Renewal: Chapter Sixteen Rated PG

The Falcon made its approach to Yashuvhu during what would have been Tatooineís evening the following day.

Luke sat in Hanís chair resting his chin between his thumb and forefinger and propping up his elbow. Beside him in the co-pilot seat was Leia, balancing a bowl of balka noodles on her knees. Again, she wound a pasty noodle around her utensil and failed to prevent it from slithering like a greased worm off the utensil onto the floor. With an ĎI told you so,í smirk, Luke slithered it all the way to the garbage receptacle. He said, "Why donít you just give up and eat them with your fingers. This isnít exactly an upscale Coruscanti restaurant."

She shrugged. "Truly, itís one of the tragic after-affects of my upbringing. I see cutlery, I think, Ďyou must use it.í You never met my --"

"Hey! Hey!" Hanís bellowing erupted from somewhere on the Falcon.

The siblings exchanged glances. A moment later, the lanky Corellian made his way aft, brows raised, eyes rebellious and unimpressed, crossing his arms defiantly as a lagging boot caught up with its mate. "Iíve been thinking," he began.

"Thatís scary," Leia replied without missing a beat.

Han scowled. "It occurred to me we havenít discussed how weíre going to play this when we get there. You ran a hundred plus searches out of our quarters on Baskarn for Yashuvhu. Theyíll be logs of anything you downloaded from the mainframe system. If the New Republic is looking for us --"

"Weíre not going to be high on their list of priorities," Leia soothed. "Not to come this far out."

"But you donít know that for sure. Thereís no way you can know that for sure."

Luke exchanged another fleeting look with his sister. They had discussed this earlier in depth, without Han present. Leia had a long list of reasons as to why she almost knew for sure that the New Republic wasnít going to be waiting for them. For one, they didnít have the credits to spare for a search and recover mission. Nor did they have enough vessels to arbitrarily command the ones they possessed on a wild goose chase across the galaxy. Madine and Cracken were highly unlikely to authorize a search, even if external pressure pushed for it. High Command was probably fighting to contain the recent events, lest they draw unwanted attention to an already unpleasant situation. It reflected as badly on them, as it did Luke and her. Nevertheless, Han was right. None of these reasons guaranteed them any sort of nondescript anonymity once they landed and Hanís least favorite words of late were probably, maybe and I hope.

"No," she admitted, straightening her spine. "Itís not possible for me to be one hundred percent certain of anything."

"I thought so," Han sighed, swinging one arm dramatically, tapping his temple with a rigid finger. "Can you hear that? Thatís my brainwaves shouting over and over that they think this is a bad idea."


Luke tried to reassure him. "Yashuvhu doesnít belong to the New Republic, the same as it didnít belong to the Empire. We ... we ..." He half caught himself and stammered -Ė he was saying we when we was the same group heíd escaped from on Baskarn. "We donít have any jurisdiction out here."

"Thatís exactly it. We donít have any jurisdiction. For the record, Iíll state that Iím equally confident that Imperial Intelligence doesnít have any jurisdiction out here either. Or his Royalnessí Death Guards, or Kadannís private assassins. Nor do we know if Intelligence has clamped down on the little --" Han pinched his thumb and forefinger together as though he were crushing an insect. "-- problem that rigged your shuttle last month."

Leia waved a hand and cut him off. "Yes, Iím fully aware that if Intelligence has records of my downloads whoever it was might have leaked the information to the Imperials. However, itís irrelevant. Our only hope is that someone on Yashuvhu will help us and in order for that to happen, we need be as forthright as possible. First rule of diplomacy Ė- or a matter of general politeness -- lying about your identity makes for a terrible first impression."

"Itís worked for me in the past," Han countered. "All we need are a few disguises. I have dye capsules down below. Iíve always wanted to be a Chiss or Etti."

"It won't work. If anyoneís looking for your ship, Yashuvhu gets so few visitors and has so little traffic weíre going to stick out like a sore thumb, regardless." Appraising him quietly and carefully keeping her tone neutral, she said, "You donít really think an old Corellian YT-1300, if theyíve been notified about it, will be something theyíd overlook?"

"I figured weíd land at least using a few smokescreens, aliases. Theyíll have to work at figuring out who we are." Han bowed low and dropped his voice. "It wouldnít be sitting on the end of their noses on a piece of flimsy. I donít play sitting duck."

"Luke needs to be who he is, Luke Skywalker, Jedi, asking for their assistance."

