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Saga - OT Hearts of the Children--Sequel to Sins of the Father--Rebellion-era Skywalker family AU

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by DarthIshtar, May 3, 2020.

  1. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    A/N: Welcome back to the wonderful world of "Well, that escalated quickly." For those of you who don't know, the first installment of this series saw Bail Organa captured by the Empire a year before Yavin. Leia becomes monarch, Bail is killed in interrogation, the Death Star plans are never stolen because Cassian Andor and most of his team died while trying to rescue Bail, and it all ends with the Empire having a garrison on alderaan and Obi-wan setting off to find Luke. Oh, and Bail revealed to Darth Vader just who his daughter's birth parents were.
    *
    It was said that in the dawn of a new age on Alderaan, the darkest night set in.

    Some said this was hyperbole, that these times were nowhere as calamitous as those of the Clone Wars or the tumultuous first days of the New Order. There were no public executions or mass arrests. The throne did not sit empty; on the contrary, it was occupied by a young woman who had the sense to stand between Alderaan and Vader as her mother had.

    Nonetheless, this ostensibly sensible young woman stood against Vader by bowing to the Emperor's wishes. For the first time in centuries, the Home Guard was under the command of an Imperial Lord. The justice-centric laws established by the v'taiaketh were held as sacred by those who still believed in the old principles, but there was a rush by the thanes and minor diplomats to show their allegiance.

    Queen Leia was within her rights to make an emergency appointment, but allowed her people some autonomy and, when the people of Alderaan elected its new senator, they chose a man who had sat on the board of Sienar Fleet Systems and made his millions by producing craft for the war effort.

    No one dared to publicly lament the Imperial presence on Alderaan, but it was naivete to think that the Rebellion did not have its ranks swelled by patriots who had abandoned that homeworld to fulfill Bail Organa's purposes.
    *
    As night was falling on Alderaan, a world-weary man in homespun robes dismounted an eopie not far from Anchorhead. The owners of the moisture farm did not give him what might be considered a warm welcome, but the man jerked his head towards the home as if acknowledging that there was no sense in turning the man away.

    When they were seated around the family table and the wife had offered food and drink after the man's long journey, her husband made a grim pronouncement.

    “The thing you should bear in mind is that there's no reasoning with a Skywalker.”

    Of all the sentients in the known Galaxy, Obi-Wan Kenobi was the most likely to bear this in mind. He had bitterly taken one under his wing after the fateful Battle of Naboo. He had spent the better part of fifteen years trying to strike a balance between being the Jedi brother Anakin needed and the father he never wanted, while trying to have more of an influence than the avuncular Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. “Ben” Kenobi, who had left his Padawan for dead on the lava fields of Mustafar, knew perfectly well that there was no reasoning with a Skywalker, but had not expected the statement to be made by Luke's Uncle Owen.

    “He left us in the lurch about three weeks ago,” the man continued without prompting. “With the harvest on the horizon and us short of hands since half of the Anchorhead boys got it into their heads that they were going to be Heroes of the Empire.”

    “Be fair,” Beru interrupted. “This was never the life for him.”

    That had been the point. Tatooine had been the perfect hiding place for Padme's firstborn son because the good man who had been possessed by the Dark Side had suffered every moment that he spent here and in eighteen years, there had been no Imperial attention paid to the struggling moisture farm inherited by his step-brother.

    The aunt turned on Obi-Wan with the long-suffering sigh of someone who had heard an argument too many times to care much about its outcome. “If you had been here a month ago, you might have had a choice in where he ran off to, but Luke's closest friend returned from the academy around that same time. When Biggs Darklighter set a course for the stars, I wasn't surprised that Luke followed it.”

    “But he isn't at the academy,” Owen interjected. “Not at mid-semester and not with a canceled application. The best he could hope for was a conscription, but the Mos Eisley offices say no one with his name or description has come through. Luke may not look like much, but the Empire would notice if a Skywalker turned up to fight for them.”

    “And there's no contacting this Biggs?” Obi-Wan prompted.

    “He was due to return to the Rand Ecliptic twenty days ago, according to Huff Darklighter, but they haven't heard back from the crew.”

    “I do hope they haven't come to harm,” Obi-Wan murmured.

    Owen snorted in disgust. “I doubt it. Biggs went to the academy for the best training Huff's money could buy, but as for going AWOL, he's not the first kid to do something stupid with his heroic ideals and Luke's got too much of his father in him.”

    As far as informants went, the Larses were next to worthless, but their gossip was less idle chatter than it first appeared. Obi-Wan very much doubted that Huff Darklighter had ever heard their speculations on what made Luke so eager to fight for a cause. Kenobi was the one who had brought Luke from a medical center on Polis Massa to the Lars homestead and that made him worthy of both their candor and their suspicions.

    “It would have taken some time for them to get off-world,” Owen continued, “but three weeks is underestimating the mercenary scum at Mos Eisley. Wherever they went, they're long gone by now.”

    With this information, Obi-Wan strongly believed that they had hired a transport or pooled their resources to buy one of their own and set off in search of the war. Biggs would have been ideally placed to help Luke join the Empire, so the fact that they had snuck away could only mean that the younger Darklighter had Rebel leanings and had taken Darth Vader's son with him.

    “What do you plan to do?” Beru asked. “Go looking for him?”

    “Ideally, I could turn up at the nearest Rebel base and check their personnel records, but as the Emperor's servants know, that is a complicated process.” Obi-Wan grimaced before downing his blue milk as if it were a shot of Whyren's Reserve. “I am not without connections, so I suppose the next step must needs be hiring a ship and seeing how far those will take me before I find Luke or Vader finds me.”

    “Then may the Force be with you,” Beru answered. Owen adopted a grimace of his own at the expression, but didn't speak up. “Whatever path Luke has chosen, I hope it will give him what he's looking for and I hope that you will walk that path with him.”

    It was the most concrete expression of faith that he had received in decades and he bowed his head formally in acknowledgment of that kindness. “and with you,” he responded.
    *
    There was a waiting list for the Starfighter Corps. Even if the Alliance were well-equipped, there would be only dozens of fighters for the hundreds of interested applicants and there was a high rate of attrition against the Empire. In the wake of the execution of a member of the original triumvirate, there were desertions and there was no telling when those X- and Y-wings would set a course back to base.

    Even if their pilots changed their minds, there was no guaranteeing that they'd be able to reconnect to the people they had left behind. On the very real chance that Bail Organa's imprisoned rescuers had been persuaded to talk, the High Command had scrubbed the majority of bases from their list of options and vacated the Yavin base. If they wanted to go looking for the Alliance, they would have to do so by a process of elimination.

    The end result was that, while Biggs Darklighter's recommendation and standard testing proved that the new recruit from Tatooine was welcomed with open arms, he was not welcomed with a flightsuit and a ship assignment.

    “Don't sweat it,” Biggs advised before Luke could vent his feelings on the subject.

    “I'm not sweating it,” Luke protested, though his expression disagreed. He was smart enough to have this dispute in the privacy of his bunkroom, but Biggs wanted to hash things out before he made his feelings know in an inappropriately public way. “I just thought fighting the Empire would involve a little more fighting.”

    “It will,” his friend promised, bracing his elbows against his knees as he leaned forward in earnest. “We took some body blows, but once things have stabilized...”

    “Yeah.” Biggs knew he'd heard the same things from Tiree and Hutch at the simulators. There'll be ships to spare and food going to waste because we can't eat it all.”

    Biggs grinned; new recruit or not, Luke was becoming conversant in the base dialect of doubt. “Better to skimp today than to have a limited number of tomorrows.”

    Luke would probably think he was running spice for the Hutts, so to speak, but while he was quoting High Command almost verbatim, he had no disagreement with that point. It was the same philosophy that kept them from strengthening their armaments and calling in favors; major offensive initiatives were on hold because of what Bail Organa's death had cost them and out of respect for those setbacks, they were taking a more cautious approach to liberating the Galaxy. It wasn't what a founding member of the Rebellion would have wanted, but even he hadn't foreseen a crisis of this magnitude.

    “And since we have plenty of tomorrows,” Biggs continued when Luke didn't raise an objection to that, “we have plenty of time to get you in the good graces of the cheeks-to-seats unit coordinator and you'll know the ships of our little fleet better than any mech this side of Mos Eisley.”

    Luke finally answered his grin. “What makes you think I don't? They're not that much more advanced than skyhoppers.”

    The moment the kid referenced threading the Stone Needle, Biggs would know he was recovered from his disappointment. “True, but skyhoppers never pulled the speeds to foul up the works like this and there are all sorts of complications that you never get for an atmospheric craft.” He cuffed Luke affectionately on the shoulder. “Think of all the fun you'll have.”

    “I didn't...”

    He broke off, looking uncomfortable, but Biggs knew where that thought had been going. “I know you joined for much more than fun and it'll come, but not today. And there's no shame in that. Most of Red Squadron came from hauling cargo because it's a rare thing for a TIE fighter pilot to live long enough to have principles.”

    Biggs had taken the mandatory starfighter piloting courses, but a commission as Second Mate on the Rand Ecliptic spoke more to his ability to think big than go head to head with something sporting ion engines. He'd just had the right skills at the right time to fill a spot on a roster.

    Luke was looking more hopeful than he had in an hour, so Biggs started ticking things off on his fingers. “We need a standing appointment with the sims. We need to get you some real competition on a regular basis. And we need you to be a face everyone knows; it'll help with connections, but more importantly, you'll be part of the very extended family known as the Rebel Alliance in no time.”

    Luke, who had known no family outside his aunt and uncle, and had barely had more friends than droids to associate with, heaved a sigh and nodded. “I'm in,” he decided. “Don't suppose you have time before dinner to show me some of the stuff that atmospheric crafts don't have to deal with?”

    “I've got enough time to get you through the peculiarities of the Heads-Up Display,” Biggs laughed. “Get in something you don't mind greasing up and meet me in the hangar.”

    He didn't mention that Luke had a face some people had already come to know. Porkins had called him Baby Face and Hutch had remarked that someone so wet-behind-the-ears shouldn't have been able to best him so easily. But Commander Willard, who had a long and storied history of loyalty to the Republic, had called Biggs aside while Luke was getting his physical for a quiet word.

