At the Oasis: Paddy and the Capon Rating: PG
Iella

Tatooine. Dumping ground of the galaxy. Well that was what we used to call it back in the old days. It used to be the place where a guy could just disappear -- dump his ship, forge a new identity for himself and start up again somewhere else. Until he screwed up again, that was, and ended up back here. Life has a nasty habit of biting you on the hindquarters like that. If you think you can escape your past, you might as well forget it -- it's always there like a guy with halitosis breathing over your neck. That's one thing I've learned. Better to face up to your demons, no matter how ugly they are, because, one thing's for sure, they're only going to get uglier. And hey -- sometimes when you stand your ground you find there are others who don't mind standing with you, so you don't have to face things alone. I discovered that little reality here just over thirty years ago, and even though I'm not the sort of guy who lives in the past, I can't help but be reminded of it every time I return.

Once upon a time there were so many derelict ships in orbit around this dusty ball that some clever guy set up a dodgem run -- big stakes for whoever could run the course and get through without a scratch. Hate to brag, but I still hold the record for that. Come to think of it, the owner still owes me the jackpot. Must have him on about that next time I see him. Might be soon, too. I think he's been giving Anakin some help with something here -- some drilling enterprise tapping into the artesian wells, I think. Trust Lando to turn a buck out of it -- but hey, if it's helping the locals I suppose it can't be bad.

Speaking of drink, I still remember a time when Tatooine boasted the most drinking holes per head of population -- one for every thousand worthy citizens if my memory serves me right. And when I say drinking holes I'm not talking water, if you get my meaning. Certainly never thought I'd ever want to come back here at all, let alone come back regularly. Funny how things can change when family gets involved.

I still sometimes have to pinch myself when I start thinking about how things have turned out. All I can say is if you'd sat me down forty years ago, when I was a smart-ass kid who thought he was a hotshot smuggler, and told me I'd end up married to a Jedi and have three kids, I'd have sprayed my lum all over you. Yeah -- it would have been the cheap stuff, too. Not the least of the changes in my circumstances is that now I could afford to do it in style with Churban brandy, or a shot of Whyren's -- Vat 95, too, best damn year's production they ever had.

But, hey, you don't want to have some old timer boring the ears off you with stuff about himself, and how he got caught up with the Jedi in their struggle against Palpatine. You'll be wondering what brings me back here, and why I don't mind making the trip now and again. If you're smart, you've probably already picked up on what I said about my son Anakin, and how family changes your view of a place -- so how about we call it a day on the history lesson and take it from there. Oh, and make yourself comfortable. This may take a while, although I'll try not to get sidetracked.

What keeps bringing me back here? If you'd guessed female, pretty, pert, brunette, smart, cute -- any or all of the above -- then give yourself a complimentary glass of whatever tickles your fancy. If you guessed Leia -- you'd be wrong, although I'd agree wholeheartedly with you that the description fits, even though I'd be lying to deny that her hair's been taking on more and more of a grey appearance lately. Not that I'm complaining, as it only seems to make her more beautiful in my eyes -- more elegant, more desirable if such a thing could be possible.

No, it's not Leia -- it's a smaller, more playful version. Name's Padmé -- Paddy for short -- named, as you've probably guessed, after her great-grandmother, Leia's mother. Padmé's still alive -- nearly in her eighties, but showing no signs of engine drag. She and Anakin senior live on Coruscant, and they still keep an ear on the heartbeat of the Republic, but now they're happy to leave the action stuff up to the likes of their children -- and, of course, their grandchildren. Soon, I suppose, it'll be Leia and I in that situation, by which time Paddy's generation'll be taking over from her parents. Time's relentless like that. But let's not get maudlin -- back to the present.

The present. I estimate we're about twenty yards from the door to Anakin and Tahiri's home in the Jundland cliffs. In other words about sixty seconds from a frontal assault by a human projectile. No worries -- she doesn't do much damage. Well not since she's learned to start the braking procedure at about halfway. Anakin's been trying to curb her tendency to use her Force powers for every day activities, but when she's excited all that training goes out the window. The thought of Granny and Grandad almost at her door just rearing to spoil her rotten for a few weeks'll be too much for her little two-year-old brain to resist.

Woah! Here she comes -- fifteen, fourteen ... ten! A record.

"Gandad! Ganny!"

"Hey, little one." That's Leia.

I stand back for a minute and let her take the brunt of Paddy's momentum. Don't like to admit to weakness, but I've been getting a bit of stiffness in the joints lately, and being cramped in this old speeder for the last hour hasn't helped.

Then it's my turn. "Hey, little princess!" Yeah -- I'm a big softie, I know. "Whatcha been doing?"

"I been waiting, Gandad. I been watching fom Mummy and Daddy's woom."

I look up to see Anakin and Tahiri coming out of their front door, and we go through the normal process of hugs and kisses and "how are yous."

I nod towards the archway above the door. "The vine's looking good. Any luck with the last crop?"

The vine's a bit of an experiment. Although Tatooine is still not short on cantinas, it is severely lacking in the quality of its alcoholic resources. Last time Corran Horn was here he brought some cuttings from one of his grandfather's old dewberry vines. We weren't sure they'd grow, but they took off like someone had fed them starfighter propellant. So far, I've managed to keep that piece of information from Lando. It's possible the Tuskens could branch out into wine production if we could irrigate enough ground to get a crop growing. But they'll need time to trial it, and discuss it, and as Tuskens don't have much concept of time, I can see it being a slow process. The last thing we want is Lando getting hold of the idea, and blowing local enterprise out of the water -- or, in this case, the sand.

"Pretty good stuff, actually," says Anakin, picking Paddy up to carry her inside. "I've got a bottle in the cooler, so you can test drive it yourself."

That statement shows two of the things I like about Anakin. The first is that he's always been a dab hand with anything mechanical, so one of his first tasks when he and Tahiri set up their home here in the cliffs was to build a refrigeration plant. The other is that he likes a good brew. Put the two together and -- well, you get the picture. I can see it's going to be a pleasant evening.

"Things going okay, Tahiri?" asks Leia. Tahiri's pregnant with their second -- a son according to Anakin. Already got him named, too. Talk about not letting the grass grow beneath your feet -- although, mind you, that's not such a difficult thing on Tatooine.

Tahiri nods and we all study her belly for a minute. She's such a little slip of a thing that it's already looking quite round. Tahiri's a Jedi like Anakin, and unlike him, real pretty. Just kidding -- although I have to say, taking into account it's partly my genes we're talking about here, the boy's got it in the looks department. Whether you agree that I can take any credit for that or not, there is one thing that you would agree with. Both Anakin and I have very good taste in women. And we don't mind a bit of spirit -- prefer it in fact. It may make our lives a bit fraught at times, but at least neither of us'll die of boredom.

Paddy fidgets for Anakin to let her down, which he does, and she toddles over to Leia. "Mummy got a baby in her tummy," she informs her, blue eyes wide.

"You don't say," smiles Leia. "Did you know that you were in there once, too." She squats down and pushes a curl from Paddy's cheek. Not that it's in the way, but the kid's so cute you can't help wanting to pet her. Paddy finds that piece of information not only amusing but open to debate.

"No." She giggles and and then claps her hands and reaches out towards the bag Leia's carrying. "Got a pesent, Ganny?"

"Mum, are you carrying peasants around with you again. We really are going to have to report you to the Civil Rights Commission."

Leia rolls her eyes at her son, and then smiles at Paddy. "What do you think?"

Paddy claps again. "Yes!"

"Okay. Close your eyes and hold out your hands."

"What is it?" Anakin mouths at me, suspiciously. I understand his nervousness -- I heard about the X-Wing with the gasbag droid and the sex-crazed Geonosian lizards.

"It's okay. It's a cartoon vid. Absolutely harmless. Might even give you a break while she's watching it."

"Dad. I love you."

"I know." I grin. He's kidding -- but he's not, if you know what I mean.

"Wanna watch it, Daddy. Wanna watch it now."

I can see Anakin's thought processes racing ahead. Does he let her watch it now and have peace, and then have her nagging for something else tomorrow? Or does he put up with a tantrum now, but be able to reap the benefits at some other time when he needs to be left alone? Before he has to make the terrifying decision, Leia comes to the rescue.

"Granny's going to put it away until tomorrow, Paddy," she says in the no-nonsense voice I've heard her use so often in her job as Coruscant Head of Security. "Right now, you're going to take Granny and Grandad to their room, and you're going to help us unpack."

Beside me I hear Anakin let out a sigh of relief, and Tahiri's green eyes are glimmering with amusement.

"Saved," she laughs.

"Thanks, Mum," says Anakin.

"Hey, what are grandparents for?"

"Okay." Paddy takes Leia's hand and leads her away, probably figuring that there might be a few other little delights hiding in her luggage. She's not wrong either, although at least one of them is strictly out of limits until her birthday in two days time. This, of course, is why we've come. There are going to be a few more old friends arriving soon, too, not so much to see Paddy as to catch up with Anakin, Leia and me so we can talk shop about a few things. Still, I'm sure they won't be averse to having a bit of R and R along with a slice of family life.

"Want to try out the new product?" Anakin is already opening the bottle, and Tahiri's busy setting out some tankards and nibbles.

"Don't mind if I do, son." I sit down trying not to creak too loudly. "Don't mind if I do."

*****

Day starts early on Tatooine, which makes sense when you think about it. Most people like to get their work done in the morning, take a bit of a rest after lunch and then pick things up again later when the heat isn't quite so fierce. Surprisingly, I feel a bit less stiff today. I say surprisingly because I didn't expect to sleep quite so well -- I usually don't for the first few nights on a different planet. Old instinct, I guess -- habit of too many years spent sleeping with one eye open waiting for a surprise attack.

We did have trouble getting off to sleep in the first place, though, thanks to those damned lizards. Stupid things had got themselves stuck in the ventilation pipe, and in the end we had to call Anakin to unscrew it and get them out. That woke up Paddy, who then, of course, demanded to be able to watch her cartoon vid. In the end Anakin and Tahiri had to take her back to bed with them. I got the impression Anakin was a bit miffed about that. I admit I teetered on the edge of offering to try and read her off to sleep for them, but a few flashbacks to having a certain blue-eyed boy ruin my night plans stopped me. What do they say about revenge being sweet? And anyway, we did make it up to them this morning by making breakfast and entertaining Paddy for a while.

