Leia’s coordinates led them to a domed hut on a rocky outcrop that looked over sand dunes that stretched to the horizon. It was another vista that jolted her with familiarity—like the land around the homestead of Biggs’ aunt and uncle—even though she had never traveled to this planet before. “My dreams were of this place,” she murmured.
“Leia?” Biggs held out his arm to help her out of the speeder.
“Nothing.” No good had ever come from discussing her strange childhood dreams. She grabbed his hand and scrambled out of the speeder while focusing on the hut again. Where the Darklighter family homestead had domes popped up out of the ground covering their warren of underground rooms and she assumed the other one they stopped at had the same, this building’s dome rested on top of a blocky rectangle. It didn’t look tall enough to stand up straight under its roof. A spindly machine stretched above the roof at one end. Those machines had dotted the Darklighter homestead and she wondered what their function might be.
Biggs headed around the corner of the building to the opposite end. He waited until she was at his side before knocking on the metal door. A couple of steps were carved down to meet the true bottom of the door. So the building was partially underground.
The door slid open, revealing a white-haired man dressed in a long beige robe layered on top of a brown tunic and trousers. He smiled broadly through his neatly trimmed beard. “Biggs Darklighter, what a pleasant surprise. Come in, come in.” He moved aside and Biggs gestured for Leia to enter the dim interior first.
It wasn’t that dim once inside from the harsh glare. The walls were painted white and light entered through tiny square windows close to the roof. The bed tucked into the niche in the wall must double as seating with the round table in front of it.
The old man looked out the door before shutting it. “And where is Luke? You two boys are rarely apart.” His accent sounded Coruscanti though years on Tatooine had softened it a bit.
Biggs looked at the floor and rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s a long story, Ben. She better go first.”
The old man gestured for them to sit while he settled into a fur-covered chair next to the bed. Leia perched on the edge of the bed and Biggs sat next to her. She unwrapped the shawl from her hair and draped it on her shoulders. “Are you General Obi-Wan Kenobi?” she asked.
“General Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the old man sounded wistful. “There’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time….” He recalled himself to the present. “Not since before you two were born. Who’s looking for Obi-Wan Kenobi?”
“I am Princess Leia Organa. I present myself in the name of the royal family of Alderaan and of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. I break your solitude at the bidding of my father, Bail Organa, Viceroy and first Chairman of the Alderaan system. Years ago, General, you served the Old Republic in the Clone Wars. Now my father begs you to aid us again in our most desperate hour. He would have you join him on Alderaan.”
A delighted grin broke across General Kenobi’s face. “Leia! The last time I saw you, you were a baby in Bail’s arms. How time has flown. So Bail has decided to pull me from hiding; what has changed?”
Leia glanced at Biggs. It was still classified, but Luke had guessed something else was going on. “The Empire has built something they consider the ultimate weapon. They call it the Death Star. I have the plans for analysis once we get to Alderaan.”
“Death Star?” Biggs shook his head. “Yeah, I trust our benevolent government with something called the Death Star.”
Leia wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not that his sarcasm was so thick.
General Kenobi tugged thoughtfully on his white beard. “Agreed, the implications of that name chosen by a Sith Lord are grave for the galaxy.” He slapped his hands on his thighs. “We must take Luke with us to Alderaan.”
Biggs’ face twisted. “The Empire has him.”
Shock rippled across the bearded face, but faded as General Kenobi frowned. “I told your father not to send him to the Academy.”
“Well, somebody should’ve told us!” Biggs’ hands curled into fists. “We thought we had a great plan to go learn more piloting and Imperial tactics and then take those skills to the Rebellion. And we still don’t know why Luke set off an alarm on Coruscant!”
General Kenobi’s face grayed under his tan. “By the Force, Palpatine has the boy?”
Leia thought she better interjected before either man worked himself into a cardiac arrest. “No, I got them off Coruscant. The Emperor and Lord Vader both had separate alarms and orders on Luke’s record. But Vader’s Star Destroyer found my ship in this system and Luke volunteered to surrender so we could get away with the plans and find you.”
“Darth Vader?” General Kenobi’s expression looked bleak.
Biggs slid a hand over his face. “Luke had a hunch Vader wouldn’t kill him.”
“He might be right about that,” General Kenobi agreed while plucking his beard again. “Though death is preferable to falling under the sway of the Dark Side.”
