Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by LexiLupin, Feb 7, 2012.
add me to the pm please
Wow, that is quite a setup! I am looking forward to seeing more of all these characters - and the cuteness of Jag being annoyed with baby Solos is quite nice. Though I also like seeing Leia pushed past anything we've seen before.
I remember you once said you wanted to...well, turn Leia into a bad-ass of sorts but damn...I didn't see this coming at all.
Awesome. That was evil.
She just shot diplomacy right out the window, didn't she? But hey, understandable reaction. You don't mess with a mother. Period.
Sorry for the long hiatus. DRL is busy and someone kidnapped my muse.
Chapter 3Unknown Regions - Near Ilum“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” One blue eye opened from beneath the brim of his cap that was pulled low down over his face as he sat back in the pilot’s seat, arms crossed, legs stretched out, trying to take a nap. “Again.”
The second eye opened and Luke sat more upright, frowning in his infuriatingly earnest way. “Again?” he echoed. “You talked me into this the last time.”
“And only a fool would try the exact same maneuver twice.”
“Why?” Luke asked blandly. “It worked brilliantly the first time.”
Mara sighed- a heavily exhalation that was more growl than breath- and threw her hands up in defeat. “You’ve already forgotten about the part where you, me, and Karrde had to run for our lives and barely got away?”
“Well, we aren’t breaking anyone out of detention this time.”
“Skywalker, breaking into the ranking officer’s command suite is hardly better.”
He grinned, that goofy farmboy smile that just looked so out of place on the face of one of the most powerful men in the galaxy. “It is when you have someone along who can use the command suite to cut us a departure passcode. If necessary.”
“If… if necessary?” she demanded. “If necessary? Skywalker, the Imperial fleet is in disarray since Thrawn’s death, they’re going to be defensive and jumpy, and you want to sneak on to one of the command ships, interrogate that ship’s commander, get out alive, and you wonder whether it will be necessary to cut our own departure orders? I know you’re just a dumb farmboy at heart, but…” she paused at the wry smile quirking his lips. “Or just that damnable farmboy politeness of yours.”
“I didn’t want to sound presumptive.”
The urge to roll her eyes was too strong to suppress. “Skywalker, the only reason I’m here is for my backdoor access into the Imperial network- which, by the way, depends highly on the hopes that Pellaeon won’t be so foolhardy as Thrawn and completely shut down the main computer once he gets wind we’re aboard- so I think I grasp my position on the ladder of the used and useful quite well.”
“Hey, now. You didn’t have to come along.” She huffed and looked away, staring blankly at the opaque viewport of their shuttle that was still hurtling through hyperspace. “Mara, there’s no reason you should feel guilty for-”
“Get out of my head, Skywalker,” she snapped. “Just because I don’t have voices of long-dead ghosts telling me to kill you doesn’t mean I won’t still get the urge once in a while.”
He just couldn’t take a hint though. “Han didn’t mean what he said before they left, you know. He’s just…”
“Upset? Yeah, Skywalker, I got that. His kriffing kids are missing.”
“And that isn’t your fault in any way,” Luke continued smoothly, trying to sound softly reassuring but really just serving to better rile her with each passing minute. “If anyone should feel bad, it’s me; I should have been there for them.”
Another sigh escaped her. “Skywalker, I’m not going to start talking about my feelings- and you know that by now- so what is it that you want from me?”
“I want you to stop feeling guilty for not getting to them in time in the palace, and I want you to stop feeling guilty for killing C’baoth. It was self-defense and if you hadn’t, we’d all be dead. And Han knows that, just as he knows that C’baoth didn’t know where the twins are, but he needed an outlet for his anger and… well, you did once serve the Emperor.”
“Easy target, huh?” she muttered.
“Yes,” Luke admitted apologetically. “I’m sorry.”
The merciful buzzing of the hyperspace alarm filled the silence between them, and spared her the obligation to discuss the matter any further. “C’mon,” she growled, straightening her own cap on her head as Luke disengaged the hyperdrive. “Let’s do this.” Stars stretched into lines and then became fixed points. “Again.”
“Again,” Luke agreed heavily.
Chimaera – near Ilum
When the alarm started blaring, Captain Gilad Pellaeon rolled his eyes upward and glared at the ceiling above his desk, in the general direction of the bridge. Commander Vaskes was determined to keep the crew sharp and battle ready and, as evidenced by the fact that this was the third such drill this week, was unwilling to accept that the Empire was a shambles at the moment and that the Chimaera would not be seeing another battle anytime soon.
If nothing else, perhaps a bit of healthy delusion could be good for morale. The fleet was still regrouping and assessing its options in light of Thrawn’s death, the subsequent defeat at Bilbringi, and dozens of planetary upheavals in the wake of everything else. And while everyone in the Empire could recognize the blow that was the death of the Grand Admiral, it was the crew of the Chimaera that most keenly felt his sudden absence.
The sound of the drill alarm, however, was not particularly good for his morale, and Pellaeon tapped the intercom switch to connect him to his aide. “Lieutenant Swalfin, can we perhaps kill the alarm on this deck?” he asked mildly, eyes still focused on his datapad. A few seconds passed without response, and he glanced at the speaker and tapped the button again. “Lieutenant, the alarm?”