I should go and help Anakin tinker around with the speeder, but the good lunch we had seems to think a rest will help it go down better, so I'm sitting with Paddy watching her vid. Reminds me of the crazy cartoons Anakin and the twins used to watch. You know the sort of thing I'm talking about -- dumb cop, sneaky villain, but eventually the villain gets over-confident and the sheer stupidity of the cop helps him get his man. In this case we've got a big clumsy Gamorrean who's having the crap beaten out of him by a Kowakian monkey lizard -- the lizard's a burglar by the way. At the moment the Gamorrean's on a swoop bike chasing the burglar through a market -- lots of slapstick with fruit flying around, people leaping out the way, you get the drill. Wowee! Almost got him -- but the Kowakian let loose some air balls and one got sucked into the cop's swoop engine.

Paddy likes it, too -- she's jumping up and down on the lounger giggling. Don't know whether to stop her or not. Tahiri's away at the moment seeing one of the village old people, and Leia's busy catching up with some data files, so I think I'll feign ignorance.

"Funny buggaloo," squeals Paddy.

"Yeah." I have to admit, it's not bad for a kid vid.

"Get the buggaloo!"

"Yeah -- go big fella!" The Gamorrean's got his head stuck in one of those big Agamarian gourd things.

"He gonna cash."

She's obviously got cause and effect sorted out. The cop can't see the big barrel of oil in front of him and he's just about to ...

"Cash!" shouts Paddy. "Bam! Cash! Slippy oil."

You can tell by the way she pronounces oil perfectly that she's her father's daughter.

"What's gonna happen to the bugga-, uh, burglar, Paddy?"

"He gonna fall over. He funny. Slippy, slidey."

Yep -- definitely understands cause and effect.

"Boomf!" she mimics the burglar slipping over.

"Yeeha! They got him."

"Buggaloo funny."

"Yeah." It occurs to me that I should really reinforce the status quo here -- her father is a detective after all. "But burglars are naughty, you know. They steal people's stuff. You're not allowed to do that."

"Naughty buggaloo." The big blue eyes open wide.

"Your daddy catches burglars. Did you know that?"

"Good daddy." She clambers on to my knee and puts her little arms around my neck. "I love you, Gandad."

Were my kids this sweet? Actually -- I think they were, but only when they wanted something.

"Ganny got pesents in her bag." She studies me seriously. I can see the way this is heading, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to resist. She knows and I know that she's got me in a weak moment. Fortunately the reinforcements arrive.

"Paddy," warns Tahiri from the doorway. "Grandad's not allowed to go into Granny's bag."

"Yeah. You don't want to get me into trouble, do you? Remember what happened to the bug- ... burglar?"

She giggles. "Funny Gandad. Get all oily."

Tahiri throws me a quizzical look.

I wave towards the holoprojector. "It's a long story. Need any help with anything?"

"Actually, yes," interrupts Leia. She follows Tahiri in from the kitchen looking business-like. I get the impression rest time is at an end. "Tahiri needs us to do some shopping for her while she cooks dinner."

"You don't mind, do you?" Tahiri looks a bit uncertain. "I'd get Anakin to go, but he needs to get the big speeder going again. He'll need it tomorrow to pick the others up from Mos Eisley."

The Tuskens still use banthas for transport, but fortunately they don't object to Anakin's preference for something with a bit more speed.

"Of course we don't mind. Paddy can show us around, can't you sweetheart?" Leia's playing with those curls again.

"Ganny get more pesents?"

"Paddy! You know it's not nice to be greedy."

Tahiri's right in principle, but you gotta give the kid a few points for trying.

Leia goes into distract mode. "You know what I think would be nice? I think we should get Mummy a present for all the hard work she does. What do you think she'd like?"

"Another set of hands would be nice," laughs Tahiri.

"Could be tricky, but you never know. Markets are sometimes full of surprises," says Leia. She pats me affectionately on the shoulder. "Think you can drag yourself away?"

"I reckon. I gather it's the same place we went to last time -- near Mos Ensen."

Tahiri nods. "I tried to get in there yesterday, but my meeting with the elders took longer than I'd thought, and I didn't want to miss being here when you arrived."

"No worries." I take Paddy's hand and we head out to the atrium. Whenever you go anywhere on Tatooine, you always either wear a cloak or take one with you. At this time of day, when the suns are doing their darndest to turn you into dehydrated energy chips, you do the former. I help Paddy into hers and wait while Tahiri gives Leia her instructions.

In case you're wondering, Mos Ensen is off in the opposite direction to Mos Eisley, where we came from yesterday. The market is about a third of the way there, so it should only take us about twenty minutes to get there. What takes the time at these places is finding what you want, and getting sidetracked by stuff you don't need but wouldn't mind trying. Tatooine markets have plenty of that sort of thing. Plus there'll usually be a few shysters trying to make a quick buck out of some new-fangled health remedy or some old relics.

Last time we were here, a couple of Jawas tried to foist the engine housing from the famous pod that won the last Boonta Eve pod race on to us. They sure picked on the wrong people that time, and I wonder if their ears ever recovered from the tongue lashing Leia gave them. If Jawas have ears that is -- they sure as hell don't have noses. The fact is that Padmé senior still has the pod intact, well, except for a few dings, in the vehicle bay of their home on Alderaan. I keep trying to convince her to put it in a museum, and maybe one day she will, although I do get the impression she still likes to think she could take it out occasionally. Maybe she does -- she's still pretty perky for her age.

The pod was what brought Anakin senior and her together. She was from a wealthy Alderaanian family, but was a bit of a rebel, apparently, and used to sneak off with the pod she built to the various race meetings around the galaxy. Of course pods are outlawed now. They weren't legal then, but places like Tatooine had the races anyway -- usually organised by the Hutts as a gambling venture. They'll do anything for a quick buck. Anyway to cut a long story short, Pamé was the first human ever to win the race, and, just as she was about to accept the prize, this detective sprang out of the crowd and arrested her -- not for racing but for running away from home. Turns out he was hired by the family who, as Alderaanian nobles, weren't too happy about their little girl hob-nobbing with the scum of the galaxy, especially as she was meant to be getting ready to complete her Jedi training.

The clincher is that the detective was Anakin senior -- he fell for her big-time and the rest, as they say, is history. Maybe I'll get time to fill you in on a bit of that later, but right now I can see Leia giving me the hurry up, so we'd better get going.

"Ganny get Mummy a pesent." Paddy brings us back to the gift theme -- good ploy. You have to admire the kid's persistence.

"Mummies don't get many nice presents."

Ooh! That stings. Leia has the art of subversive criticism down to a fine art. I don't think she's ever forgiven me for Dathomir.

"So I think that would be a nice idea."

I admit I still find women hard to buy for. Finding that unusual something that will set their eyes alight ain't easy.

"Daddy tied to get Mummy a pesent other time."

Leia perks up -- intelligence work is her forte. "Really. What was it, Paddy?"

"Daddy tie to get Mummy big knockers," she announces.

Okay, I admit it. I'm floored. Big knockers! I wonder fleetingly if Anakin's finally made the transition upwards from being a leg man.

Leia mouths Paddy's idea at me and throws me one of those did-she-say-what-I-think-she-said looks. She looks as though she can't decide whether to be annoyed, confused or amused. In the end she settles for a combination of all three and clears her throat.

"And he tried to get them from the market?"

"Man sell them but man not there."

"This I must see." Well, no offence ladies -- but really. What an image! Fortunately Leia's cloak masks the glare I can feel directed at me.

"Perhaps I should remind Daddy that if he's willing to wait a few months he'll find that nature will give him his wish." Dripping sarcasm. Just as well the boy's not here -- he'd be suffering acid burns.

"Maybe it's not what we both think," I suggest. I'm not sure if I'm happy with this possibility or not, but I put on a brave front. Brave front. Heh heh. Sorry!

"Hopefully." I can tell by her tone that I haven't fooled her.

Fortunately a bulbous shape on the horizon distracts her as it always does at about this point in the journey. What is it, I hear you say. Should I tell you now or not? Aw, what the heck. I promise not to go on too long. And while I'm telling you, maybe you could exercise a few brain cells and figure out what Paddy's talking about. Deal?

****

Remember me telling you earlier about how Tatooine used to be a wild place? Well that thing on the horizon was a major contributor to the wildness -- or perhaps I should say the guy that inhabited it was. His name -- and this may ring a bell with some of you -- was Jabba. He was a Hutt, and a particularly ugly and slimy one at that, with connections to just about every shady enterprise and every piece of low-down scum in the galaxy. Of course, he's dead now -- has been for thirty years -- which proves yet again that, ultimately, crime neither pays nor ensures a healthy old age. The old palace is still standing though, ravaged by sand storms and the harsh Tatooine climate, a memorial to its owner's greed and -- for want of a better word -- stupidity.

But, for some of us anyway, it's also a memorial to other things -- loyalty for one, determination, desperation, too, I suppose. And love. That's what stops Leia in her tracks every time we pass this way, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling the same way. I just hide it better. Well, I think I do. Never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve, as you probably realise.

It was in that old palace that Leia and I first met and ended up fighting together, even though technically we should have been sworn enemies. She was a Jedi and a lieutenant in the Resistance Security Force, and I was leader of the Smuggler's Cooperative. In normal circumstances the chances of us even having civil words together would have been about as likely as a tauntaun advertising personal hygiene products. Fortunately, for us anyway, the circumstances weren't normal. The Republic's Supreme Chancellor -- a guy called Palpatine, with a penchant for megalomania and the kind of looks that could have earned him millions if he'd had the commonsense to appear in holo-horrors -- had taken it into his head to declare himself Emperor. The Jedi naturally weren't exactly ecstatic about that idea, least of all his methods for removing his political opponents and his plans for eradicating the Jedi order, and the galaxy was in what can only be described as bantha poodoo. Deep piles of it. And believe me, if you've ever tried walking through a bantha herd you'll have a very clear picture of what I'm talking about.