    “Skywalker,” he murmured. “Any relation to that Skywalker?”

    Skywalker wasn't that uncommon a name on a world populated by Darklighters and Sandskimmers, but “that Skywalker” could only be a reference to Anakin Skywalker, hero of the Boonta Eve race on Tatooine and fallen hero of the Clone Wars.

    “Hard to say,” Biggs said honestly. “All we could ever get out of his uncle was that he was a navigator on a spice freighter who died around the same time the Republic went to pieces. The name matches, but Jedi didn't have families.”

    He knew Willard wasn't engaging in idle genealogy, but wondering if, by some miracle, they had an untrained Jedi signed up to do minor maintenance on Wedge Antilles' ship.

    “He's probably a cousin,” Biggs concluded, “but that's probably the closest we've got to a family tie.”

    “Shame,” the base commander commented. “If we had that kind of Skywalker behind an X-wing's controls, it'd be a hell of a thing.”

    Hopefully, the unit coordinator would realize that sooner than later.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2020
  2. jcgoble3

    jcgoble3 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Nov 7, 2010
    Great start! We have Owen and Beru allowing Luke to run off and being polite with Obi-Wan, Luke in the Rebellion on his own initiative, and the Rebellion is off Yavin 4. Commander Willard is keen to spot the last name connection, but I'm waiting to see if the relationship becomes known in this AU.
     
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Wonderful with Obi-Wan, Owen, and Beru; Owen is gruffly concerned and Beru gentle and appreciative of anything Obi-Wan can find and understanding of Luke's restlessness. =D=

    Very nice to see biggs and Luke together getting acclimated to finding a niche in the Rebellion although Willard's curiosity and questions hopefully won't lead anywhere they shouldn't. :oops:
     
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  4. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    You show us the possibilities of a totally different outcome once more. This Luke here is less hot headed, more thoughtful. His decision to become part of the rebellion is less traumatic. @};-
     
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  5. RK_Striker_JK_5

    RK_Striker_JK_5 Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2003
    Great, great start so far. I love Obi-Wan meeting up with the Lars'. I do hope they live this time. And Luke and Biggs was great, too. I could really hear their voices.
     
  6. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    First, you're not wrong. Second, friendly reminder that Canon Luke was already wanting to join the rebellion before all that drama went down.
     
  7. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    I want to address this as a really good point. In one of the X-wing books, Wedge says that if Biggs hadn’t died at Yavin, they’d have been saluting him by now. In ANH radio drama, Luke is at his most purposeful and least trying to prove something when talking to Biggs. I drew from both of these things to make someone who is a more level-headed big brother than Han Solo when he shows up at an Alliance base.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2020
  8. kateydidnt

    kateydidnt Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 11, 2004
    I like the ominousness of the opening of Alderaan--like this looming shadow--or to quote Gandalf "It's the deep breath before the plunge."

    Poor Obi-Wan--you're doomed to be haring off after Skywalkers your entire life. Good characterization on Owen and Beru--Owen a bit cantankerous, Beru more understanding. I've always wondered why after he left Tatooine in Attack of the Clones, even as Vader he just never bothered to ever think of what happened to the Lars'--did he just not consider Owen really connected to him in any way? Wanting to deny any link to the dustball?

    I really like this first look at Luke! A little bit whiny, a lot idealistic and just kind of..adorable.
    And the line about the number of droids vs friends in Luke's life just made me realize I have no clue where 3PO and R2 are in this story at all. Am I forgetting anything --have we covered them at all?--I guess they're Leia's now or at least Alderaan's? (And wow I'm tired it took me three tries of rearranging the vowels to spell "Leia.")

    I don't know much about Biggs in canon--I haven't read anything with him in it so I mostly just know him from the radio dramas and fanfic. I like the relationship you've established between Luke and Biggs though. Is Biggs being circumspect here or...I mean I feel like there would have been a LOT of gossip about Anakin Skywalker-the famous human Boonta Eve Classic winner-returning as a Jedi only to slaughter a Jawa camp to rescue his dying mother who he brings back to the LARS homestead...and then a couple years later a baby with the name Skywalker being left with the Lars' ...did all the adults just talk in whispers about it when their children weren't listening?

    Excellent beginning, I look forward to more!

    Edit: TUSKEN RAIDER-not JAWA
    Edit 2: oh good heavens-Paragraph 2 sentence 3 missing Anakin as antecedent for "he"
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2020
  9. Starith

    Starith Jedi Knight star 3

    Registered:
    Apr 5, 2020
    Well-written and well-characterized so far. I liked the Rebel pilot "new guy" talks between Luke and Biggs in particular.
     
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  10. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Author's Note: You'll see fewer typos from here on out because I found myself a new laptop that doesn't have malfunctioning keys. This is my first time in years writing ANH-era Obi-Wan to this degree. And there are some pilots I've never written before, so I hope you like this. Batial, Rudur, and Sutari are all my creation, while the Iserian Directive comes from Anne Gazzolo's fanfics, though I cowrote the one she first used it in, so I've got permission to use it from her since then. Obi-wan's perspective on money and his understanding of the Wookiee language are callbacks to the radio dramas.
    *
    Obi-Wan had mounted his eopie and turned towards the only marked road for miles when he was called back.

    “That poor beast won’t make it to Mos Eisley,” Beru announced.

    The poor beast in question had borne up remarkably well for a wild animal who had been mind-tricked into believing he could be a beast of burden, but Obi-Wan had not planned to work him to death.

    “He will take me as far as Tosche Station,” he said confidently. “I’m sure one of the locals there will be willing to trade a ride for…”

    Before he could finish the sentence, she reached up and pressed a chit into his hand. It was a fairly standard ignition device for a landspeeder and while the device was new, he had no doubt that it belonged to something both affordable and reliable.

    “Luke left his speeder behind,” she explained.

    “Luke left it behind and we could barter it for parts, maybe even a droic,” Owen interjected, catching up to his wife. “How are we going to get it back from the spaceport?”

    “This isn’t a loan.” She curled Obi-Wan’s fingers around the chit. “You can’t have much money and you’ll need something to find a way off world.”

    Her “may the Force be with you” had been a blessing, but this was a sacrifice and it spoke volumes of how seriously she had taken on the title of aunt. He dismounted to continue the conversation, but did not pass the chit back.

    “I spent many years traveling without much in the way of currency,” he said. “Your offer is appreciated, but I would hate to leave you without a valuable asset.”

    Owen nodded in agreement, though his eyes still carried suspicion. Beru folded her arms and glanced between the two.

    “He wants to help Luke and this will make that a little easier,” she stated. “I don’t understand why this needs to be up for debate.”

    “I agree,” Owen snapped, chin jutting towards her. “The meddlesome fool has stopped just short of endangering us all every couple of years, so I’m perfectly comfortable letting him fend for himself.”

    Owen had never asked for the Jedi’s help, but he had occasionally accepted it. Obi-Wan had long ago ceased to expect more than a disgruntled acknowledgment of the disaster they’d managed to avert.

    “Well, I”m not.” Beru freed one of her arms and clasped Obi-Wan’s hand for a brief moment, ttightening his hold on the chit. “You unload your mount and Owen and I will check that the speeder has enough fuel for the journey.”

    They were gone longer than the task should have taken, but by the time they backed the speeder into position, Beru looked pleased with herself and Owen looked resigned.

    The speeder sold for a few thousand at one of the used craft lots the next day--for all of Luke’s special modifications, it had been second-hand a couple of owners ago--and he approached the cantina with the means to begin negotiating a fare with one of the pilots.

    It was a quiet day by Wuher’s usual standard. Obi-Wan had taken care to be unobtrusive on the public thoroughfare and had been a silent witness to stormtrooper harassment of several locals. Perhaps the smugglers and mercenaries were keeping a low profile at the moment.

    All he needed was one being who resonated with his purposes. He did not have to delve deeply into the senses of the creatures in the room. He bypassed some with the impatience of a man who could not wait until their sobriety allowed him to judge their reliability. Others were contemplating the benefits of turning each other in. Several were there for more prosaic forms of entertainment than mind-altering substances.

    He had just turned his attention to a man with a keen and evaluative mind when his eyes fell on a face that was unexpected on an Outer Rim world, but strangely familiar. Obi-Wan observed him in the shadows, but could not place the face. He had few dealings with the species during his peripatetic years and Master Yoda had been the member of the Council to pride himself on his relations with the tree-dwellers of Kashyyyk.

    Kashyyyk, where Yoda had been fighting the Separatists when the Grand Army of the Republic turned against their comrades and began the slaughter of anyone unfortunate enough to call themselves a Jedi. And where he had escaped with his life and his lightsaber and little else.

    Obi-Wan had only witnessed the event once, when he and Yoda had sat in meditation and drawn understanding from each other’s memories of the horror. Obi-Wan had been caught off-guard by the cannon blast that dismounted him on Utapau and it had not been been some time before he reconciled the disturbance in the Force with the suffering and death of his Order. Yoda had not been granted a similar distraction and Obi-Wan clearly remembered how quickly the Master had been forced to act in the wake of the seismic shift in the Force.

    On most worlds, there had been few witnesses to the clones’ betrayal, but in Yoda’s memories, there were witnesses to the danger and to the act of self-defense.

    He rarely required himself to recall those shared memories; guilt or fear usually brought them to mind, though he often attributed those feelings to the prompting of the Force. Today, the Force recalled the face from Yoda’s memory in what he could only assume was a long-absent encouragement.

    It took some time for Chewbacca to be left on his own. Most people kept Wookiees out of arm’s reach when alcohol was flowing, but Chewbacca seemed to have a rapport with several of the traders, if not a friendship. Obi-Wan scanned the cantina for someone who was taking an interest in the Wookiee’s activities with innocuous intent.

    There. A man with Corellian Bloodstripes on the pants leg visible above a boot resting on one of the corner tables. He was giving off an air of slightly-inebriated humor, but the mind behind the sloppy grin and slouching posture was hypervigilant. The decoration meant he had been considered valiant at some point and he had the allegiance of a Wookiee.

    Obi-Wan waited for Wuher’s back to be turned and Chewbacca to be on his way back to the corner table to cross paths with the Kashyyyk native.

