Synopsis: Since the Battle of Endor, there has been no rest for Leia Organa as she warns the New Republic government of complacency and Han is frustrated. Now they must put their personal lives on hold again to investigate an ancient coded document and the strange disappearances from the Outer Rim which Leia fears have Imperial involvement. With the untimely appearance of a childhood friend threatening to throw them all into chaos once more, can Han protect Leia and can Luke persuade her to use her Force power to save them all? Prologue “Perhaps Senator Organa would like to explain why she requires all these resources at a time when we need to be concentrating funds on restoring the Government?” A tall Neimoidian in official robes loudly addressed the room, his red eyes shining in his nose-less green face, his body language demanding an answer. He glanced around at the collection of ambassadors and senators gathered in the large room of the Chandrilian central government building as if inviting support for his question. Leia Organa, Princess and Senator of the New Republic, experienced military leader and diplomat was not intimidated. While younger than the other council officials present, she had been trained from a very early age for such situations and had long been the Rebel Alliance's most talented ambassador. Her face was expressionless, a mask she wore often while carrying out official duties. It gave nothing away and covered the multitude of emotions that burned below the surface and that she was so good at hiding. “As the esteemed Ambassador must surely be aware, the fall of Emperor Palpatine has not signified the end of the war. We have already seen fierce fighting and sustained heavy losses in the battles on Sterdic IV and Naboo to name just two. I am aware of the importance of maintaining government but Ambassador San'teefa is in danger of becoming complacent. If we ignore the very real threats posed by the Empire's remaining forces, we will allow them to build strength and all our efforts will be for nothing.” Leia kept her voice calm as she delivered her explanation. Without making a show of the fact she was looking, she took note of the ambassadors around the room who nodded in agreement. Some, she knew, would not support her further than the nod if pressed to do so but that was a negotiation for another day. She was beginning to feel tired. It had been a very long day of similarly fraught meetings, her robes were beginning to press down on her shoulders and her feet were sore from hours of standing. San'teefa seemed annoyed that his challenge was not as successful as he had hoped. “You have already been allowed to keep half the fleet for this purpose, your Highness. These smaller skirmishes are insignificant. The Empire has been crushed and now it is imperative that we concentrate on government to retain order and rebuild the once lucrative trade routes.” he continued. Cato Neimoidia had once been an opulent world whose trade barons had offered hospitality that rivalled the best in the galaxy during the time of the trade federations. Leia was aware that the barons had been particularly keen to assist Emperor Palpatine's rise to power, furthering their own ambitious agendas. As far as she was concerned traders and businessmen had no place influencing the rule of government; profit and greed always swayed their judgement. People like that received one good dividend and they invested it in enterprises like the development of clone armies and look where that had got everyone. No. It should be kept completely separate. Perhaps San'teefa had such an agenda which is why he was so aggressive towards her but she would have to temper her disdain. “While I understand that encouraging trade is important to the prosperity of the galaxy, the New Republic recalls more ships every day to protect member worlds and my men are spread thin. Protection must also come through actively seeking out the remnants and disbanding them before they can be of threat. I can't do that if my forces are depleted. People's lives are still at great risk and that must surely take precedence over trade profits” she emphasised, as calmly as she could. “Senator Organa makes a good point and, if the intention of the New Republic is to eventually hand protection of member worlds back to each of us, perhaps it is not necessary to recall ships from the Alliance as quickly as we are.” The Senator from the Hosnian system spoke up. A greying man with a face that had seen the strains of the long Imperial regime, he addressed his statement to an older, serene looking woman sitting at one end of the room, rather than to the Neimoidian ambassador, who took further offence at this. San'teefa's voice became agitated. “Senator Organa is in danger of warmongering. She has been fighting for so long that perhaps she and her Jedi brother should return to the battle field and leave the political decisions to those with more experience.” he said cuttingly, waving a hand in the direction of Luke Skywalker, who was standing behind Leia and out of the main discussion area. “Her legitimate senate seat was surely lost a long time ago along with the destruction of Alderaan whose demise was probably caused by it's lack of planetary defence, something she is now suggesting we offer our own planets, and the Jedi are long gone and can no longer help us.” This last remark hit home and Leia felt her ire rising. In any other company, she would have reacted but here she had to remain in control. Luke didn't move from his position. He remained standing, his arms clasped in front of him inside his Jedi robes with his hood raised. He looked like he was sleeping standing up but Leia knew he was listening to every word. “The betrayal and destruction