Star Wars: Sororal Lineality title

02: Aftermath

Story song: “A New Way to Bleed” by Evanescence

“Come with me. It is the only way.”

Luke had rejected that offer of aggression, fear, and anger. The Dark Side was easier and seductive, like Master Yoda had warned. But Luke had seized on his sense of justice that led him to join the Rebel Alliance. He would never rule anything as evil as the Empire even with his father. A father alive? A monster that had stalked him for years.

He let go of his rage and his fear and his despair and the pipe he had gripped with his remaining hand.

But the Force wasn’t done with him yet. A crosswind sucked him into a tube that waited until he was nearly certain he could find his way back to the landing pads before dropping him through a chute out the bottom of the repulsorlifted city. He landed on a type of sensor vane and his instinct to live latched him to it. He couldn’t climb back up the chute before it closed and despair spilled over him again like a creeping sand dune cascading into a homestead. The winds buffeted his battered body. “Ben.”

No answer from the voice that had been his companion since leaving Tatooine.

“Ben, please,” he begged.

But Ben’s ghostly form had warned Luke if he went to Bespin to confront Vader, he could not help.

Fine, Luke would help himself. He reached up with his left hand seeking a better handhold on this vane that would let him shimmy up the pole closer to the chute flap controls.

His knees slipped and he fell.

His knees hooked around the crosspiece of the vane stopping his plummet with a jerk through his whole body. His left hand grabbed the same crosspiece. He dangled helplessly. Without his right hand, he had no idea how to pull himself upright again. “Ben.”

Ben wasn’t coming. He might as well call out to Vader and tell the Dark Lord he changed his mind. Leia would never forgive him.

“Leia!” He closed his eyes and concentrated on her essence in the Force. She was brighter than anyone else in the vicinity. “Leia, hear me!”

He opened his eyes when he heard the whine of a repulsorlift over the shrieking wind. An orange twin-pod vehicle was bobbing closer to him. Hang on, that voice sounded like a young woman’s but the accent was nothing like Leia’s. I will help you. Just hang on.

He didn’t have the energy to do anything else.

The pilot was very good, keeping to the course of reaching him. The right pod’s canopy slid back over a tantalizing empty seat. It was also the size of a womp rat. Too bad Biggs or Wedge wasn’t here to find it funny too. But he couldn’t make the drop upside down.

He gripped tighter with his left hand and slid his legs off the crosspiece. They fell to the small crosspiece under him. Now he straddled the central support right side up. But there was no safety on this flimsy metal rod to wait for the blood to rush out of his head. He buck his whole body to get closer to the central support and let go of the crosspiece.

His backside slid away from the crosspiece. His knees hooked again and he grabbed the central support. That stopped his sliding, but now his weight was dangling over nothing. And his arm trembled with the exertion.

The vehicle shifted over and up more. The pilot’s cockpit slid open and she stood up on her seat. Luke blinked. Her uniform was Imperial issue and her hair shimmered with the same red-gold Bespin had when he had approached. “I’m defecting!” she shouted at him. She reached out and supported his back. “She heard you! She’s coming!”

Luke saw the Falcon swooping gracefully under them, slowly easing up. The top hatch opened, but the bright light obscured whoever was emerging. And his hand slipped from the support.

“No!” The girl with the red-gold hair tried to grab his ripped fatigue jacket, but his weight only pulled her out of her tiny cockpit.

He landed hard on the bulkhead adding further agony to his injured arm since it was beneath him. His vision whited out briefly. The girl? Fierfek! Had he sent her falling into the gas giant bellow? He blinked and felt a small hand cupping his jaw under his battered eye. She crouched next to him on the bulkhead.

A man Luke did not recognize with dark skin and curly black hair crouched down on his other side. “Can he move? Three TIE fighters are converging on us now.”

Leia’s voice come out of the open comm the man wore on his wrist. “Lando, do you have him?”

The Bespin angel ran a hand down the side he had landed on. “Nothing broken,” she said.

And Luke’s brain finally caught onto that she had the Force and knew how to use it and that they needed to get inside now. He tried to roll up and four hands grabbed him. “I can move,” he wheezed at them. His bruises had bruises now, but they had to get away from Vader. Vader would hurt them more to make Luke turn.

