Leia laid back on the wide bunk in the Executive Suite cabin on Tantive IV intending to rest while she could. Sleep wasn’t returning now that she had woken up. Instead, she got a directionless sense of unease. She focused on that to find the source.
The two strangers from Tatooine? No, surprisingly enough, she believed them and their offer to join the Rebel Alliance. Artoo would have sliced through anything faked to gain her trust. And they were both so earnest and open. And trying to be gallant. Well, Biggs Darklighter was trying to be gallant. Luke Skywalker was a bashful mess with anything not concerning his predicament. Helping the Rebel Alliance through spying was probably out for both of them, but they claimed to be pilots. The Alliance needed more fighter pilots in the fleet, despite her father’s wish for diplomatic solutions.
Meeting with a hero of the Clone Wars? No, General Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t summon any heart palpitations; no one would after she was introduced to the Emperor. She shivered at the memory. There was a possibility that Ben Kenobi wasn’t the General, but what details she was able to find about Tatooine made it sound like a good place for a hunted Jedi to hide.
The Death Star plans? Her heart pounded against her ribs and she sat up in her bunk. She had the plans to the Empire’s rumored ultimate weapon on Tantive IV’s computer to bring to the Alliance for analysis. It needed a back-up somewhere else. She redressed in her white gown and boots and entered her suite’s lounge.
Artoo beeped softly at her when she entered the sitting area. “I have a special mission for you, Artoo.” She sat at the terminal desk. The droid dropped his third leg and rolled over to her. “I want you to store a copy of the Death Star plans. If anything happens to me, you must get the plans to my father or General Dodonna. Do you understand?”
Artoo whistled affirmatively and extended his computer interface link. Leia’s dread eased as she watched the schematic images flash onto the terminal screen. It was a small thing to ease her mind so, but it did. Strange, Tatooine shouldn’t have any trouble for them, not with how it was a haven for criminals and with two natives to guide her crew. She looked around the empty lounge decorated in blue and silver. Artoo finished and tucked his interface away. “Where’s Threepio?”
Artoo beeped and rolled to the door. She followed him down the hallway to the starlight lounge at the other end of the top deck. Biggs’ voice carried without him projecting. “I could be a diplomat if it scores a beaut of a ship like this one.”
“The last time you tried to be diplomatic about anything, you ended up punching Fixer in the face.” Luke said along with the faint sound of metal scraping metal. “There’s the problem servo.”
“Fixer deserved that punch.”
Leia paused where the hallway opened up into the lounge. Biggs leaned against the wall next to the meditation garden with his long legs stretched out on the seats that undulated around the garden’s retaining wall. Threepio sat next to Biggs’ feet and Luke sat beside the droid’s unsheathed right arm. They had changed out of the Imperial Academy jumpsuits. Biggs wore the tan jacket he had on when he arrived in her office with a blue tunic and brown trousers that were fashionable on a number of worlds. He had a black cape fastened around his neck on top of all of it. Luke also wore the loose, wrap-around tunic disguise again but without a tunic underneath and a brown leather belt cinched his waist over it. His dingy cream trousers were tucked into the knee-high black boots that had been part of his cadet uniform. This was the wrong dress to wear on the planet. She should change too, before they left the ship.
The blond young man dug into the exposed wires with delicate tools. “I never said he didn’t. What I am saying is I’ve never heard of a species who punches as a polite way to say hello. Have you, Threepio?”
“No, Master Skywalker, I have not. Gamorreans are fairly aggressive, but even they don’t punch for hello.”
Biggs saw Leia and smiled. “What do you think, Princess? Do I have what it takes to be a diplomat?”
“Oh dear, Princess Leia, I hope we didn’t disturb you.” Threepio swiveled his head as much as he was able to without moving the rest of his body.”
“It’s all right. Sleep wasn’t happening, Threepio.” She sat down on the seats on the other side of the opening into the lounge. It had the best angle to converse with her traveling companions. Artoo rolled up to Threepio’s legs. “My entire Senatorial career so far has been giving speeches and not letting myself punch morons.”
