Walking into the mission briefing room on the new base, Luke quickly scanned the room. Seeing the room's sole occupant he smiled.
"Wedge," he said as he walked over to his friend and sat down next to him.
"Luke," Wedge replied. "So you're on this mission too. Any idea what it's about?"
"No," Luke answered, shaking his head as two more people entered the room. "Leia just told me to report here."
"Leia?" Wedge repeated. "Is she coming too?"
"I'm not sure, but I think so," Luke said as he looked at the other two people. "Know them?"
"No," Wedge replied as Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, Leia, and one other person entered the room.
Taking a second look at the unknown man, Luke saw that it was one of the pilots he had seen in the ice-caves of Hoth. Turning his attention to Leia, he sighed as he saw the bags under her eyes. Ever since Bespin she had been acting different and, while she denied it, he knew that she wasn't sleeping well. He had tried to comfort her, but nothing helped and he always felt a little guilty.
It was because of him that Han was frozen in carbonite and on his way to Jabba the Hutt. It was because Vader had wanted him, because his father had wanted him. His father... It was a strange feeling that, after years of longing for a father, he now had one who wanted him. However his childhood dreams seemed to have been twisted into some horrible nightmare, which had come true.
He knew that he should be out there helping Lando and Chewie search for Han, or at least be trying to comfort Leia a bit more. But he couldn't. All he could think of was his father. The shock he had received at learning the truth about his father's identity still hadn't worn off or faded. He was the son of the second most powerful and feared man in the galaxy. The son of the most hated man in the galaxy.
"Luke," Wedge whispered as he touched his friend's arm. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Luke replied as he suddenly realized that he had absently been clenching and relaxing his prosthetic hand. "I'm fine."
Looking at his friend, Luke could clearly see that Wedge didn't believe his lie. But what else could he do? He couldn't just tell him that he was Darth Vader's son. There was no telling what Wedge's reaction might be and the last thing he needed now was for Mon Mothma and the rest of the Alliance High Council to find out his heritage. He didn't think he'd be able to handle the pressure he'd be put through if they knew, or be able to stand the revulsion and disgust that was sure to appear in Leia's eyes.
"Right," Wedge drawled but, knowing that Luke didn't want to talk about it, he simply turned his attention to Mon Mothma, who had just seated herself at the head of the conference table.
"You have all been hand selected by Admiral Ackbar, Princess Organa, and myself, for the mission on which you will be briefed on in a few moments," Mon Mothma stated as soon as she saw that she had everyone's attention. "Commander Skywalker and Commander Antilles have been chosen for their excellent flying skills as fighter pilots. Lieutenant Kowalski is here for his shuttle piloting skills. Commander Walsut and Lieutenant Drake are here for their combat skills."
Looking at the others while she spoke, Luke quickly put a name to a face. Doing so he got a quick nod from Lieutenant Drake.
"As you can see this is an important mission," Mon Mothma continued. "The Bothans have always been known to have an incredible spy network. One that they claim is second to none. Princess Organa, Admiral Ackbar, and I have recently been trying to persuade them to join our cause."
"However," Admiral Ackbar picked up. "The Bothans refuse to join us unless they are sure that we will win the war."
"And how do we convince them of that?" Commander Walsut inquired.
"According to Bothan believes, whoever posseses the Jewel of Zenda will triumph," Leia replied.
"Since it is extremely important that we create an alliance with the Bothans, Princess Organa has done some research on this jewel," Mon Mothma said as she turned a knob on the control panel before her.
Instantly an enlarged holo of a gorgeous, scarlet, gem appeared above the center of the table. Slowly the holo started to rotate so that everyone could see it. Looking at the jewel Lieutenant Drake whistled.
"That's one beautiful stone," he stated.
"It is," Mon Mothma agreed. "Princess Organa learned that for centuries the jewel was in the possession of a high Bothan family until one day the head of the family went on a diplomatic mission to the small planet of Naboo. There he was so highly impressed by the planet's princess, a certain Amidala, that he gave her the jewel."
"So this planet Naboo is a monarchy?" Luke asked as he searched his memory for anything about Naboo.
For some reason he had the strangest feeling that he had heard of that planet before, that he knew something about it. But, try as he might, he couldn't pinpoint what.
"Actually, no," Leia replied. "They have an interesting form of government. If a child shows strong political interest and talent they may become a prince or princess of Theed, which is the capitol of Naboo. Then, when either the king or queen steps down, or in a few cases is forced out, a new king or queen is elected."
"Okay," Luke responded as he caught the surprised look on Wedge's face.
"After King Veruna was abdicated, Princess Amidala was elected queen," Mon Mothma stated. "She was only fourteen at the time, but she did a remarkable job, especially with the invasion of the Trade Federation."
"Invasion?" Lieutenant Kowalski asked.
"Yes," Leia replied. "There was a dispute in the Old Republic Senate about the taxation of trade routes. As a result the Trade Federation first blockaded Naboo, then invaded and captured it. After being unable to get help from the Senate, Queen Amidala took matters into her own hands and somehow, the records aren't too clear, regained control of the planet."
"Isn't this around the time Palpatine became Chancellor?" Commander Walsut questioned.
"It is," Admiral Ackbar confirmed. "In her attempt to get help from the Senate, Queen Amidala called a no confidence vote in Chancellor Valorum's power. Now, considering the fact that Palpatine was the Senator of Naboo, his election to power was partially a sympathy vote."
"Some sympathy vote!" Wedge declared angrily.
"I know," Mon Mothma agreed. "Especially if you consider the fact that one of the first things Palpatine did as Emperor was to have Naboo attacked. To demonstrate that he was serious about destroying anyone who disobeyed him."
Luke felt the anger rise within him upon hearing this. This was the kind of man his father worked for? The kind of man his father wanted him to work for, to learn from? Suddenly realizing how high his anger was he quickly reached out and let the Light Side flood through him to calm him as he pushed back the unwelcome memories of Bespin that threatened to once more flood his senses.
"That's Palpatine," Kowalski hissed angrily.
"Exactly," Admiral Ackbar agreed. "However, for some reason unknown to us, he has seen to the destruction of any further information on Queen Amidala, similarly as with the Jedi."
Luke lifted his head sharply as something nagged at the back of his mind. Why would Palpatine make sure all the information on Queen Amidala was destroyed after a certain point in time? Had she known something important? Did it have anything to do with the feeling he had?
"To get back to the Jewel of Zenda," Mon Mothma said. "We know that Amidala recognized the jewel for its worth and had it put into her crown or headdress, whatever you want, of her throne room outfit."
At this Mothma turned another knob and the holo of the jewel disappeared only to be instantly replaced by a holo of a young woman dressed in an elaborate red dress with gold embroidery, trimmed with brown fur, and inlaid with illuminated sein jewels at the bottom. On her head she wore an even more elaborate crown which was gold and red, with a bizarre hairstyle. Her face was completely made up in white with two blood red dots on her cheeks. Her top lip was painted blood red as well, with a mark of it spilling onto her lower lip.
Looking at the holo, Luke felt a strange feeling of déjà vu. There was something about Queen Amidala that called out to him, but he didn't know what. Studying the holo as it rotated he caught sight of the Jewel of Zenda worked into the crown so that it was directly over the queen's forehead.
"We don't know what happened to Queen Amidala after the attack on Naboo," Mon Mothma confessed. "However, since we need this jewel, we are sending the five of you together with Princess Organa to Naboo. Once there you are to go to what remains of Theed and see if you can find any clue as to where the Jewel of Zenda is now."
"Isn't that like the Empire looking for us?" Walsut inquired. "We've just as much chance of finding the jewel as they have of finding us."
"They found us at Yavin and Hoth, didn't they?" Leia pointed out.
"True, but still--" Walsut began.
"We need to at least make an attempt," Mon Mothma interrupted. "The doors that the Bothans could open for us with their spy network are virtually limitless."
"Good," Admiral Ackbar said as Walsut nodded. "Commander Skywalker and Commander Antilles, you will be using X-wings for this mission while you, Lieutenant Kowalski, will pilot a shuttle with Princess Organa, Commander Walsut, and Lieutenant Drake. Should any trouble arise while you're in space Commanders Skywalker and Antilles will provide cover fire while Lieutenant Kowalski gets the shuttle out of there as fast as he can. Commander Walsut will decide what to do should you happen to run into trouble while on Naboo."
"So, basically, we go to Naboo, look around, and get out?" Kowalski asked and continued when Mon Mothma nodded. "Not to be disrespectful or anything, but why is Princess Organa coming along?"
"We have no idea if Naboo has been re-inhabited since Palpatine's attack or not," Mon Mothma replied. "Princess Organa is going along in case there are people there and because none of you have diplomatic skills."
"Fair enough," Kowalski responded.
"Any more questions?" Admiral Ackbar asked. "All right then, you will leave tomorrow morning at eight."
"This should be interesting," Walsut remarked as he got to his feet.
