Rise of the House of Celchu
Diana DeRiggs

"My boy, remember that when you talk to Nyiestraís mother -- for she is the matriarch -- you must impress upon her that your family is of equal or greater standing than hers, so that there is a benefit to your marriage."

Tycho sighed and tried not to cringe. His father was doing the Alderaanian equivalent of the "birds and the bees" father-to-son talk on other systems. Marriage for profit was a way of life among the merchant class on Alderaan and countless other worlds. But he didnít have to like it. Tycho was young, and could be called a "romantic"; speaking of a courtship in such crass terms was not something heíd been looking forward to.

But he needed to ask his father for records and permission to approach Nyiestraís family, and this is when the little lecture started. Alderaanian courtship practices at the highest social levels could best be described as an intricate combination of a dance and a holopuzzle, where not only the couple, but everyone having anything to do with the couple would size each other up. They would determine the pros and cons of allowing the union to continue. If all the pieces fit, or could be forced to fit, then the marriage would be approved. The process could take months or even years. Unfortunately, there were many cases when a coupleís petition was rejected, and the individuals involved were openly discouraged from continuing their relationship. In some situations, a couple went against the wishes of society, in one way or another. Those were perceived to end in tragedy in popular holodramas and holobooks, and as romantic teens, Tycho and Nyiestra fervently hoped to avoid rejection and separation.

"You will need to provide proof that not only are we solvent, but are heavily invested in society itself. In this case, the petition will be approved not because it represents a rising of the House of Celchu, since our two families are of more-or-less equal standing, so much as that their House will not fall in any way. We would shore them up, keep them stable. Try to remember that this is about business, as well as love." Tycho winced at the starkness of the nature of what he needed to prepare. For not the first time in his life, he wished he'd been born into a lower House.

The older man looked firm in his resolve, but he winked at his unhappy son, "I will give you access to all the appropriate records, including the passcodes for some of the Ďanonymousí contributions we make monetarily. I like Nyiestra, always have, and I want you and her to be happy. Your union will be happy and prosperous for both families. I want you to know that Iíve prepared for this day, and give this to you with trust and admiration." He handed his son a small strong box, inscribed with the corporate symbol of Novacom and the seal of the House of Celchu. "Donít worry -- I assure you that you are more than worthy. But do your homework, not only for the sake of your petition, but so you know what the Celchus are about, my son."

Tycho looked up again at his father, blinking in amazement at his generosity. He was aware of the remarkable trust the man was exhibiting toward his son, but to be given the complete set of keys to the business files was more than he expected when he came to tell his father about his feelings for Nyiestra.

The older man smiled. "I am well aware of what you are thinking. But remember, I went through it too, when I wooed your mother. I was amazed that not only had I won my petition, but had survived the long, long ordeal. You may not be aware of this, since she hardly speaks of it, but her standing in our society is very, very high. You will not let this information out of this room, not even to Nyiestra or to your siblings: in addition to her familial bond with the House of Antilles, Mother is associated with the House of Organa, and asking for her hand was a psychological and logistical ordeal I will never forget. But, you must agree, itís been well worth it. Not only through her did Novacom become the largest holo operator on Alderaan, but also, she is a remarkable and wonderful woman, and I could not have chosen better. I know you think of her as wonderful, but someday, I hope you will discover how very special she actually is."

***

Tycho rubbed the bristle on his chin as he remembered that long-ago meeting with his father on Alderaan. Before he left for the Imperial Military Academy, heíd put his petition together for Nyiestraís family, and had finally met with congratulations and approval. He and his fiancée were overjoyed at having survived the ritual. Young and in love, they trembled that her family would not approve the Celchu petition, blind to the fact that approval had been a foregone conclusion. They were in love before they were out of childhood, and everyone delighted in their coming union.

Now all the people whom Tycho cared for on Alderaan were dead, destroyed by the first Death Star. And from the ashes of his pain was born another love for a woman of Alderaan so different from Nyiestra that he took this relationship as evidence that he had changed radically. Where he and Nyiestra sought to minimize their time apart, he and Dame Winter of the House of Organa made the most of any time they had together. It was a change in his thinking borne from the stresses of war and the destruction of his home, and he knew he would never have been able to explain it to Nyiestra. He still loved her and knew that if things went as they should have, they would have married and made a wonderful and full life together. That she had not been allowed to live had given Tycho the hardened resolve to join the rebellion, which had fueled the changes in the romantic, idealistic young man he once was. He smiled, thinking that even in death, Nyiestra had provided for his future by providing a contrast for him to recognize another life mate in Winter.

But his memories of Nyiestra and how he no longer suited her was not the focus of his present mission. The battle to liberate Coruscant was over, and Rogue Squadron had returned from a private war on Thyferra, the Bacta-producing world. It was now a year since Tycho had been brought to trial and vilified as an Imperial moll and the murderer of Corran Horn. That Corran was not dead caused all charges to be dropped. That day, Ysanne Isardís prison ship Lusankya blasted out from its underground lair, well beneath the surface of the planet. The wreckage spread for miles around. Many were killed or had lost their homes and places of business. It was in this damage zone that Tycho had come with an excavation crew.