Biggs’ white teeth flashed under his black mustache as he grinned. “Guess I’ll stick to flying then.” In the viewport that covered the ceiling and back wall of the lounge, the dappled starlines of hyperspace straightened into lines and then became pricks of light against a velvet black. “Out of hyperspace already. This was a quicker trip than the liner into Coruscant.”
Artoo whistled a question to Threepio. “Master Skywalker volunteered to correct the misaligned servo in my arm.”
Luke’s cheek and ear that Leia saw reddened. “I should’ve asked first.”
“Luke tinkers when he’s nervous, when he’s bored, when he’s avoiding chores,” Biggs said with an affectionate tone.
Leia wondered about their relationship. It really wasn’t the time to ask nor did she wish to cause any embarrassment. “It’s fine. The droid tech on board hates trying to fix Threepio.”
“He says my wiring is idiosyncratic,” Threepio said to Luke.
“Threepio would have had to wait until we reached home to get fixed and he’s been complaining about that arm. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to get it looked at on Coruscant.”
“That is perfectly all right, Princess Leia. I don’t trust what those technicians on Coruscant could do to me.”
Luke withdrew the tools from the wiring. “Okay, Threepio, try moving it now.” He leaned back.
Threepio rotated his arm at the shoulder joint. “Thank the Maker, you fixed it!”
“Good, let’s get your casing back on.” He picked up the golden plate from its resting place behind his back.
Biggs focused on Leia again.”So we’re heading straight to old Ben and then straight back here then onward to Alderaan?”
“I’m afraid so,” Leia smiled. “Rebel Alliance, widely traveled but we don’t stay too long in one spot.”
Luke finished locking on Threepio’s casing. “Good thing we want to see the galaxy.” Before Leia responded, an alarm blared over the internal comms.
“Is that a we’re out of hyperspace alarm?” Biggs asked as he stood.
“No, it’s the call to battle stations,” Leia answered as she headed to the aft turbolift.
“Do we have battle stations?” Luke pulled Threepio up off the seat.
The turbolift doors opened and Captain Antilles stepped out. “Princess, the Devastator just emerged from hyperspace and they’re hailing us to surrender or be subdued. We have the planet between us, but that won’t last long.”
Leia felt the blood drain from her face. “Wipe the computers. I have the plans. We’re on a diplomatic mission—”
“There’s no crisis in this sector to use that excuse on, your Highness.”
Leia nodded. She knew that, but the Empire wasn’t supposed to know about the detour to Tatooine. “We’ll take the shuttle down to the surface.” They crowded into the turbolift with the droids and Captain Antilles pressed the button for the fourth deck. “Once it’s launched, you jump back into hyperspace, go to Alderaan, and report to my father. We’ll find alternative passage from Tatooine.”
The Captain winced slightly, but nodded. “Your protection detail—”
“Will draw too much attention.” The turbolift stopped and Leia charged through the corridors to the hangar bay.
“You need a pilot.”
“Sir, both Luke and I are pilots and we won’t let anything happen to the Princess on Tatooine,” Biggs said.
“That’s settled then.” Leia slapped open the door into the hangar bay. The smaller planetary shuttle waited for them. “Artoo, Threepio, get on board and strap in.” The droids scurried to obey her.
Luke wore a serious expression, more thoughtful and worried than it had been in her offices on Coruscant. He looked at Captain Antilles and then her. “I’m a better distraction.”
Biggs’ head reared back. “No, Luke, you can’t!”
“There’s something else going on here. Bigger than me, bigger than finding General Kenobi.” Luke’s blue eyes bored into Leia’s brown ones. “Giving them me distracts them from Tatooine and keeps any of the crew from dying fighting a Star Destroyer to get to hyperspace.”
Leia’s heart plunged through her. “I can’t ask you to do that.” Yes, she could ask that of herself and of uniformed men and women who had already volunteered, but not this wide-eyed innocent who asked her to save him.