"Indeed," Luke replied absently as he too stood up.
"Luke, are you okay?" Wedge inquired as he took hold of Luke's arm, not wanting his friend to brush him off again as he had done all too often since his return from Bespin.
"Yes," Luke replied honestly as he smiled at his concerned friend. "It's just that I have the weirdest feeling that I've seen or heard of this Queen Amidala before."
"Where?" Wedge questioned as he released Luke and followed him out of the briefing room and into the hall.
"That's just it," Luke responded. "I haven't the slightest idea and I'm sure that I'd remember meeting a queen or having heard of one."
"True," Wedge agreed. "Tell me if you remember."
Despite the fact that it was only four o'clock in the morning, Luke was awake. Ever since Bespin his sleeping pattern had been very irregular. Sometimes he slept normally, and sometimes nightmares of his father and all that could have been and still could be would wake him. Tonight was one of those terrible nights.
Stepping out onto the landing pad, he sighed as a morning breeze hit his face. Looking up at the stormy sky he couldn't help but notice how it fit his mood. This morning he had awoken from a dream in which he had agreed to go with his father. His father had taken him up to the Executor, where he had had him taken to the medical bay, and then brought him to his quarters where he had been about to talk to him when he had woken up.
He had often wondered whether Vader was influencing his dreams. Whenever he dreamt about what his life would be like with his father and the Empire it always seemed so good. But there was only one way to find out, and so far he hadn't wanted to do it.
Feeling a drop of rain on his left hand he looked up at the sky again to see that the dark, ominous, clouds were blocking out all of the light from the rising sun. Making a quick decision he reached out with the Force and touched the snake-like Force "rope," if it could be called that, that he knew bonded him to his father.
'Father?' he sent, unsure what to expect.
'Son,' came the almost instant reply.
The reply was only one word, and yet it was enough to make him flinch.
'Father,' he sent again as he took a deep breath.
'What is it?' Vader questioned. 'There is no need for you to fear me, child.'
Luke pulled back mentally at the words. If his father could sense his hesitation and fear over the link, then what else could he sense? Was he unconsciously giving away the location of the Alliance base?
Frustrated he clenched his fists; this was why he had been reluctant to use this link to his father, as he didn't know exactly what it did. He had thought of either going or calling to Yoda to ask about it, but he had quickly discarded the idea, unwilling for several reasons. The first being the fact that he had failed and that Yoda had said he would, and the last thing he wanted now was an 'I told you so' lecture. Another reason was that Yoda must have known the truth, both about his father's identity and exactly what was in store for him, and yet he hadn't told him. Instead his Master had cast him blind and vulnerable before his enemy.
Or was it his enemy?
Then there was also the fact that if he returned that he might see Obi-Wan's spirit again and that was another thing he didn't want at the moment. The old Jedi had lied to him, and he had done it while looking him straight in the eye.
'Son?' Vader inquired.
'How much can you sense from me now?' Luke responded as he strengthened his mental shields.
'Whatever you let me,' Vader replied. 'But why did you call me? Have you decided to join me after all? To take your rightful place at my side?'
Luke trembled at the words, only managing to contain his longing and grief through a violent struggle.
'Are you influencing my dreams?' he demanded, trying to cast aside his father's words.
But that was easier said than done. Luke knew that the words had hit the target his father had aimed them at, namely his heart. He had spent too long wishing and longing for a father to simply ignore his words now, no matter that that father had once been his most hated enemy. Simply remembering what Leia had said that Vader had done to her on board the Death Star was enough to make him angry, and feel guilty at the same time.
Now he knew why his uncle had gotten so mad whenever he had asked about his father. The man had feared that he'd come to want his father so much that he'd blindly follow him if he ever learned the truth.
Now that he thought about Uncle Owen, he remembered something else. Once, as a kid, he had been playing on the floor of the kitchen with his T-16 toy when Aunt Beru had asked him and Uncle Owen whether they had seen a certain dish she needed, as she has been unable to find it. His uncle had replied with something similar to:
"How should I know? It's your kitchen."
At this he had looked up and suddenly, for no particular reason, he had known where it was. He had told Aunt Beru so and she had checked the cupboard he had indicated. One which was well out of his reach. The dish had indeed been there and as soon as Aunt Beru had turned around he had caught sight of the troubled expression on her face. Seconds later Uncle Owen had gotten to his feet while yelling at him at the same time.
His uncle had accused him of hiding the dish and he hadn't listened to his denial. He had simply sent him to his room without dinner. Looking back on it now he realized that he must have been subconsciously using the Force. Reaching back into his memory he found three or four other similar events, all of which had ended in his being punished. His uncle obviously hadn't wanted him to develop his Force abilities as he must have feared he'd turn to the Dark Side too.
What kind of man had his father once been before he'd been seduced by the Dark Side? Quite different from what he was now probably, for why else would his uncle have been so scared of the possibility of him turning? At least that gave him a little joy as it meant that his mother hadn't been the kind of woman he had feared she might have been after he had learned the truth about his father's identity.
His mother. That thought brought another avalanche of questions tumbling down with it. Who was she? Was she dead? Or had she abandoned him? Had she been married to Anakin Skywalker? Had she loved him? And what was, or had been, her name?
Sighing, he shook his head as he felt another drop of rain on his hand. He knew even less about her then he had known about his father before Bespin. Indeed all he knew was that he had had a mother.
'What makes you think that?' Vader questioned, bringing Luke back to the present.
'The nature of my dreams,' Luke replied, double checking his shields.
'I do not know the nature of your dreams Luke. But from what you're saying I can guess,' Vader said. 'Perhaps you should consider the possibility that it is not I who am influencing your dreams, but your heart. Push aside the poison Kenobi has infected you with and listen to your true self. You want what I offer you, namely power beyond your dreams. You belong with me, Luke. Sons belong with their fathers.'
The words cut him like a knife and, this time, he was unable to prevent his emotions from reaching his father. Trying to control his sudden irregular breathing and the trembling he was now experiencing he became aware of the fact that it was now really starting to rain. Not knowing how to respond he simply broke the connection and doubled his shields before turning around and running blindly for the base as there was a flash of lightning and a boom of thunder before the clouds opened up and it started to pour.
Despite the fact that he hated water, Luke didn't seem to realize that he was soaked to the bone as he reached the building and entered. How could his father do this to him? He had purposefully chosen words that he knew would hurt him. Why? Did Vader want his son that badly? Or did he simply not care? Was he just a means to an end? A tool to be used and then discarded? Was he...
The arms were around him suddenly. Not knowing what was happening, Luke began to thrash violently, trying to get away from whoever was holding him.
"Luke!" a familiar voice suddenly exclaimed in surprise as he began to fight. "Luke are you all right?"
Instantly realizing that it was only Wedge who was holding him, Luke stopped struggling and turned around.
"I... I'm sorry," he began, looking for something to say that would explain what had just happened, but failing to come up with a good reason. "I... I don't know what came over me."
Looking into his friend's brown eyes, Luke knew that the Corellian didn't believe him.
"Luke, please," Wedge begged as he placed a hand on Luke's soaked shoulder. "Please tell me what's going on. I know you and I can clearly tell something's bothering you."
"What makes you say that?" Luke asked as he fidgeted.
This was not the conversation he wanted to get into right now. It would only end with him holding back or lying, as he wasn't ready to tell Wedge, or anyone else for that matter, what was going on.
"What makes me say that?" Wedge repeated in disbelief. "Luke, look at yourself! You've got bags under your eyes, you're soaked to the bone, and you were running down the hall like you had the entire Imperial fleet after you!"
"Not the entire fleet," Luke replied before he could stop himself.
"Vader," Wedge stated as understanding dawned. "That's it, isn't it? That's what this is all about; Bespin. Luke what did he do to you?"
"I already told you," Luke responded as he turned away from Wedge and began walking towards his quarters. "It's just I keep getting dreams, no nightmares, of it."
"Can't you get something from the medical bay to help you sleep?" Wedge asked.
"I suppose," Luke said as he looked at his friend. "But me and sleeping drugs have never gotten along very well. Besides, I'm always afraid that I'll get nightmares and be unable to wake up."
Wedge simply nodded his head at this as they stopped outside Luke's quarters. Looking at Wedge, Luke could tell his friend knew that there was more to all this then he was saying. Inwardly he sighed as he forced himself to smile. His friend's trust brought him joy.
"Thanks Wedge," he said, knowing that Wedge would understand. "By the way, what time is it?"
"Half past six," Wedge stated as he looked at his chrono. "You'd better get changed. I'm sure you still need to get breakfast and we leave in an hour and a half."
Stepping out onto the landing pad for the second time that morning, Luke smiled as the sun hit his face. Its pure rays seemed to penetrate him and warm his very soul. Looking up at the sky he simply shook his head when he couldn't find a single cloud in sight. Indeed, the only evidence of the morning's rain was the wet concrete of the landing pad.
