout the base. The Rebels had
expected their guests to essentially keep to
themselves in the barracks they had been assigned.
But now, they had a planet's population trying to get
into the mess hall. The Ledagan leaders had been
showing up at the command rooms, offering their help,
limited as it might be. Some of the children had
gotten wind of the fact that the Rebels were in need
of clothing and uniforms, and had immediately pulled
out their supplies and fashioned crude versions of
the garments they had seen worn on the base, taking
very seriously any suggestion or correction made, and
leaving the clothing in the bunkers with the rest of
the clothes and supplies.
Kind gestures, all of them, but they had still
caught the command staff here - such as it was -
unprepared. Redenou had appointed herself an
unofficial liaison between the Rebels and the
Ledagans...she had taken one of the few translator
droids around and kept it by her side at all times,
and had run back and forth between the leaders in
each groups, explaining (and
occasionally...suggesting) what each side needed or
wanted done, trying to help things run smoothly. The
Ledagans had liked her right away, and the officers
had even started taking her seriously, figuring that
she was the path of least resistance when it came to
keeping things running smoothly, so they could focus
on whatever was happening on Tatooine.
So here she was, in the mess hall, staring at the
Ledagan men, women, and children, wondering at the
small pets they seemed to bring with them everywhere
(they were clearly domesticated, but were small, and
fanged, and vicious-looking, and they made her
nervous, despite their gentle demeanor), and speaking
with other young and low-ranking Rebels. She was
already formulating a plan on taking inventory of any
food or supplies the Ledagans had brought with them
from their underground lairs. They were obviously
willing and eager to share what they had, and the
Rebels would be smart to be thinking of ways to
combine it with their own supplies, and find ways to
organize and maximize everything.
She couldn't wait for General Solo to return, and
to see how much she had done, how big a help she had
been. Maybe even the Princess would be impressed.
Two Ledagan children trilled at her as they took
her food, and they handed her a not entirely bad
shirt. They were beginning to get human measurements
right - they had had an easier time with other alien
species - and Redenou tried to mimic the thank you
she had heard dozens of times from people in the
line. They twitched their whiskers at her, and
approximated a smile through their fur.
Redenou thought about ordering one of her friends
to take the shirt to the rest of the new clothes and
begin the inventory, but changed her mind. She might
have the ideas, but she hadn't exactly earned the
authority to order anyone to do anything. She had
tried it once, sort of, as a way of trying to get
information on what was happening on Tatooine. She'd
been summarily dismissed. She had the feeling things
had gotten started, and were going well though. She
hoped she was right. Redenou decided to start the
inventory herself, later.
She gave a friendly smile to the Ledagan woman
next to her. She gave a wave or salute back, but
stopped abruptly. She looked at the ground. Redenou
saw the other Ledagans nearby do the same.
Her heart sank. As the native population, the
Ledagans were much more in tune with what was
happening, and had sensed the first big earthquake
and all the aftershocks just before the Rebels'
seismic sensors were able to pick up on the signs
that they were coming.
She didn't waste time, and didn't worry about
orders she wasn't supposed to be giving. She jumped
up on her table and yelled, "Get into position!
I think another one's coming guys!"
The Rebels quickly moved away from the windows,
and several of them went back to the command rooms to
protect the equipment and the comm. The Ledagans were
already scurrying underneath the tables, bringing
nearby Rebels with them. Redenou turned on her
translator droid, who had wandered off a short
distance from her as she'd handed out the food. He
answered before she could say anything.
"She says that the gods beneath are again
coming forth, and that their cries will shake the
Almost on cue, a low rumble began under her feet,
and she took cover under her table and the shaking
began. Utensils clinked and clanged as they banged
against each other and fell to the ground. Ration
boxes rained down noisily. As had happened with the
first real earthquake two days ago, consoles shorted
out and sparked up, and the comm system screeched and
cackled over the mess hall's speakers.
Redenou covered her head and waited for it to
stop, hoping that nothing would be damaged so badly
that she wouldn't be able to get a sneak report on
the Tatooine fighting whenever they got an update
from everyone out there. Redenou was looking forward
to the base celebration whenever they got word that
the raid was successful. She had a feeling the
Ledagans would make good party companions, even if
they didn't full understand what they were
celebrating. The kids would have a good time,
The shaking let up a little, and the aftershock
continued at a more manageable rate. Ledagans were
already starting to poke their heads out from under
the tables, and cleaning up the mess. There might be
too many of them at the camp, but Redenou knew they
were good people to have around. She pulled herself
up and began to help, smiling again at her Ledagan
friend at the next table.
She couldn't wait for that celebration.
After the chaos in the arena, Han had expected Mos
Espa to be a rough battle, maybe even a losing one,
but it seemed that, once the novelty of being in a
war had worn off (and novelties wore off quickly in
Mos Espa) most of the people had opted not to fight.
The Imperial Guard was largely engaged in the
fighting outside of town - out where Leia is,
Han couldn't help thinking miserably - so the Rebels
had been able to sweep into town and establish
control within two hours of leaving the arena.
Of course, "control" was about the best
it could be called.
Han Solo - smuggler, rogue, outlaw, and general
anti-authoritarian - found himself administering
And no matter how he worked it around in his mind,
he couldn't think of what else he could
possibly be doing.
He'd split Beta Squadron into six teams. Four of
them were doing security patrols. Once everyone got
inside, their main job had been catching frantic
people running out of their houses to find loved
ones, sending them back inside, then finding the
loved ones and escorting them back to the one who'd
been worried. There were still a few energetic
teenagers fighting the good fight for Her Ladyship
with rocks and kitchen knives, but the security
squads were able to capture them uninjured for the
most part, and separating them from their little
gangs did wonders for their attitudes.
Han wondered, in a not-quite-disinterested way, if
he would have been one of them, if this thing had
happened ten years ago. He could see himself through
their eyes easy enough - blustering around and giving
orders to people he'd never seen before. Would he
have really ended up under Amidala's spell, if he
hadn't met Leia first?