The Corellian rolled his eyes toward the dilated hyperspace view. "Why doesnít he say heís some other Jedi?"

"I would if I could," Luke interjected, knowing that no matter how much Han grumbled that he wouldnít change his mind this far in the game. Based on logic the round was going to Leia, but he nodded sympathetically anyway for his benefit. "Iím sorry Han. I know itís a big risk weíre asking you to take."

"Yeah. It is." Gesturing to Leiaís flowing senatorial robes and looking none to pleased with their plan, Han asked, "Are you going to turn our jaunt into a politically tinged event in the name of diplomacy, too?"

She shook her head. "This would be called the extent of my formal wear since the rest was blasted into confetti on Elrood. Luke will do all the talking for us." Her smile became beguiling. "Unless of course, you want to get dressed up and play the diplomat, here on unofficial business for the New Republic?"

"A thousand noís."

"If I paid you more than you could imagine?"

"A trillion noís," he amended, "since I know you donít have that much. If you did it might be another story."

"Since when am I doing all the talking?" Luke wondered urgently. Heíd been counting on his sisterís diplomatic skills when they arrived. And like Han, heíd noted Leiaís traditional style of dress hours ago and assumed the same.

Feigning innocence, though not convincingly, Leia turned and widened her eyes. "Did I forget to mention that?"

"Yes you did."

"Iím sorry. It must have slipped my mind. Hereís your heads-up. Youíll be doing all the talking when we get there."

"But this isnít my area of expertise!"

Without blinking, Leia answered. "Iím not allowed to speak in public or to any male without permission. Iím not sure Iíd even be permitted to speak to the Tas."

"Are you serious?"

Leia gulped another noodle and blotted the corner of her mouth. "Without prior clearance from their embassy on Coruscant Iím forbidden from serving in any official capacity. So unless you want to make a run to the Core, itís up to you."

"Ohhhh," Han chirruped with immediate understanding, advancing toward her with one greedy eye on her dinner. "This is one of those worlds. Whatís that?"

"Yes, those worl- Hey! Hey! Hey! Get your grubby, grease-stained fingers out of my dinner."

"You canít possibly eat all that by yourself," he protested with a full mouth. "And I thought youíd gotten over your dirty hand issues. Huh. Huh. This should certainly be very interesting."

"I thought youíd think so and get a utensil! Itís FOOD."

"Are you gonna launch a sort of feminist political platform the minute we land. This should be very enlightening. Leia on her best behavior and quiet. I donít think Iíve ever seen that. Luke have you ever seen that?"

Leia puffed up her cheeks and exhaled with exasperation. "I canít imagine why I didnít want to mention this until the very last second. I canít, for the life of me ... And come to think of it, I donít think Iíve ever seen you on your best behavior."

Han gestured to himself, gasping as though mortally insulted. "What do you think this is?"

"Sometimes Iím not sure. Sometimes Iím afraid to overanalyze anything you do."

Luke coughed loudly. "Well, if thatís the case maybe we could get back to my being the group orator. Whatever pertinent information you have that I should know beforehand?"

His sister finally gave him her full attention, regarding him warmly and passing the bowl of noodles to Hanís outstretched hand. "Luke, youíll do beautifully. Iím going to be with you for the duration and youíll have my counsel available to you whenever you need it. It will simply be in a diminished capacity when we're not alone."

"How strict will it be?"

Leiaís expression grew contrite. "Iím not clear on the specifics. Sarin mentioned a few issues to me the morning we left, though I donít think theyíre relevant. I read up on what I could when I ran my searches. Their current form of government is an offshoot of a traditional monarchy, and what I politely refer to as a rural paradox: A civilized, self-sufficient society, modernized as much as it can be out here, but completely backwards when it comes to gender equality." Narrowing her eyes and frowning, she continued. "To be honest, Iíd love to barge off this ship and give them a lesson on how archaic their division of the sexes is, but I know better. They never played by Coruscant rules; they werenít involved in the politics there even when the Old Republic stood. Theyíre isolationists, which means this might be tricky. Itíll be easy to step on their toes without intending to and we need to demonstrate our respect. Anyway, youíll able to feel your way as you go. Iím the one who gets to endure the wide range of annoying banalities and quaint traditions."

She looked as though she wanted to throw herself in an escape pod and eject. Luke tried to reassure her. "Iím sure it wonít be that bad."