Hearing Wedge's voice call to him he turned around to see his friend standing next to their X-wings. Jogging over to him he felt his smile broaden. In a couple of minutes he'd be back in the cockpit of his X-wing and all would be fine.
"Well you're looking better now," Wedge observed as he thought of the morning's disturbing events.
"I'm feeling much better," Luke replied. "Know where the others are?"
"Well I can see Lieutenant Drake coming now," Wedge replied. "But there's no sign of the others."
Turning around Luke saw that the black-haired Lieutenant was indeed coming towards them.
"Commanders," Drake said as he reached them.
"Lieutenant," Luke replied automatically.
"What do you guys make of this mission?" Drake asked, as he looked Luke over.
"It's different," Wedge replied, as he wondered at Drake's behavior. "But I guess it'll be interesting. At the very least it'll be a change from what we've been doing lately."
"Definitely," Luke agreed as he became aware of how Drake was studying him with brown eyes that were so dark they could have been black.
"I guess," Drake responded as he glanced at Wedge before turning his attention back to Luke. "Is it true that you faced off Darth Vader?"
For a moment Luke simply froze as unwelcome memories rose to the top of his mind.
"Yes, I did," he finally confirmed as he looked back at Drake.
Doing so he suddenly realized just how young the Lieutenant was. Probably as old as he had been when he'd first joined the Alliance. The only difference was that he had only just left his home then. Drake, on the other hand, must have been with the Alliance for a while already considering what Mon Mothma had said the other day at the briefing. Studying the young face he noticed something else, awe.
"You faced off Vader and destroyed the Death Star," Drake said. "No wonder the Empire wants you so badly."
There was a short moment of silence during which Luke felt guilt creep into his conscience. This boy thought as many others did, that the Empire wanted him because he was good and that they feared him. But the reality of the situation was that they wanted him because he was Vader's son and because Vader wanted him. Briefly he wondered what Drake would say if he knew that. But then he pushed that thought aside, unsure of what to do next.
"Do you have any idea where the others are?" Wedge suddenly asked, both breaking the silence and drawing Drake's attention away from Luke.
"Yes," Drake replied. "Princess Organa is talking with Mon Mothma and Commander Walsut and Lieutenant Kowalski are getting ready."
"Actually, no," Luke stated. "Here they come now."
Looking up both Drake and Wedge could see Leia, Walsut, and Kowalski approaching them.
"Are we ready to go, Leia?" Luke asked, noticing the surprised glance he got from Drake upon using Leia's first name instead of her formal title.
"Yes," Leia replied as she tried to smile, but failed.
"Okay, let's go then," Luke said at which he and Wedge headed for their X-wings as the others headed for the shuttle.
"I think you've got a fan," Wedge teased his friend as he started up the rugs of the ladder. "To say the very least."
"Yeah," Luke agreed as he got into the cockpit of his ship.
He pulled his thoughts away from the young Lieutenant as he heard Artoo whistle behind him.
"Yes, Artoo," he said as he read the translation from the screen. "We're ready to go."
Artoo whistled a reply before the X-wing's engines flared to life and the spaceship lifted off. Beside them Wedge's X-wing followed suit before the Rebel shuttle lifted off as well.
"You two have the co-ordinates?" Luke asked over the com as the co-ordinates for Naboo flashed across his navigation screen.
"Yes," Wedge replied as they flew up into the planet's atmosphere.
"Ditto," Kowalski stated.
"Okay," Luke replied as they pulled away from the planet's gravity well. "Now remember Lieutenant, if we come out of hyperspace into an Imperial nest you get out of there as fast as you can."
"Yes, Sir," Kowalski responded.
"Let's go then," Luke ordered as he reached forward and pulled back the hyperspace levers.
Two days later,
Luke came out of the Force trance he had allowed himself to slip into once they had entered hyperspace just as the hyperspace chrono started its two minute countdown.
"You ready, Artoo?" he asked as he stretched as best he could in the small cockpit.
Briefly he felt sorry for Wedge who had been awake for at least part of the trip. At least Leia and the others could walk around on the shuttle. He then read the translation of Artoo's reply and smiled. It seemed he had offended his little friend.
"I was just checking," he explained as a loud beeping sound filled the cockpit.
Leaning forward, Luke took hold of the hyperspace levers and pushed them forward just as the chrono reached zero. The instant the ship came out of hyperspace he looked at his scanners, but all he could see was Wedge's ship and then the shuttle as it came out of hyperspace.
"Are we clear?" Leia's voice asked over the com.
"I think so," Luke replied. "Do you see anything Wedge?"
"No," Wedge replied.
"I guess we're clear then," Luke stated as he looked out of the cockpit viewport at the blue, green, and white planet before him.
"Okay," Leia replied. "Lead the way."
"Very well," Luke said as he changed course.
Quickly he descended into the planet's atmosphere and headed in the direction he knew Theed had once been. They had yet to reach the planet's one time capitol when they flew over a clearing in the forest below them.
"What do you think Wedge?" he asked as he turned on his X-wing's repulsors to stay in place.
"Looks fine," Wedge replied.
"Leia," Luke said. "Do you want to land here and make the rest of the way on foot, or do you want to fly further and hope for another landing site?"
"I think we should land here," Leia replied. "We don't know the area very well and we might not find anything better. Besides the trees will provide cover if we need it."
"True," Luke agreed as he started his landing. "Hopefully we won't."
The moment he landed, Luke turned off the repulsors and took off his helmet. He then got out off the flightsuit as the cockpit canopy lifted.
"No, you stay here, Artoo," Luke stated before he jumped to the ground as he saw Artoo lifting himself out of his socket. "I need you to stay here and warn me if anyone approaches the ships."
Whistling several times, Artoo lowered himself back into the socket. Turning around Luke saw Wedge approaching him as the shuttle ramp lowered. Quietly he tilted his head to one side and reached out with the Force, sweeping the immediate area. Although he couldn't find any intelligent life forms, there was something out there. Only when he grasped for it, it slipped through his mental fingers. Whether this was because of lack of training or not he didn't know. But he did know that whatever it was, it wasn't a danger right now. Simply something he should know.
"Well let's go," Leia said as she neared Luke and Wedge.
"Yes," Commander Walsut agreed as he looked at Luke and Wedge. "Are your blasters fully charged?"
"Yes," Wedge replied as Luke nodded his head.
At this Walsut started forward and the others followed him into the forest. As they walked, Luke could still see signs of the long ago attack on the plant. In seemingly random places there were long, black, scars in the earth where a Star Destroyer's turbolaser had made contact with it. He also became aware of the abundant animal life as creatures of every description ran away before them.
By the time they took a break, three hours after starting, they had already gotten into battle positions twice only to find that what they had thought was a sentient being was only some forest creature. Luke had also noticed that the forest had turned more swampy as they progressed.
"How much further is Theed?" Kowalski asked as he ran a hand through his short, dark brown, hair.
"I'm not sure," Leia replied as she leaned against a tree. "But it can't be much further."
"Then let's go," Luke said as he got up from the moss-covered log he'd been sitting on.
"Don't you ever get tired?" Wedge asked before he remembered how Luke's physical condition had improved since Hoth, well except for the hand anyway.
"Not since Yoda made me run around the swamp all day with him on my back," Luke replied.
"With him on your back?" Leia asked. "What kind of creature is he?"
"Hmm..." Luke murmured. "To be honest, I'm not quite sure."
"Who's Yoda?" Drake inquired as he looked up at Luke.
"A Jedi," Luke replied uncomfortably.
He now realized that he probably shouldn't have mentioned his master. The knowledge that there was still a fully trained Jedi Master alive would spread and, sooner or later, his father or the Emperor would learn that Yoda was still alive.
"I thought that they were all dead," Drake stated. "Is that why you could go up against Darth Vader? Because he trained you?"
"Yes," Luke replied, his unease growing with the reminder of Bespin.
Looking to Leia he could see the pain in her eyes as well.
"Let's continue," Wedge said as he got to his feet, eager to avoid a repetition of the events of two days past.
"Indeed," Walsut agreed, sensing the tension radiating from both Luke and Leia.
They walked on in silence for another half hour before the swampy-forest began to thin and then ended altogether.
"Theed," Kowalski said as he looked across a field to the ruins of what had obviously once been a city.
"Come on," Luke said as he started out across the field which was covered with battle scars.
Walking, Luke noticed that now that they were almost at their destination Drake had stopped walking close to him and started being alert. The fact that he now had his hand on his blaster proved that.
"Was I like that?" Luke quietly asked Wedge.
"Like what?" Wedge inquired.
"A little," Wedge replied with a smile.
Silently Luke nodded his head as he looked across the field towards the ruins of Theed. Although it looked like some of the buildings were still standing a lot of them were nothing more than piles of blackened rubble.