When there was still no response, Pellaeon took ten seconds to think before standing slowly, steadily, from his armchair and crossing the room to the main computer terminal. With deliberate keystrokes, he typed his identicode and glanced at the flashing corner of the screen- Bridge drill- and simultaneously slid open a small hatch on the inside of the desk as he killed the ringing alarm in the command suite.
He was withdrawing his hand slowly from under the desk when a hard, sharp voice stopped him. “Don’t be a fool- put it on the desk.”
The relative grace with which he accepted this order spoke volumes to how hopelessly he’d viewed his situation from the start. In fact, the only surprise he felt- and showed with a slight start- was for the familiar nature of the infiltrator. Indeed, it had not been all that long ago when she had last been aboard the Chimaera; only a matter of weeks after she had been in this very room where Pellaeon now sat, meeting with his predecessor.
“Ms. Jade,” he acknowledged softly, looking her up and down a moment and taking in her clean-cut Imperial uniform, perfectly up to current specifications.
“Get up,” she gestured with a small holdout blaster. “Back over there. Slow.” He saw little reason to be belligerent and followed instructions; the sound of a heavy thump from the outer office paused him halfway back to the armchair, and he spared a look for the doorway behind Jade. She simply rolled her eyes. “It’s just Lieutenant Swalfin being… unmanageable.”
He pursed his lips as he sat. “Is he dead?” The eye-roll was more pronounced that time, but before Pellaeon could fathom why, another familiar figure entered the room. “Ah,” the captain frowned lightly. “But of course. A repeat act with the same players.”
“Except Thrawn,” Jade cut him off harshly, “so you’ll have to do.”
“Mara,” her companion chastised softly, “you’ll hardly encourage the captain to help us if you behave like that.”
She blinked and tore her eyes from Pellaeon for the first time since he’d turned to find her there in his office. “Given the unlikelihood of our success in such an attempt at encouragement-”
“Do not be harsh to judge, Ms. Jade,” the captain interrupted gently, before turning his attention to the Jedi by her side. “You are, of course, seeking your niece and nephew.”
Jade’s brows shot to her hairline but Skywalker looked unfazed. “Yes,” he acknowledged simply. “What do you know?”
“Not enough,” Pellaeon conceded heavily, leaning back in his chair and clasping his hands casually before him. “Certainly no more than poor Major Himron and he-”
“Poor?” Jade scoffed. “He’s a kidnapping and murdering piece of-”
“And he has been summarily executed for his crimes committed at the orders of others, we can spare him the insults.”
His tone and eyes were hard; the other two looked vaguely confused, and exchanged a glance. “Executed?” Jade probed cautiously.
“I am unaware how else to define a man killed while captured and bound, so yes, Ms. Jade, executed.” A thin smile touched his lips. “Your Intelligence people did not share that detail with you while assisting you in tracking and locating us here?”
“Blaster?” Skywalker ignored his question and asked one of his own.
“Major Himron- was he killed with a blaster or…?” he trailed off, and Pellaeon frowned.
“Ah- blaster, according to reports. Local authorities discovered his body after a neighbor’s report of suspicious activity and a near run-in with your team on the ground. He was purportedly tied to a chair and shot in the back of the head.” Skywalker exhaled deeply but said nothing. “Do I take from your sudden disquiet that Lieutenant Swalfin is merely stunned? Jedi Skywalker, I’d expect you to know by now- Intelligence never operates under clean rules.”
“I strive to,” Skywalker countered seriously. “And I suspect you do as well, Captain Pellaeon.”
“A shame we will never find ourselves on the same side of a conflict to test that theory to its fullest.”
The Jedi cocked his head pensively to one side, before ignoring a warning glare from Jade and coming to sit in the chair opposite the captain, eyes wide and beseeching, earnest. “Whether or not that is true, it needn’t prevent you from doing what is right now, Captain. This isn’t about a conflict; it is the simple difference between right and wrong, and helping remedy the egregious wrong committed by Grand Admiral Thrawn. Targeting families- children, infants- that is not the military you dedicated a lifetime of service to, is it?”
Jade huffed in exasperation. “Someone who blindly follows his leader is just as guilty for the consequences of that leader’s actions.” A shadow passed over her face, and she shook her head quickly, almost imperceptibly, thinking of her own sinful past, Pellaeon suspected.
Pellaeon considered both of them, as unlikely a pair today as they had been a matter of months ago when they teamed up to free Talon Karrde from the Chimaera’s detention center. With a light sigh, he addressed Skywalker, who was still watching him closely, waiting. “As your own experiences may have proven… the Grand Admiral underestimated the risk in enlisting the service of Master C’baoth. For Thrawn to miscalculate anything… well, it is not a criticism I admit lightly.
“I was not engaged in the planning of the attack on the Imperial Palace,” he confessed, “but I can tell you this- it was a distraction, an appeasement to keep C’baoth on our side until he could be contained at the storehouse. Thrawn did not have high expectations for the success of the mission.”
“Why should we believe that?” Jade scowled. “Thrawn’s most defining characteristic was his utter arrogance in his own capabilities.”