    “Hello there,” he began. “I understand we have a friend in common.

    Chewbacca rumbled that it wasn’t likely, but the sound was accompanied by a soft chortle.

    “Unlikely, yes,” Obi-Wan responded in kind, “but I don’t doubt that we both have led unusual lives.”

    He stepped back a pace and rested his hand on the hilt of the lightsaber he had not dared to ignite in years. Chewbacca immediately glanced towards his partner and headed for the table while rumbling an invitation.

    Obi-Wan approached with caution out of deference rather than a genuine concern. The man had been aware of him before he chose to strike up a conversation, so this interaction was not as fraught with anticipation as it might have been.

    “May I sit?”

    “Chewie seems to think it’s a good idea,” the man said. “Mind telling me why?”

    “I advise you to ask him,” Obi-Wan replied genially. “I merely identified myself as the friend of an old ally and here we are.”

    “And the lightsaber?” the Corellian prompted. “Was that a threat or a calling card?”

    He glanced at the Wookiee, whose expression remained impassive, and dipped his chin in a gesture of respect. “I apologize if my intention was unclear, Chewbacca. It was a credential.”

    “ID usually works wonders,” the man drawled. “It’s a hell of a thing to wave around, so we’re both interested in what you want from my partner here.”

    “First an introduction” Obi-Wan explained, “and then a deal. Chewbacca and I both fought for the Republic when it still stood, so we have been allies in name if not acquainted before now. You are?”

    “Han Solo, captain of the Millennium Falcon,” he said. “Like the relic on your belt, I’d keep your loyalties to the Republic under wraps around here.”

    “Quite so.”

    The warning had been issued in an even tone and there was no change in the man’s demeanor or intentions. Obi-Wan judged it safe to engage further.

    “If we come to an agreement, I will divulget my name,” he explained, “but for the moment, I am here at your partner’s invitation.”

    “And with my permission,” Solo continued. “What kind of deal?”

    “Fare off-world.”

    Solo cocked his head and a slow grin appeared. “Destination?”

    “To be determined.”

    Had the man been less guarded, he might have rolled his eyes, but Solo’s posture straightened slightly before he leaned in with something like a grimace. “Not good enough, old man, I’m not signing up to be a cruise director and it doesn’t look like you’ve got the cash to make wandering the Unknown Regions worth my while.”

    “Oh, I don’t expect that sort of contract.” The Separatists had hailed him as the man who could win the war by sheer, patient discourse. Wearing Solo down in negotiation would take too much time and would attract too much attention. “The final port of call is not yet known to me, but the same cannot be said for the first.”

    There were many rumored havens for the Alliance, but he had been able to whittle the list of suspected bases to worlds with sympathizers in power or a diffuse system of government that would allow factions to go unnoticed.

    “Like I said, you don’t look like you have the cash…”

    Obi-Wan slid the credit chip he had been issued by the speeder’s new owner across the table. Solo checked the balance on a handheld unit, then sighed.

    “That’ll get you off world,” he granted. “With Chewie on your side, I can even agree to one stop somewhere between here and the Core Worlds.”

    At Chewbacca’s roar of protest, he turned and jabbed a finger in the Wookiee’s face. “One. Any more than that and we’re taking it out of your food budget.”

    The response moved too quickly for Obi-Wan to follow every word, but Solo responded in a low voice. “I’m not budging on it, pal,” he hissed. “I don’t care if the guy took down an army single-handedly. I’m not letting him freeload.”

    “I don’t expect you to,” Obi-Wan interrupted. “My hosts at journey’s end would be willing to compensate you.”

    It was not a sure promise, but he knew that enemies of the Empire would go to great troubles to have a Jedi on their side. He had no doubt of that.

    “Yeah,” Solo said, holding up a hand to forestall another line of reasoning from Chewie, “but you don’t know where these hosts are and having someone who can be legally shot on sight hang around my ship means I can’t take other jobs along the way. This,..” He tapped the chip against the table. “This I can work with, but we’re going to have to have a talk about what else makes this worth my while and it’s going to have to happen long before we see how many wild nerf chases you’ll lead me on.”

    Which gave him days at best to prove himself useful as a passenger and getting Solo to see him as someone more than Chewbacca’s strange ally. “Understood.”

    Solo obviously expected him to put up more of a fight and the lack of further haggling raised immediate suspicion. Obi-Wan kept his expression as neutral as possible and let the caution run its course.

    “Just you, then?”

    “Just myself,” he said. “And your terms are reasonable.”

    “Then I’ll keep this,” he said, brandishing the chip, “and see you at Docking Bay 38 in an hour or so.”

    It boded well that he was willing to enter into an agreement with so little hassle, but Obi-Wan had to wonder what had made him so eager to accept a fare.
    *
    A hallmark of Imperial war policy was that there were few major battlegrounds, but thousands of places whose most notable events had to do with Imperial aggression. Rudur, Batia and Sutari were inconsequential places with tragic recent histories.

    Iseria was another such world. It was known for its place as a crossroads, but it was not until the Iserian Directive was put into place that the citizens of the Empire saw it as a player in a cautionary tale. Under the Directive, guilt by association could be a capitol offense and merely being in the same city as a suspected Rebel could be grounds for execution. The Directive had justified the murder of thousands for the crime of not standing strongly against anti-Imperial activists.

    “Vader’s changing the game, though,” Biggs explained after that particular history lesson. “It’s been weeks since he went after dirtside cells and that’s not like him.”

    No one had specifically designated dinnertime for continuing education, but it happened more often than not that news had to be put into the proper context. Besides, it had turned Luke from a handy mechanic into something of the fighter pilots’ favorite little brother. It was progress and that was something to be appreciated, especially when Luke was able to contribute instead of being the eternal student..

    “I thought showing up with half the Starfleet was like him,” Luke said.

    “Oh, he likes a good show like any Imperial tyrant,” Porkins interjected helpfully from three seats down, “but that used to be for special occasions only.”

    “He likes leaving nothing but debris behind,” Biggs added. “Since we became an Alliance instead of a widespread nuisance, though, we haven’t given him anything on the scale of the Clone Wars to contend with. We can’t afford to raise the stakes that high just yet, but he was reliably willing to blockade places or haul out a battle group to do some heavy-handed law enforcement. Did you hear what happened to Alderaan?”

    “Who hasn’t?” The interdiction of a Core World had been a sore subject around base for as long as Luke had been there. “Walkers in the streets, stormtroopers conducting raids…”

    Biggs waved a forkful of meat. “I think Jek means Alderaan under different management, right?”

    Porkins nodded. “You were probably still in diapers at the time, but Queen Leia’s mother tangled with Vader when Leia was just three. You wouldn tknow it now, but Alderaan used to be the one place where refugees could go for no-questions-asked settlement.”

    “Some thought it made them a target, but I think it made Bail Organa the rebel we needed,” Tiree added helpfully. As one of the senior pilots, he was more prone than most to glorify the early days of the resistance. “He figured out ways to stick it to the Empire without firing a shot.”

    “Which was more impressive back then,” Porkins explained. “Before the interdiction, what was Alderaan really known for?”

    The few materials Luke had come across in his limited educational resources had talked about the famous gardens, the exports of marble and wines and textiles, but the civics section of the entry had mentioned their pacifist government.

    “The disarmament,” he answered. “After the Clone Wars, they loaded up every weapon they had on a warship and sent it off into the unknown.”

    “Almost right,” Biggs said grimly.. “After the Clone Wars, they loaded up every weapon they had on a warship. Who was in charge of sending it off into the unknown?”

    Vader would have been the only one under the Emperor to have that kind of authority on a Core World and the thought of that made his stomach clench. “It wasn’t their idea?”

    “It was their way of keeping Vader from doing then what Lord Tion is doing on Vader’s orders now,” Tiree said. From the expression on his face, he’d lost his appetite. “Alderaan never wanted a war, but they wanted the means to defend themselves.”

    “Which only made the Organas fight harder against the Empire,” Porkins concluded.

    Luke had never met the man, had only heard his words quoted in memoriam, but Bail Organa’s influence was as real to the Rebellion as the gunnery tower on the west side of base. When people greener than him showed up they often said they joined the cause “for Alderaan.” Bail Organa had died a martyr to the Alliance to Restore the Republic and from the way people talked about it, Alderaan might as well have died with him. Maybe he hadn’t been in this war long enough, but Luke wasn’t as ready to write a government with centuries of justice behind it off.

    “Why bring that up now?” he prompted when no one spoke again for a minute.

    Hutch shook his head as if to clear a fog of confusion and grimaced. “Like Biggs said, Vader liked to make examples of places where we’d been well-received. It’s why we’ve been finding more and more obscure, backwater worlds to go to ground on. But Vader has been going after allied ships as though we had nowhere to put down and that’s troubling.”

    “Everything Vader does is troubling,” Luke said, “but I bet that has something to do with Command’ scaling back missions flown and risks taken.”

    “Right you are.” Biggs stabbed at his meat with an expression that was less irritated than frustrated, then looked up to lock eyes with Luke. “Bail Organa didn’t want this war, but he didn’t want people thinking the Empire was out of reach. We need to strike back for what they’ve done and he’s making it too dangerous for High Command to keep sending us out.”

    I wouldn’t say that too loud,” Tiree advised in a quiet, but sharp tone. “We’re all frustrated, but we don’t want this discontent to spread like bloodpox.”

    “I don’t want it to spread, either,” Biggs said, “but Andor’s squad was working on something big when they were yanked for the rescue mission.”

    “That’s just a rumor,” Porkins said as usual. “We hope it’s more than that, but I’m still waiting for something pointing to what it was.”

    “It was something keeping all of them busy for months and that isn’t a rumor,” Biggs protested. “But now that they’re out of commission, there’s no sign that the Senators are going to take another stab at it. And if they’re not, why should we be grounded as well?”

    No one ventured an opinion on that. Since no one felt like swapping stories about achievements past or catching up on who in Gold Squadron was planning on making a move on someone in the Quartermaster’s office, the rest of dinner passed in silence. Biggs stood as soon as Luke collected his tray, calling a quick goodbye to the rest of the squadron, but neither of them dared to say something until they were in a more private setting.