of the Jedi was what led to the imbalance in the Force and in the galaxy.” Leia was emphatic. “My brother seeks help only to restore the sacred temples and begin an academy. The future of the galaxy depends on restoring that balance and the Jedi will help us do that. It is just as important as a fair and democratic political system.” The older woman rose to address the room. Clearly the chair of this meeting, her white robes of office were immaculately presented, her presence peaceful and forceful at the same time. Leia glanced at Mon Mothma as she began to speak. One of the Alliance's most respected leaders and recently elected First Chancellor of the New Republic, Chandrila was her home planet and centre of the new government, at least for the time being. The wide-held fear of putting power into the hands of a single leader again was a fear Leia shared and, when it had been proposed that the seat of galactic government should rotate between member worlds, Chandrila being the first to take up the banner, she had voted in favour. The Chandrilians, like their climate, were temperate people who valued democracy and gave each of their citizens a voice. It was a perfect choice for the start of the new government, laying down good foundations that Leia approved of. She had tremendous respect for the older woman, whom she had known since she had been introduced to the political arena by her adoptive father, Viceroy Bail Organa, when she was a young girl. She had come to see her as more than just a leader; a motherly figure who she had often sought advice from and confided in as she was growing both personally and within her political career. “Leia's credentials and those of her brother are not in question here Ambassador.” Mon Mothma stopped Ambassador San'teefa in his tracks, her voice quiet but authoritative. “Nor is her considerable experience up for debate. Alderaan may have been peaceful with no planetary defence systems but it's security forces were superior. Without it's resources and assistance, there would have been no Rebel Alliance in the first place and without Luke Skywalker, the Emperor would still be in power and we would not be having this discussion.” She turned to Leia. “I understand your concerns, Leia. I know that you would not bring this matter to us without due cause. However, I must also be mindful of our promise to return each member world's ships and troops to them so that they may begin rebuilding their defences and some are insisting this happen sooner rather than later. I am afraid I am not in a position to refuse them after all they have done for us during the war. I will put your case to a few worlds who might be willing to wait.” “Thank you, Chancellor. That's all I can ask.” Leia conceded. It was disappointing but Mon Mothma was, indeed, in a difficult position. It would mean further negotiations with sympathetic leaders to secure alternative funding for ships and resources, which meant, in turn, more meetings like this one and she was exhausted. The meeting was adjourned after the discussion of several other agenda items that Leia mostly closed her ears to and she left the meeting room, followed by Luke, his Jedi robes flowing behind him, giving him a commanding presence. Walking through the wide corridors back to their temporary chambers, she was frustrated. She turned to Luke who still hadn't said a word. “Warmongering?” Leia asked heatedly. She wasn't really asking a question, rather disbelieving of what she had heard. Her eyes were wide with exasperation and the gesticulation of her hands and the speed of her walk further served to illustrate her annoyance. “Really? Am I warmongering?” This time it was a question. Luke removed his hood and stopped her walking with a gentle hand on her upper arm. “Leia, you know that's not true. He was just trying to get to you.” he smiled. His gentle blue eyes calming her down. “Well, it almost worked.” She sighed and continued along the corridor, more slowly this time. “It's so frustrating. I had hoped for a better response but now it seems we will have to make do with what we have. It means more individual and probably protracted negotiations and I just don't want to stay a moment longer.” “You did your best and that's all you can do. We'll manage. We always manage.” Luke reassured her. She gave him a long look. He was always so patient and conciliatory. She wished he had been with her throughout her teenage years in the Senate, to calm her easily agitated temper. “What will you do now?” she asked him. “Are you going to stay on here and make use of the archives? Would you like me to stay on and help you?” “No, that's alright. I've spoken to the people I need to for the moment and I was going to come back with you if that's OK. I'd like to spend some time reading through the archive data I already have.” Luke sometimes spent hours in the archives on several planets that had good sources of information such as Chandrila and Coruscant but it could get a bit mind blowing and it often helped to take copies back to his own quarters on the base if simply for a change of scenery. “OK then.” Leia continued. “If you have a moment, I'd like you to help me with something.” she said. Luke looked enquiringly at her. “Oh? What's that?” “Just something that General Madine brought to my attention. We'll discuss it on the way home.” Leia paused by one of the large windows, the view suddenly catching her eye, and gazed out over the lakes of the Galadian State Park in the centre of Hanna City. “It's beautiful here, isn't it?” she said, her mind momentarily transported to another place. “Yes, it is.” he agreed. And a world away from my desert home on Tatooine, he thought. “One day we might have time to stop and enjoy the beauty in the