He planned to marry Winter, but being of the royal house, she was far above him in traditional Alderaanian society ladders. Without parents or other kin to approach, Tycho would be forced to approach Princess Leia Organa for permission to wed her personal companion and confidante. Things being as they were, he knew that Leia would not refuse his petition. But since the loss of Alderaan, the survivors of that planet had felt it necessary to follow the old rules and rituals, as a way to keep the remnants of their society in at the fore of living memory. Recognizing the importance of this tradition, Tycho had to assemble his case once more, and approach his monarch, the unofficial leader of those who had been left behind.

Clearing his head, he remembered the night with Winter that had lead to his coming search.

***

He'd come to her quarters one special evening to take Winter out for dinner and dancing, and to present to her a ring embedded with stones of aldanaarite - the polished gem made from the ejecta that marked the destruction of their home planet. It was rarer than diamonds, and used to mark very special events. He'd gotten down on his knee to plead for her hand in marriage, and Winter had started to cry. Tycho was stunned - he'd never seen Winter cry, though Wedge had once told him that she wept on Tatooine when she thought Tycho had been shot down.

He held her as they sat on the divan in her lounge. When the silent tears stopped, she explained that nothing would make her happier than to marry Tycho, but he had to understand - she was from the House of Organa, which meant that to marry a man of Alderaan, certain procedures needed to be satisfied. "They require you to provide evidence of business and personal business, contributions, activities - everything - for you, your parents, grandparents, as far back as records exist. Then you have to be sized-up socially. I don't know how to say this, but you're from the merchant level, and I'm in the royal house ... " and she wept again.

Winter sniffed, then looked at him somberly, "If Leia or the other advisors want to do this the old way, there will be a forced separation, and no one from your family or associates may contact any from mine. That will prove to be difficult for everyone. Not just us."

"But this is a different time. Surely Leia wouldn't allow that to happen. Think of it - no one from Rogue Squadron could contact you or Han or Leia? That's absurd," Tycho was trying to reason with her.

Tycho ran is hand over her hair, enjoying the textures and smells of his lover, who was irresistable to him, even when she looked grim. He understood; knowing how long the petitions could take for approval, and he wondered if he could stand to be away from Winter for any amount of time. As they moved and fought with the Alliance, there had been long periods of time when they didn't hear or see each other. But none of those had been planned.

"Couldn't we just elope?" asked Tycho, "We could even ask Wedge to perform the service, so no one would know until we wanted them to."

Winter smiled up sadly at him, "Is that what you really want?"

Tycho grew thoughtful. No, it wasn't. He wanted to marry her, and he wanted the universe to share his happiness in his life with Winter. He wanted to yell from the rooftops that she loved him and she was his. Of all the guys she could have chosen, she wanted to be with him. Keeping their marriage as a dark secret was the exact opposite of what he truly wanted. He whispered, cautiously, "Do you think Leia would say no?"

"No," replied Winter, cuddling closer to him, trembling a little as if she was suddenly cold, "but she has appearances. When she tries to do as she wishes, the Alderaan Council steps in to try to implement things she really doesn't want. It becomes a distracting power struggle. As close as I am to her, and as much as she respects and likes you, this would not be enough for her to fight over right now. Not with the colonization efforts going so poorly on Dathomir. As big a hero as you are, you'd not size up well enough for her to take the risk. Not enough points in your favor. Even Wedge wouldn't have enough."

"Well," Tycho counted on his fingers, "one, I suffered at the hands of both Isard and the New Republic, and still performed all duties, including those above and beyond the job description; two, I killed Ysanne Isard; three, I'm commander of Rogue Squadron; four, I have taken part in all actions since Hoth; five, ... "

Winter pulled herself away from him and shook her head, "Tycho, this isn't about you. Or me. This is about ritual, preserving what's left of the culture of Alderaan. It's about who has power. The survivors all want to do things as if Alderaan still existed, not relegate the customs to history books. They can't make exceptions. The documents you assemble and present will help Leia argue that the House of Organa will not be pulled down in any way by the House of Celchu, nor will the House of Celchu rise at the exclusive expense of the House of Organa. They'll support her decision.

"I love you, I want to marry you. I accept the ring and everything it represents. But I can't put Leia in a position to lose power. I'm sorry, I just can't. I know you understand. But I love you enough to do this," Winter's brown eyes pleaded with him to understand, to stop the arguing, "the Alderaanian Forum meets in three weeks ... "

Tycho looked deeply into those eyes. They were a little puffy from crying, but he'd never seen her look so beautiful. If she wanted him to petition for her marriage in the formal, Alderaanian fashion, he would do it. He knew the petition could take years to approve; he knew he had to start immediately. But to start meant that the exile from the person he loved the most in the galaxy would also start. Now that the New Republic government was firmly esconced back on Coruscant, it meant that he could count on seeing more of Winter, but not if he filed that petition.

He understood the sacrifice. He wouldn't be able to gaze upon her, to touch her, to smell her. As he kissed her, he intellectually understood that this was an investment, that in the long run, they would be together forever, and this would be just a small inconvenience, taken in context. But in his heart, he was unsure of how long justifications would keep him from going insane with the need to be with her. But he loved her, and would do anything for her. Even wait.

His kisses grew more urgent, and Winter was reciprocating, matching his intensity, adding her need. They'd laid out on the divan, his hand trailing up her thigh, beneath the flowing fabric of her dress. Tycho started to feel like a condemned man, being allowed one last meeting with her, before being locked away forever. He paid attention to every detail of her as his hands roamed her body. He'd need every little observation, every detail, to sustain him.