The Jedi weren't the only people unhappy with Palpatine. The smugglers were, too, mainly because we could see that Palpatine's control fetish was going to make him want to fill the galaxy with so much flying weaponry that we were quickly going to become as extinct as the lesser spotted Poggle. Jabba, however, slimeball that he was, had struck a deal with Palpatine -- something along the lines of a trading agreement. Yeah, you guessed it -- a trading agreement that had Jedi and any other objectors or members of the Resistance as its currency. Not that I think Palpatine would have honoured his side of it, but, as I said, Jabba's mental capacity had a lot in common with his sex appeal -- and I do hope you realise I'm being sarcastic.

So it was that I was captured by bounty hunters and imprisoned there, in Jabba's palace, along with some of the Jedi, who incidentally he'd demobilised by using ysalamiri. So it was that the Jedi and the Resistance pulled off a rescue to spring their friends and ended up freeing me, too, thereby bringing about the alliance between the smugglers, the Jedi and the other disenfranchised groups. So it is that Leia and I are here in this speeder now with this little blue-eyed cutie. Ain't it funny how things turn out.

Leia looks across at me and gives me that little smile she always does when we pass by here.

"Any regrets?"

"You are kidding aren't you?"

She gets that irresistible twinkle in her eyes -- the one that I hold personally responsible for provoking me to perform a number of dangerous and insane acts over the last thirty years.

"Of course, but I like to hear you say it."

"None." I'm smiling but I'm serious. There are a few things I believe I don't deserve. Leia's one, the kids are the other. "I guess that's one thing Luke could never say though."

The twinkle begins to turn rueful and then gives way to the incoming memory signal. "Oh! Just about forgot to tell you. I had a message from Mara the other day. It was a bit strange, but I rather got the impression she was trying to say she wanted to come and stay for a while."

"I hope you're kidding this time, too." No, I'm not worried about the family silver -- although I wouldn't put it past her to put out a few feelers amongst her smuggling cronies to test for supply and demand. It's just that Mara and I have a little shared history if you know what I mean -- admittedly thirty years ago, but Mara ain't the sort to let a little thing like time ruin a chance for revenge.

"Boy, she still makes you jumpy, doesn't she?" Leia never misses out on a chance to enjoy a little revenge herself. Good hearted, of course -- she knows my addiction to her is terminal.

"Not at all. I just don't fancy the idea of our place becoming the battleground in any tiff between her and Karrde."

The brown eyes get that detective's I'm-on-to-some insider-info look. "What have you heard?"

"Oh no you don't. I refuse to divulge anything I heard from Lando about Mara and Karrde deciding to call it quits, or about Mara thinking she still has feelings for Luke." No, I haven't fallen prey to one of her Jedi mind tricks, I'm just taking the easy way out. And if you've ever been grilled by Leia, you'd understand. A krakana would give up worrying its prey before she would.

"I heard the same from Tendra, and from Booster, Corran and Mirax."

We're out of sight of the palace now, and I can just see the grove of thornbushes that mark the outskirts of Hope, the small market town that serves most of the Jundland area. Tatooine as you've probably guessed has a fairly basic economy, but we find it kind of refreshing. After Jabba and his cronies were deleted from the scene, the place licked its wounds for a while and then got them stitched up not too badly at all.

"Leia, promise me that you're not thinking of involving me in any matchmaking schemes."

"I promise." Didn't miss a beat. That's a bad sign. What she means, of course, is that she's not thinkingabout it -- she's already decided to do it.

"I think you might be pushing it, you know. Thirty years is a long time, and they're neither of them spring nunas any more."

"Nuna, nuna," sings Paddy.

Leia throws me a warning look. "Little pitchers have big ears." That's code for we'll discuss this later so nothing of what we've just said will come back and bite us in an embarrassing place.

"Do you like nuna, Paddy?" Leia's ability to change topic is as smooth as one of her mother's gear changes in her old pod-racer.

"Nuna yummy."

"Mummy's going to cook one tomorrow. That's what she wants us to get from the market."

"Get Mummy big knockers," she reminds us. I wouldn't exactly put money on it, but I think it's a ploy to get us back to thinking about presents.

"Yes." The way Leia draws the word out has nothing to do with her being annoyed at Paddy for her little bit of cunning. "I can't wait to meet the man who sells them." Ouch. Poor guy.

"It's busy today. I think we'll have to park out by the bantha pen."

"That's alright. Paddy's a good walker, aren't you, sweetie?"

"Poodoo."

I can't help it. I did try not to laugh, but it's the way she said it. I gather this has something to do with Booster's visit the other day.

Or maybe not.

"Paddy! That's not ... Oh! Oh no!"

Now perhaps you see what I mean about deep piles of bantha droppings.

"She did try to warn you Leia."

"Okay. I think it might be better if you carry her, Han. Some of these piles would be big enough to swallow her whole."

"I agree. Come on, little princess, up we go." It's funny how kids love a shoulder ride. I wonder if they ever remember being carried around like this. I don't -- but I've never been sure if that's because I really can't remember or because it never happened. "Can you see the market yet?"

"No."

"Well tell us when you do, okay? You can be our scout."

"We'd better look at the nuna stalls first. Tahiri says there is one that sells really good capons."

"Capons! Roll on tomorrow. Haven't had a good Tatooine capon for years."

I hear a little giggle in my ear. "You got cape on, Gandad."

I see Leia's sense of humour return. "Explain that one if you can, Gandad."

"Not this sort of cape, Paddy. I meant a capon."

"What a capon?"

That's a sticky one. I never quite know how much information you should give little kids. "Okay, Ganny, your turn." Yeah, I'm a coward at heart.

"A capon," says Leia, trying to wipe her shoe clean on a convenient rock, "is a daddy nuna that they feed up specially to make a nice fat dinner."

"Poor daddy nuna." She's silent for a minute. I wonder if we should explain about the food chain and some of the advantages of being at the top. "Wot he do with his babies?"

Of course -- daddy, mummy, babies. The core of Paddy's world view at the moment.

"A capon is a daddy who can't have babies," explains Leia.

"Oh." I can't see Paddy's face but I know she'll have that brain-at-work look she gets when she's entering new data.

"Daddy not a capon," she announces. I get the impression that somewhere in the entry process the nuna requirement got missed out. Still, you can't say she's wrong.

"No, Daddy's definitely not a capon. I don't think Mummy would want him if he was."

"Han!"

Nah, she's only pretending to tell me off. She really likes my jokes.

"Dere da market."

"Good work, scout! You managed to get that stuff off your shoe yet, Leia? I'd hate for you to get mistaken for a Jawa."

"Oh, ha ha. Oh!"

I thought she'd found another pile, but she's heading towards one of the stalls.

"Ganny got a picture."

"Yeah. So I see."

"It fuzzy one."

It reminds me of something I've seen somewhere. I'm not much good at this sort of thing. The only works of art I like come with movable parts and speed specifications. Leia looks pretty interested in it, whatever it is.

"It's actually quite a good copy." She's handling it carefully but the stall-keeper's looking a bit nervous.

He clears his throat. "I've had an offer for that. The buyer's coming back later."

Uh oh! Leia's getting her I-smell-a-womprat look. This guy is either new to the haggling game or he's the middle man in some deal.

"Fuzzy wuzzy." Paddy reaches out towards the framed painting Leia's holding.

"Don't let the kid stroke it!"

If looks could wither, the guy would be shrivelled on the spot. As it is he looks like a scurrier who's been working a particularly lifeless piece of desert.

Leia goes back to suspicious response number one. "What if we offer you more?" She's really turning on the charm. I can see Scurrier Man's synapses are on overload because they're making his eyes jump all over the place.

"That would be difficult." He reaches out to take the painting back when suddenly something big and tusky puffs through the gap between him and Leia, grabs the painting, and heads off into the crowd.

"Stop thief!" Mr Scurrier runs out from behind his stall with his hands flapping.

I look at Leia and she nods. Either he's acting and this is meant to happen, or ... I follow his scared little squinty eyes.

"Okay." Like me, Leia's seen a cloaked figure ducking back behind an awning, and suddenly she's all business. "Han get Paddy clear!"

She didn't need to ask. I'm already running up towards a tent at the edge of the market place.

"Wot man doing, Gandad?"

"He's stealing the picture, Paddy. He's a burglar." I'm watching Leia wend her way through the crowd. From where we're standing I can see the Tunroth thief trying to force his way through a knot of Jawas followed closely by the stall guy. Leia missed out on her father's tallness genes, so she's going to have trouble seeing them in the crowd.

"Naughty buggaloo," says Paddy.

"Yeah. I get the feeling we disturbed a deal back there, and it looks like that picture's in demand."

"Fuzzy wuzzy picture."

"Yeah. It was fuzzy -- looked like some sort of moss. Can't see what the excitement over it is myself."

"Ooh -- Ganny fall over!"

"Damn." I feel bad just standing here, but I can't leave Paddy. The thief's just knocked over a stall selling those souvenir ball things. We got some once for Jacen -- they're made out of clear silicate so you can see the plant or fossil trapped inside. The little guy's gone head over heels along with half the crowd. Leia tripped over a Jawa. "She needs to get ahead, otherwise he'll get away."

"Ganny get a head."

"Yeah. Go granny go." Leia's up again. She won't give up easily. She's ducking around another stall selling art work.

"Ganny get a head."

I think the datacard's stuck. Kids are funny when they do that. It's like they get a kick out of certain phrases.

"She -" Something's fallen on Leia's head. "What the -?"

"Ganny got a head." She sounds real pleased. "Ganny got funny head." I'd almost say she sounds satisfied. The problem is that Leia's now heading for a line of Tuskens, waiting to get their supplies of cooking oil, with a stupid Gamorrean mask on her head. She can't see where she's going and she trips over one of those damn balls.

"Uh oh, she's going to -"

"Cash! Cash, bang! Ganny knock dem over."

The Tuskens aren't expecting to be whacked from behind. One gets knocked against the one in front, and on down the line. I suddenly see what's going to happen. I wonder if Paddy knows about the domino effect, or that kinetic energy transfers faster than a Tunroth can run. The front Tusken gets pushed against the barrel from which the guy's dealing out the oil, and over it goes.