“It’s what’s best for the Rebellion,” Luke said.
“The Empire wants to kill you!” Biggs grabbed Luke’s shoulder.
“The Emperor does, but not Vader. And that’s Vader’s ship.”
Leia shook her head. “Vader is the Emperor’s enforcer. He will kill you for the Emperor.”
“Vader won’t. I have a hunch.”
Biggs groaned. “Shavit your hunches, Luke.”
“Princess, you must leave now,” Captain Antilles said.
Luke’s face hardened. “Go, before the Star Destroyer can see you.”
Biggs’ face twisted. “We are Tatooine’s shooting stars,” he said thickly. “We can’t be stopped. I don’t care what hellhole the Imps bury you in, I will find you. Bnach, the spice mines of Kessel, I’ll storm the kriffin’ Imperial Palace if I have to!” He grabbed Luke’s other shoulder.
Luke squeezed Biggs’ wrists. “I’m counting on you. Go save the galaxy first, like your father wants you to.”
Biggs let Luke’s shoulders go, but Luke held his hand with their arms outstretched until the growing distance forced them to let go. Biggs’ steps increased as he strode to the shuttle’s entry ramp. Leia impulsively closed in on Luke and kissed his cheek. “For luck,” she told his widened eyes. Then she dashed into the shuttle. She threw herself into the copilot’s seat. Biggs’ hands already flew over the controls as she strapped in.
In just a few minutes after Luke and Captain Antilles left the hangar bay, the shuttle was free of Tantive IV and accelerated toward the tan and reddish-brown planet. Her throat tightened and she couldn’t think of one platitude to tell Biggs. Two moons floating above soon drifted from the front viewport.
Biggs broke the silence with muttering once they reached the atmosphere. “E chu ta. Whao kae kark D’emperiolo dotkohu killee mah whoka, Jee hatkocanh killee hoohah.”
Threepio flailed his arms in the seat behind the pilot’s. “Master Darklighter, you can’t use language like that in Princess Leia’s presence!”
Biggs glanced at her. “You know Huttese?”
“It’s fine then, Threepio, as long as you don’t translate what I just said.”
“Don’t fret about it, Threepio,” Leia said. She wasn’t the Princess now; she was a Rebel soldier who wasn’t scared to death of what they had left Luke behind to face.
Darth Vader waited with the stormtroopers platoon in the Devastator’s main hangar bay. The Corellian Corvette Tantive IV settled onto the bay floor. He had the Princess of Alderaan and proof of her treachery within his grasp. He had expected more of a fight from her, but the smaller ship had announced their passenger agreed to surrender as soon as the Star Destroyer rounded the planet. She must think her hiding place for the plans was impenetrable.
Padmé was quiet now in his mind. She had raged when the order to apprehend the Senator of Alderaan had been given that it must be a distraction from their alarm at the Academy. That alarm had been set up years ago to discover what Palpatine was waiting for and he agreed with her that it needed investigating, especially since the name attached to the alarm had been a portion of his once, but who did they have on Coruscant to investigate? No one that they trusted capable of evading Palpatine. Then she had switched to how they should align their forces with her old Senate colleague Bail Organa and his family. He had finally ended that argument with how the Organas shouldn’t have been so obvious in their rebellion to draw this much attention. But the Princess of Alderaan in his custody gave them greater leverage, and Padmé would eventually stop sulking and find a way to use that.
The entry ramp lowered and Vader strode up into the Corvette flanked by stormtroopers. The crew of nearly fifty men lined the corridor. Their captain Raymus Antilles and a boy dressed in the desert garb of Tatooine waited in front of the turbolift. Princess Leia Organa was not in sight.
Vader stopped in front of the captain. “Where is the Senator?”
“Princess Leia is not aboard for this voyage. This is our passenger, Luke Skywalker of Tatooine.” The captain gestured at the young man standing next to him.
