Star Wars: A Dark Path - by Alice Hadden(hadden@mh
A Dark Path
Alice Hadden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
It should have been the birth of a new era for the Rebel
Alliance, an altogether new Republic; but good intentions always seem
to fall short.
Leia Organa Solo studied several data cards laid out before
her and sipped distractedly at a cup of lukewarm coffee. She did not
notice the dark, enigmatic figure that slipped into the nearly empty
cafe. Within the Imperial City of the bustling planet of Coruscant,
it was very quiet--far too early for anyone of sane mind to be up and
working. After a full night's work, Leia felt anything but sane. She
was exhausted and the bad coffee made her stomach upset. She had
suffered from insomnia ever since her twins, Jaina and Jacen, had been
sent to a hidden location several months ago as infants. Leia covered
her eyes and tried to confine the migraine that threatened to cause
her head to explode. Within a few weeks, the twins would reach their
first birthday and, if things weren't as hectic as they had been, she
would have a chance to visit them. She knew her loyal assistant
Winter took good care of them; feeding them, watering them, loving
them. But the high ranking diplomat couldn't shake the feeling of
being replaced. Jaina and Jacen probably did not remember her as
their true mother, but adopted Winter as their surrogate. Luke had
insisted the Force-sensitive children be sent away to protect against
the corrupting influences of the Dark Side; at least, he had said,
until their personalities were solidly developed, perhaps two of three
years. Leia was given the choice to join them or stay with the Inner
Council. At the time, she felt her political responsibilities were
more pressing and she would go to them as soon as things got
straightened out. However, as the fledgling government became more
tangled in its own ambition, increasing demands heaped upon her head
like lumps of hot coal. She felt guilty, and bitter, and missed her
Startled, Leia removed her hands from her face to see her
brother seated directly before her. His handsome, but unremarkable
features were hidden carefully beneath the shadows of a dark hood.
Youth had long since passed them both and only the faintest glimmer of
Luke Skywalker's old restlessness remained in his cool, blue eyes.
He, too, carried burdens that made Leia decide her own were
insignificant. The burden of unexplainable power. Sometimes he
seemed less than human and sometimes more--but there was a streak of
melancholy that consumed his lifespirit every day. He looked aged
beyond his thirty years, more withdrawn to meditation. Still, it was
his insistence that separated her from her children and Leia was not
one to hold pity.
In a not altogether friendly tone, she quipped, "Good morning
"Hard day ahead of you?" Luke asked and lowered the hood of
his robe. His face was rough with stubble. A server droid lumbered
over and he ordered coffee and a pastry.
"You might say that," she replied once the droid had turned
away. Pessimistically, she returned her attention to the data cards
on the table. The days were becoming harder.
"We've received orders from Mon Mothma to attack the Bodyn
shipyards this morning," Luke stated.
"I know that. I'm a member of the Inner Council."
"Madam President didn't give a specific reason..."
Leia stopped shifting through the data cards and rubbed her
pounding temples. The Jedi was fishing. She waited until the server
droid returned with Luke's breakfast before responding. "Commander
Skywalker, I am not at liberty to divulge the specifics of highly
"Leia, you're talking to your twin brother..."
"Suffice it to say that Madam President feels it is in the
interest of New Republic security."
Luke took a bite of the pastry and mumbled, "So tell me, do
all noble causes become governmental bureaucracies?"
The politician anticipated this and had prepared a diplomatic
response. "It's only natural you might feel this way after we've
fought so long and hard against Emperor Palpatine. But the cause we
persue now is just as noble. As we give rise to a new nation, we
must govern ourselves diligently and make certain our boundaries are
She had more to her speech but broke off as Luke sipped his
coffee and gazed at her, unmoved.
"They don't have a prayer, you know, without the Emperor or
our father to guide them. They haven't moved against us in nearly a
year. Why not let them be?"
Leia arranged the data cards in neat stacks and avoided her
brother's gaze for a moment. She finally conceded, "It's a matter of
politics. There are those on the Inner Council who want to see the
Empire ground into spacedust. I've been up all night long trying to
see if we can somehow shift the balance of power back to our favor."
Luke touched a finger to his lips and studied her expression.
"I see. Maybe different warlords have the same ambitions."
"Be careful what you say, Luke." Leia's eyes shifted
nervously to catch nonexistent eavesdroppers.
Luke chewed on the pastry and brushed crumbs from the two
days' growth on his chin. "You're right, councilor, my apologies. It
is, after all, a political matter."
"Don't be sarcastic," Leia told him and leaned forward to
whisper. "The Inner Council is extremely displeased with you as it
is. Look at you! You really need to start taking better care of
"Appearances are not of great importance to a Jedi," he stated
"At least shave that scruff. It looks just terrible."
"A matured Jedi Knight should have a beard."
"And you just said appearances weren't important!" Leia
scoffed and gestured to his monkish apparel. "Well, if the object of
this is to break the military mold, you've certainly succeeded. They
think you're some kind of religious fanatic."
Luke and Mon Mothma had had words over this a few days before
and the debate was still unresolved. The New Republic was a secular
society through and through, and Madam President could not see her way
clear to follow the traditons of old, to allow the Jedi Knight to
serve as counsel for the infant government. He would then be prepared
to see for himself...but that was what she feared. Her spread of
angst gossip was irritating, but so typical of one desperate to cling
He folded his arms in defense and asked, "And what do you
"Luke, I know the Force is real. I've seen you use it. I've
seen Darth Vader..." She bit her tongue at the mention of their
father's name, then continued. "But I also know you're not the same
farmboy that came to rescue me some ten years ago."
"Of course I'm not." Luke reached over to grasp his sister's
hand. "Leia, the Force has changed me in ways I can't even begin to
"For the better?"
Luke had to take pause and think about this. The Force was
more than a tool. The indelible mark it left on the soul of its user
was certainly not all sweetness and light. Slowly, he nodded. "I
believe so. And I believe it's time you learned of it as I have."
This time it was Leia who drew back and folded her arms. "I'm
not sure I want to."
"Because I don't like breaking the laws of physics."
"But, Leia, restoring the Jedi Knighthood is so very
important," he insisted. "Someday the children will need to be
"I really resent the fact that you've taken it upon yourself
to get so involved. Jacen and Jaina are my children, not yours. It's
bad enough you had them sent away."
"It's for their own protection against the Dark Side..."
"I know! You've told me a thousand times and I hate it!"
Luke took a deep breath. "Let it go."
"Sure." Leia bit down on a series of stinging remarks but let
a few of the most pointed slip through anyway. "I think you should
get married and have children of your own. Then you could raise a
whole garrison of little Jedis."
Luke frowned and Leia flushed, realizing she'd placed a rather
large foot in her mouth. Upon the revelation that they were twins,
their relationship had evolved from one of timid infatuation to
brotherly love. It could not have been easy for Luke to accept the
truth and the love she had for Han Solo. It was a subject they
mutually decided never to discuss. Her comments hit a little too
close to the mark but she added, "It might be nice if you met
The Jedi quietly interrupted. "I think you and the twins need
to learn some defensive techniques at the very least."
She retorted, "To tell you the truth, I'm much too busy at the
moment to take up witchcraft. I think you'd better get ready to
The Jedi let this all pass with infinite patience. "Are you
all right? You seem irritable."
"I'm irritable, exhausted, sick to my stomach...I've been up
all night long and I'm in no mood..."
"Leia?" Luke's brow furrowed as he leaned closer.
Leia threw down a data card which toppled one of the neat
stacks in a clatter. "What! Why are you looking at me like that!"
Her twin brother took her agitated hands into his own and used
the Force to touch the tiny presence growing within her. The unborn
was so small, yet resilient. "Sister, you're going to have another
Leia closed her eyes and accepted what she had wanted to deny
over the past month. To be a mother, a wife, and a leading player in
New Republic politics was becoming next to impossible. She couldn't
stand this separation any longer and knew, finally, the choice would
have to lie with raising the children. She could not envision her
husband shirking his machismo to change diapers and play peek-a-boo.
She felt cheated.
"Leia?" Her brother sounded concerned.
Leia sighed. "Han and I haven't been getting along very well
lately, as if we ever really had gotten along...He mentioned something
about going to the Bespin system for a while. Seems that Lando hit it
big at the Sabacc tables and wants to get the Tibanna gas mines up
and running again. I suppose I'll tell him if he gets back within the
next eight months. Otherwise, he'll just have to be surprised."
Luke remained silent but kept her hands in his. Support for
his twin was undying, despite their differences in opinion. Yet
inwardly, Leia felt very alone.
The shuttle destined for Admiral Rufus Haake's fleet was
filling with still grounded pilots in search of transport. Beside it,
the aged Millennium Falcon belched hot steam and Han Solo cried out
from beneath the dented hull.
"OW! Chewie, shut it off! Now!"
The steam subsided as Luke Skywalker poked his head through a
porthole to look at his old pirate friend. Even though his smuggling
days were far behind him, and Solo had gained some notoriety as a
respectable, if not responsible, leader during the Battle of Endor,
he was still much the swashbuckling rogue he always had been. It was
an attraction of opposites for Han and Leia, hence the makings for a
"You okay down there?"
"Fabulous," Solo grumbled. "Just fabulous. Chewie, toss Luke
the fusion cutters and a hydrospanner! I think I left 'em near the
port maintenance outlet!"
Luke caught the tools and handed them down to Han. "Why don't
you stick around until Leia has a chance to talk to you?"
"Because I'll be near death by the time she can squeeze me
into her busy schedule."
Luke rolled his eyes. "Come on..."
"Why should I? If you can think of one...solitary...good
reason to give that woman the time of day after the way she's ignored
me lately then...maybe I'll give it a...shot." Solo grunted as he
cranked on an overhead compartment. Down poured a flood of sticky
lubricant which he narrowly escaped. "Blast it! A bucket, kid! I
need a bucket!"
Skywalker jogged down the landing ramp with pail in hand and
Han Solo mopped grease from his face.
"For cryin' out loud, would you look at this mess? Chewie!"
"I've got a reason," Luke said as he held the bucket beneath
the dwindling flow of goo.
"Oh yeah?" Han collected his tool kit and began searching for
an appropriate implement. "What's that?"
"You love her." Luke watched his old friend's expression
twist into something pained.
"That's not good enough," he snapped and roughly brushed the
Jedi aside to tighten some fittings on the landing gear. "Nothing is
ever good enough for that woman. Leave it to me to be fool enough to
marry a perfectionist."
The Millennium Falcon groaned as if giving up some kind of
ghost. Skywalker looked at the ship warily. "Will this thing even
make it to Bespin?"
The air reeked of burning oil.
Han shrugged. "She's just settling. You just wait and see
what kind of improvements I'm going to put in this baby." He patted
the Falcon's hull lovingly and turned to face Luke Skywalker in all
seriousness. "I've just got to get away from that sister of yours for
a little while. The politics are driving me absolutely crazy. And
I'm not just talkin' public politics."
"It can't be that bad."
"Kid, I know how it sounds but it's for the best, at least for
right now. Trust me. Now, you'd better quit playing therapist and
hop on that transport for Bodyn IV. Looks like they're about ready to
"Just talk to her before you leave, okay?"
Solo frowned at the younger, more inexperienced man. With all
his Jedi training, Luke had come to know a lot of things, but dealing
correctly with one Councilor Leia Organa Solo was not one of them. A
brief respite would be for the best and she would miss him like
crazy. "We're outta here as soon as I get this thing up and running."
"I hope you don't regret this," Luke stated quietly.
Han gave him a good-natured punch. "Get outta here, farmboy.
And lose the beard! It just don't look right!"
Defeated, Skywalker waved him off and dashed for the transport
as it began to taxi, but paused when the pilot noticed his approach.
Han Solo came out from under the Falcon to watch the shuttle depart,
straightening his cramped back muscles. A vacation would be nice.
* * *
Life for the Empire had slowed to a crawl in the two years
since the Battle of Endor. The so-called New Republic that sprouted
from the Rebel Alliance had divided them, taken their territories, and
run them off to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. A dozen or so
factions of the Emperor's old regime rose up now and again to keep
things lively; the most resent fiasco being the play for power by
Grand Admiral Thrawn and others. A reckless strategy at best given
the dire situation, for now the New Republic sought out Imperial
remnants with renewed vengeance. The once prolific shipyards of Bodyn
IV fell silent, as there were plenty of materials but very little
fuel. The desolate planet in the Outer Rim was made habitable only by
transparent domed biospheres that appeared like massive bubbles
across the volcanic surface. The population within held its breath
for fear that the slightest movement might draw unwanted scrutiny.
According to an Imperial operative placed in the upper echelons of New
Republic government, the Inner Council's eyebrow was raised in their
A frail, old man let the disability chair he was confined to
take him through the shipyard in a labyrinth of clear, tubule,
environmentally sterile corridors. Airlocks separated him from
gigantic vessels on either side--Star Destroyers, Super Star
Destroyers; and the newest technological marvel, the Imperial Kismet.
He stopped to appraise the just completed superweapon. It was a
massive hulk of armor and turbolaser cannons that had the propensity
of wiping out entire cities from orbit. Granted, it did not have the
destructive power of the fated Death Star, but perhaps that was a
blessing in disguise. Such a weapon demanded an enormous reactor core
which ultimately doomed the bulk of the Empire. The Kismet was half
the size of its Star Destroyer counterparts, more maneuverable, and
perhaps was a model for the future of Imperial warmachines. Yet this
was only a model and was far from perfect. Engineers were perplexed
by a number of navigational glitches and power fluctuations that
tormented the new ship. However, it was spaceworthy and would help
them escape the approaching New Republic fleet. It would allow them
to hold their own until new fuel could be acquisitioned. The
proverbial eggs were placed in one basket.
This ancient admiral named Maxus Thorn was not the intense
opportunist Thrawn was, and given New Republic vehemence as of late,
he was bent solely on procuring the survival of his fleet. Thorn
himself had been a survivalist all his life. His parents were killed
by Old Republic soldiers and he enlisted with the blossoming Empire to
avenge their deaths. During the Clone Wars, he was shot down over
Sullust and lost his legs. The Empire no longer wanted him in service
but he had managed to convince his superiors that a pilot didn't need
legs to fly. As the years passed, Maxus Thorn proved himself over and
over in campaigns against those who would thwart Palpatine's design.
Upon proving his loyalty, he had risen quickly through the ranks,
scorning those who would mock him, and now he assumed the position
Thrawn had left vacant. Grand Admiral Thorn smiled wanly. The dogs
of war die hard.
The holocomm on the arm of his chair beeped for attention and,
after receiving a terse response, a five inch hologram of Commander
Storm materialized. Kayla Storm was a beautifully hardened woman
after his own heart--a survivalist. It was no secret Emperor
Palpatine held a general disdain for women, nonhumans, handicaps like
himself. His fleet in the Outer Rim was quite a motley bunch,
tolerated but sent away from the Emperor's sight. Yet it was
formidable. Commander Storm was formidable. He eyed her figure and
chiseled features appreciatively. At one time, many decades ago, he
might have entertained the thought of romancing this aspiring, young
lady. But his ninetieth year was at hand and he no longer had the
patience or energy for such trifles.
"They're here, sir," she stated flatly. "The Rebel fleet has
just come out of hyperspace near Bodyn III."
"Have Captains Jenkins and Saysithi prepare our retreat,"
Thorn rumbled softly. "Until they are vacated, the biospheres must be
protected at all costs. Understood, Commander?"
"Yes, Grand Admiral."
Maxus Thorn gazed sadly upon the Kismet and sighed. "Do what
you must then."
The hologram vanished. For the Empire, the objective was no
longer to obtain victory, but merely to exist.
The silence and solitude of space were shattered as three
squadrons of New Republic X, Y, and A-wing class fighters poured out
of their respective Star Cruisers and swarmed into formation. The
white dwarf star rose across the ecliptic of Bodyn IV with its more
ominous, red giant companion. Luke Skywalker squinted but the canopy
of his fightercraft darkened automatically. Artoo-Detoo gave a
Luke agreed. "Let's hope the ultra-violet rays don't fry your
sensors. Hold on. This can't be right." He frowned at a response on
the forward computer screen, then opened up the comlink. "Benefactor.
Flagship Benefactor. This is Rogue Leader."
"Is there a problem, Rogue Leader?"
"Initial scan indicates the population is going through an
There was a brief crackle of static before Rufus Haake spoke
heavily into the comlink. "Bodyn IV is to be wiped clean, Commander
Skywalker. Shipyards, biospheres and all."
"The inhabitants are retreating," Luke argued. "This is genocide."
"This is war!" The admiral barked. "This mission is not like
any other. Now will you submit to orders or must I relieve you of
Luke was about to reply affirmatively to the latter when the
transmission was interrupted by Wedge Antilles, his wing pilot.
"TIE fighters! Three o'clock!"
"We're in it now," he muttered and took a moment to watch the
familiar horde of Imperial combat ships. He switched the transmitter
to a short range frequency. It would be unwise to directly go against
Admiral Haake's orders but, a hint could be dropped. "Destroying the
shipyards is our foremost objective. Let's finish this and go home,
Luke gripped the controls and guided his squadron into a
vicious dogfight. The Empire had spent most of its diseased existence
pillaging world of innocents. It was all too easy to slip into a
desire for revenge. With the coming of a darkening age, the dwindling
Empire would not be allowed to run.
Ionic blasts rained down upon the shipyards as the New
Republic fighters screamed through the atmosphere. Organics and
inorganics fled in every direction through the chaos. A garrison of
stormtroopers attempted to direct traffic to Star Destroyers ready
for take off. Commander Kayla Storm gave a silent oath as the Super
Star Destroyer Nemesis exploded in a brilliant fireball. She
maneuvered her TIE fighter through the flak with ease but three of her
twelve-man squadron were lost.
Six of the remaining Star Destroyers and the Imperial Kismet
struggled against gravity to reach the relative safety of space. One,
the Antagonist, lost her lift as a squadron of X-wing class fighters
pelted relentlessly against her main drive. The Star Destroyer turned
downward and gracefully nose-dived into the central biosphere like a
mammoth arrowhead. Storm squeezed her eyes shut against the resulting
explosion and her ears rang with what seemed to be the screams of
thousands. She called for vengeance against that squadron and the
chase was on. The Bodyn shipyards were quickly laid to waste.
Admiral Haake watched with grim resolution as five Imperial
ships escaped into the weightlessness of space only to find his New
Republic fleet waiting most patiently.
His callused hands folded upon his lap and the Imperial
deserter breathed, "We have them." He spoke loudly into a
transmitter. "Fighters stand clear! Star Cruisers fire on my mark!"
The beams of pure energy ripped through the hulls of two
escaping Star Destroyers. Their momentum curbed and they drifted
silently before colliding in a resplendent fireshow. The Kismet swung
about clumsily to return fire and a much thicker beam of light bore
into the Star Cruiser Empower, cutting a narrow path through the
The explosion blinded Luke Skywalker and he had to bank hard
to avoid pummeling into the blazing debris. His throat tightened as
several, in fact, nearly all of his squadron could not react so
quickly and perished in the fiery holocaust. With this and the
destruction of the biospheres and so much death, it was more than a
day of terrible mistakes, Luke decided. There was more to this than
random accident. The Jedi allowed himself to let go of the
dogfighting for a moment and reached out to the Force that surrounded
them, permeated them, held the universe together. There was method
behind all this madness, mostly avarice on the part of Rufus Haake,
and stark fear on the part of the Imperial Navy. Except for one.
Someone else was out there, someone whose sense was altogether
distinct from the others. He snapped back to the task at hand as the
tiny fighter bucked and Artoo screamed out frantic information. The
rear defense shields were nil and the leader of the TIE squadron bore
down on his X-wing with deadly accuracy. The ship rolled hard but not
before laser blasts ripped into the left rear engine. Luke clenched
his teeth against nausea as his fighter began a tight spin. Artoo
shrieked hysterically as Skywalker fought against the black dots that
flooded his sight. As his vision cleared, he brought the six tons of
weightless metal under control and hunted his persuers.
Commander Storm weaved through the wreckage with a handful of
surviving TIE fighters, madly dashing for the flagship Zephyr before
the tiny Imperial fleet jumped into hyperspace. The path cut by the
Kismet was closing rapidly and it would only be a matter of seconds.
Explosions rocked her fighter as four of her comrades burst into
flames. The X-wing she'd disabled had them. They would never make
She screamed, "Zephyr! We're almost there!"
The Grand Admiral's voice was stone cold. "We cannot wait."
With that, the three Imperial warships jumped to lightspeed.
Commander Storm stared at the empty space with unshed tears. Another
moment and they would have been safe within the Zephyr's docking bay.
Kilometers became lightyears in a nanosecond. The X-wing leader fired
into her last companion and his exploding ship bumped hers into a
violent spiral. She touched the eject button before losing
"What was that!" Luke shouted but knew before Artoo gave his
electronic reply. "Hold your fire! There's somebody out there and
he's still alive!"
"Affirmative, Rogue Leader," crackled the voice of Wedge
Antilles. "I've seen at least five others!"
"Flagship Benefactor, send out a rescue shuttle," Luke
ordered. "If their lifesuits are anything like ours, they've got
about fifteen minutes before they run out of oxygen"
"Affirmative." The voice sounded less than enthusiastic.
"All fightercraft return to your ships."
Skywalker glided his damaged, old fighter into the
Benefactor's hangar with his surviving comrades and bleakly chastised
himself for letting the pilot in him take over the part that was Jedi
Knight. The thrill of battle was not the glorious feeling of
patriotism it disguised itself to be. There was something noticeably
darker about this particular mission and his conscience bit at him.
Too late, he realized. It was a brutal massacre at only the touch of
a few buttons, but what was done was done. By the time he'd loosed
his restraints and tended to Artoo-Detoo, Lieutenant Wedge Antilles
approached and called up from the deck.
"Looks like they shot one of your engines straight to hell!"
Luke gave the rear of his fighter a cursory glance. The whole
thing would have to be overhauled before the next mission, if he
indeed chose to complete a next mission. "They sure did."
"Your R2 unit okay?"
"Fine." Luke grinned at the pilot and climbed down. He had
flown with Antilles on more runs than he could count. Very few pilots
made it through their third year, at least when the war was at its
peak. While Luke Skywalker had the Force to fall back on, Wedge
Antilles' piloting skills were much like Han Solo's, he flew by the
seat of his pants. He was blessed by what others would call good
luck, and by what Luke would call good destiny. The Force worked
kindly within this man. They both watched as Artoo-Detoo was
carefully lowered to the deck.
"What do you think about what we did out there?" Wedge asked.
"We caused a lot of damage." Luke knelt before Artoo and
scraped off some carbon. The droid twittered gratefully.
Skywalker stood to face him and frowned. "I know how you
feel, Lieutenant, but I think it's in our best interest if we don't
say too much."
Antilles gave a curt nod. "Understood, Commander."
They both watched the rescue shuttle return like a predatory
bird hoarding its prey. Luke felt the hairs on the back of his neck
stand on end as the metallic creature landed with a resounding clang.
Wedge was saying something about Luke possibly getting a reprimand
for questioning orders.
Luke almost didn't hear him but mumbled, "Reprimands are
Six haggard prisoners stumbled onto the deck under heavy
guard. One in particular was taking issue with the sergeant regarding
their treatment. It was a woman, a commander. Her black hair was
drastically short and spiked, according to Imperial code. But there
was something familiar...
Kayla Storm paused in mid-tirade and shifted her gaze to look
frigidly upon the Jedi Knight. The intensity of her emerald eyes
faded just a bit as she perhaps recognized him in only the most basic
sense. Luke Skywalker felt his blood turn to ice in response. She
was a face from another lifetime, changed but much the same.
* * *
Deep within the belly of the New Republic flagship, the
Imperial commander was roughly escorted to a detention cell and left
"Collect your thoughts," the arrogant guard advised.
"Interrogation will be forthcoming once we reach Coruscant."
Kayla Storm forced a tight smile and watched the door shut
without reprise. Crimson light flooded the tiny room but cast minimal
illumination. Three meters by two--more a broom closet than a place
of detainment. But then, she hardly expected an embassy suite. A
small vent in the ceiling forced recycled air into the cell and she
shivered from the cold. Stripped of her lifesuit, she wore a loose,
gray prisoner uniform and stared down at her bare, frigid feet. The
New Republic took pleasure in raping the Empire of its dignity. It
was a bitter pill.
She sat on the floor with her feet crossed in front of her and
tried to warm them. Grand Admiral Maxus Thorn had abandoned her when
she needed him most. Someday he would regret that. She could not
hold on to her anger at the moment though and closed her eyes against
the buzzing pain that ricocheted within her skull.
Kayla Storm had been in the service of the Empire for over a
decade. She had risen through the ranks quickly, for a woman, and
crushed her competitors underfoot. Before her, a woman piloting the
Twin Ion Engine fightercraft was laughable. For one to command an
entire squadron was pure fantasy. Yet fantasy came to pass and the
laughter had long since died away. It was the coming into that
commendable service that had not been pleasant. Memories muted by
years of intensive training whispered into her thoughts like a
phantom. There had been much bloodshed with the acquisition of
Tatooine and the enlistment of her and many. That man from the hangar
had been part of that time, that place. A pilot and commander like
herself. She tried to force her recollection but the pain in her
head sharpened like a metal stake being driven into her skull. He was
an old acquaintance perhaps.
She opened her sharp, green eyes as the buzzing in her mind
calmed. She recalled the name and smiled.
"So good to see you again, Luke."
* * *
Somewhere in the depths of space, a small Imperial fleet
licked its wounds. Two damaged Star Destroyers and the flawed Kismet
drifted in silence. Aboard the flagship Zephyr, the self-proclaimed
Grand Admiral called a meeting with the captains of there maining
vessels. The three sat in anguish, stunned by the swift defeat. They
respected their leader not out of fear as demanded by Lord Darth Vader
or blind submission as demanded by Emperor Palpatine, but out of true
admiration. The disabled veteran was a great strategist, a great
warrior, unshakable in character. That is why they were there and not
flung to the farthest corners of the galaxy where they might find
safety. There was no doubt in any of their minds that they would not
only survive the New Republic's persecution, but would someday restore
the glory of the Empire. And it would be under the leadership of this
man. If only he would tell them that it would be so. Yet, he would
"Has the rest of the Imperial Navy been alerted?" asked Thorn.
After clearing her throat, Captain Jenkins responded, "They
are too busy skirmishing among themselves to pay any heed."
"And the Imperial Academy on Carida? Has Ambassador Furgan
Jenkins frowned deeply. "The Ambassador expressed disdain for
our fleet of `under-trained, ill-prepared band of misfits' and stated
no reinforcements would be forthcoming unless we returned to Carida."
"Idiots," Maxus Thorn grumbled. He paused for a moment. "I
will not mislead you." The Grand Admiral spoke as if he were giving
their eulogy. "The circumstances in which we find ourselves are dire,
indeed. If we do not find fuel within the next forty-eight hours, we
will be sent adrift and perish."
He looked at each of the captains in turn. They were
desperate and hung on his every word for some faint glimmer of
inspiration. The dogs needed a bone to be thrown. His medaled chest
rose and fell before he stated off-handedly, "So we have met another
loss. What of it? We must simply bend like blades of grass in the
wind. Bend, not break. When the gust dies, we will be left standing
upright. The Kismet has been our salvation and in time it will be our
vengeance." If only the engineers could diagnose and fix whatever
was wrong with the blasted thing.
The captains seemed to relax a bit, glad to receive the gift
Thorn continued, "The Bespin system is not far off. Isn't
that so, Jenkins?"
The unsightly old woman nodded imperceptibly. Ugly, but
perhaps one of the best captains in the Imperial Navy. This antique
was but five years his younger.
"We shall set course for that system at half power. It will
take nearly thirty hours but we cannot afford another lightspeed
"Understood, sir," said Captain Talbot. "But Bespin is a
"Have you another suggestion, Captain Talbot?"
The boy fell silent. This captain was young, perhaps forty
years of age, inexperienced. In effect, a moron. Thorn permitted a
grandfatherly smile to forgive his stupidity as long as it didn't get
in the way of his duty. When the day came that mistakes were made,
the penalties would be harsh.
"Now, what has become of our comrades that have been left
Captain Saysithi stroked his gnarled fur with a third
tentacle--another misfit ostracized by Palpatine's discrimination, and
captain of Thorn's flagship. None were certain if Saysithi was his
actual name or the title of his species, only that the Grand Admiral's
confidant was the last of his kind. His voice purred like a kitten.
"They are dead, sir, save a small number of pilots taken prisoner by
the New Republic."
"How small is that number?" Thorn asked.
"To be exact? Six."
"We are doomed," Talbot breathed.
The Grand Admiral lifted his hand slightly and silenced him.
He turned his attention back to the alien. "Captain Saysithi, was
Commander Storm among the survivors?"
"Yes, she is with them. Our informant has not yet made
contact with her. Do you wish him to do so?"
"I don't want him to compromise his position with the Inner
Council." Thorn tried to hide the deep frown that twitched at the
corners of his mouth and commanded the captains to leave him. As they
went about the fulfillment of their duties, the Grand Admiral allowed
himself but a moment to contemplate the problems with the introduction
of a spy. Could this spy be trusted, especially in light of Carida's
disdain for the fleets in the Outer Rim? The New Republic leadership
could not have the stomach for the ruthless tactics implemented at
Bodyn IV. Perhaps it was a nudge from outside influence. The
espionage then, had hopelessly backfired. His thin lips tightened.
It was too dangerous to send a replacement. There just was no time
for all this blasted rig-a-ma-roll. He needed fuel and he needed it
Grand Admiral Thorn pressed a series of codes into a small
control panel set before him. After a moment, Lando Calrissian
materialized at the center of the conference table. The baron
administrator of the planet Bespin and its precious Tibanna gas mines
was half a meter in height and not at all pleased.
"What do you want?"
"I have a proposition..."
"Bespin is a neutral territory." The baron folded his arms
defensively. "We no longer serve the Empire."
"I am aware of that," the Grand Admiral told him. "I can
assure you my intentions are not hostile."
"Then exactly what are your intentions?"
Maxus Thorn smiled graciously. "To make you rich beyond your
Slowly, Lando's hands dropped to his sides. "I'm listening."
* * *
Han Solo scowled at his old gambling partner as he spoke at
length with the Imperial brass in the communications room. He
couldn't hear through the soundproof plastisteel but it was obvious
that a deal had been struck. Nightmares reliving his imprisonment in
carbon storage still troubled his sleep now and again, especially in
the days since he'd returned to this place. Cloud City was no blue
heaven for Solo even though Lando had managed to get it up and running
for a cultic tourist gathering. Sabacc casinos, hot steam spas, women
of all species...it just wasn't his cup of tea anymore. Lando had
been quick to sell him out to Darth Vader so many years before. Not
just him, but Luke, and Leia...
A wave of homesickness washed through him. He should have
followed Luke's advice and at least talked to Leia before taking off
like this. This wasn't where he was supposed to be. It was foreign.
It was uncomfortable. Now matter how sick he got of the political
garbage, Coruscant was home. Not even that. Leia was home. The
heartache turned bitter. Leia was too busy playing diplomat with the
Inner Council to give him the attention he deserved. Big egos needed
a lot of stroking. After a number of losses at the Sabacc tables, he
was certain he wouldn't get any of that much needed attention here.
He angrily shoved such thoughts aside and grabbed Lando's arm
as he left the room.
"What's goin' on, buddy?" he asked with a trace of resentment.
"That was Grand Admiral Maxus Thorn..."
"I don't care who that was, you swindler," Han snapped. "What
are you up to?"
Lando faced him squarely. "I'm going to make it so my
operation will never have to be dependent on outside contributors ever
The space pirate glared at Calrissian and warily tried to
gauge his motivations. Ever since the fall out six years ago, he'd
never been completely able to replace that lost trust.
Lando took a deep breath and explained. "He wants to contract
the Tibanna mines to power his fleet. It's going to make us filthy
"Us?" Han shook his head and backed off a step. "I'm not
involved. I can't believe you'd get into something so sleazy."
Calrissian chortled. "Listen to you, mister high and mighty!
I think that politician wife of yours has scrambled your brains.
Look, it's not as if the New Republic couldn't squash these guys with
one hand behind their backs. What's wrong with a simple business
"Is it simple? Or are you hopping into bed with Thorn like you
did with Vader?"
"You have to trust that I've learned from my mistakes, Han.
Don't forget that I also helped get you out of that mess."
"No, I don't forget." You were the one to get me into it, you
jerk, Han finished silently. "Are you sure it's simple?"
"Yeah!" Lando exclaimed and steered his friend down the
corridor. "It's not a big thing. Now come on. I hear there's a good
Sabacc game going on in the East section of town."
"I'm getting tired of playing Sabacc," Han grumbled. This
vacation was not very nice at all.
The planet Coruscant was the center of the galaxy, at least
politically. The giant fortress that housed the government and armed
forces of the New Republic had once been the residence of the now dead
Emperor Palpatine. Before that, the Senate of the Old Republic held
its sessions here. Through it all, Coruscant was a beacon of trade
and commerce. Its polluted highways and byways shuttled diplomats,
corporate executives, and military men to and fro. Twenty billion
inhabitants crowded the dying planet. Some wore gas masks as they
strode the filthy streets of Imperial City. Some took their chances
Luke's eyes stung as he stepped out of the protected
landshuttle. He covered his mouth and coughed as he jogged toward the
Emperor's fortress. The Jedi did not like this place. It seemed
everything the Emperor touched turned to rot. He thought it a poor
choice to build here a new government supposedly devoted to change.
From what he'd witnessed at the battle of Bodyn, that change seemed
like only so much rhetoric. Luke Skywalker entered into an exquisite
marble corridor and inhaled the canned, but at least breathable air.
He walked with a quickness in his step, anxious to meet with his
sister and tell her of his decision to resign from the military. He
had showered and slept after the battle, but did not feel refreshed.
Although a Jedi Knight should not allow himself to succumb to bad
dreams, troubled, almost nightmarish thoughts still echoed freely
through his conscious mind. Not only of the recent firefight and the
mistakes that had been made throughout, but a feeling of dire
resolution, as if forces were at work that he couldn't hope to
control, as if a destiny was about to be completed. The Force is both
a guide and a tool. If one is receptive to it, it can be wielded, but
only if it permits you. The words of Obi-wan Kenobi were somewhat
less than comforting. How much of what was happening and had happened
was within his realm of control as Jedi Knight? The future was always
in motion. It seemed particularly veiled from his sight as of late
and this bothered him. He'd learned years ago not to take action
when his premonitions were so clouded. To hinge so much anxiety on
half-remembered dreams would only bring him to a fool's end. However,
to disregard them completely might result in the same.
There was also the situation regarding his sister, her unborn
child, and the twins Jaina and Jacen. Although Leia obviously felt
otherwise, it was imperative for them to be trained in the ways of the
Force. It was very possible other Jedi, other Dark Lords, existed
elsewhere in the universe. It would be prudent to have some sort of
defense if that were the case. But to shoulder the awesome
responsibility of a Jedi Master was not something Luke felt prepared
for. Old Ben had taken Anakin Skywalker as his apprentice which
somehow led to the emergence of Darth Vader. His own father left his
endearing wife, pregnant with twins, shed his life like snakeskin, and
became a Lord of the Sith. How could such a thing have happened?
Luke thought about this often and struggled against the bitter
resentment that came too easily for him. It was this resentment
toward Vader, toward the Empire itself, that caused revenge to come so
readily to the New Republic. Still, he wished he knew more about that
time so he could avoid similar mistakes when he moved forward with
Leia and her children. If she would even permit it. Perhaps it was
all worry over nothing. Perhaps he truly would be the last Jedi.
And there was Kayla Storm. His recollection became perfectly
clear, and poignant. The Imperial occupation of Tatooine was just
getting into full swing and although nobody cared much for the
presence of an Imperial garrison, no resistance was given since the
New Order brought stability to a dangerous region and a nearly
collapsed economy. After the long days of hot, unrewarding labor,
young Luke Skywalker felt more the indentured servant and less the
adopted son of Owen and Beru Lars. Very little time was left for the
making of friends when the moisture farm demanded so much work. Yet
before his admission into near slavery, before he was big enough,
strong enough, to load and unload the heavy moisture harvesters to and
from the fields, there had been a neighbor, one Maxamillian Storm,
whose daughter was Luke's same age. They were allowed to play
together until the children could help with the harvest of precious
water. As they grew into adolescence, parental authority forbade the
blossoming infatuation of reckless youth. There was a thrill in the
danger of sneaking out into the cool, desert evenings, meeting at a
secret rendezvous, and the dreams they shared of escaping a tedious
existence. There was little solace in it, merely angry rebellion.
After one particular interlude that was not unlike all the
others, young Luke escorted Kayla Storm to her father's homestead.
Then her features were almost fragile in their youth, and her black
hair was long and tied back into a tight braid. He parked the
landspeeder behind an outcropping of sandstone to hide, not daring to
draw any closer in the coming morning. An unfamiliar transport waited
outside of the shack with ominous patience. Within, a dim light
illuminated a tiny window.
"Blast it," Luke cursed. "He's up and waiting."
"Who could be visiting at this hour?" wondered Kayla.
The boy chewed his bottom lip as they sat in tense silence.
After a moment, the girl shrugged and hopped down from the
"Wait. Kayla, I have a bad feeling about this."
"Skywalker, you have a bad feeling about everything!" she
snapped and reached over to give his cheek a gentle pinch. "I'll
steal credit from him tonight when he goes to sleep. We can run away,
Luke. For good."
Luke gave her a fleeting kiss and grinned. "Send ol' Max my
Kayla returned the grin and left. Impishly, young Skywalker
peered over the rock to watch her clothes pull in fascinating
directions as she walked. It was a purposeful walk, with an extra
swing in the hips, just to get him going. Sixteen never looked so
As she disappeared into the shack, Maxamillian shouted her
"Father!" she screamed.
There was laserfire. The girl bolted out the doorway with an
Imperial stormtrooper half a step behind, his polished, white armor
reflecting a bit of light from the lazy moon. He swung his laser
rifle hard across her skull and Kayla Storm dropped to the ground.
Luke panicked. He gunned the engines of his landspeeder and
fled as two more white figures emerged to join the first. They
decided to allow his escape as there were other visitations to be
All this two years before See-Threepio and Artoo-Detoo arrived
with a plea for help that would change his life so completely.
The Jedi Knight shook his head at the memory. Here, now,
Kayla Storm was alive and well. It was stunning, but he wasn't sure
what it mattered. She was an Imperial; through no fault of her own,
but still an Imperial. And the past was a life that was no longer
A piercing scream jolted him out of his reverie. Luke stopped
and half-turned toward its origin. So preoccupied was he that it took
more than a moment to shake off the disorientation. He found himself
on a security level and the scream came for somewhere down the
corridor. There should be no screaming in a New Republic detention
facility, no matter what the crime. Absolutely none.
Another anguished cry.
Without hesitation, the Jedi broke into a flat run and burst
into the second interrogation cell on the left. The smell of fear and
cold sweat attacked his Force-attuned sense.
Immediately, he was restrained by two guards while a third
demanded, "This is a security zone. What business do you have here?"
Luke stared at the spheroid interrogation unit that hummed
closer to Kayla Storm with a myriad of hypodermic needles. The harsh
glare of florescent lighting reflected off its black case and made him
wince. The woman groaned as it paused in its approach. She appeared
haggard, beaten, much as Leia had when he rescued her from the first
Death Star. It was common knowledge that such machines were the
interrogative method of preference for Imperial warlords. But to find
"What business do you have here!" the Sergeant shouted now.
Luke believed his name to be Paulus.
The Jedi's shock deepened into anger but his tone remained
even, layered through the Force to manipulate. "You will not use this
The brutish officer approached the intruder with an air of
menace and impatience. "You had better have good reason why not," he
growled. "General Turchin is anxious for the interrogations to be
"There will be no interrogations," Luke stated, unperturbed.
"I have been sent to elicit information in a less coercive fashion."
"But the General said..."
"He has had a change of heart."