"Weíll find out in about half an hour," Han said, tipping his chin toward his chair and offering the secondhand meal. "You hungry? Iíll trade you."
* * * * *

No blockade-runners were dawdling when they dropped out of hyperspace. No local ships picketed them in the troposphere. The voice over the Yashuvhu Portmasterís Authority channel was friendly and polite. The view as they approached the capital, Eligel Proper, revealed a medium-sized city by outer world standards, mapped in concentric grids, circle upon circle, broken by high towers and warrens of kaleidoscopic gardens. Yashuvhuís capital had only one dry dock, which was essentially a fenced-in meadow and was large enough to fit maybe a dozen ships. Only one other ship besides the Falcon was making use of it.

Han, as the shipís captain and owner, was checked through customs first, expediently. They placed Leia in the holding area adjacent to the main office. Luke was processed next, identifying himself by name, adding the title ĎJedi Knightí, and explaining that he was here to do Ďunofficialí research for the New Republic (Leia had suggested he refer to all his upcoming duties as unofficial, since the planetís records on foreign diplomacy were virtually nonexistent). In accordance with the local laws, he also declared that Leia was his sister, and that she was traveling with him.

For ten minutes the portmaster searched through his vid-console, and when he finally looked up at him, all he said was, "Iím sorry. The planet Jedi Knight is not listed nor one Iíve ever heard of."

The situation disintegrated from there.

Leia had explained to Luke that he might have to go along with a few cultural traditions he wasnít necessarily in favor of, but not to worry, to relax, and do whatever he thought was necessary. He knew that. He knew their entire excursion to Yashuvhu might depend on it. It was simply difficult to accept.

"No, sheís not mine. I donít own her."

The sallow faced young man in the somber uniform continued giving him the same vapid stare heíd been giving him since theyíd entered the customs office. "But sheís your kin."

"Yes, sheís my sister."

"Then she has to be registered as your property or that other manís property and you said heís not her legal mate."

He had thought, erroneously, that merely declaring her would be enough. Luke had never stomached the concept of a sentient being owned, for both moral reasons and due to his upbringing. Slavery had been legal on Tatooine before he was born. His Aunt and Uncle had staunchly been opposed to it, railed against it when he was growing up. Though he knew it wasnít the same here, the whole business of Ďregistering a person as propertyí was unsavory, repulsive even. Worse was the tiny sign beside the console: Does your female have an updated microchip. 15% off if a first time visitor. Luke, panicked, moved his body in front of the sign and glanced toward the holding area, fearing that if Leia saw it the customís clerk might wind up on the floor in an Echani-style chokehold. "Why canít you register her all by herself?"

"I just explained it to you."

Luke tried the implacably obstinate approach. "No, you didnít."

"Yes, I most expressly did."

"No, you didnít."

"Sir. As Iíve explained, she must be registered under her mate or closest male family member. Unless, unless ..." The clerk struck the side of his head as if in sudden understanding. "Oh, oh, oh? Unless sheís one of those scientists we get from time to time? Is that what youíre trying to say? Is she a scientist? Or a teacher? If she has a permissive visa from Coruscant ... "

Luke ground his teeth together. "No, she doesnít have a visa from Coruscant."

"Well, then, we seem to have a problem here."

"Just register her by herself."

Once again, the mental nudge prompted the man to turn to his console screen. Once again, the clerk stared blankly at the screen for ten seconds. The nudges simply didnít work if there was no viable option onscreen for the addle-brained clerk. He said, plaintively now, under duress, for indeed Lukeís mental persuasiveness left him wanting to please, "She canít be registered by herself without the proper visas. I canít do it. Weíll register her as your female. Prince Luke Skywalker-"

What in the world ... "Not Prince. Iím not a prince."

"But you gave her name as Princess Leia Organa?"

"That is her name."

"I donít follow? If she is your sister how are you not a prince? Oh ... " The clerk flushed and gave him a quick nod. "Oh Sir, if you are a king, please forgive me for presuming ... "

"No! No, Iím -- oh! Wait!" Hadnít a similar ploy had worked for Threepio on Endor? There was no reason it might not work again, no matter how ridiculous it was. Luke leaned over and lowered his voice. "I am a king. A very important king. Where I come from, we do not register females as property. I do not want her registered as my property. Understood?"

The man became even more distraught. "Your Majesty? Oh, oh ... Wait here for one moment, if the Tas was expecting you and no one told me --" The fit of babbling echoed down the passageway.