Winter pressed herself up to him, pulling at his shoulders as she felt him rubbing her. She felt him inhaling her scent as they kissed, and knew he was trying to absorb everything about her. She felt her soul seeping out of her body and moving into his, the better to carry the memory of her.

Tycho's erection rubbed her warming sex through the fabric of their clothing. He loved to hear her groan and sigh as he moved against her. They had discovered this when they first met - she and Wes Janson were prisoners of Imperial troops, and Tycho had been picked up as an Imperial pilot, a disguise Winter had given him, so he could get closer to the planning of an attack on rebel troops. She had been ordered to heal him - the Imperials had mistaken her for Princess Leia, who had a reputation as a healer - and Tycho had arranged for privacy. But she was shackled, he was injured, and though he had ordered her guard away, they knew they were being watched. In their time of closeness and need, they couldn't truly make love, but settled for a very intense, incredibly satisfying, fully clothed simulation of sex - in fact, they sometimes now referred to it as "running a sim." To the holocams, it might have appeared that Tycho was taking advantage of the princess, but they would not detect her mutual enjoyment of the act.

As Winter quietly clenched and sighed in orgasm, Tycho slowly undressed her, undoing the hooks and buttons of her complicated couture gown. No matter how many times he had done it this way, he always quiverred in anticipation at seeing the first glimpses of her smooth, firm body as it was slowly revealed to him. Now, knowing this could be one of the last times he might be able to be with her, he took extra care to explore her, kissing and nibbling the newly revealed skin every time he undid another part of her dress.

They stared into each other's eyes. Winter, who was incapable of forgetting anything, still drank in the gray-blue color of his orbs, trying to lose herself in their intensity, in the love she knew he felt for her. When making love to Tycho, it was one of the few times that Winter could surrender to a kind of oblivion, where a part of her brain would stir to let her savor the fleeting and changing feelings and emotions of sex. It was very special to her, since all information, sensory or factual, was normally logged in some part of her brain permanently in a cold, precise manner. This was the exception - these memories sizzled and threatened to overwhelm her into insensibility.

Holding her close, he pushed into her moist opening slowly and firmly and felt her feet pull up over his back, rubbing this thighs and butt before her legs wrapped tightly around his waist. Her motion pivoted the mouth of her warm tunnel up toward him, deepening his entry, and they held each other in a full-body embrace for long, still moments. Tycho closed his eyes again, enjoying and remembering as much as he could.

Though they lay motionless, he felt her inner muscles contracting slowly, moving up from the base of his penis to the tip, then back, fondling his deeply embedded member. Given the nature of their roles in the rebellion, sex between Tycho and Winter was always intense, always pleasurable. They had made love as if every time might be their last. This time would be no different.

She made him climax with only the muscles moving within her. He always marveled at the feeling of having sex with Winter. The two of them made love in ways that could be accomplished if they were in hiding, or were under the threat of exposure or discovery, and always quietly. These developed over the many years Winter and Tycho had been on the run from Imperial troops, and they still both felt closest to one another when they shared their bodies in those ways. He tightened his hold on her, knowing he would miss making love to her terribly.

***

Tycho was grateful that he had kept the little box his father had given to him. He kept it with him at the Academy, and through all the battles and wars with the rebellion. His commander, Wedge Antilles, had kept it for him while he was imprisoned, first by Isard, then by the New Republic. It was returned to him before heíd left for Thyferra, and had not been out of his presence since. He carried it in a thigh pocket of his flightsuit, often drawing comfort from his fatherís final gift to him.

He reasoned that as a careful and honest man, his father would have left a copy of Novacomís legal and tax records on Coruscant, at one of the corporate offices. After much careful work and many inquiries, he discovered that the datacards and chips were in storage in former Imperial vaults. It helped that Wedge Antilles was now a general and in charge of construction and architecture of the area, and could help him access any material in his geographic jurisdiction. And that storage facility was within his jurisdiction.

As he dug, Tycho thought about Wedge. He seriously doubted that Wedge would want to finish his days at a desk job, but he saw his former commanderís need to be involved in building and repairing now, rather than in the killing and destruction that came with the job heíd been forced to do in the years previous. Wedge once pointed out to him that the skills they'd honed as Rogues leaned heavily toward breaking things. It was Wedge's example that made Tycho go after his petition now. And anytime the General was ready, Tycho would happily hand back the reigns of Rogue Squadron to him.

He heard someone call his name as he dug through the rubble, "Colonel Celchu! Itís here," the voice said. It was Captain Corran Horn, the man he had been accused of killing. He knew Corran was sorry and regretted all the trouble that had been caused, first by his distrust of Tycho, then by his kidnapping by Isard, but Tycho had long ago forgiven him. He hoped the good captain would someday forgive himself.

In the meantime, his fatherís things seemed to have been located.

***

Thanks to the contents of his father's strong box, Tycho had spent hours slicing through the securities on the datacards rather than days, but his vision was starting to blur. Looking up at the wall of the tiny rented office space to which heíd brought the cabinets Corran had located the previous day, Tycho withdrew a device made of wire and clear plastic, and placed it on his nose and over his eyes, hooking them over his ears to hold them in place. He still had perfect vision, but since his time at the Lusankya as a prisoner of Imperial Intelligence Director Isard, it tended to blur when staring at documents for long periods of time. His father must have used this old-fashioned device, too Ė Tycho had found it in the third box heíd opened. He didnít know where his father had gotten the device, but he recalled him wearing a similar one whenever Tycho walked into his study unexpectedly. His father would hastily remove it and grin sheepishly at the boy. Amazingly, when he tried it on, the gadget cleared his sight for a few more hours of data collection. Tycho understood that requesting corrective surgery would be necessary, but he wanted to avoid official probes of any sort for the time being. Asking for the surgery now could have - once again - brought questions about what had happened to his mind and body while imprisoned. He'd told them then that he could not recall what had happened, and he could only recall slightly more now. In the long run, thought Tycho, Iíll probably have to do it, but in the meantime, this old thing is just what I need.

