Renewal: Chapter Seventeen Rated PG
Ivy

The name ‘Luke Skywalker’ was not to be found in the headlines.

Luke was lounging in their common area, flipping different Holonet channels and searching for it. It was possible to watch recorded Senate proceedings on Coruscant and he did for a time, only to find the issue of that particular day had been applications of interplanetary tax shelters. He wasn’t sure what sort of receiver Yashuvhu had set up, but it was quite clear they were not so cut off from the rest of the universe as he’d initially thought. That or they had secondary feeds pumping programs for them from all over the galaxy. They also received the channels from any world that shared its feed with the galactic receivers. Randomized switching revealed they had a large number of local programs, though at first glance they appeared more for educational purpose than entertainment.

There was no mention of the Razion’s Edge or the death of the men on Baskarn, or of his escape. The omission of Baskarn didn’t surprise him, as the planet was unknown to all but the highest New Republic echelons and those who served there. Beyond that, Leia’s judgments were astute. None of the recent events were being made public. They didn’t want the galaxy to know a Rebellion hero had murdered their own. Maybe the legend meant more to them than the truth. He wondered how, in light of that, they were handling news of his parentage.

He’d wondered in the past about how different it would be when he was known as Vader’s son. That was before he’d done anything so unflinchingly worthy of his father’s legacy.

The weak imitation Bellibringi caf he was sipping turned terribly bitter on his tongue. Here he was, free on an Outer Rim world, when many in High Command were no doubt clamoring for a trial and the death sentence. He barely knew the names of his victims, and though he might have asked Han, he’d been unable to bring himself to do it.

You’re here to find answers, he instructed himself silently. Then you can decide what to do. Or, as his aunt used to say, you can’t make water while the suns shine. The moisture vaporators did ninety percent of their work at night. Beru said that when patience was in order, and when her exasperation with him or Owen peaked, she would say, everyone complains about the heat but no one sees fit to do anything about it. It had not been her habit to entertain futile whining or grumbling from either of the men whom she called family.

Luke returned to a Coruscanti channel and was still scanning headlines when Leia swished into the common room, wearing one of the new lightweight dresses that had been delivered a few hours ago. The folds of the grey gown draped about her like a second skin, and though it had long sleeves her shoulders were bare. It was made of native wool, called kuba, and so finely spun it could have been mistaken for nova-silk, but to the touch it was downy and warmed when it came into contact with body heat. (Luke knew this because he, too, had chosen native garb for the evening.) She’d fashioned her hair in a quaint Alderaani style, braids within loops of braids knotted at the nape of her neck.

He watched as Leia admired herself in the foyer mirror, lifting and arranging her new shawl, finally deciding to wrap it twice around her shoulders. The tattoo sparkled beneath the foyer lights. The portmaster had explained that women generally wore their father’s name on their right, husband’s on the left -- though if a girl’s father had passed on when she was ‘adorned’ they deferred to her next closest male relative. It was whoever presented her at the ritual ceremony. Of course, they hadn’t had a ceremony -- unless Leia’s icy subjugation to the ‘stamping police’ counted.

"Han’s not back yet?" she paused to inquire.

"No," he replied. "Give him a few more minutes."

As had been readily apparent, the pre-winter pollen was apparently extremely potent and affected at least half of all visitors or, in their case, one-third of their party. High Southern winds and a tiny shrub called, appropriately, ‘devil weed’ caused the seedstorms. Han had made a return trip the Falcon to pick up what he called his ‘wonder cure.’

The scrolling scenes on Coruscant Live were familiar -- the Embassy quarter he recognized a moment later. A mob of reporters was jostling for position before the whitewashed stone columns. Seconds later, as the holo-takers panned back, he realized it was the Alderaanian Embassy. He immediately tabbed the controller to enlarge the screen and upped the volume. "Leia, look."

"Oh."