Suddenly uncertain about what his spur-of-the-moment fib was going to accomplish, Luke tore the 15% off sign from the console and dropped it into the nearest receptacle. Then he glanced outside at his Han and threw his hands in the air uselessly. Han mimicked him, mouthed, Ďbetter you than me,í patted his sidearm, and pointed in the direction the clerk had vanished. He had to pinch himself. Leia probably would have had no qualms about registering him as her property. He conjectured that, and then felt a trickle of distress at his own apparent ineptness. If he was so sure she would why was he trying so hard not to.

Leia always told him his equitable senses of compassion and justice were wonderful traits when they didnít land him in a heap of trouble.

The clerk returned before Luke had time to worry further, bustling and simpering under his breath. "Oh no! Iím so sorry, Your Majesty. I still cannot permit her to enter the city until sheís registered. It is unacceptable. We have strict regulations about this, you see, and there are no exceptions save the proper visas and documentation from our embassy on Coruscant."

I give up. Standing in the customs office all day long was losing its appeal. "Okay, look then," he groaned. "Put her under my name. But itís just Luke Skywalker. Iím not a king."

"The information you provided is incorrect?"

"Itís not incorrect. Itís ... itís ... " Luke gave him a very firm mental nudge. "Itís a very long story and you donít have time for it, trust me."

Finally, there was a prod his meager brain could interpret. "Okay. Luke Skywalker, persons listed as property, one female, Princess Leia Organa."

Property? Luke winced inside, hoping this was merely a draconian formality that would mean nothing once they entered the city. "Fine."

"And you hereby swear to uphold Yashuvhi law, and assume responsibility for any wrongdoings any persons listed as your property might perpetrate while in the city."

Because sheíll run amok and start looting the minute weíre downtown. "Do you follow the Universal Charter of Code and Conduct?"

"The UCCC? Oh, yes let me check." He was off and flipping through a binder loaded with flimsiplast on the desk behind him.

The Universal Charter of Code and Conduct, or UCCC as it was widely known, was a blanket term for the general laws most worlds had in common. It was a travelerís safety net. Nearly every human world followed it to varying degrees, and for the most part it meant that crimes such as murder or theft were crimes, that any individual who perpetrated such acts would be charged accordingly. Still, on different worlds there grey areas, and penal systems didnít tend to mirror each other. According to the UCCC, one could be safely assured that Ďjaywalkingí for instance, wouldnít net them a yearís imprisonment, or that public drunkenness didnít entail a mandatory death sentence. There were places like that, depending on the culture. One could never be too careful.

"Oh, of course. It says here that we are under the scope of its requirements. I should know that straightaway," he mumbled, apologetically now. "We donít get many visitors."

It was a strain to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "Really?"

"No, no we donít. Now. Is she already tagged with an ownership microchip?"

* * * * *

Shortly after the ordeal in the portmasterís office, a mid-size transport arrived and settled beyond the gates at the end of the dock. A parade of natives began disembarking.

"That looks like a receiving party?" Leia judged, rubbing at her smarting cheek. A very formal one, too. If she didnít know better, she might have said the Alderaanian Council of Elders was marching toward them in full regalia. She drew Hanís bulky padded coat tighter against the gelid air, wishing she hadnít pinned her hair up. The tips of her exposed ears were freezing. Furthermore, an ominous vermilion cloud was rapidly approaching from the South, and as it neared, she was beginning to see that the cloud was crawling, made up tiny things -- tiny fluttering winged things. For now there was plenty of time to rush back inside and escape, but she was keeping a wary watch.

"Yes, it does," Han agreed, sneezing for what had to be the tenth time since theyíd disembarked. "They donít look like they start chanting at sunrise or something? Hey ... youíre gonna rub that off if you keep touching it."

The indignity of being female on Yashuvhu was beginning to settle over her like a hangmanís noose. Leia grimaced. "They didnít stamp the name of your nearest relative on your face."

"Green is a good color for you," Han told her. "And it brings out your eyes --"

"Please shut up before I hurt you."

"Hey. Iím just trying to be nice. When did that become a crime?"

"If you assault him Iím responsible, remember," Luke contributed, not altogether helpfully. "And be grateful I got you around the microchip."

Leia crossed her arms and huffed so forcefully her breath fogged beyond the tip of her nose. They werenít sticking one of those things in her neck while she had anything to say about it. Dissolvable and biodegradable her foot. She pointed toward the group. "I thought you said you called for ground transport. If thatís it, it really looks like some sort of official receiving party."