Paulus scratched his scalp for a moment and finally replied,
Luke permitted an ingratiating smile. "Then go, friends, and
let us forget this incident ever took place."
The guards nodded as if that were just a dandy idea, exchanged
friendly farewells, and exited, incident forgotten. Soon though,
there would be hell to pay.
The green laserblade ignited with a snap-hiss and bisected the
hovering torture droid in one quick slice. The unit crashed to the
floor, popping and crackling as it belched blackened smoke. Luke
glared at the mechanized carcass with a sense of moral outrage.
Kayla Storm gazed upon him in dazed confusion. "I don't feel
"The drugs will wear off in an hour or two." Carefully, he
severed her bonds and returned the lightsaber to his belt. "I just
cannot believe things have gotten so bad. How dare they..."
"I know you," she whispered.
Luke nodded, then got to one knee and took her trembling hand
in his own. "Kayla, things are going terribly wrong and I don't know
what I'm going to do about it."
"Help me escape, since you seem to be into this damsel in
distress bit. Granted, I'm not exactly royalty..."
The smart remark trailed off as he looked into her emerald
green eyes and felt compelled. To the New Republic, Kayla Storm was a
war criminal deserving punishment. She had probably killed hundreds
of thousands of innocents in various campaigns. Yet so had he and
many of his comrades. War was a horrendous excuse for mass killings,
all in the name of ideology. While the Empire promoted tyranny
outright, the New Republic's claim to galactic freedom seemed more and
more like a hollow joke. He felt sickened by his own response. "I
can't just pick up and leave. There's too much at risk."
"Luke, you are a Jedi now." It was half a question, half a
statement of fact. Luke nodded shortly. "If that were truly the
case, you would not stand for what the New Republic is doing, even to
He helped her rise to her feet but could not break eye
contact. There was beauty, and fire. She was much like Leia years
ago, before he knew his sister as his sister. He truly wanted to help
her; an old friend, an old love. Even the years of service to the
Empire had not tamed her. But mostly, he had to agree that she was in
the right. He could not allow Turchin's mistreatment. He could not
allow this perpetual witchhunt, especially when the witches in
question were no different than themselves. Then Luke Skywalker saw
something else that made him physically startle. His pulse raced.
He used a Jedi calming technique and stepped toward the door.
"You are strong with the Force, but you haven't discovered it yet."
The announcement seemed to take the Imperial Commander off
guard. She straightened stiffly and responded, "I had no idea..."
"Come on," Luke told her. "I need to speak with the Inner
Council. You'll stay in your cell until I get back."
* * *
The room in which the Inner Council met was a large
amphitheater, complete with a prismed skylight which sent a cascade of
colors down upon whoever had the floor. Leia Organa Solo thought it
too showy; probably designed by the Emperor as, in the dying days of
the Old Republic, he always had the floor. The theater, once filled
with senators from virtually every corner of the civilized galaxy, was
nearly vacant save the nine individuals whose responsibility it was to
govern the New Republic. The very title denoted some kind of
representation, democracy. But in the infant days of government there
was none. They were an oligarchy of sorts but final say always rested
with the President of the New Republic, Mon Mothma. She stood the
semicircular table at which the other eight councilors sat and was
proud of what they had accomplished. What she had accomplished. The
Rebellion had come to a glorious end. The Emperor was dead. Her
leadership was the driving force in this galaxy and it would be her
government that would hold things together and then thrive. She was
proud, to a fault. A fault which would take the fledgling state down
a dangerous path. Mon Mothma gazed coolly upon the small group and
was pleased with the abundance of military attendance. Five of the
eight were crucial military leaders during the war. The others,
Councilors Organa Solo, Xin, and Borsch were permitted for their
potential political value. It was important to keep allies on all
fronts with the inevitable coming of elect ions.
Mon Mothma brushed a lock of graying hair from her eyes and
addressed the Inner Council regally. "Now that we have all gathered,
there are several propositions I wish to make. Firstly, however, I
would like a report on yesterday's clean up mission. Admiral Haake?"
"The mission was a marginal success, Madam President. Three
of the Imperial fleet evaded us; the flagship Zephyr, the Maelstrom,
and the Imperial Kismet."
"Is this new superweapon all that it's been cracked up to be?"
questioned Organa Solo.
The Imperial defector pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I would
say, it is not. Incredible firepower, impenetrable shielding, but
"How do you know that is not the result of poor captaining?"
asked Councilor Xin.
"Imperial flight training is the most comprehensive in the
galaxy. I sincerely doubt any of Carida's graduates would perform so
badly. However, the fleet in the Outer Rim Territories is not highly
"What of the prisoners?" questioned Mon Mothma.
General Turchin cleared his throat before speaking. "The
Imperials are currently undergoing interrogation. I will have the
results within the next two hours."
"What kind of interrogation?" Leia asked.
Turchin cast her a glowering look and replied, "Vital
Leia was forced to give a pretense of civility to this man she
disliked. He would not return the favor and she looked to Mon Mothma
but found no help.
"General Turchin has things well under control, Councilor
Organa Solo. Now if there is any further business, please bring it to
"There is." Leia sat forward in her chair and looked at each
of the councilmembers in turn, trying to find a reaction, a flinch, a
darkening of pallor. Any of these might suggest the true motivations
she imagined. "I want to know when we are finally going to hold
elections and fill this senate chamber. It's time we moved toward a
more democratic form of government."
Mon Mothma's reaction was assuring but carefully masked.
"Elections will be held as soon as the galaxy is secure. We have a
long way to go before we meet that end. Do we not Admirals Haake and
"Indeed," Haake replied shortly.
The Mon Calamari gave a laborious wheeze. "If the Empire is
not eradicated, they will reemerge at a later date."
There was a low chuckle from General Garm Bel Iblis, the
Corellian leader who provided assistance in the acquisition of the
Katana fleet. He was somewhat roguish, like Han, and Leia wondered if
it was a trait unique to their culture or maybe something in the
water that promoted this.
"You two sound like men afraid of losing your jobs."
"I beg your pardon?" Turchin fumed.
"With no real enemy to fight, who is going to need an
extensive armed forces such as ours? It seems, gentlemen, that we and
the honorary medal manufacturers may be presently out of work."
Leia covered her mouth to hide a smile.
General Turchin was irate. "If we let down our defenses, the
New Republic will fall in a matter of days."
"I said nothing of letting down defenses, General Turchin,"
said Bel Iblis, particularly pleased with ruffling the feathers of
this hawk. "I am merely alluding to the fact that we are no longer
faced with the intense competition of five years ago. In f act, I
think it's time we struck a settlement with whoever is left out there
calling themselves `Empire', starting with the Imperial Academy on
"Carida would never surrender," muttered Rufus Haake.
"It is doubtful," agreed Leia as she recalled her last meeting
with Ambassador Furgan. The warm reception had resulted in a splash
of cocktail down Mon Mothma's dress. "However, General Bel Iblis has
a point. Instead of hunting them down like animals, we should reach
certain terms of surrender with at least the fleets not directly
linked to Carida. Given, from their point of view, the dire
circumstances, I would be surprised if many of them wouldn't jump at
the chance for peace."
"You don't know the Empire, Councilor," Haake rumbled.
"I do know them, Admiral. I've been their prisoner, suffered
through their interrogation, watched them destroy my homeworld. I
know the Empire very well."
"Not well enough if you are so willing to forgive," he
responded with coldness. "How can such memories fade so easily and
cause your sense of duty to become lukewarm?"
Leia flushed and strove to keep her voice low. "This is not
about my sense of duty but about facing up to reality. The reality is
that the majority of the Imperial Navy is no longer a threat. The
reality is that the Empire is comprised of people like ourselves who
deserve a chance to live in peace just like any other. Didn't you
leave the Empire to escape the butchery you were ordered to perform?
Aren't you too looking for peace, Admiral Haake? What we are doing
with these so-called clean up missions makes us no better than the
enemies we deplore! And no, sir, I have not forgotten the hell my
father has put me through."
Admiral Ackbar swiveled one of his bulging, fish eyes to give
her a warning look. She clamped down on her tongue and cursed it for
saying too much. They paused in a moment of tense silence.
Slowly, quietly, General Rieekan began to speak. "In my
opinion, the Empire is receiving its just desserts. This is no time
for sentiment. It is time for the Empire to be abolished just as it
abolished so many of our peoples, and our planets."
"I can appreciate your convictions," said Councilor Xin, a
Bothan sent to replace the somewhat shady Borsk Fey'lya. "However,
such an unmerciful stance may not be prudent."
"Enough," snapped Mon Mothma. She frowned. This was the
problem with committees. Too much debate and not enough action. "If
I may introduce my proposals."
Councilor Borsch gave a polite nod. "Of course, Madam
President. You will forgive the Inner Council."
Mon Mothma did not mince words. "Due to the lack of space on
this planet and the cost of constructing a new detention facility on
another, I propose we consider the taking of prisoners unacceptable."
"Here, here." Xin clinked his water glass with one long
Councilor Borsch inhaled his methane pipe deeply and sat back
in his seat, sending plumes of gas into the air. Leia looked up to
see a black robed figure seated in the back row of the amphitheater
and startled. Absolutely no one was allowed to sit in on sessions of
the Inner Council. She glanced at the others to see they had not yet
noticed him and wondered if Luke had been there from the start. He
was catching quite a show. Leia tried to relax. Her brother probably
had good reason to be there and she just felt better having him
After a tense pause, General Bel Iblis sat forward and
carefully folded his hands on the table before him. "Madam President,
your proposal seems to contradict the general consensus of this
Council, that the Empire ought to be eradicated. Certainly with
destruction on such a mass scale, there would be many prisoners."
The chief of state cast him a frigid look. "I must say,
General, there will not be one more prisoner taken. The Empire will
be destroyed to the last man, starting with the remnant fleets and
ending with Carida."
Leia caught the approving glances of Turchin and Haake and
muttered, "You can't be serious."
Mon Mothma ignored her. "Furthermore, I propose the prisoners
from the battle of Bodyn be promptly executed as a message to this new
Grand Admiral." A spectrum of light fell across her aged face as she
stepped closer to the table. Her voice became almost too quiet to
hear. "The Empire must realize their presence will not be tolerated."
Defeated, Garm Bel Iblis folded his arms and slouched in his
chair. As the Council exploded in a fervor of argument, he gave Leia
a long, sideways look but her gaze was elsewhere.
"May I add something to this discussion?"
All gazes lifted abruptly to fall upon Luke Skywalker standing
halfway between the floor and the exit.
"You are aware this is a closed meeting, Commander Skywalker,"
came the low growl from General Turchin.
"Of course." Luke gave a curt nod and completed his decent to
the floor. "Traditionally, the order of Jedi has always been present
to not only protect the Old Republic but to give counsel to its
Senate. As the last of my kind, I offer my services to you now."
"We have already discussed this..." began Mon Mothma, irate.
"Your service belongs with my fleet, Commander," interrupted
Admiral Haake. "You are a pilot for the New Republic, first and
foremost, not a diplomat."
"I would argue that I am a Jedi Knight, first and foremost.
And I must fulfill my duties as such," he replied quietly. "I sense,
Madam President, you are afraid. You are fear a loss of power and the
emergence of a second Emperor...by someone such as myself." Leia
noticed he'd not yet removed his cowl. The Jedi's cool gaze remained
carefully hidden beneath it.
She felt a chill and questioned, "Would that be so unfounded,
Luke? You have tasted the Dark Side. It was Senator Palpatine's
ambition that drove him to seize power. The same could happen to any
"I disagree, Councilor Organa Solo," he replied evenly. "My
place here is not to rule, but to heal the wounds ambition has
"It was our foolishness to let religion mingle with government
that caused the fall of the Old Republic." Mon Mothma folded her arms
in a frosty appraisal. "We are all well aware of your religious
fervor, Commander Skywalker. Your refusal to even consider my wish
to maintain a secular state holds testimony to that. At the very
least, you could have indulged me by dressing in uniform, but by now
I've learned not to expect much in the way of compliance..."
General Bel Iblis pinched the bridge of his hawked nose and
spoke haggardly. "If we could lay aside all this backbiting, I'd be
very interested in what the Jedi has to say."
"As would I," added Leia.
The rest of the Inner Council grumbled unenthusiastically.
"I will allow it," Mon Mothma said. She strode slowly to her
chair and sat, all the while glowering at Luke Skywalker. "You have
the floor, Commander."
Luke finally lowered the hood of his robe and allowed his face
to be seen. It was neither joyful nor angry, but placidly masked and
bordering on melancholy. Leia thought this was perhaps one of his
more inhuman stances and felt uncomfortable with what she saw. Only
she, who knew him so well, could see the normally even-tempered Jedi
was fuming inside, but was not about to let on to the other members of
this beauracracy. Leia was surprised to here pointed, but eloquent
words from this former rustic.
"Madam President, members of the Inner Council, I am greatly
concerned with the path the New Republic is undertaking. I am
concerned that we have lost the vision, as well as the virtue, that
once encapsulated the Rebel Alliance. I am concerned that, just as
with one man, if a society becomes obsessed with revenge and hate, the
further it will fall into paths of darkness. If the New Republic
continues its mindless campaign against a once powerful but defeated
enemy, I predict it will lead to ruin and the Force will no longer be
with you. I entreat the Inner Council to reconsider it rash course of
actions before it becomes too late."
With that, Luke stepped back from the marble table and waited
for a response. Long speeches had never been his strong suit. He
came to say what had been said and now remained quiet. The situtation
had deteriorated so, he decided against any mention of the
Force-sensitive Imperial waiting for his return. It would only serve
to bolster their resolve for the executions. More than a moment
passed before the stunned silence dissipated.
"Strong words, Jedi," said Ackbar. "But I tend to agree, at
least in part. The Empire must be dealt with at the negotiating
"Yes," said Xin. "We must be more cautious with the decisions
"Your superstitions hold no logic," muttered Rieekan.
"We have no need for your so-called Force," spat General
Turchin. "True force lies in the strength of the military."
"One day you will stand corrected," replied Luke.
"Don't underestimate my brother's words," said Leia. "You
call it merely religious fervor, but Luke has powers through the Force
that cannot be explained through rational means."
"If it cannot be explained, than it simply cannot be,"
muttered Admiral Haake, ever the scientist.
"Well, prophet," Mon Mothma commented dryly. "We will test
your premonition and see if it won't come to pass. We will execute
the prisoners from Bodyn IV and continue the campaign against the
"I can assure you the repercussions of your decision will be
felt for generations," said Luke, his face grim.
The President was stern. "My decision is final. I will not
let you cajole this ruling Council."
"Then I ask to be discharged from military service." He
stepped toward Mon Mothma and spoke in earnest. "I will not pretend
to be a part of such an injust establishment."
"You can't just quit," growled Turchin.
Mon Mothma raised her hand a bit for peace. "Commander Luke
Skywalker, you are discharged then, and the discharge is not
"What!" Leia was incredulous. "Do you forget Luke is one of
the reasons we've gotten as far as we have?"
Madam President dismissed the outburst. "In the days of the
Rebel Alliance, Skywalker was a hero's hero, entirely devoted to the
war effort. Now that devotion seems to be on the wane as it with some
members, even, of the Inner Council. Aside from that, his practice
of this ancient witchcraft is intolerable given the modern view of
things, and certainly inappropriate for use in a military setting.
You will have nothing more to do with the Inner Council or the
enforcement of its policies. You are dismissed, Jedi Skywalker. And
I sincerely hope the days of your sorcery are numbered."
The remarks were off-handed and brutal. Luke's expression
changed from one peacefully unreadable to one filled, with silent,
stony resentment. For a moment, he gave his sister a look so
hardened, it frightened her. Leia's mind was touched and she knew it
was time to leave, at least for now.
Organa Solo caught the arm of Admiral Ackbar as the meeting
"Admiral, may I have a moment?"
The Mon Calamari nodded his bulbous squid head. "A moment?
She glanced about and waited for the amphitheater to empty,
then lowered her tone. "Who knows the location of my children?"
Ackbar blinked his large, glassy fish eyes. "Skywalker and I
picked the place, of course. Your husband, Chewbacca, yourself,
Winter. I believe that is all. The Jedi insisted it be kept quite
"Yes, that is very important." She paused, trying to gauge
her old ally's loyalties. "I need you to contact Winter for me and
inform her that I am going on an extended leave. It may be some time
before I am able to see them again." Their birthday, she recalled
grimly. Maybe the Admiral wouldn't remember it was next week.
Ackbar wheezed. "I am sorry to hear it, Councilor. Your
absence will make it more difficult for us to keep a moderate
"I know. Forgive me, Admiral. Winter can contact you if she
The squid head bobbed a second time. "Of course." His webbed
hand engulfed her own. "Take care, Princess of Alderaan. These are
Leia grinned sadly. "Thank you, Ackbar."
The spies spoke briefly before leaving to consult with their
respective superiors. Rufus Haake skulked into his private chambers
and locked the door behind him. He sat before a small, but adequate
desktop and sent an encrypted message through his secured
Bodyn IV successful. Salvage operation ready to proceed.
Prisoners to be executed. Attacks to commence on peripheral fleets of
Imperial Navy, then Carida. Division in the ranks.
A moment passed as the message took its time traveling through
the HoloNet to Ambassador Furgan's communications tower on Carida. It
would take another moment for the Ambassador to be notified that
contact had been made, and another to receive a reply. The false
Admiral glanced almost nervously at the door to his plush apartment.
The comlink was secure and he was one of the highest ranking officials
in the New Republic. There was no reason to be anxious. Nervousness
was for amateurs and he was certainly no amateur. An amateur would
never have been able to get so close to the President. It had taken
years of careful fabrication, manipulation. An amateur could never
have gotten so far without suspicion. But the odds of being caught at
this point were very high. They had not put him under surveillance as
An encrypted code flooded onto the screen of his small
computer. Haake translated the memorized code silently.
Concentrate on clean-up. Fleet will unify under Carida within
two standard months. Update situation with Thorn's man.
Haake frowned. He didn't have time for the niceties of drawn
out conversations, especially of this nature. He typed rapidly, in
Apparently trustworthy. Watching. Out.
He paused to remove a data card from his desk and slipped it
into the server. A new encrypt surfaced on the monitor. Haake
grinned slightly to himself. Now this was an amateur. He watched the
scrolling words and checked them against the new code. It was much
the same conversation he'd sent to Furgan, but of a more heated
nature. Thorn was not a happy man. Accusations, denials,
threats...It was a waste of airtime. HoloNet security would be on to
Turchin in half a minute if he didn't log off immediately. Finally
the order came from Grand Admiral Thorn's ravaged fleet.
Free Kayla Storm. Eliminate Haake.
Rufus Haake erased Turchin's encrypt code, then sat back in
his chair and smiled broadly. Amateurs. He opened another comlink,
short range, non-secure.
"Mon Mothma. There is reason to believe a break is about to
be attempted on security block H5. Recommend General Bel Iblis be
notified to confront the situation."
He couldn't help but to chuckle softly to himself. This might
be fun to watch.
Imperial Commander Kayla Storm paced the detention cell,
trying to come to terms concerning the ordeal with Luke Skywalker and
the interrogation droid. She felt drained emotionally and physically,
and should have let the drugs take her into sleep. The New Republic
officers had no idea how close they'd come to breaking her. Not one
question had been asked, as if the implementation of torture was for
its own value--a truly Imperial notion. So the New Republic condoned
such methods. So the New Republic was not the holier-than-thou group
that fought so long and hard to bring down the Empire. They were no
better and struggled only to claim the Emperor's inheritance. So she
felt she'd learned more of her inquisitors than they had of her.
And Luke Skywalker--not just your run of the mill flyboy. The
power he held over those men was potent with manipulation. Not only
was he a Jedi, but he was the Jedi responsible for the deaths of
Emperor Palpatine and Lord Darth Vader. He was responsible for the
downturn in the war. It was all but lost now and Kayla hated him for
that. But she had witnessed his use of the Force and thirsted for it.
The Force was strong in her, he'd surmised. On the way back to her
cell, he gave not an iota of information. Kayla Storm, in a moment
of clairvoyance, sensed the votility of his emotions and questioned
him on it. The Jedi Knight remained coldly silent. She smiled and
thought perhaps they must have been more than acquaintances after all.
This particular revelation seemed to startle Luke Skywalker more than
the discovery of her Force-sensitivity, as if he was hoping she
wouldn't recall any of her past. The fact was, she only made
inferences from his behavior. He had left her quickly and thus
confirmed her suspicions. This was a development that must be used
to her full advantage.
Kayla reclined on the military issue cot in the corner of the
cell and remembered an encounter several years earlier with another
Jedi, a dark one.
The flagship Executor of Lord Darth Vader moved with the grace
of a giant sea dragon, claiming the dark void of space as its own.
Within, hundreds of pilots, stormtroopers, and officers stood on the
deck of the giant docking bay in perfect rows. A quiet mixture of
fear and reverence permeated the recycled air that surrounded them.
The footsteps and mechanical respirations of the giant Sith Lord were
the only sounds for many moments.
The young pilot stiffened and was determined not to tremble as
Lord Vader and the ship's captain turned into her row. To tremble was
to show fear. To show fear was to show weakness. At this point, to
show weakness was to die. If Darth Vader could not weed out the
weaklings now, the growing rebellion would do so later and at greater
Storm almost allowed herself to breathe as the Dark Lord
passed. Her face, like those of her comrades, was hidden behind a
black pilot's breathmask and should not have brought attention.
Something must have been flawed. The Lord of the Sith glanced at her
once in passing, then again with greater scrutiny, and finally he
"A problem, my lord?" asked the captain after a hard gulp.
"Remove your breathmask." Vader spoke in a low purr.
Kayla responded immediately and stared with a blank expression
at the black helmet. Somewhere in there, there was a man. That man
was somehow human. Do not show fear.
Vader waited for her gaze to falter and turn away. His chest
rose and fell methodically, mechanically, as long moment passed
between them. Finally, it was he that turned away to speak with his
His voice rumbled and broke the painful silence. "This one is
most unsatisfactory. I will not have this one aboard my vessel."
"But, my lord..." The captain foolishly took issue. "Private
Storm has an impeccable flight record. She is valuable..."
"I will determine what is valuable," Vader growled. "Do not
presume to question my authority, captain."
"Yes, sir." The captain gingerly touched his throat. The
Dark Lord's temper was notorious. "I mean, I do not presume, my
Lord Vader looked at Kayla Storm once again and tilted his
head curiously. "Send her to the Outer Rim Territories. We have no
use for her talents here."
"I will see to it immediately, my lord." Mercifully, the
captain scurried away like a frightened little rodent.
Kayla's stare became a glower. Such a promising career cut
short by the decisions of one over-zealous leader. Sexism was the
obvious explaination for Vader's dismissal of her. The Empire was not
taken to the liberalities of its Rebel adversaries. In the command
structure of the Alliance, female leadership came at a dime a dozen.
Here, in a darker realm, a woman had to struggle for recognition, be
thrice the man of her male counterparts. Indeed, Private Storm was
gifted, but now such talents would be wasted on clearing astroid
belts for hyperspace travel. It was a humiliating proposition Storm
could not withhold the resentment in her voice. "You are not being
Belligerence where there should be terror and from a mere
girl! Vader almost laughed, were it possible, and leaned closer to
softly growl, "Patience, child. Simple patience."
After one last, almost wistful glance, the Dark Lord of the
Sith continued his ominous rounds.
Now her dismissal was only partially explained. Why send away
such an asset? Had she known of her potential earlier, the Empire
could have been saved! But this Force, these glimpses she caught now
and again, deserved deeper attention. And since she had nothing but
Luke Skywalker slipped quietly into her cell and Kayla jumped
to her feet in reflex. His demeanor seemed calm but Storm caught yet
another glimpse. He was angry with the Inner Council, the Empire, the
galaxy at large. It was an anger with depth, like her own, of years
of work turned to failure. He shot her a quick look and she felt a
mental barrier erect and hold steady. There would be no more peeking.
"The Inner Council wants the execution of you and all the
prisoners taken at Bodyn IV. You will be killed if you don't do
exactly as I say. Do you understand?"
She folded her arms coolly and quipped, "My Jedi Knight in
shining armor. At last you've come."
Luke frowned at this but continued in a rigid tone. "In
exchange for the escape of you and your comrades, you will arrange a
meeting for my sister and I with the Grand Admiral of your fleet. The
meeting must take place in neutral territory. Do you agree?"
The Imperial Commander grinned. "A hero of the Rebel Alliance
would stoop so low...?"
"Do you agree?" Luke repeated, gripping her arm.
Kayla paused for the sake of relishing his disquiet. "Luke,
if you can save our necks, I'd be happy to assist you in any way. But
why in the galaxy..."
"There are delicate matters to be discussed." His grasp on
her elbow slipped down to her wrist. "We'll go now."
As they moved to leave, the automatic entry slid aside to
reveal General Turchin.
* * *
Leia Organa Solo walked toward the landing platform with
Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio in tow. Although she was trembling, she
fought to keep her gait steady. She tried to give an air of
confidence although she wanted to bolt. All the years, all the work,
all the dead who died believing in a cause; it was too horrible to
believe and yet it was true. Luke was right in his observations. The
New Republic was rising to take the Empire's place. It was too
horrible and she could not think. It was simply time to get away.
Anywhere. Luke would know what to do. They just had to leave and
have a chance to think about it. She wanted to be with the twins,
with Han. Damn him anyway for not being there.
"Mistress Leia, I entirely don't understand why we're going..."
"Shut up, Threepio," Leia snapped. He'd been pestering her
all week and she'd relieved him of being present at the Inner Council
meeting. A mistake. It should have been recorded.
"But, Mistress Leia, I do not believe you have fully
concidered the ramifications of deserting..."
Leia turned on the protocol droid and pushed him against the
wall. Artoo squealed his surprise. "If you don't quiet down, I'll
have to erase your memory and leave you behind, got it?"
Flustered, See-Threepio began to stutter wildly. "I-I-I'm
terribly sorry, Mistress Leia. I'm just trying to comprehend..."
"Stop," Leia warned.
"Of course." The droid straightened himself up in an attempt
at dignity. Humans were so nonsensical sometimes. But he was, as all
droids were, loyal to his mistress through and through. "My
Leia hushed him with a finger at her lips and they continued
down the corridor. The landing platform was in sight as they turned
the corner, and Admiral Haake bumped her shoulder.
"I beg your pardon, Councilor." He asked with concern, "Are
you all right?'
Color drained from her face. "Fine."
"You seem peaked."
Leia's mouth twitched into a nervous smile. "It's been a
Haake gave a refined nod. "Yes, it has. Perhaps you should
"I think I will, Admiral. Excuse me."
"May I escort you to your quarters? You seem to be headed in
the wrong direction."
Her heart pounded deafeningly in her ears as she tried to keep
the tremor of fear from her voice. "No! Actually, I've decided to
take a brief leave of absence."
"I see. To join your husband then?"
"Yes." She swallowed hard and attempted to sidle past him in
the cramped hallway. "If you'll excuse me."
"Of course." Haake stood aside graciously. "I'll send an
escort to accompany you straight away."
Leia froze. "I won't be requiring an escort, Admiral Haake."
Haake frowned. "Are you sure that's wise? Under the
"Excuse me." Organa Solo finally got past with her droids.
Furgan's agent called after her. "Your Highness, I do hope
you plan on returning before the next Council session! You are
travelling rather lightly!"
Her stiff walk broke into a jog as he watched her and the
droids round another corner. Rufus Haake removed a small comlink from
his uniform jacket and spoke softly.
"Madam President, we may have a problem..."
* * *
Turchin seemed to startle worse than the two he'd discovered,
then brought his laser rifle up easily. Storm took a cautious
backwards step. The man was familiar but she could not place a name
with the face. Certainly he was not a member of the New Repblic.
"What a surprise. Do you think this Force of yours puts you
above the law, Skywalker?"
Nonplused, Luke spoke in an even tone. "There has been a
misunderstanding, General Turchin. If I'm not mistaken, she is
allowed counsel before the execution. I took it upon myself..."
"...to assist in her escape. Just as you aided in the evasion
of her inquiry. It took some browbeating on my part, but Paulus
finally recalled your interference."
"I didn't think such methods were appropriate." His hand
slipped to the butt of his lightsaber.
The muzzle of Turchin's laser rifle rested neatly against the
Jedi's left temple.
"Skywalker, I will hold my own counsel on what is or is not
appropriate. Put your hands behind your head before I plaster it
against that far wall."
Luke closed his eyes and felt relaxation course through all of
his muscles. The lightsaber snapped to life in his hand and became
merely an extention of his own body. He whirled and sliced the rifle
in two before Turchin had a chance to trigger a laser blast. The
weapon exploded in his hand and sent the general reeling into the
corridor. There was a shout, an alarm was sounded.
"Come on!" Luke shouted and they bolted.
His hands worked furiously to decode the encrypt locks to the
other cells. Kayla risked a backward glance. Turchin lay flat on his
back. The lone security officer had probably recognized Luke
Skywalker and fled for reinforcements. Idiot.
"Hurry up," she pressed.
"I wish I had Artoo. These codes are impossible." Luke bit
his bottom lip. "We'll have to get out of here without them."
"Here." She ripped the Jedi's lightsaber from his belt and
pressed its activation stud, nearly cauterizing her own arm in the
process. A blaster would have worked so much better. The encrypt pad
exploded in a shower of sparks as she pierced it with the beam of
energy. The security door slid aside and its Imperial occupant rose
to his feet with a quizzical, if not thoroughly confused, grin. "Come
"Give me that." Luke grumbled and began releasing the rest of
Storm glanced again to General Turchin. He was gone.
"Luke." She tapped his shoulder and gestured to the empty
corridor. "You should have killed him."
"Don't tell me what I should have done," Luke retorted. "Let's
The day was getting worse.
* * *
Leia peered through the hatchway of her small, personal
shuttle, the Mystique. Artoo and Threepio were aboard as well, and
the prissy talkdroid had briefed her in full on all the rules,
regulations, laws, and ordinances they had broken in the past fifteen
minutes. And the odds of successfully...Leia promptly shut him down
and they waited. She took in a sharp breath as Admiral Haake wandered
too casually onto the landing platform. He leaned against a scaffold,
removed a small cigarra from his jacket, and lit up. Leia ducked
quickly back inside and shut the hatch. She watched Haake through a
small, tinted viewport. Soon Garm Bel Iblis joined him with an
impressive squad of New Republic soldiers. The General spoke to the
Admiral briefly as the squad settled in. The Admiral then boarded
his own private shuttle and took flight.
Although the hull of the Mystique was undoubtedly sound proof,
Leia said in a whisper, "Artoo, power up the laser cannons. Don't
initiate the pre-flight sequence until my mark."
The droid twittered affirmatively and Leia scrutinized the
soldiers. They too were waiting.
* * *
Luke and the escapists darted onto the landing platform and
met an immediate assault of laserfire. As they dived for cover in
various directions, the screams of a dying Imperial pilot echoed
through the putrid air. Kayla Storm swore viciously. With no
weapons, they were helpless. But perhaps it was better to die like
The volley of lasers paused and Bel Iblis addressed them.
"Luke, it's time to come clean! You're heart may be in the right
place, but this is no way to go about it! Come out of hiding!"
"You just killed one of them!" Luke shouted through gritted
"We are to stop you at any costs and I will follow my orders."
"Then you follow blindly! This is not right!"
"My allegiance is to the New Republic, as should yours be."
The General's calmness was aggravating. Luke rested his head
back against the storage tanks they hid behind and tried to slow his
breath, only to force air out of his lungs in quick rasps. There was
no control over his anger. Anger, fear agression...This insanity had
to stop. He managed to calm the tumult until Kayla's lips fleetingly
touched his own. He blinked away hot perspiration that stung his
vision and glowered at the woman.
"I can feel this power," she whispered. "Death all around."
...of the Dark Side are they. His glare softened, enraptured by her
closeness, her emerald eyes.
"No," he quietly refused, but it sounded feeble.
"Yes," she breathed. "Luke, you know what you must do for
The alternative was death; if not his own, then of Kayla Storm
and the others. He rose and walked methodically into the open.
Somewhere beyond, a lone siren began to wail a long, disillusioned
chant. As four of the soldiers approached to arrest him, his green
laserblade snapped to life and cut them down at once. There would be
death regardless, he realized. It would always be so in war. They
were no longer human; just the same perception he forced himself to
use when battling TIE fighters and Imperial Stormtroopers. They had
done heinous things, followed heinous orders, and were therefore
subhuman. He wished the guards were similarly enveloped in armor. He
would not look at their faces and felt cold. The Imperials scrambled
for the weapons of the deceased and Bel Iblis called on the remaining
soldiers to open fire. The Jedi moved fluidly to deflect every
laserbolt that would have otherwise met its mark. The escapists fell
in behind him and rained volley after volley of pure energy upon their
sworn enemies. More screams in death. One of the shuttles awakened
suddenly to send a number of laserblasts into the entry which
collapsed in an avalanche of steel. No more gun fodder would be
allowed to enter, but the dying would not be allowed to retreat
either. The remaining soldiers yelped in surprise and scattered. The
escapists ran for the shuttle. A few more meters and the hatchway
Garm Bel Iblis removed a small spherical device from his
pouch, charged it, and tossed it toward the shuttle's ramp. The
thermal detonator exploded upon impact. The blast incinerated two of
the quicker Imperials, and knocked Skywalker to the deck, his
lightsaber clattering away uselessly. Luke rolled and gained his feet
quickly, hand outstretched to summon his lightsaber with the Force.
"Luke!" his sister screamed as bolts of energy hit his chest
squarely and he fell in a crumpled heap. She dashed down the hatchway
ramp and knelt at the Jedi's side, trying to stop the blood. She
reached her reddened hands toward the General and cried , "Please,
Garm! Stop this!"
"Hold your fire!" he shouted. The laserfire dwindled and
finally died out.
"I thought we were just going to leave! I didn't know!"
He approached. "Leia..."
"She's a good woman, isn't she?" Kayla hissed and crouched
behind Leia with her blaster leveled against her skull. "She'll soon
be a dead woman if you don't let us go. Of course, you killed the
last Jedi, why not his sister as well?"
Garm swallowed hard and met Leia's terrified gaze. "I'm
He and his men stepped back. The two surviving Imperial
pilots gathered up Skywalker's limp form and followed their leader
into the shuttle. After a moment, repulsorlifts whined to life and
caused the shuttle to lift precariously into the air.
"Now what?" Sergeant Paulus demanded as the vessel shot off
toward the heavens.
Bel Iblis closed his eyes and sighed, "Haake's waiting. Find
me Turchin. He should have arrived with reinforcements five minutes
* * *
The hijacked shuttle raced past the flagship Benefactor as a
twelve-man squadron of X-wing fighters poured out of their mothership
like angry insects.
"Defense shields are operational," Kayla spoke to no one in
particular. "Setting course to rendezvous with Grand Admiral Thorn."
Leia Organa Solo heard the last of this and staggered as the
shuttle bucked under ionic blasts. "Thorn?"
"It's not up for discussion, your highness," snapped the
"You can't do this..."
Storm shot her an irritated glance. "The Jedi wanted it,
councilor. Let's not lower this conversation to idle threats. Get in
Rebuffed, Leia retreated and collapsed beside her brother's
prone form. His black tunic was burned through in places and crusted
with blood. His chest rose and fell sporadically, as if by virtue of
his own will. Leia kissed his fingers and made them wet with her
tears, sick with horror.
She whispered, "Luke, what have you done?"
The response was weak as Luke's hand gently squeezed hers, but
almost tangible as he again touched her mind.
It will be all right.
Leia's hands moved to her slightly bulging abdomen. "She will
Leave Kayla Storm to me.
* * *
Wedge Antilles watched through the canopy of his cockpit as
the shuttle Mystique jumped mercifully into hyperspace.
"They just made the leap, sir. Shall we follow?"
There was a pause before Haake's response. "Negative. Return
to docking bay Five."
Wedge took a moment to stare at the empty space. He had
wanted to consider Luke Skywalker his friend, not just his commander.
From the little he knew about Jedi Knighthood, he thought they were
supposed to be a noble bunch and Luke fit the mold. Such a person
would need a good reason to turn from a hero to a traitor. There had
to be good reason.
"I said come home, Rogue Leader."
Commander Antilles blinked twice, unaccustomed to his new
title. He flipped on his short range transmitter. "Return to mother,
Rogue Team. Dock Five."
He sighed heavily and decided he could better serve his friend
here, if need be.
Han Solo and his Wookiee companion strode quickly through the
labyrinth corridors of Cloud City, having heard from Lando Calrissian
that the President of the New Republic was anxious to speak with them.
A small gathering of stormtroopers watched them pass but moved not a
muscle. The space pirate stiffened in reflex and let his right hand
slide to the comforting blaster at his hip. Thorn's fleet had arrived
already to refuel. Seemed they were behaving well enough. Han forced
himself to relax.
"Ahr Rahr roor ra ahr?" Chewie asked.
"I don't know, Chewie," he frowned deeply. "Just having these
guys around makes me nervous."
The Wookiee grumbled agreement.
Baron Administrator Calrissian met the ex-smugglers just
outside the communications room.
"Han, ol' buddy, about this deal with Grand Admiral
Thorn...You'll keep it quiet, won't ya?"
Solo pursed his lips for a moment, as if contemplating the
great social ailments of the galaxy--of which Lando was a part. Leia
might have his head for this, but Han finally smirked. "Not a word."
He patted the nervous conman on the back and they entered to
sit at one of the conference tables. Han straightened his vest a
little as Mon Mothma's half-meter hologram materialized at the table's
He nodded briefly. "Hi ya."
A deep frown etched the President's sixty-ish complexion. She
still hated them for leaving the military. "Mister Solo, this may be
the darkest day in the galaxy's history."
"Sounds pretty heavy," he commented with the usual sarcasm.
There was nothing he liked better than watching Madam President get
her panties tied up in a knot. But her expression showed more than
the usual annoyance. His throat tightened as he thought of his wife.
"What's happened to Leia?"
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "She hasn't made contact with
"No." Han loosened his constricting collar. "What's goin'
"Mister Solo," her voice became scornful, "Leia Organa Solo
and Luke Skywalker are wanted for high treason."
The Wookiee uttered a low growl.
Han's face twitched. "You've got to be kidding."
"Late this evening, several prisoners marked for execution
were freed from a high security detention area and General Turchin was
attacked by lightsaber in the process. Soon after, the ensuing battle
between the escapists and several of General Bel Ibli s' ground squads
nearly destroyed the entire landing platform and resulted in heavy
casualties. Skywalker ensured the escape of the Imperial prisoners
and Organa Solo provided transport with her private shuttle. They are
traitors, Mister Solo."
Han gaped at the hologram, for once speechless.
Lando spoke for him. "They just wouldn't do something like
that. There must be a mistake..."
"The only mistake made was on their part, and they must be
held responsible for their actions." Mon Mothma looked at him
frigidly. "Baron Administrator Calrissian, the system of Bespin is
placed under martial law until further notice."
Calrissian nearly jumped out of his chair. "I've sunk
millions of credits into this outfit. You can't do this to me!"
"The situation may be remedied with the return of Skywalker
and Organa Solo. Until then, Admiral Haake's fleet will arrive to
enforce order." She paused as Chewbacca roared deafeningly and turned
her attention to the pirate Han Solo. "Do not attempt to harbor
criminals, my friends. I can assure you the penalties are most
The threat hung in the air almost tangibly as the hologram
vanished. The Wookiee, clearly agitated, began to pace the room.
"I just don't get it," Han mumbled in shock.
"Whatever made them do this, they had to have damn good
reason," snapped Lando as he briskly punched in a memorized code. "If
any two people were loyal to the Rebel Alliance, they were Luke and
"But this is the New Republic now. Obviously, Mon Mothma has
decided to make a few changes in her style of governing. I can see
how'd they get fed up with the whole thing, but this is pretty
drastic." Han rubbed the scruff on his chin and grumbled, "Sounds
like something I woulda done, not Luke."
Lando was about to make some smart remark when the image of
Grand Admiral Thorn materialized before them.