He wanted to say no, but if all he'd seen was
He wasn't sure. He really wasn't. The Empire
wasn't exactly distinguishing itself, running out to
defend HQ while the bad guys were left to sack the
cities, of course, which Han suspected was part of
the easy capitulation. The Empire, if nothing else,
promised protection to Loyalists, and it wasn't
The problem was, they still saw the Rebels as
someone they needed to be protected from. That was
why the security teams were under strict orders to
keep the fighting clean and help civilians whenever
they could. That, and the fact that it was the right
thing to do.
One of the remaining squads was on repair detail.
Only one building - an open-air restaurant - had been
demolished entirely. Others had sustained various
degrees of damage, most easily fixed. Across the
dusty street from the demolished restaurant, four
members of the repair team were taking orders from
the oldest Toydarian Han had ever seen. One of the
soldiers looked over at Han with a Get-me-outta-here-please
expression that might have been comical under other
circumstances as he re-mortared the bricks in the
walls of the old junk shop.
Han shrugged at him. Given the general condition
of the wall, the damage most likely pre-dated the
battle, but it was a chance for the Rebellion to be
seen doing something constructive, and they might as
well do it.
The last and most important team was overseeing
the temporary hospital that had been set up in a wide
square in the middle of the business district. Small
tents made of poles and blankets held two or three
patients each, and everyone in Beta Squadron with any
medical experience was rushing around with bacta and
bandages, tending everyone who had been hurt in the
battle, whether they were on the Rebel side, on the
Imperial side, or just bystanders.
His inspection circuit of the city mostly
finished, Han headed over there.
He could hear a good deal of moaning and yelling
before he actually saw the hospital, most of it too
robust to be coming from people who were seriously
injured, which was a relief. Monsha Rooklin, his head
medic, had told him that most of the injuries were
superficial, but it was good to know she was right.
Beta Squadron's medical team was still hurried and
harried, running from tent to tent when he got there.
Monsha looked up sharply from her patient - a more
serious injury than most; this was a woman who seemed
to have several shattered bones from a fall - and
blew a stray hair off her forehead. "This is
hardly a sanitary environment," she quipped.
Han shook his head. "You're not going to get
much better at the base. If you were, I'd tell you to
take them back there."
"I know. I'm just grousing."
"I know. I'm just telling you not to. This is
the best we can do."
Something clattered on the stone across the
square, and Monsha grimaced. "I've about had it
Before Han could ask what she meant, he found out
for himself. A bleary yell rose over the general din:
"Get your filthy Rebel hands off me! I don't
need your help!"
Han looked at Monsha. "It's been like that
"Almost long enough that I'm tempted to
respect their wishes." Her patient groaned, and
she made a liar of herself by immediately bending
over and trying to ease the position of the broken
bone she was working on. There was no chance of
Monsha Rooklin walking away from her patients.
Han went toward the tent that housed the
complaining patient. A young human with a tight jaw
was picking up instruments and bandages from the
ground. "These are going to have to be
sterilized," he said. "That's going to take
"I know." Han glanced around. "You
guys could use some help. I'll see who I can dig
"They won't take it."
"I'll find someone without filthy Rebel
"Great." The boy went back to picking up
the instruments, cursing under his breath as he did
Han shook his head. This was beyond ridiculous.
He picked his way back to the wrecked junk shop,
figuring that its owner was probably old enough to
know who did what in this asylum of a town. The work
team was just finishing up with the re-mortaring.
"Aagh," the Toydarian said, "kids
today don't do nothing right." He shook his head
mournfully at the wall. "Everything's
Han cleared his throat. "It's less wrecked
than it was when we came."
"Bah. You people break things like they grow
back on their own."
"That's why we're trying to fix things up,
make it better." The Toydarian didn't turn
around. Han grabbed his shoulder and turned him.
"Look, we got your wall fixed, and it's staying
fixed. I need your help. Who do you know who knows
anything about healing? And isn't a Rebel?"
The ancient wrinkled face twisted. Resentment? Or
was he just thinking? Finally, he gave an
approximation of a sigh. "Oh, all right. Look
for Amee and Seek. They've been watching out for the
slaves since they were freed. For free, if you can
believe it." He shook his head, as though he'd
never heard of anything so crazy. "They're still
staying in the slave quarters. They actually bought
one of the places from me. I had no use for it,"
he finished quickly, as if Han were about to accuse
him of sentimentality.
"And they're not Rebels?"
"Rebels? Nah. They're not Rebels. They were
with Vader before the Empress came back." His
grin widened, and it wasn't entirely unfriendly.
"The Queen's been in my shop," he said.
"Stood right where you're standing now,
Han took an involuntary step back, cursing himself
for superstition even as he acted on it. This was
Vader's home. He was bound to run into someone who
knew them. He had no interest in following up on
Leia's family history. She was obsessed enough with
it for both of them. He turned back to the subject at
hand. "Where are their quarters?"
"They might not like helping you."
"They're not helping me. They're helping the
same people they've been helping."
"All right." The Toydarian waved vaguely
down the street. "Take the first left. Their
building's third on the right. They're on the second
floor. Only door without a Master's key slot. They
had that taken right off, you better believe."
Han thanked him and headed off in the direction
he'd indicated. The apartment wasn't hard to find.
The door was open. There was a crowd already there,
mixed humans and aliens, speaking softly. Han caught
a few words about fighting and making stands. Great.
But they seemed to be in the talking stage, not the
A skinny middle-aged man with thick red hair was
sitting on a high stool, a blaster over his knees. He
raised it as soon as he saw Han, and the conversation
died immediately. "What do you want,
Han raised his hands in a gesture of good faith,
hoping that if shooting started, their reflexes were
considerably slower than his own. "You've got
injured people in the town square," he said.
"If you're Seek, an old Toydarian told me you
knew about healing."
The man's eyes narrowed. "I'm Seek," he
said. "How many did you shoot?"
"No one who wasn't shooting at us. Look, they
don't want help from Rebels, but they need help.
We've got supplies and equipment. We just need extra
hands. Preferably ones they won't refuse."
There was silence.