He was nearly halfway through the dozen or so cabinets, and heíd found much of the information he needed to establish the solvency and charitable interests of Novacom at the time of his fatherís death. He was surprised when he saw the names of some of the organizations Novacom had funneled tax-exempt credits toward. These were organizations which Tycho, in his position, recognized to be secret Alliance fronts. He had thought his father had been a pacifist, or at least neutral in his dealings with the Empire. To find that a large portion of his contributions were sent directly to Alliance fund-raising made Tycho realize that there existed a secret and noble side to his father that he had not known. Though the senior Celchu must have known the direct threat to his son -- the Imperial Military Academy graduate - he must have decided that he was willing to support something he believed in, no matter the final cost. It made Tycho proud of his family, that they were capable of such sacrifice. He understood now that whatever it was that made him reject Alderaan's pacifism, and to burn down injustice, was inherited from his father. Tycho closed his eyes, and recited a silent prayer of thanks to his sire.

In the meantime, this bode well for his present needs -- it showed a strong probable political association between the Celchu and Organa Houses. Tycho was enjoying discovering new things about his father, via these dry accounts left behind for him to plough through. And it's just like Father, to make me work for it, Tycho smiled to himself.

Reaching for the next card in the box, between two light gray accounting datacards, Tycho came upon a smaller, unusual purplish card. There was something familiar about the card; he didnít know what it was, but he felt it was connected to his ... mother?

Quickly inserting the card into the datapad, Tycho could only see normal looking columns and accounting figures. He grunted in disappointment, then started reading the entries in order, transferring the necessary files to his datapad.

Approximately halfway through the card, the numbers and designations stopped, interrupted by what looked to be a fragment of a letter:

" ... good to see A., and I thank you for indulging the visit. T. is quite the young man, fussing and worrying about me as I carry M. within me. The others are delighted with him, and note his resemblance to you. At your suggestion, I have invited members of the House to come to the villa. S. believes this to be strongly possible. On that possibility, please be sure to bring va ... "

The columns of numbers restarted below this.

Tycho removed the vision device from his face and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. This was obviously his motherís personal datacard on which she recorded notes for his father. Someone had run out of regular accounting cards one day, and wrote over this personal one, but not completely. He felt suddenly saddened that his motherís missives had been fit to erase in favor of tax accounts. Was her life such that it was all simply erasable?

"T." was obviously for Tycho, and "M." for the yet unborn Mia, his younger sister. Could "S." be Skoloc, his brother? Which family was this "House" she had referred to, and who was "A."?

Tycho expelled the card from the datapad and studied it carefully, and his pulse started to race as an idea formed in his tired brain. He quickly walked over to the other strong boxes and started to open them, looking only for cards that resembled the one heíd just read. If this card existed, perhaps there might be others, sent to his father by hand, rather than by Holonet. Perhaps it was a way to indulge in privacy, or his old-fashioned mother perhaps did not care for his fatherís companyís expensive wares. Or maybe she simply thought the cards were more personal, or she didnít like the need to dress and make up for holographic presentations. He recalled that his mother often sent him such missives while he was away at the Imperial Military Academy. She would write several daysí worth of musings on one card, and tuck the card, always at the last minute, into a box of goodies from home. He recalled how it was those cakes and treats that made Tycho as popular as he had been in his dorm group. His poetic classmate, Hobbie Klivian, often rhapsodized over Mistress Celchu's spirit cakes, embedded with red sugar flowers. Tycho felt an urgent need to find more of these cards from his mother.

He tried to be careful, but in his urgency, he elbowed a stack of boxes, which fell clattering to the floor. Some burst open, scattering their contents.

He looked at the mess, and more carefully picked up the boxes and restacked the appropriate cards, hoping theyíd fallen out of the cases more or less in some semblance of order. He cringed at the thought of his father or his personal secretary -- he recalled a short, jolly, fat man with gray eyes and red skin -laboriously stacking the cards he had just spilled in his desire to find more chips from his mother.

Tycho had trouble stacking one box, and discovered that the cards had barely enough room to fit unless stacked precisely. This was odd, for in other boxes, he could simply toss the cards in and shut the box without any further consideration. He studied the box and had a hunch. And Corran says if thereís a hunch, run with it.

With his multitool in hand, he jimmied the seams of the box. After some wiggling, part of the box back popped open, but rather than allowing the datacards within to spill out, a single purplish datachip could be seen, taped to the false back of the box. He peeled back the metal and removed the card. He was surprised to see his hands shaking and his breathing growing rapid, as he carefully placed the card in his datapad.