"Good day, Baron Calrissian," he said graciously.
"Bespin has been placed under martial law and Admiral Haake is
on his way to clean things up around here."
Maxus Thorn shook his head disparagingly. "Tsk, tsk.
Violated another fire code, have we?"
"Never mind that," he fumed. "I want you out of here and I
want you out now. The deal is off."
Thorn spoke soothingly. "Now, Lando, the refueling is nearly
complete. Perhaps we can simply postpone the transaction until a
later date. We have enough now to hold us over for at least two
"Fine," Lando growled. "I want your payment deposited into my
account at Greater Intergalactic Bank in the Anorak system. You'd
better take what you have and get out of here now."
The old man smiled like a doting grandfather. "You will have
the payment in full within two standard days. Thank you for your
The image disappeared.
Lando couldn't resist grumbling, "That's guy's a real thorn in
Realization struck Han between the eyes and he was headed for
the door. "Come on, Chewie!"
Lando stopped them in the middle of the busy corridor and
lowered his tone as a number of nonhuman tourists passed by. "How do
you think you're going to find them?"
"I dunno," Han muttered. "I'm sorta makin' this thing up as I
go. For starters, I wanna talk to Garm Bel Iblis. I got a hunch
things are worse with the New Republic than Mon Mothma is letting on."
"Han!" He grabbed the smuggler's arm and Chewbacca stepped
between them to give a dangerous threat.
"Don't touch," Han loosely translated.
Lando released him and said, "Look. Luke and Leia are on the
run. They are not going to be found easily and I don't think it's
wise to go snooping around where you don't belong. They're in enough
trouble as it is."
Solo didn't know whether to laugh or tear his friends head
off. "You expect us to just sit here?"
"They know where we are. We should lay low until they decide
to make contact. And you have your kids to think about."
Han conceded to this with a brief nod. "Chewie, I want you to
go and check up on them for me. I'll hang out here in case Luke and
Leia decide to show up."
The Wookiee acquiesced with a low grumble.
"Right," Han agreed. "And if they do show up I want you to
get them and the kids as far away as you can get. Ackbar's on the
Inner Council and he knows exactly where the kids are being kept."
"I'll find you a small ship," offered Calrissian.
Small wasn't the word for it. Chewbacca complained bitterly
after being poked and prodded, and finally stuffed into the cockpit of
an A-wing class fighter.
"I know it's cramped, Chewie," said Han. "But I might need
the Falcon later on. Besides, you don't want anyone following you,
right? Nobody'll give this rat trap a second glance."
The Wookiee whined plaintively.
"Oh, knock it off and get outta here, ya big baby!"
Han closed the cockpit and climbed down to the deck and joined
Lando. After a final roar of complaint, the A-wing came to life and
bolted for space.
The smuggler scratched his scalp. "I sure hope Luke knows
what he's doing, whatever it is."
But the reality was, he wasn't certain of that at all.
* * *
Overcome with exhaustion, Leia dropped to her brother's side
and listened to See-Threepio ramble on and on about their predicament.
"I am sure I do not understand it, Mistress Leia," he said
primly. Leia rolled her eyes. It was hard to put up with but the
talkdroid had to be turned back on for the sake of memory retention.
"I do not understand why the Inner Council passed such brutish
"We didn't exactly vote on it, Threepio. Mon Mothma just made
"And stripping Master Luke of his rank? How humiliating.
Oh...poor Master Luke. Do you think he'll resume his normal
"I hope so." She clasped her twin's hand in her own. "I
thought we were just going to leave...I never thought he'd help those
"And now things are worse. Oh dear..." Threepio emitted an
The R2 unit emitted a series of chirps.
"Oh, that doesn't matter now. It was probably just a glitch
in the HoloNet."
Leia straightened up. "What's wrong with the HoloNet?"
"Nothing now," explained Threepio. "Artoo noted two sets of
encrypt codes sent out yesterday at 1200 hours."
"Encrypt codes? From who?"
Artoo whistled a second time.
"He's uncertain at this point, but the destination of one of
the transmissions was the Imperial Academy on Carida," the talkdroid
translated. "Why would...?"
Leia's expression became sullen. "This may explain the
immoderacy of the Inner Council. Perhaps Mon Mothma has been
receiving influences of Imperial origin."
"If the Empire has indeed infiltrated the New Republic Inner
Council, why would it want to bring so much destruction on itself?"
Leia smiled a bit. Threepio's programming had never allowed
for such a human trait as curiosity but somehow it came through in
strange glitches. His insight was almost remarkable sometimes, when
he wasn't whining about this or that. Luke had probably tinkered with
his cerebral conduits again, trying to build the better droid.
She shrugged. "I don't know, Threepio. Maybe it was a
mistake. Maybe they were trying to cause a division and Mon Mothma
took it the wrong way."
"They have certainly succeeded in that. I just don't know how
my logic circuits are going to hold up under all this stress. Good
Maker, help us!"
"Why don't you and Artoo go shut down for a while. You need
to start reserving you power packs. It might be a long time before we
find a maintenance outlet."
"Oh dear, you're quite right. Come along, Artoo."
Leia grinned as the two droids waddled off to the rear of the
ship. "Sweet dreams."
She pulled a thermal blanket over the fallen Jedi and wiped
drenched hair from his forehead. He seemed to alternate between
profuse perspiration and violent shivers. Leia was a diplomat, not a
doctor, but thought it best to keep him warm.
"Thorn probably knows all about this, Luke," she said in a
hushed whisper. "I don't know how these negotiations are going to
work. I don't think it was a very good idea."
"We need to be heard." Luke's voice was raspy, the phrases
broken with pain. "Leia, Kayla Storm has some influence on me... The
Dark Side beckons." He gripped her hand and grimaced. "Leia, soon
light must fall..."
"No, you have to fight this," Leia insisted, feeling dread
tighten in her chest. "We need you, Luke. I don't know what to do!"
"Quiet," he whispered and silenced the increasing pitch of her
voice. "I need rest."
His eyes closed and the rise and fall of his chest became
shallow. Without knowing what else to do, Leia bent to place a kiss
on her brother's forehead. She looked up as Kayla Storm entered the
Leia rose and cautiously gauged the commander's expression.
Rage had passed and her face had returned to its apathetic coldness.
It was the calculation of that frigidity that caused Leia to shudder
"We will be coming out of hyperspace shortly," Kayla told her
and looked at the fallen Jedi Knight. "Is he going to live?"
The princess of Alderaan kept her tone short. "Perhaps."
Storm approached and crouched beside him. Organa Solo tensed
as she stroked the Jedi's bearded cheek. His cool blue eyes snapped
open to meet her gaze.
"You saved my life. It would not be right if you didn't allow
me to fulfill my end of the bargain, at least in part." She grinned.
"And, Luke, we have so much to talk about."
With a soft groan in response, Luke closed his eyes once more.
Leia kept her distance and tried to keep the urge to strangle this
woman under control.
* * *
After twelve seemingly random hyperspace jumps to shake any
improbable pursuit, Chewbacca took the tiny A-wing toward the hidden
planet of Anoth. For centuries, Anoth had been a haven for Jedi
children, protected by its perfect obscurity. The twins lived there
now under the protection of Leia's devoted servant Winter, far from
Imperial spies or influences of the Dark Side that could corrupt their
As space snapped into focus, Chewbacca angled toward the
clustered multiple planet Anoth. The world was composed of three
fragments orbiting a common center of mass. Two of the largest
fragments hovered nearly in contact, sharing a poisonous atmosphere .
The third, more distant fragment housed the hidden stronghold and
ionized fury masked it from prying eyes. The entire system was on the
verge of collapse and would destroy itself in a cosmic blink. For the
past century though, humanoid life had managed to catch a foothold.
With experienced skill, the Wookiee glided the A-wing through
lightning storms and into the largest of the caverns that dotted the
Willow-like, tall with white hair that cascaded to the center
of her back, Leia's servant stood patiently with Jacen in her arms,
Jaina playing peekaboo at her feet. She was indeed motherly, caring
for these human cubs as her own. Chewbacca hefted his mass out of the
cockpit and felt bones he didn't know he had crackle. He stretched
mightily as Winter approached with Jaina in tow.
The Alderaanian woman smiled. "Chewbacca, I'm glad to see
you. I hear Leia has gone on some sort of vacation?"
The Wookiee grumbled, understanding Basic perfectly, but
unable to produce the strange utterances.
Winter frowned. "Has she found trouble?"
Chewie nodded. Jaina hugged his leg and he scooped her up and
onto his shoulders. She giggled.
"Han must have sent you to protect us."
Again, the Wookiee nodded.
"Well," she said, "What I wouldn't give for a protocol droid,
but we'll just have to make do. There are repairs to be done,
Chewbacca. Will you do them?"
Winter smiled softly. "I was about to cook a mynock stew for
dinner. Are you hungry? It would be nice to have some adult
The Wookiee gazed lovingly into her silver-gray eyes and
grinned a wide, toothy grin. Dinner.
* * *
The gaseous planet Bespin was a sun that failed to completely
take form. She loomed like a gigantic lantern ornament before the New
Republic fleet as they were pulled into her powerful gravitational
orbit. Several fighter squadrons of various classes sped to and fro
and back again, sweeping the system for any sign of Skywalker and
Organa Solo. The flagship Benefactor soared ahead of its Star Cruiser
companions while on board, a junior officer by the name of Zack
scurried toward the back of Admiral Haa ke's chair.
"Hold, please," Haake said to the transmission before him.
The chair swiveled to face the young officer. "I trust there is good
reason for this interruption, Lieutenant."
"We have reached standard orbit, sir." Zack frowned when he
caught a flash of Imperial uniform on the holopad half-concealed by
Haake's body. "No indication of the fugitives' whereabouts as of
"Very well. Upscale the search. I want two more squadrons
combing the system."
Haake scowled as the boy declined to salute and half jogged
from his office. He turned back to face the image of Ambassador
Furgan. "They're on to me."
"That is your own fault. But the ball is rolling. They will
destroy the peripheral fleets and the remaining will come running to
me. Your mission is done, Haake, however clumsily. One last thing.
I want Bespin. And I want that New Republic fleet."
Rufus Haake nodded silently and watched the hologram
disappear. It revived a moment later with the image of Han Solo.
"Mister Solo," he rumbled, "I believe it's time I met your
acquaintance. Won't you please come aboard?"
A number of restless fighter pilots and maintenance workers
gathered around Zack and listened to him speak of Haake's contact with
the Imperial Ambassador. As the conversations between them became
more heated, Wedge Antilles broke away from the group and began to
pace on his own, his mind whirling in a maelstrom of thought. There
was something not right about this whole thing. This whole...New
Republic. There was certainly something not right bout Rufus Haake.
He was sick and tired of the feelings that kept gnawing at his
stomach every time he went on some so-called clean up mission. Maybe
it was time to really clean up. He turned and called for the
attention of the others.
"I know how fed up everyone is with how things are being run
around here. Maybe it's time we quit being herded around like Banthas
and really did something for a change."
"What are you talking about?" asked Zack, nieve to the last.
The squadron leader smiled wanly. "I've got a few ideas."
The fleet of Grand Admiral Maxus Thorn drifted silently just
beyond the system of Bespin, just beyond the sweeps of New Republic
fighter squadrons. Aboard the flagship Zephyr, a New Republic vessel
had just landed. The Grand Admiral arrived with Captain Saysithi to
warmly greet Commander Storm.
"Welcome, my friend." He grasped her hand and his pale lips
smacked it gallantly. "I did not doubt for a second that you would
return to us."
Kayla bristled with indignation. "Then you should not have
abandoned me in the first place."
"You understand, of course, the dire position we found
ourselves in. We would have been lost..."
"You are lost already."
Thorn raised an eyebrow as two more Imperial pilots
disembarked, carrying a limp, wounded figure. Leia Organa Solo
followed cautiously, having told her droids to remain on board the
"Catch of the day, Commander?" he queried.
Leia retorted pointedly, "Don't act so surprised, Grand
Admiral. I suspect you knew of our coming all along."
Thorn passed a questioning glance to Captain Saysithi. The
alien gestured the equivalent of a human shrug. He turned his
attention back to the New Republic diplomat. "On the contrary. I had
no prior knowledge of this curious visit. To what do I owe the honor,
"I've come to negotiate. First, however, my brother..."
"Of course. How rude. You'll forgive an old man, won't you?"
He said to the men still holding Skywalker in their arms, "Sick bay.
I want him to be given absolute care, understood?"
The pilots acquiesced and Leia watched nervously as they left
with the fallen Jedi. She turned a resentful look on Kayla Storm and
commented, "I had hoped this meeting could have taken place under
better circumstances. And on neutral ground."
"Yes, of course, councilor. Consider yourselves my guests.
There is nothing to fear. "
He gestured to the automatic blast door and escorted Organa
Solo into a corridor. Saysithi and Storm fell in step behind them.
"We've been at war long enough and I am well aware of the
animosity the remnant fleets are experiencing with the Imperial
Academy of Carida," Leia stated. Actually, it was an educated guess.
Spies that infiltrated the Inner Council could be from any number of
sources, and with conflicting interests.
"I would agree tensions have been strained as of late, but I
can hardly see how that is any of your concern."
"I am concerned with the new propositions that have been
passed by the Inner Council. Are you aware that the New Republic
intends to step up its clean up missions to destroy the fleets and
finally move against the Academy?"
"Yes. We have received some...transmissions to that affect."
Maxus Thorn sighed. "I'm going to divulge what I know to you,
councilor, because the information no longer matters any to me or to
the security of the Empire. Humph. Security. I am almost certain
my spy has double-crossed us and joined alliances with Carida.
They're using the New Republic military to carry out retribution
against the remnant fleets for turning away from Ambassador Furgan.
The man is an idiot. We have no leadership to guide us and merely
seek to exist at this point. It is Furgan who seeks to resurrect the
Empire, through the use of your own military. You obviously are not
here on behalf of Mon Mothma. Therefore, you must come not to
negotiate, as nothing can come of it, but to join a dying class of
It was more than a confirmation of her suspicions. The
corridor ended in a t-intersection and Thorn paused to gaze through
the giant, transparasteel window at the stars, and the slightly
"We've had numerous problems with our new superweapon," he
muttered. "The engineering's been flawed from the start."
"All the more reason for us to find a way to make peace
between our two nations. Surely, Ambassador Furgan must realize that
he's only going to seal his own fate by having you destroyed."
"It's a confusing situation at best. Out with the old, in
with the new, eh?"
"Most in the New Republic share my same convictions, that the
Empire should be negotiated with, that a treaty be signed, and
boundaries be set to ensure our borders will remain sovereign. It's
just the military..."
"And the military makes the galaxy swirl round. I am sorry I
cannot help you, Councilor Organa Solo. What is happening between our
two so-called governments is beyond my control. I will be damned if I
am going to crawl to either one of them with my tail between my legs,
however frequently the thought crosses my mind."
"It wouldn't be wise for you to continue this way," Leia said.
"I may still be able to convince the Inner Council..."
"It's not likely you'll be able to convince the New Republic
of anything, after that stunt Skywalker pulled for us on Coruscant,"
"Quite right," agreed Thorn. He scratched his whitened beard.
"Forgive me if I withdraw my previous invitation. The last thing my
people need is a New Republic fleet chasing us from one end of the
galaxy to the other to catch traitors."
"We came to negotiate," Leia responded through gritted teeth.
"I will give the Jedi three hours to stabilize his condition
for travel, then you both must leave. Captain Saysithi, make sure the
councilor is made comfortable. Commander Storm, I wish to speak with
Leia blinked hard. Of course she had failed. What could one
say? "I am afraid, Grand Admiral, of what the New Republic has
"Yes," nodded Thorn. "And you have good reason."
Leia quietly accepted Saysithi's offered tentacle and left
Kayla Storm to face her superior alone.
"The Force is with me," she told him. "Skywalker must remain
The old man slouched in his disability chair. "A military
with the Force as its ally was once thought to be unstoppable. We
know better now, but perhaps this is the edge we need against Furgan
and his puppets." He looked into the woman's intense emerald eyes
and loved them passionately. "I promise you something will be
* * *
Kayla Storm returned to her quarters to shower and change from
the grubby prisoner's apparel that clung to her with dried sweat and
filth. She stood now in an olive commander's uniform before a long,
hexagonal mirror, her mind swimming in an avalanche of thought and
emotion. For her, the Force was at once abhorrent and seductive, but
it was the power she had always desired. With each passing hour, she
felt it invade her soul and in all honesty, she feared herself. She
feared this loss of control.
A powerful presence filled the room. Storm looked over her
shoulder instinctively but saw nothing. When her gaze shifted back to
the mirror, an ungodly apparition stood where her reflection had once
been. She staggered and looked quickly for an escape. But this was
the Force in its darkest moments, and there would be no hiding.
Commander Storm finally dropped to one knee in submission.
Emperor Palpatine's eyes danced hellishly in the dimly lit
chamber. "So, you have been reunited with the Jedi Knight Luke
Skywalker." He spat the name like bile from the pit of his diseased
soul. Kayla smiled inwardly. There was more than hate in the old
man's voice, but fear as well. Skywalker had been his downfall. The
Emperor licked his lips, appreciating her insight. "It is most
fortunate, my dear, that you have chosen the correct path."
She wasn't convinced that she had chosen any path, but
questioned, "Why is it I have not discovered my talents until now?
The Empire could have been preserved."
Palpatine's apparition separated itself from the mirror and
strode around her slowly. It touched the nape of her neck and she
"Darth Vader sought to hide you from me because he saw you as
a threat, just as Skywalker was."
"I would never have betrayed you!" Kayla insisted.
"Hm." Palpatine grinned slightly. "I believe he has, in
fact, done us both a great service. Only you remain to carry out my
legacy. You will succeed where the fool Vader has failed. In time,
you will be my Empress."
Kayla stared at his yellow eyes as they gleamed with perverse
delight. Her ambitious thirst filled, overflowed, yet was not
satiated. "Tell me what I must do and it shall be done."
* * *
Time passed with infinite slowness. Leia paced the plush
quarters with frayed nerves and feeling sick to her stomach. She
wanted her brother to be close at hand and worried about his injuries.
At the same time, she was angry with him. It was Luke's suggestion
to leave Coruscant. Leaving Coruscant resulted in bloodshed and now
his insane plan to negotiate with Grand Admiral Thorn resulted in a
prompt slap in the face. There would be no returning to the New
Republic with the way things were. How could Luke have been more
wrong about this whole situation? It would have been better to stay
and tolerate the Inner Council's corruption, perhaps rally support
from within. Luke was not a politician yet even he should have given
more consideration to such blatant action against the government. Yet
in this instance, he acted more as Han would, swinging to the rescue
without a moment's thought to the blasted ramifications. Leia thought
becoming a Jedi Knight was supposed to alleviate all the difficulties
of impulsive behavior. And the damsel in distress, Kayla Storm, now
had them in her corner, on her terms, and yet they were not
imprisoned. What was the angle? How had this woman influenced Luke
to her own end? For once, she wished she had a Jedi's insight, at
least when it was on the mark. At least she had figured out what the
problems were, spies and all. Now it was time to start working on
Leia spoke into the small transmitter attached to the inside
of her jacket. "Threepio, get Artoo linked to the ship computer and
see if he can locate Luke. I want to be out of here in ten minutes."
"Understood, Mistress Leia," replied the protocol droid. "I
will take a moment to find a suitable outlet. Please hold."
The entry chimed.
Leia straightened her jacket and faced the door. "Come."
Commander Kayla Storm entered somberly, and the emerald eyes
hid something terrible.
"What is it?" Leia asked.
"Your brother is dead."
She stepped back mindfully. "No, he isn't."
Storm's voice was strangely compelling. "Luke Skywalker gave
his life for what he thought was right. Too bad he was so mistaken.
His wounds were mortal, after all."
But I would know! I would have sensed it! Leia closed her
eyes and reached out with her mind, not really sure how but searching,
feeling for her brother's presence with everything that she was.
There was nothing but a cold, black vacuity. She was no Jedi,
but her brother was a link that brought her closer to the Force.
Something kept him veiled from her sight. Something blocked the path.
It could just not be.
Commander Storm's eyes narrowed into points. "It's no use,
councilor. The Jedi Knight is dead."
Leia clutched the back of a chair for support and whispered
harshly into her comlink, "See-Threepio, where is Luke!"
"One moment." There was a long hesitation before the droid
began to stammer. "Oh dear, oh dear...I-I-I'm terribly sorry, your
highness. Oh my..."
"Tell me!" The scream stuck in her throat and produced a
hollow, raspy sound.
There was another pause as See-Threepio searched his memory
banks for the correct word usage. There was none to be had. "It has
been recorded that Master Luke passed away not ten minutes ago and the
body was jettisoned into space, as per Imperial procedure."
"The records may have been tampered with." Leia glowered at
Kayla Storm. "It's convenient there's no proof of his death other
than the memory of a computer and the word of its programmer. Where
are you hiding him?"
"Skywalker was mistaken for one of our own," she said quietly.
"His death and the mistakes following it are horrible, not
"Mistress Leia," Threepio went on, "the Imperial fleet appears
to be on course for the Bespin system, where the New Republic awaits
Alarm crawled up her spine and tightened her stomach into
knots. "What have you done to us?"
Kayla gave a twisted smile. "Grand Admiral Thorn wishes to
return you to Mon Mothma as a gesture of goodwill. So you see, your
diplomatic mission will not be a complete failure." She paused and
the expression shifted to mock pity. "I am truly sorry about your
Leia collapsed in a soft chair as if struck.
Kayla Storm left the bereaved silence.
* * *
The Millennium Falcon glided toward the New Republic fleet
with her escort of X-wing fighters. There was no hurry in her flight.
In fact, a rather impatient squadron leader urged Han Solo to increase
the engine speed of his souped up cargo ship by ten percent.
Reluctantly, the old smuggler complied and sat forward in the pilot's
chair as he saw a small cluster of Imperial warships make a blip on
"Uh-oh," he grumbled.
"No." Calrissian shook his head and pointed to the Star
Destroyers in the distance. "They're not moving in attack formation.
Imperials are real sticklers about that sort of thing."
"They sure are in a hurry to get over here. Think they struck
a deal?" Han wondered.
"I know they struck a deal."
Solo looked over at the Baron Administrator and inhaled
deeply. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Don't say that!" the other snapped. "Things only get worse
when you say that!"
Han shrugged, nonchalant, and angled the Falcon toward the
Several New Republic soldiers waited for the company to safely
dock in the cavernous hangar. Solo and Calrissian disembarked with
their escort and approached the soldiers warily. Almost at once, the
pilots unholstered heavy blasters and opened fire on the unsuspecting
guard. The two companions yelped in surprise and dove behind the
Falcon's landing ramp for cover. Han groped at the empty holster at
his hip and swore at their captors for leaving him so defenseless.
Besides, he thought bleakly, who am I supposed to shoot? The small
group of soldiers was quickly subdued as more pilots appeared with
more guns, as if from nowhere. Wedge Antilles relieved the soldiers
of their weapons and turned to give a command to the pilot behind him.
"Alert Beta and Delta teams we have control over the
Benefactor's main docking bay. Have these guys taken down to the
The pilot nodded and the captives were taken away. Sirens
wailed mournfully as explosions reverberated from within the flagship.
Not altogether convinced it was safe to come out of hiding, the
perplexed civilians edged toward Antilles and Han formed a question
slowly on his lips.
"So...uh...what's goin' on, Wedge? Anything new?"
The revolutionary smiled and rested his heavy rifle across his
shoulders. "We're cleaning house."
Lando gave Han a huge grin. "Well, I'll be..."
Solo's face twisted impishly. "Somebody get me a mop."
* * *
The Imperial shuttle left the flagship Zephyr like a giant bat
taking flight. Grand Admiral Maxus Thorn watched it glide toward the
Benefactor as Haake's voice spoke frantically over an intercepted
transmission to Ambassador Furgan.
"A mutiny is underway, Ambassador! I cannot keep control..."
"Has Mon Mothma been alerted?" Furgan barked.
"I can't get through! I can't..."
"Fool! You are lost!"
"Who are you?" Haake demanded, voice muffled as he must have
turned away from the transmitter. "What are you...? NO! "
There was static and Thorn threw a gleeful look in Saysithi's
direction. "You see how our problems seem to take care of
"We still need fuel," purred the alien captain.
"Yes." Thorn stared hard at the New Republic fleet. "Yes, we
* * *
Han Solo stood on the bridge of the Benefactor and watched
Antilles and another pilot drag Haake's lifeless body toward the blast
door. They sure were in it now. He smiled as Leia was escorted
through the entry by Lando. His wife stared as Rufus Haake was taken
out, ignoring Han's advance.
"Hey, no hug?"
Her eyes flashed venomously. "You shouldn't have killed
Haake. He was working with Carida and knew of another spy within the
"Is that what this is all about?" he exclaimed as she brushed
"The Inner Council has become corrupt due to Imperial
influence. Furgan's trying to use our military to clean up the
dissension in the Empire and causing dissension among us in the
process. It's practically another New Order, Han." She paused to
look at him and her voice became bitter. "If you had been around
more, you would have known that. You'd also have known that I'm
carrying another child."
Solo felt his mouth drop open. So that was why Luke wanted
him to stick around...where was Luke anyway? He rubbed at his temples
and the headache that was starting to pound against his skull. His
family needed their lives to be safe and dependable. And here they
were in the middle of an uprising, alienated if not completely
divorced from the place Leia would have liked to call home. To hell
with it. He tried to wrap his arms around her from behind and
received only a sharp jab to the ribs.
"Hey! Settle down, princess!" He whirled her about to face
him and gripped her shoulders hard. He was fuming; at her, at Luke,
at the kid, at himself. It was all he could muster to keep from
shaking some kind of sense into her. "What is wrong with you!"
Leia hissed sharply, "Luke is dead!"
The kid...As shock settled in and he realized what an idiot he
really was, Leia twisted out of his grasp and headed for the door.
"We've got a transmission coming in," Lando said as he studied
a communications' control panel.
Solo clenched his teeth and tried to swallow his fury. "Open
Calrissian punched in a code and scowled as the image of Grand
Admiral Thorn appeared on the forward viewscreen.
The old man was obviously pleased. "Ah. Congratulations are
in order, I see. I take it Princess Leia arrived unharmed?"
"Thorn, you rancid piece of meat, what have you done with
Luke?" Han growled dangerously.
The Grand Admiral shrugged. "The Jedi was practically dead on
arrival. There was very little our Em-Dee units could do for him."
"I'll bet," Lando muttered under his breath.
"I offer my most heartfelt condolences to his friends and
family. Now if you'll kindly surrender the Bespin system and be on
your pathetic little way..."
Lando raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"There's no way in hell..." Han began.
"I'm certain there is," Thorn interrupted. "I'm certain Mon
Mothma would not be particularly pleased with your little escapade.
In fact, I'm quite certain she would insist on turning your hijacked
fleet into floating carnage as soon as she gets a chance. It's really
only a matter of time until she finds out, unless she already has.
Time which could facilitate your escape."
"You're going to alert Coruscant if we don't bug out ASAP."
Han laughed bitterly. "What a saint."
"Let it go, Han." Lando looked through a viewport at gaseous
Bespin, jewel of the smuggling underworld. There would be some
unhappy clientele to deal with if he ever decided to return.
"There'll be other Sabacc games." With higher jackpots, and better
Maxus Thorn, the grandfather, smiled. "A wise decision, Baron
Calrissian. I'm glad there is one of you gifted with intelligence."
Han gave a silent oath and went looking for his wife.
* * *
Luke Skywalker was not dead, but fought an ever-strengthening
tide that sought to pull him toward that end. The more he struggled,
the deeper he seemed to sink. So death is quicksand, he thought
grimly and gave up the fight. The tide, the infinity that was the
Force, washed over him and he was assaulted by memories of youth--his
guardians Owen and Beru Lars, his few friends, including the late
Biggs Darklighter and Kayla Storm. Before that, chaos and a man who
had forsaken him, his sister, his mother. Mother was a blank figure in
his past; voiceless, faceless, yet she must have been. Flesh torn
from flesh, Luke was taken at birth; Leia was sent with their mother
to Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan where the infant girl would be
raised as a princess. The infant boy was dropped somewhat
unceremoniously into the arms of Owen and Beru Lars, moisture farmers
on the desolate world of Tatooine, and raised to be the pauper. Fate
separated them once again. Emotional anguish came from his twin as
angry accusations, attacked his soul like shards of jagged glass. He
wanted to succor the cries of this lost child; cradle her tightly in
his arms so she wouldn't hit, cover her mouth so she wouldn't scream.
But the pain was too much and she would just not shut up. The wounds
of his heart scarred as he wished revenge on Kayla Storm for her
deceit. The tide receded as Skywalker again stepped toward the
darkness. My son. His father's voice spoke in the forefront of the
Jedi's mind, masking the anguish he felt from Leia. Do not give in to
your hate, as I did. The voice of Anakin Skywalker resonated deeply
but did not instill terror as it once had. Darth Vader was no more.
His father had returned to himself. But that didn't change the
occurrences of the past. She betrayed me. Luke tried to wake up, get
up, but his father's presence held him firm. Luke, it is time you
took her as your pupil as Obi-wan took me. You must pass on what you
have learned. Father. His head spun frantically. I'm not ready.
The elder Skywalker allowed his tone to become sharp. If Kayla Storm
is permitted to follow the Dark path, the Empire will resurrect in a
form that will pale its previous infamy. You were strong enough to
redeem Darth Vader. You must be strong enough to redeem her as well.
Memories of the terrible encounter before Emperor Palpatine and Darth
Vader chilled Luke to his very being. To allow such evil to reemerge
was horrific enough, but in a person he had known nearly his whole
life, someone he cared for. Father... Anakin whispered softly in his
mind. Forgive me, son. Luke wanted to tell him it was okay, that
what was done was done, and that he loved him despite all the
betrayal. But the thoughts would not organize themselves as the tide
washed back in. He felt himself slip. Then, suddenly, but quietly,
softly, gentle fingertips stroked the back of his mind and guided him
toward consciousness. You are strong. The suggestion came to him.
In a little while, you will be just fine. Tender lips touched his
forehead for a brief instant and his eyes blinked open to see the
attractive face of Kayla Storm. She sat close at his bedside with his
prosthetic right hand clutched in hers. He no longer sensed the lust
for death that had overflowed from her sense into his own during the
flight from Coruscant, but cunning, and a delicate honing of her craft
that was not altogether malign. She smiled coquettishly. "Hello
again." The pain faded and Luke realized that Kayla was much more
than a novice Jedi. She was powerful and had the capability of
patience and control, and to heal, rather than destroy. "How is it
you've learned so much?" he asked. His voice cracked like brittle
clay. She ignored the question and quietly said, "I need your
guidance." "That's why you told my sister I was dead and sent her
back to the New Republic?" A touch of anger flashed through Luke's
mind but he kept it well in check. He looked through the bedside
viewport and watched Haake's fleet orbiting Bespin. Something was
happening there. Kayla followed his gaze. "They will be gone soon,
and the Empire will be rebuilt."
"For one thing, you sound overconfident."
"You're wrong." Luke bit the inside of his cheek as the New
Republic fleet made the jump into hyperspace. Nothing could be done
for his friends now, and he sensed that, for the moment, they were
safe. They would not be if Kayla Storm was enveloped completely by
darkness and evolved into a nemesis like Darth Vader. He refused to
open himself to Leia's grief.
Storm's tone became ice. "You should not doubt me, Luke
He turned his head and looked at the green eyes calmly. "In
our past, I rarely have."
The eyes sharpened but she did not respond. Luke folded his
hands and placed them at his lips, making a final decision. "I'll
teach you, but not here."
"The Grand Admiral needs me. I can't just leave."
"If you wish to become a Jedi, you will follow my
instructions." He shifted his gaze to watch her reaction. "The
training will commence on Tatooine."
His novice frowned sullenly.
"Commander Storm to the bridge," an intercom announced.
Kayla rose to her feet. "I'll consider it. But I don't think
you're in a position to make demands of any sort, Jedi Skywalker."
Luke only grinned in reply. Incensed, she turned on her heel
* * *
Within hours, the fleet of Admiral Ackbar came swiftly to
Bespin and to succeed where Haake failed. Maxus Thorn watched the
fighter squadrons come in droves, like maddened insects attacking a
large, unsuspecting intruder. The damage was becoming severe.
"The Kismet has lost her main deflectors," announced a shaken,
"Steer clear," commanded Thorn.
The Super Star Destroyer Zephyr angled ponderously from the
volatile superweapon. The Star Destroyer Maelstrom was slower to
follow suit and as the Kismet erupted, disappeared in a ball of fire.
"The Kismet and the Maelstrom have been destroyed, sir,"
someone commented on the obvious.
Grand Admiral Thorn turned his chair slowly to face Captain
Saysithi and Commander Storm. "Then we are alone. Captain,
regretfully inform Ambassador Furgan that we will be rendezvousing
with him in two days."
"Ensign, lay in a course for the Carida system and jump to
lightspeed when feasible."
"Aye, sir." The young officer paused. "Thery're blocking our
escape, Grand Admiral."
Kayla stepped forward to receive orders.
"Take out as many squadrons as you can to draw their fire away
from the Zephyr. You will be called back when we are ready to make
Commander Storm crouched before the disability chair and
quietly surmised, "You're going to abandon me again, aren't you?"
The old man patted her hand and gave a sad smile. They had
spoken at length about Palpatine's visitation. He was in awe of this
girl, this chosen one. Kayla Storm had more than his blessings. "And
again, you will survive. The remaining TIE fighters aboard this ship
have been upgraded with lightspeed capabilities. You need only follow
our path and take your throne at Carida. Go now, my friend, Empress.
You are our last hope."
"I will not fail you." she replied. The Imperial commander
straightened, saluted, and left the bridge.
When she returned to Luke Skywalker, he was dressed and
"We're under attack," Kayla stated and tossed him a lifesuit
and breathmask which she herself now wore.
Skywalker blandly gazed out a viewport at the ensuing
firefight. "You don't say."
"Get dressed. This will be our only chance to slip out of
* * *
The Mon Calamari swiveled his captain's chair to face the
"The Zephyr is sending out every TIE squadron it has to join
"It won't be enough," Ackbar wheezed. "Send out Blue and Red
squadrons and issue a call for their surrender."
"We've tried hailing them, sir, and they won't respond."
"Very well," he sighed deeply. "Let's get this finished."
* * *
Several squadrons of TIE fighters, Interceptors, and the
double-podded TIE bombers swept out of the flagship Zephyr and lunged
forward to engage the New Republic Star Cruisers at point-blank range.
Swarms of X and A-wing class fighters emerged from the opposing
Benefactor in response. For the moment, forces concentrated on
annihilating the TIE fighters rather than their mothership.
Immediately, the Super Star Destroyer grasped the opportunity and
disappeared in a flash of light.
"I can't believe they left them," breathed Ackbar's
lieutenant. "Those short range fighters don't have a prayer."
The Mon Calamari Admiral hesitated only for a moment.
"Imperial Commander, you are urged to surrender!" he barked into a
Kayla Storm turned her head slightly to glance at the former
New Republic pilot seated next to her. He did well with the controls,
despite his lack of experience with TIE bombers. Kayla set aside the
cannon and bomber controls and leaned toward the communications
"I hate to disappoint you, Admiral, but surrender is out of
the question." Quickly she toggled frequencies. "Attention TIE
squads, lay in coordinates and Jump on my mark. Now!"
She fingered the controls and waited expectantly for the stars
to elongate. They did not. Her fists pounded against the control
panel in impotent rage. "He lied to me! Damn it! Maxus Thorn lied
Her comrades, too, began to come to the same conclusion. The
formations began to break up, TIE fighters racing at full sublight
power to escape the attackers. The squadrons of New Republic fighters
eagerly gave chase.
"All TIE squadrons..." Kayla began.
"No," Luke said quietly. "Let them scatter. If we can find
someplace to hide, we can escape notice."
"But their sensors..."
"I'll worry about their sensors. Look there." Skywalker
nodded toward a field of tumbling astroids and angled the TIE bomber
"You're not actually going into an astroid field!" Storm
Luke smiled broadly behind the pilot's mask. "My smuggler
friend pulled it off once, why shouldn't I?"
"Your smuggler friend has a notorious reputation of being a
little bit stupid. You're not stupid, you're...INSAAAAAAAAAAANE! "
The TIE bomber dived headfirst into the churning debris. A
number of the quicker A-wing class fighters paused in their hunt.
"Uh...Blue Leader, we've got a TIE bomber in the astroid
field. Coordinates five-zero-epsilon."
"Don't risk it, Blue Three. Regroup at coordinates
five-nine-beta; we've got a last stand goin' on out here."
"But what about this TIE?"
"Don't worry about it. They'll run out of gas soon enough, if
they don't get pulverized."
"Roger, Blue Leader."
Admiral Ackbar watched the fighter squadrons return to their
respective ships and asked his Lieutenant, "Have we hunted them all
The younger Mon Calamari bobbed his head. "It appears so,
Admiral. Blue Three and Blue Six reported chasing a TIE bomber into
the far astroid field but our sensors don't pick up anything due to
"Well," he sighed heavily, "Then I suppose that is that.
Contact Madam President of our success, and of our failure."
* * *
They reached the edge of the astroid field without mishap and
Luke Skywalker removed the suffocating breathmask, leaned back against
the headrest and closed his eyes. Kayla glanced at him, still
somewhat anxious from the harrowing flight; Skywalker seemed to be
suffering some pain from his injuries, or maybe he was just
overwhelmed by the fact that he had just flown for the other side.
"Both," he grunted, listening to her thoughts.
"Hasn't anyone told you it's not nice to eavesdrop?"
"All the time."
Storm removed her own breathmask and watched the horizon of
normal space. "It's going to take about seven months to get to
Tatooine at sublight speed. We'll have to stop frequently for
supplies since their isn't any room for cargo on this thing. Next
stop should be Anorak in fifteen hours. I don't see why you couldn't
have picked a system that was a little closer..." She noticed Luke
shaking his head. "What do you mean, No?"
"We won't have to stop."
"What do you mean We won't have to stop? You just wait until
you feel a few natural urges and then we'll see..."
Luke grinned. "I'm going to teach your first lesson regarding
one of the skills of a Jedi, namely control of the Force that dwells
inside you and your perception of that Force."
"I don't know what you're talking about. We'll die if we
don't stop to get food and water..."
"Listen, Kayla. Close your eyes and feel the energy around
you. Sense it deliberately, not out of reaction to stimulus. The
Force surrounds us always, it is with us always."
Storm complied to his instructions and felt her muscles relax
almost immediately. There was a pleasant feeling that drifted into
all of her senses. The touch of soft velvet, the smell of
wildflowers, gentle strains of musical flutes, even the taste of
sweet delicates. The Light Side whispered to her soul like the
overtures of a fervent lover. Please come, it invited with mild
"We can alter our perception of time, not only in our minds,
but in our bodies as well. A Jedi can lull himself into a hibernetic
trance," Luke was saying. "If you can't, we will stop as you need.
But I'm convinced that with your sensitivity to the Force, it won't
be a difficult task. It begins with trust, and a leap of faith."
"I can trust," she muttered quietly, already slipping into a
blanket of warm slumber.
Skywalker smiled to himself. Perhaps the art of Jedi
Masterhood would not be so difficult after all.
The TIE bomber landed on the edge of a deep canyon and tilted
awkwardly over its precipice.
Kayla screamed. She moved her hands frantically over the
controls to get the repulsorlifts to respond. They did not and as
surely as she'd convinced herself that they would die squashed at the
bottom of the canyon, the bomber began to move with the lightness of
a feather. It rose carefully into the air, turned away from the
cliff, and came to rest a few yards from their previous position. She
stared at Luke Skywalker.
"Grab your things."
They emerged from the twin pods with a stretch and a yawn, and
Kayla was amazed to find that not even her muscles felt stiff. It was
like waking up from a refreshing catnap. She ran her hands through
her hair. It had grown by inches, still short, but no longer spiky.