A woman worked her way through the crowd. Her hair
was prematurely white, and rolled in thin braids at
her temples, and a thick braid at the base of her
neck. "I'm Amee," she said. "You
realize that we're not Rebels?"
"That's most of the point, ma'am. I don't
care if you're Palpatine Imperials or Hutt loyalists.
There are people who need help."
She laughed softly. "We're not Hutt
loyalists," she said. "You can be assured
of that." She turned to Seek. "I'm
going," she told him. "Whatever the
politics are, I have sworn to look after the people
of Mos Espa. We can argue later about whose fault it
Seek grunted. "That's not an argument, Amee.
That's just a fact." He stood up, blaster still
in his hands, but not pointed at Han anymore.
"You're right. We'll all go."
"Thank you," Han said as he passed.
"Don't you ever thank me, Rebel. I'm not
doing it for you, and if the shooting starts again,
the last thing you're going to see is the muzzle of
this blaster pointed right at your eye. Got it?"
Han nodded. He led the group back to the tents and
got them started on it. It was tense, but it was
Mos Espa was under control. It was time to check
up on the rest of the battle.
Leia's comlink was still on silent - he guessed
she was somewhere she didn't want to be called.
Chewie only growled a harried acknowledgment that he
was still alive. Han could hear a vicious battle in
the background. He switched over to Lando's
The battle was louder. "Calrissian
The abrupt shout took Han by surprise. He'd heard
the battle, but he really absorbed it now. Things
sounded out of control. "Lando? What's going on
"All hell's broken loose," Lando said.
"The Tuskens dropped by for the party."
"They're raiding the shops and the houses.
They're killing people. We're fighting against them,
but somehow it's gotten out that we called them. You
have to get Leia. Tell her what's happening. We need
to know what she wants us to do. This isn't what she
had in mind!"
"I can't reach her on the comlink. It's on
"Override it. She needs to know about this,
Han. And if you can't override it, go get her!"
Something near Lando's comlink exploded, causing a
whistle of static. "I have to go," he said.
"Get Leia. Calrissian out."
The comlink fell silent.
Han stared at it for what seemed like a long time.
Lando shut off his comlink and looked around,
almost in a panic, for a place that would give him
some cover. Of course, the alleyway he was eyeing had
just exploded, and there didn't seem to be a corner
that wasn't being shot at, so...
His blaster was firing, almost automatically, at
any Tusken or Imperial he could make out in the melee
happening just ahead of him in what passed for Mos
Eisley's town center. He wasn't having much effect -
the entire squadron wasn't having much effect. Lando
felt that everybody with a weapon was attacking the
Rebels, but in all honesty, everyone just seemed to
be attacking one another at this point, going after
the person next to him if they weren't immediately
Lando suddenly spied a junkshop that seemed to be
both abandoned and ignored, and he dove for it,
rolling behind several old speeders and pieces of
transports. The fight wasn't far enough away for
Lando's tastes - he thought he could have boarded a
ship right now for the other side of the galaxy and
it wouldn't have been far enough - but he wasn't in
immediate danger, and that gave him a few minutes to
think, and to observe the battle.
One of his captains saw him, and ran to join him.
Three others followed, and they crouched from their
hiding places, shooting into the crowd when they
thought they could provide cover to the Rebels and
Lando cursed under his breath with every shot.
What the hell was he supposed to do?
"Sir!" said a young man next to him.
Lando thought his name was Kimani. "There are
civilians attacking us out there. They don't want our
help. There's no way we're going to take or hold Mos
Eisley... Sir, you need to order a retreat!"
Lando wasn't quite listening. He was watching the
There were a large number of Tuskens in the
square. They had dismounted their banthas near the
edge of the settlement, and had all but thrown
themselves into the thick of the battle. The
Imperials, who had their hands full with the Rebels
anyway, had panicked. So had the settlers, who were
having a hard time amongst themselves deciding who it
was they hated most - the Imperials (though a large
number were Vader sympathizers), the Rebels, or the
Tuskens. Pure, utter chaos.
"We can't just leave!" yelled a woman
whom Lando only knew slightly. He couldn't think of
her name. "We did this, we have to help!"
"Do you know how long they've been fighting
"Do you know that we asked the Tuskens to
come?" That was Captain Micha.
Lando frowned suddenly, knitting his brow, still
only giving half an ear to the discussion.
Yes, the Tuskens were here, and yes they were
fighting fiercely. But that was wrong on its face
somehow. The Tuskens wouldn't care about mixing it up
with the settlers, or the Rebels, or Lady Vader's
forces. That wasn't what they were here for, and the
battle in the square couldn't be anything more than a
distraction to them.
The settlement was near anarchy. Their opportunity
to raid and...and whatever else...was better than it
had ever been. So why bother with a pitched battle
out in the center of town?
Lando tried to give a quick count of how many
Tuskens he could see. There were a lot of them,
almost enough to account for the size of the camp he
had visited. Almost.
It wouldn't take many Tuskens to make a few runs
through the rest of the settlement. Especially if the
majority of the armed settlers were occupied here.
"Dammit!" He whipped his head around to
the officers behind him. "We're not retreating,
it's not even an option, and we don't have time to
argue about it." Only Kimani looked annoyed. The
other three wore expressions on their faces that
wavered between relief and determination. They
understood, and they knew that they had to help.
"When we get back out there, I want you each
to round up as many Rebels as you can. Leave the
square and head for the other parts of town. The
homes, the slave quarters, the shops and businesses.
We need to get out there."
"Sir," the woman said, "you want us
to just leave the battle? The Imperials aren't going
to just let us take off."
"And the civilians don't seem to like us much
either," said Colin, one of the youngest
officers that had been allowed to come to Tatooine.
"Shouldn't we stay here and try to fight the
"I'm telling you, there are more problems
with Tuskens in other places," Lando said
tersely. "Now go!"
The four officers took off immediately, and began
calling out to their fellow comrades as they ran
firing into the fray. Lando pulled out his comlink,
and opened it to Gamma Squadron. "This is Lando
- everyone who can break away, get a group and move
into the other sections of Mos Eisley. Protect the
citizens and civilians first. Whether they want it or
not. That's our priority."