galaxy.” There was longing in her voice. He put his arm round her shoulder. “Come on.” he said. “Let's get home.” Chapter 1 It had been several months since the battle on Endor that resulted in the death of Emperor Palpatine and the collapse of the Empire but there had been little time to rest for members of the former Rebel Alliance. Small Imperial factions were scattered throughout the galaxy, some so far out that news of the Empire's demise had not yet reached them, others forging on regardless, believing that rumours of the Alliance's success were exaggerated. Comfortable in their own pockets of power, they enforced their long held oppressive ideals with dogged loyalty. Mon Mothma, feeling strongly that the Emperor had managed to gain much of his power due to complacency within the Republic, was keen to re-order the new government, giving each world the chance to lead so as not to put power into the hands of one person again. With a view to de-militarising the Alliance forces and leaving defence of member worlds to the worlds themselves, she was in the process of recalling the fleet and decommissioning them, leaving small groups based on several worlds co-ordinating a clean up operation. One such base was on Thyfeera, a planet in the Jaso System on the Inner Rim. During the Clone Wars, Thyfeera had been the main site of Bacta production and control of this production has been fought over for many years resulting in the brutal Bacta War. Now under the banner of the New Republic, Thyfeera had seemed an ideal place for a small but secret Alliance settlement. Thyfeera's tropical atmosphere, with it's spectacular mountains and lush forests made it reasonably comfortable for humans and machines alike, unlike some of the bases the Alliance had had to endure, such as the frozen world of Hoth. Thyfeera's intricate network of caves had enabled the Alliance to set up a base hidden in the mountainside, unobtrusive to the rest of the inhabitants and a convenient spot from which to run supplies to other nearby systems. With landing platforms jutting out into the open air and surrounding plateaux, the base was shielded from the more inhabited regions by a belt of rocky mountains. # Han Solo was standing on top of his ship, the Millennium Falcon, parked on one of the smaller landing platforms. He was enjoying the late afternoon sunshine as he made repairs to a transformer for the communications array. Holding safety goggles to his face and soldering the wires in place, he had a lot on his mind. Once reckless smuggler turned General of the Alliance during the battle of Endor, he had stayed on to help where he could, leading several sorties to clean up imperial factions and running cargo and supplies in the Falcon to Alliance satellite groups set up in other systems. He was tired and feeling a little frustrated with his lot. His ship needed new parts, much of which the Alliance had been supplying, but he could do with taking it to his contacts on Takodana who he could always rely on to supply the specially modified parts he liked that made the Falcon a customised and unusually weaponised freighter. On top of this, he had had no time to spend with the one woman who had been responsible for getting him into all this in the first place and with whom he had unexpectedly fallen in love. Leia Organa had her own duties to perform. Her sought after experience kept her busy co-ordinating Alliance movements from their main base or travelling to the seat of the newly formed Republic on Chandrila, Mon Mothma's home world, as Ambassador and representative in order to push her cause and raise support for her continued fight to rid the galaxy of Imperial remnants. Leia was a passionate and driven woman whom he found infuriating and incredible all at the same time. She got inside his head; her beauty, her versatility, her tenacious resolve to do good and her annoying ability to make more sense than he did. She wasn't like any woman he had ever known before or would have imagined ever having a relationship with but they had an unmistakeable chemistry and she had managed to steal his loyalty and his heart. If he was being honest with himself, he would have to admit he had loved her from the moment he saw her during their escape from the Death Star, even though she had spent the majority of the first few years they had known each other, yelling at him. Han was awaiting her imminent return from one such diplomatic trip. Her ship was on it's final approach to the system, he had been informed, and he was eager to see her face again. Chewbacca, his co-pilot and old friend appeared below and called up to him in Shryiiwook to ask how the repair was going. “It's done. Try it now.” Han replied and the Wookie disappeared inside the Falcon again. A moment later, he returned and gave Han a positive sounding growl and the equivalent of a thumbs up to indicate the array was now working. “Great Chewie. Let's move on to the hyper-drive checks then.” Han started to pack away the soldering kit when the sound of ship engines could be heard in the distance. He looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun and could see the Vohemar coming in low over the trees on approach to it's landing platform, some way from the Falcon. It was a Corellian CR-90 Corvette class ship, approximately five times larger than the Falcon and had been in Leia's service since the Battle of Endor. An old ship with countless battle scars from it's various fire-fights, most of which Leia has been present for, it was still functional and Leia liked the familiarity of using it rather than any of the faster, newer options that had been offered to her. Taking a newer ship that could be put to more effective use than going backwards and forwards on diplomatic