“That still doesn’t answer why they targeted Luke,” Leia said.
General Kenobi closed his eyes with a sigh. “Luke is the son of a Jedi, that’s why the Empire wants him.” Biggs spluttered, but the General held up his hand. “Lies were told to Luke and the community to protect him, and it has all reverse-thrust horribly. The rest should wait until later. Trust the Force, Biggs, you will see him again.”
Leia’s mind whirled. The son of a Jedi, well, that explained the alarms. And her father had called Vader the Emperor’s Jedi killer in bitter tones once. Oh, they should have dragged Luke onto the shuttle. But they couldn’t waste time on regrets. “We need to get moving. We still have to find transportation to Alderaan.”
The General shook his head. “No, not yet. The heat of the day is upon the sands.”
“He’s right,” Biggs added. “It will be a couple hours before it’s cool enough go out again.”
Impatience clawed at her to do something, anything to improve the Rebel Alliance’s chances against a superior foe. To show her father that he was right in trusting her to complete a valuable mission. To not give the Imperials on planet any time to catch up with them. She wrestled with the familiar urge to accomplish something from the Imperial Senate and counted it a win for her diplomatic poise when she merely asked “Truly?” instead of whining it.
“Yes, it is true,” General Kenobi said firmly. “I gave myself overheat sickness not listening to the local wisdom.” He stood and headed up the steps to the entry alcove. “We’ll eat while you rest.” He continued through another rectangular doorway in the pourstone wall and turned to the right. It sounded like a piece of metal on hinges creaked open and landed on stone. Then his footsteps faded down.
“He probably needs us to eat up his stores.” Biggs twisted to the side and picked up a metal helmet from an outcropping of pourstone functioning as a table. “You can’t hurry the suns, Leia. Not on Tatooine.”
It made sense to stay put, but what was the Empire doing to Luke while they waited? She didn’t want to think about that. She had another idea and slid her sleeve back, uncovering the comlink strapped to her left wrist. “Threepio? Come in, Threepio.”
“Yes, your Highness? Artoo has secured this comm channel.”
“Great, we’ve succeeded in the mission. Can you pilot the shuttle to these coordinates?” Threepio could get the shuttle here and then once it was safe for humans to go outside, they could go directly to a spaceport without delay.
She heard Artoo offering commentary in the background. “Your Highness, my piloting programming is limited to landings and departures that do not require much maneuvering. Artoo believes the terrain surrounding the coordinates will require more maneuvering. And unfortunately, this shuttle is not equipped for an astromech copilot.” Artoo got louder in the background. “I did tell her, Artoo, but it’s not like she can buy a new shuttle on this desolate planet. Really, what do you expect?”
Leia’s shoulders slumped. No one had ever expected her to be in a situation where she would need Artoo to pilot.
Biggs glanced at her. “What’s wrong now?”
“Threepio can’t fly the shuttle through the terrain.”
“That’s still a good idea. Can he get the shuttle to 33°43’26.68” north and 7°46’44” east?”
She repeated the coordinates and waited while the droids conferred. “Yes, your Highness, I can land the shuttle there. The Great Chott salt flat presents no issues.”
Biggs nodded at her happy smile. “Tell them to take off in about two hours and I’ll meet them there and fly the shuttle closer here.”
“We can all meet them there.”
“I need to leave Luke’s landspeeder with my aunt and the less she knows the better.” Biggs put down the helmet before leaning against the pourstone wall and closing his eyes.
Leia couldn’t disagree with that so she relayed the information to Threepio and signed off from the comm. At least now it felt like they were progressing.
One didn’t need Force-enhanced hearing to eavesdrop on the conversation in the Overbridge’s conference room. Vader used it anyway as he followed Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin down the hall toward the argument. His concern was to know of any of the leaders of the Empire’s military had learned about the young man imprisoned in officer quarters since Vader disembarked from Devastator four hours earlier. What Tarkin thought of the argument he plainly heard was not betrayed by his hatchet-profiled face.
“Until this battle station is fully operational, we are vulnerable.” High General Cassio Tagge’s firm voice carried down the hall. “The Rebel Alliance is too well equipped. They’re more dangerous than you realize.”
“Dangerous to your star fleet, General,” Admiral Conan Motti of the Imperial Navy arrogantly declared, “not to this battle station.”
