Renewal: Chapter Seven
Ivy

Traveling with a corpse in a confined spaces was one of those unpleasantries Hanís nose was telling him wasnít such a great idea. Leaning back to crack the rusted vent behind his head, he let the whoosh of fresh air hit him straight in the face.

They hadnít need two transports for three passengers. At least the live medtech on board had insisted they leave the body by the rear hatch. That way, the tech had explained (see these grates), it would be easier to unload him and rinse the blood off the floors. Practical thinking outweighed any respect for the deceased. Not that Han disagreed. It meant he got to recline on the spare stretcher and the first thing Leia saw when she came to was not a dead body lying across from her.

He reached over and readjusted the jacket heíd draped over her back. A monitor was wound around her wrist, beeping at slightly increased rate. The medtech had injected her with comaren to help ease the tingling and fogginess caused by the stun. Han had been hit so many times by stun blasts heíd lost count, and heíd always wished there was a magical potion to make the after-effects go away. For her sake he hoped the comaren worked. She looked bedraggled. Her clothes were filthy and torn, her face and neck were covered with scratches. Han could not remember her ever being as light in his arms as she had been when he picked her up.

Nice way to be rescued. A stun blast in the chest for trying to save a manís life. He tightened his grip on the three fingers he was holding.

This time they twitched and the sensors started beeping faster. He said her name softly.

She groaned once, and then her entire body jerked. She drew in a deep breath that sounded as though she was resurfacing from under water after holding it for a long time.

The medtech, having heard the monitorís alert, returned from the forward cabin. "Coming out of it, are we?"

"Almost there," Han told him.

Her eyes snapped open and she pushed herself up, steadying herself against the bulkhead behind her. She took another deep breath and began the gradual process of acquainting herself with her surroundings, taking in the pair of stretchers, that she was on one, craning her neck to peer down the aisle into the cockpit. The transportís engines were loud with the vent cracked, familiar enough for her to know they were mid flight. Her gaze finished back with him. "Han?"

"How about some water?" the medtech suggested, reaching into an overhead compartment and retrieving a bottle. He uncapped it and held it out to her. "Itíll help with the dry mouth."

"Thank you," she whispered. She held it, but made no move to drink from it and kept staring at him.

Han prayed that whatever thoughts were running through her head did not all begin with I hate you. "Do you know where you are?"

The blank expression didnít fade. "Someone stunned me?" She turned to the heap on the floor past the end of the stretcher. "Who is that? What happened? I saw ... I saw... something was flying at the man behind you-"

"Thatís him there. Thought you were aiming for him. He didnít see it coming. The tiger, I mean."

"Heís dead?"

"He never felt a thing. It all happened pretty fast."

"Oh no..." Her brows anxiously rose. "Luke? Whereís Luke?"

Han shook his head. "We didnít pick him up."

As if on cue, the mere mention of the Jediís name produced General Leyíkel. Han was pretty sure one of the intercoms in the back had been broadcasting their meager conversation thus far into the cockpit, and made a vain effort to be cordial by introducing him. "Leia, this is General Leyíkel."

Leyíkel nodded. "Councilor Organa. We have a few questions for you."

"Hey!" Han warned. "Give her a minute. Sheís barely figured out where she is."

Leia frowned at him. "I do too know where I am."

"Councilor," Leyíkel began. "I apologize for asking so soon, but we thought we had Luke Skywalker on the sensors with you."

She slumped back. "You did."

Which brought Han back to the festering thought, why the hell had Luke taken off?

She looked back at Han. "You recovered the Razionís Edge? They know someone tried to kill us?"

Han nodded.

"Do you know who yet?"

"Your Highness," Leyíkel interjected. "Skywalker? He was with you right before the team arrived, correct?"

The General might have well been invisible. "Oh Han. Lukeís in trouble. One of us ... one of us needs to go back."

"We canít turn around now. Weíre headed back to the base."

"But Han! Heís really in trouble," she repeated. "You donít understand-"

ĎYour Highness, if I may?"

"I can barely feel him ... itís all black and ... "

"Feel him," Leyíkel wondered. "How do you mean?"

Han reached for her hand again and squeezed twice. "Sheís still groggy."

The medtech glanced at the lifesign monitor. "She should be all right to talk now."

Leia caught his warning and squeezed his fingers back to confirm, then set the water down and unwound the sensor from her wrist. "I have a feeling heís in trouble," she said, switching the meaning of her words around.

"Do you know where Skywalker was headed?" Leyíkel countered.

Her face registered his question strangely. "No," she said, looking at Han. Clearly she knew something funny was going on. Han rapidly squeezed her hand again. It was old code, but he did it until he was sure she understood. The fact that Leyíkel wasnít asking about Luke with any degree of concern drove the point in. "Whatís going on?"

Han shrugged helplessly at her. It was as good a time as any to break the news. "I canít tell you. Iím under a gag order courtesy of SpecForce-"

"Solo!" Leyíkel barked.

"Was I not supposed to tell her that?" Han asked, innocently. "She should at least know why Iím not answering any of her questions."

"Whatís going on here?" she demanded. "Both of you?"

Leyíkel clamped his jaw tightly. "Your Highness, what kind of trouble are you referring to?"

Bewildered by the attention, she shook her head. "What kind of trouble are you referring to?"

"Why donít you concentrate on answering my questions right now."

Her frame rose haughtily. "Of course I intend to," she said crisply. "As soon as you return the favor. Now Iíd like for one of you to explain to me what this is all about."