"Ooh! Slippy, slidey buggaloo. Ganny lost her head."

I have to laugh. I can think of somebody else who might be losing theirs in a minute when they find out they've been caught by a two-year-old. I mean -- how would you feel?

Without that silly mask on, Leia can see clearly again. "She's got him!"

"Naughty buggaloo."

We're wending our way through the chaos, avoiding the balls and the squashed fruit from the stall that somebody pulled over when they tripped.

When we arrive Leia's got it all under control. "You can hand over that picture, thank you. Or I'll simply stun you and take it."

"That won't be necessary."

Leia spins round. It's the shady guy in the cloak. I'm getting the distinct feeling that he and the Tunroth don't like each other much -- just a hunch from the evils the Tunroth is giving him. Mind you that could also be because he's got an Eliminator-7 trained on both the Tunroth and Leia.

"Put the painting down and step back. And you'd better hope you didn't get oil on it."

"I don't think you need to worry about that."

Now it's the cloaked guy's turn to freeze. Don't you just hate it when people sneak up behind you when your back's turned?

"Throw down your weapon, and then get your hands up where I can see them."

"Daddy!"

"Hey, sweetie. Mum, get that blaster will you."

"Come on, little princess. We'd better let Daddy do his job. He ain't going to want us distracting him."

I guess you're wondering why Anakin turned up? So am I. I'm going to take Paddy away for a quick circuit of the market while he sorts things out. I'm assuming he got a tip-off that there was some deal going to happen here. As you can see, Anakin's personal speeder is probably one of the fastest things on the planet.

We're just looking at the masks when he and Leia turn up.

"What've you done with them?"

"They're in the cells for the night. Local constable and his pet krayt dragon will keep an eye on them until I can get my man out from Mos Eisley."

"Krayt dragon? What does he feed the thing on?"

Anakin chuckles. "Yeah, he likes to have the prisoners on about that. So far he's never lost me a prisoner either to the dragon or otherwise. Good guy."

"Ganny get a head." Paddy points up to the line of swaying masks.

Leia laughs. "I thought I'd lost him when that stupid thing fell on me. But as it turned out ... Han, why are you smiling like that? I hope you're not going to make some comparison between me and Gamorreans."

"It would never enter my head."

"Ganny get funny head."

"I ... Oh!"

"Wow, Leia! Now you're a Squib. Want to sign up with Lando for some wheeling and dealing?"

"Paddy -- did you do that?" Anakin's making a valiant effort not to look amused. But it's a pretty weak effort.

Leia's pulling the mask off and looking at Paddy speculatively. "Paddy -- did you make the other mask fall, too."

I clear my throat. "Er. How about I explain."

I can see both of them regarding me with that familar eyebrows raised look. It looks like Paddy and me have become partners in crime. "I think it has something to do with that kid vid. It had this Gamorrean burglar in it, you see, and they were in a market and there were barrels of oil and ... well, I explained to her about burglars and that you catch them."

"Han are you telling me Paddy made us act out the cartoon?"

"Well, I don't think she so much made it happen. I think she just sort of saw the similarities. Art reflecting life they call it don't they?" Or is it life reflecting art? I get them a bit mixed up myself sometimes.

I can see Anakin and Leia exchanging looks that are half admiration and half fear of the future. "I can see we're going to have to be very careful next time we pick a holovid."

"Yeah, Mum. Nothing with lost banthas please. I refuse to find myself waking up one night trekking through Arch Canyon on Orka as part of another re-enactment."

"You and Tahiri are really going to have to keep an eye on her, Anakin."

"I know, Mum." Suddenly the boy's eleven years old again and being reprimanded after one of his and Tahiri's adventures. I'm picking that Leia's words will meet with as much success this time as then.

Time to change the subject -- and anyway, I'm curious. "So how did you manage to be here at the right time?"

"Corran contacted me. Apparently the painting was stolen about one standard month ago from the Organa Gallery on Alderaan. One of his undercover guys, who works for Booster, traced it to a shipment bound for Tatooine, and Mirax helped him figure out who was most likely going to want it. Tatooine's no longer the crime capital it once was, but there are a few groups who still use the markets to pass on smuggled goods. Usually it's low key stuff, but this was a bit more important."

"Wait a minute. You're telling me this is the real thing -- an actual stolen painting?"

They both nod.

"But I thought you said it was a good copy?"

Leia has the painting wrapped in a cloth which she proceeds to pull back so we can see. "I thought it was, too, initially. And as it's difficult to get the right strain of moss to do a good fake, it would have still been valuable. But then when it became obvious that two people were after it, I wondered if it might be the original."

"What is it? I know I've seen it somewhere?"

"It's called Killik Twilight. And you have seen it -- in my mother's family's gallery."

Anakin laughs. "If it had ships in it Dad would have remembered it."

"So Paddy's rescued a valuable painting?"

"Corran's never going to let me live this one down."

Leia's been busy rewrapping the picture. "There's something else you may not be able to live down, too."

Uh oh. Anakin's in for his roasting. The blue eyes search mine desperately for clues.

"Ganny, Ganny. Lady got big knockers!" Paddy's jiggling up and down and pointing. I shouldn't, I know -- but I have to take a quick peek.

"Hey, yeah, quite a good pair, too. Quick expansion. They're electric. Did you see where she got them, Paddy?"

If only Anakin could see his mother's face.

"Anakin Solo!"

"Er, Leia. I think you'd better check them out first before you say any more."

"Han. There is no way -"

"Big knocker man over dere."

"Good girl. I won't be a minute."

"I cannot believe that that boy is going to buy Tahiri a pair of -" She turns around so she can point rather than sully her lips with the words. "Binoculars?"

I clarify it for her. "Binoculars."

She turns back to me, covers her mouth and snorts. One thing you can say about Leia, she's gracious in defeat.

"Daddy get Mummy big knockers," announces Paddy. She circles her fingers, puts them up to her eyes and peers through them at us happily.

"I think it's two-zero to Paddy. Do you reckon we should quit while we still have a chance?"

"Binoculars! I should have guessed."

"This is great." Anakin's grinning from ear to ear. "Paddy -- you're not to tell Mummy we've got these. You can give them to her tomorrow -- understand? It can be your surprise present to her."

"Pesent for Mummy."

"Yeah. You can give them to her after dinner. I'll help you wrap them."

"Why binoculars?"

I'm curious, too. Aren't you?

"Tahiri likes us to sit up on the balcony when she's returning with the caravan so she can see us, and with a good pair of binoculars she can see us from quite a distance. She did have a pair, but she lost them, and I've been meaning to get her some more for a while."

"Well, Paddy certainly remembered."

"Yeah."

I can't describe the look he gives her. If I did I'd probably go all mushy, and you don't want that, do you?

Heh heh. Okay, you know I'm toying with you. But I'm still going to leave it up to you to imagine. Got to get you to do a bit of work -- and anyway, after all the heat and excitement, I'm tired. Paddy's tired herself out, too. She's already asleep in Leia's lap. I guess we'll get home, have dinner and then see what tomorrow brings.

And if those damned lizards try it on again tonight, I'm going to shoot them.

***

Well that was all right -- no blaster required. We had a good night after all. Jacen commed Anakin and explained how to build the Geonosian duo a love nest that'll encourage them to stay outside, and so far it seems to be working. Pity he didn't think of that in the first place, but that's Jacen for you -- good on ideas, but a little slow on the practical application. At the moment I'd have to say that that's pretty much the case in all aspects of his life -- in other words I don't think we'll be turning up there in our grandparent clothes for a while, or at Jaina's come to that. Ironic when it's your youngest that latches on to his multiplication facts first.

Speaking of the boy -- and I can quite safely because he ain't here at the moment -- I have to admit, I'm not unhappy with the way he's turned out, although there were times when he was younger that I seriously considered checking the paternity papers. Heh heh -- no, I'm not meaning what you might be thinking. Leia and I might have our differences from time to time, but it's those differences that have always kept things interesting. No, I'm talking about some of the crazy stunts he used to pull. Whoever got the job as his guardian angel must have been asking for danger money -- double after he linked up with Tahiri at the Academy. If I said Luke aged more in the four years they were there than in the last ten, I think you'll get the picture. Mind you, I used to get up to some stupid stuff when I was that age, but I'm not a Jedi so I didn't have quite the same potential for havoc.

Luke's not really geared up for dealing with teenage boys like Anakin. He's lucky he's got people like Corran and Kam to hand them on to when they're ready to become apprentices. Having the Force is one thing but it still can't prepare you the way parenthood can. Pity he didn't make a move on Mara when he had the opportunity. He's left it a bit late now to give himself any chance of being able to integrate his parenting experience into his training technique -- but them's the breaks as they say.

Fortunately, Jacen didn't give Luke the same trouble as Anakin, although he's been a worry in other ways -- this collecting fetish he has, for instance. There were times when we never knew what we were going to find in his room -- or in the refresher. I still double check before I go in there. Too many memories of discovering I'm sharing the shower cubicle with a community of gorgs, or fearing that the Chad ionic eel, that escaped into the plumbing system one night, might suddenly return via the urinal when my attention was focused elsewhere. The worst experience was that damn talking avian thing. That's the last time I try and save a species from extinction. It turned the solarium into an incubation room and the next thing was we had a flock of hyperactive hatchlings scratching up the Alakathan rugs and screeching "Foshie want a cracker!" I'm telling you -- I wanted to give them crackers all right. A nice tasty 1-79 concussion cracker right up the ... methane outlet. Heh heh.

Still, I guess the boy's managed to turn his particular Jedi ability into something useful. He runs the Galactic Xenobiological Gardens on Ithor, and he does a nature series on the HoloNet. It's surprisingly popular. Each episode he and his team go out and capture some unusual specimen, either to take it back to the Gardens or to put a tracking device on it for research. I guess that sounds pretty boring to you -- but you've got to realise that a lot of the animals they're after don't exactly fit into the cute and fuzzy category, and the locations would rarely make good real estate. Plus the team have what you might call audience appeal, and sometimes I think it's this as much as the animals that people are curious about. Like us, they're probably wondering who will win Jacen over. Will it be the pretty blonde xenobiologist or the spunky, red-haired assistant with the left hook that could knock a rancor senseless?