***

"Dearest, I am reporting to you as you requested. S. grows large, but has come to visit and has brought the papers and contracts under the usual circumstances. L. continues to grow and is fearsome. Her mother is strongly featured in her mien, and to my relief, I cannot detect her father in her. The other has, at last, been taken away by K., and I fear we will never see either of them again. They are so tiny now, so helpless. Do they really carry our destiny? The third, soon to be born, is being prepared for her future role as companion, despite the identity of her parents; S. and A. are quite close in feature, as you know, and S.ís daughter should resemble A.ís, if all goes to plan. The material from A.'s predecessor will soon be added to ensure a stronger resemblance. I still cannot believe it will come to pass. Please be sure to bring the flowers. The winter will soon be here, and for the crystal blossoms to bloom, they must be placed before the first wind. -- R."

"It is difficult that you are away. Events accelerate while you are here, turn into crawling micts when you are away. I left the children with Y., and went to the House to see S.; she is being allowed to stay with O., excluding the others in the cluster, such is the ordeal. She is appearing calm, but the preparations have not gone well. Her daughter is alive. We are told that the disorientation is normal, but the insertion of the extra 'somes have caused complications, and her medulla functions had to be re-inserted to ensure survival. But the child has survived and S. needs to be comforted. We will know more in the morning. Forgive me if I am not at home when you arrive, dearest. I do not know how long I must be away. -- R."

"The child has suffered the unusual but predicted pigment damage from the 'somes, but is otherwise stable. I am told A. worries, too, but S. seems calmer. She tells me that O. has come to her, and they console their child. I am sorry I distressed you with my previous note, but you asked to be kept alert. I hope you are destroying these as they come. There can be no record of what happened -- it could be disastrous if those who do not understand the process come to learn of it. When we married, you swore this to me and to my father, who revels in his protection. So, too, you promised the House. Please do not forget how fiercely I will protect my charges. -- R."

"Iím sorry for my harsh tone in my last missive. I, too, worry about the plan. But it must succeed, if we all do as we agreed. We must all be careful. K. was quite firm in this. T. asked for you today! He speaks fully and coherently. He walks with grace and I heard from the drivers that he has been poking around the engines. Did you not tell me that you were a pilot as a younger man? I fear he has inherited more from you than his smile and hair! We might want to arrange for lessons or classes. S. has recovered her health and asked for father A. to visit. -- R."

"My Love, M. is poorly, but I have to bring her with me, for I am forced to attend to A. before she leaves. M. will be fine, though I would feel better if T. could be with me also. He has taken well to his lessons, and flies in the regatta of children then, so at least he will be in the area. He is so young! S. marvels at him, too, and tells me how much hope she feels when she sees his enthusiasm. The children will be at the picnic, and A. has told me she feels it important she gather all of us to her, for she feels it possible she may be unable to return. My heart bleeds for her, but it is a mission she must attend. Any of us would give anything to go in her place, as we once did. But this time, it is impossible. He would know. -- R."

"I can hardly write the words, though you may already know. A. has not returned, and even O. fears the worst. He will not let the children know until it is confirmed, but we fear and will keep vigil. Worse, we have noted efforts to conceal or remove evidence of A. from all records. Where she was mentioned, the article no longer appears. All feels lost. K. cannot be found."

"We have met and agreed to even the strain. A.ís demise has been officially reported. To my surprise, she was referred to as the wife of O. in public reports. Certainly, she was socially so, but in no other manner, to our collective despair. Her heart was broken by her husband, and she could not give herself to anyone else. O. sent a holo to assure me, and told me that L. is afraid to be alone, and so he is spending all his time with her. W. is better, and S. has maintained decorum throughout. How I fear for their futures!"

"T. and his friends have had a serious fight, but stopped when L. stood between them to scold. As always, W. was with her, and I admired how they team together to stop the ensuing battle. I grow concerned about T. He is so young, but has started to intelligently and coherently argue the pacifism Alderaan has adopted. What worries me is that in my heart, I know he is right. S. commented that O. should stop speaking so much in T.'s presence! Such a young boy, but so eloquent! What will happen to him? I feel in my heart that he will someday save us all from our seeming fates."

"Y. and E. have taken over the tutorship of L. and W. I know S. would welcome their company. Father A. has approved the transfer from his House to theirs, though I fear it saddens him so much. I shall invite him to see our children more often. Though not by blood, they are our sisters, and will be called aunts, and have vowed to remain without husbands. My guess is they will be part of O.ís private cluster, as S. is, and I admire their sacrifice. I have you to thank, my love, for my destiny with our children, but I know I could be called at any time. I know you will understand, and will help our children also understand."

"The worst has been confirmed, dearest, what A. and K. had feared most during those bleak days. He is now P.ís minion, cloaking himself in the title and terms of royalty, assuming V. as his name. Pís betrayal hurts all the more knowing he once claimed to protect us. We must lay deeper down, burying the truth. Any reference that was known to A. seems to have disappeared. O. told us that long ago, K. advised the need to announce other deaths when the time came. The time, alas, has indeed come. I did not expect it to come so clearly. Do not despair if such word reaches you."

"T. has told me he wishes to be nothing but a pilot, and revels in the new academyís propaganda. I am nervous, but he wants so to be a fighter pilot. He acts so old for such a young one. He tells me that he and N. have discussed it, and she will wait. Such a youthful but mature outlook, but I cannot believe how they have grown. L. and W., too are growing beautiful and regal. I am told by the aunts that people commonly mistake one for the other. W. is truly a princess, no matter the way things stand now. Perhaps someday, she can claim what is hers, as we hope L. will do likewise. But every day, I wonder about K. and the other. I believe in his wisdom, still. But I fear for them, too."