He smiled tightly. “You should believe it, Ms. Jade, because the most desirable outcome of the mission was the one that would have come to pass should Major Himron’s team have failed- and that was removing you from the equation.”
Jade hesitated. “Me?”
“Unless I am much mistaken, only your wealth of knowledge acquired at the Emperor’s service enabled you to locate the storehouse and destroy the cloning facilities. No,” he shook his head and grimaced, “while the acquisition of the children may have been a success, the greater strategic victory would have been in implicating you as our source on the inside; and that would only have happened with the capture of the major.”
Skywalker shook his head sadly. “So it truly was a hopeless mission for Major Himron? Success meant either spending the rest of his life in hiding, or being captured.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jade snapped, though Pellaeon could read the disquiet behind her emerald eyes. “What’s important is whether that’s all you know, in which case we’ve completely wasted our time here.”
“I know what you’ve surely already deduced: that the children were never to go to C’baoth.”
“Then you don’t know where they did go?” Skywalker asked quietly.
He smiled sadly. “I can only speculate; but my guess is that they are beyond even the furthest reach the New Republic will ever attain.”
“The Empire is not so dauntingly large for that to be possible even now,” Jade scoffed.
Pellaeon raised a brow. “You believe Thrawn would trust such a prize in the hands of some squabbling warlord? You know better than I that his past, his origins, are steeped in myth and legend; his race entirely unknown to either side. Where are his people, Ms. Jade, Jedi Skywalker? Where does he come from? The galaxy is yet filled with vast, unexplored territories, and Thrawn spent years exploring them with no known records to show for it. Many secrets died with the Grand Admiral- I can only fear that this is one of them.”
The pale, blue eyes of the Jedi were fixated on him, and the captain felt for a moment as though his very soul were being examined. “You do strive to do what is right,” Skywalker finally declared decisively. “You’ve already been looking for them, too.”
“Perhaps I merely sought to use them to barter.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“In the end, my intentions matter little I daresay, in the absence of success.”
“Your candor matters to me,” Skywalker argued. “And your help will as well.”
His brow rose again. “Help with…?”
“Run an identification code for us,” Jade cut in, tone terse and irritated.
“Surely someone with your access…?”
“Thrawn spent the last few months of his life trying to override the back channels the Emperor had built into the system,” she bit. “I could do it but the time I would spend circumnavigating the new blocks…”
“But of course. May I…?” he gestured towards the computer console. Jade strode to it and plucked the holdout blaster off the desk, the one he had acquired from the hidden compartment below, and then jerked her head to summon him over. She was right of course- new layers of data security had been woven in to the existing system, a feature the captain had never really noticed considering he had access to all but the highest levels. “The code?”
Skywalker recited it from a datapad and they waited close to two minutes while the computer searched thousands of files, delving back through decades of practically antiquated data. When the program finally finished running, his brow furrowed as he stared at the screen, as sure that the information was wrong as he was positive that it must be right. But it was impossible, surely…
“What’s wrong?” Skywalker asked from across the room, and Pellaeon cursed his Jedi insight.
He turned in the chair and met their eyes in turn. “Certain parts of any alphanumeric identity code used in Imperial service have particular indicators- an individual, a specific location- information which, if known how to pull and read it properly, can provide far more than a simple verification of identity.”
“So what does this one say?”
“The algorithm is not completely certain… but fragments within the code point towards an association with a known Imperial officer by the name of Admiral Voss Parck.”
He saw Jade blink once, twice in confusion. Skywalker registered no obvious emotion, and Pellaeon suspected he’d never heard the name. “Parck?” Jade was nonplussed. “He was no admiral.”
“Who is he?” Skywalker interrupted politely.
“Was,” Jade corrected harshly. “He disappeared years ago. And he was a screw up… the human officer so inept he was busted to work beneath Thrawn, which was a huge insult in the earliest days Thrawn was on the scene. And he hasn’t been seen since…” she trailed off and then looked suddenly at Pellaeon again, eyes widening slightly.
He nodded somberly. “Since Thrawn disappeared into the depths of unknown space.”
Think I got everybody.
It's gonna be interesting. Please, tag me in)
Lexi! Superb update and great characterizations. You have L/M down to an art and science, especially Mara. Your Pellaeon is also well-crafted.
Looking forward to more and to how L/M's relationship ... develops
Those two really work together well! Nice update.
Yeah, a restart! More please!
Oh, I remember this fic. I'll be glad to re-read the first chapter and catch-up.
good fic shame you abandoned it
This is. Such. A. Fact. Such brilliant plotting...
All my sorries- I really lost my SW groove during the forum move last year (wow that was so long ago now) and then I went and had a baby in April so time for writing has been (much) rarer this year. I was actually rereading and looking at my notes for this last week so hopefully it shall be back next year. I do so hate to leave a fic unfinished.