    “It’ll happen,” Luke said as soon as they were out of earshot of anyone in sight. “It’s like they’re learning to walk again after breaking their back. I’d be worried about doing damage, too.”

    “From what Hutch says, it hasn’t been this bad in years,” his friend muttered. “The Treaty gave the Alliance resources so they could take more risks and they could plan for bold strikes.”

    That was the refrain of another night’s discussion, but it rang hollow tonight in the light of inaction. “It’s not like we can do anything about it, but I think it can’t last much longer.”

    There was a dangerous glint in Biggs’ eye before he looked away. “Maybe,” he said, “but if it does, I’ll have some strong opinions on the current leadership.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  11. RK_Striker_JK_5

    RK_Striker_JK_5 Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2003
    So, Owen and Beru live. That's... good. I liked Obi-Wan recognizing Chewie, there, and your insight into Han. And Luke as basically the tagalong kid, makes sense. :D
     
  12. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Leia never brings the plans to Tatooine after Scarif, the droids never get sold by Jawas, the empire doesn’t have any reason to go to the Lars farm. So they’re safe so far.
     
  13. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    I like Obi-Wan using Yoda "as credentials". Very clever move! And I do hope that Han does not take it out on Chewie´s food rations. ;)

    Hopefully Leia is okay and as safe as possible. Sith are not magnificent in parenting.
     
  14. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I am enjoying the twists in plot as Owen and Beru are around still and Luke interacts with his friends.
     
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  15. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Author's Note: I am going on vacation in 9.5 hours, so here's a 3500-word chapter. This is setting up something that will throw all sorts of wrenches into the works of some Alliance members going forward. Thanks go to the San Fernando Valley for teaching me the sensation of earthquakes, to the ocean off the coast of Hawaii for teaching me what it felt like to nearly drown, and a concussion for informing how Leia feels in one specific scene. I leave you with this and am now running off to Montana to do some restorative hiking.
    *
    The feeling was one Leia had rarely experienced. Seismic shifts occurred on Alderaan, but strong tremors were uncommon in the capitol city. This one felt as though she had crashed from a great height after teetering on a precipice. The world spun and she struggled for the breath that would allow to regain her composure, but her lungs refused to fill. A fissure forced the marble at her feet apart and she stumbled, landing hard on her hands and knees before another tremor made her arms buckle. The stone was cold beneath her cheek as she lay, praying for the quake to cease.

    Leia's eyes snapped open to find the moon reflecting placidly off the windows of the Queen's chamber. The earthquake of her dream was as insubstantial as a distant voice. When she set her feet on the ground, it was steady and no cracks ran through the stones beyond the intricately-woven carpet. She sucked in a deep breath with ease, then released it after several heartbeats.

    All was still in Aldera, but she could not shake the unease of the dream. Here, on solid ground, she could be confident that her nightmare was not a clear and present danger to her. There was no scent of smoke in the air to suggest that something was on fire. Her guards' voices beyond the doors were low and conversational rather than harsh and urgent Glancing at the panel on her personal comm system, she did not even find a message light blinking.

    Yet the discomfort didn't fade. She could hear no shouts and detect no emergency, but there was an electric quality to the air as if they were on the verge of a lightning strike. Her hands balled into fists as if she could beat off the unsettling feelings, but when no further stimulus presented itself, she let her hands relax and reached for her dressing gown.

    “Your Majesty,” Diuran greeted her as she opened the door. “Good evening.”

    “Good evening, Guardsman Diuran,” she said, then glanced at his compatriot. “Guardsman Urvaine.”

    “Good evening, Your Majesty,” the woman answered. “May we be of assistance?”

    “My sleep was troubled,” Leia said.

    When she was younger, she remembered that the guards would look stricken if she were experiencing a sort of distress. The residential guards were something closer to extended family than hired officers. Now, they merely looked sympathetic, as she had many disquieting matters to consider on any given night.

    “Nothing to worry about,” she said unconvincingly. “Do you know if Winter is still awake?”

    “I can summon her,” Urvaine offered.

    Leia was about to protest that it was not necessary, but the tightness growing in her abdomen caught her attention and she decided to act on the feeling that had prompted the question. “I wish to speak to her.”

    Winter was at the door in less than half a minute, pulling on a robe of her own and looking preternaturally alert for someone who had been roused from what Leia hoped was a restful sleep. “What is it, Your Majesty?”

    “Please, walk with me.”

    None of the party required further invitation and Leia found her pace quickening as she passed the family library and Father's study.

    “Leia,” Winter murmured. “what is it?”

    “I'm not sure,” Leia confessed. “I felt we needed to leave and I'm sure I will think of the reason why within a few--”

    She trailed off as, in the distance, she heard the unmistakable sound of blaster fire.

    “Those aren't Imperial weapons,” Diuran said, crossing to the window and peering out. “Not standard-issue, at any rate.”

    It was an unfortunate truth that people on Alderaan were now acquainted with various types of stormtrooper weapons as well as the front-mounted cannons on Imperial walkers. Diuran quickly backed away from the window and flanked the two heirs to the Organa legacy.

    “Your Majesty, Lady Winter,” Urvaine said, “I think it prudent if we escort you to the secure comm center.”

    The knot in Leia's stomach tightened. Her own comm unit would suffice under normal circumstances, but the comm center Urvaine was recommending would have resources for coordinating with constabulary precincts, tracking threats, and communicating off-world without needing to involve a relay operator.

    “Lead on,” she commanded.

    They had just reached the stairs leading to the lower level when a tremor that recalled the violent shaking of her dream shuddered through the stone beneath her slippered feet.

    “What--”

    She knew what to expect from the dream, but the blast that followed was nothing she could have anticipated.

    She struggled to regain consciousness multiple times, going so far as hearing the expected shouts through the ringing in her ears, but focusing on the waking world only drove her back beneath the dark surface of unconsciousness.

    Years ago, she had been caught beneath the waves of an ocean and, unable to reach the surface, she had allowed herself to rest for a few moments before making another attempt. That brief respite had allowed some of the turbulence in the water to pass and she had clawed and kicked her way to the surface.

    This time, she found it more difficult to make another attempt once she had surrendered to her need to rest, but on her fifth attempt, she achieved wakefulness.

    Her hand immediately reached up to remove the oxygen mask on her face, but a hand gently pried her fingers away free and maneuvered her arm until it was resting against a flat surface.

    A bed, she realized. Some time between the blast and her successful rousing, she had been removed to a slightly-uncomfortable mattress beneath bright lights.

    The tinnitus remained, so she let her eyes swivel from side to side in search of some visual clue as to her whereabouts. The lights were too bright for her to discern anything but unfamiliar shapes, but in this state, she wouldn't have recognized Vader himself. She reached for the mask with her other hand, but the movement tugged on an IV line and she gritted her teeth against the sudden pain.

    This time, when a hand curled around hers, she recognized the grip of a friend. She turned her head slowly so she could see Winter without watching the world whirl out of control. Her adopted sister had a line of bacta gel at her hairline healing some gash and her right arm was in a splint, but she seemed otherwise whole. Leia focused on her lips next.

    Been unconscious for the better part of a day.

    The room dimmed as her exhaustion made darkness nibble at the edges of her vision. By the time she was able to regain control once more, Winter had ceased to make sense.

    Lorna Park. The reports of casualties on both sides are.

    She closed her eyes for a moment, but it was still difficult to open them again. She was not entirely sure she had only lost focus for a moment, but Winter was still present. Leia squeezed her hand in mute thanks and Winter smiled with slightly trembling lips and eyes that were overbright with tears. Leia slipped back beneath the surface halfway through attempting a smile.

    When she awoke again, it was to a new surrounding. The mask had been removed and she had been moved from the gurney on which she had attempted to get her bearings. Instead, she was in the sort of hospital bed that she recalled from Mother's illness.

    Feeling much more capable of self-evaluation, she performed a few basic experiments. The IV was still in her right arm, but the tinnitus had faded so that she could hear the tacit beep of monitors. Breathing was slightly difficult, but she felt beesting sensations where bone knitters had been used on at least two ribs and her right femur. Her teeth seemed to all be accounted for, though her tongue ached as if she had bitten down on it recently. She could feel bandages from her ankles to her knees and a brace encased her right hand, but it could have been worse. The fact that she was alert enough to do such a rudimentary self-assessment was a simple, but welcome comfort.

    The details of what happened were less clear. Fragments of memory flitted through her mind—the cracked marble and the acrid stench of a fire and a distant whine of blaster fire—but she couldn't distinguish nightmare from recent experience just yet.

    Certain that she would be ordered back into bed if she moved so much as a toe, Leia experimented with calling out. It took a few tries for her to speak above a hoarse whisper, but someone responded to her effort so immediately that she wondered if they had been weaning her off of a sedative and expecting her to wake soon.

    “Your Majesty.”

    The medic was an unfamiliar one, but she wouldn't have been attended to at the Palace medical wing and her mind supplied that there were seventeen care facilities in the Greater Aldera area alone.

    “Doctor,” she answered, keeping her voice low and unstrained. “How long have I been here?”

    “Two days,” the medic responded. “You underwent fairly minor surgery to put you on the road to recovery, but you will be released within the next day if you continue to do well.”

    She loathed the condition, as it phrased her body's ability to repair itself as if she were keeping up her grades in school. Antagonizing the person who was willing to give her straight answers was not the best idea, however.

    “Winter?”

    “Lady Winter was released shortly after arriving for treatment, but has been benevolently keeping watch over you so fervently that we asked her to get some rest.”

    Rest where? That explosion had to have damaged...

    She must have left her expression unguarded because the medic peered at her more closely. “Your Majesty, how are you feeling?”

    Leia's voice still rasped and squeaked when she attempted to speak too loudly, but she struggled to keep naked irritation from her tone. “I am feeling mild discomfort, but I am feeling significantly uninformed. Am I able to leave this bed?”

    “Supervised, yes. I would prefer that you use a chair for travel until we have run some tests.”

    “The tests are not my concern,” Leia bit out, glancing around for some kind of support to use. “There are people I must speak to, beginning with my sister.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Before she could foolishly attempt to stand, the medic drew near and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I will see to it that the arrangements are made, but my first duty is to my Queen's health and I hope yours is the same.”