***

Tycho inspected every box to determine if others could be holding a hidden chip, but found no more. He sat back and thought about what heíd just read, and why it had been so deliberately hidden.

The more he read, the more he realized the truth that his mother had been of the House of Organa -- the "O." in the notes was probably Bail Organa, head of the royal house, and the father of Princess Leia -- the "L." His mother was probably not genetically related to them, but was very, very close. His fatherís conversation, so long ago, had alluded to her association.

It seemed that his grandfather, Bail Antilles, of the political House of Antilles, a dapper man whom Tycho had known as a gourmet and bon vivant, had "daughters" who were not genetically his, nor even related to each other. Had his mother and these "aunts" been adopted? "S." was not Scoloc, his brother, or at least not most of the time in the accounts, but was someone to whom his mother was close, as were those designated by the letters "Y.", "A.", "K.", and "E." And the "child" and "companion" designated by "W." -- could that be Winter? Did that make her the real Princess Organa? Tycho was convinced that Winter, born into the House of Organa, was probably genetically related to them - the several references to Organa being with "S." made that pretty clear. And yet Leia, the daughter of the mysterious "A.," was the princess declared by Bail Organa to be his heir. The "other" child, taken by "K." was probably Luke Skywalker, his first commander when he joined Rogue Squadron, whom people now knew was the twin brother of Leia Organa, and the son of Darth Vader. Could "K." be Obiwan Kenobi?

His head started to swim at the late hour. Tycho suddenly understood why his mother had been so reluctant to talk about her childhood and her life before marrying his father. She was obviously part of a conspiracy to hide Vaderís children; she and some other women -- the "aunts" in the Organa cluster, apparently a sort of harem-like situation -- were required to sacrifice normal lives to perform this protection. His mother, though married with many children of her own, could have been called at any time, even to substitute for "A.," the woman who was obviously Luke and Leiaís mother. That woman had apparently died, but the conspiracy was forced to continue.

She used to tell us a story, Tychoís tired mind was drifting, about a beautiful young Queen on the island of Naabow. The Queenís name was Am-something -- and she had five handmaidens, one for each finger on my hand ... how did that story go? But he couldnít recall the story, and he didnít know if there was any truth used in its telling. But he felt it was important. Maybe it wasnít a fairy tale she was telling me, after all.

Tycho woke up as his head hit the table before him. In the instant lucidity this type of wakefulness granted him, he recognized the treasonous nature of the writings -- the "P." was Emperor Palpatine, "V." was obviously Vader. The fact that Tycho, Mia and Scoloc might have been mentioned at all was because his father had kept the entire short note from his mother. She must have written to him, as if she was penning a diary.

It appeared that his father saw fit to save these notes, and deliberately hid the data chip. Even he would not have been able to access it without giving himself away. Perhaps he kept it as evidence of something? As a dangerous reminder of days past? But the writings must have been transferred from other datachips, and seemed to point to one fear, one plan that had to be carried out, even with the death of the mysterious "A." Was "A." the Naboo Queen his mother told him stories about? Is that why Leia was a princess?

It seemed that some sort of preparation had to be done on "W." which might cause the person prepared to be damaged, or even to die. "W." -- he was convinced now this was Winter, and no one else -- had lost pigment in the process. Was it a mind wipe? There was some reference to "'somes" - chromosomes? Was there genetic manipulation going on? Maybe even something akin to cloning?

As he fell asleep again, he dimly recalled lying half-asleep beneath the divan in his private mother's sitting room, where she used to go to be truly alone, away from family or servants. He was hiding from his many sisters, who wanted him to help play dress-up; he'd often lie under the divan, with its high legs and many beautiful, light fabric seat and cushion drops that acted like curtains to conceal him. No one would ever find him in this hiding place, snoozing on the plush cerulean carpet. In his dream, his mother was talking to someone who was visiting -- had she also been weeping? Tycho's dream focused, and he heard his motherís hushed but still melodious voice, "... will give her a photographic memory and wonderful analytical skills. Donít worry, Sabé, she will be fine ..." Then the dark-haired woman replied ...

Tycho snapped awake again, his heart racing. Sabé ... Winterís mother was called Sabé. He was sure of it. And his mother, who called herself Rabrina as long as he knew her, was called by another name by the other woman -- she was called Rabé.

***

Her Royal Highness, Princess Leia Organa of the Royal House of Alderaan, took her place at the dais. She normally disliked this largely ceremonial ritual which she needed to participate in -- the gathering of all survivors of Alderaan. As people adjusted to the loss of their planet, Alderaanians felt less need to cling to her and to their old customs for their identity, so this ceremony only occurred annually now. At one point, it was done monthly, and as the sole survivor of the Royal House, the princess was required to attend.

Matters of importance to Alderaan were always on the agenda. In the past, such things as colonization of new homeworlds, relief funds, backing in money and matériel for searches for rumored but unaccounted-for survivors, continuance of trade relations, and even the choice of husband for Leia, were always presented and discussed. But as time passed, more ceremonial things had moved forward, and the other things became less urgent. Matters presented these day tended to run toward things like pleas for stashes of Alderaanian plants, requests for funerals in the Graveyard, appeals to attend functions, etc. Leia thought this was a vast improvement.