Holy crap, it's an update. A short one, but hey, a chapter is a chapter?Wow. Um. Sorry? Hi, remember me? No? Yeah, don't blame you.I could give you excuses (baby, school, baby, Sherlock kidnapping my muse for a while, baby) but really I'm just basically the worst. But I really want to continue this fic and have not forgotten it, despite the lengthy absence. Still have all my notes! So if anyone is still aboard or newly intrigued, welcome [back] and hope you enjoy.Let me know if you want tags, I'm starting a new list because, long freaking hiatus.Though I will tag
@Nyota's Heart and
@Demendora as you three semi-recently were here.Do let me know if I should continue to tag.Also, I feel like I've basically forgotten how to use this site.A/N: Just for something definitive, since it never really said before, I'm putting the twins at 7 months old here and about 3 when they were taken.Chapter 4 Coruscant – NRI HQ
They would need to schedule a formal team meeting and full debriefing soon enough, but Luke wanted a word with Iella Wessiri first, and he sought her out upon his arrival before even Han and Leia. Mara left the hangar and headed straight to her quarters to freshen up, while Luke descended into the lower levels of the palace where the Intelligence operations center took up the better part of two floors. The unit headed up by Iella had originally occupied one suite- it now encompassed the better part of an entire wing- and her office lay adjacent to the bank of turbolifts. Convenient for Luke, as he was hoping for a relatively private interview.
The surprise at his sudden and silent appearance briefly outweighed the heavy exhaustion on the former CorSec officer’s face. But as she swept errant hair escaped from a disheveled bun out of her eyes, the weariness again won out. Nonetheless, she offered him a wan half-smile. “You’re back; congratulations on getting in and out in one piece.”
He shrugged humbly. “Wasn’t so hard, in the end. May I…?” he gestured over his shoulder at the open door and she nodded. Once it was closed, he slid into the chair in front of her desk and rested his elbows on the heavy wood, peering carefully at her. “We need to talk.”
“The message you passed along with the information from Himron- it failed to mention that he’d been killed during the operation.”
She exhaled noisily, frustration shining behind her eyes. “Yeah.”
“Why didn’t it?”
“Because we didn’t know yet.”
Luke shook his head, not understanding. “What do you mean you didn’t know?”
“Our departure from Ord Adinorr was hot, we had to lift off as soon as Han and Leia made it back to the ship. As we wanted to get you the pertinent information as soon as possible, there wasn’t really time for a full debriefing- we sent the transmission and made the jump to lightspeed.”
“And what did they tell you later?”
“That they got the information but attracted some attention and had to make a quick exit.” She hesitated. “Well, that’s what Leia said. Han didn’t say much at all.”
The full implication of her story was catching up to him. “Wait- you sent them in alone? To go after the man who physically removed the twins from the palace? What were you thinking?”
“I know,” she put a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes, “I know.”
“So who killed the major?”
She pursed her lips. “I don’t know; I didn’t know he was dead until a week later when a report about it finally reached my desk. New resident, not known to his neighbors, obvious alias, once his identification was run, looked like a run-of-the-mill criminal- it hardly tripped any flags on the Holonet. It… is possible he was killed by accident in whatever altercation sent them running back to the shuttle. Or that someone saw an easy target and took advantage.”
“But you don’t believe that?”
Her look was pure skepticism. “How did you know he was dead, anyway?”
Luke shrugged. “Pellaeon told us. Said he’d been executed.”
It was silent for a long minute in the small, cluttered room. The consternation Luke felt was mirrored on Iella’s face, and when she finally spoke, it was with a shake of her head. “I don’t know, Luke. I don’t know what to tell you. Or what to think.”
“I’ll talk to Han and Leia later,” he assured her.
“So what else did you learn from Pellaeon?”
“Ah,” he sat up a little straighter. “That’s where things get interesting.”
Soontir groaned softly and sank back in his chair as his wife began kneading his tense shoulders. He allowed himself a minute to enjoy the treatment before reaching up and taking one of her hands lightly in his and tilting his head back to glimpse her face. “You’re too good to me.”
“You’re back,” she observed.
“As I promised I would be.” The sadness of her answering smile spoke to how keenly both knew such promises were not always honorable, in his line of work. “How are the children?”
She ticked them off her fingers. “Impertinent, hyper, frustrated, annoyed, teething.”
“Chak, hyper? That’s unusual.”
“He begins weapons training next week.”
“Ah. I’ll speak with him.”
“Thank you.” She hesitated, then added to her list, “Crawling.”
Soontir paused, then looked back up at her. “Come again?”
“The twins, they started crawling a few days ago.”
“What, on the same day?”
She shrugged. “Same day, same hour, practically the same minute.”
“Is that… normal?”
It was quiet in his office for a moment, and he shifted again and turned his seat around to see the long-suffering stare. “I’m not entirely sure, do we have another set of twins I’ve forgotten about?”
He smiled drily and pulled her down into his lap. “Point. Let’s not get any ideas, though.” They sat in mostly comfortable silence for a time, though a sense of gentle reprimand that had been ever-present since they’d taken in Jacen and Jaina four months prior guilted him into asking, “How are they, the twins?”
“I took them back to the medcenter last week,” she informed him. “They’re still so very… unhappy. They found nothing wrong, of course. Again.”
“Chak was much the same way, as I recall.”
Syal shook her head though. “That was different, and he outgrew it by their age, surely. Babies cry and some cry more than others and some even cry nearly constantly but they… it’s inconsistent, but so sharp, so despairing when they do.” She hesitated. “And always in tandem.”