Personally I'm cheering for Red -- real name, Tenel Ka. She's a Jedi, too, and a witch -- hence her affinity with animals -- and boy does she look good in leather. She'd certainly add more colour to the family tree than the biologist -- Danni -- plus she already has a vague connection to the family. She's the daughter of one of the Dathomir witches we met when I, er, accidently bought the planet. I won't go into the details as it's rather a long story -- but suffice to say that if you're thinking of buying a planet for your future wife's birthday present, forget it. It ain't worth the hassle, believe me.

Tenel Ka would also fit into the family profile of women who kick butt. I guess having the more docile variety might be good for your blood pressure, but personally I prefer a bit of a danger, a bit of a challenge, even if it does reduce the lifespan somewhat. Go out with a bang rather than a whimper, I say -- and no, that wasn't a double entendre, just in case your little minds are working overtime. Heh heh.

As I said earlier, Tahiri fits that profile nicely. I'd like to have the time to tell you about the adventures she and Anakin had getting together but I think I'd better leave it up to Anakin. Judging by the looks he gives her sometimes at certain points when we're reminiscing about it tells me there's a few details they miss out. I wonder if they'll ever tell Paddy and the new little feller?

Now, I've mentioned her, I guess you might be wondering what Paddy's doing at the moment. She's with Leia, and as far as I know she's not doing anything dangerous or mischievous, although with Paddy that can change rapidly as you probably realise. Anakin was looking after her, but he had to leave to sort out this art burglary business, so I took over. He needs to organise a courier in Mos Eisley to get the painting back to Alderaan safely, and then he's going to have to hang around to pick up the guests. Paddy wanted to play tea parties, but I managed to distract her by promising to play it later and taking her for a walk around the village instead. Hopefully she'll forget about it, as by then the others will be here and she'll have plenty to keep her occupied, especially if they turn up with presents.

I guess you're wondering who they are. I'll give you a few clues -- can't you just tell I'm married to the daughter of a detective. One -- they're not the great grandparents as you're probably guessing. They are coming, but they won't be able to get here until after we leave. Pops has been a bit under the weather lately and so he's having some tests done. Don't worry -- I don't think it's anything serious. Nothing that deleting twenty years from his age wouldn't cure anyway. Clue two -- they're mad, although less so now since they've both found a couple of women to sort them out. Three -- they're Rogues. If you guessed Janson and Klivian, give yourself a celebratory Churban brandy, although don't let either of those two see the bottle or you'll find it'll be your last for a while.

Why are they coming here? I think I mentioned earlier that we've got some ideas we want to discuss. Anakin and Corran want to streamline Republic security by setting up a group of squadrons with pilots capable of ground assignments. They're going to trial one in Anakin's sector, and Wedge advised they get Janson and Klivian to run it. If you're thinking jokingly that Wedge has some sort of grudge against us for suggesting we use these guys, then you'll know what my first reaction was, too -- I can see we share the same sense of humour. But you probably also know, as I do that, there'd be nobody better to pull the job off. Unfortunately. Heh.

Anyway -- I can tell by the smells coming from the kitchen that we're in for a good feed. We did manage to find a capon at the market, in case you're wondering. When all the excitement had died down and they'd cleaned up the mess, Anakin showed us where the stall was that sold them. We let Paddy choose it, although I noticed Leia surreptitiously directing her towards the plumpest one.

You should try a capon if you ever get a chance. Damn tasty, especially if Tahiri makes this sauce she won't give us the recipe for -- some old traditional family thing apparently. Tahiri's parents are both dead as you've probably realised. Her mother died in an accident when she was young, and, of course, the reason she's the tribe's leader now is because she took over on her father's death. It is unusual for a human to lead a Tusken tribe, but Tahiri's family have been head of this one for several generations. Another story I'll have to tell you one day.

Ah, I think I hear the speeder. I wonder how long it'll take Paddy to rea-.

"Daddy back, Gandad!"

I'd estimate about five seconds. The kid's ears are better than a satellite dish. She grabs my hand and drags me to the door just in time to see Klivian handing Janson down his bag.

"Well, well. What have we here?"

I catch Anakin rolling his eyes. Looks like it's been a long trip.

"Okay, Calrissian. You can come out of that Janson disguise. You don't fool me."

"Good to see you, too, you old pirate."

"He's been like this for a few days," says Klivian mournfully. "If whatever he's caught doesn't clear up soon I might have to shoot him and put him out of his misery."

"Put us out of our misery you mean." Anakin gathers Paddy up for a hug. "Been a good girl, sweetie?"

"I good girl. I bin helping Ganny. Who dat man?"

"Don't point, Paddy. That's Major Janson."

"Majah Janson. Majah Janson." Obviously she likes the sound of it. "Who dat, Daddy?"

I see Anakin's mastered the remember-what-I-said look, and Paddy's got the I-wasn't-really-going-to-do-it-again-Daddy response down to perfection. The errant finger diverts to play with Anakin's collar.

"That's Major Klivian. He and Major Janson are pilots."

"Pilots." I can tell by the way the big blue eyes widen that we're in for one of Paddy's startling observations. "Pilots is naughty."

"Oh no! Hobbie! Our secret's no longer a secret. She can see through us."

"Well, she is a Jedi. And Jedi can sense reprobates."

"I think she means pirates. She has trouble with her 'R's."

"So does Hobbie. Especially after he's been on ship rations for a while."

"Dad, can we just go out camping somewhere and let Leia and Tahiri sort these guys out?"

I give Anakin a comforting pat on the back. "Don't worry, son. We'll get Wedge back for this. It may take a while, but we'll think of something."

"So how does your little girl know so much about pirates, Anakin? Has old grandad here been telling her stories about his misspent youth?"

"Hey! Less of the old thank you."

"I found an old copy of Pirates of the Dune Sea when I was on Corellia recently. I actually got it for Mum because I remembered how she used to like Face Loran's holovids, but we were feeling lazy the other day so we watched it. Paddy liked it, didn't you?"

"Pilots got whiskas," Paddy informs us. "Dey go arrrrh."

"Arrh."

"Arrh."

If Anakin's eyes could shout right now, they'd be bellowing for help. "Funny thing, you know. One minute we had one kid and now we've got three."

"I just hope they're toilet trained." That's Leia giving them the once over from the kitchen doorway. Anakin's put Paddy down and she trots off towards her room.

"Cute little kid."

"As cute as yours, Hobbie?" Tahiri's good at teasing out information. I'm surprised she and Leia don't form their own agency.

"Be careful, Hobbs. One slip of the tongue here and you could ruin our chances with that delicious dinner I'm smelling."

"Well to be fair, my little chap is -" He's stopped because Paddy's reappeared with something and she looks like she means business.

"Do wees on potty!"

"Wow, Janson. I think that's the first time I've ever seen you speechless." If anyone's going to need that potty it's Klivian -- and soon by the looks of it.

"Um, Paddy." Anakin's wrestling manfully with the same impulse that's overwhelmed Klivian. "I don't really think Major Janson uses a potty."

"He naughty pilot. Wet his pants."

"Oh dear." Leia's having one of those instant replay moments in her memory. "Sorry. I think that was my fault for mentioning toilet training. Obviously Paddy's at the stage where we're all going to have to think before we say anything."

"Good. We won't be hearing from Janson for a while then." Heh heh.

"Well actually." Janson's trying to look peeved, but he's no Face Loran. Well, not today anyway. "I think you've all gone potty."

"I think Mr Potty needs to go back to his room, Paddy." Tahiri's obviously the one on damage control duty today.

"Yeah, he's lowering the whole tone of the conversation." I can't help chuckling at the image of a sentient potty, although there again, imagine the horror if the kid vid makers get hold of it.

"What a load of poodoo!" No prizes for guessing who that is.

"Okay, okay. I think we're into overkill here on the toilet theme."

"I think I'm beginning to see what I'm in for."

"Be afraid, Hobbs. Be very afraid."

"Your time will come, Wes." Leia's not gloating -- no really, she isn't.

"So, um, how long until dinner?" I see Anakin's picked up Leia's distract-them technique. "And do you need a hand?" He's also a coward!

"Another hour or so. Do you think you'll survive?"

Women can be so cruel sometimes. Especially wives.

"I'll tough it out."

"A drink wouldn't go amiss you know. This place is kind of dry in case you haven't noticed."

"Wow Janson. You've finally come out with something vaguely sensible."

"I have? This is terrible. Solo, rid me of this sobriety immediately!"

"Come on, Paddy. You can help me get some cups and things."

"I get petty cups."

"Hey, Paddy. The kitchen's this way."

She's gone back to her bedroom for some reason. Anakin looks at me. I can see he's wondering if Mr Potty's going to make a return visit.

"I'll entertain 'em, son. You organise the tipples."

No sign of Paddy or potty. It's very quiet, too -- well, except for Janson that is. I remember those silences and I can't help wondering what she's up to. If you have any ideas -- let me know will you.

****

Of course, I should have known! The plunking of ceramoplast from the box Paddy's carrying with great care warns me.

"I got petty cups," she announces and holds the box out to Janson. "See."

"Pretty cups, huh? Good for you."

I'm trying to signal to him not to sound so enthusiastic, but of course the thought of liquid refreshment's got him distracted.

"Hey, Paddy. How about you go get your toy X-Wing. I'll bet they'd love to see that." I try to catch Janson's eye. "Wouldn't you, Janson?" Oh boy, these two are useless at reading body language. Here's me nodding furiously in an effort to prompt them, and here's them giving me the Solo's-gone-crazy look.

"Pilots want a jink -- dey too tired, gandad." Now that's clever -- she's got me feeling guilty for wanting to wear them out even though I'm trying to save them from her wearing them out. How do little kids learn this stuff?

"Dat yours. And dat your plate."

"Why thank you kindly, ma'am."

Janson -- you fool. There's no way we're going to be able to get out of this now.