Today, Leia knew that Colonel Tycho Celchu, commander of Rogue Squadron, heir to Novacom and the House of Celchu, would deliver a personal petition. She wondered what it would be. She hoped the Rogues did not have any issues with the New Republic, which she also represented, though she couldnít imagine what Tycho could ask at the Alderaanian Forum that could not be asked of Wedge or General Ackbar. She assumed it had something to do with Novacom, since he had recently been requesting a lot of urgent and immediate access to any records pertaining to his fatherís company. When she asked Winter about it, her fair-haired aide looked away and hummed a nursery song -- their long-standing signal to mind their own business. Leia was curious about this -- Tycho hadn't come to see Winter in several weeks, and she hoped that the two hadn't fought.

Leia sighed -- anyway, Novacom no longer existed, and the Empire had raided and emptied its coffers shortly after Alderaan had been destroyed. There was nothing left to inherit, as far as she knew, other than some accounting data cards, which she knew were already in his possession.

Dame Winter, Leiaís royal companion, had accompanied her down the central aisle and up the dais steps, and took a seat behind and to the right of the throne-like chair placed for Leia. The senator for Alderaan took the seat to the left. Together they accepted or rejected petitions and motions made on behalf of corporations, communities and individuals.

Finally, it came Tychoís turn to present his petition, and Leia noted that Winterís breathing stopped momentarily as the handsome pilot came forward and stood on the presentation dock, looking tall and confident in his dress uniform. As much as the pilots complained about the uniform, Leia thought that it was the most stunning design a military man could wear. She thought of Han, who hated his General's uniform with a passion normally reserved for Hutts, and how gorgeous he looked in it, even if he was looking miserable in the formal attire.

She smiled to Tycho, to put him more at ease, as she felt a sudden and uncharacteristic stiffness envelope him. But heís nervous! This can't be about Novacom, noted Leia.

"With all due respect, as accorded by the unwritten laws of the Nobility of Alderaan, I submit my petition for me, Tycho Celchu of the merchant House of Celchu, for the hand of Dame Winter, of the Royal House of Organa. My petition is directed to the Head of the House of Organa, Princess Leia Organa Solo, and I wish to accept nothing short of complete and full approval of the petition. No negotiation is requested or desired."

His voice rang clearly and ceremonially, and the silence that followed was, in turn, followed by an astounded buzzing and whispering among the massed audience.

He started to speak again, "Several files are included with the basic petition, including my record of service to the Alliance and to the New Republic, what information could be found and confirmed of my parents, and their parents. As you know, my maternal line also claims descent from the political and noble House of Antilles, headed by the late Bail Antilles of the former Republic Senate on behalf of Alderaan. I regret that there appear to be no known survivors of the House of Antilles, and a search for those files has proven unsuccessful. I beg the House of Organa to forgive and overlook the exclusion, noting that your Highness has had personal contact with the late Captain Colton Antilles of the Tantive IV, and ask that your judgement of him and his conduct be included in my petition. The files pertaining to the financial aspects of the House of Celchu and of its wholly-owned corporation, Novacom, are filed with Your Majestyís clerical droid."

C3PO -- the now old-fashioned, but still loyal and reliable, if somewhat prissy, protocol droid -- confirmed Tychoís transmissions, "All accounts are in order and check to be correct. Novacom and the House of Celchu secretly donated funds to many Alliance-owned fund-raising organizations, helping to fund the equivalent of equipment for three fighter squadrons, the training of pilots for the same, a small medical ward in a frigate similar to the Redemption, supplies and means for 4,564,786 ground troops ..."

Leia stopped him with a raised hand. A murmur of admiration went through the forum gathering as, at last, Tychoís fatherís contributions to the Alliance became public.

She stood to deliver the ceremonial reply, and the crowd grew still, "Master of the House of Celchu, your petition is received and duly noted. Rest assured it will be considered fairly and all relevant parties contacted. Likewise, be prepared to defend statements and information submitted to accompany your petition." This was the most important marriage petition to ever be filed at the Forum, and everyone attending was interested in its outcome.

Tycho bowed deeply, knowing that this part of the ceremony was over. Now he would have to wait until all concerned parties could be contacted, and the potential union between him and Winter dissected and discussed. He and Winter had spoken about it, and knew that if Leia insisted on following protocol to the letter, it would mean they could not be in contact with each other while the petition was under consideration. It was simply the Alderaanian way. They had made love that night, in preparation for the separation. He recalled Winter's mischievious grin as he prepared to leave her the next morning, when she pointed out the they wouldn't be the first couple to rendez-vous secretly if necessary. Heartened, he turned to exit the presentation platform.

"But," Leia stopped him as she unexpectedly continued to speak, "I detect other things you wish to tell me?"

Tycho was startled. Leia was basically ordering him to tell her -- she was not asking, but ordering -- about the other matter that weighed on his mind. So, it's true. The sister of Skywalker is also Force-sensitive.

Since he discovered that he had information pertinent to Winter, Leia and Luke, he had lain awake trying to figure out what to do with it. He should have turned it over to his monarch, or to Luke -- it was information that might have helped Luke in his search for his identity. Historically, at the very least, it would provide information about how people dealt with secrets upon the rise of the Empire. He might have at least discussed his findings with Winter.

But the documents, if true, clearly showed that Leia was not the true child of the House of Organa, and that instead, it was Winter who was the child of this Sabé and of Bail Organa. If revealed, this could bring chaos to the Alderaanian survivors, and might even go so far as to topple Princess Leiaís rule over the New Republic council. Certainly, councilmen like Borsk Feyílya would not hesitate to use this as leverage against her.