Han ignored the Generalís vicious stare, which plainly said, this is your fault. "Iíd like to know too," he asked mischievously. "Why donít you brief us?"

"Councilor," Leyíkel repeated. "This is a New Republic security matter. Why did you say Skywalkerís in trouble?"

She gathered up Hanís coat and hugged it against her chest. "I donít know."

Either she didnít, which seemed illogical considering sheíd said it herself, or she was wisely suspicious of the scenario playing itself out and lying. Han couldnít tell. The transport bucked and rattled as it came into a steep turn, forcing Leyíkel to brace his hands against the ceiling to avoid losing his balance. Through the vents Han spied the atmosphere containment field breaking up, crew and droids vacating the landing area. "Weíre at the base," he said briskly. "Canít this wait?"

"Your Highness," Leyíkel said. "We will be debriefing you shortly but we have three teams on the ground searching for Skywalker now. Any clue as to where he may have gone-"

"General." Leia raised her chin regally and cast him a look of disdain. "I donít know where he went. I believe I just told you that."

Leyíkelís dark eyes flashed, and the skin beneath his jaw pinched. Even semi-lucid Leiaís tone was firm enough to get the point across. As a Provisional Councilor, she was his superior and not the other way around. "I see," he said tersely. "Perhaps youíll remember more when you speak with Admiral Rieekan."

The transport jostled its passengers softly as it landed and the engines whined down. The medtech maneuvered his way aft, opened the hatch and extended the off ramp. No sooner had he done that than the ground crew climbed up to collect the body, lifting the limp form and bringing it down the a waiting repulsor sled. All three of them watched the solemn procession.

Leyíkel waved his arm. "After you, Councilor."

Leia slid one leg over the edge of the stretcher, tested her bearing and shook her head. "I need a few minutes Han. I donít think I can walk yet."

"Weíll call for a repulsor chair-" Leyíkel began.

"What difference is a few minutes going to make?" Han bellowed. "She got stunned on the highest setting, what do you expect?"

"Fine," the General conceded. He strode over to the top of the ramp, crossed his arms and withdrew his comlink. "Admiral Rieekan. Weíll be few minutes. I have no message to relay to Officer Batille yet."

Leia gasped and buried her face in his jacket. "Luke!"

Whatever was wrong now Han knew it was bad. Her face was bleached of all color and it was only Leyíkelís presence that prevented him from throwing his arms around her. If Luke was dead, Leia would know, and if the team was responsible ... "What is it?" he asked.

"Is she all right?" Leyíkel called. A ring of sincere compassion almost made it through. "The medtech is still outside."

"I donít know," Han said. He watched her close her eyes, breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth, open them again, gaze straight at him without the tiniest sign that she was actually seeing anything. He touched her cheek but nothing changed. "Is it Luke?"

"We have to go back," she whispered. "We have to go back for him."

"Leia, you have to go talk to SpecForce now. I canít talk to you until you do. Thereís teams looking for him now, remember? If heís down there theyíll find him." And if he did he hoped Luke wouldnít hesitate to defend himself.

"SpecForce is here?"

Obviously she hadnít noticed Leyíkelís uniform. "An army of them ..."

She tried to steady herself, brushed at her dirt stained coveralls. "Can I borrow your jacket?"

"Sure." He leaned in. "Are you going to be able to handle this? I can try to stall them for you if you want."

"Iíll manage."

* * * * *

Leia allowed herself to be led through the base without caring where she was going, flanked on one side by Han, on the other by General Leyíkel. Despite permitting her to rest first, her legs were still rubbery. The procession moved too fast and she stumbled trying to keep up. Han caught her elbow and deliberately slowed his pace to hers, forcing the guards ahead and behind them to slow as well. Too many jumbled thoughts were racing through her brain. Han was here, but her mind wasnít capable of processing it.

Luke was in trouble, and she needed to go back.

Often Han had asked her what if felt like to share a bond, a link to another person. At times it was like a warm hand on her shoulder, transmitting pieces of Lukeís feelings, his conscious thoughts, weakened by distance but strong when he was near. In recent weeks, it had become more intense, more akin to an open comm channel that was locked on and couldnít be shut off between them, a disconcerting nakedness, mental and physical. She could barely feel it now, couldnít feel any part of him past the initial surge of terrifying blackness that had swept over her those first conscious moments on the transport. It felt as though someone had cut off a limb.

SpecForce was on Baskarn, meaning an in depth counterintelligence investigation was underway. It didnít alarm her. They had assumed from the onset that the assassination attempt had been an inside job. Standard protocol dictated they would want her full recollection of the events which had occurred, probably hoped she and Luke had learned something about who was behind it before they ejected. That Han was under orders not to speak with her until after was... unusual, but not unheard of. SpecForce tended to rigidly seal its ongoing investigations, even from the New Republicís Inner Council at times. Admittedly, Han didnít look pleased, and as she was ushered through the hallways she eyed his rumpled clothes, trying to get a sense for what had him so on edge. She would get through this, deal with the debriefing and convince Han to go back down with her.

When they reached the audience chamber her escorts waved her inside. Two members of SpecForce High Command stood at attention behind an oblong steel table on a raised platform. One she recognized as the former commander of the disbanded Infiltrators unit. The other, a woman, she didnít recognize at all. General Leyíkel made his way to the front with the others.