trips would have been, she had said, a waste of resources when the Vohemar was perfectly serviceable. She knew the ship and it's capabilities and trusted the crew, who had been with her for many years and, besides, it reminded her of the Tantive IV, the same class of ship she was aboard when she left her fated planet of Alderaan and that gave her comfort. The sun reflected off it's outer hull as it manoeuvred into position and settled gently onto the landing platform, steam erupting from it's underside servos. The roar of the engines died down to a low hum as the side hatch opened and two Alliance soldiers exited the ship to stand either side of the ramp. They were followed by a tall, smartly dressed female senatorial aide. Commander Eldon Blake had risen up the ranks quickly, catching Leia's eye as an acutely intelligent and trustworthy confident, just the sort of qualities she looked for in an assistant. Her uniform was pristinely presented, a deep maroon colour with shining buckles down the front of her jacket but her build was in sharp contrast to that of her employer. She was easily as tall as Han at approximately six foot and some, and roughly the same age, with an athletic figure and ash blonde hair sharply tied back from her face. Han watched the entourage intently, squinting into the sunshine, and eventually, his vigilance was rewarded. Leia's diminutive figure emerged from inside the ship, her full length robes of office appearing first as she walked down the ramp. Her long dark hair was braided in a high bun with a single braid hanging down the back of her cream cloak to her waist. Han's heart leapt at the sight of her. Flanked now by her entourage, her Alderaanian royal insignia sparkling in the sunshine on the front of her blue dress, her walk was characteristically regal and determined and her robes flowed, almost like water, as she moved. Nearing the Falcon, she glanced up, mid-conversation with Blake, spotted Han and waved. She detoured to talk to him, Blake remaining a little way off to give her some privacy. He crouched down, still clutching a hydro-spanner and leant his arms on his knees. Chewbacca simultaneously appeared on the ramp of the Falcon. Growling a happy greeting, he hurried down to hug her, his enormous furry arms enveloping her affectionately and messing up her hair. “Hi Chewie. How's it going?” she laughed. Chewbacca growled a long explanation, gesturing to Han and shaking his head as if to say that Han had kept him busy with repairs for too long “Really?” Leia grinned “He's waited all day to see me?” Chewbacca nodded and growled a see you later then went inside the Falcon again. He was always sensitive to leaving the two of them alone. Smiling broadly, Leia brushed a wayward strand of hair from her face and looked up at Han. “All day?” she called up to him jokingly “He exaggerates” Han defended and they both laughed. “You're back early. How did the trip go?” Leia enquired. “No problems. A simple drop and run.” he replied, smiling back at her. “How about yours?” Leia looked a little reticent and sighed. “Oh, you know how these things are.” Han did. He had accompanied her on some of them and the political wrangling and petty individual agendas were far too much for him. It went straight over his head and he couldn't understand how Leia managed to keep her patience while she was negotiating deals. If it was left to him, he would have shot some of them by now. Given half the chance though, he was sure she would have shot some of them too but she was a highly trained diplomat and exceptional control was part of the job. “Everyone seems too pre-occupied with setting up the New Republic government that they have forgotten the fact that we still need the Alliance fleet to clean up the leftovers of the Empire. One success, albeit a large one, and they think it's all over.” Her voice raised slightly in frustration. “I've tried to secure a little funding and I have managed to gain support from a few Senators but not enough really.” she continued. She was looking tired from the long trip, he observed. “Luke not with you?” Han asked. He knew Luke had accompanied her on this trip and was surprised he hadn't been with her when she returned. “He stayed to sort out some of his own matters. He'll be back soon” She sounded vague. “Are you going to have some time to yourself now? You look like you could use some rest.” he enquired hopefully. He was concerned for her tendency to overwork but was also keen to grab some personal time with her. “I've been called to a meeting in the Command Centre with General Madine, something about some strange activity near here, so I have no idea.” “I want to talk to you.” Han said just as Eldon Blake approached and spoke quietly to her. Leia listened then turned back to Han “I'm sorry. I have to go, they're waiting for me.” She gave him a resigned shrug “I'll catch up with you later on, OK?” “OK” he smiled wryly and watched her as she went inside the base at a brisk walk. Always in demand, he thought, it was a little unfair of them not to allow her time to herself. She was one of their most highly skilled leaders but she wouldn't be much good to them exhausted. # In the Command Centre, there was the usual buzz. Personnel listened and replied to chatter over the comms channels with other personnel of outlying bases, their distant and distorted voices echoing round the cavern room. Sparsely equipped with mismatched, ageing consoles and machinery, the command centre was dimly lit and a green glow from the central display console lit up the faces of a group of military personnel gathered around it. Several of them looked up as Leia and Blake wended their way round display consoles and desks to the central display, one moving towards Leia in a