    A year ago, Leia might have insisted that global security was more important than the aches and pains of the heir to the throne, but any such stubbornness was a secondary concern when the line of succession currently ended with her.

    “Please send my guards in,” she requested, “and then I will be glad to submit to your examinations.”

    Elhor took down the list of names without question and retreated to the comm center secured for the use of high-ranking patients. Leia willingly accepted a glass of water and cooperatively drank some hoi broth. The medic, who finally introduced herself as Jial Cark, allowed her to move from the bed to the repulsorchair provided and while the effort drained more of her energy than she anticipated, it was progress that she could work with.

    Winter arrived as Leia was being helped into a robe that was less informal than her hospital gown. The process allowed her to see some of the causes for the aches, but the greatest discomfort was in moving her bandaged legs. By the time Winter entered, Leia had mopped up the sweat caused by her exertions and hoped she was regaining her normal color.

    “Your Majesty,” Winter said breathlessly, bending to kiss her cheek as an embrace was not yet welcome. “What a joy to see you awake.”

    There was no pretense in the use of those words. Leia reached out to clasp her hand with her good arm. “And you,” she said. “Dr. Cark, one of the guards will alert you when we are finished here.”

    Cark bowed without comment and retreated from the room. Leia waited until the door had hissed closed before turning her attention to the person who had tried to keep her informed.

    “What happened at Lorna Park?”

    “A diversion,” Winter responded solemnly, taking the chair that had been set out for her as if she were just as exhausted as Leia herself. “One hundred insurgents ambushed two squads of Imperial stormtroopers in that district. All but three of the stormtroopers were killed, but only twelve of the insurgents lived to be arrested. None escaped.”

    It was the sort of uprising that she had been expecting since Bel Iblis offered the Alliance's help what felt like five lifetimes ago. Her gorge rose, but she swallowed hard against the nausea.

    “Insurgents from where?”

    “Thon.”

    There was no mistaking the hollow guilt in Winter's tone, but it was natural to feel some regret that the people who had just massacred Imperial forces had come from her ancestral homeland. Leia withdrew her hand abruptly.

    “From where?”

    “There was no outside interference.” Winter flattened both hands against her thighs and met Leia's gaze directly. Leia could see no guile her in her expression. “All of the insurgents were native to Alderaan.”

    Which was an entirely different cause for regret.

    “Tell me that the Empire has not commenced interrogations.”

    “The survivors were in various states of health,” Winter said. “I am told that Lord Tion mandated they be given medical care before any measures were decided upon.”

    It was merely saying that Tion would see that they were fit to stand trial before he had them executed without due process, but her nausea was now infused with a strange hope.

    “I want you to convene the Queen's Council for tomorrow night,” she instructed, “but Lord Tion needs to be my next call.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.” Winter's chin rose. “Only you have the authority to speak for the people of Alderaan on this scale.”

    She would have to choose her words with extreme care to avoid the appearance of begging for mercy on behalf of an entire continent. “Be that as it may, I need to know everything you can be sure of.”
    *
    Tion insisted in visiting in person, which meant that Leia was subjected to another change of wardrobe. And venue. She should have been approached on the throne, but the best she could do was to receive him in a conference room.

    “Your Majesty,” Tion greeted.

    There was no simpering this time, no flattery or false grandeur. He spoke the honorific, but spoke to her as if she were a junior officer in need of discipline. Leia did not bristle, but merely nodded in acknowledgment of his salutation from the chair at the head of the table.

    “I cannot begin to express my distress over the lives lost in the attacks of two days ago,” Tion stated.

    Distress doesn't take prisoners.

    “Thank you, Lord Tion. Please sit.”

    She indicated a chair that still placed him at some distance, but was hardly at the other end of the room. He obediently sat, but he was bearing himself as if conducting a military parade in the presence of Palpatine himself rather than consulting with a queen who had less than a year on the throne.

    “I am appalled by the actions of radical extremists two days ago,” she responded carefully.

    “Extremists?” he echoed. “A curious word to use.”

    “Alderaan has found itself philosophically at odds with the New Order,” Leia said, “but we publish editorials. We speak in debate. We avoid war at all costs and those who struck against Alderaan's Imperial protectors did not act in accordance with the core philosophies of this society.”

    “Your Majesty,” he began again, “these are fine words, but no matter their core philosophies, they were all citizens of Alderaan. Eight had participated in the Procession of Fealty and sworn their lives to protect yours.”

    The news was not new—Winter had the names of every insurgent memorized—but it was still enough to cause her anguish and she did not think Tion would see pretense in her stricken expression. “I am appalled because I did not think my people capable of such senseless hatred.”

    “Whether or not it was senseless will be determined once they are questioned and put on trial.”

    “They will be put on trial, then?”

    He nodded. “Alderaan has found itself philosophically at odds with the New Order,” he quoted, “but part of my duty on Alderaan is to see that Imperial actions are a deterrent. We have the luxury of seeing justice done.”

    Had Vader been involved, he would have ignored such luxuries in favor of something more permanently memorable. Mother had disarmed the planet to appease him when Leia was a child, but that was in a time when Alderaan had more resources at its disposal. The best thing would be to involve Alderaanians in the Imperial trials before Tion took it for granted that they would recognize his authority as higher than that of their queen. She abhorred the idea of bowing to the Imperial courts, but it might keep Vader from intervening himself.

    If Vader felt the need to deter Alderaanians from rising up, Alderaanian society would not be permitted to exist. Like the Republic Senate, it would be a relic that had once been great and had to be radically changed once its members seemed to go feral.

    Aware that too much time had passed for her introspection to go unnoticed, she dipped her chin in appreciation. “You honor our ways, Lord Tion. These people do not represent Alderaan and Thon does not claim them.”

    “Yes.” For the first time since entering, he smiled and it was a chilling sight. “Your thane's full cooperation has been most exemplary.”

    Winter had explained that the thane had acted only to keep the Empire from rounding up anyone who thought of Thon as home and deciding later who was at fault. It meant greater troop deployment and curfews, but there had been no retaliatory strikes.

    “As I said, the luxury of justice is currently allowing us to only prosecute those who struck at the Empire in the Lorna Park district,” he continued. “Part of the questioning will root out who else was personally involved in the planning of this savagery.”

    The young woman who had grown up on her father's stories of the rise of the Empire doubted that the brutality would be so restrained, but the queen who had to keep her people as free as possible had to hold on to some hope.

    “Thank you for your assurances,” she said. “I asked to speak to you because it was unthinkable to leave you unaware of where this world's loyalties lie.”

    Within your tightening grip.

    “You are, as ever, gracious, Your Majesty.” He glanced around the room as if noticing that they were not in the Palace for the first time. “The ardor of your faith in your people is remarkable; I did not expect such declarations within hours of your return to consciousness.”

    No one on her staff would have mentioned that fact to him, but the leak was unsurprising. Cark was not likely to have reported her every movement to the garrison commander, but it was rumored that he had allies and informants in every wing of the Palace as well as on most avenues of the major cities.

    “I serve Alderaan and I understand the role that the Empire has played here,” Leia said. “I hope I will not have need to speak with such urgency again."

    “Thank you, Your Majesty.” He feigned hesitation though the smirk remained in place. “It is something of a miracle that there were so few casualties in the Palace. I understand you anticipated the need for an evacuation before the attack across the city began in earnest and before the unfortunate explosion in your own room.”

    Was he fishing for an admission of collusion? Asking who had warned her? Trying to draw a conclusion as to just how miraculous her instincts had been?

    “I had a troubled night,” Leia admitted. “I can thank a nightmare for saving the lives of every person in the residence.”

    “A nightmare, nothing more?”

    Still fishing.

    There was only one explanation that rang true with her, though Tion might dismiss it as a superstitious concealment of an alternative explanation.

    “Lord Tion, we believe that the goddess Taia watches over her world and inspires its rulers. Indeed, we have a long history of insights that were providential. I feel it entirely possible that my patron goddess troubled my sleep very deliberately.”

    She had not been given something as concrete as Evesight since her coronation, but she felt no qualms in expressing this faith.

    “Goddess save the queen,” Tion murmured with an arched eyebrow. “May she do so for many years to come.”

    A minute later, he was gone, leaving Leia to recall the somber explanation Winter had given when Leia questioned her characterization of the attack as a diversion.

    With such an immediate threat, there were constabulary and military officers, emergency medical response teams, preparing to deal with the aftermath of this uprising. I suspect the attack was timed so when the Palace was threatened, it would take time for the forces to redivert to your aid. I believe they wanted you to have no choice but to die for your people.”

    Winter had sworn that there was no Alliance involvement and that was of some comfort, but it then remained to be seen who wished to see the throne empty and when they would attempt another coup.
     
  16. RK_Striker_JK_5

    RK_Striker_JK_5 Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2003
    Ooh, poor Leia. And I have a bad feeling about that uprising giving Tion the perfect excuse to tighten his grip. Great descriptions of Leia being incapacitated, too.
     
  17. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb details, beginning with Leia's troubled dreams which thankfully woke her in time to not suffer any graver injury, followed by those of the diversionary "coup" or insurgency, as well as the contest of wills with Tion. =D=
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2020
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  18. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Author's Note: I worked on this throughout my recent vacation and since I have to be back at work tomorrow, I decided to sit down and finish this particular post. Things are about to get pretty intense on some fronts.
    *
    Luke rarely missed an opportunity to socialize. Biggs was still enthusiastically hoping for Skywalker to become a name on a squadron roster and Luke accepted invitations from anyone and everyone who could put him a few steps closer to a flightsuit of his own. Gone were the early days when he had seen Biggs' comrades through a lens of awe and in its place, he felt respected.

    Tonight, though, he begged off a sim run with Porkins and Antilles and retreated to his bunk early. Sleep wouldn't come; no matter how long he stared at the ceiling, he couldn't shut his brain down. He couldn't identify the cause for his apprehension, but he felt as if he were being warned of a particularly dangerous sandstorm.

    He blacked out sometime after midnight, but when he woke up in the morning, the feeling hadn't gone away. He checked everything he could, though, and didn't see any upcoming missions for his new friends. Systems checks on his assigned crafts came up clean. It was even coming up on the first days of autumn on base and weather was enjoying the summer while it lasted.