The former commander gave a short bow. "Your Highness, weíre glad to see youíve made it to the base safe and sound. Iím Admiral Rieekan. This is Special Forces Councilor Moda Nídan, and I believe youíve met General Leyíkel."

"Briefly," she said warily. Eyes skimming the set up, she saw there was one solitary hard backed chair in the room - a step down from the raised oblong steel desk. It was a tactic designed to make individuals feel as though they were under the microscope, keep them nervous, and keep them talking. In her entire career, she had spent many long hours on the other side, very few as a subject. This was more formal than sheíd been expecting. She made her way to the chair and perched gingerly on the edge, wondering where Han was supposed to sit. She had an eerie sense that they were regarding her as though sheíd done something wrong, but she had no idea what, save that it left her feeling oddly guilty and defensive.

"Weíd like to ask General Solo to leave for the duration of this interview," Rieekan announced, glaring at Han with an expression so contemptuous it unnerved her. Hanís own features staring back were no less derisive. "These proceedings will be closed."

Han set his hand on the back of her chair. "Iím the Councilorís Security Chief," he hastened. "Someone from Batilleís team took a shot at her and I donít think it was an accident. Iím not leaving her alone with anyone."

Did they? Security Chief? She couldnít remember anything after the stun blast had hit her. "They did?" she asked, looking at Han.

"Yes they did," he insisted.

"This is a New Republic Base, Sir," Leyíkel returned. "Sheís safer here in our hands than anywhere else. I find your accusation to be preposterous. Iíve already spoken with Batille and he informed me that one of his men confessed to accidentally firing in her general direction."

"General, it was dead on accuracy, not a wild shot. Iím not leaving," Han maintained, turning to her with a look that clearly meant, Ďdo something.í

Until they could speak privately she decided to follow his lead and intervened. "I request that he be permitted to stay and listen in."

"We canít allow that, Your Highness."

"And why is that?"

"Weíve had our problems with General Solo since he arrived, and this is only an informal inquiry. Thereís so reason for him to participate."

Oh really, she wondered. At least that explained the waves of animosity rolling off Rieekan in Hanís direction. SpecForce did not hold informal inquiries. That was like saying Wraith Squadron fired on Tie-Fighters to disarm them. Years of diplomatic training and her upbringing had taught her to use her positionís clout when needed to deter any sort of intimidation, which was, she realized, exactly what the Lieutenant Admiral was attempting to do now. Holding herself together, she said, "It seems to me that this is a full investigation. By all rights unless my security clearance has been pulled by Mon Mothma, Crix Madine, or Airen Cracken, Iím allowed to choose one person from my staff to sit with me as council and witness. If you want to contest what Iím entitled to under New Republic law Iím sure we can put this interview off until we can contact Home Fleet."

The use of first names pressed her advantage, albeit slightly. Councilor Nídan leaned forward, tapping a perfectly manicured and polished fingernail on the porcelain surface of the desk. "Given the history of your relationship with the General, you may be inclined to answer a number of our questions less than truthfully in his presence. Weíd prefer the atmosphere not be constrained."

What in the galaxy is she referring to? Leia wondered, shaking her head and folding her own torn nails into her palm self-consciously. "The General is in all likelihood already privy to anything you might ask. I have nothing to hide. But, as I was saying, if youíd prefer to wait until-"

"That wonít be necessary, Your Highness," Admiral Rieekan hastened to say. "However if General Solo stays he must refrain from participating and serve only as a silent witness for the duration."

"Iíll agree to that," Han said, taking up a less obtrusive position by the door. Leia nodded for them to begin.

Leyíkel flipped on a holographic imager and repositioned it while Rieekan cleared his throat. "First off, weíd like to know why Skywalker left you when the team arrived. General Leyíkel has informed us that you said he was with you."

Dread seeped through her. This was not how she had expected them to begin. Nor had she expected the session to be recorded -- not if the proceedings were closed. "He was."

"Can you tell us where he went?"

"Iím sorry but I donít know."

"Did he know the team was on its way?"

"Yes, he did."

"Did you try to stop him?"

"Yes."

"Weíre ... confused as to why he would have left you right before you met up with our rescue team."

Too late, Leia grasped that she had been so worried about Luke on her way to the debriefing, that she had not prepared herself for the fact that she was going to have to lie. She couldnít explain to them why Luke had turned back. Sheíd promised Sarin she wouldnít let the New Republic find the Korriban station. She searched her mind for an escape, some clause in her position she could use to refuse to answer without defying him. "He said ... he had to go and that he would make his own way to the base if necessary. He wanted me to go ahead."

"We donít understand why, Your Highness."

Struggling to keep her face unreadable in the overhead lightís unforgiving glare, she shook her head. "I donít know why he did."

"You told Generals Solo and Leyíkel that he was in trouble?"

Why arenít they asking about the shuttle? "Yes."

"What made you say that?"

"I canít ... remember."

The questioning disintegrated from there. For fifteen minutes she was forced to tell them again and again that Luke had left her shortly before the team arrived, that she had no idea why, and that her claim that Luke was in trouble must have been a confused utterance on her part. From there the debriefing progressed from bad to worse.

"Give us the location of the escape pod," Rieekan demanded, no longer hiding his irritation with her. He looked as though he was on the verge of tearing his hair out, though he didnít have enough to spare for a self-injurious temper tantrum. "Surely you know the coordinates for it."

Those she knew by heart, but if she directed them to it, the path leading to the Korriban station was easy to see, and their sensors would in all likelihood detect the base if they flew over it. "Luke has them," she replied coolly. "I didnít keep track after we started for the Base."