Sadly Luke shook his head. Even from where he was he could see from the remaining buildings that Theed had once been a gorgeous city. How could someone who came from such beauty be so evil? How could Palpatine have ordered the destruction of his own home? Was this all the result of the Dark Side? Or had Palpatine been evil even before he had gone Dark Side? Briefly he wondered how people like Queen Amidala could have interacted with him so often and never have seen him for what he was.
'Join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son,' his father's words rang through his head.
Seeing the damage done to Theed and knowing that lots of people had died here made Vader's offer both attractive and repulsive at once. It made the offer attractive in that it would mean Palpatine's death, but it made the offer repulsive in that he knew that to accept it would led him down a path at the end of which he would be no better than Palpatine himself. But perhaps he could go along with his father's plan until Palpatine was dead and then refuse to go any further.
Quickly, violently, he pushed the thought aside, knowing that it was an extremely dangerous one. Obi-Wan and Yoda had repeatedly warned him about the dangers of the Dark Side and just looking at his father showed him that they weren't wrong or lying to him. He'd probably be consumed by the Darkness long before they ever got around to killing Palpatine and if not he doubted that he'd be able to leave his father after having spent time with him, Darkness or no Darkness. But where did that leave him?
"How can anyone be so evil?" Drake asked as they reached the end of the grass field and the edge of the city.
Seeing the damage up close, Luke didn't have an answer for him other than the Dark Side. However he kept his mouth shut knowing the younger man wouldn't understand without a lengthy explanation, and even then it was doubtful that he would fully comprehend. Looking at the overgrown ruins and the remaining buildings he couldn't help but marvel once more at the beauty they possessed even in destruction. Theed must once have been a treasure to behold. If Queen Amidala had been anything like what the culture had obviously been then she must have been a very extraordinary woman indeed.
Hearing the sound of running water he looked to his right to see water flowing from a small lake out into what had once been a street, and then out of sight behind some ruins.
"Something is wrong," Walsut suddenly stated.
"What?" Leia demanded, instantly alert, but Luke could have sworn that he detected an undercurrent in her voice.
"There's rubble all over the place, but no signs of any remains," Walsut explained. "I mean there must have been people here at the time of the attack, so where are their remains?"
"Yeah," Kowalski agreed. "The Imperials don't have the decency to bury the people they've butchered."
"Perhaps they were given a proper funeral by people who've passed through here since the attack," Leia reasoned. "It's been somewhere around twenty years after all."
"Perhaps," Drake replied. "But we can't be sure."
"True," Walsut agreed. "Keep your eyes and ears open."
Luke simply nodded his head as he studied Leia. Something other than Han was bothering her. However he couldn't figure out what, nothing significant had happened so far that he was aware of.
"Wedge," he whispered as he stepped closer to his friend. "Do you have any idea what's bothering Leia?"
"Sure, can't you--" Wedge began but then stopped. "Sorry, forgot you never got to see Alderaan. The untouched buildings look somewhat like some of the buildings of Aldera, Alderaan's capitol, looked like. Probably stirring up some old memories for her."
"Oh," Luke replied, that made sense.
Walking further they followed what seemed to be the central street. Finally they turned a corner and saw what had to be the remains of the palace. On either side of the crumbling white marble stairs stood various remains of what must have once have been huge statues. Several feet from the beginning of the stairs stood a towering pillar and on the other side the base of what was once another pillar. Lying in-between the two pillars was the remains of what they had once proudly held in the air for all to see.
Luke shook his head as he looked at the scene. Looking at the beauty of what was left of the statues he wished he could see what they had once looked like when he suddenly had an idea. Yoda had taught him how to relax into the Force so that he could see images through it. Perhaps if he concentrated he'd be able to see into the past and see what Naboo had been like before the attack.
Deciding to do so he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and summoned the Force. His control had grown since he had left Yoda so he hoped that he'd be able to get the image he wanted quickly. An image was just beginning to color his vision when he felt a warning ripple through the Force. Instantly he abandoned his search for the past and let his senses guide him to the source of possible danger.
"Hide!" he ordered, his eyes snapping open as he found what had caused the warning.
Reacting more out of instinct than anything else the others instantly got behind a big pile of rubble.
"What's wrong Luke?" Leia demanded.
"We're being watched," Luke replied as he peered around the pile of rubble.
"How do you know?" Walsut asked as he checked to make sure his blaster was ready.
"I can feel their presenceses," Luke responded.
Briefly Walsut looked at him, doubt written across his face, but then it disappeared as he thought about what had been mentioned earlier that day.
'Besides,' he thought to himself. 'Anyone who faces off Darth Vader and lives to tell about it has to have something out of the ordinary.'
"How many?" he asked aloud.
"Euh..." Luke began as he narrowed his eyes and reached out towards the palace where he had felt the others. "Three or four."
"Great," Drake murmured. "Now what?"
"Now it's my turn," Leia stated. "This is the whole reason I'm here."
"But Princess," Kowalski protested. "We can't cover for you and what if they are hostile?"
"He's got a point there," Wedge agreed. "We can't return to Mon Mothma and say you were killed while trying to talk with whoever is there."
"But we don't know that they're hostile," Leia argued. "If it wasn't for Luke we wouldn't even know that they were there."
"True," Walsut admitted. "But we can't cover you."
"I can," Luke suddenly declared as he let his right hand drop to the hilt of his newly constructed lightsaber, which hung at his belt.
For the first time since he'd started getting nightmares, he was glad for them. For if he hadn't had them then he wouldn't have been able to have had enough time to have constructed the lightsaber yet.
"What?" Drake asked as he looked at Luke.
"I can cover Leia with my lightsaber," Luke said as he unhooked his lightsaber from his belt and activated it.
"Good," Leia said as she looked at the green-white blade. "Now turn it off so that they don't think we're going to attack them."
Doing as he was told, Luke turned off the lightsaber, but kept his thumb on the activation button, as he stepped away from the rubble in front of Leia.
"Hello," Leia called out as they slowly approached the palace stairs. "We mean you no harm, we need your help."
There was only silence for a few minutes and Luke could feel Leia begin to shift behind him.
"Are you sure that there are people there?" she whispered quietly after several more minutes.
"Yes," Luke replied confidently. "Perhaps they don't speak Basic as--"
"Who are you?" a feminine voice suddenly called out.
"I am Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, and this is Commander Luke Skywalker," Leia replied indicating Luke as she spoke while looking around for the person who had spoken. "We are here on a mission for the Alliance and are in need of your assistance."
"Maybe you shouldn't have mentioned the Alliance," Luke whispered softly. "What if they're pro-Imperial?"
"Well our names would have been enough for any Imperial or supporters of Empire to have recognized," Leia explained.
"True," Luke agreed as he looked around, suddenly sure that he was being studied intently.
"Skywalker?" the voice asked before a woman stepped into view at the top of the stairs.
Looking up at her, Luke quickly took in the simply gray pants she wore with a beige shirt of sorts. She looked to be in her late forties or early fifties with graying brown hair which was pulled away from her face. Her hazel brown eyes seemed old and worn, as if they had seen a lot of misery and suffering in their time. Looking at her as she studied him it struck him how much she resembled Queen Amidala. She looked like an older version of the queen he had seen in the holo. However something inside himself told him that this was not the queen.
Suddenly a smile broke out on the woman's face and joy appeared in her eyes.
"It's you," she said softly, shaking her head in amazement.
"Excuse me?" Leia questioned as she took a step forward.
"Do you not know who I am?" the woman asked as confusion clouded her face.
"No," Luke replied, knowing the question had been aimed at him.
The woman frowned at this, but then slowly nodded her head.
"It doesn't matter," she finally concluded. "All it means is that you're not here for the reason I had assumed. But the others and I shall be most happy to help you in any way possible."
"Thank you," Luke said, not knowing what to make of all this.
How was he supposed to know this woman? Did it have something to do with the fact that he seemed to remember the name Amidala?
"Call over your friends and we can go inside to the others," the woman said.
Nodding her head in agreement, Leia turned around and motioned for the others to approach as Luke put away his lightsaber. Together they carefully ascended the stairs of the palace.
"You said something about going inside," Leia said as they reached the top. "Does this mean that some of the rooms are undamaged?"
"Yes," the woman confirmed. "By the way, my name is Sabé. Who are your friends?"
"This is Commander Antilles, Commander Walsut, Lieutenant Drake, and Lieutenant Kowalski," Leia said.
"Welcome," Sabé replied. "Now come inside and we'll see what we can do for you."
"What's going on?" Walsut whispered softly as they followed Sabé inside.
"I'm not sure," Leia replied. "But she seems to know Luke and is willing to help."
"Know Luke?" Wedge repeated before he turned to his friend. "Who is she?"
"I don't know," Luke responded as they walked through a gorgeous colored marble hallway that seemed to be more or less untouched by the attack.
"You think this has anything to do with the fact that you have heard of Queen Amidala before?" Wedge inquired.
"That's what I'm guessing," Luke stated. "But I'm not sure."
"Well, when you get a chance, ask her."
"Ow, I will," Luke confirmed. "But only once we've learned what we can about the mission first."