She was relieved to finally break the Imperial mold although it would
have to be remedied later. Storm gave Skywalker a good, long look and
began to chuckle in spite of herself.
"What?" he asked.
"Ever heard the story of Rip Van Winkle? The man who slept
for a hundred years?"
Luke tugged gently at his shaggy facial growth. He had wanted
a beard, but this was ridiculous. He shrugged off her laughter and
gestured to the canyon. "That's Beggar's Canyon. Mos Eisely must be
fifty kilometers Northwest."
Kayla hefted her survival pack over her shoulder. "That's a
long walk through rough terrain. I don't see why I don't just shoot
us both in the head to get this over with before we die of
dehydration. And I'm starving..."
The Imperial folded her arms. "What? I don't hear anything."
"No. Listen," Luke emphasized. Kayla scowled. A bit
disappointed in her unwillingness to try, Luke grabbed her elbow and
pointed to each horizon. "Mos Eisely--Northwest, fifty kilometers.
Tusken Raiders--South, fifteen kilometers and closing. Jawas --East,
ten kilometers and closing in at a faster clip. Don't you hear them?"
Kayla looked at him blankly. "You've got to be kidding."
"The sandpeople are probably angry that we crashed in their
territory. The Jawas on the other hand..." Luke ducked back into the
TIE bomber and began ripping out bits of mechanized junk.
"What are you doing?" Kayla exclaimed. "You're breaking it!
We'll never get out of here if you break it!"
"We won't be leaving for awhile anyway. Jawas are scavengers.
They'll get here at least ten minutes ahead of the sandpeople and
bargain for this scrap. I figure we can get a decent price and maybe
a ride into town." He began to ramble, tossing part after part into
the sand. "We need to find water, eat, get supplies...I bet the price
of water has skyrocketed. Then we'll set up camp and commence the
training. Oh, I need to stop by Obi-wan Kenobi's to get something for
you. Don't worry, I'm not up for a hundred mile jog. We'll rent a
landspeeder when we get to Mos Eisely. Where should we set up camp?
It can't be anything too easy." He paused only for a moment. "Yes.
That'll do just fine. I can't wait to get started."
Kayla let him ramble, amazed at the luck of this fledgling
Jedi Master. But of course, it wasn't luck at all. Destiny. And
hers was yet to be fulfilled.
* * *
The shack was still in relatively good condition, despite the
years of neglect. Luke Skywalker rustled through the mess, as if
looking for lost treasure. It had been years since he had been here.
Where was it?
Kayla Storm emerged from the washroom, toweling off her black
hair. They had received unsavory glares as the citizens of Mos Eisely
scrutinized her Imperial uniform. She was certainly out of place. At
Luke's insistence, she was now clad in the loose beige tunic and
slacks so common among the colonists.
"Why don't we stay here?" she questioned. "The plumbing still
works, it's comfortable..."
"It's too comfortable. That's the problem," Luke objected.
Finally, he uncovered a small, tattered box and smiled. Wonderful.
"I don't understand you, Skywalker," Kayla mumbled and sat at
a table to devour the meal set before her.
"That wouldn't be a first," he commented and sat, placing the
box before her. "A gift."
"What is it?" Her voice was muffled by a mouthful of bread.
"Something of my father's."
Suddenly curious, Kayla grabbed at the box and withdrew a
lightsaber, much like the one her Jedi wielded.
"It was the blade of Anakin Skywalker during his days as a
Jedi Knight. When he turned to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader,
Obi-wan kept it for me as an heirloom. It's yours until you construct
"General Kenobi must have been a fool. How could he allow his
star pupil to become so evil?"
"General Kenobi was a great man. The circumstances of my
father's corruption were beyond his control."
"Mm-hmm." She studied the weapon carefully.
Luke continued, "When I was young, this was the lightsaber I
used to confront Vader on Bespin."
Kayla lifted her gaze. "Luke, you are still young. It's just
that horrible beard..."
"I was rash. In stampeding into a situation I knew nothing
about, I nearly lost my friends, and he severed my right hand as a
"I can't imagine Vader sparing such a little whelp. Why
didn't he destroy you when he had the chance?"
"Because there was good in him. He knew the Dark Side would
be his undoing and saw me as his only hope for redemption. Kayla, you
will come to understand that the boundaries between good and evil are
often blurred. There is Light, there is Dark, and mostly there is
"The escape from Coruscant..."
The Jedi Master nodded. "We must be careful. Even where
there are good intentions, even in righteous indignation, anger can
lead us astray. A Jedi must learn patience."
"A Jedi must not stand still when atrocities are being
committed," Kayla argued. She pressed the activation stud on the hilt
of the lasersword. The blue beam of energy materialized and Luke
quickly shifted, barely saving his shoulder from getting speared.
"Oh!" She stared at him, surprising even herself. "Sorry
"You don't know how to use that yet," he chastised. "Power it
The novice complied immediately. "When will you teach me?"
Luke reached over and broke off a piece of her bread. "When I
think you're ready."
"And when is that?" she pressed. "I don't see what good I'll
be unless I can defend myself against the Lords of the Sith."
"As far as I know, the Sith no longer exist. My father was
the last one." He spooned some bean stew onto his plate at blew at
the steam. "There's more to Jedi Knighthood than being good in a
fight. The Force is the root of all knowledge. It's so infinite.
There's so much more than manipulating the physical universe. Even
after years of practice, I'm still amazed."
Kayla sat back and studied him. "It's a form of worship,
isn't it? Even for the Sith."
"I believe so. But..." he strove to find some definition.
"It's more. Some consider it a tool and that's where they're
mistaken. It's deeply spiritual. Still..."
"I don't believe in gods."
"It's beyond that," Luke replied. "What did you feel, Kayla,
when you went into that trance? Were you enraged? Were you afraid?"
Silently, she shook her head.
The Jedi Master leaned forward. "It's that serenity which
feeds the soul. The Light Side of the Force gives us life; the Dark
Side, death." He watched her silence deepen as her gaze lowered to
rest upon the lightsaber. "I need a commitment from you, that you
will strive for the Light."
"What if I fail?" she said barely above a whisper.
"I know you won't," he answered.
Kayla looked at him. "How's that?"
"Because I know you." Luke hesitated, then gripped her hand.
"I believe in you."
Storm's free hand rested on the lightsaber of Anakin
Skywalker. "Teach me more about this. There will always be time to
learn the rest."
Luke grinned in spite of himself. "I hate to tell you, but
this relationship will not be on equal footing. I am the teacher and
you are the learner. I will make the decisions on what lessons are to
be presented and when."
"Fine." Kayla pulled her hand away. "All I've learned my
whole life is how to attack. I must learn defense or I'll be no good.
I promise, Luke, you will be my benevolent dictator from here on out.
The Jedi Master paused. She had a point. It might be a good
test. His eyes shifted to the canister of water. "We'll see. Pass
Kayla reached for the canister but Luke caught her wrist.
"Not with your hands, Kayla. This is lesson number three."
"What was two?"
Skywalker rolled his eyes. "Perception of the universe around
you. The Jawas...any of this ring a bell?"
She flashed an impish grin. "I'm kidding. Can't an Imperial
have a sense of humor?"
"Fine." Luke lifted his glass. "Water, please?"
"Come on. This is silly. It's right in front of you."
"As your benevolent dictator..."
"All right, all right. I'll give it a try."
"Do," he corrected.
Kayla released a heavy, exasperated sigh and closed her eyes.
The canister shook, splashing expensive water over its sides, hovered
in the air with uncertainty.
"Easy," Luke muttered. "I know I need to shower yet but now's
not the time."
Kayla smiled at this and almost lost her concentration. The
"Sorry," he whispered and sat back to watch with dispassionate
objectivity. "Pour it into the glass."
Her hand lifted, as if reaching for something in her mind's
eye. The canister became steady and tilted. The water flowed into
the glass and stopped at its rim. She opened her eyes as the canister
came to rest and smiled broadly.
"This one, I passed."
Luke returned the smile and nodded. There would be a few more
simple exercises before implementing the test. It was a good first
Leia Organa Solo stared absently as the broad expanse of stars
beyond her hijacked fleet lengthened into starlines, then transformed
into the mottled vista of hyperspace. After months of running, she
finally came to the conclusion that the only marginally safe place
for them to hide would be the stronghold of Anoth. Fuel supplies were
dwindling and they could not afford a continually aimless flight. The
new baby would be due in a matter of days. She needed sleep, and a
place where she could finally gain some peace of mind. The twins'
birthday had been forgotten entirely in all the chaos. They were, of
course, too young to care a great deal but Leia nagged herself with
guilt. One day soon, she and Han would make it up to them, and for
all the other, no less important, lost days.
The politician had finally made contact with Coruscant months
ago to see if a diplomatic solution could be reached. Firstly, she
was guilty of desertion with high security inmates marked for
execution. Mon Mothma apparently didn't buy Bel Iblis' report that
Kayla Storm took her hostage. Secondly, the mutiny and acquisition of
Haake's fleet worsened matters irrevocably. The damage could not be
changed. Mon Mothma's official response had been something less than
even-tempered, melodramatically proclaiming that Leia and all
traitors would perish in a sea of fire. It sounded like General
Turchin's coaching. Ackbar was sent on the search and would bring
them back for a trial that would surely result in their execution.
So much for diplomacy.
Admiral Ackbar was her friend and long time ally. Leia prayed
fervently that he would not betray them to the Inner Council. She
prayed he would conveniently forget Anoth and keep the location
confidential. Yet he was a loyal patriot and would not have
understood the goings on of late. Operatives had gone ahead,
listening, watching. Only Chewbacca had come to visit Winter and the
children. It was safe. And as Thorn had mentioned, the New Republic
could not destroy what the New Republic could not find. Anoth was
the closest thing to invisibility as they could come. In the end, all
that mattered was being reunited with the twins and the fact that
their uncle was thought to be dead. Anoth then. There would be
little to do but wait and simply exist in the cold, darkness of
space. It would be a welcome change.
She jumped as her husband embraced her from behind but this
time, Leia did not lash out. Han kissed her neck and she blushed,
bowing her head.
"Can I ask you something?"
Leia nodded but her gaze remained downcast. This was a
conversation they had tried to avoid over the past months. Things had
been so strained.
"Why couldn't you have left a little more quietly? I mean,
why all this? It's just a huge mess now, Leia."
"Luke was so angry," she said almost inaudibly. "It wasn't an
anger where you want to hit someone although a lot of people were
killed...It was something deeper. I didn't know what he was planning.
He touched my mind and told me only that we had to leave. I did it
because I trusted my brother's instincts. He said there wasn't a
"So what did Luke know?" Han snapped.
Leia stiffened in his arms and he watched the reflection of
her face in the transparasteel turn pale. Han backed off and sighed
heavily to let loose a bit of inner steam. He had come to finally get
a few answers and his wife was giving him the run around. Over and
over, he tried to sort the events in his head and kept coming to the
same conclusion. Spies or no spies, this was all Luke's fault. His
overreaction to such a delicate situation was stupidity, pure and
simple. And talk about overreacting to delicate situations, here they
were with a stolen fleet, for cryin' out loud. Maybe he was just
getting too old for this running with one's head cut off garbage. Ten
years ago, he'd be having the time of his life. He had a few words
for Luke Skywalker, but the kid was dead and all he could do was be
ticked off about the whole thing.
"It's not fair of you to blame him," Leia muttered quietly.
"Blast it, Leia! Would you stop with that?" Han fumed.
"Would you kindly remove the comscan you have on my brain and
let me keep a few things to myself? Please?" He threw his hands up
in exasperation. "I can't keep going on like this, your worship. What
the do you want from me?" He clamped his mouth shut and felt badly
for his temper. It was getting harder and harder for them to get
along even on the most basic level. Something had to give or they
just might lose each other completely. The silence weighed heavily on
She wasn't crying yet, but in a tremulous voice, she said, "I
want you to bring him back."
Han folded his arms. "I can't, sweetheart. Nobody can."
"I don't believe Luke is dead. The records could have been
falsified. Kayla Storm could have lied..."
Han's reflection shook its head. "Too much time has passed.
If Luke were alive, he'd have found a way to contact us by now."
Leia faced him directly. "Unless someone's preventing him
from doing that. Who knows what could be happening to him right now?"
"Leia." Han approached and rubbed her aching shoulders. "I
know how you feel..."
"You have no idea!" she shouted and pulled away to glare at
"Oh! So I'm the jerk, right?" Han shouted back. He stopped
and lowered his voice. "Luke was my friend and sometimes it still
hurts, okay? But I'm getting over it. Princess, you're running
around here like he died yesterday and I think it's time you stopped
"How dare you..."
"I don't know," he continued, scratching his head.
"Maybe...maybe it's this pregnancy. Maybe things will be better all
around once we reach Anoth and the baby's born."
The tears welled up in his wife's eyes. He tentatively
offered to embrace her and she miraculously accepted, burying her face
in his shirt and struggling to stifle deep, heart-wrenched sobs.
"You think I've lost my mind, don't you?"
The space pirate breathed yet another deep sigh and counted
slowly to ten before he could answer without irritation in his voice.
"I think you need rest."
She cried harder. It was just becoming too much. He kissed
her forehead and left her to be alone. But not quite.
The tiny life within her stirred, sensing but not
comprehending her emotion. Leia touched her weighty abdomen with a
trembling hand and the unborn child became calm. That calmness
drifted into her own sense and she resolved not to weep again until
her brother could be found. Not a solitary tear.
* * *
The two merciless suns hung high like demonic lanterns and
pounded their furnace heat onto the planet Tatooine. Central to the
endless Dune Sea towered a plateau as a stoic sentinel, keeping watch
over an unforgiving land. Hence the name Sentinel Rock. Upon it, two
fierce combatants edged precariously close to a precipice. The
ancient weapons of Jedi Knighthood wove through the air in a majestic
dance; thrusting, whirling, parrying, thrusting again. The green
laserblade locked with the one of icy blue and sparks cascaded
between Luke Skywalker and Kayla Storm in a frightening hiss. Damp
with sweat and heaving for breath, the apprentice seemed to enjoy the
respite. The Jedi Master, however, seemed barely winded and at ease,
even cool. She hated him for that.
"Be passive," he lectured. "Be at peace. That's when the
Light Side of the Force will come to you."
"The Dark Side comes more easily with anger. Rage!"
Kayla broke the lock and swung at Skywalker's head. He ducked
the blow and after a brief clash, created another lock.
"Yes. But to follow such a path can only result in
self-destruction. A true Jedi uses the Force as a source of knowledge
With a quick thrust, he sent Kayla reeling but caught her arm
as she nearly toppled over the cliff.
She jerked away from his grasp and brought the lightsaber
between them sharply, desperately trying to calm the turmoil that
screamed through her senses. Control. Luke responded in kind but
remained still, allowing her a moment to collect herself. Kayla
stared at the blue blade and attempted to draw strength from it.
This, Luke had told her, was the blade of Anakin Skywalker in his days
as a Jedi Knight. The man who became Lord Darth Vader had wielded
this weapon. She felt a residual presence around it, like a scent on
clothing. Luke's recklessness, his father's corruption, whispered
into her thoughts. Their errands having been accomplished the day
before, they set up camp here and Luke instructed her in the
performance of more useless parlor tricks; the levitation of stones,
gymnastic feats, more lectures on the spirituality of the Force. It
bored her beyond patience. Only once did his instruction curb that
boredom with visions of the possible future. She saw herself standing
with Imperial majesty over Skywalker's prone form. Kayla again
insisted he instruct her in the use of a lightsaber. He had been slow
to comply, uncertain of what she had envisioned and why she was
suddenly so eager, and now he knew full well the test was a mistake.
It would be an error Kayla would not allow him to make twice. She
would use Vader's lightsaber to her full ability, to her destiny's
full completion. She would be Empress.
Skywalker attacked with a suddenness that threw Kayla off
guard but for a moment. This time she defended well and lost no
ground. The air felt hot in her lungs.
"Good!" Luke praised. "The key is defense. Anticipate my
He sidestepped as she lunged and tripped her with an
outstretched foot. The novice tumbled to the uneven ground and tasted
salty blood in her mouth, and fury.
"You're being too aggressive," Luke chastised as his green
lightsaber powered down. He crouched to help her sit slowly,
examining her scrapes with an experienced eye. "It's almost midday.
We'd better get out of the suns and drink some fluids. I need to
clarify a few things with you before..."
He trailed off as Kayla Storm brought her lightsaber close to
his face. It hummed quietly and smelled of ozone. Her eyes were
venomous, but the venom spread feverishly when he did not flinch in
fear, nor anger. There was no surprise in this. The lesson had gone
too far. The confrontation was bound to happen someday and was
destined to happen again so long as she allowed her own seduction to
the Dark Side of the Force. But Kayla was not to blame for this. The
blade hummed closer still but emitted no heat, only light. The
screaming torment of her mind fell silent as Luke touched her wrist
with the gentle hands of a priest. She strove to hang on to the
hatred that fed her power but felt barriers crumble under his cool
gaze. Luke removed the lightsaber and set it aside, deactivated, and
placed her empty hand in his.
"Let it go."
Her eyes became haunted, as if horrified by her own actions,
and she gasped, "I'm sorry."
Luke bent his forehead against her own. "It's my fault. I
should have known you weren't ready."
He swallowed hard as she impulsively wrapped her arms about
him. It would be easy to follow human instincts and fall in love.
She filled a certain emptiness in his spirit. But too many mistakes
had already been made. It couldn't happen, not now while he was
trying to guide her in ways that required calm equanimity. The Jedi
Master pulled out of her embrace and gently stated, "I think that's
all for today."
"But it's early..."
"We need to take our time." The remark held a double meaning
which did not escape her. Luke rose to his feet and straightened his
shirt. "Training will resume in the morning."
The apprentice softly grinned as she watched the Jedi Master
retreat to the shelter.
* * *
The Imperial Academy on Carida was all spit and polish.
Revolting, as far as Maxus Thorn was concerned. Pure facade that hid
the Empire's own ineptitude. He glanced from Captain Saysithi to the
four gleaming stormtroopers whose duty it fell upon to escort them.
The proud captain of his flagship was devastated and Thorn couldn't
bear to see the twisted expression. The spotless marble hallways
echoed with the clamor of metallic footfalls, a clamor the old man
always despised. He couldn't turn his thoughts from Leia Organa Solo
and the trouble she'd found with the New Republic. She came with a
message of peace and now was the object of a death hunt because of it.
Sad, really. She seemed like such a nice girl. Thorn would have
enjoyed dealing with her if he had been in a position to do so.
Perhaps someday. Haggard from lack of sleep, Maxus slumped in his
disability chair as it turned into a turbolift and they began to shoot
skyward. The time for talk was over. It was now time for the Grand
Admiral to tuck his tail between his legs and beg for leniency from
this blasted idiot Furgan. Perhaps it would have been better to join
Organa Solo after all. The old warlord scowled. Groveling was not an
act to which he was accustomed and he loathed this meeting. The civil
war between the remnant fleets and Carida was indeed lost. Ambassador
Furgan would take everything; his territory, his ship, maybe even his
life, not that it mattered. What mattered was that now he had the
capability to engage the New Republic head on and, given the
shakiness of its government, have a chance of winning. Thorn would
bet good credit the others were squirming under his thumb as well,
even more that Furgan was gloating.
The turbolift stopped and released its passengers into the
office of Ambassador Furgan. It was overdone, of course. Everything
with this man was overdone. He sat at an enormous desk/control
station and a floor to ceiling window framed by the most expensive
dressings made an impressive backdrop. Beyond, the mountainous region
of Carida provided adequate distraction from the daily duties of
ruling an Empire and above, a hideous chandelier cast eerie shadows
across the room. Thorn looked down at the plush carpeting, at least
an inch thick. Excessive, but the stormtrooper feet were silenced, in
"It's about time you arrived, old man," commented Furgan.
"It amazes me even now that you managed to obtain such a
diplomatic position, Ambassador," Thorn grumbled. He lifted his gaze
and noticed the holographic image of the turncoat Turchin standing on
the corner of the immense desk. "My, isn't this a surprise. It's
been some time since we've heard from you, Turchin. Now I understand
"My apologies, Grand Admiral. I was threatened..."
Bullshit, Maxus thought, but only gave the spy a cool glare.
"I hope I haven't interrupted anything."
"Not at all," said Furgan. "General, if you'll excuse us."
The image nodded and vanished.
"I see you're no longer bothering with encrypted messages."
"Oh no." The ambassador smiled. "The New Republic is quite
putty in my hands, thank you."
"Oh no," Thorn mimicked sarcastically. "Thank you." Thank
you for alienating us, thank you for having us chased to the farthest
reaches of the galaxy, thank you for destroying my fleet. I'm putty
in your hands now. Quite. "Now what are your terms, Furgan?"
"Your ship, your territory..."
Furgan laughed. "No, old man. You'll die soon enough on your
own. Until then, you're much too valuable a strategist for me to
"What do you want me to do?"
"I am done with toying with the Inner Council. I want to
strike against Coruscant and take their fleet, then I want the fleet
that was taken by the New Republic traitors, then our victory will be
Maxus chuckled softly to himself. The man was just too easy
to read, even for one who lacked sensitivity to the Force. Which
reminded him..."Very well, Ambassador, I'll see what I can do. Now,
there is the matter of Commander Kayla Storm."
"A female commander?" Furgan growled with disdain.
"She's a Force-sensitive and has gone to Tatooine to be
trained as a Jedi Knight by Luke Skywalker. Someday soon she will
become our most powerful ally."
"If she is with Skywalker, she is no ally of ours."
Thorn smiled wanly. "You're mistaken. I believe she will
come to claim the Emperor's throne, with the Jedi's head served upon a
Then, impetuous Furgan would be gone and Carida would return
to its true glory. Somewhere in the infinity of space, his last trump
card was preparing to be played.
* * *
The ruins of Owen and Beru Lars' homestead had long been swept
away by innumerable sandstorms. During their lives, Luke Skywalker
had been an ungrateful and angry boy. Angry at being abandoned by his
true parents and ungrateful to the love and guidance his guardians
attempted to give him. After their deaths, it became too late to
apologize. In an effort to make amends, he had erected a small
memorial in an outcropping of sandstone years before, and made it a
point to come by regularly to pay his respects. He approached it now
as Kayla Storm watched from the comfort of their rented landspeeder
not far off. She had been virtually silent since yesterday's botched
training session and Luke suspected she was desperately trying to gain
control over her inner turmoil on her own. Without his instruction,
she would hopelessly fail. He was a Master now. He had to teach. He
had to persuade and remove the shadowed intentions that callused her
thoughts. She had tried to ruin him and such an act would seal her
fate as a Dark Jedi, if she so desired. Her desires were jumbled,
clouded, and Luke wished he could see them with a more crystalline
Solemnly, Skywalker placed a single thistle-rose at the base
of the memorial and recalled his grief upon finding it burned out by
stormtroopers. It was then that he was convinced his destiny would
lie in the hands of Obi-wan Kenobi, and he would become a Jedi Knight
like his father. Now, he reminded himself again, he was a Jedi
Master. But he was plagued by his own uncertainty.
"Now you listen here, son." The argument took place twelve
years ago, but Luke heard Owen's angry voice as if he were speaking to
him presently. "I don't want you hanging around with those friends of
yours anymore, especially that Kayla Storm. Her father's a drunk and
she's nothing but trouble. I need you to work longer hours in the
fields. You're wasting too much time."
"You already have me working from dawn till dusk. Why can't I
spend some time on my own?" he had demanded.
"Because you're all glands and hormones. I know what kind of
trouble you're capable of getting into."
"Kayla and the others are my friends," Luke had replied
sharply. "And I'm not your son. My father was a great warrior, not
some moisture farmer."
"Your father is dead and left you in my care!" Owen shouted.
"Now do as you're told!"
"You can't tell me what to do!"
"As long as you live under this roof, I certainly can!"
Luke's voice had turned quiet and sullen. "Then maybe I won't
live under this roof anymore." He shook his head and traced the edges
of the memorial with a black-gloved finger. "Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru,
I'm very sorry."
He sensed Kayla Storm draw near and turned with a quick jerk
to face her.
"I'm sorry, Master Luke. I didn't mean to invade your
Luke's pallor darkened and he looked away. Kayla was taken
"Have I said something to offend?"
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't call me Master," he replied
"But am I not your student?"
"The term denotes a position of power and as you and I both
know," he paused briefly to gauge her expression, "such power can
Kayla bit her tongue and smiled inwardly. A weakness he'd
been foolish enough to let slip.
"It's not a slip, Kayla," he told her. "You simply needed to
A tense moment of silence elapsed before she finally spoke.
"We came here to remember your guardians?"
The hood of the Jedi's robe lowered and his face was again
placid. "Yes. And I think it's about time you remembered some things
yourself. It's time you shed the Emperor's propaganda and tasted some
Storm tried to hide the irritation in her voice but failed
miserably. "I don't see how that could further my training."
"You don't see because you've been blinded," Luke replied.
"There's really no need..."
His voice developed a hard edge. "There most definitely is a
need. From now on you will spend the majority of your time in
meditation. After yesterday's fiasco, I will not continue your
training until you are straightened out."
Kayla Storm's mind whirled with rage but her action was to
cast him a hateful glare.
The Jedi Master spoke quietly. "You are mistaken about a
great many things, Kayla." Inwardly, he winced. This was a line
Palpatine had tormented him with. Why had he voiced it? What was
wrong with her today? The morning had been fine, with the usual
exercises. After another attempt to see the future, she had become
sullen. She must have come across something terrible, but would not
confide. He just could not see through her anger.
She bowed her head and said barely above a whisper, "It will
be as you wish, Master."
The cold space was torn by chaotic Anoth, home of the
offspring that would one day be called Jedi. Just beyond that
planetary chaos, the hijacked Benefactor hung suspended in silence.
Somewhere within, Anakin Solo made himself known to the universe after
a long, difficult labor. Mother and child rested now from the
exhausting effort and young Anakin nuzzled comfortably against Leia's
breast. His father the pirate watched from the entry and longed to be
a part of that intimate union because, for the moment at least, his
wife was happy. For Han Solo, it was at once the end and the
beginning of a new leg of his lifelong journey. Gone were the days of
gambling money he didn't have and smuggling spice for swindlers who
didn't pay him. No more life debts. Han was resolved to quit running
after lost treasures and settle for the one he had found with Leia and
their three precious children. This life was definitely better. He
bid his wife and newborn son goodnight, then met Chewbacca, Lando
Calrissian, and the droids outside the apartment. As they waited
expectantly, he leaned back against the wall with his arms folded
across his chest and smiled broadly.
"Well?" Lando coaxed. "Are you just going to stand there
with that stupid grin on your face?"
"It's a boy. Anakin Solo."
"Thank the Maker!" See-Threepio exclaimed. "Congratulations,
Artoo squealed his excitement as well, barely able to contain
Calrissian laughed and patted his old friend on the back.
"Come on, family man. This deserves a good liter or two of elba
"I believe the officer's lounge is fresh out of stock, sirs,"
quipped the talkdroid.
Lando bristled, "Threepio, couldn't you just let us enjoy the
idea for a little while?"
Han chuckled. "Lay off, ol' buddy. Not even Goldenrod could
spoil my mood today."
Threepio straightened in surprise. "Oh, well....thank you,
Solo tossed him a wicked look. "Don't push it though."
Han blinked hard and half-turned, not used to being called a
captain. He saw the approach of Wedge Antilles, Winter, and the twins
Jacen and Jaina whom they escorted.
"We have visitors from the planet, sir."
The father laughed and crouched on the ground with his arms
outstretched. "Come here, kids!"
"NO!" shouted Jaina. Jacen hid behind his nursemaid's legs
and sucked his thumb.
"Now, children," Winter chastised gently, "this is your
father. Go to him."
"NO!" Jaina screamed a second time, obviously the more
headstrong of the two. Jacen sunk lower.
"What?" Han frowned. The day was already taking a downturn.
"What'd I do wrong?"
"Jacen and Jaina haven't seen you since they were infants,
Captain," said Winter somewhat protectively. "You can hardly expect
them to remember. I'm sorry."
"Well, I guess I haven't been much of a dad, have I?" The
toddlers began to whimper. "Hey, look. I don't know how to do this,
ya know? And now you've got a new baby brother. How 'bout you cut me
some slack and I'll do the best I can for you. Deal?"
It was Jacen who finally wandered over to let his father
embrace him. Jaina remained with Winter and cast him a wary look.
Chewie rumbled something incoherent.
"Translate, See-Threepio," said Winter. "Chewbacca's been
trying to say the same thing for the past two hours and I can't make
anything of it."
The prissy protocol droid straightened up, hystatic that
someone would finally have need of his services. "Oh yes. The
Wookiee expresses hunger and wonders if you might prepare Mynock stew
for dinner tonight."
"Mynock?" Lando winced, squeamish.
"Yuk!" blurted Jaina. "No more stew!"
Winter shrugged apologetically. "It's all he's wanted to eat
for the past seven months."
The Wookiee nodded his head vigorously and howled.
"Excuse me, Captain Solo..."
"Can't you see I'm busy, Goldenrod?" Han removed a
handkerchief from his vest pocket and gently wiped a tear from Jacen's
eyes. His eldest son remained silent.
"I nearly forgot to tell you something that may be of some
"A droid forgetting? Chewie, take this hunk of metal upstairs
and give him a tune up."
"I didn't say that I actually had forgotten, sir, merely that
it was being reserved in my long term storage files. It may be
important. I..." the droid stumbled as Chewbacca reached for his
arm. "Unhand me, you carpet! I've just been waxed!"
"All right! Out with it!" Jacen shrunk away from the sound
of his father's irritation. Han whispered in his ear. "I'm sorry."
"An Imperial TIE fighter, actually...bomber-class, has
crash-landed recently on the planet of Tatooine."
"Now why should that be of any importance to me?"
"Uh...." Threepio emitted a sound equivalent to a human
clearing his throat. "It is a bit confusing. No sign of Imperial
class warships have passed through that sector in years."
"That's impossible," muttered Calrissian. "TIE fighters don't
have hyperdrive capabilities and the nearest civilized star system is
half a year away at sublight speed. There had to be a Star Destroyer
nearby. How long ago did it crash?"
"Perhaps a standard week."
"Maybe you should've checked the charters before you go
jumping to conclusions," said Han, not happy with the audience
standing around him and his son. Finally, Jaina toddled over and
touched Solo's arm.
"Daddy," she announced.
"Yes," approved Winter.
"I have, sir," replied Threepio. "I have thoroughly studied
area system charters one hundred and eighty-six thousand times."
"Gotta admit, he's thorough," said Lando.
"Bah," growled Han. "Let the New Republic deal with it. It's
not any of our business anymore."
"So where do you think it came from?" asked Calrissian, his
curiosity at a peak.
"One could speculate that the TIE bomber originated near the
Bespin system, as exactly two hundred and ten standard days were spent
in normal space, according to the ship's compulog. Within that
radius, the only Imperial vessel was that of Grand Admiral Maxus
Han paused. "That would be seven months, about the time we
opened that can of worms..."
"Still, there's no way anybody could spend that kind of time
in space, starfighters don't have enough cargo area for supplies!
There had to be a glitch in the compulog. There's no way..."
Slowly, the space pirate rose to his feet and gripped
Chewbacca's arm for support. "There's only one person I know who
could pull off a stunt like that."
"But Skywalker was killed!" exclaimed Wedge.
"No." A strange feeling of relief passed through Solo's
expression. "C'mon, Chewie. Luke has some explaining to do. You're
in charge, Lando."
Han clapped his friend's shoulder and winked. "'Cause the
girls love a man in uniform." They turned to leave at a slow jog.
"Han, your children!" Winter called.
Solo waved it off. "I'll make it up to them! I promise!"
Leia's servant gathered the twins close to her chest and in
silence they watched him abandon them yet again. She felt their ache
and thought it horrible.
* * *
The chamber was black as pitch. All light was extinguished,
and the climate controls made the room much too cold. But this was
how the Grand Admiral had wanted it. The darkness didn't bother
Saysithi, as his vision adjusted to it rather quickly and he could see
shadows of body heat, softly humming motors, even a ghostly shadow of
the lights. His tentacled arms lifted the frail old man into his bed,
leaving the nearly always occupied disability chair curiously empty.
He cocked his snarly head to one side, listening to the shallowness of
the human's breath. Maxus Thorn was about to die.
"Ninety is a ripe old age for a human male, don't you think,
my friend?" he whispered.
Saysithi nodded, then remembered the Grand Admiral's eyesight
was not so keen. "Ninety? Yes. For a human male."
"How old are you?"
"I've forgotten. Rest, Maxus."
"When I die, I will rest. Now I want to talk. Do you think
I've served the Empire well?"
"Of course you have."
"Do you think I was wrong to turn Organa Solo away?" he
Saysithi collapsed in the disability chair and sighed
doubtfully. "I'm not sure. You were fond of the woman, weren't you?"
"I appreciate her predicament," Maxus breathed. "Captain,
there is something I want you to do for me."
"Anything, Grand Admiral."
"Under the left arm of that disability chair, you will find a
compartment and inside that compartment a collection of data cards.
They are my personal logs, my private thoughts. On one of them, I
have devised a strategy for Ambassador Furgan to launch an attack
against Coruscant and destroy the New Republic fleet. I want you to
incinerate it. I want you to tell Furgan that I went against his
orders and that I think he is a pompous ass. He will have to
construct his new tyranny without my assistance. "
Saysithi smiled in the dark. "As you wish. Is there anything
else I can do?"
"Leave me to die in peace," he replied softly.
"Aye, sir." Saysithi opened the compartment and removed all
of the data cards. He rose to his feet. "Good-bye, Maxus."
The alien left and Maxus Thorn squinted as the entry slid
aside and back again. He shifted his position, painfully.
"Yes," he whispered. "Peace."
* * *
The fabric of the makeshift shelter rippled as wind howled
suddenly without. Luke steadied one of the metal poles that comprised
the skeleton and put a vibroblade back in its medkit. He extracted a
small mirror and rubbed his cheek. Even the Jedi Master was tired of
the tangled rat's nest that hung from his chin. Now the beard was
clipped short and neat. He was fond of it and couldn't muster enough
gall to do away with it completely. Kayla would be impressed.
Appearances aren't supposed to matter, he reminded himself and tossed
the glass into the kit a bit disgustedly. But the few moments she'd
found to tease him were good-natured enough and good nature in Kayla
Storm was progress in itself. Meditation indeed had a calming effect
on his apprentice. He no longer sensed the callused hatred that had
been driven into her by Imperial training, but recognized aspects of
her personality that reminded him of a girl he loved a long time ago.
Love. He smirked. Can a sixteen year old boy truly know love? Owen
was right about glands and hormones. Even two years later, it was
Leia's beauty that drove him to rescue her while the older, more
experienced Han Solo was in it purely for the money. Strange how
things turned out.
Luke mentally kicked himself for not instructing his pupil to
meditate from the start. Combat training. Lightsaber duels. It was
a terrible error in judgment and he was determined to control the
damage created. After years of war, Kayla Storm needed a respite.
Self-doubt crept into his mind constantly now. Was he saying, doing,
showing the right things? Were some things right for one and not for
another? Was the timing right or should a lesson come later? Was he
dragging his heels or was Kayla's impatience only a symptom of her
continuing struggle against the Dark Side? Yoda would have known the
answers to all of these questions as he never seemed to make mistakes.
Of course, Yoda had the advantage of having eight hundred years of
experience when he instructed Luke. A Jedi Master was expected to
dispense infallible training methods and yet infallibility was
impossible. Obi-wan learned that. Luke knew it as well and was
paralyzed by his fear of failure. Beware. Anger, fear, aggression,
of the Dark Side are they. This kind of fear? Or was his initial
over-confidence to blame?
He compelled himself to put the thoughts aside. Kayla Storm
was making progress because, or maybe in spite, of him. He looked
down and carefully gathered the mound of facial hair into his hands.
Luke wanted to make her laugh.
The Jedi shuddered as he stepped into the desert evening.
A sixty degree temperature difference between night and day was not
uncommon on their desolate homeworld. The first colonists must have
been out of their minds to settle here, he decided and noticed Kayla
had taken his robe. He strode toward the campfire and paused to kick
a rebellious, smoldering log back into the flames. He listened to it
pop and splinter from the heat. Luke watched her silhouetted figure
tremble as tiny landquakes traveled up her spine. It was as if the
Jedi robe could not keep out the cool of the wind, but perhaps the
coldness came from inside.
"I'm sorry I was harsh with you the other day," he stated.
The novice was lost in meditation, completely unaware of Luke's very
presence. He sat beside her and offered up his gift. "Would you
consider this a sacrificial peace offering?"
"Ugh!" She turned away abruptly in what Luke thought was
disgust. He started to smile as she gained her feet and stalked
toward the edge of the plateau. She trembled. Her shoulders shook.
This was not the laughter he expected. How could she be angry over
something so mundane?
"I know it's not a very good joke but it's just hair, Kayla."
She clutched the robe about her but it made arching billows as
the wind caught hold. Luke rested back on one elbow and began feeding
the remnant beard to the flames.
"Maxus Thorn has just passed away," she muttered.
"My sister's child has just been born," he replied. "That is
the way of the Force."
The apprentice stiffened momentarily, then screamed into the
darkness, "GET OUT OF MY HEAD!"
Luke sat bolt upright, startled by the outburst. Finally, a
barrier fell and she began to sob, overwhelmed as both sides of the
Force battled within her for higher ground. It was a feeling he
remembered and did not envy. He watched the flames leap up to lick
the wind. Her spirit, like the flames, was ever churning against a
tumult that threatened to smother it into darkness. He wanted to cup
his hands to protect what light remained.
He said quietly, "The Dark Side of the Force can be
"This isn't seduction, but rape!" Kayla snapped. "Palpatine
comes to me in visions to remind me of the reason I'm here. Not to
become a Jedi Knight as you've been led to believe, but to take his
place as Empress!"
Luke folded his hands against his lips in thought. Finally,
he responded, "I've had my suspicions. But the very fact that you
could tell me this at all is a step in the right direction. Now we
know that the Dark Side influences you through the image of Emperor
Palpatine, just as the Light Side coached me through Obi-wan. These
are influences only, although they are difficult to ignore."
"This Force is a curse," she spat. "How do you know what your
destiny is? Does one of these spirits come along to tell you, and
that's just how it's going to be? If I'm to take Palpatine's throne,
there's nothing either one of us can do to stop it."
"No. It's not like that," Luke told her.
"Then what is it like?" she argued, turning to face him. "If
something bad happens, it's a mistake. It it's good, we call it
destiny. Terrible things happen, Luke. Aren't they also
"You have to realize it is no man's destiny to succumb to the
"And why not? It sounds to me like the great Jedi Master
doesn't know what he's talking about."
Luke averted his gaze, embarrassed by his own sense of
ineptitude. "I won't pretend to know everything, Kayla. I do know
that in the greater scheme of things, not much is left to chance.
However, within that scheme, there are certain things we can control.
We are not automatons..."
"And yet there is such a thing as fate. I have a hard time
swallowing all that."
"Then maybe we're just wasting our time," he said solemnly.
"Maybe I can't get through to you."
She crouched beside him and stoked the fire. "No. I'm
grateful for what I've learned from you. The meditations have kept me
sane when I thought..." She closed her eyes, intent on fighting a
wave of emotion.
Luke gripped her hand. "The calming technique I showed you.
Clear your mind. Breathe." He watched her expression turn placid and
sensed her tension ease into something tolerable. "Good."
Her eyes remained closed and she did not let go of his hand.
"I have a bone to pick with you."
Luke sighed. "Vader killed the Emperor to save me and died as
a result. I thought I explained all that."
"That's not it." She watched the flames. "I remember things
now that happened before my enlistment. The night my father was
killed by stormtroopers, you left me for dead."
Luke also concentrated on the fire. This was a difficult
subject to get into, especially since Kayla's relation to the Force
was so volatile. And he did not want to consider his own sentiment.