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Hanís less than subtle double take. She knew what he was thinking. You memorize planetary statistics and the names of government leaders for every diplomatic meeting in the space of an hour and didnít bother to remember where your escape pod went down.

Rieekan made a strangling sound in the back of his throat. "Your Highness, I find that very hard to believe. Itís imperative that we find it."

"Youíll have to ask General Skywalker when heís brought in," she insisted. "We covered the escape pod in a cloaking device because at the time we didnít know whether or not we had been followed, and we knew we were within traveling distance to the base."

"Thatís a convenient method to prevent us from recovering it," Rieekan countered.

"Itís also standard operating procedure when a vessel crashes in Imperial territory is it not?" She held out her hands helplessly. "I fail to see why the escape pod is of such interest to you in the first place? You found the shuttle? Donít you know who was responsible for that?"

No one answered.

"Will someone please tell me whatís going on?"

"Letís start at the beginning. Could you recount for us, to the best of your recollection, the events which occurred prior to your escape pod being launched?"

She took her time, describing in nauseating detail for them finding the thermal detonators and concussion bombs shortly before they were scheduled to land, including Lukeís assertion that he had been instructed to leave the shuttle on auto-pilot and only his switching it off had sparked the re-set tones. Rieekan interrupted her frequently to ask about Lukeís mental state; had he seemed surprised, had he seemed nervous on the flight out there, who found the detonators first, what was Lukeís reaction when he peeled back the paneling beneath the C-board. The interminable session dragged on until her throat was hoarse and her voice was cracking. Longingly, she pictured the untouched water sheíd left on the stretcher in the air ambulance. No one made a move to offer her a drink.

"Your Highness," Rieekan said when she was done. "You may not be aware of this but after you and General Skywalker jettisoned the escape pod, the Razionís Edge was somehow set back on course for the base. At first we assumed it was a relay transmission from a ship nearby, but we were unable to detect another craft following you out of hyperspace. In acting with standard security defense measures we were forced to fire upon it. The entire shuttle exploded and was destroyed. Examination of the wreckage turned up the thermal detonators and concussion bombs. At this point, weíve come to the conclusion that the shuttle was intended for the base."

Her heart sank. "We feared that as well," she said quietly. "But Luke did his best to send her down away from ..." A relay transmission? She shook her head. "The shuttle was not on autopilot when we left it."

"It was reactivated after you launched the escape pod," Rieekan said.

"It ... it must have been," she said weakly, though she had no idea how.

"You understand why weíre interested in finding the escape pod, Your Highness?"

She swallowed. "No."

"Itís the only place the remote could have been located."

The tone of the debriefing suddenly began to make sense. What Rieekan was suggesting, was getting at, slammed into her at lightspeed. She almost spun to glare at Han, ask him why he hadnít warned her, but he hadnít had the chance with Leyíkel hovering around on the transport. "There was no remote in the escape pod," she replied. "Someone must have dropped out of hyperspace behind us and activated it."

"Weíve searched the HOS records," Rieekan replied coldly. "Your vessel was the only one that entered the system."

"There was no remote in the escape pod."

He studied her critically. "Letís return to the day you departed. Skywalker had returned from Folor only hours before?"

She groaned inwardly, let her tone chill. "Yes, but weíve been over this."

"He replaced another pilot at the last minute?"

"Yes."

"The deck officer on duty has told us you seemed surprised to see him."

"I was. I didnít know until shortly before we left."

"Did he tell you what made him decide to request that assignment?"

"I fail to see the relevance."

"Itís relevant to us. Now did General Skywalker tell you why he asked for the assignment?"

She cast a weary and frustrated expression Hanís way. "He wanted to see me."

"He requested this assignment because he wanted to see you?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"For personal reasons."

"Would you care to elaborate for us?"

"No I wouldnít."

To her relief Rieekan didnít press the issue. "Did he inform you that he was resigning his commission?"

"Yes, but I already knew that."

"This is the second time heís done this in the past year, is it not?"

"Yes."

"And ... he entered back into service shortly before he was assigned as an instructor at Folor."

"Yes."

"Now, back to when you left Home Fleet. Who arrived at the shuttle first?"

"General Skywalker had no way of knowing those were on board," she muttered tersely. "Has anyone spoken to whoever ran the diagnostic check before we left Home Fleet?"

Leyíkel held up a piece of flimsiplast and paused to study it. "Yes, we have."

As if, she mused angrily, he wouldnít know whatís on it by heart. "And?"

"Who arrived at the shuttle first?"

"Luke did. What do the diagnostic checks indicate?"

"These records indicate the shuttle was checked thoroughly that morning. The remote autopilot relay system was overlooked."

"Regardless of the remote system, records can be altered, scans can be copied and fed to the terminals," she exclaimed. "As far as I can surmise, there was someone on the inside involved in this, and they just as easily could have changed the records." She shook her head. High Command frequently falsified vessel records, keeping the legitimate ones encrypted, if they felt they might be unsafe in the mainframe system. They were generally used to cover bacta and weapons transports they feared might be intercepted. "The New Republic does it all the time, Admiral."

"With his military clearance, he would have had access to the central system codes."

Not likely, Leia conceded. Even if heíd had them before he left he would have had to file a request and get it approved for the new codes when he returned from Folor. "I donít think he would have had the most recent ones," she said.

Leyíkel let slip a wisp of smug victory, clasping his hands together in front of him. "According to our records he requested and was given the central system codes a few hours before you left."