"Are you sure this is such a good idea?" Kowalski asked as they followed Sabé through what seemed to be the main hall of the intersection they had reached.
"No," Leia replied honestly. "But it's the best option we've got right now. I mean we can't just throw away the only lead we may have."
"True," Drake said. "But I have a funny feeling that something is going to happen."
"Me too," Luke agreed at which Drake beamed. "But I don't sense danger."
"Shhh," Leia warned as Sabé turned around.
"The others are in there," Sabé said as she pointed to a strong metal door in front of them. "They'll probably be a little surprised to see you as you're the first visitors we've seen on Naboo since the attack."
Luke nodded his head at this as the woman looked at him. Then Sabé turned around, walked towards the doors, and entered the room as they opened. Following her inside Leia instantly realized that she was now in the throne room. Lining the sides of the room were giant pillars leading up to a silver colored throne.
Looking around Luke quickly caught sight of the two other women in the room who were looking at them with a mixture of surprise and delight on their faces.
"Sabé, who are they?" one of them asked as she got to her feet, brushing back a lock of black-gray hair as she did so.
"Members of the Alliance," Sabé replied and Luke noticed a smile appear of the black-haired woman's face. "This is Princess Organa, Commander Antilles, Commander Walsut, Lieutenant Drake, Lieutenant Kowalski, and Commander Luke Skywalker."
"Skywalker?" the blond-haired woman exclaimed as she jumped to her feet. "Sabé, do you mean--?"
"Yes," Sabé interrupted. "Members of the Alliance I'd like you to meet Rabé and Eirtaé."
Looking at both women as Sabé introduced them, Luke couldn't help but wonder why they seemed to know him, or know of him, and why they were now studying him. Indeed, when he looked into Eirtaé's eyes he was sure that he could see unshed tears there.
"Now," Sabé said as she walked over to the table that stood in the middle of the room. "You mentioned something earlier about needing help."
"Yes," Leia replied as she and the others approached the table and sat down, Rabé and Eirtaé quickly following suit. "We are here on a mission of great importance to the Alliance."
"Which is?" Eirtaé asked in a manner that instantly alerted Leia to the fact that she was trained in diplomacy.
"We have come here on a quest to find the Jewel of Zenda."
Watching the women closely Luke caught the quick glance they sent at each other.
"And why would you need this?" Rabé questioned as she looked at Luke.
"We need it to convince the Bothans to enter the war on our side," Leia explained, starting to wonder at the strangers attitude towards Luke. "You see the Bothans value the jewel very highly and believe--"
"That whoever posse the jewel will win the war," Sabé interrupted. "Yes, we know the religious meaning of the Jewel of Zenda."
"How?" Wedge asked curiously.
"We have often been told of how Queen Amidala came to posses the jewel," Eirtaé explained. "You see Rabé, Sabé, and I were three of the queen's five handmaidens."
Luke's eyebrows shot up at this as he glanced at Leia in surprise, seeing his own shock reflected there. He, like her, could hardly comprehend their good fortune. If anyone knew where the Jewel of Zenda was now, it would be them.
"Three of the five," Leia repeated. "Where are the other two handmaidens?"
"Saché died a couple of years ago in an accident, and Yané stayed behind on Melca to look after her sick husband," Sabé explained. "You see since the attack we haven't lived here any longer, there are simply too many memories. We now live on Melca and come back to visit Naboo twice a year. You are lucky to be here right when we are, it could only have been that the Force meant for our paths to cross."
"You know about the Force?" Luke asked and saw smiles appear on the former handmaidens' faces.
"Yes," Rabé answered as her smile faded. "The queen's husband was a Jedi Knight. Also Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi helped us in freeing Naboo from the clutches of the Trade Federation."
"Padawan?" Luke asked, wondering at his former master's title.
"Padawan is the formal title of a Jedi Apprentice," Eirtaé explained.
"I guess that makes you a Padawan, Luke," Wedge stated.
"Probably," Luke replied as he caught the excited and slightly worried looks the women shot one another at this.
Something was clearly going on here, only he didn't know what. Could it have been that the former handmaidens had known his father as a Jedi? They had obviously known several Jedi. But then, if they had known him, wouldn't they have said something? Frustrated he shook his head.
"Do you know where the jewel is now or where it might be?" Leia inquired, bringing the conversation back to their mission.
"Yes," Rabé responded. "We do know where it is."
"May we have it?" Leia asked politely while she felt her pulse race.
Those women knew the location to a key to an important alliance for the Rebellion. But the question was would they give it up? Leia knew all too well that the Jewel of Zenda was a one-of-a-kind gem and that that very fact made it extremely valuable. Perhaps the women wouldn't want to give it up.
"Well you see that isn't our choice," Sabé stated, drawing looks from Rabé and Eirtaé. "The Jewel of Zenda, because of its value, is passed down from one family member to the next. Unless of course the family decides to give it up, which is how Queen Amidala came to have the jewel. It was given to her because the Bothan who owned it at the time thought she should have it. She was only thirteen at the time and a Princess of Theed, but he predicted a great future for her and gave her the jewel out of admiration. She proved him right when the Trade Federation attacked and captured Naboo. She, along with the three of us, got away and she didn't stop looking for a way to free Naboo even though the odds piled up nearly impossibly against her. In the end this determination led her to come back and fight without even the help of the Republic she had gone to seek. Now, since neither Rabé, Eirtaé, nor I am a family member of the queen we can not give the jewel to you, Princess Organa."
"So you're saying that Queen Amidala isn't dead?" Walsut asked.
"We can't be sure, but we think that she is dead," Rabé stated sadly. "We haven't seen her since she left Naboo with Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi shortly before the attack. She had warned us and all the people of what was going to happen and that they had best flee, but despite all that she had done for them they didn't believe her. They said that Palpatine would never attack his own homeworld. We, on the other hand, believed her and said that we would leave for Melca as soon as possible. She told us that she'd contact us there as soon as she was safe."
"We never heard from her again," Eirtaé finished as she reached up and wiped tears from her eyes.
There was a moment of silence during which Wedge and Leia exchanged silent looks. Luke, however, was too busy thinking to notice the silence. Obi-Wan had taken the queen with him when he had left Naboo? Was that why he had heard of Amidala before? But what had happened to Amidala? Obi-Wan had obviously gotten away from Naboo safely.
Upon learning that Sabé knew his name, he had hoped that she might be able to provide some answers about his past, but instead he found that he only had even more questions than before.
"But if you think that Queen Amidala is dead, then why won't you let us have the Jewel of Zenda?" Leia finally inquired. "From what I've heard about your queen I get the impression that she'd be for the Alliance."
"Oh, she would be," Eirtaé declared with confidence. "However, when she left, Amidala was several months pregnant."
"So the jewel would go to her child," Luke concluded.
"Exactly," Rabé stated as she studied him once more. "You see before he left Obi-Wan swore that he would do all he could to look after the child. He probably still felt guilty about A--, the death of the queen's husband."
"What happened?" Drake asked, getting intrigued.
"We're not quite sure," Sabé confessed. "All we know is that Obi-Wan went looking for the queen's husband after he had been gone for several weeks. When Obi-Wan finally returned several months later he brought news of the death of the queen's husband. He told Amidala what had happened, but this was the first time Queen Amidala refused to tell us anything. All she told us was that her husband was dead and that Palpatine was making ready to attack Naboo."
"From then on until she left with Kenobi she kept to herself, crying and wondering about the life of her unborn child," Rabé finished.
"I know this is a little harsh," Leia started. "But for the sake of the Alliance and countless people in the galaxy I must ask: What makes you think that the queen's child is still alive? How do you know he/she didn't die with Amidala?"
"Well we didn't know," Sabé admitted. "We didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl, until very recently."
"Oh," Leia replied, disappointed.
If the child was alive it was unlikely that he/she would part with the jewel as it was a keep-sake of his or her mother.
"Sabé?" Rabé questioned silently.
Sabé nodded her head and Rabé got up and walked over to the throne. Watching her Luke felt a sudden wave of expectation surge through the Force. Something big was about to happen, but what? Something inside of himself told him that he knew what it was, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't find it. Suppressing a sigh he simply shifted in his seat.
"How can you be sure that this person is the queen's child?" Kowalski suddenly asked.
"First of all he has his father's name, and secondly he looks like him," Eirtaé explained.
"Exactly," Sabé replied just as Rabé came to stand at her side. "You see, the queen's husband was Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker."
"What?!" Luke exclaimed as his head snapped up from studying his hands. "Are you saying that Queen Amidala was my mother?!"
"Yes," Rabé replied as she walked over to Luke. "Therefore this rightfully belongs to you."
As she said this Rabé took his left hand, turned it over and placed a large scarlet gem into it.
"The Jewel of Zenda," Wedge stated as he leaned towards Luke to get a better look.
"Exactly," Eirtaé confirmed as she watched Luke.