Luke stared. "Yes, it does." His ears and cheeks reddened but it might have been the cold. "Oh, dear," he muttered. "Oops."

"Oops?" She and Han echoed together.

"I think ... maybe when he went to the back ... Ah ... Iím coming to the very likely conclusion that the clerk may have misinterpreted me on a few things."

"Misinterpreted you? He spoke perfect Basic. Exactly how could he have misinterpreted you?"

"Itís partially my fault," he groaned. "But he was the nearest to an organic robo-hack Iíve ever met."

"You mean the inbreeding," Han commented dryly, pausing to sneeze again. "Thatís what happens in places like this."

The small party was suddenly surrounding them, holding out their hands in a universal gesture of peace and welcome, speaking rapidly in their native tongue. Leia folded her hands together at her waist, wary of breaking protocol and wanting to soak in as many details as she could. The men wore grey, loose slitted robes, draped over more traditional, Core-style clothing. Each was embroidered with matching coppery thread. They were either, Leia guessed, deeply religious or deeply political -Ė or a mix of both. Three had the same golden eyes as Sarin.

At first, Luke answered their queries with slow broken phrasing. The leader starting shaking his fists and head excitedly, and her brother began giving curt replies and following the steady stream of the language with no apparent difficulty. Leia presumed some sort of dialect change had taken place.

A man who appeared to be the youngest of the group turned Han. "We are greatly honored," he said, in surprisingly unaccented Basic. "We would have been here sooner to greet you if we had known you were coming." Almost as an afterthought, he flicked his fingers in her direction and added, "Permission to speak freely granted, Your Highness."

Permission Granted? Old training and gritted teeth kept her together. It was her moral imperative to play along, and this wouldnít be the first time in her life. She curtsied as gracefully as she could manage without dragging Hanís greatcoat along the ground. "Thank you."

She and Han were abruptly forgotten. "We are so seldom graced with such honors, Your Majesty."

"Thereís been a bit of a misunderstanding," Luke hastened. "Perhaps I might explain --"

The man waved toward the darkening skies. "Please, please. Make haste. Thereís a seedstorm on the horizon. We should get you all to your guest residences before it arrives."

"Your Majesty?" Han coughed beside her under his breath, then pinched the bridge of his nose. "A seedstorm. Joy, oh joys. I think I hate it here already. Do you have any idea whatís going on? I have no idea whatís going on."

Leia squeezed his elbow sympathetically and guided him toward to the waiting transport. "Relax," she whispered. "Weíll be fine."

Han looked increasingly worried and pale beneath his tan. "Sure we will. But Iím not in the mood to die today."

Alarm tensed her muscles. She peered back over her shoulder at the portmasterís office. "Whatís wrong?"

Han lifted his chin. "That thing theyíre leading us to is prehistoric."

Glancing ahead, she saw that their transport was the grandfather of the modern repulsor craft or sled. Not modern, but certainly not that old. "Havenít you ever ridden in an overland craft with propellers?"

Slack-jawed, Han shook his head. "They have a glitch. They were outlawed on Corellia a decade ago because of a glitch with the propellers. That model. That make. I remember. Over a third of them had problems. I heard they sold them on the black market to a world that didnít know better."

Leia slowed her steps and took a deep breath. "Years ago though, right? They must have fixed them. If this was where they wound up Iím sure they caught on to the glitch."

"Iím not getting in it unless I check it out."

"And how do you plan to do that?"

"How about I say, ĎNice antique youíve got here. Can I see the engine please and make sure Iím not going to wind up splattered?"

"Can you find a subtle way to do it?" she asked worriedly. She didnít want to question their safety standards if she could avoid it.

"Iíll try."

Before boarding Han Ďdroppedí his comlink in such a way that it scattered to the rear of the transport. When he stooped to retrieve it, he discovered that his boot needed to be unfastened and refastened, and he accomplished that while his face was angled toward the rotator propellers. When he stood he dipped his chin in discreet nod, rapping his knuckles once on the exterior cladding Ė- either for luck or to make sure it wouldnít crumple beneath his fist. Then he followed the crowd on board the transport.

The entire discussion en route was a jumble of strung together vowels and consonants broken by guttural exclamations. Though her ears strained in vain to make out a familiar word, they caught none save her brotherís name and a form of address that perplexed her. Sensing the vibrant ring of internal awkwardness spreading in all directions, she tried without much success to suppress the perpetual tilt affecting one corner of her mouth. Han peered through the transport view-screens trying to memorize the route from the landing field.