Coruscant – NRI HQ “I don’t get it.”
A patient silence descended on the briefing room after the interruption, all eyes turned curiously towards Han Solo, who was staring narrow-eyed at his brother-in-law and reluctant mission partner. When he failed to elaborate, said partner cleared her throat and frowned. “Don’t get what, Solo?”
“You infiltrated the Chimaera for the second time this year… busted your way into the ship captain’s suite, interrogated him, and then just waltzed away without a hitch?”
“Interrogation is such a strong word. More of a… conversation at blaster-point.”
“Oh, pardon me. And then after this conversation, he just lets you go again. No one chasing you out of the system, no tracking beacon on your ship…”
“I think he knows where we are,” Mara glanced pointedly around the overly-ornate décor of the Imperial palace.
“…and with highly classified information that he gave you, just like that.” She stared blandly. “It’s too easy. C’mon, kid,” he looked at Luke in exasperation, “we did this before, remember? That was way too easy.”
Luke frowned thoughtfully, but did not outright reject the assertion. “What would he have to gain?”
“Sending us on an admittedly absurd mynock hunt in the Unknown Regions while he keeps his attentions a little closer to home?” Han suggested. “As Mara so helpfully noted, this place was more his than ours not so long ago, perhaps he’d like it back.”
“At the moment, I think he’s more worried about keeping the Imperial forces from fragmenting under a host of would-be warlords looking to find any personal gain in Thrawn’s death.”
A soft voice broke into the three-way banter, and all eyes turned to the speaker, who had remained otherwise silent during the briefing. “Then perhaps this is the time to press our advantage. Militarily.”
Luke frowned lightly at his twin sister. “I don’t think this is the right time to-”
“Of course it’s the right time,” she objected. “Pellaeon is taking advantage of our distraction.” The ensuing silence was even more pronounced that time, and she blinked twice and looked briefly stricken at her own choice of words. “That isn’t to say- I don’t mean-”
“I understand,” Luke cut her off with a gentle smile. “But I mean this, right here,” he looked pointedly around the room, the team assembled that had been working tirelessly from day one, “this isn’t the time.”
Iella nodded from the corner of the room where she was observing the conversation mostly in silence. “I agree; and it certainly isn’t the purview of this unit. If you have serious concerns about the conduct of our military in the wake of this last war, I’m sure Mon Mothma and General Bel Iblis would be more than happy for your insight, Leia.”
When the meeting was over- with little resolved and, indeed, a dauntingly large research project in addition to their already strained resources- Luke asked his sister and brother-in-law to wait and talk with him.
“There’s something I didn’t mention,” he murmured, looking them both carefully in the eye as he awaited their reactions to the topic at hand. “Pellaeon mentioned that Major Himron had been killed in the operation on Ord Adinorr.” He had expected one of them to grow defensive- however, Leia would not have been his first guess, and he tried to keep the surprise and, indeed, disappointment from his face as he saw her sit up straighter and her expression close off. Han just sighed and pressed his lips into a straight line. “Why did you not bring him in for further questioning?”
“Pressed for time,” Leia responded blandly, then cocked a brow. “Why not bring Pellaeon back?”
The Jedi let out of huff of humorless laughter. “We almost certainly would not have gotten away with that, it’s not really an apt analogy. And…” he hesitated. “I didn’t kill him- or anyone else on the Chimaera, for that matter.”
“You would have, had it been necessary.”
“And Major Himron?” Luke asked softly. “Was his death necessary, Leia?”
She stood abruptly and walked to the door, hand hovering over the release mechanism. For a long moment she stood there, a dozen strong emotions radiating from her in the Force.
“It was to me.”
And she slipped out of the room without another word. Han looked at Luke apologetically, gave a helpless shrug, and then went after his wife.
(Edited because already found my first continuity error; 4 months they've been gone, not two)
Excellent discussions and tension/undercurrents. Characterizations still on the mark. Leia is doubtless feeling the guilt/necessity of her actions but also feeling it didn't lead to anything productive either.
A/N: I have no idea if anyone who was reading this is still around but yeahhhh... nothing like an update after... 9 months? 10? Enjoy, in any case.edit: sorry for weird space-y formatting, I'll have to try to fix that in the morning...Chapter 5
One year later
Outer Rim – near Ord Trasi – Wild Karrde
“Call coming through from Cor’scant, Cap’n,” Aves called over his shoulder. “Mara’s recognition code.”
That got Karrde’s attention in a hurry. Mara had made infrequent contact since a regrettably heated exchange following her revelation that she again perpetrated a foolhardy infiltration of the Chimaera with Skywalker. Given the tone of that conversation, his present activities would seem more than a little hypocritical- surely she already knew though, the timing of the call was too convenient. Wessiri must have tipped her off.
“Mara,” he tapped the console and frowned as the static tried to resolve itself into a recognizable image. “To what do we owe the honor?”
“The pleasure of seeing my charming face isn’t enough?”