Luke looked at the gem as the truth of what he had just been told sunk in. His mother had been a queen! Elected, true, but still. Remembering the holo he had seen of her he felt tears well up in his eyes. So beautiful and, from what the handmaidens had told him, she had also been extremely kind and courageous as well. What had she ever done to have her life ruined as it had been? Had she known that Vader was her husband?
Suddenly fear washed over him as he wondered if the former handmaidens knew the truth about his father, and if so, then what would they do with the information? Would they tell Leia and the others? Quickly he calmed down as he remembered what Sabé had said earlier, that that was the one thing his mother had not talked about with them. This probably meant that she had known that Anakin had turned into Vader.
But what had happened to his mother? Had she died or was she still alive and hiding from Vader? But if so then why hadn't she contacted Rabé, Sabé, Eirtaé, Saché, and Yané?
"Luke, are you all right?" Leia asked.
"Yes," Luke replied as he looked up, tears of joy and sadness rolling down his cheeks.
Instantly Rabé handed him a tissue before she returned to her seat.
"Thanks," Luke said.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Wedge asked wondering if Luke would hold back now as he did whenever Bespin was discussed.
"Yes," Luke repeated. "I'm glad that I finally know the truth about my heritage."
"What did you know?" Eirtaé questioned, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"Well Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru never really told me anything," Luke answered. "It wasn't until after their deaths when I was with Obi-Wan that I learned of who my father was."
'Or at least partially,' a small voice inside his head whispered.
"You knew Jedi Kenobi?" Sabé inquired.
"Yes," Luke replied as he smiled at the title she used. "At first I knew him as Ben Kenobi, an old hermit living at the edge of the Dune Sea, until that faithful day. Then I learned the truth."
"So he stayed nearby and watched over you as he said he would," Rabé said. "Where is he now?"
"He was killed a little over three years ago by Darth Vader," Leia replied.
There was a brief silence during which both Kowalski and Walsut shifted uncomfortably, clearly feeling out of place. Drake, on the other hand, was hanging onto every word spoken, looking at Luke most of the time.
"You said he lived at the edge of the Dune Sea," Sabé repeated. "Does this mean you were raised on Tatooine?"
"Yes," Luke responded as he looked at her, wondering how she knew about Tatooine.
"Oh," Sabé simply replied, then, seeing his surprised look, she smiled. "Your father lived on Tatooine for several years. He hated it."
"I can see why," Luke stated as he tried to picture Vader as a moisture farmer. "Taking care of the vaporators is hard work with little pay."
"He wasn't a moisture farmer," Eirtaé said softly as she realized what he was thinking. "He was a slave."
"What?!" Wedge exclaimed as he glanced at his speechless friend. "But this was during the Republic, they didn't have slavery then."
"No," Rabé replied. "Although powerful, the Republic's influence didn't stretch all the way to all the Outer Rim Territory planets. Tatooine was controlled by the Hutts and they had slavery."
Nodding his head at this Luke looked down at the jewel in his hand. How could his father stand for a government that enslaved whole races when he himself had once been a slave?
"Could we talk alone for a little while?" Leia inquired.
"Definitely," Sabé replied as she, Rabé, and Eirtaé got to their feet. "Take as long as you need."
With this the three former handmaidens left the room.
"Well this is a most unexpected, but welcome development," Walsut stated as soon as they were alone.
"That it is," Leia agreed as she looked at the jewel in Luke's hand. "You truly had no idea?"
"Yes," Luke replied as he looked at Leia. "I only knew my father was Anakin Skywalker and a Jedi Knight."
'And Lord Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith,' that small voice inside his head stated.
"Well I'm sure that learning your mother was a queen isn't a bad thing," Kowalski joked.
"Indeed," Drake agreed.
"Well I know one thing for sure," Leia said. "Mon Mothma will be both surprised and pleased to have us back sooner than expected."
"Leia," Luke said. "When are you planning on leaving?"
"Why as soon as possible, of course."
"Oh, can't we stay here until tomorrow afternoon?" Luke asked, wanting to be able to spend some more time with Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé to learn more about his parents. About himself.
"Well--" Leia began.
"Perhaps we could also learn some more useful information about Palpatine," Wedge interrupted, knowing how much this would mean to his friend. "The handmaidens did, after all, know him from before he declared himself Emperor."
"Okay," Leia said as she saw the pleading in Luke's eyes.
Quietly Luke got up and slipped out of the bedroom he was sharing with Wedge, Drake, Walsut, and Kowalski. Actually it couldn't really be called a bedroom as it was simply one of the many downstairs rooms which had been spared during the attack.
After Leia had agreed to stay they had all talked with the women about Palpatine for a while and Leia had been forced to admit that she had learned a few new, and perhaps useful, details. After that the others had gone out to look around while Rabé and Sabé had made dinner, leaving him and Eirtaé alone.
The blond-haired handmaiden, being the one who had been the royal protocol expert, had told him all about the protocol his mother had used everyday, and how her dresses and headdresses were symbolic. He had learned about how the peculiar lipstick his mother had worn was known as the Scar of Remembrance which had marked the time of Naboo's suffering before the Great Time of Peace. He had also learned that the white nail-polish Amidala had almost always worn was a tradition from the small mountain village in which she had been born, and that the white face make-up drew upon Naboo's ancient royal customs.
Walking into the quiet throne room, Luke looked around. After dinner Sabé had given him a tour of what was left of the palace and, while he had seen lots of nice rooms, he still liked this one best. Which was why he was here. After tossing and turning for a while he had decided to come here and meditate, perhaps he'd even be able to see images of the past. He had after all come close to doing so when he had first felt Sabé's presence.
Walking up to the throne he ran his hand over it. Then, on impulse, he sat down in it and looked around. This was the way his mother had seen this room countless times. Sighing he got up, walked over to one of the chairs in the room and seated himself, knowing that he shouldn't be sitting on the throne.
Relaxing he reached out and let the Force flow through him. Briefly he winced as he remembered what he had seen when he had last done this on Dagobah. But then he pushed the thought aside. As soon as he had cleared his mind images started to flash into view.
The first thing he saw was a bird's eye view of Theed before it's destruction and he couldn't help but marvel at it's beauty. As quickly as it had come the vision disappeared before a new one came. Now he found himself in the throne room and, sitting proudly on the throne, was his mother. Standing near her were the handmaidens and before her sat several, older, humans who seemed to be advisors.
As this image faded it was replaced by a vision of a large room with whom had to be his father before whatever accident had happened that had confined him to the armor and breathing mask he now wore. The height was a dead give away. Looking at Anakin, Luke saw that he had inherited his father's ice-blue eyes and blond hair. He couldn't help but smile at this.
Slowly the vision changed and he found himself looking down on Theed once more. Only this time there seemed to be a celebration of sorts as everyone was outside, packed together in a sea of colors, and the music he heard was festive. Quickly the vision zoomed in and he could see his mother, dressed all in white, standing at the top of the palace stairs. Looking at the other people gathered near her he recognized a younger Palpatine and, at the far right, Yoda.
Then some sort of amphibious creature with long ears climbed the stairs towards his mother. Recognizing the creature from Eirtaé's earlier description he knew that it was a Gungan, Naboo's other sentient race. Taking a large, glowing, sphere from an older man his mother gave it to the Gungan who took it from her and lifted it above his head and called out:
Seeing his mother's smile Luke couldn't help but smile himself. Then the vision changed to what had to be his mother's bedroom. Sabé and one of the two handmaidens he didn't know were with Amidala who seemed to be extremely excited.
"Pregnant," she was saying. "I'm pregnant. Wait until Anakin gets back and hears that he'll be a father!"
Watching his mother like this Luke felt his smile fade and tears start to sting his eyes. But as the vision faded he couldn't help but feel slightly happy in learning that his mother had been that excited in learning that she was pregnant. He also had to wonder whether his father had known of his existence before the Death Star incident or not.
His attention was instantly drawn back to the vision as he became aware of the sound of lightsabers clashing against each other. Seeing the focused looks on the two people he saw he immediately knew that this was no practice battle, it was real. The next thing he noticed was that both men, one old and one young, were fighting together. They were fighting someone he couldn't see. Just then the younger one, who had short blond hair except for a long braid down the side of his head and a short pony tail at the back, was kicked backwards.
As he watched the young man get up Luke could see what the two Jedi had been fighting. Their opponent had short horns instead of hair and his face was a strange pattern of black and red. He had piercing yellow-orange eyes and a blood red, double-ended, lightsaber. Looking at him Luke instantly knew he was a Sith. Watching the three fight it quickly became apparent to him that, while the Jedi outnumbered the Sith, it was the Sith who was dominating the battle. But who was this Sith Lord? Where had he come from? And why hadn't he heard of him before?
Just then he felt a presence nearby, one that wasn't from the vision.
"Rabé," he said as he came out of the trance and back to reality.
Opening his eyes he saw that Rabé was watching him from near the entrance to the throne room.