Tagge’s voice rose. “The Rebellion will continue to gain support in the Imperial Senate—”
Tarkin interrupted the General of the Imperial Army as soon as he and Vader stepped into the conference room. “The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern. I have just received words that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.” They circled the round table and Vader stood close by as Tarkin sat.
“That’s impossible.” Tagge’s astonishment was clear in his voice, on his face, and in his emotions. “How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?”
Tarkin turned from the General on his left to look at all the military leaders around the table. Only three seats were empty. “The regional governors will now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line.” His pride bubbled internally but his face betrayed none of it. “Fear of this battle station.” Motti smirked enough for both of them.
“And what of the Rebellion?” Vader admired Tagge’s tenacity. “If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it is possible—however unlikely—they might find a weakness and exploit it.”
Tarkin found that prospect highly unlikely but Vader decided it was time to focus on who had those plans. “The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands. Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan has proven she is a traitor by her possession of them. Our troops are closing in on her as we speak.”
“Besides,” Motti said. “Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture. No matter what technical data they’ve obtained. This station,” he jabbed his finger against the table for emphasis, “is now the ultimate weapon in the universe.” Tarkin leaned back in his seat as he listened. “I suggest we use it,” Motti continued. “The test firing on Jedha has been reported as a mining accident to the rest of the galaxy and Scarif’s location in the Outer Rim means the Core Worlds can safely ignore what happened here. We need a target that they will not dismiss so easily.”
People died from those firings. Padmé’s voice was laced with disgust. And that wasn’t enough for your bloodlust?
Vader was tired of this arrogance. He had a traitor to find as well as a way to approach his son. “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
“Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader,” Motti said with a sneer. “Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen plans.”
Vader moved closer to Motti. All the years lost with his son fueled his anger. If the Admiral wanted to be an example for the rest of them to leave Vader alone, so be it.
Motti grew bolder. “Or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel’s hidden fortress—” Vader lifted his hand and Motti broke off. His throat convulsed but no air got past the invisible hold. His fingers clawed for the hand wrapped around his throat and snagged the collar of his uniform.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” Vader said congenially. He liked the gasping wince Motti made.
Ani, if you’re going to kill him, make it quick. I don’t want to watch it.
“Enough of this!” Tarkin demanded. “Vader, release him.”
“As you wish.” Vader moved back to his spot behind Tarkin. Motti collapsed against the table as he inhaled.
“This bickering is pointless,” Tarkin said. “Lord Vader will provide us with the location of the Rebel fortress by the time this station is operational. We will then crush the Rebellion with one swift stroke. Dismissed. My office, Lord Vader.”
Vader’s respirator hid the sound of his sigh. Damn duties, damn Rebellion, damn underlings, damn Tarkin; he hadn’t had a second to pause and reflect since he found his son. Luke, who still thought his father dead. How to tell him the truth?
Padmé kept advising to do it calmly, to have medical tests ready for proof, and to possibly put Luke inside his meditation chamber so the boy could see what was left of his face. He didn’t think that would reassure the boy at all.
He trailed behind Tarkin and General Moradmin Bast as they crossed the corridor into the central room of the Overbridge. They avoided the strategic holodisplay pod and the duty stations as they wound between them to reach Tarkin’s executive office discussing transfers to the Death Star. Vader thought they were nearly at full deployment already, but didn’t care.
Bast left them once they reached the door. Tarkin continued into his private office and sat in the chair behind the desk, a matching copy of his seat in the conference room. The door slid shut behind Vader and the older man pinned a steely-gray glare on the black armor. “You will not kill anyone under my command, Vader, but especially not Motti. The only Vice Admiral I’d consider replacing him with is on a tour of duty in the Corellian system. I will not have any delays due to personnel issues.”
“As you wish.”
Padmé’s voice scowled in Vader’s head. Damn fool packed this whole battle station with his loyal minions.
Tarkin pursed his lips, but changed topics. “What is the status of the search for the runaway Princess?”
“No trace of her leaving Coruscant by other means has surfaced. It is more likely that she escaped to Tatooine while her crew distracted the Devastator. The garrison and other agents are searching the spaceport.”
She’s as tricky as Bail, Padmé said admiringly. I don’t think the stormtroopers will find her. They aren’t as good as our troops.
An iron-gray eyebrow arched. “And the boy you are keeping imprisoned not in the detention block has no useful information?”
“Not about the Princess, no.”