They got his feet under him and staggered to the upper hatch. Luke sank down into a crouch on the repulsorlift plate. That would leave more room for Lando and the angel. They squeezed in beside him. Lando finally answered Leia’s comms. “Okay, let’s go.” Then the plate descended and the hatch closed over their heads.

He shivered and couldn’t stop. Why was the Falcon so cold? He could feel it tilt to meet the TIEs as explosions rocked the freighter. Lando forced him to stand once they were down in the corridor. The angel supported his swaying weight with a much firmer grip. Feet on solid bulkhead made a difference. “He’s going into shock,” she told Lando.

“Leia.” Luke had to make sure she was all right, as well as Han and Chewie. And she would probably keep comming unless she saw him.

“Of course.” Lando sighed but took a firm hold of Luke and steered them toward the main hold. “She’s in the cockpit.”

The angel grabbed a rough woven blanket from the bunk above the dejarik table and tucked it around Luke’s shoulders. Luke was blinking because Threepio was in several large pieces and was berating Artoo to hurry up putting him back together. Lando didn’t stop and soon they were down the corridor to the cockpit.

The door slid open before them. Leia was there wrapping her arms around him tightly while Lando let go and shifted to the pilot’s seat. Luke put his good arm around her slender frame and returned the hug, murmuring her name out loud. Physically she was fine, exhausted and running on adrenaline but they were so used to that by now. But the Force screamed around her with pain of loss.

“All right, Chewie, let’s go,” Lando said as the ship rocked again with explosions.

“Medbunk now, Luke,” Leia said softly as she released the hug and turned him away from the cockpit. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders on his injured side. The blanket covered his right arm.

The Bespin angel darted forward and threw his left arm over her own shoulders. She was the same size as Leia. “Careful, his right hand is gone.”

Leia kept her hand at his covered elbow. “Gone? Luke, what happened?” She steered them back through the main hold, past the bickering droids, toward the crew bunk room.

“Vader.” My father, his despair wailed internally. “Decided the duel was over.” He hoped that was enough debrief for now for his end of the things. High Command would want to know more. “Worry about High Command when High Command is there” echoed in his mind from the last time Biggs and Wedge had said it in unison at him.

Leia didn’t ask for more explanations about that as they reached the medbunk inside the crew bunk room. Luke didn’t argue when they pushed him into it. Leia ran the mediscan unit over him while the angel found the breath mask and covered his mouth and nose with it. “And who are you?’ the Princess asked brusquely.

“I’m defecting.” The angel said quickly as she straightened out of the bunk.

“Do you have a name or do you want to be called defector?”

Luke felt her suppress a stab of fierce pain over her name, but she answered in a subdued voice. “I’m called Mara Jade.”

“You picked a hell of a time to defect, Mara Jade.” Leia pulled out an autotourniquet from the medical supplies and slipped it around the end of Luke’s right arm. It tightened and started dispensing a pain killer too. Luke sighed with relief and breathed in oxygen from the face mask.

“I’ll undergo whatever scans you wish to prove I’m clean of trackers. I cannot go back to the Empire.” Mara opened a disinfecting wipe and started dabbing it on the visible wounds on Luke’s face.

The Falcon jostled as the shields deflected a direct hit. “I have to get back to the cockpit.” Leia shifted around Mara and kissed Luke’s forehead. “I’ll be back,” she told him softly.

Mara resumed cleaning his face around the breath mask. Her eyes were green like new shoots in the hydroponics. Jade was a green stone too. “You have an eye name,” Luke said.

She frowned down at him. “What?”

He pulled off the breath mask. “You have an eye name. Jade green. It’s a naming convention on Tatooine. Last names aren’t established by long lineages there. Mine are Skywalker blue.” And his throat closed up too tight to talk from her anger and sadness brushing up against his own despair. Aunt Beru called them that, and always said Luke had his father’s eyes. But how would Luke know now? Did they even exist behind that black mask?