Her internal dialogue unraveled. There was no plausible reason Luke would have needed them once theyíd left the base, although ... there was always the possibility Luke had used his clearance to see if the files on Anakin Skywalker had been transferred to Intelligence. She couldnít tell them though, even if it proved he had not used them to falsify the diagnostic records.

"Does that surprise you?"

"No."

Her pause was duly noted. "You seem uncertain, Your Highness."

"No. It doesnít surprise me." Leyíkel and Rieekan watched her and said nothing, as though they expected her to keep going.

Leyíkel resumed. "Then, back to when you were in the escape pod, you said General Skywalker used his abilities to veer the shuttle off course."

"Yes."

"And then he allowed it to continue on its current course towards the base."

"He didnít know and there was no remote," she maintained. "Directing it into the atmosphere was taxing on him. Weíre talking about a Lambda-class shuttle here, with all due respect, General. He had enough to worry about considering we ejected straight into the atmosphere ourselves. At that point I think he was more concerned with getting us to the surface in one piece."

Rieekan swaggered around the desk, crossed his arms and marched from one end to the other. "But, this same General Skywalker has accomplished what one might call extraordinary feats in the past, using his powers, has he not? Against the Death Star? Against the Emperor? The Ssi-Ssi Ruuk at Bakura? Promoted after Milagro?"

Her anxiety intensified. While Lukeís closest friends and a number of the New Republic command respected his talents as a Jedi, many others regarded it as a semi-fantastical religion, myth exaggerated by age and old legends. Those who neither respected nor disbelieved it feared him in the same way that different species feared death, feared what was unknown and incomprehensible to them. To accomplish so much for the Alliance, have the Empireís defeat rest in part on his shoulders, led to the inevitable skepticism.

He walked away after facing the Emperor and Darth Vader ... What would have become of us if he wasnít on our side?

It was a dangerous train of thought. If SpecForce viewed him as a threat, they would find a way to use his own capabilities against him as evidence. A fraction of suspicion would swell uncontrollably. She was tempted to halt the proceedings, demand she be allowed to speak with Airen Cracken or Mon Mothma before it went any further, but reconsidered. If she played along, she might learn more about what they knew. "Yes, those are among his many accomplishments serving the Alliance and the New Republic. And," she leaned forward in her seat. "Need I remind you all we might not be here were it not for his efforts?"

"That his services have exalted him within the ranks as something of a hero is not in question here," Rieekan stressed.

"But it is," she replied. "Based on his reputation this conversation is moot. If Iím not mistaken youíre implying he had something to do with this. I do not, nor have I ever, had reason to suspect General Skywalker of doing anything but serving the Alliance and the New Republic to the best of his abilities. While Iím unclear what transpired I can assure you when we find answers youíll see that heís innocent."

"Your Highness, weíve been weeding out Imperial subjects and spies within our ranks for years now. No one, not even lauded heroes of the Alliance are above inspection ..."

"Iím well aware of that," she snapped. "And Iím also aware that whoever is behind it is on the inside. But it wasnít General Skywalker."

"The physical evidence weíve gathered cannot be disputed. Weíve established you were alone with him when you crashed, when you began your journey, when you were rescued, yet he chose to flee before we could take him into custody. Add to that the fact that youíre withholding or have forgotten the whereabouts of a key piece of evidence."

"If he was responsible why would he have made his way to the base all this time?"

"Perhaps he didnít expect to find anyone left alive here. Perhaps he was hoping to find salvage teams from Home Fleet and make his escape after he arrived."

Of all the flimsily put together cases for treason ... "Thatís absurd!"

"And where is he now? Youíve told us you donít know why he left you. Weíre well aware of his Jedi talents, and that itís within his power to manipulate memories. How do we know he hasnít simply removed all evidence of treason?"

Leia forced herself to take a deep breath. Calm down and think. It was all she could do to not scream and shout at them while her brain processed the overload of information. The best she could do was to not permit them to trick her into incriminating him, though gods knew she was doing nothing to assuage their theories so far. The damage was irredeemable and inviolability was not an option. Luke would not want her to reveal what theyíd found. "I know General Skywalker well and I assure you there are plausible explanations for each of your concerns. Now, may I ask if youíre planning on charging him?"

Councilor Nídan, whoíd been making notes throughout the debriefing, handed her datapad to Admiral Rieekan. Sitting slightly apart from the two men, her role was primarily to assess her reactions, facial expressions, coloring, pauses in thought. One did not, as a matter of fact, serve as a psychological evaluator for the elite corps and intelligence without impeccably sharp perceptive skills. Allowing operatives to serve in deep cover was too dangerous; too dangerous if they were emotionally unprepared to handle stress, if theyíre loyalty could be swayed, if they carried deep seeded personal vendettas that might otherwise drive them to suicide. Rieekan read it nodded, and gestured for her to speak.

It was not what Leia was expecting at all.

"In regards to your personal relationship with General Skywalker, would you care to elaborate on how you came to be associated with him in the first place," Nídan queried.

Leia stared in wonder. "Thatís public record, is it not?" Sheíd hardly met a soul in the past five years who didnít know the story. There were holonovels dedicated to it.

"In your own words, Your Highness, if you will."

She clenched her fists tight against her legs and wondered if it would insult them if she stood up. Her legs were still tingly. "He and General Solo rescued me from the first Death Star shortly before I was to be executed. General Skywalker was an instrumental player in the Battle of Yavin, as was General Solo. They both joined the Alliance in the succeeding days, and Iíve served with both of them for many years."