"I was afraid."
"How long did it take for you to get over it?"
Her gaze bore into him and he shrugged uncomfortably, looking
at her hand held in his own. "I was young and irresponsible. I
couldn't tell Owen and Beru. I..."
"Got over it in a matter of weeks," Kayla grumbled. "It's
strange you weren't such a coward for the Princess of Alderaan. But
that must have been destiny, right? Leia must have been a beautiful
young woman. You fell in love when you first laid eyes on her."
Their gaze met and Luke frowned, anticipating her inquiry. "Does it
bother you that she's your twin sister and married your best friend?"
"We don't need to talk about this." Luke released her hand
and shifted his position.
"I think you should face up to your true feelings, Master
Luke," Kayla mimicked smugly. "Get in touch with your true self."
"Now you're just trying to anger me. What is wrong with you,
Kayla? Ever since we've started this, you've tried to confront me on
every level. Don't you want to become a Jedi?"
"That's not the point!" Kayla nearly shouted. "The point is
that when I look at you, I see nothing but a cold, blank screen.
That's not the Luke Skywalker I remember."
"The Force leaves an indelible mark."
"Luke, you and I both know that if there is distrust between
us, the training will be a failure. Even your apprentice can sense
the barriers you're trying to keep up." She rested her hand on his
knee and he visibly flinched. "I remember we used to come to this
place and share our dreams. We would lay side by side and watch the
ships in orbit, and talk about escaping to someplace better. You once
told me, no matter where we ended up, that you would always be there.
It seems you finally made good on that pledge."
"I brought you here because I thought it would evoke memories
of your past. The meditation has obviously paid off and you can be
very proud of your accomplishments. You are well on your way to
becoming a Jedi Knight, but there are many things you have yet to
"There you go again. Lecturing."
"All right. End of lecture." Luke stood, intent of returning
to the shelter, but Kayla rose to block his path, giving him a soft,
"I'm not going to let you walk away from this."
"What is it you want? Because there are better things we can
be doing with our time."
"No. What is it you want?" She poked a finger at the center
of his chest. "I can sense your loneliness. There are strong emotions
at work that you won't admit to. What is it you're longing for?"
This was the girl Luke remembered. Strong, certainly
opinionated, a shadow of his sister. So many things, the thought
slipped and he winced.
"Aha!" she beamed. "So there is a personality behind the
Jedi facade! You still have feelings for me!"
Luke spoke softly through her reaction. "For us, there is a
Jedi Code. 'There is no emotion; there is peace.'"
"But there is emotion." She stepped closer and gentle fingers
combed through his pale brown hair.
Luke shook his head and retreated to sit near the fire. Kayla
persued and sat close by. "'There is no ignorance; there is
She smiled. "But you said yourself you don't know
"'There is no...passion,'" he said with some awkwardness,
"'there is serenity.'"
"But there is passion." She touched his chin and compelled
him to meet her gaze. The emerald eyes smoldered their seduction.
Luke cleared his throat and finished the spiel that suddenly
held very little meaning to him. "'There is no death; there is the
"There is death. It is the emotion and the passion that give
what time we have here meaning."
Luke shook his head again. "We live on through the Force."
"The truth is, Jedi Master, you are only half alive."
All of Skywalker's well-constructed arguments and lectures
scattered like so many grains of sand as she kissed his wrinkled brow,
his cheek, and finally his mouth. Her breath was intoxicating. He
accepted her advance as a man dying of thirst but offered only a drop
of water. Luke touched her shoulders but did not move far off. He
spoke with his eyes shut, trying not to sound as shaken as he felt.
"The past is done, regardless of what you and I might feel.
You are my Jedi apprentice and this will destroy everything you've
"Quiet, Luke," she breathed and silenced any further,
half-hearted protest with a kiss that spanned a trillion light years
and on to infinity. It would be their undoing, Luke realized. But it
seemed more important that his loneliness abated, and the longing was
satisfied. He wrapped her in a warm embrace, not just in body, but in
We will be one, and you will know me.
"You'll find some frightening things if you walk around in
this head of mine," she whispered, trembling.
Luke nuzzled her ear. "Everyone has their demons. Don't be
Kayla pulled him to the uneven ground and her sense
intertwined with his own. There could never be a more intimate
embrace. The Jedi Master lost himself to his student.
The moons of Tatooine moved along an inevitable path across
the night sky as the seduction was made complete. Luke pulled the
Jedi robe to cover them both, though the flames warmed their flesh.
Kayla stared at the flickering light, quiet. He touched the black
silk of her hair and remembered how long it had once been, years ago.
His fingers traced the gentle curve of her spine. They had
experienced the other's memories, relived the joys, the pains, even
the terrors. But in the end, it was Kayla who pulled away with
something yet hidden. Certainly it was understandable. Everyone
desires their own space, their own private thoughts. But Luke had
laid his soul before her to examine in depth, because that was what
she desired above all else. She must have known he was
disappointed...no, deeply saddened that she wouldn't reciprocate. In
spite of that, he kissed the back of her neck. There was hardly a
need for words when two minds were so close.
This was difficult for me.
What could be more simple? Her eyes didn't shift from the
I know that you've influenced me from the start. The escape
I needed you.
Luke turned her to face him and kissed her mouth. I don't
know where this will take us. But I love you with everything that I
He was answered by silence. Luke pulled back to stroke her
cheek but her eyes focused on something beyond the stars. His heart
plummeted. If she returned his love, she surely would have responded.
He began to search her mind but barriers like telepathic steel sprang
up around every facet, no matter how insignificant. Please don't do
this. Don't shut me out.
He muttered aloud, "And you thought I was closed off." and
A moment passed before she whispered his name, sounding
The Jedi sat at her side and began the task of pulling on his
boots. "What's wrong?"
Tentatively, she reached to grab hold of his wrist, and placed
his hand beneath the Jedi robe, onto the flatness of her stomach.
"Can you feel what's happening?"
Luke shook as a reality made itself known. The conception had
just taken place. The Force, the bond of all life, was at delicate
work. When that work was completed, she would bear a daughter. The
Jedi Master bowed his head as waves of disbelief, then guilt washed
over him, and then hope. He would have a child of his own.
"Even if I fail, you will not be the last Jedi," Kayla
whispered his exact thoughts.
Luke embraced her and muttered into her soft hair, "You said I
was only half alive but now, with you, Kayla, my life is full. I give
you my word I will never forsake you or this child."
"Then we begin a new dynasty," she said in hushed tones. "It
is a dawning of a new era for the Jedi."
"Yes." He kissed her softly, then hesitated. The words she
spoke sounded false, strangely uncharacteristic.
Her countenance twisted into dark ambition. "Hand in hand,
you and I will rule the stars. This is the heir to our throne."
Luke sat slowly as the proposition rang through his
consciousness and bisected his soul like a scintillating ax. A
dynasty. Behind every facade is a personality, she had noted. This
facade, so perfect in its complexity, collapsed and the bareness of
his sense was attacked by cunning manipulation. He squeezed his eyes
shut but could not silence his realizations. Kayla Storm's goal to
achieve the status of Empress was not on any borderline, but firmly
decided and embraced. It would not come to pass through the taking
of his life as he once supposed and so foolishly accepted her change
in behavior as a positive step. Her ambitions would be grasped
through her possession of him. With the conception of their unborn,
she was well on her way to that end.
His voice was hollow with disbelief, ripped of substance by
her betrayal. "How can you do this?"
"How can you refuse?" She draped her arms about his neck and
kissed him softly. "Remember, beloved, a Jedi is only as good as the
promises he keeps."
Luke did not feel warmth. The arms that wrapped about him
were the suffocating coils of a snake; the kisses were sweet poison.
A dynasty. Shock deepened into anger and he removed the coils, pinned
her wrists to the ground.
"It hurts, Luke," she gasped, trying to don the mask of
vulnerability, but the scales had fallen from her Master's eyes.
"How can you do this!" he shouted, then lowered his tone to a
low hiss. "I loved you and how many times have you betrayed me? I
left behind my entire existence for your benefit and look how you've
twisted this to your own end. I never should have listened to you.
I never should have listened to my father. Why did I trust you?"
She grinned. "You will be glorified."
Luke resisted the urge to strike her as her gaze became
calculating, seeking an entrance to again touch his soul, assess his
own ambitions. He barred her path and anger lapsed into something kin
to fear. He rested back on his heels and could not stop the tremor
in his hands. The apprentice watched him carefully.
The words Luke finally spoke sounded weak to his own ears. "I
won't...Kayla, I will not play this game."
She replied, "Master, I promise you it is no game."
Kayla reached to again embrace him, but the Jedi Master rose
to his feet. There could be only one way out of this. It was almost
The novice propped herself on one elbow and scolded, "I have
your word, Luke. Surely you won't abandon your offspring as Anakin
Skywalker abandoned you."
The younger Skywalker swallowed hard and tasted his shame. "I
And so she destroyed him. His word broken, the Jedi left to
weep; not so much for the loss of his love of her, but for the loss of
himself. As he took a steep path to escape the plateau, he could
almost feel her laughter.
Ambassador Furgan paced the office like a caged animal, barely
containing his fury with the news of Thorn's death.
"Was it suicide?" he demanded of Saysithi.
"No, Ambassador," the alien purred. "The Grand Admiral died
of natural causes. In the end, he expressed his unwillingness to
carry out your orders."
"Oh, that I could have killed him myself," Furgan growled.
"That old, doddering fool! How dare he do this to the Empire!"
Saysithi cleared his throat. "I doubt very much he had a
choice in the matter, sir."
"Nonsense. The old man would have lived another twenty years
if he had a mind to." He glanced heavenward and shook his fist. "Oh,
I hope you are quite satisfied with yourself, Maxus Thorn! Damn you!
I want his personal logs."
"There was only one, sir." Grinning smugly to himself,
Thorn's captain and friend handed over a single data card.
Furgan snatched the slim, information receptacle and poured
over his contents. "What is this gibberish?"
"Crossword puzzles, Ambassador."
The ambassador of Carida swore viciously and slammed the data
card against his desk where it shattered. He stalked over to the
alien Saysithi and two stormtroopers stepped forward, anticipating an
order to kill from their leader.
Instead, Furgan leaned close to the alien's gnarled face.
"You were Grand Admiral Thorn's second in command and therefore you
will lead the strike against the New Republic. I want Ackbar's fleet
destroyed and Coruscant laid to waste. I don't care how you
accomplish it, but if you fail I will kill you. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly, sir," he replied coolly. "But if I fail, I will
not be returning alive."
"Get out of my sight. I want the remnant fleets consolidated
and ready to leave in two standard days."
Saysithi nodded once and left without a salute.
* * *
Anakin Solo screamed furiously and so did his mother.
"Where is he?" she shouted to no one in particular and
stormed through the cluttered nursery. Diapers, bottles, midnight
feedings, colic--the trials of motherhood were not at all the dreams
Leia Organa Solo had come to expect. Not having undergone this
baptism of fire with the twins, Leia felt discouraged be her own
clumsiness. Even the most deft political rhetoric did not phase this
little one. How could someone so small be so opinionated?
The infant burped something sloppy onto her shoulder. She
shouted louder this time, "Where is he!"
She tripped on a squeaking, stuffed Ewok and nearly dropped
Anakin. The baby was silenced, momentarily stunned, then resumed the
wailing at a higher, infuriated pitch. Leia thought it time to
collapse and succumb to a good, long crying jag herself. The noise
was more than she could take.
"HAN!" she cried out helplessly.
Then in traipsed Winter. Ironically, the softness of her
voice could be heard over Anakin's screaming. "The twins are being
entertained by your droids. May I be of some assistance?"
"No," Leia lied through clenched teeth. "We're doing just
fine. Thank you."
The willow-like figure shrugged. "Okay."
As she turned to exit, Leia called out to her. "Wait!
Winter, I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. He's been crying for
three hours straight and won't keep anything down. Please help me."
Winter received Anakin into her arms and looked him over with
an experienced eye.
"Is...is he dying?" Leia asked timidly.
The servant gave a soft smile. "No, Leia. He's probably just
readjusting to life outside the womb. Perhaps the formula rations
aren't agreeing with his digestive system. I'll see what else we
have." She cradled him and he quieted almost immediately, to Leia's
surprise and dismay. "Hold him like this and rock him gently. There,
there now, baby Anakin. You are a precious one. Yes, you are.
Babies just adore all sorts of compliments; just like men, their egos
need to be stroked and coddled. Isn' t that so, Anakin, my handsome
Leia began to feel physically ill. "Winter, I've been raised
in politics all my life. I'm a perfectionist and not very good at
being a mother."
"A perfectionist mother is something you will learn very
quickly not to be. Motherhood is an art as well as a skill. Perhaps
you just need a break..."
"I've been gone for most of my children's lives!" Leia
blurted in exasperation. "I will not spend another moment away from
"Shh. Infants are sensitive to loud noises."
Leia collapsed on the sofa and closed her eyes, welcoming the
blessed silence. Winter diapered the infant and found a suitable
bottle for him to suckle on.
"Where did Han go?"
"I saw the Millennium Falcon leave the fleet. Where is he
Winter didn't move her gaze from the hungry newborn. "He
wanted to keep it confidential. It may just be a wild goose chase
"What goose chase? Winter, you have to tell me."
The nursemaid sighed. "Tatooine. They have reason to believe
your brother might be alive there."
"Why would he keep this from me?" Leia asked in a husky
whisper. After all the grief...
"As I said, nothing is certain. Captain Solo is going to be
angry with me now because he wanted to surprise you; and if you didn't
know, you wouldn't be disappointed if they came up empty."
"Winter, you are my assistant, not Captain Solo's. You were
right to confide in me." Leia rose to her feet and began to pack a
bag. "I'll be taking Chewbacca's A-wing. Will you...?"
"Of course," the nursemaid nodded.
Organa Solo bit her bottom lip. There would be plenty of time
for the children later. This was more...important? She wondered why
she allowed the thought to be finished and left without looking back.
"Come, Anakin," Winter cooed and strolled toward the entry.
"Your brother and sister are anxious to meet you."
* * *
It was very late now, but Mos Eisely never slept. The cantina
catered to the same riffraff it always had, a haven of neutrality for
alien bounty hunters and the criminals they chased, refuge for a few
settlers hell-bent on forgetting the tribulations of moisture farming,
but the band was remarkably distinct from the one that performed
nearly a decade before. The discordant grind of their instruments
pounded deafeningly. Found by the sensible to be mere auditory
torture, this particular brand of music had found a niche in the
smuggling counter-culture with its overtones of rascality. There was
a unique revelry in the atmosphere and the screaming conversations
focused on the upcoming Tusken rain dance of Chala--a mystical
ceremony that sometimes produced a smattering of rain showers across
the Dune Sea. The sandpeople loved their traditions and religiously
hoarded any moisture they acquired through the phenomena, however
insignificant. The rest were all stone drunk, or getting there, as
liquor was cheaper than water and easier to process. The rate of
alcoholism on Tatooine soared conversely to the yields of moisture
harvests. It was unfair that the barbaric nomads could legally get
away with such an advantage while they slowly died of thirst and
poisoned livers. There was talk of striking against the Tusken
Raiders, maybe even putting their shaman into slavery. But it was all
drunken talk. Like so many other planets near the Outer Rim,
civilization was on the decline.
Luke Skywalker took a moment to survey the riotous anarchy
before actually stepping into it, careful not to jostle the more
intimidating patrons. He had taken time to meditate, clear his head,
pull away from the darkness. Kayla Storm represented to him the last
surviving link between his Jedi Knighthood and his angry, reckless,
old self. From the point of view of a Jedi Master, it would be
prudent to sever that link so the Dark Side of the Force would not be
so alluring; and in order for her training to continue professionally,
unimpeded by emotional complications. But perhaps his first attempt
at teaching had failed so utterly that there could be no continuance.
To even break this link was nearly impossible with the conception of
his unfortunate daughter. To stay would endanger his own soul. To
leave would ensure the child's slavery to a callously manipulative,
hideous mother. It was hard to let go of his anger. He hoped the
unborn would abort and cease existing altogether for its own sake.
That, in itself, was a hideous desire. As for galactic rule, it was a
proposition he'd struggled against since his first encounter with
Darth Vader. He had nearly lost his friends, had lost his right hand,
and came to know his father as his father. That ambition he packed
away in a tight, little box marked "DANGEROUS", put it in the darkest
corner of his soul, and vowed someday to be rid of it forever. Just
as he would someday be rid of Kayla Storm. In the end, love turned
sour, leaving only afterimages of suffering and regret.
After much deliberation, much grief over the fate of his
unborn daughter, he came with uncertainty to see if a ship might be
found. His movements must not have been cautious enough. Probably,
he had stepped on something's toes, or tail, or tentacle. A roar
pierced through the earsplitting music as Luke was pinned to an
immense, hairy mass before his lightsaber could be brought to bear.
The crowd took only brief notice, then resumed its clamor. The burly
arms tightened around his torso and Luke felt his lungs were about to
collapse. He closed his eyes and willed the pain to be acknowledged,
but not felt. Death would come, light would fall. In a sense, he was
"Chewie, ease up, will ya?" hollered a familiar voice. His
The Wookiee gave an exhilarated howl and released his embrace.
Luke gazed in bewilderment as black spots danced across his
"Here, take it!" Han paid off the Jawa that had offered them
some relatively useless information as to Skywalker's whereabouts. He
waved it off, shouting, "Now go on! E chu ta!"
The Jawa chattered something in gratitude and disappeared into
the throng. Luke swooned and Chewie assisted him to sit down at their
table. The room kept spinning, the music throbbed in his chest.
"Never get in the way of an hystatic Wookiee!" Han smirked.
"You okay, kid?"
Luke waited for the spinning to slow, and finally stop before
giving a cautious, breathless nod. Solo and Chewbacca got a good
laugh out of this at his expense.
"I told you the kid could barely take care of himself!" Han
joked to his furry companion. Then the smuggler's face turned more
serious. He leaned across the table, but still had to shout to make
himself heard. "Now since you look too healthy to be a corpse, what
the hell are you doing here!"
In the past two hours, Luke had asked himself the same
question a thousand times. He could only gasp, "Training!"
"Training?" Solo exclaimed, "I thought you were done with all
The band, the Travesty Blues, finished its set and wandered
into the throng in search of refreshment, applauded with shouts,
claps, and whistles. The cantina quieted to a dull rumble, its
patrons half-deaf and accustomed to the scream of nightclub
conversation. Han sat back and continued, suddenly able to lower his
tone, even if that tone was still a near yell. "Granted, I've been
out of the political swing of things lately but you got a whole lot of
people pretty upset over that stunt you pulled on Coruscant. Now far
be it from me to pass judgment on a Jedi Knight but it wasn't exactly
a smooth move on your part. We're completely cut off from them now."
Luke finally caught his breath. "Good."
"How can that be good? So you ran into a few bad apples. Big
deal. Aren't there ways to get around those things kind of, you know,
diplomatic-like? Now things are so messed up, poor Leia doesn't know
whether she's coming or going. And do you realize how sick she's been
with grief?" He leaned across the table and let his temper wind up
to vent nearly a year's worth of frustration. "For Crys-sake, Luke,
she thinks you're dead! You didn't even have the courtesy to contact
Winter. I don't know what you're thinkin'!"
"I was thinking that if my transmission were to be
intercepted, it would put us all in a lot of danger," Luke responded
"Oh, so now you're worried about putting our lives in danger!
Thanks a heap, kid!" Han scowled as Luke rubbed his temples as
motioned for him to quiet down. "No, I will not. You've got a lot of
nerve pulling what you pulled and not even having the guts to set
things straight! I thought all that Jedi stuff was supposed to teach
you a thing or two but I guess you're just as goddamned nieve as when
I first met you! Or maybe that's not it. Maybe you've got something
crammed up that Jedi sleeve of yours. Well, I hope to hell it's
worth it because Leia is going out of her mind. Our children don't
even know us because of you!"
Having heard enough, Luke rose to his feet. "Finished?"
Solo folded his arms sourly. "Not even close. Park your butt
back down in that chair and give us an explanation."
"Didn't Leia tell you? She knew firsthand how corrupt the
Inner Council had become."
"She just said you were ticked off and there wasn't a choice
in the matter. Now don't you give me some line about your destiny
'cause I don't buy that crap. I want hard, cold reasons. And I wanna
know why you had to break those Imperials out of detainment."
Chewbacca stood and gruffly offered Luke a seat. The Jedi
acquiesced and folded his hands before him on the table. It would not
be easy to speak of failure. A scantily dressed humanoid waitress
glided by to serve Han a strong Ilrukan Ale.
"Thanks, this'll cure what ales me. Huh?" He winked at the
girl flirtatiously and paid her a healthy tip. "Why don't you get one
for my human friend here?"
Luke declined the offer and she passed along. The pirate
drank and waited.
The Jedi's gaze remained focused on the center of the table as
he began to speak. "There is a woman called Kayla Storm..."
Han nearly spat his ale and struggled to swallow. "A dame?
You did all this for some Imperial dame?" He rolled his eyes and
slouched backward. "Gee whiz, as if blowing up the Death Star wasn't
good enough, or offing a couple of Dark Lords. Nah, you had to divide
a whole nation. You. This is your fault, Luke. Now let me tell you
Luke's eyes sharpened into sapphire points but his tone was
coldly even. "No, Han. You will let me finish."
The line had been drawn. Han Solo stopped just shy of
crossing it and clamped his mouth shut.
"She was a...friend from my past. I saw...I thought I saw her
killed by Imperial stormtroopers. It happened long before I met any
"Funny you never mentioned her. What other skeletons do you
have for us to trip over?"
"Han, I was barely sixteen. Children rebound, and forget,
easily. I felt sorry for myself but it never seemed all that
important especially after..."
"Leia," Han finished. "You saw Leia and fell like a ton of
bricks. I know, I remember what a fool you were back then. Now
Luke flashed him another warning glance and continued slowly.
"When we crossed paths again, I was stunned. I found her being
questioned...No, not even that...tortured by an interrogation unit
much like the one Leia encountered on the Death Star."
A soft groan passed through Chewbacca's lips but Han folded
his arms, unmoved. "Okay, so Turchin's men got a little bit out of
hand. That doesn't mean..."
"That's when I realized she was sensitive to the Force. And
she was condemned to die. I believed the Empire might have been more
open to negotiation than the New Republic at that point, and helped
her escape in exchange for an audience with her Grand Admiral."
"You were wrong, Luke," Han interjected quietly. "Oh man,
were you wrong."
He nodded. "I believe Kayla Storm has had an influence on me
from the very beginning." He paused long enough to fully sense Solo's
exasperation. "I was later compelled to take her as my Jedi
apprentice which has ended disastrously. She has always had a lean
toward the Dark Side but it seems the spirit of Emperor Palpatine has
been coaching her to believe that she will be the heir to his throne.
Kayla has become very powerful, and manipulative."
Han wiped his hand across his mouth and stated, "You need to
get away from this woman."
"I came looking for a ship."
"You've found it." Han slammed the rest of his ale. "C'mon.
Let's get the Falcon gassed up and hit the hyperdrive. Leia's
probably gonna rip all our heads off when we get back. She doesn't
even know we came out here. Maybe I'll let you handle that one, kid.
Han and Chewie had started to leave but halted when Luke did
not move to follow. He sat with one hand covering his mouth, elbow
propped on the table. Always worrying about something, Han decided
and clapped his shoulder. "I said c'mon, Luke."
"I have a responsibility to Kayla Storm," he stated, voice
"Forget the training. It's no good."
Mildly surprised, Luke glanced at his friend and saw that Han
had taken an alternative meaning. Perhaps that was for the best. The
secret he held could be quietly hidden, for now. He stood and faced
the two smugglers. "I thought I'd made up my mind to leave but I
can't allow another Dark Lord to rise to power. I have to confront
her as I did my father and end this now while she's still a novice.
There is a bond between us which I cannot forsake."
Han shook his head, unable to comprehend what the Jedi was
talking about. "But you can forsake your family and friends?" The
slow realization came to him that Luke was actually serious about
this. He was, in essence, turning his back on them.
"Listen here, Skywalker, I want you to forget about this
Imperial dame and get back where you belong, with your sister, the
twins, and your newborn nephew!"
The cool blue eyes flickered. "You had a son."
"Luke, you've got to come back with us."
He was tempted but had to think of his own. He could not
desert his daughter like his father had him. He didn't know how he
would deal with this new Dark Lord, or witch, or whatever Kayla Storm
was but was determined to take in what was his. And if Storm would
not change her ways...
"Send Leia and the children my love."
Han leaned close to his face and growled, "You are some piece
of work, Skywalker. Do you know that? How dare you..."
Skywalker sidled past them and left in a hurry. The Wookiee
started to follow but Han held him in check.
"Let's give him some distance first." He chewed his bottom
lip thoughtfully. "I wanna see what this Kayla Storm is up to."
It seemed the night would just not pass. Kayla Storm slept
fitfully near dying embers, haunted by memories of her past, and
promises of the future. Her nude form shivered in the cool air and,
subconsciously, she pulled Skywalker's robe about her as a blanket.
She almost did not hear the approaching footfalls then, with a jolt,
she sat upright and stared at the hooded figure that stopped to survey
the desolate landscape. Its back was mercifully turned against her.
"Master?" she spoke sharply and clutched the Jedi robe. It
could not be Luke. The figure was smaller, twisted in on itself. She
pulled the cloak on to cover her nakedness. Its fabric helped to take
away the chill of her spirit.
There was a low, diseased chortle. "Yes, it is your Master."
Kayla took in a sharp breath as Emperor Palpatine turned
slowly to face her in the coming half-light. His voice belched from
the pit of hell.
"You forget your purpose, Kayla Storm. In order for you to
fulfill your destiny, in order for you to become Empress, you must
kill Luke Skywalker. Upon this, all depends."
She managed to gain her feet and cast the phantom a rebellious
glare. Kayla no longer feared this ghost, this image the Force
created. The Force was a tool and therefore, so was Palpatine. She
would do things according to her will, not his, not anyone else's.
"Your hate has blinded you, Palpatine. Skywalker will be a
powerful ally. Just as you possessed Darth Vader, so will I need a
The phantom Emperor hissed, "It will be your undoing and this
bastard child will not survive."
"It will restore the Empire and this child will be my
Storm did not flinch as the tangible work of death moved
close. It whispered with utter coldness, "I will not allow my legacy
to fall into ruin."
Palpatine raised his hands like sharpened claws and reached
for her throat. Kayla strove to remain calm, for her respiration, her
circulation, the upheaval of her thoughts and emotions, to slow--just
as Luke had taught her. She closed her eyes and the demon passed
through her in a ghastly mist. Within, the tiny cluster of living
cells divided again and again with inevitable growth. The waking
nightmare was over.
A gust of wind whipped at the robe she clung to, seeking to
seize her with hot fingers and cast her over the edge of the plateau.
She watched the first of Tatooine's suns break the horizon. Another
day. The air was already choking but in an entirely different
respect. Thunderclouds rolled ominously across the vista, barely
containing their electric energy and precious moisture. Tiny
tornadoes darted toward the surface where farmers and their automated
harvesters waited to suck the atmosphere dry again. A strange sight.
Kayla Storm tilted her head ever-so-slightly, attuned to the Force and
the living creatures that created it. There was jubilation across the
globe with the coming of monsoons, and a touch of fear at their sudden
intensity. The sandpeople thought it an act of Chala, goddess of
rain. She must have been pleased with the perfection of their
ceremonial dance. They sacrificed a fattened Bantha in her honor, and
delivered it up in fire. Chala must have been well pleased, indeed.
Kayla smirked at the simplicity of their beliefs, such worms. She
looked skyward. Somewhere above, great ships ended one leg of a
celestial witch hunt. Luke was on his way back to her and others
followed. His sister was coming. The smirk broadened into a s mile.
Not just any day.
* * *
The A-wing class starfighter arched gently toward the desert
planet. Within, Leia Organa Solo read the instructions and
explanations from the ship's tutorial program and made the necessary
adjustments to start a landing cycle. The fighter responded by
drifting into a synchronous orbit.
"Attention, Mos Eisely spaceport, request permission to land."
There was a smattering of static. "Please hold your flight
pattern...experiencing severe weather disturbances...can neither send
"Disregard request. I'll try Anchorhead," Leia responded. It
was doubtful the controller heard her. As she attempted to contact
the Anchorhead spaceport, she received worse interference. Leia
relaxed in the cockpit and waited with eyes closed. Whatever
turbulence that was down there would clear up soon enough. Then she
would find her husband, his Wookiee accomplice, and maybe even her
lost brother. After all this time, her hopes would be confirmed. It
could be the only sane reason Han would abandon his family without
Luke, her mind whispered, you must still be alive.
Maybe there was a response. It was hard to tell. Her
thoughts jumbled into stark fear as explosions rocked the tiny
fighter. She looked through the canopy for her attackers; there were
none to be seen. She looked down at the radar and stifled a scream.
A swarm of tiny blips, shields raised, cannons at full power. Leia
keyed in frantic information to raise shields, power up cannons,
increase engine speed by fifty percent. An alarm began to chime as
more explosions destroyed any possibility of raising shields. Her
head lifted and her eyes widened like saucers as she saw ten New
Republic Star Cruisers rise over the planet's ecliptic. Ackbar's
fleet. She would be dead in a matter of seconds. The swarm of X-wing
fighters swooped down and around her in a sadistic game of
"Renegade A-wing," the squadron leader ordered, "you are urged
to surrender your vessel by order of the New Republic. Failure to
respond with information regarding the location of you fleet will
Leia switched off the comlink and, ignoring the computer's
demands for a landing sequence, gripped the manual controls and bolted
for the planet's surface. The X-wings tightened into formation and
gave chase, ion cannons firing in an effort to further disable her
smaller fighter. The port engine burst into flames, sending a shower
of sparks through the control panel. Leia shrieked as the A-wing
tumbled into the stormy atmosphere. The squadron of X-wings turned
tail immediately to avoid the dangerous flashes of lightning. The
clouds broke to reveal miles of endless sand rushing closer. She
pulled at the throttle with every ounce of her strength and the
fighter sluggishly began to respond. There was bone-crushing jolt as
it skipped across a tall dune, an explosion, darkness as she slumped
forward against the controls, tasting blood in her mouth. And
finally, sweet silence.
* * *
"Blue Squad, return to mother."
The Mon Calamari grimly watched the X-wing group coast into
the hangar of the flagship Vigilance.
"A scout, do you think?" wondered General Turchin.
"Perhaps," Ackbar nodded his bulbous squid head. "We'd better
run a sensor sweep, just in case."
"I have a landing party ready to salvage the remains as we
look for Skywalker," the spy continued.
"We'll have to wait for a break in the storm first, General."
The fish eyes swiveled to cast him a distrustful look. "Then you will
have you chance to mop up your carnage."
"I'm not sure what you're implying, Admiral," he replied,
"No, General Turchin," Ackbar sighed deeply, "I'm sure you
don't. I'm just wondering how you came across the location of
Turchin smiled slyly. "One might say a little bird told me."
A bird named Furgan.
* * *
The sky blackened as if day had never arrived. The Jedi
Master (though he barely felt himself worthy to be called one) deeply
inhaled the electrifying air as he climbed the steep path. He felt
more alive than he had ever been. Luke Skywalker wanted to reach the
summit quickly and laugh in Kayla Storm's face, tell her, "You see?
You couldn't destroy me and now I'm here to give you a lifetime of
misery!" But that wasn't right, it wasn't the point of his return, to
provoke. The smell of ozone that was released with every stroke of
lightning was invigorating. Peals of thunder pounded in his chest and
left his ears ringing. Never had he experienced a thunderstorm on any
planet--never a storm that held such ominous power. He was instilled
with awe and yet, the rain held back in its atmospheric imprisonment.
The Tusken goddess Chala was not yet prepared to offer her reward, or
Halfway up Sentinel Rock, Luke halted and raised his hands to
his temples. There was a sharp pain as the Force made an intense
fluctuation. There was this bizarre storm, his sister called out to
him, and then...
He looked up in horror as the disabled A-wing streaked
helplessly through the clouds, cascaded in a shower of lightning, and
crashed not ten kilometers from where he stood. Violent smoke
billowed from the wreckage.
He reached out in pained desperation. "Leia!"
No response. Not even a blink. Luke swung about to see if
Han and Chewie still followed him. They raced for the crash site in a
landspeeder stolen from outside the Mos Eisely cantina.
The thought whispered through his mind softly, warm and
without malice. There was something strange about the call. It
Luke chose not to resist and continued the climb.
* * *
Acrid smoke stung at Han's eyes and attacked his lungs rawly.
His hands worked frantically to uncover the canopy of the A-wing
fighter half-buried in sand. His wife lay within crumpled, bleeding,
maybe dying. The release mechanism was jammed. The pirate pounded
his fist against the transparasteel which only managed to send bullets
of pain up his arm.
"I can't get it open!" he bellowed. "Chewie!"
Chewbacca shoved him aside a bit roughly and ripped the canopy
off its hinges with a mighty grunt. Han tore away the harness holding
Leia in place, and dragged her out without a moment's thought to what
it might do to her injuries. He collapsed beside her and held her
head close to his chest, bitter tears clouding his vision.
"Leia, I'm sorry!" he rasped, "We shouldn't have come here.
Come on, sweetheart, hang on..."
Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth. Her gorgeous
brown eyes fluttered open but did not see him.
Han's grip tightened. "Leia!"
She whispered dazedly, "Luke, please don't..."
Her eyes glazed and she drifted back into unconsciousness,
mumbling frightened, incoherent thoughts.
Chewbacca roared. The second engine had caught fire and the
air was too thick to breathe.
"Then let's get out of here," Han growled and lifted Leia in
The Wookiee asked a gruff question, this time gesturing to the
Solo glared at it. His answer was short and clipped with
resentment. "He's made his decision. Let Skywalker fend for
Carefully, this time, he laid his wife across the back seat of
the landspeeder and Han Solo let the scars of his enmity deepen.
* * *
The Jedi Master faced the fledgling witch in silence, acutely
aware that she was a product of his own failure. Similarly had Ben
Kenobi failed with Anakin Skywalker. Both had been good men at the
start; Luke felt he was mostly a good man, but the Force left such
marks on the soul that were impossible to erase. There could be no
good without evil, and the reverse was also true. Both aspects could
not stand alone. Luke felt he had nothing to cling to, that the sand
was constantly shifting beneath his feet and he could not gain a
steady foothold. And Leia was in pain. He remembered his resolution
and solidified. The daughter of Luke Skywalker would not be deserted
as the son of Anakin Skywalker was. He refused to put his child
through that anguish. It was not the fault of the unborn that
created all of this, but his own, as Han Solo had so crudely pointed
While Luke felt haggard from the long night and no sleep,
Kayla Storm was radiantly refreshed. Her appearance seemed
immaculate; her fingernails were painted like blood, her hair neatly
combed back and still wet from being washed, her clothes were clean
while Luke stunk with filth. Ploy or illusion, it was obvious Storm
had taken great preparation for his return and that very fact made
Luke feel ill at ease. That, he sensed, was the desired response. He
made a mental note that he must keep closer guard over future
She spoke first. Her voice lilted like tones from a harp. "I
was afraid you would not return."
A token remark, Luke thought. He replied, "No good could come
of my leaving. Your training is not yet complete."
"I see." Kayla approached and whispered seductively in his
ear, "What more would you have me learn, Master?"
At once allured and repulsed, the Jedi turned his back. He
watched the wreckage not far off. Smoke poured forth in thick clouds,
blending with thicker ones that coalesced above Sentinel Rock. He
shut out the beckoning of his sister's anguish and his gaze drifted
to the violence of lightning, remaining fixed as thunderous booms
echoed across the landscape. The clouds rolled like the waves of a
turbulent ocean. In all the millennia the Tusken Raiders had
performed their religious dance, Tatooine hadn't seen more than brief
rainshowers in more than fifty years. Now the coming of torrential
rains threatened to change the desert landscape, and its people,
forever. Whatever the reason, the rain dance of Chala had tapped into
the Force and the impossible was being made possible. It was
backwards and chaotic, like his own thoughts.
"Strange," Luke whispered to the phenomena.
"It doesn't matter," Kayla said with an air of disdain. "The
place will be flooded out and every living thing that can't escape
"Somehow I doubt that," he muttered. "The abos here can be
very ingenious when faced with adversity, even when that adversity is
not man made."
Storm placed her hands on her hips and laughed. Skywalker was
familiar with the Imperial slang term for planetary natives. "Yes!
This thunderstorm is woman made, isn't it?"
Luke wasn't sure if she meant Chala or herself and gave her a
cautious, sideways look. "Things must be worse than I thought."
"Oh, things are so much better, my lord. We are powerful with
the Force. Who's to say the more...technologically disadvantaged abos
wouldn't deify the creators of such magic?"
The Jedi Master shook his head. "The path you are undertaking
is extremely dangerous, Kayla. You're losing your mind to it. I have
"Ah, sage words of experience! What is so dark and dangerous
about a woman persuing her ambitions?"
She sought his gaze but Luke refused to look at her.
"The Dark Side of the Force is like an untamed beast that has
developed a taste for blood, except that it feeds on hate and fear,
blind ambition. One must do more than lock it away from what it
desires most. One must be rid of it constantly and forever ."
Kayla smiled. "A final lecture from the failed Jedi Master!"
He caught a glimpse of her smugness and clenched his fists at
his sides to restrain his own anger. He shouldn't have left her in
the first place, thus preventing the vision of Emperor Palpatine that
must have come to twist her mind to the point of snapping. There was
no time to regret past mistakes as Luke felt an unexpected invasion of
the Force creep into his sense. You'll find some frightening things
if you walk around in this head of mine, he remembered her saying.
Luke closed his eyes and let his mind go blank. Do not think. Do
not feel. Just be. But it was too late. Kayla Storm reached into
the recesses of his soul which she now understood so well, uncovered
that tight little box marked "DANGEROUS", and rattled at its locks.
She continued impishly, "Quit your moralizing, Lord Skywalker.
I see in your heart you hold the same desires."
A new pet name. Luke inhaled and released an abysmal sigh.
"My only desire is to see to the welfare of that child you hold
hostage in your womb. I won't permit you to twist her to your own
end. Once she is born, I will take her and leave." Luke felt some
satisfaction as her pretentious smile faded. "You've become
incorrigible, Kayla Storm. I see that now. The only reason I stay
here rather than give aid to my sister is for the sake of my child."
"You are your father's son, after all," she quipped
Luke's jaw became rigid at this. Anakin Skywalker was his
true father, not the monster Darth Vader to whom she alluded. Yet,
deep within, there was a twisted affinity to Vader that haunted his
dreams, merely a shadow of what he could become. He had only to make
the choice. The box in the corner of his soul strained at its
His teeth gritted until his head ached. "No, I am not."
Kayla ignored this and turned her attention to the crash site.
Agony was the true beauty of war. She commented, "Your sister dies
"No," Luke repeated tersely. Leia had been taken from the
hulk of twisted metal. She called to him in desperation, then was
consumed by her injuries. Han Solo bellowed out hatred and Chewbacca,
animal fury. Even the storm produced a negative aura. He tried to
deter the cries but still they attacked him. It was overwhelming.
At his side, the witch laughed softly. "Maybe not yet, but
Suddenly, he desired to kill her despite the child she
carried. That would be the end of it and Luke could return those who
truly loved him, to those whom he had abandoned. Perhaps never again
use this Force, this curse, this ulcer that gutted his spirit into
something black and hideous.
"You are a liar," he breathed, and tasted the acridic smoke
and the electricity of the coming storm.
Kayla smiled sweetly. "Now."
His eyes snapped open as the A-wing class wreckage burst with
explosions. With it came eruptions of thunder and finally, rain. It
was enough to cause the lid of the dangerous little box to fly wide,
and a thousand demons screamed through his consciousness. With
murderous intent, Luke whirled toward his apprentice, lightsaber
ignited and ready to strike.
Her smile faded to a grin no less confident. "Come, beloved.