Mara was very good at schooling her features to not give away her feelings. But bitterness seeped into her voice. “My name is a cruel joke from the Emperor.” She dabbed at the cut on his upper lip with the disinfecting wipe. “But my story can wait until you’re feeling better.” She pulled out a tube of bacta salve and began dabbing it into the clean abrasions. The mediscan unit trilled something. She looked at it and sighed. “Breath mask back on. It’s not happy with your oxygen levels.”

He complied as the ship rocked again. Why wasn’t anyone on the quad cannons? Or they should have cleared the gravity well by now, so why hadn’t they jumped to hyperspace?

Angry roaring from Chewie made it through the bunk room door. Mara moved toward it, triggering it opening. “Is this common on your flights?”

“It’s not my fault!” bellowed by Lando echoed down the corridor.

Luke lifted off the breath mask. “Not usually.” She cast him a worried look and headed out. Luke hung the breath mask back into place. He couldn’t help repair the Falcon, not like this. He closed his eyes and felt the stinging coolness of the bacta. Chewie was still howling, and it sounded like he had moved closer.

The dark presence pressed against mind again, closer than it had been. How had it moved closer? Luke.

He instinctively sat up. “Father.” But the bunk room was empty of anyone else.

Son. Come with me.

Luke pushed the dark voice out of his head as he laid back on the medbunk. “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” Again Ben didn’t answer him. The ship rocked with an explosion. He rolled out of the bunk and headed it out.

Chewie snarled from the main hold and sounded like he was beating something with a spanner probably down in the maintenance hatch. Threepio was holding a three-way conversation: translating Chewie’s snarls, demanding that Artoo fix his leg, and exclaiming that Artoo really didn’t know what he was talking about: city computers lied all the time to droids in a mistaken ploy to keep things running smoothly.

Mara’s voice rose above the din in the main hold. “But disabling a hyperdrive system is standard Imperial practice in a deceptive operation!”

Luke pressed his right arm tight against his chest and went the other way to the cockpit.

Leia sat in the copilot’s seat evading the TIE fighter laser cannons as best she could while flying the ship as close as she dared to a Star Destroyer’s hull. The hyperdrive levers were engaged, but they were still flying in subspace. Lando bounced between the pilot’s seat and the other controls scattered around the cockpit, trying to get the hyperdrive to respond. He briefly touched Luke as he circled around him, checking that Luke could still stand up.

Luke nodded at him as he stared up at the Star Destroyer. “It’s Vader,” he said quietly as he stared. No wonder he could feel that unrelenting darkness pressing down on him again, relentless cold like the cave on Dagobah. His face behind the mask. He sank into the navigator’s chair behind Leia. His battered body couldn’t take another fight.

Luke. Vader pressed into his mind once more. It is your destiny.

Luke pushed him out again, with a heaved sigh. “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” asked so softly. Because soon it would not matter, would it? His father would have him in his grasp and what would happen to them all then? He stared out at the star field as the Falcon raced ahead of the Star Destroyer and felt like weeping.

The Falcon kicked back as the hyperdrive surged on. Leia and Lando were both flung back, but Leia recovered first steadying the lightspeed control so the stars shifted to lines and then the mottled blue clouds of hyperspace.

Lando rolled up to sitting on the floor, then grabbed the empty chair behind the pilot’s seat to leverage himself back onto his feet. “That worked, whatever it was. Are you two okay?”

Luke nodded. The dark pressure was off his being and it made him dizzy with relief.

“Yes,” Leia said as she scanned the control panel. “And we are still heading to the coordinates I set. So that wasn’t the problem.”

“Mara said it was deactivated,” Luke murmured but loud enough for Leia and Lando to turn sharply to them.

“Did she now.”

Luke opened his eyes to Leia’s suspicious face. “She was arguing with Threepio. I went the other way.”

“So she couldn’t put you back in the medbunk.” Leia bounced to her feet and helped leverage him out of his seat. “You are going right back to it and staying in it until we reach the Fleet, Commander.”

“Aye, aye, Colonel,” Luke replied with less than the banter he normally did. He leaned heavily on Leia, more than he should.

Lando finished locking down the controls and followed behind them. “Colonel? Not a General?”

“Not a General yet,” Luke responded with a wheezy laugh. They made the turn into the main hold and had to stop.