A more full-bodied jingling announces Anakin's return armed with bottle and tankards. "Here we go, troops."

"And dere your cup." Paddy's giving Klivian the full smile-with-dimples treatment. He's a goner -- you can tell by the way he's holding his little finger up as he takes the cup from her. "I give you pink plate."

"Uh, Paddy."

"You'll have to try harder than that, Son. We're outnumbered by kids here remember."

"Hey, I want a pink one, too. Can I swap?" Janson does a pretty good spoilt child imitation. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

"No, you got petty flower one. Gandad get pink one." Yep, she's right, and I get a pink cup and saucer, too.

"Yeah. He looks good in pink."

"Sweetie, I don't think Major Janson and Major Klivian want a tea party."

"Says who. Your dad's a spoilsport isn't he, Paddy?"

"No, my daddy a 'tective. He tell off naughty men."

"Hobbie's a naughty man. Can Daddy tell him off for me?"

"How about we put these away, Paddy. You can have a tea party later."

I'm just about to tell him that I've already used that delaying tactic once today when his comlink rings an alert -- Corran again, no doubt. He swings in for a few confidential words as he heads out to answer it.

"Uh, Dad. Don't you think you should warn them about what they're in for."

"I'll think about it." I've already made up my mind on that one. I figure if I'm going to have to honour my tea party promise, I might as well enjoy it. Heh heh. "And don't let Corran drag you away from dinner. Whatever it is, it can wait."

"Don't worry. Tahiri threatened him with tribal initiation rites if he interrupted us when she spoke with him yesterday."

That must be why he's heading out to the atrium rather than the kitchen to answer the call. I wonder if a Jedi could mentally suspend another above a sarlacc pit over the hyperlink? Interesting possibility, although I won't ask Leia about it. It might give her ideas.

"So who's going to pour? Shall we get Grandad to do the honours?"

"No. Got to wear petty cothes."

"Ah -- a dress occasion is it?"

Janson doesn't realise it, but he's more accurate than he thinks. He'll soon find out anyway -- she's just disappeared into her room again.

He, of course, is eyeing up the bottle. "Hmm. Agamarian brew, huh?"

As you can see, Janson's about as subtle as a herd of stampeding banthas. However, I am starting to undo the lid as I have a feeling he's going to need it. And soon. Paddy's just appeared again dragging a big plastine crate. Quite an effort for a little dot, but she's all determination.

"Dere, Gandad. Got petty cothes."

Out comes one of Leia's aunts' old dinner dresses.

"Dere your one." Janson gets the dimples treatment this time as well as the dress. "It shiny one."

"Oh, uh yeah. It's, er ... veryshiny isn't it?

I think the blue eyes are saying 'help, what have I done? Get me out of this Solo', but I'm not sure. So I'd better not do anything in case I'm wrong. Heh heh.

"Got to put it on like dis."

Klivian's in need of the potty again. I wonder if he realises how many dresses she has in there, and that he's next in line. If he doesn't get the white, filmy number or the Thyferran sun-suit, it means he'll get the backless yellow sept-silk.

"O-okay."

It's amazing isn't it? The man can hold off a squadron of enemy fighters single-handed, and yet here he is letting a little kid push him around. Perhaps we should lend Paddy to Wedge whenever Janson's getting out of line.

"Come on, Janson. Stand up and give us a twirl."

"You set us up for this didn't you, Solo?"

"No Janson, you did it all by yourself -- no help from me required. By the way, green's definitely your colour."

"Well, I guess I can live with this as long as you have to wear one, too."

"Gandad have yeyow one." Paddy's organisational skills are pretty impressive -- but there again so are Leia's and Tahiri's. I'm wondering if it's a female thing. Anyway -- I seem to recall being press-ganged into wearing this one last time I was here. The trick is to wear it back-to-front -- like this -- then all you have to do is button up the skirt bit. No worries about me revealing more than I should -- being male does have some advantages you see.

"Yellow, huh. Okay, there we go, Hobbs. You get the white."

"Oh no, there's no way I'm wearing a dress."

"Come on. Think of it as practice at being a daddy. Arms up."

"But I've got a boy. Boys don't have tea parties."

"You have a boy now -- yes. But who's to say what you're going to get next time. There -- not bad, huh. Is he ravishing or what?"

Paddy's been giving us all the critical eye. I get the impression we're not quite up to the standard yet.

"If Inyri gets to hear about this there won't be a next time."

"Quit your moaning, Hobbs. And anyway how's she going to find out? There's no way I'm going to admit to this -- even under torture."

I suddenly get that singled-out-to-be-stared-at feeling you get when everyone simultaneously recognises you as the potential traitor. "My lips are sealed. You ... unh. Paddy!" I wondered what she was looking for in the box. Now I know.

"Petty lickstick, Gandad. Make you nice lady."

Damn Leia. She had to tidy out some of her old make-up last night, didn't she?

"Yep, they're sealed alright, Solo. You really nice lady now. What a ... aww, no!"

A pity he moved while she was putting the lipstick on him. Although there again -- it's cheered Klivian up again. Well, he was laughing briefly -- you can tell by the red stains on his teeth. Still, his looks better than Janson's.

"Hey, little princess. I think we're ready for our tea now, don't you?"

Well, I tried, but I get the feeling she's on a roll. I guess it's hard for her in some ways -- no brothers or sisters to boss around.

"Tea! I'm enduring this for a cup of tea?"

"That had better be code for something else, Solo, or I'll force you to eat your -"

"Dere, Gandad. Now you weady!"

"Hat?"

They know they're going to be next, but I think they've given up. Either that, or I really do look as stupid as the way they're clutching helplessly at each other suggests.

"It's got fruit on it! He probably could eat it!"

If Klivian doesn't calm down in a minute one of us might have to give him the kiss of life. Although mind you -- we may not want to mess up our lipstick.

"Oh, no! Oh, no!"

"Actually Hobbs -- you don't look too bad. The veil sort of softens your features."

"Don't you mean hides them completely?" Quite honestly I think Paddy's put it on him back-to-front. Or maybe it's one of those Hapan contraptions designed to mask the wearer's incredible beauty. Heh heh.

"Exactly."

"He petty bide -- he get mawwied."

"In that case Janson must be the mother-in-law."

"Oh very funny. Any more of that and I'll bash you with my handbag."

"I would have said he looks more like Palpatine's mother -- after the exhuming."

"Okay -- you're for it now, Hobbs. Nail files at dawn."

"Well at least at dawn that animal your hat's made of might still be asleep. Those beady little eyes are unnerving."

He's right -- the hat is staring. Well, something tucked into the fur is.

"Hey, Solo. You've got your own hat -- leave mine alone." He soon stops trying to fight me off. "Palpy's bones -- what's that?"

"It's a baby lizard -- a baby Geonosian rock lizard to be precise. You'll probably find a few of these around."

"You know -- I'm beginning to think Wedge sending us here is his way of getting even."

And there was me thinking the same. Maybe it's double revenge -- maybe he's hiding here somewhere taking holopics. Maybe ...

"Smile boys!"

I should know better, but I've turned before I can stop myself. Caught like womprats in search lights, we're immortalised in a flash as the eternal tea party ladies. Somehow -- by fair means or foul -- one of us is going to have to get our hands on that holo.

"I thought you two were making dinner?"

"We thought you were keeping Paddy out of mischief."

"We are -- in a manner of speaking."

"Well, that's got that sort-. Dad! What the -?"

"You left us, Solo, you left us. Why? Why?"

Either Anakin's swallowed something and it's gone down the wrong way or he's caught Klivian's disease. I'm a little offended. I honestly don't think we look that funny.

"Paddy. What have you done?"

"I make dem petty. Dey nice pilots now."

"All I can say is it's just as well Jabba's not still around. He could never resist the full-bodied type." Is Leia implying I remind her of Sny Snootles? If so, I beg to disagree. For a start -- I can't sing. And what's worse -- that sneaky daughter-in-law of mine has just run off with the holocam. She'd better not be sending any transmissions.

"Okay, as at least some of us are dressed for the occasion, I vote we have that drink."

"Solo -- you've just redeemed yourself. All is forgiven -- well some of it anyway."

"I'll get Paddy some juice." It sounds innocent -- but I think Leia's snuck off to add some more names to Tahiri's list of those who are to receive the family portrait. Maybe they can pass us off as Paddy's Alderaani great-aunties. On the other hand, maybe not -- if they found out we were impersonating them, I doubt we'd survive the tongue-lashing.

"Ah! At last!" Janson's smacking his Ithorian Rose red lips.

"Almost worth the torturous wait."

"Cheer up, Hobbs. Think what joy you've brought to a little girl's heart."

"Yeah. Makes me feel all warm inside -- oh no, actually I think that's the ale."

Paddy's climbing up on Anakin's lap. "I like da pilots, Daddy. Dey my fends. "

"Aww, gee. Hobbs did you hear that?"

"Yeah. Maybe I will have a girl next time."

"Well, any time you want to babysit -- you know where to find us." Oh ho! So young and so cocky. So Solo. Heh heh. Gives you warm fuzzies, don't it? Speaking of warm fuzzies -- I'm keeping half an eye on Janson's hat. Just in case.

The women are back trying not to look conspiritorial. Pity I didn't get a shot of Leia in her Gamorrean and Squib masks -- but, unlike certain others around here, I'm not devious. Still -- by the smell of it they've been cooking us up a treat, so I guess I'll forgive them their bit of fun.

And this is a good brew.

I might have another -- after Janson, that is -- and then I'm just going to sit here in my yellow silk dress and enjoy myself. After all -- what are families for?

I'm suddenly aware that Tahiri's studying us with the same kind of critical expression normally reserved either for works of art or fashion shows.

"Anakin." She's leaning in for a confidential word in his ear. "You know how you told me a while ago that Rogues doen't look good in hats?"

"Yeah." He's smiling. Those two are always in cahoots.

"Well, I have to say that I disagree. I think they look great."

"You know something, kitten? I think so, too."

And you know something? He's darn right.