    Then what in blazes had him teetering on the verge of panic?

    Idocryn turned up as he was absent-mindedly installing a new engine on a Headhunter that had seen better days years before the Alliance bought it off the black market. The team lead wasn't the type to ask about feelings, but he had a talent for recognizing when one of his people was a little off-kilter.

    “Take a break,” he ordered without so much as a greeting.

    “I'll be done in an hour,” Luke muttered from the repulsorsled. “It can wait.”

    “It's not coming from me,” Idocryn said. “I want everyone in my office in five minutes.”

    Luke hit his head on the engine as he bolted upright, but the boss was already on his way to deliver the same message to Alya Silvon. He only took time to stow his tools and make sure the part was at least going to avoid falling out of its housing before jogging in the direction of Idocryn's office.

    He was the last to arrive, but Idocryn had been good enough to keep everyone in suspense. Alya slid over to offer him room on the bench nearest the door, but he noted that more than one person was too worked up to sit still. Takar Qesh was actually pacing.

    “When was the last all-hands meeting?” Luke asked quietly.

    “On this short notice?” Alya didn't grimace, but her eyes closed as if she were getting a headache. She was the only Alderaanian on their shift and Luke wasn't blind to the grief she'd experienced in the last year, no matter how little she talked about it. “When Bail Organa got arrested. Boss doesn't like interrupting work for anything less than a Star Destroyer in orbit.”

    “Nothing so severe,” Idocryn answered as he entered, “but this is grave news and I don't want you hearing it as rumors thrown around the pilots' lounge.”

    He wasn't the only one who liked to milk anyone with a patrol assignment for the news of the day and all of them knew to check their sources before believing anything. Luke nodded in acknowledgment, but instead of the slightly embarrassed feeling that the comment should have prompted, he felt the same tension of an oncoming storm that had kept him up for half the night.

    “There were two ground attacks carried out on Alderaan,” his lead said with a glance at Alya. “The Empire wasn't behind them, but that's the only good news. A group of native Alderaanians protested the Imperial occupation by trying to start a war of their own and that included a coordinated attack on Imperial troops and a bombing of the royal palace.”

    Alya was on her feet immediately, while Qesh slumped against the wall in relief that the news was not as personally disastrous as it could have been.

    “The Queen is alive and being cared for,” Idocryn said before she could ask the obvious questions. “The bomb detonated when neither she nor her staff were in the residential wing and when the number of people working in the palace was relatively low. High Command thinks they wanted to send a message more than anything.”

    “Hell of a message,” Dzef Edders said to general murmurs of agreement. “Are we sure the group wasn't getting its funding or taking its orders from someone off-world?”

    Idocryn held up both hands. “I'll tell you everything we're sure of,” he assured them. “The palace was attacked by the same group that planned the assault on the stormtroopers, There were casualties on both sides, but Alderaan isn't without its rightful ruler.”

    “The rightful ruler who practically made it illegal to be a Rebel sympathizer within ten lightyears of her throne?” Qesh rejoined.

    “That was the Empire's doing,” Alya protested, turning on her heel and stepping unconsciously into a defensive stance.

    “With her permission.”

    This was the sort of argument that had brought disgruntled Alderaanians to the Alliance. They were peaceful people by their philosophies, but a lot of them had wanted to go to people who were willing to do something to oppose the Emperor. Waiting in Antibes for the garrison commander to figure out a reason to arrest them wasn't what they had in mind, so recruitment had slowly escalated in the months since Leia, Princess of Alderaan, took the throne and accepted her new title.

    Luke hadn't realized the conversation had continued until Idoryn's stern “Enough” cut through the buzz of dialogue. Alya looked more miserable than angry, but she obeyed the command immediately.

    “This is exactly why I didn't want you getting second-hand speculation,” Idocryn said. “We don't know much yet, but we know that the Empire isn't going to take this lightly. They sent in a garrison when Senator Organa failed to escape. Our source says new planet-wide security is being discussed, but we can't say if that means martial law in the affected cities or if Queen Leia is about to have a few personal chats with Darth Vader that will be as disastrous as the last time someone in her family opposed him directly. Either way, we're going to do no one any good with arguing over who's to blame.”

    “Then why are we here?” Luke asked when no one else spoke up immediately.

    “Because this Alliance is more than a bit like a family,” Idocryn responded in a gentler tone while turning to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Alya. “I want you all to ignore your curiosity for a bit so you can be aware of how hard the days to come will be for many of our brothers and sisters on this base.”

    Once he called, “Dismissed,” there were no overt apologies to Alya or worried fussing, but by the time they'd made it back to the hangar, the rest of the team had found ways to share her workload.

    Biggs technically had nothing to do with the new ships—he hadn't been in for repairs or upgrades since Luke replaced the upper starboard cannon three weeks ago—but Luke found him idly evaluating the new Headhunter with the admiration the mechanics saw any time an old junker got a shiny new piece of equipment. Some had even argued that they could save the trouble of looking for black market acquisitions and cobble together something that would stand up better to the Imperial Fleet, but most of the pilots with cheeks on cushions could only make recommendations and flew their less-gently used starfighters until they dropped out of the sky.

    “Sure this won't overtax the system?” He thumped the hull affectionately as Luke approached. “From what I hear, the Headhunters are good craft, but aren't great on mechanical diagnostics so the pilot has to use more than a little intuition when knowing if a part''s about to implode.”

    “Most of you guys have more than a little intuition,” Luke pointed out, “and I've been bringing the diagnostics up to the specs of newer models so us normal folks can trust the computer rather than that weird thunking sound that happens any time we leave atmo.”

    Biggs usually would have chuckled at such an assessment, but his expression suggested he was about as happy about the morning's news as the rest of them. There was even a chance he'd heard more details, but Luke had to be satisfied with hearing these things on a need-to-know basis.

    That didn't stop him from trying to know, of course. “Awful thing about Alderaan,” he said conversationally while retrieving his toolbox.

    “Awful thing about a lot of places,” his friend commented, “but on Alderaan, trying to go to their aid will just get more people killed.”

    The way Luke had heard it, this was one of the reasons that High Command always went looking for minimally-inhabited planets when in search of a new base. Vader wasn't squeamish about blaming a whole society for what a few hundred people managed to pull off and no one in the Alliance looked forward to seeing if he had a line he wouldn't cross.

    “Then we definitely weren't involved, then?”

    Biggs didn't answer for a long minute, just handed over a rag that wasn't saturated with some kind of engine grease and waited until Luke had activated the sled. With everyone out of earshot and the repulsors making a small racket, he spoke in a low voice.

    “Alderaan is forbidden territory,” he confided. “Bel Iblis doesn't like leaving them on their own, but Mon Mothma raised hell about what Andor's rescue mission cost everyone and the commanders are siding with her.”

    This wasn't exactly news. Luke wasn't privy to mission details, but knew how to calculate raid sites based on fuel consumption and the sort of things that would gunk up fighter parts. It was hard to miss that no one bringing their fighter back to base had been anywhere near the Core.

    “I'd probably agree with her,” he said. “Are you sure about this?”

    Biggs nodded and tapped the rank insignia on his collar. “We have the squadron breaking up into flights for some harassment efforts and the list of targets comes with a list of 'you-shall-nots.'”

    It was the furthest down the chain of command Luke knew of such specific information coming and he leaned closer under the pretense of finding a Harris wrench. “So, why mention it now?”

    “Because we're not the only side of the war treating Alderaan with kid gloves,” Biggs said. “I'm fairly sure we'll know why that is soon and when we do, it'll be worse news for the people you're worried about today. I thought you should have a heads up.”

    Luke glanced to where Alya was busy with a B-wing with a canopy malfunction. She wasn't looking as shaken as she had in Idocryn's office, but her unusually sharp focus meant she'd probably work through the night to put it back in order if it just made her feel like she could control something. He knew that feeling pretty well and preferred it when this was as bad as that got.

    “Got it.”

    *

    The Palace at Aldera had been the primary residence of the royal family since the early days of the Republic, but the “summer home” was a less grand residence in Antibes. It was traditionally the governmental seat of the heir-apparent and Winter had not been the only one to recommend that the Council meeting be moved to that location.

    Leia had been tempted to acquiesce, especially after her first sight of the buckled roof and shattered windows on the lower levels of the north wing and the complete absence of the family's quarters on the upper floor. The fire from the blast had not raged through the throne room or pulverized the Grand Audience Chamber, but there were original volumes of literature in the family library that had been treated with significant reverence in the past and were now piles of ash. The original artwork in the residence came from centuries of beloved artists and the new portrait that Leia had been given during the coronation was now only preserved in holo and memory.

    It went without saying that the loss of antique books and her favorite sculpture was trivial next to what Alderaan might have lost had Leia not been called upon to heed a warning, but the immediacy of the losses made it difficult to feel remotely safe.

    The Council would have understood a move to Antibes, whether for a few hours or for a whole season, but Leia refused to let the insurgents move her a centimeter from the place she had always called home. As most of her personal belongings had been incinerated in the attack, Winter raided their cabins on the Tantive IV to allow the Queen and her aide to dress appropriately for matters of state, then personally helped Leia into the dark green gown and embroidered slippers. She had spent her first hour at home attempting her normal gait and while she was not yet walking without a slight limp, she did not need any support to move about the palace.

    The Council rose as one as she entered her private conference room and bowed in silence as she returned the honor with a gesture of appreciation. “Please, be seated.”

    Winter retreated to her usual place among the aides and, as her most trusted advisors resumed their seats, Leia sank into her chair with only a hand on the arm to ease the movement. They all sat in respectful and orderly silence while she adjusted her posture slowly enough to avoid squirming in pain.

    At last, she gazed at each of the councilors in turn. It was no surprise that Mekthama was looking ill at ease as the head of security and Verlaine was clearly paying close attention to the mood of the room. She could sense the tension as clearly as if it were broadcast in holo, but the simmering anger was far from reaching a boiling point.

    Perhaps they had spent too much time in anticipation of a catastrophe to respond to everything without checking their emotions. She was quite familiar with that effort and trusted that it would have some bearing on their discussions here tonight.