Kimani, for his part, had gotten a few people
together and was focusing on attacking Imperial
troops who were about to join the fighting. Colin was
giving orders left and right - Lando had to admit, he
was impressed with the kid - and was fighting his way
through in the direction of the shops. The woman was
headed for the slave quarters with a fairly large
group. Micha was still trying to hold things together
in the square.
Lando moved quickly around the edges of the
battle, ducking and shooting the whole way. He
barked, "You're with me!" to five men with
armbands as he went by, and didn't even bother to
look back to see who they were or even if they had
followed him as ordered. He wanted to get to the
nearest living quarters - a small, tightly packed
neighborhood where the houses were nearly on top of
one another up and down a slew of long, narrow
He rounded a corner, and came to the first of the
streets. He could already see some houses burning -
all the houses would be on fire soon - and there were
already bodies in the street. Ransacked homes pointed
the way ahead of him. Windows broken and doors
swinging off their hinges, clothes and furniture and
other property trailing out.
The Tuskens were ahead of him, nearly at the
opposite end of the street, about ready to move up
the next street of homes. Their banthas trailed
behind them, and several of them were already
overloaded with the loot that had been stolen. It was
a small group, as Lando had suspected, but they would
be a handful for six men to stop.
Lando raised his blaster and shot straight down
the street. He hit the ground just behind one of the
banthas. It barely budged - the beasts were used to
Tusken raids, and it took a lot to rile them - but
the blast was enough to get the attention of several
of the raiders, who turned sharply and gave that
But they didn't try to attack or make any
aggressive moves up the street. They stayed focused
on their looting, passing along bags and slinging
them upon the banthas. They were finishing up the
The scream was so loud and close that it literally
hurt Lando's ears. He barely had time to register it
and turn around before a pair of hands grabbed him by
the shoulders so tightly that he stopped running dead
in his tracks. Then he was being shaken.
"Please...please...my daughter, my daughter
is hurt, you have to help...she's dying, help her, please!"
She was an older woman, and was hurt badly
herself. A cut somewhere on her head was bleeding
down over her face and into her eyes. There were
bruises on her face and arms...almost anywhere that
Lando could see. She was hysterical and shaking.
Lando didn't want to think about the kind of shape
her daughter must be in.
"Ma'am," he began, trying to gently pull
her hands off his arms, "ma'am please -"
"Help her! Please!"
Lando came close to ordering one of his men to go
with her, but his eyes were still on the Tuskens. He
couldn't take them on with less people, he probably
didn't have enough as it was. And they needed to keep
moving, to hurry before the Tuskens got to the next
"Ma'am, I'll radio for someone to come help
you. I have to try to protect -"
Before he could finish, the woman suddenly swayed,
and jerked, and then collapsed.
She was still alive, and Lando could see her still
mouthing the word "help" to herself.
Lando forced himself to look away from her.
"Radio for help. Tell any medics we've got to
get down here." His voice sounded strange in his
ears, but he tried to ignore it. He motioned to the
rest of the men and resumed his pursuit. They fired
constantly, eventually hitting a bantha and causing
it to buck up wildly. The Tuskens cut around a bend,
onto the neighboring street.
Over one of the men's radio, Lando could hear the
sounds of other battles happening in the city. The
Rebels had gotten some help from the shop owners, the
slaves had mostly joined up with the Imperials, which
at least meant they had some protection from the
Tuskens. The rest of the reports were harried and
erratic, and Lando couldn't guess how things were
He wasn't sure what to tell people about what was
happening on his end. He was trying not to know, not
to look. Lando was beginning to feel detached. He had
heard many horror stories since joining the Rebellion
- those were the most common reason people signed up,
and were willing to risk their lives in the hope of
bringing down an Empire. Some of those stories, he
couldn't even really picture, and others had stayed
with him permanently. But he knew that his own life
hadn't been terribly hard, especially for someone who
found himself on the wrong side of the law so often.
Smuggling and other crimes had provided him with a
life that suited his personality and taste. Once its
appeal had faded, he had wound up living a fairly
respectable life on Bespin. He was always surrounded
by the finer things, and he always enjoyed them, no
matter what kind of life he was leading.
Still, he had never really thought of himself as
having led a privileged life, even after hearing
those stories from the other Rebels. But now that he
was seeing one of those stories himself? Living one?
He had lived a privileged life, he knew that
now. He had never been in a situation like this
It was only one street. But the burning buildings
- the burning people - the destruction and death, the
injuries and the pain...he couldn't even look in the
direction of anything that resembled a child and he
saw women in far worse shape than the first one who
grabbed him...and men with their blasters still in
Why couldn't they have just stolen what they
wanted and then left?
Lando forced himself back to reality, and decided
he couldn't fight in a cloud of anger and revulsion.
And he had decided that one street would be the end
of it. The Tuskens would get any further, no matter
what he had to do to stop them.
He led his men into a sharp turn and through a
small sliver of space between two houses. The came
out in front of the Tusken group, cutting them off.
Lando looked at his men, and nodded.
Luke felt the muscles in his back stiffen as he
blocked a laser blast from the Rebel troops fighting
in the motor pool.
Leia's here, but she's not with them.
The harsh sound of energy deflected exploded right
behind him, and he whipped his head around to find
Father, his lightsaber still raised from the block.
The mask, of course, made his expression unreadable,
and his presence in the Force was too dominated by
combat to give a good indication, but Luke could
guess what he was feeling well enough - the same
irritation he'd felt earlier. Another missed
observation. There would be another lesson. A painful
one, no doubt. But he had blocked the shot.
Luke nodded an acknowledgement. "Thank
you," he said.
"Be aware of your surroundings," Father
said, then whirled to face an oncoming Rebel on a
speederbike. The bike veered off, steering column
smoking, and crashed into the solid wall. He stopped.
"Your sister is here."
"That's what I felt."
Father nodded, and gestured to Colonel Ellsov, who
ran over, firing his blaster into the mass of Rebels
as he ran. "Yes, m'lord?"