Also, it appeared that Winter was created not only via eugenics -- it seemed that a harem might even have been established for this purpose -- and possibly cloning to produce a child that strongly resembled Leia, but underwent a horrific -- but seemingly standard -- mind wipe that had nearly killed her. It robbed her of her early childhood and of her natural hair color, but granted her the amazing memory and ability to analyze and act on data that made her useful to the Organas. Again, opportunistic enemies of Alderaan and of the princess would have a field day.

Tycho was in the service of the New Republic, and knew his duty. He had spoken to no one about his decision, and thus bore the full and terrible weight of it himself. He stood at complete attention, body rigid and straight. His decision was being forced here, but it was made, and his choice was clear.

He intoned a silent prayer that he was doing the right thing, then answered, crisply, "No, Your Highness."

Tycho let the silence continue for a few heartbeats, and when it became too much to bear, he quickly and spontaneously spoke again, more softly, "Though perhaps, if I may be so bold, I only wish to ask that I have your permission to contact Dame Winter while the petition is processed, and that the required isolation be waived."

Tycho held his breath. It was whispered that the sister of the Jedi Skywalker was secretly in training to become a Jedi herself. What Leia probably detected was the guilt he felt over shirking his responsibility to the New Republic. Was he being selfish? Had he been too presumptuous? He deliberately forced himself to not reach toward the tiny pocket of his uniform for the purple datachip that held his motherís notes to his father. He'd thought of destroying it to keep the information safe, but he found that he couldn't. Like the strong box from his father, it was all he had left from his mother.

Corran Horn had told him that if he were to suffer any mind probes, that he should fill his mind with the light side of the Force: thoughts of service, happiness, even of confession. Tycho tried to project his strong feelings of protectiveness toward Leia, Winter, Luke and to all Alderaanians. He thought of the time he made his "Return" to the Graveyard -- the asteroid field that marked where Alderaan once orbited, made of the shattered remnants of the planet -- where he finally had said goodbye to those who had died, resolving to go on living enough for all of them. He blinked back a tear as his memories welled into his consciousness. Finally, he silently promised that if questioned privately, he would tell Luke -- his former commander and Jedi knight -- what was on that purple datachip. He finally felt some of his tension evaporate, and he relaxed, breathing out.

His thoughts and silent promises were apparently enough for Leia. She smiled, "Tycho, of the House of Celchu: this will not be necessary. I have had the privilege of observing you and your work with Rogue Squadron, your conduct in times of distress and hardship -- both military and personal -- and have also been the recipient of confidences, both administrative and private, from my advisor, Dame Winter, of the House of Organa. As the sole living heir, other than my children, of the House of Organa, the decision to permit a union between the House of Celchu and the House of Organa lies completely with me. Therefore, none other need be consulted.

"My droid assures me your petition and files are complete and accurate; your familyís long and secret association with the Alliance is noted publicly here for the first time, with gratitude. This subject will be discussed in future Forums. The petition at hand -- that of granting marriage permission -- strongly supports what I already personally know of you.

"Before all those gathered here, it is my privilege and delight to approve your petition. The House of Organa accepts the offer of marriage from Tycho Celchu of the merchant House of Celchu, to my aide, Dame Winter. May the Force be with you."

A roar of approval and a wave of deafening applause filled the great hall. Counterpoint was provided by gasps and shocked shrieks, as the gossips and old-school social pundits covered their open mouths with horror at the idea of a merchant or military pilot marrying into royalty. And what right did the Princess have to make such an immediate declaration? Was she grasping for power? Was she just mad?

Tycho stood in a daze at the immediacy of the approval; his petition to Nyiestraís family had to be done over a year in advance of his leaving for the Academy, and though approval then had been a sure thing, it had still taken nearly that whole year. This was entirely unexpected and unprecedented -- even Winter had told him it would take a long time. He was elated, but he'd expected to not see Winter for months or years, and this was a big shock to him.

Winter suffered no such restraint. She joyfully jumped off the dais and threw her arms around Tycho. He embraced her closely, sweeping her off her feet, feeling her tears of relief and happiness on his own face as their bodies pressed together.

Still holding her, he drew his head back to look at her face. As Tycho looked into her eyes, he knew heíd made the right decision, withholding the information heíd discovered. For if Winter had become an instant princess, he would not be able to marry her. She could not have him, for though Han Solo had married Leia, it was widely understood that the former smuggler was excused because he was an outsider from Corellia, and had saved the life of the princess many times. Tycho would be assumed to know better, and would be required to withdraw his petition. Too, he would not be able to live through the turmoil it created for Winter and for Leia.

She'll have to settle for being my princess, selfish, irresponsible guy that I am, mused Tycho, as he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, oblivious to the holovids and the cheering crowds.

A stray and foreign thought whispered into his mind, Selfish desires sometimes turn out to be the correct ones. Someday, the time will be right to reveal what you know. But in the meantime, keep it safe. Take care of each other.

Breaking off his very public kiss to his future wife, Tycho looked up at Princess Leia, and was not surprised to see her smirking knowingly at him. He smiled back, understanding her message. She winked, nodded once, then put on her official, regal face once again.

He and Winter stood hand-in-hand, and, completing the ceremony, bowed and curtseyed to Her Majesty.

"Get out of here, you two! I'll take care of the fallout. Go get a room ..." Leia whispered, shooing them away.

So they did.

FINIS



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