Skywalker! Vader’s head jerked back. He had thought the boy was the Emperor’s prisoner or dead by now after he had seen Palpatine’s orders on the Academy record. But here Luke Skywalker was, having evaded capture until now.
Ani? Padmé’s voice awoke in his mind. What is it? What’s wrong?
He studied the boy best he could through the lenses of his mask that tinted the universe red. Luke’s hair was fair, probably blond like his had been before the fires of Mustafar. The roundness of Luke’s face suggested Padmé’s, but the cleft in the boy’s chin matched his. And the Force radiated from Luke like he was another sun in the sky.
But it couldn’t be true!
“Skywalker,” Vader said because he had to say something in front of these witnesses.
Padmé gave a soft gasp. He looks like you, Ani. But different enough to not be a clone. He escaped Palpatine?
The boy straightened his shoulders. “How did you gain passage on the Senator of Alderaan’s personal counselor vessel?” Vader asked.
Luke blinked. “She offered it to me, sir. So I could go home while she discovered why I was treated like a criminal for enlisting.”
“Like a criminal?”
“The Academy locked me up and then stormtroopers came after me.” Luke snapped his mouth shut. His indignation over the treatment blazed in the Force.
“And you turned to the Senator of Alderaan for assistance.”
“She wasn’t appointed by the Hutts.”
Vader blinked behind his mask. That… that was a Padmé response: factually accurate and delivered without a trace of sarcasm so the cut was all the sharper.
She laughed in his mind. Oh, I like him. How did he end up with that name?
You’re objecting to his name?
No, I’m curious. I had picked Luke if we had a boy, but I don’t remember telling anyone.
Because her body died, her life force combined with his in this ruined body, and they had watched the HoloNet footage of her funeral and that of their unspoken of but obvious child. “Who raised you, Luke Skywalker?” Vader asked.
The young man’s forehead furrowed, not expecting that question. “Owen and Beru Lars, my uncle and aunt. They died last year in a sandpeople attack, sir. Those are Tusken Raiders—”
“I know what Tusken Raiders are and what they can do,” Vader interjected. “What did they tell you of your parents before they died?”
Again the boy frowned in confusion. “My father’s name was Anakin Skywalker and he was a navigator on a freighter, died in space. My mother was Padmé Skywalker and she died having me.”
Vader closed his eyes at the names spoken aloud after so long, eighteen long years. The Force sang that it was true as well.
Padmé’s arms felt like they were wrapped around his body. Our child lives? How is that possible? Oh Ani, I didn’t know. I would not have hidden this from you for eighteen years. We should have tried harder to get my memories from between the explosion and awakening with you.
I hurt you once and I swore to never do it again.
But we lost him. Luke deserved better than a scrabbled life on Tatooine.
No one deserved a life on Tatooine—except Jabba, inside the Great Pit of Carkoon—especially not the son of his angel. Someone had saved his son and sent him to the only family they knew Vader and Palpatine would ignore. He had his suspicions of who that someone was and briefly wondered why his former master had been foolish enough to let the boy enlist. But it didn’t matter right now. Padmé’s son lived. He had a son.
And the Emperor of the galaxy wanted his son dead.
“Your uncle was creative with the truth,” Vader said to the boy. He turned to the stormtroopers hovering behind him. “Skywalker is in my custody. Restrain him in a cabin next to my quarters.”
“Yes, Lord Vader,” the stormtrooper answered. Two stormtroopers stepped up to Luke and secured his wrists in front of him with binders. Then they escorted the boy down the entry ramp.
Vader gestured at the Tantive IV’s crew. “Take these men to the brig. Then tear this ship apart. I want the plans found.” The rest of the stormtroopers marched forward.
Is he arrested too, Anakin? The scowl that he couldn’t see was present again in her voice.
No, love, for his protection only. Palpatine must not have him.
Well, on that we are agreed. But you have to tell him the truth. He thinks we’re dead.
When there is time, I will tell him everything. Vader turned and left the ship with his black cape billowing behind him.