“Alas, we seem to be having some problems on that front. Dankin?” The younger man fiddled with the attunement knobs for a moment, sighed, and shook his head. “We’ll have to make due with audio, it seems. Too many unreliable relay points between you and us. Fighting’s heating up again.”
Her tone was short, impatient. “No matter.” He could visualize her standing there in a comm center in the old Imperial Palace, tapping her foot, arms crossed, twitching under the watchful eye of the lieutenant on station. “You’re on-schedule to pick up a package soon?”
“We are.” That package, as a matter of fact, was in the form of one Luke Skywalker and his X-wing. Mara was indeed deep in Iella Wessiri’s confidence.
“Well it’s your lucky day then, I’ve got another present you can take to the drop.”
Karrde glanced sidelong at Aves who nodded quickly. “Send it along when ready, we’re secure.”
The line was mostly silent for a half-minute while she readied and transmitted the data package to be passed along to Skywalker and the Solos. When he confirmed it was uploading at Aves’s station, Karrde switched the still-quiet call over to his private comlink and stepped off the bridge. “Mara?”
Again, he could practically hear her teeth grinding. “If you don’t count the station watch eyeing me with unconcealed disdain from halfway across the room, sure.”
“Well someone must trust you.”
“Not our furry friend,” she bit caustically. “Which is fair, as the hostility is quite mutual, but you’ll read all about that soon enough.”
Fey’lya then. He must have been busy in the couple months Karrde had been out of contact from the civilized galaxy, if he was manipulating matters about the palace again. And he wasn’t sure if she’d quite meant it as such, but he was going to take her words as cryptic permission to peruse the file for Skywalker as soon as the call ended. Mara had never been one to be casual about her phrasing.
Not that he wouldn’t have done so anyway – surely Wessiri knew what unspoken bargains lay behind his agreement to partake in this enterprise, given his predilection for information gathering – but it was always nice to feel validated.
“…headquarters in two weeks.”
“What? Sorry, lost you there.” Rather, he’d been lost in thought, but he hardly needed Mara to think he was losing his edge.
“I said I’ll be at the Alliance headquarters in two weeks.” His brows shot straight up to his hairline. “Will you be heading back that way once you’re done with your current… project?”
“We will,” he assured her smoothly. “But are you done with yours?”
Her tone darkened. “Read the file, Karrde.”
Syal didn’t look up from where she was prepping lunch for the kids. “Don’t shout, Cem, come here. What is it?”
Her third son came skidding to a halt by her side. “There’s something wrong with the twins.”
How many times a day did that phrase get uttered in the family’s quarters? One would start screaming and immediately the other would follow. Or they would start seemingly in tandem for no particular reason. Or Jagged would look at Jaina wrong somehow and she would spend the next hour chasing him around trying to touch him while he yelled at her. “What is it now?”
“They’re… quiet. Not moving.”
“They’re supposed to be napping,” she reminded him drily.
He shook his head adamantly though. “They’re awake,” he stressed. “But…there’s something wrong with them,” he reiterated in frustration. “Won’t you come?”
A trace of concern starting to worm its way into her mind, Syal dropped her knife and wiped her hands, and then followed Cem down the hallway to the twins’ room. As she entered, she snapped a command for the nursery droid in the corner to wake up, a rare occurrence anymore now that the twins were more self-sufficient.
For a moment, she thought Cem to be imagining things. Jacen and Jaina were lying beside each other in the same crib – they’d mostly abandoned attempts at getting them to sleep separately months ago when they discovered that placing them together significantly curtailed their nightly fits. They were nearly too big for this arrangement but would have it no other way; they would need to get them a regular bed soon enough.
As she peered down on their unnaturally still forms though, she realized Cem was right. Their eyes were open, identical pairs of light brown orbs staring blankly up at the ceiling. Their chests were rising and falling in tandem, so slow and steady they might have been in the deepest sleep.
“Jacen?” Syal murmured, pressing a hand to their cheeks in turn. “Jaina?” Neither so much as flinched, nor blinked when she passed a hand over their eyes. A flush tinged their cheeks pink, strange for their stillness, the coolness of the room. “En-Bee,” she snapped over her shoulder at the droid, “begin-”
“Both children register normal vital signs,” the nursery droid informed her in its lulling voice. “There is no indication of illness or injury.”
She shook her head though. “Something’s wrong,” she muttered more to herself than the droid. “I don’t know what.” Syal scooped Jacen up in her arms and indicated NB-9 do the same for Jaina.
Whether a coincidence of timing or some offense at being moved, being hoisted from the crib and into the droid’s synthflesh arms broke the spell for Jaina. She shrieked and twisted in her captor’s grasp, her sudden fit spurring Jacen into hysterics as well. She hastily set the toddler on the floor where he screamed and reached for his sister until NB-9 lowered her charge down next to him. They huddled there whimpering, while Syal and Cem stared on in confusion.
They were soon joined by Cherith and Jagged, who poked their heads around the doorway to see what the commotion was. Cherith blinked her big, dark eyes unsurely, but Jagged sighed dramatically. “Oh. They’re crying? Again?”
Were she not still so flummoxed by the question of just what had transpired, Syal would have found some amusement in Jaina’s predictable reaction. She stopped screaming and narrowed her eyes at Jagged, before clambering unsteadily to her feet and heading towards the older boy. Jagged’s brow furrowed and he walked out of the doorway.