Luke recognized the tall Alderaanian tycoon Taskeen immediately. The master of trade assumed center stage, informing the journalists his statements would be brief, and that he would not be taking questions afterwards. He went on to say that his donation toward the Refugee Fund would be held in trust until the next fiscal quarter. At that point, he stated that even if the New Republic could not match it, the fifty million would be released from the trust. Yail concluded the announcement by saying he and Councilor Organa would work out the finite details upon her return from assignment, and that they would have more information at that time.

The amount left Luke vaguely shocked. "Fifty million credits ... This must make you happy," he commented, glancing at her with every expectation that he would see her smiling.

She wasn’t. Instead, her expression was slightly aghast and troubled. "It does -- but I didn’t think he’d be back for Ruuria."

Not sure what she meant by that, he imagined that being on Yashuvhu was frustrating, that being so far from her work and the stress of abandoning her responsibilities was weighing heavily on her. "We’ll get you back to Coruscant soon, don’t worry. And I owe you a very belated congratulations. Why didn’t you tell me on Baskarn?"

Her shoulders hunched and fell, but her eyes didn’t leave the view-vid. "It must have slipped my mind -- what with crashing our shuttle and all, everything ... else."

The mighty tycoon was being led away to a waiting transport, pausing to speak to a holoshill who inquired about a mining venture. Though he was absolutely positive this was an item he must have asked about on their voyage out from Coruscant, he couldn’t remember her reply. Just as the foyer door sounded, he said, "Well, congratulations again."

Under her breath, Leia hissed, "Luke, turn it off."

"Why-"

"Just do it!"

Puzzled, Luke hit the switch just as Han entered, closing the collar of his shirt, sporting a jacket and military style dress pants and Blood Stripes. The decision to wear the native style robes and trousers had not been unanimous, though his sister had pushed for it. The Corellian’s expression was gleeful. "Will this do?"

"There you are!" Leia burst out, hurrying over to him and giving him a feathery kiss on the cheek. "Yes, you’ll do."

Han took a deep breath in through his nose and pressed two fingers against his sinuses. "I can breathe again."

Too soon they arrived at the Royal Palace. Anxiousness descended on Luke lightly, like a swarm of nafens buzzing in the back of his mind. Keeping his hands carefully linked together before him, he entered trying not to gape.

The sloped walls of the central hall towered above him sky-like. Marbled opaque stone, pristine, almost virginal, spun like white sheets and glistening cirrus clouds, arched to a high center peak through which the night was visible. If someone had told him the walls were made of ice he would have believed them, and was surprised there was no chill when he purposely grazed the back of his hand along the stone. Embedded lights blazed like fire opals from within stone, showering down upon them in a dusty pink. In contrast, the floors were blacked over as though to compensate for the overbearing brilliance above. Evenly arranged throughout were several round tables with low stools. There was no other furniture.

The hall was flush with dozens of dignitaries and nimiety, and the scent of wine was heavy in the air, reaching his nose before the scent of foods or perfume. Gold eyes flashed curiously toward their small party. Luke had thought, in remembering Sarin, that the eye-color might have been a rare trait but gold was seemingly as common here as his sky blue orbs, possessing its own rainbow of shades and variations.

The Tas himself marched forward to greet them, flanked by his ‘Receiving party,’ or advisors. He was a middle-aged man, long-limbed and faced, with a full beard the color of nightwine. His caftan was coppery-brown and brushed the floors when he moved. Luke performed a half bow, feeling fairly competent and self-assured after Leia’s tutelage, then found his double-clasped hand being pumped forcefully up and down. He managed to make the presentations of his ‘party’ in Yashuvhi, and then the Tas Mos’ir, as he presented himself, complimented him on his command of a language no one in the Core would deign to study, and for speaking the arcane dialect of the heliocentric sects.

Sun worshippers, Luke thought, as his past and present slid so that they were superimposed over one another, and an old riddle was solved. He noticed that the banquet hall was divided; one side for men, one side for women and the evening’s first awkward moment occurred after the introductions were complete.