I don't think violence is necessary. You love me with everything that
you are, weren't those the words?"
Kayla Storm brought up no defense as Luke approached, and
simply folded her arms across her chest with bizarre calmness. Luke
hesitated and plunged into despair. More failures.
Oh, Ben. Please help me.
"No one can help you," was her response to his silent plea,
Rivulets of water ran down his face and matted his clothes
against his skin. The pounding rain stung at his eyes as he blinked
hard to seek Kayla's expression, so full of self-importance. Luke
pressed the activation stud on the hilt of his weapon and the green
blade powered down.
He shook his head and breathed, "I will not kill you."
Kayla pointed through the downpour at the still smoldering
starfighter. "The New Republic is to blame for this, not I. If you
would only accept the inevitable and join me, you could reap your
revenge. Luke," she spoke softly and stepped close, "I am Empress,
but I need you with me."
She kissed him warmly and he replied, "Then I am with you, for
"You must realize that you are mine," she told him with
finality. "You will never be your own again."
"I am here for the child. Nothing more."
Kayla smiled as her Jedi led her through the tumult in search
of a ship. The battle was not lost. Only the most gentle nudge would
seduce Luke Skywalker to be her ally. The rules of engagement were
hers to make.
* * *
The landspeeder careened through the flooded streets of Mos
Eisely, very nearly running over several revelrous pedestrians that
stumbled their way to the cantina. This landspeeder, however, was
recklessly determined to reach the spaceport where the Millennium
Falcon lay in wait. Han Solo was only mildly surprised to find a
squad of heavily armed New Republic soldiers also waiting. Strangely,
it was the icing on the cake. He felt the Wookiee tense beside him,
ready to lunge into a suicidal battle at the slightest cue. Had it
been ten years ago, or maybe even the day before yesterday, they might
have blasted their way through come hell of high water. Well, he
surmised, here was the high water, in any case. But today was
different. His wife was in a bad way. He'd lost a good, no, probably
the best friend he'd ever had save Chewbacca. His children were in
the depths of space with no parents. It was a very bad afternoon. He
felt old and tired of it all.
The landspeeder's engine wound down to a halt before the
squad. The soldiers stared in disbelief as the legendary swashbuckler
Han Solo handed his blaster and the Wookiee's bowcaster wordlessly to
their sergeant. Chewie whined softly at his friend. The smuggler
shook his head. Today, the fight was just not in him.
The officer in charge stammered through his order to arrest
them and all was done.
Mon Mothma turned toward the insistent Councilor Xin. "If you
and General Bel Iblis wish to meet with me, you may do so in my
office." With an irritated wave, she strode on. "I am a very busy
person, Councilor Xin. Work needs to be done."
The Bothan hurried after her. "I understand that, Madam
"I see no reason to use the amphitheater when there are only
three of us present! Admiral Ackbar and General Turchin are on a
mission to find Solo and Skywalker. Councilor Borsch and General
Rieekan are indisposed as well."
"Yes, but General Bel Iblis said..."
"Confound Garm Bel Iblis!" she retorted. "Perhaps the good
general would be wise to consider his resignation from the Council.
I've just about had it with his liberality!"
The voice of Councilor Xin became stone cold. "Mon Mothma,
it is urgent."
The President paused in mid-stride and looked at the Bothan
warily. "Yes," she said slowly. "Yes, I see that it is. Very well,
Five hundred and sixty-two representatives from the major
systems in the galaxy crowded every seat of the spacious amphitheater.
Prismed light cascaded across the bald head of Garm Bel Iblis as he
paced the floor. It was an impressive assembly. The work to
organize this passive coup had gone on secretly for many months.
After Skywalker's turn against the New Republic and the hostage taking
of Leia Organa Solo by one of the escaped inmates, Bel Iblis went to
Mon Mothma with his report. Her response was a brutal reprimand
which took even her old, political advesary off guard. With quiet
suspicion, he hired objective surveillance teams to watch her and the
other councilmembers. All checked out okay except Haake and Turchin,
but now Haake was dead. Mon Mothma fell to the seduction of political
power, promises made by the Imperial operatives to ensure her election
as the next President, in fact, an expansion of her Presidential
powers to totalitarian authority, if only she would follow their
instructions to the letter. It was unclear exactly how this all tied
in with the Imperial Academy on Carida or why the Empire would want to
ensure the destruction of its own fleet. For certain there was
corruption even at the highest echelons of the New Republic and
General Bel Iblis was determined to have it weeded out. With so many
of the Inner Council chasing ghosts, this was the most opportune
moment to spring his trap, for better or worse. He confided only in
Xin who had been terrified of going along with it, as a Bothan is
typically only concerned with the safety of his own political hide.
But Councilor Xin was no typical Bothan. Their emissaries had been
sent out all over the galaxy to press planetary leaderships to send
their elected representatives to the Senate on this date. Now the
Bothan would deliver Madam President to an angry lion's den. He would
pull through regardless of his fear because he knew, as everyone in
the amphitheater knew, things had gone terribly wrong. Organa Solo's
desertion and institution of a new Rebellion was not the way to go
about things. Government had to change from within, and from the
people it presumed to lord over. Those people were here now. Change
was about to happen most rapidly.
The President of the New Republic entered with Councilor Xin
half a pace behind and gaped at the crowd in dumb horror. She shook
violently and leaned heavily against a marble pillar, knowing full
well the events that were about to take place.
Garm Bel Iblis spoke slowly to her, as if addressing a child.
"My dear Madam President, I would like to introduce you to the Senate
of the New Republic, representative of all the civilized star systems
of the galaxy. Our first order of business is to kindly ask for your
The woman gripped her chest as if her heart were failing her
and gasped for breath. Mon Mothma's isolated, little universe fell to
* * *
The princess of the obliterated planet of Alderaan was emersed
in the bacta tank, a method of treatment implemented for only the
severest of injuries. The red bacta seemed to speed the body's
natural healing process, at least in mammals such as humans. The long
feelers at the end of the Mon Calamari snout twitched from the pungent
"How much longer?" Ackbar demanded.
Two-One-Bee, the Em-Dee unit for his fleet, replied, "A few
moments, Admiral, and then she must be isolated to rest."
The Admiral folded his arms. He had always admired Leia
Organa Solo, even attempted to protect her from the witch hunt Mon
Mothma had commanded him to embark on. But General Turchin had been
ordered to assist in the mission which left no room for stumbling
around. He wished he could think of the human female as his friend
but politics cut strange boundaries. Ackbar felt torn between
loyalties, but wished her no harm. He watched as a mechanism lifted
her broken body from the tank and settled her into a cot. The Em-Dee
unit covered her immediately with a thermal blanket and injected some
form of antibiotic.
The princess groaned, "Anoth..."
The Mon Calamari snapped his head up in acute surprise. He
knelt at her bedside and listened closely.
"Hush, Leia." His webbed fingers brushed the red bacta slime
from her hair. "Your children will not be found."
His personal comlink announced, "Admiral Ackbar, we are
receiving a HoloNet transmission from Coruscant. Priority
Ackbar stood and left immediately for the bridge. Once there,
he received stunning news, and blessings.
* * *
The interrogation unit hummed lowly as it hovered close to the
face of Han Solo. He was experiencing now what Leia must have gone
through aboard the first Death Star. The chick had guts.
Chewbacca looked on helplessly, restrained by electrified
cuffs that sent a high voltage current through his shaggy mass
whenever he moved more than an inch. A clever little gadget. After
an hour of continual struggle and therefore continual electrocution,
the Wookiee gave up a useless effort and stood perfectly still. He
whined occasionally with Han's cries, but that was all.
"What is the location of your renegade fleet!" Turchin demanded.
It sounded so Imperial. Han had him pegged as one of Furgan's
cronies, and was probably the last person in the galaxy to do so. The
truth serum Myridium was in full affect now. The pirate's tongue felt
loose and he wanted to talk, a lot. He tried to clamp down on it but
the words came anyway. "With my newborn son. He's got my eyes, ya
The good general leaned close and sneered, "And where is your
newborn son?" His breath and body odor reeked.
"Take a bath," Han mumbled.
Turchin struck him hard but this was nothing new; they'd been
at it for a while. How did such a greasy character get in the
military anyhow? This guy was so greasy, his head looked like an oil
slick. Han tried to smile at his private joke but the numbed muscles
in his face wouldn't cooperate. He enunciated the best he could.
"Interrogation droid." Turchin was getting restless.
"Increase the dosage by triple. I don't care if it kills him."
"Oh, come on now..." Han groaned. This was starting to get
more than a little annoying.
The Wookiee howled and strained against his confinements. The
resulting shock made him cringe back and whimper. He fell silent and
watched the human he had given a life debt to receive another
injection. The drug burned through Solo's blood like hot lava. His
eyes became puffy and blurred. Han screamed. Then he could no longer
see. He hoped he had fainted but such was not the case.
Han could imagine veins popping out of his thick neck as
Turchin shouted, "Tell me the location of your fleet!"
"It's uncharted," the smuggler moaned.
"You will show me where it is!"
"Your stupid hunk of metal has shot me up with so much
Myridium, it made me go blind! See?" Solo yelled back and poked at
his eyes. There was strength in not having to look at his awful
surroundings. "It's not my fault!"
"Then Chewbacca will show me." Turchin said with such a
coldness that it should have struck fear into them both.
Instead, Solo chortled. "Ya know, that's the thing about
Wookiees. Awful sense of direction. I remember one time..."
"Fagh!" Something was thrown against a wall and probably
"Hey, it's true! Chewie, would ya tell him it's true? I'm
not lyin' here!"
The Wookiee roared pitifully. Now they were going to die.
Han said a short Corellian prayer for his beloved Leia. This was it.
He cocked his head and listened as the automatic door slid
open and shut, listened to the deep, gurgling wheeze of a Mon
Calamari. The latter sound was disgusting.
"Stop this at once," Ackbar gurgled.
Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all, Han thought, just a
"Why?" was the obvious question.
We were all having so much fun.
"I've received word from General...President Bel Iblis. The
Senate has convened and Mon Mothma had been removed from power. We
are under orders to bring the prisoners back unharmed. To go against
this will be considered high treason." The Admiral wheezed
laboriously throughout the whole relay. "Apparently, there has been
an increase in activity in the Carida system. The Imperial Academy
may be preparing to move against Coruscant and we must return
General Turchin remained silent for a long time. Han grinned,
imagining his jaws and eyeballs had dropped straight to the floor.
Bet your fancy spy network didn't know that was gonna happen, he
thought. Somebody's in trouble.
"How can this be?" Turchin gasped.
The Mon Calamari sounded almost relieved. "The people, it
seems, have spoken."
* * *
Luke Skywalker watched through the cockpit of the Millennium
Falcon as the flagship Vigilance and her fleet made the jump to
lightspeed. With that fleet, his sister and his friends would be
shuttled to Coruscant where they would suffer capital punishment for
their crimes. The time for grief had passed and now he glared
sullenly through the forward viewport. He was helpless to save them,
helpless to assist in any way, even if only to make their deaths less
painful. Instead he was here with Kayla Storm and the creation of his
own blinded lust. The anger was turned keenly upon himself for his
lack of discernment in her regard, even from the very beginning. The
tables had indeed turned against him; he was no longer the Master but
the pawn of this woman who would call herself Empress. This woman he
despised carried his child. It was a good trap.
"Why did you insist on hijacking this piece of trash?" she
demanded and picked at the torn leather seat.
Luke was tired of her demands. "I've traveled in this ship
before. It will get us where we want to go."
Kayla gave him a sour look. "I don't think so, Lord
Skywalker. I suggest you set course for Carida, and I will take my
"Not yet," Luke replied. "I am the last surviving kin to my
sister's children. It is my responsibility to collect them."
"Oh, your responsibility!" She leaned over and stole a
somewhat lingering kiss. "You are such a perfect little Jedi Knight.
Or is it still Master?"
Luke refused to respond. She touched his tight-lipped frown
with one finger. The nail was claw-like and painted red.
"I know something," she stated off-handedly.
"Hm." For some reason, this amused Luke, as if this so-called
Empress might know anything at all. He had confronted Palpatine,
witnessed his death, studied under his clone on Byss. Certainly,
Kayla Storm hardly possessed the power or the malevolence to fill the
tyrant's shoes. The Jedi kept the insult to himself.
"I know how to destroy the New Republic."
The Jedi's heart palpitated. This was an end to which he
could just not see. Aside from his bitterness toward Kayla Storm, he
desired to avenge the harm the New Republic had brought upon his
sister; yet he could not fathom a solution. The Force was with them
but that was hardly reason to create delusions of grandeur. They were
only two and the New Republic was comprised of thousands of star
systems. With his own brand of manipulation, he kissed the finger and
brought Kayla's hand to his cheek. The closer he traipsed along the
Dark path with Kayla Storm, the more snugly fit her emotional noose
about his neck. It was a strange hatred.
"There is a weapon." Her voice was barely audible as she
breathed her conspiracy. "One more insidious than any espionage, more
devastating than any Death Star."
Skywalker froze with the onset of comprehension. "The Force."
She gave him a twisted grin. "Of course. Matter matters not.
We need only destroy Coruscant and the New Republic will die with it."
"You and your lies," Luke grumbled and brushed her hand away.
Entire star systems. Surely such mass destruction was impossible even
on a planetary scale. Even if it were possible, it was unthinkable.
"Lord Vader has foreseen it, nearly a decade before the fact.
Don't you think that is the reason your father beckoned you to
"No." Luke folded his arms. "Vader was always prone to
over-dramatics. I wouldn't give his premonitions much weight."
Kayla gripped his chin to make him face her and spoke in a low
hiss. "I can see the future, Master Luke, move objects without a
touch, crush bones without exertion. Why not crush planets?"
"You're insane." Luke shrugged away, sickened, and set the
controls for autopilot. Her hands clamped on his wrist.
"I can reach into your mind and uncover your most private
thoughts. Now that you have invited me in, I will never leave. I
will never release you."
He moved to wrench free but, amazingly, her grip held fast.
The strength was more than her own. Again she invaded his soul. He
ripped away and left the pilot's chair, feeling transgressed.
"Your Master Yoda taught that we are luminous beings, not
crude flesh." Kayla stretched out in the copilot's chair and quoted,
"'Nothing is impossible save that which you believe to be impossible.
You must unlearn what you have learned.'"
"I doubt he was contemplating planetary annihilation," Luke
"We'll go to Anoth and collect your kin, and then test my
hypothesis. You will see that I am right."
Skywalker's visage darkened.
Kayla smiled almost gently. "Your father always wanted you to
rule, Luke. Don't disappoint him a second time."
Luke Skywalker nodded silently and concentrated his thoughts
on the children, all of them. Somehow, even in his own apparent
self-destruction, they must be spared.
A New Republic shuttle angled through ionic turbulence toward
the strong hold of Anoth. Beyond, the pirated fleet drifted against
the cold backdrop of space in silence. The shuttle weaved closer to
the multiple planet, its sensors blinded by blasts of incessant
energy. The graceful pilot looped his ship into a cavernous landing
area, dodged protruding stalactites, and ended the journey with
"I assure you, Commander Antilles, we are quite capable of
looking after ourselves," said Winter as she, the children, and Wedge
A number of guards wandered out to stretch their legs while
others remained in the shuttle.
"I'm sure you are," Antilles acknowledged. Anyone who could
care for two toddlers and an infant without blinking had to be
stronger than a Bantha--or a whole herd of Banthas. He shrugged.
"Calrissian thought security arrangements should be made since
Han, Leia, and Chewbacca have been missing for so long. We'll know
soon enough if we have to bug out fast." The lithe figure seemed to
collapse in on itself, consumed with intolerable guilt. The children
cried as Wedge moved to steady her.
"Winter?" "It's my fault," came her small, weakened voice.
"I told Leia and she went. I love her children. I was afraid that
with her return, I would no longer be able to care for them and she
can't..." She covered her mouth and sobbed. "I wanted her to leave."
Antilles stood speechless as the nursemaid wept on his shoulder.
Jacen and Jaina clung to her legs, Anakin nuzzled her chest. The
children loved her, as well.
Winter straightened, suddenly embarrassed and, as she combed
her fingers through stark, white hair, said, "Forgive me, commander,
that was uncalled for. I hope you won't let this conversation go any
Wedge shook his head quietly. She sighed. "It's time for
them to go to bed. I think I'll turn in as well. I'm
just...exhausted." The pilot stated evenly, "We will be here."
* * *
Lando Calrissian found himself in the awkward position of
admiraling a renegade fleet. He hated the military. Having been
dubbed "General" before the climactic battle of Endor and the hand he
played in destroying the Emperor's second Death Star, Calrissian was
looked upon as something of a hero and therefore, an authority.
Celebrity was the title he preferred, not hero. One offered the perks
of glamour and wealth while the other demanded great feats of
nobility, even martyrdom for a cause. To be a hero required him to
become respectable and give something of himself. To be considered
an authority...Well, he hated every minute of it. The respectable
Baron Administrator of Bespin stepped through the automatic entry to
"Officer on deck," an ensign announced. All stood at
"Cut that out," Lando growled and approached a junior officer.
"Any word from Solo or Skywalker?"
"No, sir. Not yet." "Baron, we're being hailed. HoloNet
frequency...Coruscant," said the communication's officer.
Lando slumped in the captain's chair. "If they can hail us,
then they've found the fleet. I should've known Ackbar would
"We're being hailed again."
Calrissian smoothed his mustache and straightened his short
cape. He stood and gave his best shot at looking respectable. "Put
it through." He watched the image of Garm Bel Iblis materialize on
the forward screen . On either side of the General's hawked nose were
icy blue eyes that pierced the hearts of most men. They sparkled now
with anticipation and their corners wrinkled as Bel Iblis grinned
"Good day, Baron Calrissian."
"Depends on your point of view," Lando retorted. "What do you
"To inform you that Han, Leia, and Chewbacca have been taken
into New Republic custody and have safely arrived at Imperial City.
Luke Skywalker is still at large."
Lando's knees gave in and he lowered himself into the
captain's chair. His friends were going to be killed and it would be
a matter of hours before they would be collected as well. His mouth
went dry but he produced an experienced look of cool indifference.
"They...we won't give up without a fight."
Bel Iblis looked confused for a moment, then smiled broadly.
"I keep forgetting how out of touch you must be. You obviously
haven't heard the good news." Now it was Lando's turn to be
"The New Republic has gone through quite a few changes in
resent days. Mon Mothma has stepped down and a Senate fully
representing the major systems of the galaxy has elected me as acting
President until a formal vote can be taken." The smile faded and he
became very serious. "We've detected a great deal of movement coming
out of Carida and fear the Imperial Academy is preparing to strike
Coruscant. Baron Calrissian, you must bring the fleet back to us so
we can better defend ourselves. We can settle our differences
Lando folded his arms. "What if it's a trap? Even if it's
not, why should we help you?"
The new President was blunt. "If it's a trap, then you are
hopelessly lost. But from the amount of time you've spent drifting
around out there, I 'll wager your supplies are getting pretty low.
We will be happy to remedy that situation, and postpone the inquiry
until the battle is finished. Who knows? If we lose, you'll be free
to roam wherever you like. The New Republic will be finished and
we'll be back to square one."
"So you're asking me for help." Lando fussed with his
"What about Leia's kids? Can we keep them here?"
Bel Iblis sighed. "I'd like to. However, confidentiality is
something of the past around here and I'm afraid some of the
undesirables in our ranks might pass on the information to Carida.
Admiral Ackbar, Han Solo, and I are in agreement that the safest
place for the children is with their mother. Coruscant's field
generator will keep the planet protected." "Skywalker was afraid of
some kind of Dark Lord reemerging. That's why he sent them away in
the first place." "Leia and her children have been forced to be apart
long enough. I think the Jedi's fears are unfounded."
"We don't know that."
"No, but tell me what in life is certain." The President's
gaze sharpened. "What is certain, is that Leia Organa Solo needs her
friends and family now more than ever. If you consider yourself her
friend, Calrissian, you will come."
Lando made himself quit twirling the end of his mustache. It
was a rotten habit. "You're asking us to risk our lives for a
government gone corrupt. I'll have to give it some thought."
"I appreciate your suspicion but I can assure you our
political troubles are being taken care of. If you refuse to help,
the Empire will again rise to power. Baron, I am not beyond
groveling. I beg you to choose the lesser of two evils."
"I appreciate your candor, Mister President. Give me a little
time." He did appreciate it. He really did. They would be there in
five minutes if he could help it.
"Time is not something we have a great deal of, Baron
Calrissian." The transmission ended. All the cards were laid on the
table and Lando decided all bets were off; he had one hell of a lousy
* * *
President Garm Bel Iblis rocked back in his leather chair and
looked across the mahogany desk at two senior officers, an
ex-smuggler, and a Wookiee .
"These are traitors!" the General growled. "It is a matter
Turchin was beside himself with contempt but the old Corellian
would have none of it. Bel Iblis let his voice cool to an even tone.
"I see only one possible turncoat in this collection,
Turchin. As a matter of principle , you will be placed in detainment
for the time period before your trial. And interrogated."
Color drained from Turchin's expression. With a brief nod,
the President ordered two guards to take the Imperial operative away.
Now they were clean, finally. He turned his attention to the Mon
"It was imperative that anyone with ties to Mon Mothma remain
ignorant to our operation," he began, almost apologetic, but not
"I know it must have been difficult for you to be left in the
"With all due respect, Mister President, I'm sure you haven't
the slightest inkling," gurgled Ackbar, nostrils flared. "I am
greatly offended you wouldn't confide in me." He paused to receive an
apology that didn't materialize. Ackbar finished grudgin gly, "I hope
this new administration will be more upfront with its military from
Garm nodded. "Of course. Admiral, I must ask you to refrain
from consu ting with Mon Mothma until after the trial."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Ackbar rolled his eyes. "She's not
a wicked person, Mister President, just fallible like the rest of us."
"Thank you, Admiral. Good day."
The Mon Calamari glanced quietly at Han and Chewbacca before
taking his leave. They certainly had a lot of explaining to do. The
Wookie paced, looking haggard from Turchin's interrogation. Solo was
in even worse shape, his gaze painfully swollen from the Myridium.
His eyes fluttered as he spoke, now able to see at least a few,
"If I know Lando, he'll be here with the kids in about
forty-eight hours ." "I'm sure that will give us enough time. The
Imperial fleet won't arrive for another sixty."
The President waved it off as inconsequential. "I've been at
this for many years, Captain Solo. Coming to the negotiating table
is always difficult for big egos. But now we are willing."
Han frowned only slightly; the insult was pointed at them
"I wish you had come to me sooner, Han."
"I was going to," he muttered. "But you thought I'd be too
entangled in politics to listen." Han shrugged. The thought had
crossed his mind, but maybe it just didn' t matter anymore.
"The charges against you and your friends are still very
serious, even under these new circumstances. We'll just have to see
if we can get through the next few days," Garm surmised.
"I wish you could have told Luke and Leia to hold off."
Bel Iblis leaned forward in his seat. "A mutiny, Han? What
were you and Antilles thinking?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" "No." "Blast it!"
Garm pounded the desk with a clenched fist and rose to his
feet to glare at the pirate.
"Far too many people have been killed for you to stand there
and act like some sort of idiot. I know you are not an idiot, Han
Solo, smuggler extaordinaire. You are going to tell me why, now."
Han faced the glare for as long as he could before shifting his gaze
downward to study his boots. He blinked hard because his eyes still
hurt, and he felt like the fool the other Corellian claimed he was
not. Chewie stopped pacing, very quiet.
"We got rid of Haake, anyway. Just seemed like the right
thing to do."
"The right thing to do," Garm echoed, as if not comprehending.
"You, your wife, Luke Skywalker, and all were in the wrong. Change
came about in spite of all the chaos you created."
"In spite or because of?" Han snapped. "I doubt you would've
raised a finger if we hadn't rocked a few boats. I'm not on trial
yet, Garm. I don 't appreciate all the questions." The President
"The Senate will need a number of things from you before the
inquiry can begin."
"Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself? We still have
Furgan's gang to worry about."
"Admiral Ackbar and I have Furgan's gang to worry about.
Besides, I've contacted the Smuggler's Guild and promised copious
payment if they agreed to come to our assistance. I don't want you to
even think about leaving the planet.
"Never crossed my mind," muttered Solo. Bel Iblis continued,
"We will need written testimonies, the memory banks of
Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, ship's logs, etcetera..."
"The Falcon was abandoned on Tatooine."
"We'll have somebody fetch it later. Oh, and I need to speak
with Leia right away." Solo's head snapped up and he squinted at the
"She's in bad shape, Garm." Garm let his demeanor soften as
he walked around the desk to rest a hand on the pirate's shoulder.
"When she is awake, I will need to talk with her." Han
swallowed a lump and nodded wordlessly.
* * *
They slept. Winter, the children, Wedge Antilles, even the
guards that accompanied him--all slept. Young Jaina Solo turned onto
her side while her brother Jacen snored and her brother Anakin
suckled his thumb. A dark man invaded her childish dreams. Jaina.
Her eyes opened, still dreaming.
Your mother and father will not be coming back to you.
She blinked, not sure what it mattered. Mother and father
were nice, but they had Winter.
Collect your brothers and come to me. Almost two years of
age, the response came clear as a bell.
"No! Stay with Winter."
Come or you will be punished. Disregarding her favorite doll
with a violent "Humph!", Jaina crawled close to her sleeping twin and
whispered in his ear. Jacen awoke, whimpering, and followed his
sister to Anakin's crib. Jaina crossed her arms and pouted.
Then just come, Uncle Luke insisted. Bring everything Winter
would take for a long trip.
"We go on trip?" squealed the girl. Anakin stirred but did
not wake. Jacen found a bag and gathered toys to fill it with. He
was always so quiet.
"Uncle play more games?" Jaina persisted.
Come to the landing area and I will show you something
amazing. Jaina giggled and pranced about, teasing her sad, mute
Hurry now, Uncle Luke prodded. Suddenly intent on completing
their chore, the twins dragged their bag of belongings through the
entry and down the corridor. Through all the rucous, the infant
* * *
"Han, is that you?" Calrissian's perplexed query buzzed
through a rotten comlink connection to the Millennium Falcon,
filtering the ionic turbulence of Anoth.
"Ignore it," ordered Skywalker. "Head for that third
fragment, mark bearing three-beta-zero." Kayla angled the cargo ship
toward the stronghold and watched the opposing response of the
"They're trying to head us off."
"Evasive maneuvers." The Falcon turned tail, then attempted
to loop around the Star Cruiser. It was then that the renegade fleet
emerged to block them in.
"Millennium Falcon you are ordered to respond," Lando barked.
"Who is flying that ship!"
"We're surrounded." Kayla sounded a trifle worried.
"Maintain radio silence," Luke stated flatly. He hadn't
counted on the rebel fleet. Perhaps a suicide run would be the end to
all of his problems. A dozen X-wing fighters poured forth from the
Benefactor's maw. The Jedi stood and was about to head for the gun
well when one of the starfighters exploded without cause. The
squadron swarmed in confusion.
"That one," whispered Storm and she pointed to each X-wing in
"Then you. And you." Each fighter exploded in turn, blinding
flashes of chaos. Slowly, Luke Skywalker lowered himself back into
the copilot's seat and gaped at the resplendent fireshow. It was an
abomination of the Force. It was appalling to watch and yet, he could
not shift his gaze. The Jedi Master was transfixed by the dark power
of his student.
* * *
"They're not even firing!" An officer cried out.
Baron Calrissian stared in horror until the explosions ceased.
The Millennium Falcon hung suspended, unscathed and unmoving.
"It can't be," he muttered. "It's just not possible." In the
moment it took him to utter the words, the Star Cruiser Intrepid began
to rip at its seams.
"Intrepid, begin evacuation..." The communication's officer
trailed off as the Star Cruiser vaporized in a burst of light.
"What the..." The navigator interrupted Calrissian,
"Beginning calculations for lights peed jump! Any quadrant,
any sector!" Star Cruiser Valiant was next to explode. Lando paced
the bridge, unable to keep the panic from his voice.
"Wait. Wait! Send an emergency trans mission to Antilles!
"Aye, sir!" The Benefactor rocked as two more Star Cruisers
met a fiery end.
"Transmission completed!" The officers shouted at once.
"Get us out of here!" Lando bellowed. The remaining fleet
found safety as stars turned into starlines, and they were gone.
* * *
Luke could not mask his revulsion as he looked upon Kayla
Storm. Such power over life and death...He was hypnotized by the
complications. They we re unstoppable. No amount of defense would be
sufficient without the Force. Coruscant would fall. But it would be
an eternal nine months, and only if he could keep a hold on his
uncertain sanity. His father had known. Yes. Being one with the
Force, his father had known from the start. And Ben. Resentment
imbedded itself de ep into his conscious thought.
"As I said, Commander Storm," he said softly, "mark bearing
"Yes, I see it," she told him. The Millennium Falcon arched
through metallic waste and found the cavern ous opening of the refuge
for Jedi children. The hiss and clang of hydraulic landing gear were
the only sounds as the stolen ship landed next to a New Republic
shuttle. Wedge Antilles and his men slept unawares; heavy, unnatural
sleep. The children waited. There was another hiss as a sealed
airlock was broken and the landing ramp screeched its reluctance to
lower to the deck. The man dressed in black who stood above them was
a frightening sight. His hands came out from beneath the black robe
and threw wh at appeared to be sparkling stardust over the twins.
Jaina giggled, "Oooooh!" and danced through the golden particles of
light. Jacen screamed, "NO!" It was the first word any had heard
from him. The boy ran in terror as Kayla Storm approached to stand
beside his uncle.
"There. Now you've frightened him," she grumbled, folding her
arms. Luke shot the blast doors a cursory glance and they crashed
downward to cut off any hope for the toddler's escape. Jacen threw
himself to the ground and wailed.
"Oh, that's much better." Kayla rolled her eyes. Jaina gave
her brother a stinging rebuke.
"No, Jacen! You stop it! You come here and listen to Uncle
Luke!" Sadly, the boy picked himself up and returned. Kayla prodded
the whimpering Jacen into their ship and stated,
"You'll have to keep him quiet somehow, if you want to keep
Luke nodded imperceptibly and crouched to gather Jaina into
his arms. She was strong and independent like her mother and father.
He held a special place in his heart for this child and could only
hope his own daughter would be something like her. There was an
affinity between the man and the girl. The neice clung tightly to
Luke Skywalker, favorite uncle. He paused, suddenly feeling a shiver
of cold scramble up his spine. Something was not right here.
Something he had never sensed before lay deep within the fragmented
"Time to go," Storm nudged, apparently oblivious to his
perception. The Jedi straightened and Jaina leaned heavily against
his leg, exhausted.
"There's somethng I have to see."
"What?" Kayla demanded, impatient. "We need to move on,
"Stay with the children," he muttered distantly. "I won't be
In actuality, it did take quite some time to delve beyond the
fortress of the Jedi.. The smooth steel corridors became layers of
jagged rock. In the pitch darkness, he did not grope, but followed
his sense ever downward. Never did he slip, nor lose foo ting on the
steep slope of stone. Down, ever downward, as if into the pit of
hell. He grinned softly to himself at the irony. Here was the chosen
refuge for Jedi children; its purpose to protect the innocents from
the corr uption of the Dark Side of the Force. And yet evil resided
here with an intensity he had never experienc ed. Why had he not
sensed it before in his explorations of this system? Why now, did
Kayla Storm, supposed heiress to Palpatine's throne, miss this so
completely? Because he had been nieve. Storm was a fool as well, a
mere novice hopelessly misled by Palpatine's spirit. The slope
leveled out and Luke half-jogged through the impenetrable dark. He
slowed to wind his way through a tunnel lit with eternal fire. He
grasped one of the torches along the wall and hurried on to the
tunnel's end. Skywalker stared at the relief carved on the surface of
an ancient vault. The face of his father; rather, his helmet. He
traced the geometrical lines with a gloved finger. A crude impress
ion, of course, but the relief had to be at least tens of thousands of
years old. The creatures who made this must have envisioned his
father's coming to power. For a moment he stood in awe. As he looked
closer, scribbled hieroglyphs told of worshippers sacrificing some
tentacled creature to the night. The pictures conveyed an image of
consuming the being's spirit and then, his actual form. Luke
shuddered. Cannibals. He stepped back, sickened and intent on
leaving, when the vault groaned. The Jedi froze, waiting until the
echo died somewhere far above, and again touched the image of his
father. The vault groaned again, louder this time, and the enterance
opened wide for his inspection. Luke hesitated only briefly before
entering, using his torch to illuminate his way. His footfalls caused
a millennium's worth of dust to plume and swirl about his legs. The
air was choking, stale. A small desk was positioned in the center of
the modest chamber while the walls were lined with shelves of... Luke
He had only seen a handful in this computerized age. These
also were tens of thousands of years old. Tentatively, he reached to
extract one, but it crumbled into dust at his touch. He brushed his
hands off and leaned close to study the titles written in script on
the bindings. It was an unreadable, foreign writ. His vision blurred
momentarily and he rubbed his stinging eyes. When he opened them once
more, the titles were written in perfect Basic. The Jedi swallowed
hard and read the titles silently. The Dark Side Compendium, Volume
One--The Book of Anger, Volume Two--The Weakness of Inferiors, Volume
Three--The Creation of Monsters. These were the teachings he had
learned on Byss from the clone of Emperor Palpatine. There he had
tasted Dark power in an effort to beat the tyrant at his own game. He
played the game well, using the knowledge he discovered to sabatoge
Palpatine's attacks with the World Devestators, but ultimately he was
nearly consumed and saved only by his sister's love. His sister who
was about to be executed. Now was the possibility of continuing his
study, for he was, after all, the Master.
Skywalker smiled sickly. He moved on to the other readings,
much the same in character. Finally he came across an immense tome
entitled The Teachings of the Sith. This was what he was compelled to
discover. The art of becoming Lord Vader. The self-help book to
utter damnation. He started to chuckle softly in spite of him self,
reaching for this strangely more enduring text, but the laughter died
away as his torchlight exting uished. Luke stiffened. Pitch had a
strange way of multiplying terror by degrees of ten. He set the Sith
teachings on the small desk and felt the hairs on the back of his neck
stand on end. Jaw set, the Jedi called out,
"Whoever you are, I do not fear you!" He waited and listened
to the silence, and the pounding of his heart in his ears. The evil
was tangible; he could almost taste its rot. His hand found the hilt
of his lightsaber which ignited in a snap-hiss and he whirled toward a
wall vacant save a long mirrored glass. He stared confounded at the
reflection. The evil came not from any outside source, perse, but
from within. That is why he could not sense it before. Dagobah! His
mind screamed. Luke grasped the ancient tome to his chest and bolted
from the terror he could not escape.
Perhaps an hour later, he carefully masked the deep shock and
boarded the Millennium Falcon. He stopped for a moment, sensing the
slumbering New Republic soldiers, Winter, and the infant boy. Luke
snapped his fingers in the general direction of the shuttle and left
to complete a hideous task. Wedge Antilles awoke to the roar of
* * *
The fractured planet of Anoth hung suspended around its
glowing, central core. It looked deceptively small as the Millennium
Falcon escaped to a safe distance. Within, Jaina rested in her
uncle's lap while Kayla Storm manned the controls.
"Uncle, where's Winter? Where's baby Anakin?" the child
asked with a yawn. Luke gave Kayla a hardened look.
"I won't do this until they've escaped ." His apprentice
"You are weak, Master. How do you expect to an nihilate
Coruscant with some twenty billion souls screaming in your ears?"
"We go see mom and dad?"
"They're probably being executed as we speak, darling,"
commented Storm with a dry smile. The toddler didn't understand.
"Quiet!" Luke snapped. He rubbed his niece's shoulder.
"You're sleepy , aren't you, Jaina?" The little girl shook
her head, hardly able to keep her eyes open. Suddenly, they became
wide as saucers and she pointed with excitement at what seemed to be
a shooting star.
"Winter! Winter!" Luke reached over her to touch the
"It's a New Republic shuttle. They're escaping the system."
"Do it now then," said Kayla. He squeezed Jaina.
"Go to your brother and get some sleep." Obediently, the
child climbed down and toddled groggily into the hold. Anoth seemed
to wait with impatience, almost relieved to meet an only slightly
premature end. At least, this is what Luke Skywalker surmised. A
refuge for the Force-sensitive, secluded from life and therefore weak
in the universal power, the planet's utility was null. He was anxious
to be rid of the evil tomes locked beneath the planet's surface. A
millennia of knowledge would be wiped from the face of existence.
Only the Order of the Sith would survive. His gloved hands traced the
intricate black cover and rested there momentarily, this is the
knowledge he had begun to learn on Byss. This was the knowledge he
would pass on to his students after he had mastered it himself. It
was simply inevitable. He could not change what he was. After this
mammo th step toward a darker realm, there would be no turning back
for the Jedi Master, and no relief. None at all. Luke resolved that
after the destruct ion of Coruscant and therefore the New Republic, he
would decide what must be done with Kayla Storm--to be content as her
companion or to kill her after their daughter's birth and take the
seat of Emperor for himself. He would follow whatever destiny the
Force prepared. In the vault, he had discovered himself as he truly
was meant to be. A new knowledge o f evil would be accumulated
according to his own experience, and his own will. The teaching
would be pure, but his student must never again obtain po wer greater
than that of her teacher.
"Quit your ruminating and let's get on with it," Kayla
grumbled. She could hear his thoughts, but perhaps as only a
distant, incoherent mumble. Perhaps her power was on the wane, or
perhaps his simply increased.
"You haven't mastered control, Kayla. This is foolish."
"I see. Can you explain why those warships burst mysteriously
into flames?" Luke ground his teeth.
"Would you give me some peace?" The novice grinned and leaned
over to kiss him.
"Never." Skywalker closed his eyes and shut out all thought,
all feeling, every signature given by the life that surrounded him,
all but Anoth. There would be not magic words or theatrical
gesturing; only so much smokescreen when a Master dealt with the
He merely envisioned the multiple planet to be three pieces
of brittle clay. No, he amended. Believe it to be so. He
manipulated the clay in his hands, feeling the crumbling edges,
testing its weight. It was nothing really. He closed his fist and
ground the fragments to dust. It had the same feeling as the
crumbling texts. Yet the evil presence remained, and grew.
"My Lord Skywalker," Kayla whispered in awe. "Look at what you
have done." The Millennium Falcon bucked as the shockwave reached
them, followed by the smattering of fine, planetary debris. Luke's
eyes remained shut against what had been so easily accomplished. He
could not stand it.
The drugs were doing their work. She could no longer feel her
bruised ribs or shattered legs, her head no longer screamed with
incessant pounding, and Luke was far away now. She could not reach
out to her twin and was relieved. There was something wicked about
Luke Skywalker and Leia was struck with the same dread she experienced
when fleeing Coruscant with Kayla Storm. That woman had him. After
telling her what had happened, where she was, and very nearly who she
was, Bel Iblis sat at her bedside and patted her hand sadly.
"Leia, Leia, I am sorry."
"I should be the one apologizing." Leia's voice was
weak. "Things were so desperate. Luke was convinced we had to do
something but I never thought..."
"As your friend, I understand completely. The Inner Council
was, for the most part, out of control. We should have seen it
coming. But as acting President, I cannot condone the events that
took place after you were taken hostage. The theft of Haake's
"Rufus Haake was an agent of Ambassador Furgan." Garm nodded.
"As was Turchin. But that doesn't justify what you've done."
"I agree Wedge Antilles and my husband acted a bit rashly.
Afterwards, Mon Mothma just wouldn't listen. We had to run." Leia
covered her eyes as the pounding in her head resumed. "I'm tired,
Garm." The President responded quietly.
"I know, dear. I know. Now listen. Despite everything, with
cooperation from the Senate, I can pardon you and your friends if you
realign yourselves with the New Republic. The Imperial Academy is
launching an attack against Coruscant as we speak."
"Of course we're with you." Leia sounded haggard, tired of
words. She ran her hands through her hair and felt a twinge of pain
from her ribs. The drugs were wearing off. "I just didn't know what
else to do."