They were delivered to a guesthouse on the edge of the Tasí property, and promptly left to unwind with assurances that theyíd be looked after shortly. They declined an offer of servants.

The twitch plaguing the corner of her mouth erupted into a full-blown smile of amusement the minute they were alone again.

Tas Luke, theyíd said repeatedly.

"They think youíre a king," she sniffed amiably. "How in the world did you manage this?"

Luke stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I tried and tried to convince them I wasnít. I swear. They wouldnít hear of any of it. As far as I could make out, Yashuvhu hasnít had royal visitors in over a decade -- since the Emperor -- so this, me, is rather exciting for them."

"Er ... so from what fairytale did this misunderstanding spring from?" Han called, withdrawing a handheld scanner from his inside jacket pocket and beginning to sweep.

"Well." Luke scratched at his temple and smoothed back a lock of hair. "Their logic is very simple actually, and sort of difficult to argue with." He turned to address Leia specifically. "Because you, by birthright, are nobility, by birthright Iím also nobility. In addition, because youíre female by Yashuvhi law I must have a title higher than you. So if youíre a princess them Iím a ..."

"King?" Han completed. "And it doesnít matter that if pressed to name the five Ruling Houses of Alderaan you would only know one?"

"Apparently not. It also occurred to me that we had nowhere to stay anyway. And I donít know what you two have for credits but I donít have much."

The corners of her mouth remained upturned against her will. It was perversely comical. It had never occurred to her, even after all these years of diplomatic events and government receptions, Alliance benefits, that people might find her title confusing if they didnít know more of their complicated background. It had never occurred to her that Luke would accidentally stumble into regal shoes as a result, that it would be so ennobling for him. What did occur to her, after watching him bamboozle his way through his apologies and embarrassing their hosts, was that instruction on how to act as an intergalactic dignitary might come in handy for the future.

They waited until Han had completed sweeping the sloping walls. The scanner didnít bleep or ping in alarm; nothing indicated hidden listening devices. "I do believe," he announced, "That unless they have state of the art technology buried in the walls that can evade New Republic scanners - and Iím gonna go out on a limb and say they donít after the ride here - weíre the sort of guests who can speak freely and leave at their leisure."

"As opposed to what other kind?" Leia asked, winking, knowing full well what he meant.

"The kind that canít," Han winked back. "The kind I donít want to be. Should I say it first? Those datapads are sounding familiar again. And Iím the skeptic."

Luke studied the skylighted geodesic dome over his head and took his time responding. "This is a random coincidence. Iím here as me, not Niras. Theyíre calling me a king because my sister is a Princess. If Iíd come here six months ago weíd be in the same position."

"We had no reason to be here six months ago," Han replied dubiously, cracking open the visitorís guide. "They might not be throwing jewels at you but itís eerie. I donít like it."

It was eerie. Leia suppressed the tired voice at the back of her mind that agreed with him and shot him a stern reminder to be more judicious. Then she began inspecting the various placards stationed just inside the entrance, familiarizing herself with the basic household devices. Yashuvhi script topped each placard; helpfully translated beneath into aurabesh was the function of each correlating button. Beneath the glyphs and written communication, in case no common language was found, were rebus pictorials, identifying controls for the holo-unit, food, and security.

Their accommodations were very uniquely Yashuvhi. Opulent was the first word that came to mind, though they werenít nearly as plush and expensive as Xizorís palace had been. Two vaulted corridors branched off the airy communal living space and open kitchen. The entablatures between the architrave and cornices in the main room bore a richly ornamented frieze, made up of glyphs representing sunrise and sunset. Curvilinear patterns dominated every facet of dťcor, every architectural design, from the most massive structures, such as the overhead skylights that stretched at least twice her height, oval in shape, to the diminutive drawer handles.

Without edges.

It wasnít merely the name of the world. It was a philosophy. It was an architectural style. A novitiate to anthropology would not have missed the religious undertones either.

Across the room, Han began muttering excitedly to himself. "Oh, look here! Luke, youíre not going to believe this."

"Believe what?"

"They have a museum here! You know that ship that crashed all those years ago? The one you told me about, Leia? Itís intact! Itís still here ..."

"What ship?" Luke asked.