"You are in command, Colonel. Lord Skywalker
and I must return to the command center."
Father waved at the small access door behind them
in an impatient way, and they ran back inside as soon
as it opened. Luke waved it shut behind them.
When they had gone out to join the battle,
Mother's command center had been on high alert, but
relatively stable. It had seemed the safest place for
her. Now officers were running from console to
console, shouting across the room to one another,
looking panicked. Mother herself was on her feet,
pounding desperately at a holotransmitter. She looked
up when they came in. "Communications are
down," she said. "There's no dampening
field. They're just gone. We're cut off."
"Everything planetside?" Luke asked,
going to her side. The control panel on the
transmitter showed red lights across the board.
"Everything everywhere," she
said. She took a series of deep, sharp breaths.
"We've lost our entire array."
An ensign ran into the control center, bent
double, breathing hard. He pulled himself to a stop
and bowed to Mother. "Your... Majesty..."
"Get your breath," Mother said kindly.
He nodded. "Yes... " He bent at the
waist, put his hands on his knees and took several
deep breaths, then straightened. "Your Majesty,
I went to the communications control room as you
ordered. Two technicians are dead. The third is badly
injured. The central communications console has been
"Is there no backup?"
"No, your Majesty. The backup equipment was
scheduled to arrive later this week. It was deemed
sufficient to have the primary console in
operation." He looked down at his shiny boots.
"Your Majesty, one of the dead guards... They
appear to have been... cut." He glanced
nervously at Luke and pointed at the lightsaber still
in his hand. "With one of those."
Luke felt Mother's tension rise, and felt Father's
anger well up. For himself, he felt only a dull sense
of resignation. Leia. Of course. She had used the
other battle as a diversion. Her strategy was to
cripple the Guard on Tatooine. Better to abandon the
planet to anarchy than let the Empire get a
No one in the family spoke. Mother dismissed the
ensign with a wave of her hand. As soon as he was
gone, she turned on her heel and stalked out of the
room, her veils flying behind her in a scarlet
slipstream. Luke and Father followed her.
She didn't head for the communications room, as
Luke had half-expected - of course not; Leia was long
gone from there - but instead punched a sequence of
buttons on the turbolift. The doors opened. All three
of them went inside, still not speaking. It began to
"Leia," Mother whispered.
"Yes," Father said. "I believe
The turbolift reached its destination, and
released them onto the observation tower, an open-air
rise that gave a wide view around headquarters. From
here, Luke could see not only the battle raging in
the motor pool, but the battle on the road to Mos
Espa, and another, much further away, sending up a
cloud of sand on the road to Mos Eisley. A plume of
dust marked the passage of a vehicle coming toward
headquarters, but Luke paid no attention to it. It
wasn't Leia. The cities were also fighting.
How much of the Rebellion had she brought
Somewhere, in that chaos, Leia was hiding behind
her shields. Was she with the troops at the motor
pool? Had she headed back to the cities? Where was
Mother was standing at the edge of the lookout,
her hand shading her eyes, squinting down at the
battles as though she could will Leia into
visibility. "Where is she?"
Father put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her
away from her vulnerable position. "She is
"How could she do this to me? And to the
whole planet? She knows better. She is my daughter.
And she was raised by Bail Organa, for the Maker's
sake. Where would she learn such carelessness?"
Father did not tense, as he usually did when
Luke's guardians or Leia's were mentioned. In fact,
he didn't seem to hear her. His edgy presence was
deepened in a way Luke had come to identify with his
use of the Force. He was looking for her.
Luke himself couldn't sense her anywhere anymore.
The chaotic feelings from the battles kept a cloud in
the air as surely as the loose sand did. He just let
his eyes roam over the desert, hoping to see a
flicker of movement that he would recognize clearly
as Leia. His gaze fell back on the road to Mos
The plume of dust from the single vehicle was much
closer, and Luke realized that it was a speeder,
traveling at dangerous, breakneck speeds. As he
watched, it thundered into camp. The driver was
slumped over the steering column, not seeming to pay
any attention to the battle he was headed for.
He was unconscious.
And the speeder was headed straight for a
concentration of soldiers.
Luke didn't hesitate. He ran to the edge of the
lookout and leapt into nothingness. He heard Mother
yell after him. There wasn't time to explain it to
He used the Force to control his fall as much as
he could, but gravity gave him speed as he flew
downward. It was going to be a hard landing any way
he looked at it.
Then the speeder was below him, and he tucked
himself into a midair roll to change direction just
slightly. With a bone-jarring crash, he landed in the
cargo box at the back of the vehicle. He wasted no
The driver's body was heavy and entangled with the
controls, so Luke just pushed him away from the
steering column without ceremony and took the handles
himself, standing and bending over the seat.
The driver groaned. He was alive.
Luke pulled back on the column, bringing the
speeder into a steep climb. It wasn't particularly
safe to operate the machines up high, but he'd done
so many times in the past. The rocks provided good
surfaces for repulsors, as long as you were going
fast enough. He guided the speeder up the observation
tower using the Force to slow it when he reached the
top, and bringing it to a stop in front of his
Mother ran over. "Luke, you frightened
me!" She looked down and noticed the driver for
the first time. He was covered with blood from a
large cut at his hairline. "Who is this?"
"I don't know," Luke said. "The
speeder-" He got out, and Father helped him pull
the man from the driver's seat. "It was going to
crash. I had to do something about it."
"You did well," Father said calmly, not
looking at him. "Exceptionally well."
They put the man down gently, laying him carefully
on the warm rock of the lookout. Mother knelt beside
him and touched his face.
The eyes, surrounded by streaks of blood,
fluttered open. At first he looked confused, then he
caught sight of Mother. He grabbed her wrist.
"Your Majesty," he gasped.
Father was starting to reach for the man's hand,
to remove it, but Mother shook her head minutely.
"What is it?" she asked. "You've made
it to me. What has troubled you?"
"Majesty... Mos Eisley... Rebels."
"We are aware of the situation," Father
told him. "We are -"
The man was shaking his head, and a gout of blood
seemed to erupt from his nose. It soaked into
Mother's dress, where it simply looked like a deep
shadow. "Rebels... allied with... " A
cough. "Tusken Raiders. Everywhere. Stealing.