Han watched unhappily as an usher took Leia’s elbow and guided her off. Then he announced, "I’m going to go sit with her," resolutely, in a tone that said if anyone argued he was going to make a big, stinking, deal out of this.

"With the women?" The Tas inquired, amused, saying women the same way one might say ‘children.’

"Yes, with the women," Han clarified, dragging Luke off to the side, and hissing loud enough to be overheard. "You go find out what you need to know and play the obedient monarch or favorite son, whatever. I don’t have to. I’m not a king."

Across the room, he could see Leia watching the situation with rising alarm. "Look, Han ..." he began.

But Han waved him off, approach the table, drew out the chair next to Leia and seated himself with a cultivated, gentrified ease most star-rovers did not possess. Her Highness looked touched and mortified by the gesture all at once. Luke heard her order him back but the Corellian picked up his wineglass and grinned, acting his usual ataractic self. "No. You sit here. I sit here. I sit there and you come with me. Understood? Either that or we go back to my ship."

She’s going to kill him...

"That’s most unfortunate," The Tas Mos’ir commented as the scene finished unfolding.

With one more lingering glance at his disobedient friend, and fighting the impulse to do the same lest his sister deem him less a man for kowtowing to tradition, Luke shrugged noncommittally. This was what being diplomatic was all about, right? If Han insisted on sitting with Leia, unfortunate was not the first word that came to mind. Hotheaded, brash, maybe even antagonistic in the face of the Tas’ hospitality, but that was Han and Han wouldn’t be Han if he didn’t find a way to offend someone in the process of sticking to whatever code of ethics it was he followed. Or maybe he was just intent on sticking with the Princess tonight.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as if the pirate’s actions were contagious or starting any sort of trend amongst the other husbands and men folk. They all gawked momentarily, long enough to see that it wasn’t one of those fuzzy illusions the corner’s of one’s sight so often created, and then moved on to whatever items of discussion they’d been immersed in before the little debacle. The women at the table recovered instantaneously and began chatting up both of them.

"My pardon, Your Grace. He would feel he was insulting her if didn’t sit with her," he explained, apologetically, already wanting to raise the semaphore flags and surrender. This wasn’t the start he’d anticipated.

"I know your ways," he replied curtly. "And these are mine. Imagine how insulting it would be to me if none of my guests of honor elected to sit at my table because they preferred to sit with their womenfolk?"

One of the waiters handed him a long-stemmed glass filled with clear wine. Warm faced, Luke took three sips in a row, trying to mentally regroup.

The Mos’ir Tas noticed his discomfiture and chuckled to himself. "Bah. No harm done. So long as you promise to be my guest, we’ll let them enjoy themselves and be this evening’s scandal. And they will be, come morning. They’re seated with my wives and they’ll make sure of it."

Wives. There were near a dozen women at that table, ranging in ages over a span of decades. Just as Luke’s mind was processing that the ‘wives’ ages spanned several decades, the Tas flicked his eyelashes knowingly at the pair. "He is her lover, is he not?"

Not only was his face warm but the soles of his feet were stifling inside his boots. "I think so," he mumbled, scrambling for composure again.

"That is unfortunate," he responded. "Were you seeking a husband for her you could sell her for ten times the value of that freighter you landed in. Many here would pay dearly. Better yet, I would pay dearly."

Luke was affronted out of his embarrassment, angry for both their sakes. Demoralizing his sister was out of bounds, no matter what he hoped to gain here. "Allow me to set this straight immediately. I’m not here to discuss any sort of dowry. She’s not for sale. She won’t be for sale."

The ruler considered the reply without emotion, and then clapped his hands together and pointed toward a chamber off the entranceway. "Ah. Ah. Ah. My turn for apologies. Offworld sensitivities differ greatly, don’t they? I forget from time to time, or so my wives enjoy telling me. Now come along, Luke Skywalker, the Jedi who claims he is not really a king. Let’s talk about why you are here, before we sit and share our conversation with the rest of our table. This way."