“No, Jaina. No. Jaina, stop it! Mom….!”
Syal sighed and rubbed wearily at her brow, listening to Jagged’s fading yells and watching as Cherith settled herself on the floor next to Jacen in Jaina’s abandoned spot in a fruitless effort to reassure the younger boy.
Outer Rim – Ord Trasi
It was a fairly typical tapcaf, as tapcafs went across the galaxy. Dimly lit, scratched and stained tables sitting in partially concealed alcoves, music that was just loud enough to easily mask conversation one did not wish to be overheard.
It was the sort of place the occupants of the table in the far corner from the main entrance would have felt quite at home, were it not currently firmly in Imperial hands. Such as it was, so long as they avoided the heavily guarded areas that managed materiel to be transported to the orbital shipyards, Han, Leia, and Lando weren’t overly concerned about their presence being noticed in the slightest. They’d kept a reasonably low profile on the galactic scene in recent months.
When the fourth and fifth members of their party arrived and all had acquired drinks that none of them dared imbibe, Han smiled grimly across the table. The emotional toll of the past year showed in the added lines on his face, the strain behind his eyes. Leia, conversely, just looked numb, checked-out. “You look like you were about as successful as we were.”
Luke grimaced. “It was a long shot. Mostly just chasing the same rumors in circles and… well, you know what the Lugubraa are like.”
“There might have once been contact on Stratos with Thrawn’s species,” Talon Karrde put in from beside Luke. “Any true facts of such an encounter have been lost to their general dysfunction.”
“Well,” Han sighed, rubbing at his temples. “There’s a good two months wasted then.” A belated thought occurred to him, and he glanced at the smuggling chief. “We do appreciate you coming out here though, Karrde.”
“Least I could do; bureaucracy was getting stuffy.”
“Still not used to being respectable?”
“Are you?” Karrde shot back.
Luke held up a hand and interrupted the banter. “Speaking of bureaucracy, unfortunately- Han, Leia, have you been getting any news from Coruscant?”
Leia’s brows rose curiously. “Real news, no. We make out what we can from the Imperial propagandist versions.”
“Seems Fey’lya’s back to some of his old tricks already,” Karrde informed them drily. “The Empire is regaining a bit of strength day by day; Mon Mothma’s hold on things is slipping.” He crossed his arms and sat back, looking between them. “Fortunately I suppose, the military isn’t yet close to forgiving the furball for that stunt he pulled with the Katana Fleet, and as long as bel Iblis and Ackbar stand behind Mon Mothma…”
“Hm.” Leia went silent again, considering the information.
A mild hesitation tinged Karrde’s countenance, and he sighed softly before continuing. “There’s something else. Mara’s been in touch. She’s… coming back to my organization.”
It had been a year. To expect her tireless forays into the old Imperial Archives, or what remained intact of them after the repossession of Coruscant from Ysanne Isard, to yield meaningful results at this point was beyond practical. But Han couldn’t help feel the sharp jab of disappointment to know that she had abandoned the pursuit. “Well,” he tried to keep any bitterness from his tone, “that’s only fair. Certainly couldn’t expect her to devote as long as she has to working with NRI…”
An awkward silence descended on the table. Luke and Karrde exchanged a terse glance, which Han picked up on all too easy. It took him another few seconds to make the leap, and then his face settled into a stony mask. “They’ve told Iella to close up shop.”
“I’m sorry, Solo, Princess,” Karrde inclined his head to them in turn. “She’s been putting them off for some time now, it seems, but Fey’lya’s applying pressure in that especial way of his.”
“Fifteen months and no meaningful results to show for it,” Leia muttered softly, gaze fixed down on the tabletop. “The Empire resurging, and a huge contingent of Intelligence with one of their best analysts tied up on this? That order was coming soon enough, with or without Borsk’s interference.”
“The Council owes you a lot more than that,” Han snapped down at her. He paused then and sighed, ran a hand over his face. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
But Leia barely seemed to register his harsh tone, or his subsequent apology. Whether she was completely tuned out, or simply had her mind elsewhere was unclear to any of her companions.
After a lengthy pause stretched on for a minute while everyone pretended to sip their drinks and look casually around the room, Karrde cleared his throat unsurely. “My crew will be heading back to HQ, I need to check in and meet Mara. I’m sorry we weren’t of more help…”
“No,” Han waved him off, forcing a smile. “We appreciate it, really. Anyway, I think we’re all heading Core-ward for now. Regroup, figure out what’s happening on the political scene, and with the Empire…” Leia glanced up once at that but said nothing.
Lando nodded and stood, hand resting casually on his blaster under his cape as he checked for anything or anyone that might raise his suspicions. “Let’s get back to the Lady Luck then,” he offered a hand to Leia, who blankly took it without seeming to register whose it was, “before Chewbacca’s anxiety gets taken out on Threepio.”
“Maybe we could stay a bit longer, if that’s what it takes to get rid of Goldenrod,” Han put in softly, but moving towards the door nonetheless. He felt bad leaving him behind, but a wookiee in Imperial space upped their potential to be recognized exponentially.