"General Skywalker also rescued you when you were being held by Prince Xixor, former head of the Black Sun on Coruscant?"

"Yes."

"On Tatooine, when Jabba the Hutt held you prisoner?"

"Yes."

"Attempted to rescue you from Cloud City on Bespin?"

"Yes."

"In light of these many, many instances where he has put your life above his own, is it safe to say you would do the same?"

It was a trick. "I would not lie for him or betray the New Republic to protect him," she replied.

"And you donít believe he tampered with your memory?"

"No."

"Letís return to you personal relationship with him."

Youíve got to be kidding me. Leia didnít dare look at Han for fear sheíd start laughing like a crazy person. Enough pilots and crew within the Alliance knew Han and Luke had both vied for her affection for it not to be common, albeit ancient gossip. In addition, half the galaxy knew she and Han had been linked romantically since the Battle of Endor. "Weíre very close, Councilor, but beyond that thereís never been any involvement that wasnít professional."

"Are you sure Your Highness? Youíve already stated he wanted to see you for personal reasons."

"If youíre implying that he tried to involve me in what I assure you are trumped up charges against him -- involve me based on misdirected infatuation, youíre grasping at thin air."

Councilor Moda Nídan stood, smoothed her uniform, and stepped round the front of the table. "Thatís not exactly what weíre implying, Your Highness."

"What are you implying then?"

She shrugged. "Call us merely curious. Throughout General Skywalkerís last assignment we have a number of outgoing and incoming messages between you two. And he did, prior to your departure from Coruscant, accept this mission -- one in which you both had extensive opportunity to spend time alone and work together."

Leia took a deep breath. There was one way to put an end to this quickly. "Under the circumstances itís hardly unusual."

"And the circumstances youíre referring to?"

"General Skywalker and I are extremely close, yes, as would be expected. Heís my brother."

The room descended into dead silence so profound that the ticking of the holographic recorder reverberated off the bare durasteel walls.

"Itís not in your dossier," Rieekan said slowly.

"No it isnít," she said. "I was adopted by Bail Organa as a child. I never learned who my real parents were. We only discovered the truth recently and chose to keep it private."

"Who knows this?"

"Several of our closet friends," she said. "General Solo, Commander Wedge Antilles, Lando Calrissian, my aide Winter ... "

"General Solo," Rieekan prompted. "Can you verify this?"

"I can," Han said.

"How long have you known?" Rieekan asked.

Always, she thought. I donít know exactly how but I did. Luke where are you? She mentally reached for him again, opening herself in all directions, delved into the void where sheíd last sensed him. There was nothing. "Since after the Battle of Endor."

"That was almost three years ago, Your Highness. I wouldnít say thatís recent."

"Thatís a matter of perspective."

"Or deliberate secrecy."

She tipped her chin and met his challenge. "It was our business, Admiral, not the New Republicís." The cut-off circulation to her legs was now painfully distracting. She pushed herself up with as much grace as she could summon, and went instantly cold and numb all over.

Standing there facing the panelís accusing faces, two events occurred, both so extreme she felt as though the wind had been knocked from her chest. The first was a gush of warmth and wetness between her legs. The second, a pull, less pronounced than her brotherís abrupt break, but no less poignant and piercing. There was no pain, no panic, no fight, no knowing, merely a peaceful dimming of the Forceís burgeoning light, of its promise, of its future.

"Your Highness?" Rieekan prodded. "I donít see how-"

She tightened Hanís long jacket around her. This canít be happening ...

"Your Highness?"

Please donít let this be happening ...

"Councilor Organa?"

She closed her eyes and blocked out their voices until she felt someoneís hand rest on her back.

"Leia, are you all right."

Please get me out of here... Please ... "No. Iím ... not all right," she whispered shakily. "Can you please bring me to the medcenter?"

* * * * *

Han at first assumed it was a sheer act of genius on her part. Under New Republic statutes no person could be refused medical treatment, even pending an interrogation, and since she wasnít under arrest or being charged, SpecForce had no choice but to allow her to go. It was the perfect way to buy time. Her lies and convenient amnesia throughout the session had not escaped his notice, and more ominously, not escaped SpecForceís notice. What theyíd make of the session after reviewing it worried him. Theyíd been playing hardball with her, and only the fact that he would have been ousted from the chamber had made him refrain from jumping in.

He was reeling slightly from what sheíd told them, not sure that had been in her best interest. Not if they knew who he was, and with that tidbit of information sheíd given them a case for collusion, although Moda Nídanís questioning had left her little choice.

The medcenter was one wing away from the command center, and by the time they arrived she was pale as a sheet, her lips trembling. He followed her into the examining room, bracing himself against the usual odors of bacta and sharp chemicals and realized that something was terribly wrong. It wasnít a ploy.

No sooner had the door whirred shut behind them than she broke down in tears. "I canít feel anything," she sobbed. "Nothing."

It was Luke. It had to be. His heart sank. Her brother was the only person sheíd ever been able to feel. "If itís Luke-"

The door whirred open again and an MD droid strode in. "Please list physical complaints-"

"No," she choked. "I want a real medic and not an MD!"

"Uh ... " Han shrugged and turned to the MD. "Could you locate a medic for us?"

"Sir," the automated voice droned, "I am equipped with-"

Han rolled his eyes. He hated arguing with people. He hated arguing with droids, whose sensory input didnít process commands, even more. "Just do it!"