Looting." Those wide eyes squeezed shut.
"Killing and... and worse... my daughter...
Luke's mind reeled. The Tuskens? Why would Leia
ally with them? What did she even know about them? He
hadn't ever found a reason to discuss them with her,
and Father had told them nothing. He would not speak
of Tatooine, even now that they stood here together.
Mother had told them only that they feared Father,
that he had dealt with them severely for their crimes
in the past...
And Leia sees them as his victims only.
"Help us... " the stranger gasped.
"Majesty... We need you... help... us... "
He drew in a rattling breath and let it out. The next
breath never came.
Luke looked up from the man's face. His parents
were staring at one another over the body.
"Ani?" Mother said. To Luke's surprise,
her voice didn't sound panicked or urgent. She
sounded frightened, but it was a different kind of
fear than he would expect - it was a deep, ancient
fear, tinged with regret and grief. "Ani, are
Father stood. "We have no army to send to
them," he said.
"Ani... Leia doesn't know."
Father said nothing.
Luke reached forward and closed the stranger's
eyes. "I don't think she intended this, Father.
She doesn't know anything about the Tuskens."
Father still said nothing. He headed for the
"Where are you going?" Mother called
"To meditate," he said. "To go
deeply enough into the Force that I can get past
Leia's barriers. She has gone too far, Amidala. I'm
going to find her."
"I'm going to find her and bring her
The doors of the lift opened, and he disappeared
into it. The sound of its passage was grating. Luke
and Mother stood up and moved closer to one another
Mother looked at Luke, her fear settling deeply
into her face. That disturbing, distant look was back
on her face, the deep unhappiness that Luke wanted to
see banished forever. "Why is this
happening?" she whispered. "Why did we ever
come back to this awful place? It tears him
Luke put his arms around her and held her.
"We came to fix it, Mother. And we will."
"I know... " Her arms wrapped around his
waist, and he felt her shoulders hitch once in a
quiet sob. "Oh, Luke. What a mess this all is. I
want it to be yesterday. Or last week. Or twenty-five
years ago. I don't want this. I never wanted
"I know that, Mother. You want to do
something good. The Rebellion is trying to stop you.
I don't know why. But they're not going to do it.
We'll stop them."
She nodded and stood back, the light struggling to
come back to her features as she spoke. "Yes. We
will. We will stop them, and we will establish
control of this hellish world once and for all. I
will turn Tatooine into a garden and those
monsters... " She shuddered. "We'll
succeed, Luke. But I want it to be yesterday again. I
want none of this to have happened."
"I know, Mother. I know."
Mother crossed her arms over her chest and looked
out across the desert again. "She really doesn't
know what she's done, does she?"
"No. She knows Father thinks of them as
enemies. And she thinks that means they'll be friends
of the Rebellion. At least that's as close as I can
"It's probably true." She sighed deeply,
and spoke to the sands. "They were his first
true hate, just as I was his first love. Oh, Leia...
what have you done? What have you let loose?"
She looked over her shoulder. "He won't hurt
her, will he? Not even over this?"
It took a moment for Luke to understand what she
was asking of him, then he nodded. He reached into
the Force to find Father's presence, to look into it
as he lowered himself into meditation. It wasn't
always safe, but this time Father seemed to be paying
no attention to the intrusion.
There was anger at Leia of course, and anger at
the Tuskens. There was a deep wellspring of
frustration. But the hate of which Mother spoke was
very deeply buried, barely registering under the
larger feeling that emanated from it and enveloped
everything within itself. And it was the last feeling
Luke had ever expected to pick up from his father.
"He's terrified," he said, not able to
stop the wonder in his voice. "He's not going to
hurt her. He's scared for her."
But Mother didn't even seem surprised. She just
nodded, as if nothing could have been more
predictable. "I am too," she said.
Leia reached her speederbike, and immediately
mounted it and took off. She stayed close to the
mesa, hugging it around the bend, and hoping she
blended in enough to make her hard to spot. She
wondered how long it would take Imperial security -
or just an officer that happened to walk by - to see
what she had done to that room.
An image of its destruction sprung up in her mind,
and Leia quashed it. She needed to focus on Alpha
Squadron's battle now.
She brought her speeder up high again - nearly as
high as it had been when she was scouting the
headquarters - and flew around the base, heading for
the side where the Rebels were engaging the Imperial
troops. She would need to see if the fight should be
continued. She hoped to get there and find that they
had already gone through the vehicles and transports and
had taken out the weapons caches, and they could
Nothing like wishful thinking, Leia supposed. But
even if everything had gone well, she still
worried that things might become...needlessly
complicated when she tried to get her squadron to
withdraw. There was always the confusion of battle,
which made giving and following orders difficult...
But that wouldn't be the problem, and she knew it.
Alpha Squadron was so close to the Empress they
could taste it, they could reach out and grab it.
Grab what they thought would be the ultimate victory
for the Rebellion. And they were eager - too eager -
to give it a try.
Leia shivered against a tendril of fear that
snaked its way around her heart. She would just have
to trust her people.
Or, she'd have to get back to the battle a little
She was almost there now, and from her vantage
point, could see now see the fighting and make out
some members of Alpha Squadron. She could clearly see
the troops and guards that were defending the
headquarters. And they -
"Leia? Leia, this is Han, come in!"
His voice took her completely by surprise, and her
speeder wobbled momentarily. She pulled out her
comlink and stared at the little red light shining
back at her. She had silenced it - she
couldn't imagine that she would have been foolish
enough to try and infiltrate the base without doing
so - but Han had used his codes to override that
command. She quickly undid the silencer and answered
"Han! What are you doing? If you had been
yelling into my comm like this a minute ago, every
guard in the base would have known I was there. I put
it to silent -"
"I'm sorry, Leia, I know it was a risk. Are
you safe? Where are you? Did you get the array?"