Lando dropped Han, Leia, Chewie, and Threepio at a docking bay on the other side of the planet, where they spent an hour staking out the Falcon’s berth before deciding that it looked clear of any suspicious activity. Three hours later, they were safely entering hyperspace, and Han left Chewie in charge in the cockpit and went in search of his increasingly despondent wife.
“Hey.” He found her pouring over the datachip Karrde had passed along, sitting up in one of the bunks and looking more alert than he had seen her in a long time. “Alright?”
“Hm,” she murmured noncommittally and tapped twice at her screen.
Suppressing a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair and leaned against the cool bulkhead. “Look, I was thinking… if we pull the right strings, we could probably buy a few more months before they completely shut Iella’s operation down. We’ll just keep a few of the best people on it, like Byhyrt and Aailun, and that funny little devaronian, what’s her name-?”
“Han,” she cut him off abruptly.
“I’m going to stay on Coruscant.”
“Oh,” he straightened, taken aback. “Yeah, okay. No, that’ll be good, take some time to rest, pick up Mara’s work in the archives…”
“No, Han,” she turned off the datapad and closed her eyes, leaning her head back with a thunk on the wall. “I mean- I just can’t. I can’t do it anymore. And if Mara of all people can make no headway with information about Thrawn, no one in the New Republic will. The galaxy isn’t standing still while we continue to chase shadows.”
He fought very hard to keep his voice steady, to keep from becoming angry, from lashing out at her. “Those shadows we’re chasing are our children. They need you.”
“No, they don’t. They wouldn’t know us if we passed them in the street. If they’re even…”
She trailed off, but Han heard anyway. “If they’re what, Leia?” he demanded, voice rising. “Alive? You’re the one with the Force, you tell me if they’re alive!”
His stomach twisted, heart pounding, blood rushing in his ears as she took entirely too long to answer him. “I think so. I don’t know. There’s a hole in my heart, Han, but it’s lost all form, it just is. A constant, fiery ache that consumes me with every day we spend talking about supposed leads that will never bear any meaningful results. I can’t keep living like this, steeped in that heartache every second of every day. The galaxy needs me,” she gestured listlessly at the datapad on her lap. “The Council needs me.”
“Your children need you,” he protested once more, voice barely more than a whisper.
Her own tone was softer still, barely audible over the whir of the ship. “What children?”
Syal filled Soontir in on the twins’ strange behavior, their brief catatonic fit, after dinner that evening. He listened curiously, concernedly, and then asked whether she had taken them to the infirmary afterwards.
She shrugged dully. “It’s never helped before. If En-Bee couldn’t decipher anything wrong with them while they were just lying there, the medics in the infirmary hardly would have found a problem after they’d gotten over… whatever that was.”
The twins had been suspiciously well-behaved through dinner, and even lodged only minimal complaints come bedtime. Syal steeled herself for the undoubtedly restless night that always seemed to follow a smooth evening routine.
But for the first time in the fifteen months during which the twins had been living with the Fels, both twins slept peacefully through the entire night. Syal even verified with NB-9, come morning, that she had not been activated during the night by a cry that Syal and Soontir had failed to acknowledge. And from that night forth, their temperaments changed drastically.
Being the toddlers they were, little more than a year and a half of age, they certainly had their share of fits. And being twins, they remained uncannily attuned to one another’s moods. But no more did they dissolve into inconsolable, inexplicable episodes with the potential to last hours on end.
The Fel household gradually regained the sense of order that had been upended when the babies had suddenly arrived in their lives. And as the twins grew and developed, began to interact more with Cherith and Jagged, when he deigned to play with them, the line between wards and children grew gradually fuzzier in everyone’s minds.
End Part I
(There are new users in the interim if the others have gone, who will jump on this riveting tale.)
Wow, so the twins are settling in and ouch, I know that that was like the most horrific decision Leia ever made. But she's right, they wouldn't know her outwardly, at least, yet through the Force. That's Mommy.
If Mara, and by extension, Ghent, cannot uncover the trail it's vanishingly hard to spot. And nope, things are not standing still ... But knowing Han, he's not gonna let that be the final word. He'll turn every unofficial stone, bless him.
Whoa. Color me very interested in this AU. Great, unique idea!
I am loving the twin bond, please count me in, tag me in please, thanks. --congrats on your own baby.
Alright, let's see if I can figure out tagging again.
@Nyota's Heart - hi! Always happy to see your bright face around, no matter how long it's been! Missed you!
And there are indeed a lot of new names. I definitely need to get my act together and meet new people!
@ThreadSketch - hi, thank you! Would you like tags for future chapters?
@Gemma - will do! And thank you- that baby is nearly 2, actually, which is an embarrassing testament to how slow this story is going lol.
Sure, that'd be nice!
@Nyota's Heart recommended this fic to me a while back and boy am I glad I followed her advice! I loved your characterization in general and Soontir's and Syal's in particular, and the plot has me hooked. I especially liked how Syal realizes that there's something unusual about the twins and how you hint at their bond with Leia.
I watched the thread, so I'll be here when you post more!
Oh, and belated congratulations for the baby by the way