Mara was bent over the maintenance hatch tugging Artoo up over its edge while Chewbacca was lifting the droid from below. Luke felt dazed enough to admit to himself that the cut of her uniform trousers framed a very shapely rear. Aunt Beru would box his ears if he said that out loud.

She grunted at the moaning droid. “The next time you turn on a hyperdrive system that is engaged to go to lightspeed, engage your magnetic treads.” Artoo reached the deck plates and they both straightened and spotted their audience. Mara’s cheeks reddened.

Artoo let out a longer moan when his photoreceptor turned to Luke. He beeped and trilled as he rolled past Mara to Luke and Leia.

“Why no, I haven’t seen Master Luke yet, Artoo,” Threepio said. The taller droid was more assembled now, only missing his lower right leg, but he had landed flat on his back on the other side of the main hold. “All I can currently see is the ceiling of this blasted ship.”

“I’m fine, Artoo.” Luke patted the dome with his left hand. “Go help Threepio. I’m going back to the medbunk. Unless Chewie needs it cause you landed on him.”

“{I’m fine,}” Chewie barked from the maintenance hatch.

Lando had circled around Luke and Leia to help Threepio upright. Leia waved a hand in his direction. “Lando Calrissian, former Baron-Administrator of Cloud City. Mara Jade, defector from the Empire.”

Mara nodded at him before focusing on Luke again. “I missed the injury on your left shoulder. My apologies.”

“It’s all right; we’ll get it now,” he said. Leia nudge him forward, now that Threepio wasn’t blocking the corridor. Mara fell in with them as they went through. Leia shot him a look that plainly said she would call Chewie to escort the girl out, but he shook his head. She wasn’t lying about defecting and she had done nothing but help.

Leia leaned him back against the medbunk but didn’t swing his legs inside it. “Any more bodily injuries you’re concealing from us, Luke?” She picked up the mediscan again.

“Just bruises, I think.”

Mara pulled apart the tear on the left shoulder of his jacket. “Not cauterized.”

“He… he threw things at me. And I landed badly a couple of times too.”

She dabbed the disinfecting wipe against the contusion through the sleeve. He winced. Yeah, that was bruised.

Leia pulled a pill pack from the medical supplies and carefully pushed one free of the packaging. “Painkiller pill.” She held it out to him. “Or Chewie can hold you down while I give you an injection version.”

“Yes, Colonel.” He took the pill from her hand and swallowed it down.

Mara’s slender fingers were smoothing the bacta salve in place. They were different from Leia’s. She had worked with her hands.

And something else was wrong. Leia had been piloting the Falcon while Chewie and Lando worked on it. And no one had been firing the quad cannons at the pursuing TIEs. His head jerked up. Leia was packing away the supplies. “Where’s Han?”

She stilled, like she was carved from ice, but the poise couldn’t fool him now. He heard her scream of heartbreak that she kept trapped inside her lips. And longing that could only have fulfillment with one person, but that didn’t matter.

He grabbed her arm, so she wouldn’t leave without telling him. “Leia, where’s Han?”

“Vader gave him to Boba Fett, so Fett could collect Jabba’s bounty.”

Luke’s head spun. His father, the slave that freed himself at the Bootna Eve Classic, had sent his storm-brother to Jabba? And Leia, tears pooling in her brown eyes, Leia had finally let Han in only to lose him like she had lost Alderaan?

“They encased him in carbonite. He’s alive but he can’t escape. It’s a type of hibernation.”

That’s what his father tried to do to him, but the Force enabled him to spring free of the trap. Han never had that chance. His grip tightened on Leia’s arm. “We will get him back, Leia. We will.”

“Lay down, Luke. You know the Alliance will never order a strike against Jabba.” She gently pushed him into the bunk. Mara grabbed his feet.

“I will get Han back if I have to storm Jabba’s Palace alone. Free Han and the rest of Tatooine.” His eyelids were too heavy to keep up. But it could be done. Him and Biggs had brainstormed scenarios for years. “Better than the Bootna Eve Classic,” he muttered.

A slender hand brushed his hair back and he knew nothing more.

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