The dismissed MD droid twittered something about difficult patients and locating the Chief Medic on staff and left the room.

"Leia," Han sighed, taking her by the shoulders. "I donít know whatís going on." The tears kept streaming down her face, dripping off her chin onto his jacket, leaving streaks in the dust in grime. "Tell me if itís Luke."

She shuddered and looked up at him. "Han. If you ... if you ... if you ... If I could ever do anything that would make you hate me -- that you think you could hate me for-"

What was that supposed to mean? Did she think I hated her when I left? "No," he hushed. "How could you even think that? Iíve been here looking for you two since the day after your shuttle went down."

That only made her cry harder. "You have?"

He hugged her to his chest, stroked the mane of dark hair. "Of course I have. Now what do we need a medic for?"

"Why did they fire at me -- why did he do that -- I canít feel anything Han -- I canít feel her ..."

The babbling was muffled and incoherent. He gripped the loose fabric of his jacket between his fingers and dragged her back. "I donít understand. Youíre not telling me whatís wrong and I donít know what you mean by her-" In the process of pushing her back his jacket had slid partway off, and he could see the blood soaking the insides of her pant legs, dark grey on faded grey, crimson flushing the white table covering beneath her. He went rigid. He knew enough about women to know it wasnít normal. The stun blast? On the rare occasion they were known to cause internal trauma but ...

She folded at the waist over her knees. "I canít feel her and I canít make it stop ..."

Cold fear seized him. Marching back to the door, he switched it open and snapped at the two guards Rieekan had ordered to tag along to get the medic now. Then he returned and slid his hand over her stomach, felt her ribcage expanding and contracting wildly against his palm with each breath, probed lower: she didnít flinch. "Leia, where does it hurt?"

"Itís not that," she sobbed. "Itís not me ..."

"Sweetheart, youíre bleeding." He glanced over his shoulder at the door again. Where is the medic?

She lifted her head enough to find his eyes, groped for a break between sobs. "Iím pregnant and something is happening-"

"No youíre not," he said without thinking. "Youíre hurt ... "

"I canít feel her," she whimpered. "I canít."

It registered slowly. He took a step back. No, she wasnít. Her? He felt as though a neurotstaff had been driven into his gut and twisted from side to side. Time hung suspended. Someone touched his shoulder and he heard a womanís voice.

"General Solo? Iím Chief Medic Tryll. The MD requested I come down. What seems to be the problem?"

"She was hit with a stun blast about three hours ago," Han hurried. Leia must be delusional; this was an internal injury. She would have told him. "Sheís bleeding-"

"Iím pregnant."

"How many weeks?"

"Almost nine."

Tryll nodded, kept her tone rather reassuring and perfunctory, with the skill of one who was fazed by nothing, and picked up the datapad clipped to her waist. If having one of the New Republicís leaders weeping in her presence surprised her, she didnít let it show. "Any cramping, abdominal pain?"

Leia pressed her knees together with her hands. "It wonít stop. It keeps coming..."

Nine.

The gut twisting sensation tore through him with fresh veracity. Nine? Suddenly he found himself unable to speak at all. A sickening sense of betrayal and anger welling inside forced him another step back.

The medic reached for the scanner beside the table. "First, letís do an ultrasound and check for a heartbeat."

He heard himself say, "I should go. I shouldnít be here for this."

Tryll caught his eye, cast him a warning. "Someone should be with her, General."

His feet refused to obey him anyway and they misinterpreted his stillness for acquiescence. He remained frozen, terrified by the sight of so much blood, still hurling unspoken accusations at her in his mind. He watched as Leia slid off his jacket, and undid her shirt. The medic had her lean back on the table and ran the scanner over her abdomen, studying the viewer on the dolly beside her.

The array of squiggly lines and pulsating ultrasonic images were a foreign language to him, but the shifting expressions on Tryllís face werenít. She frowned, caught her patient watching her and smoothed it away. As the scanner traveled she frowned again, but by then Leia was staring at the ceiling. She flipped a few switches and placed the handheld scanner on the tray. "You can sit up now."

"Thereís no heartbeat." Leia said. "I know there isnít."

Tryll rested her hand on her shoulder and sighed the sigh of years of medical practice, of delivering bad news, of not being able to do what she was trained for. "Traumatic placental abruption is known to be caused by stun blasts, which is why youíre bleeding so heavily so quickly. The statistics run at about fifty percent in the first trimester. Nine times out of ten if you hit a small animal the stun stops its heart cold. A fetus is protected by your body to an extent, but often itís too much for them to absorb. It was simply too early."

Leia ran her hands over her face, through her tangled hair, let out a deep breath.

Han eyed the door again, skipped back to Leia, her legs, and finally the examining table. He shunted everything to the furthest recesses of his mind, felt his concern peak. "Is she hemorrhaging?"

"Sheís on the verge of it, yes." She fiddled with an injector and pressed it against Leiaís neck. Her patient didnít even blink. "This will keep it under control for now. Iím admitting her for a more thorough exam and to run some tests. Sheíll probably have to stay for observation and I want her off her feet for a few days." Tryll opened a stowaway compartment beneath the table and removed a robe for her. Leia wiped her face on it, peering down at the smudges of dirt in confusion. "Okay."

Tryll spied the mass of healing abrasions on the left side of her back at the same time Han did. "They should have brought you in right away."