****

You know it's times like these I wish I had Lando's gift of the gab, because then I'd be able to describe to perfection the meaty, smoky, buttery, nutty aroma of the capon and how it's mingled with the traces of garden herb and fresh salad and baked topato -- not to mention the sweet tang of citrus cream pie. It kind of reminds me of the sort of thing that might tickle your nostrils if you wandered past some of those old family estates on Drall. Funny how smells can take you back. Unfortunately I'm not Lando -- so you'll just have to take my word that the place smells good enough to drive even a B'omarr monk's tastebuds to drooling point.

I'm grabbing my chance while Paddy's not here to get out of my dress and restore myself to something that resembles more closely the dignified persona of the resident patriarch. Sounds good doesn't it -- dignified persona of the resident patriarch. I heard it on some HoloNet thing that Jaina had blaring out recently while she was searching for the music channel she wanted -- been waiting for a chance to use it. By the way, those groans you can hear are nothing to do with the lovesick lizards, in case you were wondering -- they're from Klivian. Janson's helping him out of his garb, and the silly idiots have got the clasps stuck in Klivian's hair -- well, what's left of it that is. It looks like too many hair-raising years hanging round with Janson have finally taken their toll.

Their plan is quite simple -- get the dresses back in the box and hide it. Yeah, I know -- it's pathetic isn't it? Two grown men frightened of a little kid. The trouble with Paddy is that she doesn't give you much of a chance to say no -- and if you did, you'd feel so bad you'd end up doing something even dumber just to stop yourself from feeling guilty.

Ah, there we go, Klivian's finally extricated his golden locks -- thinning golden locks, heh heh -- from the fasteners, and he and Janson are scrambling around like woodoos in a sandstorm searching for a hiding place. I could suggest Anakin's cool store, but I don't trust Janson with the bottle supply, so I'll just sit here and enjoy watching them panic.

Anakin took Paddy away to her room supposedly to get her changed into her party gear -- needless to say I'm curious to see what he'll be wearing when he returns. Any bets? Nah -- he's probably better at resisting than we are. At least I hope he is. If not, we might have to buy him a set of big knockers.

"Mission accomplished." That's Janson returning from the atrium and rubbing his hands as if he's just wiped out an entire enemy squadron.

"Where have you hidden it?"

"Ah! That information we will only divulge on a need to know basis."

"Yeah. We don't know how trustworthy you are."

"Boy, you said it, Hobbs."

Heh heh. It's true. I can't help wondering which one of them would look better in the sun suit.

"Here's the birthday girl!"

"Hey, little princess, you look just like a little princess." Yeah, I know -- you think it's just old Grandad going all mushy -- but she really does. It must be that aristocratic Alderaani blood coming through.

"Let's have a look." That's Leia. I think she wants to check that Anakin's got the dress we bought her on right. Afer that tea party, she's probably thinking that the gene that confuses back with front might have been passed on from father to son. "Oh, yes. Beautiful. She definitely suits lavender. Wait there with her Anakin while I get the holocam."

"I got petty dess with wibbons, Mummy."

"It is pretty, isn't it? Have you thanked Granny and Grandad?"

"I give Gandad kiss for petty dess."

"Awww. Grandad you old smoocher."

"Hold it there, Han."

"Yeah, don't move, Solo. Leia's got you covered."

"He's surprisingly photogenic."

"Must be all that practice he got posing for wanted posters when he was younger."

Ha -- they're just jealous. Nobody wanted them badly enough to put a price on their heads. In fact, Wedge probably considered paying the enemy to take them off his hands.

"You stand behind them, Anakin. Good -- that's perfect."

I'm still wondering who they sent the other holos to.

"Table's set, boys, if you want to come through." Is Tahiri still smirking? Or is she secretly admiring us handsome Solo men? You don't have to answer that by the way.

"Ah, the words we've been waiting to hear! Tahiri -- I think I'm in love with you."

"In that case you'll love the fact that I'm going to let you do the dishes for me afterwards."

"Feed him quickly, please Tahiri, before he commits us to anything else."

"Pilot loves Mummy, Daddy."

"Yeah -- he's funny isn't he? Here we go, sweetie, you sit next to Mummy."

"Does pilot want to mawwy Mummy?"

"No, no. He was just kidding. He does a lot of that. He's already married anyway -- to another lady."

"Oh." I can see that little two-year-old brain ticking over. Is she going to let the matter rest, or has Anakin's reply sparked some other line of inquiry? The detective line runs strong in this one. Heh heh.

"We'll eat and then Paddy can open her presents. Okay Paddy?" Either Tahiri's drilled her on this idea already or Paddy's too busy thinking to argue. Of course, it could be a bit of both.

"Well, I have to say this is the best spread I've seen for a while."

"Thank you, Hobbie. We appreciate you two coming."

"We do?"

"Cute, Solo." Yeah -- I've been told that a lot. "We were expecting the olds to be here, too."

"They were going to come, but Pops has to have some tests done." Not surprisingly, Anakin's quite close to his grandfather.

"I guess he must be getting on a bit now."

"He's still pretty spry. Paddy, don't touch the capon."

"It got geen stuff on it, Daddy."

"That's the dressing Mummy put on it to make it look nice."

"It got geen dess like pilot."

"Um, yeah." Although Anakin loves Paddy with all his heart, I think he's definitely looking forward to getting a boy next time. Mind you, Paddy is right from a certain point of view. The way Tahiri's decorated the capon with the glaze and the fancy bow things around its legs does make it look like it's wearing a dress. Or was that brew stronger than I thought?

"Dad, can you hand me Paddy's plate." I have to say he's a dab hand with the carving knife -- and boy does that meat look good. I think I'll hand him mine, too.

"Come on everybody -- don't stand on ceremony. Tuck in while it's hot."

"Try some of these, Hobbie." Leia's up to her old tricks making sure the boys eat their greens.

"Thanks. By the way, we saw Jacen on the HoloNet the other day."

"With the speckled piranha Ewok or the abominable Roon Mudman?"

"Not sure, all we noticed were the ravishing resourceful redhead and the blonde bimbo biologist."

Uh-oh! Leia's not happy, and neither's Tahiri. I think Janson's in for a roasting -- metaphorical, of course.

"Um, Janson, you may want to rephrase that." No, son, let him suffer. Heh heh.

"I don't think Danni's a bimbo at all." Wow! And I thought Anakin's eyes could get icy! Seeing Tahiri freeze Janson into a Hoth icicle goes a long way to explaining why she doesn't have many problems with her tribe, or with Anakin.

"Uh -- you're probably right. But I didn't want to ruin the alliteration."

"Wot a bimbo, Daddy?"

Stang. Why do little kids always pick up on the things you don't want them to?

"Um, it's a word that people often use when they're talking about people with blonde hair, Paddy."

"Wot blonde hair?"

"Mummy's got blonde hair."

"Mummy got bootiful hair. Mummy a bimbo, too."

"No, sweetie, Mummy's NOT a bimbo. Bimbo is not a nice word, okay."

Ouch! Now Janson's getting the double freeze treatment from Anakin and Tahiri, as well as the burning coals from Leia. Maybe I'll smoulder him a bit, too. There -- from icicle to steam in matter of minutes.

"Pilot said naughty word. He bad."

"I beg your humble apologies, gentles."

I'm not sure the girls are convinced. Janson could be in for some delayed revenge -- the worst kind, believe me. Uh-oh, they're eyeing his plate.

"I don't suppose you'd like some more capon with your capon would you, Wes?" You know, I have to say I can't help admiring Leia's dry wit, especially when it's aimed at somebody else.

"Yeah, come on, Janson. Leave some for the rest of us."

"But this is so good. This is the stuff of pilot fantasies. It's right up there with Piggy's spare ribs and Wedge's gornt stew."

"Er, Janson. If this is your way of pouring oil on troubled waters, I don't think it's working."

"You don't say, Hobbs."

"Yeah. I think you need to add some greenery."

"No, I don't like ... urgh!"

"Naughty pilot. Got to eat your veges. Dere, now you got dem in your mouth."

I'd say it's been a few years since Janson was last spoon-fed. It's just as well his reflexes are good, otherwise Tahiri might have had to wait a couple of days while the spoon completed its round trip. It's a pity Klivian's aren't better though -- I don't think Leia expected to have her hair redecorated, especially during dinner.

"You look a bit green around the gills, Janson." Heh heh. It looks like the girls won't need to worry about thinking up any revenge plans now -- Paddy's done it for them.

"Paddy!"

"I help pilot eat his veges. 'Nother spoonful, pilot."

"Solo! Hel-!" I'm not sure if he was cursing or calling for help -- the gulp came before he'd finished.

"Dere -- pilot gow big and stong now, Mummy."

"Anakin -- it's not funny. She could have choked him."

Unlikely somehow -- it'd take more than a two-year-old with a spoon to kill Janson. Although, there again, maybe not -- look at the effect she's having on Klivian.

"I know. Sorry, excuse me a minute." Anakin almost makes it to the door before his withhold-laughter button gives out. Fortunately for him he has the survival instinct to return with a towel for his mother.

"Okay, I've seen the light. There -- happy?" Janson's piling on the salad.

"See Mummy. Pilot like veges now."

"Yes, I see that. No more feeding him though, okay. He can feed himself."

"He eat fast. He might get hickies."

"Duck, Leia! Klivian's about to explode again!" Well, I felt I had to warn her.

"Hickies!"

It's okay. Klivian managed to cover his mouth this time, although I think he's the one with hickies -- er, I mean hiccups.

"Don't even go there, Hobbs. Just promise me one thing. Train your boy to be a fully carnivorous slob -- please."

"I'll try -- but I'm sure Inyri'll shoot the idea down in flames, probably literally. And anyway -- when she hears about this, she'll want to see if she can encourage a repeat performance."

"Why, why am I always the fall guy?"

"Because you do it so well, Janson. You have a gift for it."

"Well, Hobbie, I don't think you'll need to worry. It'll be a while before your little boy's on solids. Is he sleeping through the night yet?" Tahiri, as you can see, is really into the baby thing at the moment. She's also trying to protect Leia from any more projectile attacks from the food hazard sitting opposite her.

"Sometimes. He's pretty good really."

"Do you have any holos?"