The older man leaned back in his chair. “What is so special about a runaway Academy cadet? Why does the Emperor want him?”
Stay away from Luke, you cadaverous di'kut! Padmé snarled like a krayt dragon. If only they could just shove the Grand Moff out an airlock.
“He is strong in the Force. I plan on presenting him to the Emperor myself after my duties are finished here.” And with enough training to defeat the Sith Lord went unsaid.
Padmé heard it. I don’t like that plan either, Anakin.
Palpatine already knows he exists. The only way Luke will be safe is for him to learn to use the Force.
But Tarkin heard ‘the Force’ and dismissed the whole matter. “Fine, just keep your new pet out of operations.” The comm on his desk signaled. “Yes?”
“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but the Emperor’s Hand has brought you a message,” Bast said.
“Well, this is an unexpected development. Isn’t it, Lord Vader?”
“Yes.” He cursed himself in all the languages he knew. He should have expected this. Some crew member innocently commed about Vader’s prisoner, so the Emperor sent a Hand to check on things. Which one of them did Palpatine send?
The door slid open, revealing a petite, pale-skinned woman. Her red-gold hair was tamed into a braid down her back, and her insignia-free uniform was a different shade than the ones the other ranked officers wore. Mara Jade, the youngest one, Vader sneered. The one Palpatine was only giving the barest of Force training to as an experiment.
That poor girl has just needed love. We could have won her over if you had just offered her that.
“Greetings, Grand Moff Tarkin, Lord Vader,” Jade said.
“Welcome to the Death Star, Emperor’s Hand,” Tarkin said.
Jade stood not quite at parade rest before his desk but close enough to put a military man at ease with her. “Evidence has come to light that Queen Breha Organa of Alderaan and her consort Viceroy Bail Organa are traitors to the Empire.”
“Trouble always starts in the home. Perhaps there is something to the idea that parents should give up their children for the Empire to raise properly.”
Tarkin smiled thinly. “Evidence has come to light that the Princess of Alderaan is a traitor as well. So what does the Emperor want done about this family affair?”
“The Emperor thinks a show of might is necessary. The Death Star’s arrival in the Alderaan system will prompt loyal citizens to reject their traitorous leaders. Unless you have found a military target to demonstrate on. He was most insistent on that point.”
Palpatine would not dare! Padmé’s voice thundered regally. Alderaan is a peaceful planet; they have no weapons, not since the Clone Wars!
And Bail Organa has been an irritant in the Senate since then. Do you really think Palpatine has ever forgotten the Delegation of 2000?
Tarkin said, “The Emperor is wise and leaves military matters to the military. We have no other targets at this time. Shall we give you a ride back to the Core?”
Jade nodded. “I’m to return to Coruscant. The trip is shorter from Alderaan.”
“Very well.” Tarkin pressed the comm on his desk. “Bast, arrange lodging for the Emperor’s Hand and inform battle station operations to set a course to Alderaan.”
Jade nodded. “Thank you for your service, Grand Moff Tarkin.” She marched out of the cold metal office.
She still believed she spoke for the Emperor, Vader realized. How she will suffer when that illusion was stripped away.
“Pity, she can’t stay longer,” Tarkin said. “She brightens up the place.” Vader stared down at the older man. The prospect of destroying a Core World had made Tarkin near giddy. “Go find the runaway Princess, Vader. We don’t want her doing anything rash because of Alderaan.”
Padmé’s voice sounded ill. We have to stop this. They cannot destroy Alderaan like Jedha and Scarif.
We can keep Luke safe or attempt to save Alderaan. We shall not save Alderaan, not with all of Tarkin’s minions here. And Palpatine sent Jade here to kill Luke. The message to target Alderaan would have been sent via HoloNet otherwise.
Padmé’s anger was a furious beating mass, a krayt dragon ready to claw and bite, and she directed it in the form of Naboo oaths to their gods and goddesses, invectives aimed at both Palpatine and Tarkin. She even cursed for the Goddess of Safety remove her blessings over both men. It was a rote performance with Palpatine and the state of Naboo grace, but Tarkin was a new recipient of this level. And Padmé was always so clever with her words. She hadn’t repeated an invective yet. Neither Palpatine nor Tarkin will have Leia Organa! I will stand aside on the rest of Alderaan to protect Luke, but the Princess will be saved too!
As you wish, my love. Vader inclined his head at Tarkin and swept out of the office.