The wisp of false hope woke her. Leiaís hands flailed in her lap, and then she remembered she was half undressed and covered herself with the robe. "If Iíd come right away-"

"Oh no," the medic exhaled. "It wouldnít have made a difference." A spark of fury appeared in her eyes. "But after being hit with a stun blast ... "

"SpecForce was interviewing her," Han cut in.

"Where are they now?" Tryll asked, with a vicious shake of her head.

"Waiting outside."

The chief medic shook her head again, then selected a second injector and quickly administered it, saying, "They should have known better. Now, Iíll go get the nurse and give you two a minute alone. General, please make sure she doesnít try to stand. I donít want her on her feet."

He nodded, though being left there with Leia was the last thing he wanted. He felt emotionally unstable, didnít trust himself to be alone with her. He hung back, studying the complicated array of medical equipment he never wanted to face firsthand, thinking you have to say something. The knowledge that the blood was evidence of a life and a death held him in check. When he did manage to say something it sounded mechanical. "Iím sorry Leia."

She turned away and shook soundlessly.

His self loathing yawned wider and threatened to swallow him whole. Who? was the only thing he could think. What kind of idiot was he, rushing off from Kashyyyk to look for her when all along, obviously thereíd been nothing left between them but wishful thinking and delusions. Heíd been hung up on memories that had meant more to him than to her. She was pregnant with another manís child, had been ...

"Han, itís not what you think," she whispered hoarsely, not facing him. "Itís not what youíre thinking..."

The plea ignited his temper. "You donít know what Iím thinking," he hissed. "I suppose I should ask you if thereís someone back at Home Fleet you want me to contact for you?"

"Thereís not."

Images swirled; of her on the Holonet, decked out in silk robes, thick braids coiled and trailing down her back, entering Coruscantís most prestigious eatery on the arm of the Gasconian Ambassador. Him? Or was it another regal politician? "What about the Gasconian ambassador? Sure you donít want me to send him a message for you?"

"That wasnít ... that wasnít anything," she choked out.

"Then itís not his."

"No!"

"Well it sure as hell isnít mine."

There was no reaction.

"And it sure as hell wasnít very long after I left." He began to feel oddly sick at himself. She was having a miscarriage, she looked like sheíd overdosed on obliviane, and he was lashing out at her ruthlessly in the examining room.

"Han ..." She pressed her hand along the inside of her thigh, drew it away, stared at the blood with the vapid gaze of one who was blind. "Han, are you going?"

"Where?"

"You canít go ..." She looked up at him in a daze, and her muddled worries moved from the ongoing loss to the potential tragedy. "I mean, we have to find Luke. I canít stay here. I canít be admitted. I have to go."

Han moved to physically restrain her from climbing down by caging her in on either side. Regardless of her condition he doubted SpecForce would be permitting her to leave any time soon. "Youíre not going anywhere." Again he felt frightened and helpless. "You could bleed to death. You could hemorrhage. Didnít you hear her?"

"But Lukeís in trouble," she started. "I have to go to him."

Doped up, he decided. That last injection had definitely been some sort of sedative. His rational mind took over. Though heíd temporarily forgotten about Luke, forgotten about the investigation, it settled over him like a hunterís net. He couldnít abandon her to the mercy of SpecForce, couldnít abandon her while she was utterly defenseless and distraught, nor could he abandon Luke to face the tribunal alone. Whatever he was feeling now, he had to regain control, focus on the situation and not them. He hardened his emotions. "Later."

Again she tried, flailing against him. "Let me up! Luke should never have-"

What if Halla Ettyk was right? What if theyíd bugged the entire base? He promptly clamped his hand over her mouth. Until he figured out some way, some place they could talk that he knew was secure, this would have to wait. "Leia, listen to me, listen to me," he ordered.

She panicked; her lips squirmed beneath his palm.

Itís not safe to talk, he mouthed. Don't tell me anything. He annunciated each word for her, mouthed it three times. Then he said, out loud, "You canít worry about Luke now."

Tears filled her eyes again, and her chin sank.

It was gut wrenching. He watched her shoulder blades shaking, studied the half healed wounds, felt her trembling where her forehead rested against him. Going against his impulses, his instincts to comfort her seemed cruel and inhumane. He draped an arm around her involuntarily, let her slump against him and cry. The right words began coming to him. "You worry about you. Weíre worrying about you, okay? Iím right here. You're not gonna be able to help him like this."

When he heard the door click behind them he drew up the gown and set both arms around her to hide her from the inquisitive eyes in the hall.

Tryll was arguing with someone, shouting. "Under New Republic statutes you can not interview a witness under sedation without a writ of interrogation and you donít have one. You have no jurisdiction in my ward!"

A manís retorted, "If sheís not dying then-"

The door slammed so viciously the room shook. Han jumped. Leia didnít notice.

The nurse arrived through the back entrance a moment later. Together they helped her into a repulsor chair. Han watched as she was shepherded out through the examining roomís back entrance.

Tryll re-entered, shaking her head.

"Thank you," he murmured. "I wasnít sure how I was going to deal with them."

"Iíll fend them off for a few days. Sheíll be all right, General, donít worry."

"Theyíll also probably want to be updated on her condition, and ..." Now he understood why Leia had requested the medic and not the MD, though there was no telling if it mattered. The MDís recorded everything. So did SpecForce. On the off chance they hadnít, he said, "this shouldnít be any of their business."

"Medical records are confidential and encrypted," Tryll reassured him.

"Good."

To Chapter Six | To Chapter Eight

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