"You were meditating?" she asked as she approached and sat down in one of the other chairs.
"Yes," Luke replied. "I couldn't sleep so I decided to come here and see if I could look into the past."
"And?" Rabé questioned, her curiosity rising. "Did it work?"
"Yes," Luke responded smiling. "I got to see mother and father. I was wondering, however, if father knew about the fact that mother was pregnant before he died."
"No," Rabé stated sadly. "He left the day before your mother learned about her pregnancy."
Luke nodded his head, relieved. It had occurred to him earlier that his father might have known about his existence all the time but had simply not bothered to find him until he was old enough to be of use to him. Now he knew that this was not true.
"Is there anything else you want to know?" Rabé inquired.
"Yes," Luke replied. "Just before you came I had a vision of two Jedi, one older with long hair and one younger with short hair except for a braid and a short pony tail, fighting a black and red faced Sith. What was that all about?"
"Well, believe it or not, but the younger man you saw was none other than Obi-Wan Kenobi when he was a Padawan," Rabé stated.
"What? Obi-Wan?" Luke exclaimed as he thought of the Obi-Wan he had known and compared it to the vision of the young man he had seen. "Does this mean that the other Jedi I saw was this Qui-Gon Jinn you mentioned earlier?"
"Exactly," Rabé confirmed. "He was Obi-Wan's mentor. The Sith you saw was Darth Maul."
"Darth?" Luke asked. "But that's Vader's first name."
"I know," Rabé replied. "Darth is the first name of all Sith. Maul's master was called Darth Sidious."
"How do you know?" Luke inquired, intrigued.
"Well, once we captured the Neimoidian who was in charge of the Trade Federation attack, a certain Viceroy called Nute Gunray, and his Lieutenant, Rune Haako, they told us that they had been taking orders from a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious. They also said that Darth Maul was his apprentice," Rabé explained.
"So what happened to those two Sith?"
"Obi-Wan killed Darth Maul, but not before Maul fatally wounded Qui-Gon," Rabé stated. "However I have no idea what happened to Sidious."
"Thank you," Luke said as he filed away this new information.
So, Obi-Wan had lost his mentor the same way he had lost Obi-Wan, to a Sith Lord's blade. And what about Sidious? Had he been killed by the Jedi during later years? Or had Vader or Palpatine killed him to wipe out competition? Or was he still alive, hiding somewhere? This last thought made him shiver slightly; the last thing the Alliance needed was to have another Sith Lord out there. However, knowing that he couldn't do anything about it tonight, he pushed the thought aside and realized that he was now tired.
"Your welcome," Rabé replied as Luke got to his feet. "If there is anything else you want to know, simply ask."
"I will," Luke replied. "Goodnight."
*** p class=absatz>Standing on the palace steps in the afternoon sun Luke sighed sadly. Despite the fact that he knew they had to leave now he wanted to stay longer.
"Thank you for all your help," Leia said to the handmaidens.
"Your welcome," Sabé replied with a smile. "I hope everything works out with the Bothans."
"Me too," Leia agreed. "We could really use their help."
"Definitely," Walsut stated. "With their spy network we'd stand a much better chance against the Empire."
"Luke," Eirtaé said after a short silence. "Feel free to come visit us on Melca whenever you wish."
"Yes," Rabé added. "I'm sure Yané would love to see you."
"Okay," Luke responded as he smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."
"I don't want to be rude or anything," Kowalski said. "But we'd better get going if we want to get back to our ships before dark."
"Okay," Leia said as she started down the stairs.
"Goodbye," Luke said as he followed her.
"Goodbye," the handmaidens replied, watching them leave.
Two days later,
The moment the shuttle set down Leia got to her feet and headed towards the shuttle exit.
"Princess," Walsut said just as he lowered the ramp.
"Commander," Leia replied. "You did well on the mission."
"Thank you," Walsut responded. "It was an interesting one."
"That it was," Leia agreed. "Please tell Lieutenant Kowalski and Lieutenant Drake that they may return to their quarters right away if they wish. I shall handle things with Mon Mothma."
"Very well," Walsut said as she walked down the ramp.
Reaching the bottom Leia looked up and was surprised to see Mon Mothma coming towards her. It was obvious from the looks on the faces of the other Rebels on the landing pad that they were also surprised to see the Alliance leader here as well.
"Leia," Mon Mothma said as she approached. "Do you have it?"
"Yes and no," Leia replied, smiling as she looked over to where Luke was using the Force to lower Artoo from his place on top of the X-wing.
"What do you mean yes and no?" Mon Mothma questioned.
"We did get the Jewel of Zenda, but I don't have it," Leia explained. "Luke does."
"Commander Skywalker?" Mon Mothma asked, clearly confused. "Why?"
"Because it is rightfully his," Leia stated. "It's a long story, but to make it short when we arrived at Theed we met three of Queen Amidala's former handmaidens. We quickly learned that they did know the location of the jewel, but they wouldn't give it to me as I wasn't a relative of the queen."
"And Commander Skywalker is?" Mon Mothma guessed, her doubt more than obvious.
"Yes," Leia confirmed. "He's her son."
"Son?" Mon Mothma exclaimed loudly.
"Yes," Luke replied as he walked over to the two women, Artoo at his heels. "I didn't know either until Sabé told me."
"Sabé?" Mon Mothma inquired. "And how do they know you are Amidala's son if you didn't know?"
"Sabé is one of the queen's former handmaidens," Leia explained. "And they knew because of Luke's last name and because he looks like his father."
'Or the way he once did,' that small voice in Luke's head stated.
"Well as long as you have the jewel I guess it doesn't really matter how you got it," Mon Mothma said.
At this Luke opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it again. Although how he had gotten the jewel was important to him, he knew that it wasn't to the Alliance leader. She had more than enough things to worry about without trying to figure out the family histories of every Rebel. However he couldn't help but wonder what she'd say, or how interested she'd be, if she learned who his father was now. Not wanting to think of it he quickly shoved the thought aside.
"You'll let us use the Jewel of Zenda?" Mon Mothma inquired.
"Definitely," Luke instantly replied. "I'd just like it back when you're done with it."
"Naturally," Mon Mothma stated. "However, considering the circumstances, I think it would be better that you come to Bothawui with me and Leia when we go."
"What?" Luke asked as he tried to picture himself at some long and boring diplomatic meeting. "Why?"
"Well since the Jewel of Zenda is passed through the family it would make a better impression if the son of the human who got it from the Bothans was actually present," Leia stated, knowing what Mon Mothma was getting at. "Besides Luke, you're a hero of the Alliance, what with the destruction of the Death Star and Bespin. Having you there will make them more likely to accept."
Luke nodded his head at this. Going to Bothawui would take his thoughts away from his father and all that had just learned. Perhaps afterwards he'd be able to come up with some way of getting out of the mess he was in. For as of right now the only options he could see available to himself was staying with the Alliance and basically rejecting the father he had longed for for so many years. Or to go to his father and join both the Empire and the Dark Side. Neither of which he wanted to do.
"Can I see the jewel?" Mon Mothma asked.
"Sure," Luke replied as he reached into his pocket and took out the gorgeous scarlet gem.
"Beautiful," Mon Mothma stated as the sunlight bounced of the gem, sending strips of scarlet everywhere. "Better keep it somewhere safe."
"Yes Ma'am," Luke responded, recognizing the order in her tone.
"Good work, both of you," Mon Mothma said. "You have practically secured one of the most important alliances for the Alliance."
"We also learned a few things about Palpatine that you'd probably want to know about," Leia said as she started walking away with Mon Mothma.
Watching the two women walk away Luke put the jewel back into his pocket before he turned to Artoo.
"Come on," he said. "Let's go find out what Threepio's been up to."
Seven days later,
"Mon Mothma," a Bothan said as the group was led into the room. "It's an honor to have you here once more."
"And it's an honor to be here again Borsk Fey'lya," Mon Mothma replied as she shook hands with the fur covered alien.
Removing the worn, brown, cloak and hood he had been wearing to hide his uniform and face, Luke suppressed a sigh. He would have preferred that they meet somewhere else, but the Bothans had insisted that they meet on Bothawui. Therefore he, Mon Mothma, Leia, and a few guards had been forced to come down in a ship and walk through the planet's capitol to the secret conference room. To him this had appeared to be the perfect setup for a trap, but Mon Mothma had insisted on coming anyway.
Quickly scanning the room with the Force he had to admit to himself that there didn't seem to be any hints of danger or hostility radiating from the room's occupants. Other than the cream colored Borsk Fey'lya there were four other Bothans seated at a large table and five guards at a second entrance to the room. As soon as they had entered the Alliance guards had placed themselves near the door through which they had entered while Leia and Mon Mothma had each removed their own cloaks.
"You know Princess Organa and I'm sure you recognize Commander Skywalker," Mon Mothma said as she gestured to Luke.
"Indeed," Fey'lya replied. "Although I must admit it is extremely hard to find any background information to place in Skywalker's file."