    “I want neither war nor an excuse for the Empire to take the rule of Taia's world from the v'taiaketh,” Leia announced. “I trust that we are all in accordance with this mission?”

    The answers were, as was customary, delivered individually. She noted the slightest hesitation from two of them, but that was not an immediate concern. They were all considering measures that gave them pause and she would address concerns as they arose.

    “Your Majesty,” Thane Verlaine said, “there is not one of your advisors who would not caution against war, but I worry that Lord Tion is not willing to share your opinions.”

    The Galaxy has changed a great deal sicne the Clone Wars. The need for peace has not.”

    Your Highness, we have always agreed on that point.”

    That conversation had been a carefully casual one hours after the Imperial justice system began formally moving forward with Father's trial, but a desperate part of her soul hoped that he could be reminded of those sentiments. “Lord Tion represents the Emperor's interests and claims them as his own, but he lost nearly two squads of men in the Lorna Park assault and our people saw that the mighty Empire is not invulnerable.” Verlaine made a quick gesture of caution and she nodded in thanks to him. “The Empire's presence is still strong on our world and if we do not tread carefully, it is likely that Lord Tion will shore up what he will see as the Imperial defense of Alderaan.”

    “As he did on Raltiir,” the corpulent Horm guessed.

    “May Taia grant that such measures never be taken against those we serve.” It came out more sharply than she intended, but the recollection of her conversation with Tion also called to mind his justifications for the atrocities committed once he returned to his prior assigned command. “Lord Tion believed that the power vacuum on that world led to the uprisings. If we see no other fundamental differences than Alderaan and a world that rose against the Empire, it is our duty to act on the fact that there is no such power vacuum here.”

    “Your Majesty, I must urge you to use all of those sitting on this Council,” Celchu interjected unexpectedly. As the most junior of the advisors, he had yet to make many contributions to the deliberations, but his input always drew attention from the others and Leia followed suit, waiting in silence for a further explanation. “Those on Thon who perpetrated these atrocities did so in protest of your efforts to balance Imperial protection with your just ruling. Your Queen's Council and the Council of Thanes alike exist to lessen the burdens you must carry when they can.”

    “I fully trust that I may rely on you all,” she responded. “I do not, however, expect to leave management in the hands of my councilors alone. Thane Mekthama.”

    “Your Majesty?”

    “Going forward, the arrests of insurgents must be handled by our people.”

    “Your Majesty!” Color drained from his face, but the dread that implied was countered by the angry set of his jaw. “You would have our people turn against their own?”

    “I would have our people stand against those who dishonor the justice we serve.”

    “You would have them stand in the place of the Imperial officers, as if all Alderaanians served the Emperor directly.”

    For the moment, Leia let the stinging comment go without a word of rebuke and glanced at Verlaine, who was looking less forgiving of the opinion.

    “Her Majesty the Queen would have them stand between the servants of the Emperor and the people we protect,” he interpreted correctly.

    “Then what concessions do we allow next? Martial law instated by the girl on the throne?”

    “The woman on the throne you swore fealty to,” Verlaine interrupted more sharply, “and who speaks for the goddess.”

    “The voice of the goddess would never speak on behalf of the Empire.”

    The comment was heretical at best and seditious at worst and Leia could sense something of a storm brewing, but she could not discern its source. She could not afford to let her frustration or anger boil over and she doubted that Mekthama was foolish enough to push her to that point. She hoped she was right to put faith in collective wisdom.

    “If we permit this, we might expect the Penitentiary Board to train its officers in Imperial interrogation techniques so the leading cause of death among Alderaanians is 'succumbed during routine questioning.' At what point will you be willing to stop asking our people to stand in the place of the Empire and instead stand against the Imperial commander?”

    Verlaine was not the only one to stand abruptly in that moment. Leia felt an angry flush rise in her skin, but kept her silence.

    “That is too far,” Horm said through gritted teeth. “Her Majesty the Queen opposes totalitarianism.”

    “Not to the degree that her parents did,” Mekthama countered.

    “That degree is a luxury that none of us here can afford at the present time,” Verlaine said. His voice had resumed its usual, level tone, but those words demanded attention while Leia waited for the next stormfront to arrive so she could face it. “Dissension is welcomed as a matter of debate, but disloyalty is not to be tolerated here.”

    None of them noticed immediately when Leia rose to her feet, but when she spoke, silence fell immediately. “There can be none of this,” she stated. The words had stuck in her mind as a low-level buzz while the cacophony had reigned and they now dissolved into reason and resolve. “We are not turning against Alderaan. We are turning our justice system against Alderaan's enemies. That exercise of justice did not come into being with Lord Tion's arrival and we will not cease the struggle against this warmongering when the last stormtrooper has left.”

    She took a moment to breathe deeply, but was more simply gauging how tempted they all were to disagree with her. Silence remained in effect and she motioned for them to sit as she sank back into the chair, legs still quivering with both pain and adrenaline.

    “There can be none of this because this will not be the last time that we must do things that are repellent to us. My voice is the conduit for our goddess, but it cannot be the only voice raised in support of safeguarding our people. Bringting arrests under our control will seem to be submission to Lord Tion, but will ensure that the v'taiaketh are those who remand criminals to our justice system. It will not make us any friends.” She risked a glance at Mekthama and found him seething, but silent. “It may lose us allies. Dissension is your right within these walls. Opposition can be voiced here, where no unfriendly ears may hear the opportunity to put us at cross-purposes.

    “I asked you all to serve because you could be trusted to use your minds and hearts, but I must ask you to remember your public oaths of service and the fealty to the throne that must be associated with them. Raltiir suffered fates worse than ours in the absence of leadership and those in this room are proof that Alderaan has no such shortcoming.”

    The seething in Mekthama's manner seemed to be accompanied by frustrated weariness and Leia could not deny that she had experience with those same feelings in the last days. She turned to Verlaine and nodded.

    “Going forward, the arrests of insurgents must be handled by our people,” he echoed.

    Erand Milor, the councilor who oversaw the more local governments, finally spoke. She had remained silent through the entire argument, though the local constabularies came under her purview, and she spoke with just a trace of regret in her voice.

    “Before I distribute those orders, I will visit with our Imperial guests to advise them of the policy and discuss how they will implement the change.”

    They scattered less than ten minutes later, with Mekthama's aides looking more like bodyguards than allies. At a signal from Leia, Verlaine remained behind, and did not speak until they were the only two in the room.

    “Damn the man,” he growled.

    She was feeling less inclined to censure, but grimaced in sympathy with the anger in his voice. “I was not surprised by the objection, but did not think it would come from the man who tightened security at the spaceports and increased inspections for off-worlders.”

    “There you have it,” Verlaine said. “When your father was imprisoned and our world was in danger, he did not object to taking measures against foreign enemies. The insurgents aren't an external attack. They are a cancer within the Alderaanian body and must be treated and eradicated with extraordinary measures.”

    Leia rubbed at the sore spot between her brows in the unguarded privacy of a conversation between friends. “Do you agree with the measures?”

    She took comfort in his lack of hesitation. “They are unpleasant things to consider, but that does not mean they are unnecessary. I stand by the policy”

    “Thank you.”

    A moment later, he clasped her shoulder gently. “And Mekthama...”

    “Must remain on the council,” Leia said immediately. “It will take some time for me to see him as an ally again, but he has not ceased to be a trusted advisor.”
    She saw a flicker of wariness cross his face, but he merely bowed formally to indicate his respect of her wishes. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    *

    Mon Mothma rarely sent text-based comuniques, but tonight, she could not trust her voice to remain level. Dozens dead on the field of battle, a queen who had miraculously escaped death while others in the palace were not so fortunate, and a rebel cell that had seemed to come from nowhere and had no clear ties to the factions she had struggled to unite under the banner of the Rebel Alliance.

    She addressed six words to her fellow senator before waiting for a response: Tell me Alderaan wasn't our doing.

    Bel Iblis' answer was simple, direct, and surprisingly sincere: We have done enough harm to Bail Organa's people and I will neither condone, nor suggest, this kind of terrorism.

    Were Bail still alive, he would have chided her for having misgivings. He had been the mediating influence on them both, pursuing the diplomatic efforts that brought anti-Imperial people to their aid, but knowing that there would be a need for decisive strikes and long-term strategies. Without Bail, she felt that it was a constant uphill climb to reach common ground with the man who had organized the Corellian Treaty.

    She responded briefly: I understand. We must speak tomorrow of other things.

    Had Bail been alive, the messenger probably would have approached him with the information Mon Mothma had heard minutes after the report of the attacks on Alderaan. She might not have even known that a former Senate Guard had come to their aid until plans were in place and a course of action was being negotiated.

    As it was, she was the one to receive the datacard with reconnaissance reports and classified security briefings. The message could not have come from a single source and Mon Mothma recognized the handiwork of a few operatives they had used in the past, but the Guard had concluded the warnings of a construction project with a statement that shook her more profoundly than even the thought that their people had turned on Bail Organa's daughter.

    “This might have the power to be a planet-killer.”
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2020
  19. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb debates and understandable anxiety/tension
     
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  20. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 14, 2005
    Wow, this turns more into a political drama.

    The message could not have come from a single source and Mon Mothma recognized the handiwork of a few operatives they had used in the past, but the Guard had concluded the warnings of a construction project with a statement that shook her more profoundly than even the thought that their people had turned on Bail Organa's daughter.

    “This might have the power to be a planet-killer.”


    Which you write rather brilliantly!
     
  21. RK_Striker_JK_5

    RK_Striker_JK_5 Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2003
    Ooh, I am loving this. And that final sentence. Ho, boy!
     
  22. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    Author's note: This is relatively short--only 2000+ words--but I need to have this separate from the stuff I'm working on for later in the fic. This is heavily based on Interlude at Darknell out of Tales from the New Republic and I will give RK_Striker_JK_5 credit for the name of our informant. I'm hoping to get more up by my Christmas trip home.
    *
    Arrianya Bel Iblis was no fan of the Republic. It was a source of amusement to friends and foes alike, as this difference of opinion was the most visible evidence of the Bel Iblises’ marital strife. Even before the crumbling Republic had been brought under the iron fist of its last Supreme Chancellor, it had been known that Corellia’s most vocal supporter of sovereign independence was its maverick senator, while advocacy of centralized government was spread far and wide by his lovely wife.