"The one the Jedi crashed in. A thousand year old hyperdrive system," Han marveled, taking a little hop-step and flinging himself onto the sumptuous family-sized lounge. "A thousand years old, un-tampered with, un-updated, un-altered. You can hardly find blueprints for that style of fusion generator anymore. Itís a relic! Itís an antique! We donít even know what materials they were using for the reactor cores back then ... It was all ancient beacons and jump gates ..."

Her mechanically inclined siblingís curiosity increased ten-fold. He pursed his lips with interest. "Oh."

Han drawled on. "It was the Ďeraí of the recoilless fusion generator."

"They werenít necessarily recoilless," Luke corrected. "The electro-magnetic energy used for the thrust wasnít as powerful. It took longer to reach .5, probably near a timepart."

"Oh, donít tell me you subscribe to that school of thought," Han guffawed. "Youíre a pilot, you should know better. I say whatever antimatter they favored absorbed the thrust and softened the transition." Han widened his eyes and lowered his voice for effect. "It got lost in the technological shuffle. If we could just find a sample now, weíve got the capabilities to recreate it ... why, weíd be richer than --"

"Both of you," she interrupted. "Before this goes on for hours?"

Han shrugged. "She doesnít want me to say it. She knows Iíll wind up saying it again."

"Say what?" Luke grinned mischievously.

Leia groaned knowing exactly what was coming next. All of their discussions wound up the same way.

As if she didnít already know, as if she hadnít been taught the same historical facts in grade school, he tapped into old Corellian bragging rights: "If it wasnít for us there never would have been a Republic in a first place, because there never would have been any interstellar exploration and all of us would be sitting at home in our own star systems twiddling our thumbs and wondering what was out there."

Luke delivered his usual groan. "Or, if theyíre right, and all human stock evolved on Corellia, weíd all still be sitting there today anyway so it wouldnít make a difference."

"It would be a lot more crowded."

Privately Leia was pleased to see her brother join in and relax. They were funny that way. Bonding between the two men was primarily fomented over hyperdrive theories and teasing her. As much as she wouldnít have admitted it then and there, being around Han when he was in one of his not-so-serious moods was ultimately good for everyoneís mental health. She opted to leave the caballing pair and explore.

The hallways gently split at either end, curved to prevent sharp turns. Each hall ended with a pair of bedrooms, which were, like the main room, geodesic domes of sorts, cornerless, though not as uniformly circular. The furniture was the same, without edges, done in beautifully handcrafted softwoods. The beds and bathtubs were round.

The first wing was decorated in dark, depressing, colors, browns and autumnal tones, leading her to guess that the opposing suites would reflect an entirely contrasting atmosphere. Her expectations were proved correct. The second wing was aglow in lighter, more feminine hues, golds and oranges. She ventured into one of the freshers and startled herself, having temporarily forgotten about the design on her cheek. After a momentís inspection, she decided it wasnít too terrible. It was the size of one finger, curving from the end of her brow around her ocular socket. The elaborate script was Lukeís name and relation to her, but she only knew that because sheíd been told so at the customs office. Ignorance mollified her to a degree; had she been able to read it, it would have been more disturbing. She wet her finger and rubbed it over a corner but it didnít smudge. The agent had told her it would last a week.

Though Kadannís writings had said that Niras would return home, Leia found herself wandering through the house with a distinct sense of dťja-vu, as though it were she, and not Luke who Kadann claimed belonged here. It occurred to her that it might be a twin thing; maybe this world was familiar to Luke and she was tapping into it.

Then again, she assured herself, it might not be Yashuvhu. Being a guest at a royal palace, even after all these years, still had a memorable air about it. Sheíd been used to traveling this way growing up, visiting her fatherís friends, their relatives -- so much so in fact, it had been years before she grasped the meaning of Ďhigh styleí. In all fairness, her fatherís travels were more often then not educational, though at a young age sheíd been toted along on more official trips as well, much to her auntsí chagrin. His Ďgood luck charmí, heíd called her. Her aunts thought otherwise.

A six year old has no business being exposed to the vagaries of life, her Aunt Celly had lectured her brother, in the high pitched whiny voice one could hear from any corner of the house.

That conversation had taken place hours after sheíd announced to her Aunt Tia that when she grew up, she wanted to be one of the girls who wore the blue gowns during Capital Season in the Tapani Sector. It had been all about the dresses, made of shimmering spun lace and synthetic wildflowers. Naturally, at six, sheíd been enamoured with them. It had taken her ten years to figure out why her aunt was so upset, that the ĎWomen in Blueí as they were called, were actually elite courtesans from neighboring Procopia.