"You'll have more of that by the end of this meeting," Leia said as she smiled at Luke.
Nodding his head in agreement Luke couldn't help but notice how Leia's smile didn't quite reach her eyes. He didn't need to use the Force to know that, although Leia seemed to be focused completely on her work, at least part of her was constantly thinking about Han.
"Please be seated," Fey'lya said as he gestured towards the table. "The others are Delfu Miyo, Belca Firw, Eru Gipe, and Yrosa Nilo."
Looking at each Bothan in turn Luke nodded his head politely.
"Miyo?" Mon Mothma questioned. "Wasn't that the family who possessed the Jewel of Zenda for so long?"
"Yes," Delfu Miyo confirmed. "It was my father who gave it away. Which is why I'm here, I'll be able to tell if you've got the actual Jewel of Zenda or simply a replica of it."
Feeling his anger rise at this remark Luke opened his mouth to reply when Leia covered his hand with hers, and motioned for him to keep quiet.
"We have to be sure the jewel is the real thing," Fey'lya explained. "This is after all a war we're talking about getting involved in."
"Of course," Leia replied diplomatically. "We understand."
Quietly Luke placed his hands together on the table so as to prevent from slamming them down and demanding the Bothan just who he thought he was. Innocent people were being slaughtered and enslaved out there by the Empire everyday and the only way he and his people would get involved in the war was in knowing that the side they joined would win!
Realizing his anger was far too high he closed his eyes and forced himself to relax, letting the Light Side flow through him. When he finally calmed himself some time later he opened his eyes once more and tried to figure out how much of the conversation he had missed.
"--as our spy network is the best in the galaxy," Gipe was saying. "It's better than even that of the Empire."
Feeling the need to roll his eyes, Luke wondered how they could have a good spy network seeing that all the Bothans he had met so far were self-centered. Heck, he'd think that they'd screw up by having to tell people that they had just learned all their secrets.
"We know," Mon Mothma said knowing that flattery always helped. "Which is why we're here."
"You said you had the Jewel of Zenda," Firw said. "May we see it and have Miyo look it over?"
"Certainly," Leia responded. "Luke?"
Nodding his head Luke took the protective box Mon Mothma had given him out of his pocket and put it on the table. He then opened it and pushed it towards the dark furred Bothan.
"Well it certainly looks like the Jewel of Zenda," Firw stated as he looked down at it. "Miyo?"
Taking the box Miyo took the scarlet gem out of it and proceeded to examine the jewel closely.
"Well?" Fey'lya asked a few minutes later as Miyo replaced the jewel into the box.
"It's the real thing," he stated before pushing the box back across the table to Luke. "Why do you keep it and not Mon Mothma?"
"Because it's mine," Luke declared knowing that it was the right thing to say.
"Yours?" Nilo repeated questioningly.
"Yes," Leia confirmed. "You see Commander Skywalker is the son of Queen Amidala."
There was a short silence in the room as the Bothans exchanged startled glances. Watching them Luke also saw that Fey'lya and Miyo's fur rippled as the result of some strong emotion they were feeling.
"Amidala's son," Miyo repeated as he looked at Luke. "Then the Jewel of Zenda is indeed yours."
"You are like your mother," Nilo suddenly stated. "Where she stood against the Trade Federation you stand against the Empire. I must say that at first, despite knowing that you had the Jewel of Zenda, I was reluctant to agree to join you as it seemed like you didn't have any claim to the jewel. Now, however, I find my doubts have gone."
"As have mine," Gipe agreed.
Seeing the other Bothans nod their heads in agreement Luke quickly closed the box and put it away again before letting his thoughts drift. If he was needed he knew he'd know, but from here on in the rest of the meeting would be discussion on the terms of an alliance between the two parties. And that was one area he had no skills in. Indeed it was now entirely up to Leia and Mon Mothma.
Luke sighed as he looked out into the Endorian evening from the Ewok walkway. Shortly after the Bothan meeting he had decided that there was only one thing he could do considering the situation with his father. Only one thing he could do in good conscience. He had to turn his father away from the Dark Side even as the man was trying to turn him to it. He had to turn his father back to the Light.
From the moment the idea had come to him he had known that it wouldn't be easy, but he hadn't doubted his ability to do it. Not even Obi-Wan had been able to make him doubt it. Until now. Now that he could actually feel his father's presence nearby and feel his Darkness he began to doubt his goal.
But what else could he do? He couldn't ignore him and he couldn't join him. Turning him was the only option left, or he could die trying. He winced slightly at the idea, he sincerely hoped that it wouldn't come to that, but if it did.....
"Luke, what's wrong?" Leia's voice suddenly asked, startling him out of his thoughts.
Turning around to face her, to face his sister, he wondered why he hadn't felt her approach. He must have been too deep in his thoughts, not a good thing. Especially now.
"Leia do you remember your mother, your real mother?" he asked quietly as he seated himself on the walkway railing.
"Just a little," Leia replied as she too sat down. "She died when I was very young."
So Amidala was dead as he and the handmaidens had assumed.
"What do you remember?" Luke asked, hoping to learn what she had been like as a mother as opposed to a queen.
"Just images really," Leia stated. "Feelings."
"Tell me," Luke pressed.
"She was very beautiful, kind, but sad."
Luke winced inwardly at this. Naturally she would be sad, not only had her husband turned against her, but she had been separated from one of her two children. She must also have been constantly haunted by the idea of what might happen the day Vader learned of their existence. Briefly he wondered why, if Leia remembered their mother, that she hadn't recognized her as Amidala, but then he pushed the thought aside. In the holo their mother had been wearing all the white face makeup. Besides she had probably done as much as she could to change her appearance and Leia had been very young at the time.
"Why are you asking me this?" Leia questioned, instinctively knowing that something was wrong.
"I have no memory of my mother, I never knew her," Luke responded and could read the silent 'I know' from his twin's mind.
"Luke, tell me, what's troubling you?"
"Vader is here, now, on this moon."
"How do you know?" Leia asked, worry clouding her normally bright eyes.
"I've felt his presence," Luke replied. "He's come for me, he can feel when I'm near. That's why I have to go. As long as I stay I'm endangering the group and our mission here. I have to face him."
"Why?" Leia demanded and Luke could hear the fear in her voice.
She had only just gotten Han back from what Vader had done to him and now Luke was actually going to go to Vader!
"He's my father," Luke stated knowing that he couldn't hide the truth from her any longer.
"Your father?" Leia repeated, unable to keep the revulsion and disgust of the thought out of her voice or off her face.
"There's more, it won't be easy for you to hear it, but you must," Luke stated sadly. "If I don't make it back you're the only hope for the Alliance."
"Luke don't talk that way," Leia said as fear started to crawl into the pit of her stomach. "You have a power I -I don't understand, and could never have."
A power like Vader's, Leia suddenly realized.
"You're wrong Leia," Luke replied as he remembered his shock at realizing his relationship to Leia. "You have that power too, in time you'll learn to use it as I have."
Briefly he wondered how she would do this if indeed he didn't come back. For hadn't Yoda told him that he was the last of the Jedi?
"The Force is strong in my family," he continued. "My father has it,...I have it,...and...my sister has it."
At this he looked at Leia, willing her to understand. Briefly he saw something flicker in her eyes, but then she seemed to shrink away from it.
"Yes, it's you Leia," Luke confirmed.
"I know," Leia replied, a little dazed, but definitely a lot less shocked than he'd been. "Somehow I've always known."
"Then you know why I have to confront him," Luke said, hoping that she wouldn't argue too much.
"No! Luke runaway, far away," Leia argued as she got to her feet. "If he can feel your presence then leave this place. I wish I could go with you."
"No you don't. You've always been strong," Luke responded, rising as well.
'Just like mother,' that small voice in his head added.
"But why must you confront him?" Leia demanded, not even trying to hide her fear now.
She had only just found her brother; she didn't want to lose him to Vader now. That man had already taken Han from her for six months, not to mentioned Alderaan and her adopted family. She wasn't sure she could handle losing Luke now as well.
"Because there is good in him, I have felt it," Luke explained, trying hard to keep his growing uncertainty out of his voice. "He won't turn me over to the Emperor, I can save him, I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try."
'Do or do not, there is not try,' Yoda's words rang through his head as he saw the uncertainty and fear on his sister's face.
Gently he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek before he turned around and walked away, knowing that if he stayed any longer Leia might just be able to change his mind and make him stay.
Making his way towards the ladder that would bring him down to the forest floor, Luke felt his hand reach for his right pocket where the Jewel of Zenda normally was. Only now the pocket was empty. Although the scarlet jewel had brought him and the Alliance nothing but good fortune so far he had decided not to take it with him now. He had given the gem to Artoo to keep save so that if things did go wrong and he didn't return Leia would still have it to remember their mother by.
Pushing the thought aside he cleared his mind so that the only thing he thought about was the upcoming trail with his father and the Darkness.