Leia eased her bike to a stop, hovering above and
just behind the fighting below. She could see the
smoke of destroyed Imperial vehicles...the battle
seemed to be going well, even though they hadn't been
able to move on to the arsenal yet. "Yes, all
their communications are down, and they won't be
getting them back any time soon. I just left the
array. Alpha Squadron looks like they're doing all
right and I was about to -"
"Look, sweetheart, I'm sorry, but we've got
some major problems happening. That's why I overrode
your silent command."
"What?" she asked sharply. "Han,
what is it? Are you all right? What's happening in
"It's not me. We're fine, and we've pretty
much got the city under control right now. It's
Lando. I checked in with him a minute ago. Leia,
things are bad in Mos Eisley. Real bad, and I think
they're only going to get worse. The Tuskens showed
up, and they are out of control. Lando didn't know
what to do - he told me to get you and get your
orders. I haven't heard from him since."
The fear that snaked through Leia suddenly grew
into a fist and grabbed her heart fiercely.
"What...what are they doing? What's
"He didn't have much time to explain..."
"What did he say? What did you
She listened to Han sigh. "He said all hell
had broken loose after the Tuskens arrived. That they
were raiding shops, and killing people...he told me
to get you right away. Then he had to go." He
stopped, but Leia could tell he wasn't finished. She
waited. "I could hear the fighting and
everything else going on in the background. It
sounded ugly, Leia. And..."
"I don't think I've heard Lando sound like
that before. I don't think I can describe it to you.
You didn't hear him."
Leia swallowed hard. "I can hear it in your
voice now, Han," she said quietly. "Was
there...was there anything else? Have you heard
"Not much," Han said flatly. "The
settlers aren't making things any easier for them,
and they still have the Imperials to deal with. I've
got people trying to stay in contact with Gamma
Squadron, but they're too busy fighting to keep us up
A pause. "We heard the stories, Leia. We can
guess what those Raiders are doing to the
But Leia didn't need to guess. She was suddenly
pulled out of her conversation with Han and into the
mists and currents of what was happening in Mos
Eisley, and visions came to her forcefully.
The sand was everywhere. Kicked up, blasted up,
whipping all around in a storm that threatened to
blind her. Yet, Leia could feel what she couldn't
make out clearly.
Terror, violence, and death.
She knew there were people in the settlement who
were ready to fight and were capable of holding their
own against anyone. And they were doing so. It wasn't
their fear that Leia was suffering through.
The fear was from the slaves, many of whom had
lived their entire lives with no means of
self-defense, so they wouldn't be able to challenge
their owners. It was from the poor city dwellers, who
had only ever known their slums, too busy trying to
eke out an existence to have ever spared time
worrying about preparing for some outside attack. It
was from the shopkeepers, who were trying their best,
and who had learned to protect their wares from
thieves and smugglers, but were caught unprepared for
the viciousness of Raiders who normally didn't
venture in far enough to bother the businesses in
The fathers and husbands. The women and children.
Leia hoped desperately that not all of these
images had occurred - that she still had a chance to
stop some of it from happening.
"Leia! Are you there!"
She pulled out of her vision completely - it had
only take a couple of seconds - and answered him.
"I'm here. Try to get back through to Lando.
I'm sure he's doing what he can to protect the
civilians. Tell him to keep doing that until I get
"Until you get there?"
"Leia, Alpha Squadron needs you at
Headquarters. You can't just leave them in the middle
of a battle."
"They're doing fine here, Han -"
"They need your direction. What are they
supposed to do if they realize they've been left with
no one to command them -"
"They have their orders," she said.
"And besides, they're attacking a fully armed
and protected military base in open battle. There's
no comparison. No matter what happens here, the real
trouble is in Mos Eisley. I have to fix this,
"Look, I'm sending people out to help Lando
now." Han's voice was sharp. "Mos Espa's
under control, we can spare the people. Stay where
"Send your people, I'll need the help. Why
are you so against me going?"
"Because you can't fix this on your own, and
don't tell me that's not what you're thinking you're
going to do. You're out of your mind to even consider
"I created this problem on my own," she
replied, "and everything we've done on Tatooine
is in jeopardy because of it. Besides, having a Jedi
there has got to make a difference."
"Get Lando and tell him I'm coming, Han. Leia
out." She switched him off, took a deep breath,
and then switched over to Alpha Squadron's channel.
Commander Athuli answered.
"Commander, a situation has arisen and I'm
needed elsewhere. What is the situation down
"We've hit most of the ships and transports
they had stationed here. We're moving on to their
ammunitions. We're gaining the upper hand."
"Good. Hit their weapons, and then get out of
there as ordered. Check in with Han once you do
"But we could -"
"Commander, those are your orders. I trust
you as my officer to follow them. Once you've
destroyed your intended targets, gather your people
and leave. Is that understood?"
"...Yes Ma'am. Athuli out."
With that, Leia immediately pushed her bike to its
top speed - pushed it beyond the top speed. She
blazed a path directly toward Mos Eisley.
The communications array was not merely disabled;
it was utterly destroyed. Its circuits were melted
and its console fused. Vader surveyed it by long
habit for usable parts. He found none. Leia had aimed
the destruction at him personally - it was
deliberately damaged in a manner that no amount of
mechanical tinkering would repair.
Leia, what have you done?
Thoughts of the past tried to flood his mind.
Images. Sounds. Smells.
I will come back and free you, Mom, I promise.
(Don't look back. )
Dreams pass in time.
(Don't look back. )
You had another nightmare last night.
(Don't look back. )
It was just before dawn...
Mom. Her voice, as clear as it had been so long
ago: Don't look back.
A woman bound to crossed wooden stakes, blood from
some unseen wound making her face a death mask. The
pressure of more blood seeping under her flesh,
making her feel almost rigid. The smell of the tent.
The warm touch of her hand on his face.
And then the fire in his mind, and the screams.
The screams never completely left him. Even when his
victims were silent - as they usually were now,
trying to die with dignity - he heard the echoes of
those ancient screams, felt the horrible energy come
into him, the desire to punish, to destroy, to hurt.
That shame would come later was something he had come
to accept as a fact of his life, the natural
consequence of exacting... justice? Vengeance? Was
there a difference, really?