"I had hoped your brother would have more sense." He paused
as Leia trembled violently. "Are you in pain? Two-One-Bee!" As the
humanoid Em-dee unit drifted close to her bedside, Leia winced as it
produced a long hypodermic, and recalled an earlier, more agonizing
experience. She had developed a deep hatred for needles.
"I don't think that 's necessary."
"It will help you rest," the droid assured her. Leia bit her
bottom lip silently as the needle pierced her skin.
"Is Luke dead?" the President questioned. She responded in a
"He's with Kayla Storm."
"The Imperial Commander he helped escape." The sedative
flowed through her veins and Leia closed her eyes in submission.
Tears spilled down her cheeks. "I believe she has turned him to the
Dark Side of the Force." Slowly, Garm Bel Iblis placed his left hand
over his mouth, as if he could not believe her words.
"My brother may as well be dead." Her voice was strangely
distant and she was too exhausted to keep this up. Bel Iblis took
her limp hand and a moment slipped by. He said quietly,
"Leia, your children will be here soon." Perhaps she didn't
hear. Her chest rose and fell in merciful sleep. He stood and turned
with a jolt as Han Solo burst into the room. Two-One-Bee hovered
protectively at Leia's bedside.
"Please, no further visitation."
"Right. Come here, Garm." Han reached for the President's
sleeve and escorted him to the hallway where Chewbacca, Calrissian,
and their two droids were gathered.
"Somebody stole my ship." The Baron Administrator seemed
pallid. "I've lost most of the fleet." Bel Iblis blinked hard.
"The Millennium Falcon showed up at Anoth and wouldn't
respond. She moved aggressively and the next thing I know, fighters
and Star Cruisers are blowing up all over the place." The President
folded his arms.
"I hardly think she has the capabilities to destroy an entire
"No. You see, they just blew up." Bel Iblis checked his
chronometer and bit back an exasperated shout.
"Starfighters and Star Cruisers to not just blow up. The
Imperial fleet will be coming out of hyperspace within the next few
hours. We hardly have time to bicker about..."
"Sir, if I may," interjected See-Threepio.
"I've never heard of a protocol droid interrupting someone,
but go ahead ," he grumbled.
Han replied, "It's a bad habit of his."
"Baron Calrissian is being quite objective in his report.
This R2 unit and I were on board the Benefactor and witnessed the
phenomena. The ships exploded spontaneously, sir."
"I've also never heard of any kind of droid suffering from
hallucinations." Solo shook his head.
"The droids' memories are perfect. Now look, my kids and
Winter are still on that planet and I'd bet good credit Skywalker has
"With the witch Kayla Storm." Garm folded his hands and
touched twin index fingers to his lips.
"You've gotta let us go back there with reinforcements," said
"You are both under inquiry. I cannot allow..."
"Then send Ackbar!" Han shouted.
"The Imperials are coming. And if Luke Skywalker can destroy
ships with the blink of an eye, we have an even more dangerous enemy
than Furgan. I will not put our defenses in that kind of jeopardy."
"Garm, you old bastard..." Solo curled his fists at his sides
but clamped down on his tongue hard. The acting President was right.
They certainly couldn't leave Coruscant unprotected with the Imperial
fleet coming, and resources were spread thin enough without having to
send more ships away on what could very well be a suicide mission.
Han was helpless and didn't like the feeling one bit.
"Captain Solo!" It was a desperate, breathless shout. They
all turned as Wedge Antilles and Mara Jade approached at a flat run.
Solo gripped the man's shoulders, flickering with hope.
"Wedge! You got my kids, right?" Antilles turned two shades
paler and Han felt the hope extinguish.
"Right?" Wedge panted,
"I fell asleep and woke when the Millennium Falcon took off.
Winter came running with the baby saying the twins weren't in their
beds. We searched everywhere with no luck. Then the planet started
to shake! We had to get out! When we finally did and found the
"Anoth was destroyed, obliterated," finished Jade. Han Solo
shook his head and muttered under his breath,
"I'm going to kill him." Bel Iblis pointed a finger in the
"Captain Solo, you are under inquiry and will not be
responsible for the killing of anyone! See-Threepio."
"Yes, Mister President?"
"You will relay the order to General Rieekan to engage the
field generat or immediately. I don't care what kind of superweapon
Skywalker has in store for us. That is the best planetary defense our
technology has to offer. Alert Admiral Ackbar that the fleet will be
defending against two enemies, not just the one as we thought ."
"Certainly, sir. Come along, Artoo." He waddled off with the
astromech droid in tow.
"But, he's not using technology," Mara pointed out. "I may
not be trained as a Jedi as yet, but I definitely felt something."
"Yeah," agreed Calrissian. "Seemed like, whatever it was, had
no trouble getting through any of the Cruisers' defense shields."
President Bel Iblis sighed deeply.
"I'm open to suggestions. Should we pack up and run like we
had to thirty years ago? Should we allow ourselves to be hunted down
and slaughtered like animals, as the old Jedi were? Or should we
lower our defenses and let them kill us in our sleep? Gentlemen, for
better or worse, it is time to make a stand. Otherwise, the concept
of a New Republic really has been something of a bad joke. Please
excuse me." He left them. Lando pinched the bridge of his nose and
tried to make some sense of it.
"Vader had his chance over and over to kill his children, but
he didn't. I can't believe Luke, even if he's changed somehow, would
hurt yours, or Leia." Solo frowned and the ache in his chest was
beginning to make him physically sick.
"Lando, he's got us trapped and he can do whatever he wants."
"It's just not like him," added Wedge. Mara scoffed quietly,
"Sure it is. Like father, like son. I'd be happy to help
you bring down that pompous jerk in any way, Solo, after the way he
lied to me. Do as I say, not as I do..." Han sounded defeated.
"I gotta bring Anakin to Leia before this happens. Mara,
we'll discuss it later. If there is a later." He shook his head in
shock, or maybe it was a realization of mortality, and walked off with
less than the usual swagger.
"I don't know about you, Wedge, but I'd rather be on a ship
that has half a chance of jumping into hyperspace," said Lando.
"I'm with you."
"Join us on the Scoundrel's Nest," offered Mara.
"We can sneak you out of here and get you into fighters before
Admiral Ackbar can blink."
"Chewie?" The Wookiee groaned softly and trudged after his
* * *
It was decided to persuade Carida into their grasp before
moving against the corrupted New Republic. No matter how powerfully
the Dark Side of the Force moved in him, Luke, though bordering on
insanity, had become more cautious of its use. Again, he felt
engulfed. He felt the pressure of metric tonage weighing on his mind.
Never would he and Kayla Storm be able to keep their concentration
against both Ackbar's fleet and Coruscant's planetary defenses.
Today, the Empire would be swallowed whole in their service. As they
approached the planet, swarms of TIE fighters spilled out of the
unified Imperial Navy. An alien voice purred through the comlink,
"Millennium Falcon, drop your shields and prepare to be
boarded." Kayla smiled and leaned toward the transmitter.
"By all means, Captain Saysithi. By all means." Skywalker
rose to his feet.
"The children need to be well hid. I'll be joining you
Furgan was enraged, which was not out of the ordinary, but
also perplexed by this visitor. The Imperial Ambassador of Carida
severely reprimanded the alien captain for inviting Kayla Storm to the
planet as a guest and had her immediately arrested. Presently, she
strained against the hold of two white-armored guards and spat,
"I told you, I have been chosen as Emperor Palpatine's
heiress! Release me at once!" The ambassador paced the floor while
Saysithi looked on in silence.
"How can I trust this, Commander Storm? You have been with
the Jedi Skywalker for some time now. You have intervened in the
launch of our attack on Coruscant at a most critical moment. How can
I trust this is not some rouse to extinguish the Empire?"
"If we had wanted to destroy you, we would have done so long
before now!" she shouted. "I am Empress! Release me!" Ambassador
"You are just a girl. An impetuous, temper mental,
and...rather beautiful girl." He paused to stroke her cheek and Kayla
bit the flesh of his palm until she drew blood. Furgan howled in
agony and rage, then struck her hard across the face. Kayla swooned,
but the stormtroopers kept her steady. She closed her eyes and
called upon the Force...
"Skywalker!" the ambassador snarled.
"Guards, take him!"
"That would not be wise, ambassador," Luke intoned. The
chandalier trembled, shook, and finally crushed Furgan under a wreck
of metal and crystal. Kayla opened her eyes, smiling at the mess.
She looked to her Jedi Master for approval but he ignored her, and the
event, completely. The stormtroopers backed away cautiously, afraid
to seize him, afraid to run. Saysithi folded his trentacled arms
across his chest and stared complacently upon the Dark Jedi. She
heard his thoughts like spoken words. The prophecy. One will come
from the desolate place...
"We have come to claim what is rightfully ours," Skywalker
spoke evenly and lifted an ancient tome for Saysithi's inspection.
"And yours." The nonhuman was struck with awe.
"The Teachings of the Sith. These are the writings of my
people before the fragmenting of Anoth. How did you come across it?
How could you know?" The Jedi ignored the questions as easily as he
had ignored Furgan's demise.
"You may join us, Grand Admiral Saysithi, or you may perish."
Thorn's replacement collapsed to one knee in submission. His people
had worshipped the Lords of the Sith as gods, even before they had
truly come to exist, the Lord Darth Vader in particular. Here was his
son...It was just as the old priest had envisioned, five hundred
"The messiah has come." Skywalker finally took notice of
Kayla Storm by mimicking her words from a faint, unfamiliar past.
"'You will be glorified.' You were right, Kayla. Yes.
Thank you." Storm ground her teeth in useless fury.
* * *
Leia awoke from frightened, half-remembered dreams. It had
been a long time since she'd had nightmares about the destruction of
Alderaan and her imprisonment aboard the first Death Star. The sense
of fear seemed to be all around her, almost tangible through her own
raw sensitivity to the Force. She was surprised to see her husband
sitting at her bedside as Winter rocked quietly with Anakin sleeping
in her arms. As the old space pirate kissed her, she recalled once
accusing him of being a scoundrel, that she preferred "nice men".
Since then, Han had mellowed and was a little of both. His kiss was
desperate. She caught a glimpse of his emotions--anger, sadness, a
sense of being powerless. This anguish was a side of him she had
never seen. The usual sarcasm was nonexistent.. He whispered close,
"Hello, beautiful. It's been awhile."
"What happened to your eyes?" Leia reached to touch the
swollen gaze an d Han flinched instinctively. He kissed her hands.
"Turchin got a little testy with his interrogation droid.
He's kind of out of a job though, but I guess we all are." He
attempted a weak smile. "Sweetheart, I haven't told you enough. I
love you. I mean, I really love you. If I ever took you for granted,
and I know I have, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for this whole mess."
"I know." Leia glanced as Winter and the baby, then back to
her husband. "Where are the twins? Han, what is wrong?" Tears
welled in the pirate's eyes.
"I can't..." He embraced her, obstinate, and Leia demanded,
"Han, I need to know." Her husband leaned closer still and
breathed the series of events in her ear. Leia covered her mouth in
horror and tried to pull away. Solo held her fast and whispered until
the story of death and destruction was completely told. She clung to
him and wept. Her assistant Winter looked on, but kept her silence.
* * *
Just beyond Carida, the flagship Zephyr and her consolidated
Imperial fleet prepared for the jump to lightspeed. Within her
cavernous docking bay, Lord Luke Skywalker studied the fragile pages
of The Teachings of the Sith, and plunged deeper into an evil realm of
hate and insanity. He was disturbed only when Kayla Storm entered the
cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and sat in the copilot's chair beside
"The children are still asleep," she stated.
"And that is how they will remain," Luke responded distantly,
thumbing to the next page. "There's no need for them to see what we
"When will I be taught those teachings?"
"When I've mastered them myself. It is not easy to
"Give them to me," she demanded, reaching for the tome.
Skywalker closed it and rested the Sith teachings on his lap.
"I am the teacher, you are the learner. I would not want to
lead you astray, my dear."
"I am your Empress. You will give that to me." The Jedi
Master could not withold his punitive laughter.
"You think you are so strong, Kayla. But compared to the
Sith, compared to my father, you are really nothing. The Emperor lied
to you. You were but a vehicle towards my own enlightenment."
"You are the liar," she hissed. Luke laspsed into his usual
disregard of her and looked through the forward viewport at the alien
waving to them from the deck.
"Ah, my friend is here." Grand Admiral Saysithi bowed low as
Lord Skywalker and Kayla Storm emerged from the Falcon. His gaze
locked on the heavy tome tucked under Skywalker's arm and he could not
shake it free. The cannibal race he belonged to forsaw the rise of
the Sith, and its rebirth in the son of the last, the son of Vader.
His family had fled sacrifice when they refused to adhere to the Sith
teachings. When Anoth fragmented shortly thereafter, his people
perished. It was a good thing that they had. He assimilated in to
human culture and spent the last thirty years of his existence in the
service of his good friend Maxus Thorn. Now Thorn was dead, and the
malevolent redeemer had finally come. He was at once compelled to
him, and repulsed. Luke permitted a slight grin.
"Grand Admiral, you seem distracted." Saysithi quickly shook
"My apologies, Lord Skywalker. The fleet has been
consolidated and is about to make the jump to lightspeed."
"Very good." Skywalker stepped forward and offered him the
"Saysithi, my friend, I want you to keep this for me. It may
not be safe with Kayla Storm aboard the Millennium Falcon. These are
not teachings meant for the weaker sex."
"Weaker sex!" Kayla scoffed. "Skywalker, you had better
start showing me some respect or..." She broke off furiously as Luke
again ignored her.
"She has no control," he conspiritorially told the Grand
Admiral. "She must never see this."
"I'll make sure of that, my lord." Saysithi's tentacles
wrapped about the black leather, trembling. Quite suddenly, Skywalker
gripped the sides of the alien's head and he dropped the tome in
"My Lord Skywalker!" Luke bent close to his ear and breathed,
"You are mine. Our minds are one. Soon they will be set in
motion." The Grand Admiral collapsed to his knees and lowered his
gnarled forehead to the Jedi's boots.
"Our minds are one," he gasped. "Soon they will be set in
"Go now," ordered Skywalker. "The Millennium Falcon will lead
the attack. You will hear me, and know what to do."
"Yes..." the alien hissed. He gathered the teachings in his
tentacled arms and skulked away. Lord Skywalker turned to meet
Storm's hateful glare, and lifted an eyebrow.
"You waste your energies on such petty things. Come, your
* * *
In the mottled light of hyperspace, Luke Skywalker returned
from the hold and paced the cockpit. He was anxious to get on with
it, but not filled with anxiety. His niece and nephew were lulled
into heavy sleep by only slight instrumentation of the Force, their
tiny minds determined to save them from the events that had taken
place, and those that were about to. The Dark Side of the Force was
no longer troubling to Luke. It was a tool like any other. No, he
amended his thoughts. The Dark Side is a narcotic. Now he understood
why it was so difficult for his father to turn away from evil, why he
had only done so at the end of his tortured existence. The spirit
suffered withdrawal and would miss its revel in seductive power.
Already he longed to pour over the pages of dark instruction, but it
was better left with his servant aboard the flagship Zephyr; there it
was safe from the jealous, prying eyes of his ambitous student. He
stopped behind the woman in the captain's chair and caressed her
shoulders. Kayla Storm tensed rigidly. Barely a word had passed
between them since the taking of Carida's fleet. The Dark Jedi sensed
she held a mixture of anticipation and dread for the obliteration of
Coruscant, and therefore the fall of the New Republic. She was afraid
of his own intent, that he would move to steal her destined office.
The fear was not unfounded. As Skywalker had noted more than once,
Kayla Storm showed great promise but had not yet mastered complete
control of her powers. He was certainly better prepared to take
Palpatine's throne. Luke reached to the developing fetus deep within
her womb. Weeks had passed since the sordid evening on Sentinel Rock
that cleared the path down which he now traveled. There were fingers,
toes, a heart beating, even the most simplistic of brain functions.
And gender. Daughter.
"We're here," Kayla announced and shut down the hyperdrive.
Starlines returned to pinpricks. The Millenium Falcon was dwarfed by
the Imperial war ships that accompanied her. Coruscant and its three
moons lay just within sight, blackened by pollution and war.
"Do this quickly and we'll return to hyperspace before the
fleet knows what's happened."
"You shouldn't be worrying about the fleet," Luke chastised.
To surpass the horrendous carnage they had left at Anoth would be a
simple task. He was more willing to accomplish it than his pupil.
"Look there!" she gasped and pointed to the strange armada
that suddenly appeared directly behind the Imperial fleet, like a
mirage fading in from nothingness. It was a rag-tag bunch, comprised
of old, reconstructed Rebel Alliance and Imperial warships, Correllian
Corvettes and gunships, even a few of the Old Republic
Dreadnaughts. The pride of that fleet was a pirated Super Star
Destroyer, quaintly renamed the Scoundrel's Nest. Luke folded his
arms, studying it closely.
"Well, hello, Mara."
"Only the Smuggler's Guild uses such a cloaking device." He
closed his eyes and tightened his mental hold on Saysithi. You will
defend us as we attack. Almost immediately, three of the Imperial
Star Destroyers veered off to engage the Smuggler's Guild. A
hodgepodge of Alliance and Imperial starfighters poured out of the
Scoundrel's Nest in response, all clearly marked w ith the twisted
Dragon insignia of the Guild. Satisfied with the Grand Admiral's
performance, Luke turned his attention to the capitol planet.
Ackbar's fleet rounded one of the small moons to flank the intruders,
prodding them toward Coruscant. Swarms of opposing fighter squadrons
poured out of their respective warships and engaged in viscous
territorial combat. One of the Imperial Star Destroyers drifted too
close to the planet and burst in a brief flash of light.
"The captain hadn't counted on their planetary shield," Luke
"Why are we just sitting here? We should help," said Kayla,
grimacing from the sense of pain, fear, and death that quickly
surrounded them. Disgusted, Skywalker shook his head.
"Those who are weak will die today. We have a separate task."
The Millennium Falcon hung back, unheeded by the opposing forces, and
they watched the quickening flashes of light. Under Luke's command,
the outnumbered Imperial fleet held its own with tenacity.
"I've never seen a battle from far off like this," muttered
Kayla. "It's both deadly, and beautiful."
"Yes," Luke agreed. He shifted in his seat. "The time has
come." He closed his eyes. Again, no hocus-pocus. His arms did not
unfold as he reached beyond the battle with his mind, and attuned to
the multitude of lifeforms that dwelt on the planet Coruscant--the
humans, the aliens, the creatures, the insects, even the smallest
microbe existed harmoniously through the Force. And by the Force,
they could cease that existence. The planet would be destroyed and
the fleets would take care of themselves. Then no one would be left
to rule but he and Kayla Storm. What would they lord over, in the
end? Debris. Destinies would be completed. Luke chastised the
incessant buzzing of his thoughts and cleared his head. He reached
beyond the life to the planet itself. Unlike Anoth, his perception of
Coruscant was hard, weighty, impenetrable. It was probably due to the
field generator, and the Jedi reminded himself that the planet's
relation to the Force was just that, a matter of perception. As he
tried to shift the image, the world became palpable, flesh-like,
living and constantly churning. It was almost sentient. This would
not do at all. The image would not shift further. There was a mental
snap and he realized Saysithi had broken free of his control. The
Imperial fleet began to make mistakes, began to make itself vulnerable
to the attacks of the New Republic and the Smuggler's Guild. It was a
purposeful loss. Skywalker remembered the book and knew he would be
unable to reclaim it. The Grand Admiral had lost his mind and was
about to direct a mass suicide. Star Destroyers dove head long into
the planetary shield and exploded in brief bursts of light. His
closed eyes tightened as he sought to concentrate on regaining control
of the fleet, as well as destroying the immense planet, as well as
keeping the twins in their unnatural slumber. His cognitive capacity
was spread too thin. The Force may be infinite, but the human mind,
no matter how twisted, most definitely was not. Yet he refused to
delegate such duties to the woman he despised. Kayla inhaled sharply.
"We've been spotted."
"Pilot of the Millennium Falcon, you are ordered to identify
yourself and state your intentions." The voice of Admiral Ackbar
wheezed through the transmitter.
"Luke," she said, suddenly uncertain of her own devises,
"They're coming ." Tentatively, Skywalker's hand lifted and
stretched toward the seething o rganic matter in his mind's eye.
Coruscant trembled with violent severity.
* * *
The command center on the planet's surface bustled with
activity. President Bel Iblis consulted with General Rieekan near a
giant radar as Organa Solo's droids manned the communication's post.
The Smuggler's Guild, Admiral Ackbar, and the field generator were
working miracles. The battle was almost won.
"Oh, Princess Leia!" See-Threepio exclaimed. Rieekan and Bel
Iblis turned as the ex-councilor entered the command center, mobilized
by a disability chair. Her husband was at her side, followed by
Chewbacca. Rieekan scowled.
"They shouldn't be allowed here." The President replied,
"I don't have time for political squabbling, General. Keep
to your duties." He approached Leia and took her hand.
"Leia, you should be in bed. I'll have that Em-dee unit
scrapped for letting you out." She gave him a hardened look.
"I have to know what's happening. We have a right."
"As does the rest of the planet. There will be a broadcast in
a matter of hours."
"Please, Garm. Maybe I can help." The acting President
looked at her entourage dubiously.
"These are the best seats in the house. Maybe I should be
charging admission." He squeezed her hand.
"Come look." He gestured to the radar of blue and red dots.
"General Rieekan?" The general grumbled impolitely.
"We're red, they're blue. The blue dots are disappearing
rapidly. Not much of a show, people."
"Why is everybody so glum?" asked Solo. "We're winning!"
"In a manner of speaking," Bel Iblis sighed. "Several hails
have been sent out urging the Imperial's to surrender and Admiral
Ackbar has given the m every opportunity to retreat. They keep
coming, and attacking, and it appears they will not stop until they
are gone." Leia stared at the vanishing blips in silence for a while,
"Why?" Han scratched the back of his neck, actually trying to
formulate an answer, when he caught a glimpse of something. He
pointed to the edge of the radar.
"What's this white dot that keeps fading in and out, a
mistake?" Rieekan stated,
"It's a ship that's not quite within our sensor range so
we can't ID it. She's been sitting there for half an hour, watching."
Organa Solo whispered distantly.
"Are you sure?" asked Garm. She nodded wordlessly. The
President turned to General Rieekan.
"Increase the field generator's output to full
power. See-Threepio, alert Admiral Ackbar that Skywalker has arrived
and he is to intercept immediately."
"Of course, sir." In that instant, Emperor Palpatine's
fortress felt as if it would tear at its seams. Cries of pain and
fear were deafened by an upheaval of rock. Glass and steel crashed
effortlessly on those gathered below. Han Solo scrambled out from
under a control center and staggered into Chewbacca, squinting hard
through the dust that choked the air. The droids emerged, then Bel
Iblis and Rieekan, bewildered. They coughed as the putrid atmosphere
of Coruscant flooded the chamber. Frightened tones reverberated
against what were left of the walls.
"The field generator is holding," noted Rieekan.
"Everything's going to be all right!" The Wookiee roared
plaintively, having found Leia crumpled nearby, her disability chair
half-buried in rubble. Han ran to her aid, heart frozen as he brushed
dust from her porcelain white face.
"Come on, Leia. Don't let him do this to you!" She responded
with movement and wrapped her arms about her husband's neck.
Chewbacca righted the disability chair and Han gingerly lifted her
into it. Rather than frightened or in pain, Leia seemed dazed. He
gripped her hands.
Her voice was light years away. "My brother comes."
* * *
The Jedi twins screamed as Luke's concentration shattered
completely and so too their Force-induced sleep. The Imperial Super
Star Destroyer Zephyr plunged into a Smuggler's Guild Dreadnaught and
the two exploded in a fiery union. Saysithi found his end. The
Teachings of the Sith were no more. The blood in Skywalker's veins
turned to ice.
"Leia," he whispered. The flagship Vigilance broke away from
the culminating battle and moved to intercept. Ackbar's voice
crackled a second time.
"Identify and state you intentions."
"Do it now, Luke!" Kayla pressed.
"Han, Leia, and the infant are on that planet. They live."
He opened his eyes and stared at the marble-sized globe. Admiral
Ackbar's ship hung suspended between the cargo ship and Coruscant,
poised to strike.
"Then they will die with the rest," hissed Storm. Her hand
raised slightly toward the Vigilance.
"You." Luke gripped her wrist until he heard the crackling of
bone. She gave a sharp cry and the invisible onslaught dropped
"Millennium Falcon, you must respond or we will open fire."
He leaned over to activate the comlink.
"Flagship Vigilance, this is Luke Skywalker. I intend to
"Acknowledged. Initiating tractor beam. Prepare to be
boarded." As the transmission ended, Kayla pulled her wrist away and
"So now you are the betrayer. You will die for this, Lord
Skywalker!" Luke physically dragged her from the pilot's chair and
slammed her into the back wall. The emerald eyes of his one time
apprentice and lover opened wide in fear as he rested his hand around
her neck. It was fragile, supple. He could crush it in an instant
and all would be done. The children cried for him. The unborn
stirred restlessly. Lord Skywalker leaned close to her ear and said
in a low whisper,
"You will do as I say."
* * *
Sergeant Paulus and his following waited on Landing Platform
Five for the traitor's arrival. Enough debris had been cleared away
for the Millennium Falcon and its escort of X-wing class fighters to
land. The landquake wa s creating more havoc than originally
estimated and Skywalker's timely appearance had Paulus' nerves
screaming. He was tired of encountering this trickster and couldn't
wait to get him locked away to rot. The Imperial fleet had been
defeated, in any case, and that was enough to stir up morale. The
fighter pilots disembarked, among them Lando Calrissian and Wedge
Antilles, of all people. Innocent until proven guilty, he supposed.
They waited with weapons raised until a dark robed figure strode down
the Falcon's landing ramp. Paulus approached quickly to meet him and
spoke just as quick, frisking the Jedi for weapons.
"Luke Skywalker, I am obliged to place you under arrest by
order of President Bel Iblis and the Senate of the New Republic." The
sergeant's hands groped at the black robe but caught hold of nothing
but fabric, layers and layers of fabric. Skywalker's face was
completely shadowed beneath the hood. Strangely molded phrases came
from those shadows. Hypnotic tones.
"You will find I am unarmed."
"You should find a lightsaber," announced Calrissian.
Skywalker did not move, or even shift his gaze, as Paulus continued
the search. Again, he flatly stated,
"You will find I am unarmed." Finally, the sergeant gave up.
"Place your hands behind your head." The Jedi complied and
Paulus clamped on a set of metal bindings. He spoke in Calrissian's
"We'll put him in detainment until trial." As they left,
Lando muttered to Antilles,
"Tell Han and Leia we've got him. I have a few questions for
"I'll have somebody give the Falcon a once over. Be careful."
Wedge clapped his shoulder and started him off.
Lando paused only briefly to speak with Paulus before entering
Skywalker's cell. The Jedi Knight sat motionless on the metal slab
that was his cot, enshrouded in black. The Baron Administrator
approached with caution, but he had to have answers.
"You're going to be locked away down here for a very long
time, Skywalker," he began. Luke interjected quietly.
"If the Force can destroy starships and even entire planets,
the turning of locks is a very simple matter." He raised his bound
wrists before him; the metal bindings released and fell into his lap.
"I came only to visit a few, dear, old friends." Lando
swallowed hard, already having misgivings for this confrontation. Yet
the Jedi had been his friend and ally, hadn't he? There were so many
"Luke, what the hell is the matter with you?" He caught a
glimpse of a small smile in the shadows.
"Luke," the Jedi echoed. "That name sounds so distant from me
now. Luke Skywalker. It's as if that identity...perishes." The Dark
Lord rose and the bindings clatter ed to the floor. Calrissian
stared, paralyzed, as the Jedi drew close. His voice became almost
"Perhaps Vader would be more appropriate, don't you think?"
Lando backpedaled for the door but Skywalker caught hold of his
"Luke," he choked, "you can't do this!"
"Observe, friend," growled Skywalker. He waited until Lando
fainted from lack of breath before releasing his i ron grip. The Dark
Lord slipped out of detainment and moved fluidly through the Emperor's
fortress, seen by no one.
The space pirate held his wife closely in his arms while she
held their son in hers. The tremor had frightened Anakin badly and he
was just now beginning to settle down. The tremor had frightened all
of them, but it could have been so much worse. At least Leia and the
boy were all right, and Winter received only superficial wounds. At
least the world hadn't come to an end. He squeezed Leia tight and
held murderous thoughts for her brother the Dark Lord. An enemy. The
familiar black-robed figure entered into the tiny apartment with a
suddenness that startled all of them. Leia took in a sharp breath.
Han rose from the bed and felt his blood begin a low simmer. It was
too bad the authorities had confiscated his blaster.
"I can't believe it," he sneered. "Look who decided to drop
in, honey." Unruffled, Skywalker lowered his cowl and his hands
folded calmly before him.
"I had to come," he said.
"What, planetary annihilation wasn't good enough for you? Had
to come and make things a little more personal? I'll show you
personal." Han's eye s shot daggers as he approached menacingly.
"What have you done with Jacen and Jaina, you bastard?"
"Don't do it, Han," warned Leia. Luke closed his eyes and
waited for the attack to come. Inevitably, a fist pummeled into the
left side of his jaw and sent him reeling into a wall. Han clutched
at the robe and slammed him viciously against it for good measure.
It wasn't nearly enough.
"I oughta kill you right now," he snarled. Leia shouted,
"Han, stop it!" Luke grinned only slightly. This destructive
energy might have been pleasing had it not been directed at him. If
Solo didn't give up the fight now, his old friend might soon lay on
the floor in a smoldering corpse. It seemed Han began to understand
this. After a long moment, he obeyed his wife and smoothed out the
"You're a lucky kid." Skywalker responded shortly,
"You know I don't believe in luck." Han scowled and wagged a
finger in Luke's face. He was about to say something more when Leia
"If he'd planned on killing us, he'd have done so by now. I
want a few moments with my brother in private." The smuggler glared
hard at Luke whose gaze remained unshifting and cold.
"I'll take Anakin."
"No. We'll be fine," Leia said, as if to convince herself
more than her husband.
"You're being a fool, Leia," he snapped. "Give me my son!"
"Han," she replied coolly, "I need him with me. It might
help." Discouraged, frustrated, enraged, Han Solo shook his head and
slapped Luke on the cheek.
"I'll be right outside, buddy. And a dozen guards will be
here in half a minute."
"Then I have half a minute," Luke commented wryly. After a
final stifling look, Han left brother and sister alone with his son.
Luke removed his robe and draped it across the foot of Leia's bed. He
touched his jaw tenderly, then seemed to decide that it was not worth
the attention. Leia stared as he sat close to her and Anakin Solo.
Her legs were useless and she knew he could simply pluck her son away
without a struggle. Yet he did not. Han was right outside and a
dozen guards would be there in half a minute. She fought down her
fear and held Anakin tightly. The infant nuzzled her chest.
"I see you're doing better," Luke commented on her injuries.
"I see you're doing worse," Leia commented on his frame of
"This must be my nephew," he grinned at the boy.
"I named him after our father."
"Welcome, Anakin." Luke touched the child's hand which curled
tightly a bout his index finger. There was strength in this little
"May I hold you?"
"No," Leia replied tersely. His look bore into her and he
rose to his feet. The apartment lay in a state of ruin. He strode to
the broken window and gazed across the horizon. The sun was setting
in a gigantic, red fireball. Kayla Storm and the twins waited and
probably without an ounce of patience. It was important to learn
patience in times like these. She would simply have to persevere.
He spoke softly, trying not to frighten his already frightened sister.
"I've come back for you, Leia, and for Anakin."
"We won't go," she replied through clenched teeth. "I don't
know what that woman has done to you, Luke, but we can change it. You
can turn away." The Dark Jedi grinned at her naivet and shook his
"Leia, Leia. You simply don't know the power of the Dark
Side." He paused, struck by Darth Vader's clich. The grin broadened
to a sick smile. He was indeed his father's son.
* * *
The already strained tolerance of Kayla Storm was reaching its
end. She and the children cramped together in one of the hidden cargo
holds beneath the starboard corridor. The air was stifling. Jaina
and Jacen clung to one another quietly, knowing even as toddlers that
there would be no room for dispute. Although she wasn't so cruel as
to kill children, no matter how annoying, idle threats did have their
place. The twins set aside screaming and wailing for terrified
silence, for if they uttered but a peep, very bad things might happen
to them. All her life, Kayla Storm had been told what to do, how to
act, what to be, how to live, by the male establishment. And here was
yet another man who deemed himself worthy of ruining her life. She
was supposed to be an Empress, damn it. This was no way to treat
royalty, trapped in the dark, playing nursemaid with twin Jedi
children. She loathed her own pregnancy, but accepted it as an
opportunity to facilitate Skywalker's alliance. Now he thought he
possessed her as she possessed him. Not so. She was Empress. Kayla
was about to venture out of hiding when voices and footsteps echoe d
through the Millennium Falcon. Jacen whimpered and Storm dug her
fingernails into his shoulderblade in silent warning. She reached for
the lightsaber at her hip and remained very still.
"Where is the pilot of this ship?" an officer barked.
"Luke Skywalker was taken into custody half an hour ago."
"Sergeant!" a comlink crackled.
"Go ahead," he replied.
"Sergeant Paulus is reporting that Luke Skywalker has escaped
detainment. Baron Calrissian was attacked." The officer sounded
"I want the fortress searched, he could be anywhere. Also,
comb the Falcon for thermal detonators. This could be a terrorist
ploy." The first underling replied,
"Yes, sir." and Kayla imagined an accompanying jaunty salute.
She waited for the footsteps to retreat. Only a handful were left to
search the cargo ship--four to be exact. Storm brought her feet
underneath her in a crouch and held the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker
in both hands. Her thumb rested lightly on the activation stud.
* * *
Leia studied her brother closely while Anakin began a
half-conscious fuss. Luke seemed absent, unable to keep his attention
focused for more than moments at a time. She heard muffled voices
outside the apartment. The guards had arrived but Han kept them at
bay until she called, or screamed.
"You don't know what it feels like to cause so much
destruction," Luke finally said as he stared at the wasteland of
Coruscant. "To be responsible for so much death." It was awful. And
awesome. He rested his left hand on the windowsill but cut it badly
on jagged glass. He didn't take notice.
"Luke." Leia winced at the blood and passed him a white
cloth. He accepted it and wrapped his hand, gaze distant and
unaware. "Why do you seem so lost?"
"Kayla Storm claims to be Empress but there are so many
possibilities," Luke muttered. Soon I will take that place, or you,
or the children when they're older. But imagine, the Empire will
truly be rebuilt and it will be fantastic."
"You're crazy," she whispered. Luke pretended to ignore that
but thought, True enough.
"I want you and the children to be with us."
"Because you need us to restore the Jedi Knighthood, or the
Order of the Sith. Why else would you risk your life in coming here?"
The Dark Lord gave her a twisted grin.
"I can destroy planets, sister. I assure you my life is not
in any danger."
"You think you're some kind of god, don't you?" Luke pursed
"An interesting suggestion. Kayla fancied posing as the rain
goddess Chala before the Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. I'm learning
more and more, dear sister, that few things are impossible through the
Force. Join me."
"I don't have any power, Luke. I only catch glimpses."
"The Dark Side of the Force can give you power."
"I don't want it." She shifted Anakin into her other arm. He
was gearing up for another tirade. She spoke in Luke's direction.
"You've been here for almost fifteen minutes now. It seems to
me there must be more to your little visit than sweeping us off with
you. Why the hesitation?" Luke looked at his wrapped hand. The once
bleached cloth was soaked and
"Why did you have to be here?" he breathed. "It could have
all worked out so perfectly if you had just not been here."
"We won't come."
"So you've said." The infant began to wail.
"Oh, Anakin..." groaned Leia. Skywalker left the shattered
window to sit near them, and stroked the baby's cheek with his
unharmed, artificial right hand. Anakin quieted almost immediately,
cooed, and gave his uncle a wide, toothless grin. Leia smiled through
her own tears.
"He sees the good in you, just as you saw the good in Darth
Vader." The Jedi blinked and stared at his boots. Droplets of blood
fell beside the left one. He felt the hate he clung to dwindle in the
company of his sister and her son. No longer did it feed his bloody
ambitions, but was replaced with despair. They loved him when he
deserved rancor. They were too good. He had become no better than
their father, even became worse for not even Vader had though to
pervert the Force as he had. So many had died at his unremorseful
hands. He had betrayed those he had once held so dear. This evil
could not be allowed to fester.
"I know what needs to be done." He gazed at them, mother and
child, his eyes glassy and dead.
"For your sake as well as you family's." Leia cried,
"Luke, I forgive you of everything! Just please come back to
us!" The Jedi's eyes became wet and he closed them, whispering,
"Thank you for the forgiveness, but it's too late."
"No, it's not. Luke, tell me what you're going to do." His
blue eyes opened but averted shamefully.
"I was a fool to call myself Jedi Master. I wasn't ready. I
was pushed..." Yes, pushed. Coerced by his father who had abandoned
them so callously. Who is to say the elder Skywalker wouldn't relish
yet an other betrayal, even in death? Luke shook his head
imperceptibly and muttered,
"It was my own fault, my own shortcomings."
"Luke." She gripped his hand to bring him back to the
present. "Answer my question." His brow furrowed. Question? What?
His mind felt clouded and muddled. It was difficult not to lose
concentration. Many voices across the planet's surface cried out
despairingly, accusingly. The pain and terror of others deafened his
own thoughts. It was his own fault. To become a Lord of the Sith had
changed him not into a god but a demon. But there was another. The
fog cleared and Luke gazed upon his sister and nephew with a new,
"I have to kill her. Then the lightsaber will turn on
myself." Leia gripped Anakin close to her chest, for a moment afraid
he might rip the infant from her grasp. Again, he did not, but rose
slowly to his feet. She hissed,
"Luke, you've lost your mind. You can't..." He laughed
sharply, but only once.
"I've lost my soul. There's nothing left." Leia shook her
head wordlessly, struck with grief. Her brother kissed her forehead
and, not forgetting the guards that waited to seize him, slipped out
through the broken glass.
* * *
Landing Platform Five was a tucked away place and traffic was
nonexistent. There were no witnesses to hear the screams of four
guards as they were heinously slain. No one to watch as Kayla Storm
mechanically dragged the bodies from the Millennium Falcon and laid
them all in a row. Steam rose from the corpses only slightly and the
woman grimaced at her own sanguinary work. Luke would not be pleased
but it was time to go now. Time to finish what had begun. She saw no
need to come to this place, only a need to destroy it and the
government it housed. She would do it as they left, since the great
Lord Skywalker seemed wholly unable. If more Force-sensitives could
be joined to their ranks, so much the better. If not, it was time to
leave. Search teams were organizing somewhere within the Emperor's
grand palace. Another few minutes, perhaps. She crouched behind the
hatchway ramp as an air lock hissed open. Luke emerged, half-jogging,
his left hand wrapped in a blood-stained rag. He stopped cold when he
saw the murdered guards. Something had changed in him, Kayla decided.
There was still darkness, but in turmoil. There was a wish for his
own death. Luke Skywalker had fallen from the pure faith.
Cautiously, she stepped out of hiding. Her Jedi Master nodded in the
direction of the soldiers.
"I take it you had visitors."
"Yes." She grinned as he approached. "They searched the ship
and found me." Wanly, Luke caressed her shoulders.
"I don't blame them." He kissed her. His eyes lifted to
catch a glimpse of the escaping twins. Very good. They would be
found soon enough.
"I'm glad we could continue this," she told him, too wrapped
up in her own lust to notice anything else. "Your sister..."
"There's something more important we need to discuss." He
gripped her hand with his right, the hand Darth Vader had severed on
Bespin. She could not move her gaze from this unscathed, artificial
"Come, let me show you something."