Luke took a deep breath to calm his presence of mind and followed. The cardinal rule of diplomacy was to set aside one’s own paradigms for expected behavior, beauty, culture, and tradition, to set aside stereotypes and biases. In between speaking, one was to listen closely, to hear what wasn’t said, to behave graciously when circumstances were untoward, to be tough when the time came for it. Moreover, this wasn’t actually a diplomatic event, more about making friends and alliances. There was nothing he could offer the Tas in exchange for his help, thus he wasn’t in much of a position to barter. The options he had consisted of the direct approach; ask if they’d ever heard of Niras Qu’aristoff, if the name Sarin meant anything to them, ask if they had any records left by their healers, ask them about the Jedi. Or, he could hint around, see if anyone paid him particular attention. Leia was the one who was extremely talented at this brand of nosy politicking, but due to their customs, she would be of little assistance.

Together they slipped into the smaller chamber, whereupon the sniffling, chirping, and patter of tiny feet surrounded them in rapid onslaught. Four dog-sized creatures, covered in brilliant green feathers, black tongues hissing immediately chirped and rushed to the Tas’ feet. Then they turned to him, ridge-backed, huffing and stomping forward and back, seeing if he would retreat. Their snouts were short and scantily plumed, and their tails thwacked excitedly, rat-a-tat-tat. Their darting eyes regarded him excitedly.

"My Duuvhals are my watchguards," the Tas explained proudly.

Instinctively, like with the Yrashu on Baskarn, Luke concentrated on making himself appear non-threatening, countering their natural suspicions by emitting a soothing vibe through the Force, biding his motions and allowing them to be curious. They all calmed down and moved into sentinel stances around the Tas, but for one, which crept toward him and chirped, sniffing his feet. He spied the hollow toothed fangs as he reached down to stroke its feathered head, pausing a fraction of a second before scratching the ruff of its neck. "They’re venomous?" he wondered.

All traces of a long-serving statesman melted and were replaced by a more convivial, boastful mien. "Indeed. Toxic to most humanoids and loyal to the death. I trained them in my youth. Ah, but I see that he likes you."

The creature began rubbing its cheeks around his ankles. "I think so."

"A pair of Wookiee traders rescued that one many years ago from a Kuati circus. Although ..." The Tas Mos’ir eyed his cowing pet curiously. "I can’t say I’ve ever seen him take to a stranger so easily."

The boots he was wearing had been stuffed in a closet alongside Chewbacca’s berth for ages now. Recalling that Leia had been brushing long hairs off of Han’s suit the entire ride here, Luke blithely imagined summoning Han in for an experiment, wondering what would happen if the creature got a whiff of him. It kept spinning around his boots as though it were a lovelorn bantha. Though he kept his features still, he was smiling hard on the inside, and quickly diverted his attention to the Tas.

"According to my ears you are here to perform research in an unofficial capacity for the New Republic. Although you were not born on Alderaan and hold no formal ties to its ruling family other than by proxy, you are still a leader of your kind. By this, naturally I refer to your heir apparent role as teacher of future Jedi.

"You’re correct on all points, Your Grace."

"You told my advisors you were here for research?"

"Yes." As his instincts had guided him to calm the alien pets, they steered him towards probity. "I’m here to uncover what I can about your Jedi."

"They died like all the rest."

Luke nodded sympathetically. "I am aware of that."

"Furthermore, everything that could be destroyed was. There is little to find. Your queries will be fruitless, I can assure you."

"Were public records destroyed?" The lives of Sarin or Niras would be noted somewhere.

"The Jedi records weren’t public. Nor our healer’s records. There will be nothing of them."

The pessimistic voice at the back of his mind chattered. Even records. Face it, there will be nothing left here. You knew that before you came. Luke pressed on. "With your permission I’d like to search through them anyway. If nothing else remains, even memories would be helpful to me. Those that knew them, your Jedi, if they’re willing to talk to me."