(Don't look back. )
But he needed to look back. He needed to
look back because Leia had brought the nightmare
forward, and he had to find her. This time, he would
find her before she was tied to the crossed
wood rack and beaten until her own blood turned
against her. She would answer for this outrage - it
was far beyond what he was willing to indulge - but
he would find her first, and they would have a long
conversation, about a great many things.
The sound of metal crushing metal brought him out
of his angry reverie, and he realized that he'd
crumpled a small component of the communications
array in the palm of his right hand. Obi-Wan would
undoubtedly tell him that he was allowing his anger
to cloud his judgment, and that clouding his judgment
would only impede his progress...
It would be true, Anakin...
Vader looked up sharply, but the voice was just a
memory, like the others. Obi-Wan might come to
lecture him about Amidala's political affiliations,
but he would surely not trouble himself over the
minor matter of Leia's safety, certainly not with the
sure knowledge that his new pet Jedi would be
immediately returned to the Empire and her training
with her father.
Still, the memory was right. Anger at Leia and
ancient screams would not help meditation, would not
help him find her.
He let the smoke from the destruction swirl around
him, closing off the vision through the eyeguards in
his mask. Behind the eyeguards, he closed his natural
eyes as well, though their input in this state was
negligible. It took effort to get past the anger and
past... past that which lay beyond the anger... but
he forced his mind to cool, and finally, beaten into
submission, his instinct bowed to his conscious will.
Vader reached for the Force, took hold of it, let
it take hold of him.
At first, all he could feel was the pain of the
battle at the motor pool - men and women dying as
laser burns cut through their hearts, seared their
lungs, filled their bodies with fire. There was
anger, rage at their loss, at the Empire, at Amidala
herself, though their reasons were no more than
nebulous clouds of ideology. And terror as they
looked up into the alien sky, understanding that this
was for real...
He pulled himself away from the energy of the
fighting, letting its pain pass through him. He had
been in battles, many battles - if you couldn't shut
out the pain and terror, you couldn't function. And
if you couldn't function, the battle would go on
He went deeper. Leia flickered at the edge of his
consciousness, in motion, trying to hide.
Sands shifting, blowing, stinging his face/her
face. The suns are too hot. The city is too far.
She became aware of him, and he was pushed back
into himself with the strength of a desert whirlwind.
The communications room came back into view for a
short moment, then Vader pushed himself back down to
a meditative state. She was traveling, rushing to one
of the cities. Was it to Mos Eisley itself, into the
arms of the Tuskens? Or was it to Mos Espa or
Bestine? He couldn't waste time choosing the wrong
Swirling in clouds that reached to the sky,
hiding and revealing like a veil blown in the wind.
A figure on a road, her arms wrapped around her
waist, watching as he walks away.
No, as he comes to her. He is coming home.
Then she turns away and disappears behind the
Vader follows her.
Shifting sand, shadows. Leia - or is it
Mom? - appears in a canyon, on a hilltop, going
"No," Vader whispered, unaware that he
was speaking aloud.
The sands part, and the small village of tents
comes into view. Vader
(I am Anakin, I am a person and my name is Anakin)
goes down after her, unable to stop his motion.
He comes close to her.
It is Leia, but it is also Shmi Skywalker. He
can tell the difference, but the woman before him is
both mother and daughter. Her face changes depending
on the angle of the sun.
And she is bleeding. A red mask of blood covers
her, and her wrists are raw from binding that has not
"This is my fault," she says as Leia.
"And I must go and try to repair the damage.
I'll go to them. Surely they will see reason."
Vader tries to speak, but finds himself
"The people in Mos Eisley," the Woman
says as Mom, in her soft, lilting accent. "Ani,
no one is helping them. She has to go. You know she
won't forsake them."
Vader opened his eyes. The smoke had cleared and
his eyeguard vision enhancers were unimpaired. Luke
was standing beside him, Amidala at his shoulder.
"She is alone," he said. "Alone and
planning to speak to the Tusken chief. I believe they
are camped on the rise over Mos Eisley. If I leave
immediately, I can arrive before she does. She is on
"I'm going with you," Luke said.
"I'll get two of our speeders ready, the
modified ones and -"
"Father, I'm capable of fighting Tuskens. I
grew up on a farm on the edge of the Wastes. I
"I said no, Luke. I say it as your father, as
your Master, and as your superior officer. You will
stay here and guard your mother."
"Please, Luke," Amidala said, her hand
grasping frantically at the boy's shoulder.
"Please do as your father asks. Please. I trust
you to allow nothing to happen to me, and I... Oh,
Luke, I can't stand the thought of all of you being
away from me again. Don't leave me alone."
Luke's jaw tightened. Amidala knew him well, and
had chosen the argument he never countered. But he
was taking their position as an insult, a lack of
Vader stood. "I trust you, my son," he
said. "Do not assume otherwise. But your mother
requires protection here. I must retrieve your
sister, and... " He stopped, unsure how he'd
planned to end the sentence. "You will remain at
headquarters," he said. "Do not argue with
He suddenly felt Luke's mind on his own, tasting
his emotional state, seeing what his motives were. It
was a discomforting sensation and Vader usually
discouraged it as strongly as he could, but whatever
Luke had sensed there - and Vader was never quite
sure what Luke believed he was sensing - made him
take a step back and bow graciously.
Luke nodded, a puzzled but almost warm look in his
eyes. "As you wish, Father."
"My good son," Amidala said, and
squeezed his hand.
Vader looked at them together, at their
fine-featured faces and broad mouths. They were
It was not a time to share that sentiment.
Instead, he nodded briefly to Luke, ran a finger down
Amidala's cheek (she caught it on her lips to press a
kiss against it), and ran for the motor pool.
The battle was beginning to wind down, but it was
hard to determine who had won at this point. Many
vehicles lay in ruins, but the main entrances hadn't
been breached. Somehow, a modified speeder had
remained, improbably sitting in the midst of a scrap
pile that had once been six others. Vader jumped into
it, hit the acceleration keys, and steered off toward