"They're searching for you, Luke." Her emerald eyes flitted
warily. "My Lord Skywalker, don't you dare turn against me. After all
we've shared? " Her hand raised to strike him but he caught her
"I said come, beloved." Kayla Storm did not trust him, but
escape now seemed improbable. Her escort tucked her hand across his
arm and led her into the fortress.
The Emperor's throne room was dank and cold. It was part of
the fortress that had been sealed off indefinitely. Even to those not
sensitive to the Force, this place contained evil. Lighting had long
been cut off and the only illumination streamed through three
perpendicular windows surrounding the Emperor's throne. Kayla stared
at it from the base of a grated stairway. At her side, Lord Skywalker
"Emperor Palpatine still reigns here," she breathed. "I feel
his presence." Luke kept silent. Traces of the Emperor's life-force
still lingered even years after his death, enjoying old stomping
grounds. They were traces only, scents picked up by a hound. Again
he was tacken back by this revelation as years before, he had been
asked specifically to seek out any remnants of evil in this place. At
that time, in his naivet, he had found none. The Dark Side had
opened his mind in ways he could not fathom. He watched her slowly
ascend the flight of stairs but remained at its base.
"Palpatine has no power here," he finally assured her.
"Perhaps he doesn't," Kayla replied and took the throne. "But
"How does it suit you, Empress?" It was the first time Luke
had addressed her as such. So he had given up his foolish pride in
order to serve her. Kayla smiled, delighted.
"I'm sorry," he muttered. The Empress looked down at him.
"Why?" With resolution, Luke began to ascend, step by step,
to the dais. He felt a sensation of rising from a deep ocean,
struggling to reach above the murk.
"I bring you here to give you an ultimatum," he said. "I will
not allow you to destroy the New Republic. I will not allow you to
take your place as Empress. I will not allow you to raise our
daughter as your heiress. You must turn away from the Dark Side." He
knelt and took both of her frigid hands. "Or I'll be forced to take
your life and then my own." Kayla Storm raised her left eyebrow but
the rest of her expression remained fixed.
"I don't believe you're bluffing."
"I'm deadly serious," he responded. "And I know...it is not
Light." She sighed his earlier teaching.
"There is Dark, there is Light, and mostly there is gray."
Storm removed the bloody rag from his hand and examined the cut.
There was a gentle ripple in the Force as she traced the gash with her
finger. With her touch, the wound healed but remained scarred. It
was the second time she had come to his aid in such a manner. Luke
stared at his hand and tried to carefully mask his amazement.
"You see that the Force can be used for purposes other than
destruction, " he remarked.
"I see the Force as a tool to be used any way I wish," she
"Yet to you, I am purely evil." Luke shook his head. "Just
incorrigible, opportunistic, a bit sick. I was worse."
"Why then, the ultimatum? You should kill me outright and get
it over with." Skywalker was silent. He looked past her and through
one of the giant windows. A fire raged uncontrollably several
kilometers off. His doing. Streams of water attacked it from all
directions but seemed to do no good. There were mixed feelings where
Kayla Storm was concerned, all twisted and jumbled in their
complexity. It was no wonder that she'd toyed with him from the start
with her cute maneuverings, her wicked seduction. The conception of
their daughter was the perfect lure. It was just no good. He gazed
upon the object of his inner turmoil and was unable to answe r.
"Palpatine was right," she decided softly. "I was to learn
all I could before murdering you in your sleep. Upon this, all
depends, he said. But I wanted you as my henchman."
"I will not be possessed," Luke said, almost to himself.
Indeed, he had been consumed. The time was getting close. His heart
began to thud wildly in his chest.
"Then he was right." They both rose and she continued.
"I wish it could be otherwise."
"Turn away from this," he implored. "Let go of your hate."
Kayla smiled and touched his lips with one finger.
"I don't hate you, Luke. To be Empress is my birthright and
not even you will block my path." Luke saw this to be true as her
lightsaber ignited and hummed close, casting eerie blue shadows across
* * *
The acting President was not a happy man. He paced the ruined
office with great agitation and the duped Sergeant Paulus felt small
and idiotic beneath the painful stare. He cowered a bit lower in his
seat as Bel Iblis paused to give him another stinging rebuke for the
umpteenth time. Half a dozen mechanized office clerks buzzed through
the room, trying to get at least the physical chaos under control.
Paulus allowed himself to breathe a bit more deeply as Organa Solo and
her husband were escorted into the office under guard. The chief of
state would now shift gears.
"What is the meaning of this?" Organa Solo demanded. "We've
done nothing wrong." Bel Iblis scowled and slowly said,
"You were visited by your brother and allowed him to escape."
"Allowed?" Leia returned the hard look and gestured to her
useless legs. "I couldn't very well prevent him, could I?"
"He'd already left when I arrived with security," Solo lied.
He glanced at his wife uneasily. It was only half a lie. Luke had
departed when he entered the apartment, but they had been waiting
outside for at least five minutes before that. The guards had
received copious payments to keep their mouths shut about the entire
matter, to which they parsimoniously agreed. Leia had wanted to speak
with her brother privately and he at least had to give her that. Luke
had left her physically unharmed but something he must have said shook
Leia to her very core. She'd cried in his arms for a long time before
the guards were ordered to bring them here, refusing to tell him
anything, as usual. Han Solo was anxious for a little retribution.
"Four soldiers were found slain by lightsaber near the
Millennium Falcon. Calrissian was found unconscious in Skywalker's
cell, nearly strangled," Bel Iblis growled. "It was not wise for you
to be alone with him, Leia." She leaned forward in the disability
chair and gripped the armrests.
"Is Lando all right?"
"Yeah," came a husky reply. Han turned and Leia strained her
neck to see Lando Calrissian, escorted by Mara Jade and two young
toddlers. Jaina and Jacen squealed in delight and threw themselves
at their parents to be covered with grateful kisses.
"They found me coming out of the infirmary," Lando rasped and
massaged his tender throat. "I don't understand everything the kids
tried to tell me, but it sounds like they had quite an adventure."
"Where Anakin?" Jaina demanded. "Where Winter?"
"I left Anakin with the droids for a few minutes so we could
meet with Garm," Leia soothed. "Winter got hurt during the quake but
she's being cared for. It's going to be fine."
"I'd hate to disagree with you," said Bel Iblis. He looked
down at the frail woman and wondered how much more she could take.
She looked small, like her children, seemingly dying from some
terminal illness that ate away at her spirit. Although frustrated, he
tried to soften his tone. "The search teams have been unable to find
Skywalker or his companion." Something within Han Solo seemed on the
verge of explosion. He lowered Jacen to the ground.
"I wanna look for him."
"I can find him," said Mara. "I have some sensitivity to the
Force. It could be used as a kind of remote detection." Han nodded
at this and stepped closer to the acting President.
"Give me a search team and I'll guarantee Skywalker will be
"Captain...Mister Solo, you are a civilian," began Paulus. "I
"That's right, Paulus, you don't," stung Bel Iblis.
"Give Solo and Mara Jade anything they want. Skywalker must
be found before there is any more carnage." The sergeant jumped to
his feet and started to follow Calrissian, Solo, and Jade toward the
"Han," Garm added quietly, looking at the princess of Alderaan
and the children who crowded her unfeeling lap. The smuggler paused
in his exit. "If Skywalker is killed he cannot be held accountable
for his actions. I want him alive." Han scowled.
"We'll see." Leia buried her face in Jaina's pale brown hair
and wept silently.
* * *
They circled as the weapons crossed in a cascade of sparks.
"You know I'd rather die than give up my destiny," said Kayla
through the beams of perpendicular light. "You'll have to kill me
and your daughter. Are you prepared to live with that, my lord?"
"No. I am not." The green lightsaber whirled and thrust at
the chest of his novice. She blocked the attacks with some effort,
backpedaling from Luke's suicidal intensity. He kept her off-balance
and she was never given a respite as was so often required during her
training sessions. The practice was over and she was never given a
chance to consciously call upon the dark power of the Force. That
power would somehow have to come from within. The lightsabers locked
for a moment, then there was a flurry of light and her weapon
clattered uselessly down the stairs. Kayla took one more backwards
step before feeling the cool, transparasteel window against her back
Palpatine, help me.
"No one can help you now," Luke snapped, cruelly mimicking her
own words . His gaze became piercing. "You're trapped. Turn away or
I'll kill us both. I will kill us."
"You were always such a romantic, Luke." Abruptly, Kayla
Storm somersaulted over Luke's head. He swung his laser blade at her
but missed. The Empress laded agiley at the foot of the stair way and
caught the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker with an outstretched hand.
To step away from the darkness was impossible but it could not be
alowed to exist. He would not allow a new Empress or, in himself,
Emperor. The threats would not stand idle. With an ever so slight
gesture from his own hand, the one that had been lost, Luke reached
forth and found Kayla's throat.
"NO!" was her choked scream. She heaved for breath but air
was ripped from her lungs. Her windpipe constricted painfully as she
clawed at the invisible vice. The bones in her neck cracked. Her
temples pounded as blood vessels screamed for oxygen. The Empress
fell to her knees and doubled over on the floor as the room faded into
blackness. Another moment an she would die. A few more seconds, Luke
decided grotesquely. It couldn't have been more simple. Yet there
was one more task to be accomplished.
"Luke," the voice of Anakin Skywalker echoed hauntingly
throughout the throne chamber. "You have stolen your father's
hallmark. You have taken your father's place." Skywalker released
the death drip and whirled toward the tall windows. Kayla slumped
* * *
The prissy talkdroid was distressed beyond repair. The
apartment of his mistress was horribly ruined, the human infant wailed
incessantly for his mother, his glimmering gold paint was irrevocably
tarnished with some kind of disgusting excrement, and all the
astromech droid could do was sit and twitter humorously.
"I don't see what humor you're finding in any of this," he
flustered. Artoo whistled sharply as Threepio lowered himself into a
chair to rest his servo-drivers. Anakin Solo seemed to prefer this to
the constant pacing and quieted a little.
"No, of course I'm not going to sit on the baby. It's a
colloquialism," snapped See-Threepio. Princess Leia and her assistant
entered into the apartment with Jaina and Jacen in tow. Winter's arm
was propped by a sling and she had received superficial scrapes to
"Artoo, Threepio, thank you for picking up the glass and
looking after Anakin for me."
"Not at all, your highness." See-Threepio stood as Winter
relieved him of sitting on the baby and continued, "Although I must
say these kinds of activities do not coincide at all with my
programming. It was a most...humbling experience." He meant
humiliating, but something else in his programming would not allow him
to be so rude. Artoo twittered the correction for him. "Hush now!"
"Are you sure you can handle this for awhile, Winter?" The
nursemaid quietly nodded. Leia turned her gaze to face the droids.
"I need you two to come with me. I have to save Luke from
himself and Han from doing something he might never forgive himself
"Oh dear," fretted the talkdroid. "Quite right. Come
along. Artoo, we need to rescue Master Luke again."
"Mommy, let me help," said Jaina. "I wanna help Luke."
"No. Your uncle's...sick. I don't..." The princess of
Alderaan hesitated, disliking the half-truth. "I don't want you to
catch what he has. Promise me you'll stay here." The little girl
pouted, but nodded compliance. Leia leaned over in her disability
chair and kissed her twin toddlers. She glanced at Winter. "I'm not
sure when I'll be back, or if I will. I want you to take the
children if I don't return."
"I understand," the servant nodded again, frowning. Leia
paused and gently said,
"I know you love them. I won't come between that."
"Take care, Leia." Winter gazed after them as they left and
crouched to gather the twins in her arms.
* * *
Luke's expression became ashen as he stared at the two
apparitions that stood reflected in the glass. One was the calm,
serene figure of Anakin Skywalker, at peace with the Force. The
other, Darth Vader, stood enshrouded in tumultuous darkness. Somehow
they were the same man, yet more dissimilar than any two could hope to
be. The young Dark Lord stared speechlessly upon both good and evil.
"My son," Vader began, "you are everything I'd ever hoped.
One more strike and Kayla Storm dies. Then you can consume her power
and take your place as Emperor. All along I knew this to be your
destiny. All along I'd seen this, hoped for this, for my son. It
"No," Luke breathed. This was the straw that would break his
already tortured mind. "I don't intend to survive the next hour."
"My son." It was Anakin's turn to speak. "I warned you of
the dangers and yet you did no take heed. Kayla Storm was to be
converted, not destroyed." The Jedi rasped,
"You asked the impossible!" The elder Skywalker spoke
prophetically, "Nothing is impossible..."
"...save that which I believe to be impossible," Luke finished
angrily. "Yes. That's just fine!"
"Take arms against her now," coaxed Vader, "and finish the
work." Luke gazed pleadingly at Anakin Skywalker.
"What are you doing here? Both of you?"
"We've come to help," they said in unison. It was comical,
and infuriating. Luke raised his hands to his head and nearly
"Father, you give me nothing but grief!"
"I can assure you that was not my intention," said Vader.
"You yourself noted that your own identity was being consumed
by the Dark Side and the teachings you uncovered on Anoth, hence your
murderous and s uicidal intentions," Anakin sighed. "I will not allow
you to go on like this."
"Less a Dark Lord and more a raving maniac," his alter ego
rumbled. "Control never was a strong point in you, young Skywalker."
Such a cartoonish running commentary on his state of mind! This had
to be some cruel trick of the imagination. Luke laughed out loud at
the irony. The laughter was not normal, but diseased at his very
soul. It came like bile burning its way up from the pit of his
stomach. It would not cease until he looked down upon the crumpled
woman below and the ill humor died hollowly.
"My father comes in two persons to decide my fate," he
muttered under his breath, incredulous. "One says to kill Kayla
Storm; the other, to redeem her. Anakin." He turned toward the good
one. "How can we possibly be redeemed? I don't have any clue."
"How ludicrous," Vader rasped. "Kill her now."
"My son redeemed me by love." Luke's true father smiled
gently. Young Skywalker looked upon the enigmatic figure of Darth
Vader and wondered at how alike they had become. The Teachings of the
Sith had been destroyed in battle, but the knowledge of such evil
would always be with him, though silent, and for as long as he chose
to live. His prosthetic hand clenched into a fist. Vader.
"Are you saying this is all a twisted fairytale? If I only
kiss her lips, the sleeping beauty will awake to be my happy bride?"
He fought down an other maniacal laugh. "Father, kissing those lips
has landed me exactly in the position I am now.
You are a fool!" Vader's nod was imperceptible. Anakin let
the remarks pass with infinite patience. He explained with saintly
"It is true your reckless affair has nearly destroyed you. It
is true that all of your mistakes in judgment as of late are due to
her influence, even from the very beginning. It is true that she has
started you down a path of self-annihilation and your knowledge of the
Sith may very well complete that path."
"The New Republic was corrupt..." Luke began to argue.
"Had Kayla Storm not entered your life, you would not have
been so quick to leave it," Vader told him. "'A vehicle towards your
own enlightenment.' She served her purpose in that, at least."
"Her purpose?" The troubled son fought his anger. "Are you
saying you somehow arranged this?"
"All spirits and all living things make up what you know as
the Force. If you believe that your destiny is predetermined, then
yes, we had a hand in it," said Anakin.
"I do not believe this." The Jedi gave in to his exasperation
and began to pace the floor. "Father, how could you do this to me?"
"It is a lesson you will not soon forget," purred Vader.
"I've learned nothing," Luke realized. "This whole thing was
due to my failure. What can I learn from failure? I want to speak
with Ben. Where is Ben?"
"It is Kenobi's wish that you deal directly with your father,"
"Calm yourself, Luke," cooed Anakin. Luke stopped his pace
and gave his good father a sullen look.
"Blast you. If you'll just give me a moment, I'll finish what
I've started and we'll continue this debate in the afterlife." He
began a slow descent to Kayla Storm, lightsaber ignited. Anakin
Skywalker lifted his hands to him.
"Luke," he beseeched, "think back to a more innocent age."
Luke paused and half-turned to look at them both. He could almost see
the twisted, sardonic grin masked by Darth Vader's black helmet. The
elder Lord of the Sith growled,
"I am so deeply moved. How absurd." This time, the Jedi
decided to ignore him and closed his eyes. Remember.
It was hot, as usual. The blowing sand was choking, but the
children could have cared less. Beru Lars looked upon her ward and
the neighbor girl kindly as they played just outside the homestead,
mentioned they would be eating in a few minutes, and turned back to
the task of preparing a spicy bean stew. They didn't hear over the
blustering wind. Young Luke leaped out from behind a corner, yanked
hard on the girl's long braid, and bolted for the maintenance shed.
Kayla squealed furiously and, toting a toy laser rifle, stalked
carefully after him. The boy crouched lower behind Uncle Owen's new
landspeeder, his smaller, not nearly as fancy, toy blaster gripped in
both hands. Kayla was spoiled. It wasn't fair Maxamillian always
bought her the neatest stuff. Being eight was sort of difficult when
the only other person to play with was some ugly girl.
"Gotcha!" She jumped down from the landspeeder and fired the
war toy in Luke's face with a synthesized Phhheeeew!
"That's not fair!" The boy complained. "I wasn't ready!"
"That's the point, stupid," she quipped. "You're not supposed
to be ready. Now you gotta kiss me." Luke made a face and stood up.
"Let's play again. I know I'll beat you this time."
"No way. Pucker up, Skywalker." The boy yanked her braid a
second time, ducked under the landspeeder and ran for his life.
"Skywalker, you dummy!" Kayla screamed after him. Young Luke
risked a backward glance to see if she had given chase and plowed
right into something hard, and noticeably shaggy. He fell backwards
into the sand and squinted up at the obstacle. A Bantha. Actually,
five of them. All mounted by sandpeople with their tattered leather
and masks of bone. He screamed for his uncle who came running with a
laser rifle that was definitely no toy.
"You leave him alone," he growled to the gathering. "Luke,
get inside with Kayla. Move!" The boy scrambled to his feet and ran
for the homestead, followed by his friend. They dashed inside and
jabbered hysterically at Beru. Her normally complacent expression
furrowed and she set aside the meal to watch her husband argue with
"Owen, I hope you don't do anything foolish," she muttered.
"Aren't sandpeople supposed to like..eat people?" Luke
panted. Beru smiled.
"No, Luke. Normally, they keep to themselves. I wonder.. ."
The argument apparently came to some sort of resolution and Owen Lars
threw up his hands in exasperation. He waved to his wife and the
children to come out. Luke and Kayla hung back behind his aunt,
horrified by the ugly bone masks.
"Owen?" The moisture farmer shrugged.
"The shaman wants to perform some kind of rain dance here. I
dunno what he's talking about. Sounds like a lot of hooey to me, but
we could use the moisture." Beru nodded.
"All right. Should I bring them something to eat?" Luke
rolled his eyes. Good old Beru, always being overly hospitable. And
he thought there was going to be some excitement. Imagine if they had
killed off his aunt and uncle and took him and Kayla into their tribe.
What if they had Owen for supper instead of that gross bean stew?
Kayla folded her arms across her chest.
"This is lame." The shaman of the tribe jumped down from his
mount in one graceful movement and began to wag a curious looking
staff over the sand. His companions began to hum ominously and Luke
felt a shiver run up his spine. The shaman traced a humanoid figure
in the sand and, as the intensity of the humming increased, quite
suddenly impaled it with his staff. Kayla startled violently at
Luke's side. He looked to his uncle to see that Owen Lars was staring
dumbfounded at the sky. Clouds had formed. The shaman whirled and
danced around the speared outline in a frenzy, whispering the same
name again and again. Chala. He stared through the hideous mask at
the human children and beckoned them to join in the ritual.
"C'mon," Kayla pressed. Luke shook his head and shrunk back
next to his aunt. "Come on, Luke!" She tugged at his loose tunic but
he shrugged away. " Boy, you really are stupid."
"Kayla, I don't think..." Beru said but trailed off as the
girl bounced into the dancing. "Well, it probably won't do any harm."
Owen just kept staring at the sky. The clouds rumbled.
"I'd better get the harvester ready..." In a climactic rush
of fanatic emotion, the shaman scooped up a handful of sand and heaved
it skyward. The heavens opened wide and it began to rain. Owen
whooped. Beru laughed and Kayla squealed in delight. The boy just
gawked as his friend tossed fists of sand into the air. But the
shower was brief and soon the clouds dissipated, revealing again the
hot suns of Tatooine. Owen looked down at the evaporating puddles
around his boots.
"Damn," he grumbled. Young Skywalker approached cautiously as
the shaman crouched before Kayla Storm.
"Chala dorri nach mouda," he rumbled lowly and stroked her
cheek with the weird staff.
"Chala con dih bourra nouch."
"What did he say?" Kayla asked Owen excitedly. Luke's
guardian scratched his chin.
"I'm not sure. I think it's some kind of blessing from their
rain goddess. Imagine that." His expression turned sour and he waved
his rifle. "This didn't do me a damn bit of good! Now get off my
land!" With a disgruntled wave of his staff, the shaman climbed
aboard the Bantha and goaded his steed into motion. Owen and Beru
Lars watched until they were a safe distance away.
"Come inside, Luke," said Owen. "Kayla, you need to head
home." His guardians left them. Luke watched his friend carefully.
"That was weird." Kayla grinned from ear to ear. "They did
that for us, Luke. For us." He pulled her braid and Kayla stole a
childish kiss. The boy flushed in crimson rage and she ran. Perhaps
the event was somewhat insignificant, unimportant to anyone but
himself, but the mystical dance filled his memory with the hope of
warmth in a normally callous people. The man grown gazed upon Anakin
Skywalker with a nagging ache in his chest. The sense of being that
young boy, of being Luke Skywalker, returned with intensity. He
learned he was fallible. He felt Jaina was nearby and looked for her.
It was only his imagination. But perhaps the girl was trying to reach
out to his spirit. Luke closed his eyes and silently told her he
would be all right. His mind shifted from a sensitivity to evil to a
sensitivity to that which brought life.
"What would you have me do?" he managed to ask.
"Go to her," the elder responded, "and you will know what must
"Destroy her," Vader rumbled impatiently. "Your friends will
come to kill you regardless." Luke lifted his chin and cast the Dark
Lord a triumphant look. "You lost a long time ago, Vader. Leave me."
"Of you, my son, I will always be a part." The Jedi stared at
the apparition, then to Kayla Storm. Then that part would have to be
vanquished. His father was right in that Han was on his way with
revenge on his mind. He would have to work quickly. The specters
disappeared as Luke jogged down the grated stairway. Kayla groaned,
then coughed, as Luke gingerly turned her onto her back. Her neck was
bruised from the attack, Luke realized and felt his heart plummet.
There were many things he wished he could change, but could not. He
helped Kayla sit and she gaped at his tears.
"I'm sorry," he spoke in a husky whisper and held her. It
seemed the wind was knocked from Kayla's lungs once more. She pulled
away and looked at him.
"I don't understand..."
"The Dark Side of the Force is gone from us." Luke's voice
was lucid and held a tone of finality. "We are no longer lost."
"I don't understand," she repeated, and shook her head in pain
and confusion. "I had a dream about the sandpeople, and our
daughter..." Luke kissed her gently and hesitated, as if grasping
onto a final resolve.
"We can have this family." Kayla eyed him warily and rose to
her feet. Luke Skywalker had nearly murdered her and now came a
proposition? The future she had been intent on completing seemed
insignificant and her thoughts scattered like autumn leaves as she
tried to sort the events in her mind. The unborn was conceived in
evil through her dark manipulation. Luke reached out to touch her
cheek but retreated as Kayla flinched away.
"I can't stay here." She stepped away a few paces, needing
distance, time that was not allowed. It was suffocating. It was
impossible. Luke gave her the space, knowing he would not be able to
"What will you do?" Kayla shook her head absently.
"I don't know." The Jedi turned only slightly to listen.
They were coming. Close now.
"Kayla, I want you to promise me something. I want you to set
aside the Force and never use it again. You are strongly inclined
toward the Dark Side and in the end, it may destroy you." She looked
at him brazenly.
"I can't make promises, Skywalker. Not at this point." He
approached and rested his hands on her shoulders, speaking in a quiet
"I'm sorry I failed you." Her emerald eyes smoldered but
Kayla would not respond with apologies.
"Good-bye, Luke." As she moved to leave, Luke's grip on her
shoulders tightened and he channeled all of his desperate emotion into
one final, passionate kiss. It was an impulsive act completely
unbecoming of a Jedi Knight, but truly, he did love her, even when she
did not. And he loved her despite all the pain.
"Please stay," he whispered. Stunned, Kayla just stared at him.
* * *
They were gathered together. Han Solo looked back at the
dozen soldiers, then to the Wookiee Chewbacca, Mara Jade, and Lando
Calrissian who stood on either side of him. Whether or not they were
all believers in the Force mattered not a whit. The son of Vader was
in that throne chamber making plans to resurrect the Empire. Friend
or no, Skywalker had to be stopped before he caused any more damage to
Coruscant, to the New Republic, to his children, and to Leia. Mara
had promised to be, in a sense, their radar. And to use the Force to
whatever advantage her limited abilities could offer, so long as Lord
Skywalker was brought down.
"Remember what I told you," Han reiterated. "Don't take any
chances. Skywalker could kill us all just like that." That was
enunciated with a fingersnap. He and a few others turned in surprise
as Artoo and Threepio rounded a corner.
"Might we be of some assistance, Captain Solo?" inquired the
prissy talkdroid. Han shot Chewbacca a skeptical glance.
"Great." He scowled as the droids were followed by his
"You always said short help was better than none at all," Leia
"Not you!" He barked and turned on See-Threepio. "What the
hell are you thinking, bringing her here?"
"I-I-I...." the droid stuttered in response. Solo pointed to
the princess in the disability chair.
"Yes, See-Threepio, there is some way you can be of
assistance. Get her out of here!"
"Right away, Captain Solo."
"Wait," she commanded and glared at her husband the smuggler.
"See-Threepio is my protocol droid, just as Winter is my assistant.
You have no right to order them around." Han gritted his teeth.
"Leia, get out of here." Leia folded her arms.
"You need my help." The smuggler laughed bitterly.
"You need me to make sure you don't kill my brother."
"Princess, our weapons are set for stun..." offered Paulus.
"Stay out of this!" snapped Han. He crouched down to his
"Sweetheart, I almost lost you once..."
"It's not going to happen again," Leia assured him. "Please,
Han. I know I can talk him out of whatever it is he's going to do."
Solo frowned sullenly, quiet.
"Han." Calrissian was messing with the door's control panel.
"I need Artoo to crack this security code. I've never seen anything
"I won't allow you to use him unless you let me help," she
"Not like we really have a choice, Solo," muttered Jade. Han
rose to his feet and growled, "You drive a hard bargain, your
holiness. Hook on up, Artoo." Leia nodded and the squat droid
whistled his compliance. He trundled close to the door and stretched
out an appendage meant for plugging into comp uter outlets.
Immediately he screamed as torrents of electricity cascaded over his
"Not again!" See-Threepio exclaimed. "Oh, Artoo! Pull
free!" The R2 unit shrieked hysterically until his servomotors
finally complied by jettisoning him across the hall. The poor
mechanical emitted a plaintive whimper before toppling over in a cloud
of smoke. Mara brushed a long lock of auburn hair from her eyes.
"They just don't make R2's like they used to."
"Oh dear," sighed Threepio.
"It is a computer outlet." Lando double-checked and frowned
at Solo. "Unless it's an added safeguard."
"Go figure." Han scratched his head. "All right. We're
gonna have to blast through this thing." They stepped aside and Solo
couldn't shake the feeling of escorting his wife into a deathtrap.
* * *
Kayla gazed into his cool, love-torn blue eyes and found the
words to speak.
"I look at you and I can't forget what I've done." Luke shook
"We've both done horrible things. It doesn't matter anymore,
Kayla. All that matters is that we've turned away." She touched the
tear on his cheek and felt her own wet her face.
"I have to go." Lasers seared through the ancient metal and
the doors burst open with a resounding crash. Kayla Storm startled
violently but Luke would not release his hold.
"Now it's too late," she gasped. "Now, you've killed me."
"Be calm," he whispered sternly. "These are my friends. If
we could only explain..."
"How do you explain the unexplainable!" She cried and ripped
free of his embrace.
"Be at peace," he told her. "Don't do anything to provoke
them." And yet, the former Imperial Commander brimmed with nervous
energy. Skywalker took a deep breath and turned slowly through the
acridic smoke to face the friends that had come to kill them. Mara
Jade placed her hands on her hips and snipped,
"Well, Mister Jedi, looks like this Imperial dame really has
you by the..."
"Luke..." He saw Leia and closed his eyes to reach out with a
message of peace. She started forward but Chewbacca promptly ripped
out the power supply and pushed her disability chair out of the way.
"You've got five seconds to surrender, kid!" Solo barked, but
the heavy blaster in his hand shook. Luke set aside the intensity of
Kayla Storm and studied the group objectively. Not so different from
his companion. Anger and fear were barely controlled in all of them
save Leia. Anger at him. Fear of the Force.
"I'm sure we can settle this peacefully," Luke began. Jade
"Shut up and surrender!" Han shouted. The Wookiee hefted his
bowcaster. The Jedi opened his mouth to comply but caught a glimpse
of movement on the edge of his field of vision. He whirled toward
"Don't!" "Han!" Leia screamed. The lightsaber of Anakin
Skywalker took flight for Storm's outstretched hand in a rush of air.
Immediately, Solo's blaster fired twice in reflex. Kayla shrieked as
the lasers met a deadly mark and Luke caught her in his arms as she
fell. He lowered her gently to the ground and cradled her head in
his hands. She gripped his tunic and said with agonizing pain,
"I named her, Luke. I named her Chala." Luke nodded and
stroked her dark hair, looking upon her in pained silence. The
goddess' namesake would never see the light of day. In this moment of
shock, the guard kept their distance. She finally spoke again,
"I am sorry."
"I forgive because I love you," he whispered. Luke cupped her
cheek with his left hand, the hand she had healed with such ease. He
wished he could do the same. Maybe there was time. Maybe he could
alter destiny. "Kayla, it will be all right." An almost wistful
smile passed her lips.
"Yes," she breathed. "There is no death; there is the Force."
Her emerald eyes closed before she was swept into the tide. There is
no death; there is the Force, Luke repeated to himself. The body did
not vanish as Obi-wan and Master Yoda's had, but then, they had been
prepared for death. Or perhaps Kayla's turn from the Dark Side was
incomplete. He touched her lower abdomen where his tiny daughter
rested. Good-bye, Chala. The fetus stirred, her heartbeat pounding
frantically from a lack of oxygen. Luke's stomach clenched and he
pulled his hand away, refusing to witness both deaths. Numbing grief
washed over him and he barely felt his wrists clamped into bonds
behind his back, barely heard the stinging remark Calrissian had for
Solo. Something about weapons being set for stun. Han shouted that
it was set for stun. It must have malfunctioned and it wasn't his
fault, of course. The Wookiee howled. Mara scoffed. Leia was
silently horrified. So that was it. Luke Skywalker was jerked to his
feet and faced his long-time pirate friend with grim resolution. The
Dark Side was gone from him and so was Kayla Storm, and his child.
Han would never realize the depth of this part he was destined to
play. Perhaps that was for the better. Lando tried to restrain him
as he approached the Jedi.
"Easy, Han. It' s over now." Han shoved a finger at Luke's
"You have a lot of explaining to do, you low-down, dirty,
"Yes," Luke interrupted quietly. "I will be held accountable.
Kayla Storm will not." Their eyes met and the frown that creased Han
Solo's countenance became more deeply etched. Luke ignored the
comforting presence of his sister as she moved the chair closer and
touched his elbow tentatively. He tilted his head and felt it happen.
Chala, the innocent, his unborn daughter, dissipated into the binding
energy that was like the air around them. He breathed that air so
intrinsic to life and was taken away without struggle.
The biosphere was constructed as part of Luke Skywalker's
restitution for his crimes against the New Republic and the planet of
Coruscant. It housed merely one eighth of the population while the
rest suffered through the harsh environment without. The fortress of
Emperor Palpatine had been demolished to rid them of the terrible
haunts that resided there and in the imagination. Now stood
tremendous, white buildings with large open windows, and courtyards
with gardens to give the filtered air a sweet scent. Leia Organa
Solo leaned heavily on her cane and looked at Chewbacca, her husband,
the twins, and her two-year old son perched atop Han's shoulders.
"Yeah." Han nodded shortly. "Yeah, it's been too long."
Leia looked into the courtyard where her brother sat. A faint image
stood before him and the two seemed to be engaged in deep
conversation. She smiled a bit. It was about time Ben Kenobi showed
up. Just like Security, never around when you really needed him.
"What is it?" Han asked, unable to see the ghost.
"Just wait here a minute," she told him, and began a slow
amble toward the Jedi. Ben smiled kindly at her and vanished. Luke
rose from the marble bench. The black robe had been shed and his face
was shaved clean. He wore a casual white tunic and brown pants,
looking somehow Lighter. Here, there was no need for automatic
entries. In his painstaking design and construction of this place,
Luke thought it important that doors remained open. In this second
attempt at self-rule, all things must remain open. She greeted him
with a kiss on the cheek and they sat.
"Free at last?" she asked. Luke grinned softly.
"As of half an hour ago. Two years never seemed so long but
this..." He gestured to the courtyard, the building, the biosphere at
large. "This helped pass the time when I was not in meditation."
"It seemed the just thing to have you do, under the
circumstances. Do you feel you've made amends?"
"I'll never feel that," Luke responded immediately, then
looked down at his folded hands. "I never will."
"I guess I'm not altogether unhappy to hear that from you."
Leia hesitated for half a moment, then plunged forward.
"I saw Obi-wan." His gaze lifted and the Jedi studied her
"You've come to see if I'd truly turned from the Dark Side. I
have, Leia. You have to believe me."
"I know." She touched the smoothness of his face. "Well, now
I know." They embraced. "Right now I'm not more certain about
anything else." Leia continued, "Luke, I wanted to bring my family
together before I start running around with my head cut off again.
Garm has appointed me as his Minister of State." Luke proudly held
her at arm's length.
"Ol' Garm'll keep her busy, all right. But I know she
wouldn't be happy doing anything else." They both looked at the
Wookiee, Han Solo, and his three children. He lowered Anakin to the
ground and the boy clutched at his mother's long skirt, giving
Skywalker a wary look. Meanwhile, Jaina hopped onto her uncle's lap
while Jacen tried to climb on his shoulders, only half succeeding.
"Anakin, this is your uncle Luke," Leia introduced.
"Bad man," the toddler quipped. "You scared mommy." They all
gaped. Jacen and Jaina paused in mid-scramble to eye their uncle
"How can he remember?" Leia questioned, stunned. "Surely the
twins would remember more clearly. And Jacen was so upset..."
"He's quite strong with the Force," Luke commented and reached
over to tousle the boy's dark hair. "The twins have always had each
other while Anakin was, in a sense, alone. Maybe it was harder on
him, with the Dark Side so widespread at that time." Anakin whined
and hid behind Leia.
"Anakin..." she warned.
"It's all right," said her twin. He leaned back and whispered
to the boy. "I'm not such a bad man anymore." Anakin seemed to
accept this and darted off into the gardens, followed by Jaina and
Jacen who overtook him quickly, lost in the flowers.
"Hey!" Han shouted with no response. "I'd better go get
Anakin before he eats somethin'."
"Allow me." Leia snatched up her cane and stood. "You need
to talk and I need the exercise. Excuse me." They watched her go.
Leia's limping gait remained dignified. There was always something
about the former princess that remained dignified, even in the thick
of things, and especially now.
"So whatever happened with Mon Mothma?" Luke asked. Chewbacca
began to softly chortle. Han smirked wryly.
"Well, in light of all the political crap she pulled, the
Senate has her doing a little community service. Shoveling Bantha
excrement." Skywalker's face twisted in disgust.
"Ohhh. I think I got the better deal." Han shoved his hands
into his pockets and glared at his boots.
"Winter quit. Leia's got me playing househusband most of the
time. Can you believe that? It's gonna be hell with her and Bel
Iblis gone for the next five months. Damn campaign."
"I think you'll get by." Luke grinned slightly and watched a
small flock of birds soar overhead.
"The zoologist must have arrived with our wildlife." Han kept
glaring at his boots. "Huh." Two years. Two long, blasted years
since Luke's arrest and the death of Kayla Storm. Not a word had
passed between them in that time and was this all he could think to
say? The Senate had been relatively forgiving of the Jedi as all of
the circumstances of his corruption were appraised. It was Han's own
ego that had prevented apologies and he knew it. But parenthood was a
humbling experience with twin four-year-olds and a toddler. No more
swashbuckling for this pirate; his ankles were firmly chained to the
ground. He sat on the bench and enjoyed a little humility.
"I'm sorry about the girl. It was my fault." Somberly, Luke
examined the thick scar on the palm of his left hand. Kayla Storm
possessed the power to heal, yet in the time since her passing, the
pain of her death and the death of his daughter still lingered. Ben
was sure it would fade with more time, but perhaps she would never
leave him completely. His life seemed a discovery of losses and more
"It was meant to be," he said finally. "Kayla Storm had the
courage to face the inevitable." Han scratched the back of his neck.
"You know I don't buy all that destiny stuff. I should've
checked my blaster. I shouldn't have fired in the first place. Luke,
it's my fault."
"You're not to blame!" Luke blurted, then said in a much
quieter tone, "There is no blame."
"Yeah, well, I feel like a real jerk," Han continued, avoiding
Luke's gaze. "I hated you. I've never hated anybody like that.
Jabba was nuts and Vader was terrible but...I just don't get what
"I was becoming like Vader," Luke explained. "You were right
to try and put a stop to it but why and how are useless questions.
The important thing is, we turned away from the Dark Side." Han
"And I killed her. I think I should've been the one put in
"Han, just forget it. I really don't want to talk about
"It's been nagging at me, kid." Solo leaned forward to rest
his elbows on his knees. "I'm just sorry, that's all."
"So am I." Skywalker looked at him for a long moment. He had
forgiven the old pirate some time ago for an act that was
insignificant compared to his own sins. One death compared to the
deaths of thousands. Still, the thousands were faceless, nameless
individuals, and the face and name of Kayla Storm haunted his dreams
at night, along with the imagined specters of his unborn Chala.
Forgiveness had been a hard thing but the apology made it seem easier.
Finding some mercy for himself was the more difficult task.
"I really am."
"Ya know, that Mara Jade has shown more than a passing
interest in you. Maybe..."
"Mara Jade wanted to kill me," Luke interjected. "Why is it
all the women in this galaxy want to do me in?"
"I dunno. Maybe it's the haircut. Lord knows that beard
didn't help matters." Skywalker grinned in spite of himself.
"Right. I'm sure that's it, Han ." The pirate sighed
abysmally and crossed his ankle over his left knee, leaning back.
There was a definite shift in his sense, and Luke thought the sigh an
overblown exaggeration of an upcoming scheme. He waited until, at
last, it came.
"Ya know," the smuggler said in mock despondency, "Leia told
me last night that all this death and destruction is just part of our
nature as men." The younger man pursed his lips. "Sounds to me like
a political agenda.
Does she think there's any hope?" Han scoffed.
"Says we're trainable. If Leia is ever elected President,
we're both gonna be in deep trouble."
"Han, ol' buddy, we've been in deep trouble ever since we met
her," Luke quipped.
"Sure, but she's already got me on a leash. I'm just trying
to look out for your best interest..."
"...because I can't seem to look after myself. Thanks, Han."
Luke smiled and Han clapped him on the back good-naturedly. It felt
good to banter back and forth with this old friend. It lifted his
spirits and, for the first time in years, he felt like the young
farmboy on the desert planet Tatooine. He decided to retain that part
of himself, nurture a little bit of humor that so easily escaped him.
Despite this, despite the dangers the Force sometimes posed to his
soul, the numerous journeys he had undergone that resulted in pain and
death, loss and victory, Luke also concluded that to leave his former
life behind had been right. They silently watched Leia recline in the
sweet flowerbeds as the children played. Chala and her mother lived
in them and around them through the Force. For the citizens of the
New Republic, for the inhabitants of Coruscant, but most especially
for the Jedi Luke Skywalker, this was a place of rebirth.
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