Han loved the story dearly.

In retrospect it was a habit her father had begun soon after her adopted mother, his wife, had died. Heíd undoubtedly been lonely. Maybe having a child to entertain had provided a needed distraction. Her aunts had put an end to it then, and her father had quickly been so caught up in his own affairs it wasnít until she was near her teens, trying so hard to be like him, to impress him, that heíd stopped and taken notice of her again. Then sheíd been more his protťgťť than a daughter. She was thinking about that particular trip, and Bail Prestor Organa, fiddling with the atmospheric controls, when Han snuck up behind her, enveloping her in something soft and warm.

"There you are," he proclaimed triumphantly, as if heíd been searching and searching for her. (In fact, not two minutes ago Leia had heard him trying to sucker Luke back into his electro-magnetic energy versus the recoilless fusion generator debate).

Immediately she picked up on the change in his tone. "You sound remarkably recovered for someone who thought they were going to lock us up when we landed and was afraid to fly with them."

"I did not," he protested. "Besides, they never asked for my weapon. That always makes me feel right at home."

Leia doubted that was the extent of it. "And?"

"And ... Iím going to throw up a few security devices outside just in case. I have no idea what sort of security features they have going on; in addition, we have no idea what other guests they might be keeping. After that, Iíll feel like Iíve got this under control."

"Luke will know if anythingís odd is afoot, too," she reassured him.

"You know before I met you they used to call me a one-man sensor suite."

"You still are," she reassured him, glancing down at herself. His arms were swathed in a downy roan-colored shawl. Like the robes the receiving party had worn, it was elegantly embroidered with black and gold. "Where did you get this?"

"Someone must have noticed we donít have much in the way of luggage. They just dropped off a few bags of gifts."

"Itís beautiful."

"So are you." Han kissed her eye and walked her toward the window. Each wing had its own private double tinted balcony; an indoor section, shielded from inclement weather and winds by thick glass, and an outdoor section protected by a meandering balustrade that appeared more ornamental than functional.

She told him about her feeling that Yashuvhu was somehow familiar. Han agreed it was likely that her years of traveling were melded together, but he thought she should check to see if her brother was picking up the same vibes. And he told her the guide was disturbing.

He said. "They have a crazy sort of open marriage market, and by market, I mean market, with credits and bids."

Leia wrinkled her nose. "Sarin alluded to it. I know that women are considered transferable property. Father to son. Son to husband. Husband to sons. Theyíre discouraged from working and forbidden from governing."

The winds howled bitterly and the encroaching seedstorm was still a violet darkened even on the horizon. There was something asthenic about being trapped in doors during inclement weather, almost lazy.

Yesterday sheíd settled for Han promising that nothing would be said unless her brother asked him directly. It was the best heíd been willing to give and sheíd taken it, knowing he wouldnít change his mind and that if their situations were reversed, and heíd been asking her to lie to Luke, she would have refused to do it. Her own hypocrisy had been apparent to her before sheíd even left the Falcon, though she hadnít been willing to admit it. There remained a few other items of interest sheíd yet to share with her brother. They werenít secrets, but they tapped too deeply into her life of late, too deeply into the insecurities sheíd been facing on Baskarn.

But she told Han. "Before the Jedi here were murdered, there were special roles designated for women who were Force sensitive here. They were -- Sarin said they were selected to carry children for the Jedi, and that they were deeply honored by the people."

Han made a disgruntled sound under his breath. "They gave up their children?"

She nodded. "Many of them did. He said not all, but I got the impression most did."

Consciously or unconsciously his arms tensed around her. "You know, between the marriage markets and their old traditions, Iím starting to think maybe this wasnít the best world for you to make your debut as the sister of a Jedi."

Images of Han fighting off would-be-suitors darted through her mind. "Thatís silly."

"Is it? You and your brother both represent losses and tragedies in their past. People donít always like that. Sometimes itís hard to predict how theyíll react."

Quietly, Leia found herself nodding in agreement. "I hadnít thought of it that way, but youíre right. As for the rest ... currently itís Luke theyíre eager to fawn over, not me. Hopefully theyíll be equally eager to help him."

"Aha. That reminds me. We have an invitation to a welcome dinner at the residence of The Tas Mosíir."

To Chapter Fifteen | To Chapter Seventeen

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