    The most heated of their disagreements never reached the public, though their children had occasionally flinched at what was shouted in the privacy of the family home. In her more sensible moments, Arrianya would not shout her insistence that the Empire had saved the peoples of the Galaxy from the chaos of renegade elements. Nor would she threaten to denounce his Republicist leanings.

    They had loved each other outside of political discussion for many years and, as a result, Garm Bel Iblis knew his wife’s affection most clearly when she clasped his hand and said, “I admire your principles, but Iear for your safety.”

    Garm knew from the moment that she entered the temporary office assigned to him by his hosts on Anchoron that this would not be a day for fond concern and quiet admonitions.

    “Did you learn nothing from Alderaan?” she snapped.

    He had already swept for listening devices and had a jammer enabled, but there was no guarantee that more sensitive equipment had been cleared out. With only half an hour until his speech, however, there was no real need for subterfuge.

    “I learned that the Empire has no qualms about violent suppression of its opponents, but that is hardly new information,” Garm answered in a voice that could have cut durasteel. “Bail Organa was not the first victim and he is not the most recent.”

    “And that inspired you to throw caution to the wind?” Arrianya challenged, brandishing her personal datapad.

    None of this was unexpected opposition, but it did not deter him in the slightest. He had sent her the speech, not for approval or blessing, but to forewarn her. The words would gain him enemies and cut ties with some of his less moderate allies.

    “It inspired me to speak boldly.”

    “Boldly.” She lowered her arm and brought up the file with a quick set of commands. “‘As the Imperial war machine spreads across the stars, the Emperor’s intention of protection is belied by the personal oppression of beings. Whereas he has suspended the rule of law and revoked the right to due process…’”

    “None of my statements are unfounded,” he replied.

    “‘...In the service of malevolent and malignant…’”

    “Arri.”

    “Don’t interrupt me,” his wife hissed, finally lowering her voice to a volume that matched his. “Did you plagiarize Serreno’s Declaration for the Causes of Succession or are there any original thoughts in here?”

    “I am no Separatist,” he retorted. “You know as well as I that my decades of civil service have been to preserve the principles of justice that were the foundation of the Republic.”

    “Those principles cost billions of lives from Alderaan to Tatooine long before the Separatists declared war,” she shot back, casting the datapad onto the desk. “They left the Republic without a means to defend itself and chaos was the rule of law until Palpatine saw the wisdom in replacing home guards and vigilante Jedi with a unified army.”

    A “wisdom” that had decimated the Jedi Order before Darth Vader and the clonetroopers had marched on the Jedi Temple.

    Out of respect for her more direct commentary and the cessation of hyperbole, he modulated his own voice to indicate respect. “Arrianya, not a word of your rhetoric will stop me from exposing these truths.”

    “Did you learn nothing from Alderaan?” she echoed her opening question. “Your children will be the ones to suffer for this break with your Emperor. If the exposure of these ‘truths’ do not result in charges of sedition, they will certainly result in your dismissal from the Senate. You will be unable to find employment as a third-rate nerf-herder after this.”

    That was a likely outcome if the Emperor’s coterie chose to make an example of another Core World senator, but it was more likely that he would be bereft of any influence in the Senate. He would be a voting member instead of a vocal proponent of anti-totalitarian measures. But he would still be able to continue the work that neither the deceased Organa nor the hiding Mon Mothma was able to do.

    “I am doing this for the children as much as any other citizens of the Empire,” he said. “It is my sworn duty--”

    A knock at the door interrupted his declaration of principles and he immediately sighed. “Excuse me.”

    The courier was one of the dozens he had seen scurrying around the Treitamma Political Center since his arrival. He took the datacard with a word of thanks and scanned the brief message.

    “I must take this,” he said automatically without turning back to Arrianya. “I have been asked to meet briefly with an envoy before my speech and time is short.”

    “Of course.” The snarl was back in her voice and he turned to find that she had retrieved the datapad once more. “You have no time to consider the effect of this declaration of independence on your family, but stars forbid you miss an opportunity to curry favor with another rogue.”

    He wished for a moment that he could have stopped time to address her concerns, to debate with her until they reached a more peaceful state. But the message had come from an associate of Fulcrum and a minute’s delay risked the exposure of a Rebel agent.

    “We will speak of this when I return,” he promised. “Please know that I am speaking with the future of my family in mind.”

    “Go,” she said resignedly, though her grip on the datapad was white-knuckled. “I hope there will be the possibility of a future for your family when you return.”

    He made his way with purposeful, but unhurried, strides to the northeast exit. His quarry was easily spotted, smoking a cigarillo as if just enjoying the warm weather for a few minutes before the speech. She flicked it to the ground and ground it under the toe of her boot.

    “Senator,” Marlb Carcer greeted, “my apologies for the short notice, but this cannot wait until after your event.”

    He immediately gestured towards a small patio that was not far from the exit, but less likely to put them in the path of a security patrol. “I’ve been summoned with less formality before,” he assured her as they reached the deserted space. “And time is of the essence for me as well.”

    She extracted a jammer of a more portable design than the one he had employed in the office and activated it with a toggle of a switch. “I understand that Mon Mothma has been approached with information concerning an Imperial battle station.”

    “Yes.” He had not been present for the briefing, but the recording had chilled his blood nonetheless. “You have an update?”

    “Better than an update,” Carcer murmured, hand reaching nervously for another cigarillo. “We have contact with an engineer on Tarkin’s secret project.”

    “And he’s to be trusted?” The words spilled from his mouth before he even registered his quickened heartbeat or his shallow breathing.

    “He’s to be vetted,” she corrected, “We can’t exactly do a fly-by to check his information, but our people are checking out his allegiances and his assignments.”

    “It’s not Erso?”

    “No.” She tucked the cigarillo back in her pocket after a moment’s consideration in which her nervousness was overtaken by pragmatism. “Intel says Erso’s been a part of the design, but no one’s been able to track him down. This is a spanner-to-bolts hands-on sort who is part of the construction effort.”

    It would be a perfect world if they were to get technical readouts, but until that happened, this man might be able to give them specifications for the station and a location. If nothing else, he could provide innocuous reports that could be dissected and turned to a tactical advantage. His mere confirmation of the planet-killer’s construction was a step.

    “How is he to be contacted?”

    “Not by you,” she said grimly.

    “And not through Mon Mothma’s contact?”

    “Her contact is more of a bureaucrat than criminal mastermind,” the woman scoffed. “But I know you have aides who would be able to intercede and make the necessary arrangements.”

    He would have preferred Aach, but Andor had perished on Imperial Center, along with most of his squad. Too many of the remaining aides would let his wife know of any dangerous assignments.

    “It will take some time to dispatch someone I can trust,” Bel Iblis said at last. “What is the timetable?”

    She ground out the cigarillo as if coming to a decision. “The contact will be on Darknell five days from now. Do you think you can get someone there within.--”

    The next thing he remembered was the ringing in his ears and a searing pain in his lungs. The explosion had knocked him across the patio and it was luck that ensured he collapsed against a tree instead of a duracrete wall of some kind. His first attempt to regain his balance alerted him to some kind of injury to his right leg, but he would not do a self-assessment until he was sure that they were out of danger.

    He retched as the smoke hit his lungs with the next breath and his skin registered the oppressive heat from the burning building. A cough followed, but both of those things were ignored as he pulled himself to his unsteady feet and began staggering towards the Political Center.

    Rough hands seized his shoulders and yanked him back. He turned to find Carcer, ashen and in the midst of shouting something he could not hear.

    “My family,” he shouted back by way of explanation.

    He needed neither her blessing nor her assistance to go to their aid. He shrugged her hands off and had taken two steps when her leg swept his good one and sent him crashing to the ground.

    He had a few choice words to say about the tactic, but he turned and seized her by the front of the singed tunic. When he repeated the phrase again, he could hear it like a distant thunder. She dropped to her knees and clasped his jaw between both of her hands so he would be forced to look at her.

    No one could have survived that.

    He shook his head emphatically. The rebellion had been built by people who should not have been able to survive the wrath of the Emperor and he had enough faith in that element of impossibility to know that an effort might yield a miracle, but only if he acted quickly.

    She did not let him free, though. No one could have survived that. They just tried to murder you and killed your family instead. Don’t let them succeed in their mission.

    Sirens began to pierce the ringing that was still muffling her speech and he saw several emergency craft converging from the southeast and northwest. Carcer’s grip tightened as if she had read his mind again.

    If there are any who can be saved, it will be done by the responders. “You have to be far from here when the fire dies down,” she said, finally audible. “Senator I’m sorry, but you have to leave them behind.”

    His mind imagined what Arrianya would think of him not being there when she was pulled from the rubble. He knew that their children would eventually face the possibility that his remains were among the bodies that could not be identified. They would suffer in his absence, but they might escape the punishment of the Empire. After all, he had been the only one to stand against Palpatine.

    “Senator,” Marlb shouted.

    He pulled away and retched again, but this time, it had nothing to do with smoke inhalation. She waited nearly half a minute before speaking again.

    “Senator, I have a transport and we must act quickly.”

    Quickly. If they were fast enough, they would get lift clearance before the government shut down the spaceports and sent stormtroopers to question anyone trying to leave in too much of a hurry.

    “I can’t walk,” he wheezed after a long moment.

    “There are thousands of people who came here in speeders. We can worry about the legality of appropriating one later.”

    She didn’t remark on the reason for the tears tracking their way through soot when she returned, only helped him into the rear seat and instructed him to keep a low profile.

    With no more that he himself could do, the widower of Arrianya Bel Iblis and the father to dead children who would be remembered as upstanding citizens burrowed beneath a tarp and howled his grief under the cover of the sirens.
    *
     
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    =D= Wow. You do it to me every time!
     
    AzureAngel2 and DarthIshtar like this.
  24. RK_Striker_JK_5

    RK_Striker_JK_5 Jedi Grand Master star 7

    Registered:
    Jul 2, 2003
    Oh, that ending, especially considering his last conversation with his wife. :(
     
  25. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Chosen One star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001