greeting; a bearded man whose red hair was beginning to dull with middle age. “Princess. It's good to see you. I trust your flight was uneventful.” General Madine shook her hand. One of the generals who orchestrated the Battle of Endor, Madine had known Leia professionally and personally for many years. She trusted him implicitly and valued his counsel so was delighted when he had accepted the role to stay with her on Thyfeera rather than accept a commission elsewhere. “It was, General. Sadly, so was my meeting but that's a story for later. What do you have to show me?” Madine turned to the console, pulling up a holo-image of the landscape of a planet on the outer rim. “Our scouting party on Rattatak have reported some unusual activity. Speaking to local sources, it seems that they have had some disappearances which cannot be explained.” “Disappearances?” Leia said enquiringly. The general indicated the holo-image as several spots appeared, indicating different settlement locations. “It seems that some of the inhabitants have been going missing from these areas over a period of several months, they say. There were vague reports of sightings of Imperial transports but our scouts haven't been able to confirm that. All they can say is that those reporting the sightings have said they were heading out towards the Codian Moon.” “Strange.” Leia mused. “The Codian Moon, there's not much there. Just asteroids. No settlements.” “That's not all. They have uncovered a document which they have been told might hold an Imperial code. If we can decipher it, it might be able to shed more light on what's happening.” “Can we see it?” Leia asked. Another officer answered her. “The scouts are bringing it back as we speak, Your Highness. It's contained on an ancient transcript, not electronic and in a language they can't translate.” Leia was interested now. That was a very old and unusual method of passing information. Not one she had thought the Empire was familiar with using. “They should be here by the morning.” the commander continued. “We thought you would want to look at it as soon as possible.” “Thank you, Commander. I would. Let me or Commander Blake know as soon as it arrives.” “Yes, Your Highness.” the commander turned his attention to a lieutenant who was waiting to speak to him. General Madine took Leia aside. “There has been mention of slavery.” he said quietly. “Something that was more rife a number of years ago when you were campaigning against the practice but not impossible to imagine now. I just hope it's not the case.” Leia had spent her early years, when the Alliance was still young, running covert missions with her father specifically to disrupt slave trade routes. The Empire commonly used the money from such ill-gotten gains to finance itself and anti-slavery was a cause particularly close to her heart. She abhorred the practice. “I had hoped we had cut off most of the slave traders by now.” Leia sounded confused. “The main slave operations were the spice mines on Kessel and Alzoc III but I thought we had wiped out those establishments long ago. I can't see a reason for it. I'll need to look at this document and then we might be more enlightened.” She continued, almost in a whisper. “Incidentally, the information you provided while I was on Chandrila may be more than coincidence now that I hear this. I have asked Luke to look into it. However, I would rather we keep it between us for the moment until we know more.” The general nodded. “I thought the same. Let me know what he uncovers then.” “Certainly, General.” Then slightly louder she said, “Unfortunately, my meeting on Chandrila didn't result in more resources. It seems that many worlds are reluctant to let us hold on to their ships any longer and Mon Mothma is under pressure to return troops to their loved ones. I can't blame them really but it puts us in a difficult situation should we need reinforcements quickly.” “Let's hope we don't need the extra troops for this situation.” the general looked concerned. A second general interjected. “We've had to send out most of our X-Wings to support the transport of refugees back to the Hosnian system and we are running dangerously low on supplies. Don't the council realise our situation?” General Kobar, a rotund Besalisk sounded angry, the wattle under his chin inflating and deflating furiously. “They should spend more time on bases like this and see what we have to deal with.” “I understand, General and with regards to some, I would agree with you but Mon Mothma has seen her share of battle and knows the sacrifices we are all making. It's difficult to be the one to make these tough decisions sometimes.” Leia tried to explain but she knew how hard it was for military personnel, managing for months under difficult circumstances to see what they perceived to be privileged people making decisions that affected them. She had been accused of it herself and most of the personnel on Thyfeera hadn't had any down time since Endor. “We'll all have to muck in, General, that's all. We'll manage.” She tried Luke's reassuring technique. It was more to convince herself than General Madine or General Kobar but it seemed to work. “Why don't you run over the current positions of all our personnel and tell me the state of the supplies and I will see whether I can find a solution to take the pressure off a little. Perhaps I can get General Solo to suggest some good sources of cheap supplies.” She took General Kobar aside by one of his four arms with a side glance at General Madine who smiled and turned his attention to the holo-display. This was going to take several hours, she realised and she would have no time for refreshment this evening. Still, what was one more meal if her time meant she improved moral.