I can't get mushy about other people's kids like Tahiri does, but I'm always pretty keen to see anything she and Anakin send me.

"Yep, a few."

"You'll have to show them to us after dinner. Paddy'd like that, wouldn't you -- seeing Major Klivian's little boy?" The big blue eyes are studying Klivian. "She doesn't get to see many babies."

"Yeah, I was wondering about that the other day. What's happened to big brother and sister? Are they leaving it up to you two to take care of the next generation?" It's hard to say for sure, but I think Janson's actually enjoying his taste of fibre. Although, there again it could just be that he's aware of Paddy and her spoon hovering beside him.

"Jacen's a bit preoccupied with his animals at the moment."

"I can understand that. Which of the two do you think preoccupies him the most?"

"We're not sure." Anakin's sending the girls calm-down signals. Janson's probably suffered enough for the moment. "He doesn't tell us much about his love life, unlike Jaina."

"That girl is going to drive me to drink."

"You mean old Han here hasn't succeeded yet?"

"I shall ignore that." I can take anything Janson throws at me, especially at the moment. Good food, a nice glass of ale to wash it down -- what more could a man want? By the way, this capon is ... well it's too good for words. You have to try one, but there again you'd also have to have Tahiri's recipe. Tough luck, huh? Heh.

"I thought she was seeing that Jedi with the dark hair."

"Which one?"

"I dunno, how many young dark-haired Jedi have you got?"

"Quite a few -- and youth, in Jaina's case, isn't a requirement."

"Really?"

"Forget it, Janson -- you're married remember?"

"Am I? Damn!"

"Don't believe a word of it. You should see these two together. Proper little Alakathan song-birds."

"Hobbs -- what are you doing? I have a reputation remember?"

"I don't think you'd be in the running anyway, Wes." Tahiri's keeping a close eye on Paddy, but as Janson's behaving himself she seems quite happy. She is watching him though -- no doubt trying to slot him into the right file in her little databank. I wish her luck. "The common theme is black hair and green eyes."

"And weirdness." Leia proves her ability to raise Janson's hopes. "As opposed to insanity." And then dash them.

"Yeah." Anakin's on to his second plateful already. How we ever afforded to feed him when he was a teenager I'll never know. "The one you're probably thinking about is Zekk. Uncle Luke found him when he was a kid on Coruscant and took him to the Academy. He was a top smashball player."

"Sporty boy, huh? So what happened?"

"He got seduced ..." As you can see Anakin can't multi-task, but it is hard to talk when you're busy stripping the meat off a drumstick.

"Oohoo! And I thought you Jedi were above that sort of thing."

"... by a talent scout for the Commenor Stealers."

"Boloball!"

"The Commenor Stealers!" One thing you can say about Janson -- he has his sporting priorities right.

"Exactly!"

I did try to be sympathetic when they broke up -- honestly, I did. But mother of meteors -- the Stealers! Think washing lines, frilly items not meant to be worn by men, and you'll have my idea about the extent of their stealing capabilities. Although mind you, after that tea party, I suppose you could be forgiven for noticing a little irony in that statement.

"Yeah -- which leads us to boyfriend number two. Kyp Durron, the sympathetic older man."

"Who turned out to have a predilection for speed and a tendency to trick people out of their expensive ships and crash them."

"To be fair though, they'd both had tough times when they were kids."

Women! Who didn't have a tough time when they were kids? Do I trick people out of ships and crash them? Okay, okay -- stupid question. Although you'll notice I don't go for the expensive ones.

"So who's she with at the moment."

"Wedge's nephew. Jag Fel. They were here a few weeks ago."

"He's not a Jedi, is he?"

Paddy obviously recognises the name. "He nice. He a hunk."

"A hunk! Sorry Leia."

"It's okay, Hobbie. I've made a mental note to wear my raincoat next time."

"She means funk. Jag's the lead singer of one of those Chiss funk groups -- Blue Fusion." Tahiri's main role, it seems, is to keep drying Leia, along with translating Paddy-speak of course.

"He got stipy hair. He sing songs."

"As you can see Paddy likes him. He even wrote her a song."

"Yeah. Not only that but he's toilet trained and he eats his veges." I can't say I'm a fan of the guy -- but he does have a few good points. Plus, I enjoy keeping the acid on Janson.

"Ah, but does he look good in a dress?"

"Have you seen them perform?"

"I don't like funk -- I'm a jizz fan."

"Tune into MHV tomorrow when he's performing and you'll be able to decide for yourself."

"I'll resist."

"I don't know, Wes. What are you going to do when your son or daughter starts begging you for the latest music? You'll have to get used to it then."

"Oh no -- you're not going to trap me like that, Tahiri. Solo, your wife's trying to Jedi me into being a daddy."

"You ought to test the waters, Janson. You might just find them to your liking."

"Yeah, Janson. Give it a go. Look at all the stuff you've already learned. Potty -- deployment and use."

"Colour co-ordination and tea party accessories."

"Basic nutrition. The rest's a cinch. And we did send Shalla the holopic. I think she'll be impressed." Trust Leia to get the final word.

"Solo -- call them off. Oh, hang on -- you're one of them."

"Mummy." Paddy's tugging Tahiri's sleeve. The big blue eyes have been following all this with interest. I wonder how much of it she understands. You never know with little kids. "Dat daddy pilot -- he got a baby."

Not bad. Like I said -- she's her father's daughter.

"Major Klivian? Yes, that's right."

"But dat daddy pilot, he don't have one."

"That's Major Janson, sweetie -- and no, he hasn't -- but remember what Daddy said about pointing. Good girl for finishing all your veges and your capon."

"Yes, you did well, Paddy. We'll have dessert in a minute and then I guess it's present time."

As you'd expect, Paddy looks pleased about that. But she's still fixated by Janson and -- strangely enough -- the capon. I'd love to know what she's thinking.

Hang on a minute -- daddies, babies, capons, daddies without babies, capons with green dressing. I think I've just fig-

"Mummy -- is Majah Janson a capon?"

It had to happen. The sudden gap in the conversation, the bell-like clarity that little voices have when you least want them to be heard, the startling two-year-old logic.

Fortunately for Leia, Klivian had finished eating.

"May I have the towel please?"

Unfortunately for Tahiri, Anakin hadn't.

"Oh, my stars! Paddy, you're priceless." Leia gets the prize for the quickest recovery.

I have to say that the image of Janson in a nuna outfit, galoomphing around with a goofy nuna grin on his face, is almost worth the cost of hiring an artist so we can preserve it for posterity.

"He could pair up with Lieutenant Kettch. They could become Rogue Squadron's new secret weapon."

The last time I saw Anakin in this state of semi-paralysis was when Jacen accidentally released his colony of double-fanged myrmin in the public gallery of the Senate Chamber, when they were listening to submissions on the nude beach-bathing debate. An entire convocation of Sunesi preachers got detained for racing through the streets in a naked itching frenzy.

"Yeah -- the enemy would die laughing. It would save us millions."

"Janson -- you could wear your Adumari cape so you could be a capon with a cape on."

"Stop it!" Heh heh. Even Janson's seeing the funny side.

"I was going to bring in the desserts, but I think it might be a good idea to wait." Tahiri's helping Paddy down from her chair. "Maybe we'll have them after Paddy's opened her presents.

"Thank you, Tahiri. And this time Wes can sit opposite Hobbie."

"Hobbs, I think Leia finds you too irrigating."

"Yes. I wanted a laugh -- not a bath." Not bad -- not bad at all. Leia can pretty much hold her own with anybody.

"Come on, Dad. Before the jokes get any worse." Believe me, when you've been around Janson long enough, you know they can get very bad indeed. But I'm curious to see what they got Paddy for her birthday. If it's a joke book, I'm gonna kill them. And in Janson's case I will then get Tahiri to cook him -- in green herb sauce. Heh.

*****

You know something -- that's one of the best evenings I've had for a while. Good food, in-house entertainment and a snifter of Anakin's homemade liqueur to top it all off. It's times like these you have to admit that the galaxy ain't too bad a place.

Surprisingly -- although, maybe not, when you consider it was probably Inyri and Shalla who did the shopping -- Paddy's presents were pretty darn good. From Janson she got one of those Wynssa Starflare dolls that are all the rage at the moment, along with several changes of outfit, and from Klivian -- a fairy costume. Anakin had made her a dolls' house -- and Tahiri had done the interior decorating. A team effort, as you'd expect from those two. We had a few more little presents for her, of course -- books and some games -- and from Jacen we brought a toy game reserve with posable wild animals. Presumably Wynssa can cruise around it on her days off when she wants a rest from the HoloDramas.

Jaina's coming back in a few days, probably with the hunk -- heh heh -- and she'll bring Paddy something then. It's better she doesn't get everything at once -- too much ain't good for kids, and I think Anakin and Tahiri are aware that Paddy does get a little spoiled. Another reason why it would be good to see Jacen and Jaina beginning to add some of their own to the pool of potential attention-getters.

Tahiri was pretty pleased with her binoculars, too -- even more so when we told her the story of how we came to buy them. I get the feeling she's realised that Paddy might be a useful ally in nudging Anakin towards the right choice of present, although I think he's already better at that than I was.

Paddy's fallen asleep in Anakin's arms. I kind of wish sometimes that I could remember what it felt like to be a little kid again, living for the moment -- knowing that whatever happens there'll always be somebody there for you, waiting to catch you if you fall. I guess there'll come a time, too, when Anakin'll be sitting here watching his grandchild and thinking the same thing. That's families for you -- and time. Sometimes it's hard to figure out where the last thirty years have gone -- other times I can't believe we've managed to fit so much in.

Well, I guess you're thinking, the old codger's beginning to sound a bit maudlin, so maybe it's time to go. Heh heh. Yeah, you're right. I've pretty much finished what I wanted to say, and I'd sure hate to start boring you. Maybe one day I'll tell you another story. Maybe I might be able to convince Anakin to tell you one, or Leia, or ... well, you get the picture. The list could go on.

So right now I'm going to bid you goodnight and -- at least temporarily -- goodbye. Have one for the road, huh, but remember -- charge it to Janson's account.

And don't forget to try a capon.

Cheers.


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