The Tas shrugged, clearly indicating that his benevolent attitude waned. "That’s all you want? I think you have a hidden agenda. I think --" He withdrew a tiny silver disk from a pocket deep within the folds of his robes. "That this request from your own government to alert them of your arrival is most interesting."

"I see," Luke murmured, unconsciously tapping his pant leg. The square metallic disk Han had given him was in his pocket. He’d been carrying it with him ever since Tatooine, trying to work up the nerve to listen to it, and made the mistake of not leaving it on board the Falcon. Tonight he’d felt uneasy leaving it at their accommodations. Now it burned against his thigh as though it were soaked in acid. The very rompish duuvhal jumped at his moving hand for attention. He paused to scratch the crown of feathers again. "Well, I suppose they’re concerned about us arriving safely."

The Tas Mos’ir slipped his hands and the disk into the great gilded cuff of his caftan. "I’m extremely concerned about anyone who might stir up trouble or sow dissention here. We’re a peaceful world that no one cares about, and we’d prefer not to acquire the far away sentiments of government which barely holds claim to thirty percent of the galaxy."

The controlling thirty percent, the most powerful thirty percent, Luke mentally amended but did not say. Instead, he attempted to assuage his concerns. "I’m not here to cause you any trouble."

The assurance landed on deaf ears. "I am not interested in being romanced by the New Republic. We’re nearer to the capital of the Corporate Sector than we are to Coruscant. We are -- in case you’ve not been educated adequately -- completely self-sufficient. Our Tas before me, my father included, made sure of that. Our proximity to any other civilized world is more effective than a thousand star-destroyers on patrol to protect us." A finger slipped free of the caftan again and pointed toward the hall that led to the dining area. "I see a galaxy renowned diplomat, a New Republic leader in my hall and I am rightly mistrustful of your intentions."

"We’re not here to make you any sort of offer," Luke promised, feeling certain Leia had suspected all along there wasn’t an iota of a chance that any sort of diplomatic bid would be well-received. To be on the safe side, he added, "My sister is not involved at all. This is me alone, my research. She’s merely here as my personal support."

"Why should I take your word for it", Luke sensed he was about to ask. He sought to intercept. "If ... if my reputation precedes me at all, if you know of me, you know I would not come here and lie to you. It’s not the way of the Jedi, of my order. Beyond that ..." He opened his free hand palm up. "I can give you nothing other than my word. We’re not here to assemble a Yashuvhi coalition to join the New Republic." On a whim, he decided to kill two birds with one stone to put the leader’s mind at ease. "In truth, I’d actually prefer it if you didn’t transmit any sort of reply to that message. Maintain your silence, if you will."

The Tas tugged on his beard and smiled. The smile was an eerie gesture that stretched his lips tight over his teeth. "Very well then. I will you give you my one and only warning that my hospitality will end the moment you break your word."

"I won’t break my word."

"We’ll see." The Tas tapped at an ancient comm system atop his desk. "Please send Hataj in." Then he glanced back at Luke. "I’d like you to meet someone."

Moments later an ebony haired woman entered with her eyes down. Luke suddenly had a terrible feeling this was once again related to marriage markets and dowries. He bit his tongue and waited to see what it was about.

"Speak freely," the Tas commanded. "Hataj Yva, I’d like you to meet Luke Skywalker."

The girl tightened her shawl, looked up and gave him a scathing glare that actually unnerved him to the quick. Her jaw was square and strong, her nose straight, almost regal, but flecks of black against the gold of her eyes had made her appear nearly as feral as the wild creatures huddled at the Tas’ foot-side.

"A pleasure to meet you," Luke forced himself to say.

She raised a thick ebony eyebrow etched with green and gold. "Likewise."

"How is your Uncle these days, my dear?" the Tas asked.

They ‘my dear’ caused her to bristle slightly, Luke saw, but her tone remained smooth. "He’s well enough."

"Inform him he’ll have company the afternoon after tomorrow. And yourself, as well." He motioned to Luke. "You’ll bring your sister for yammansk, and her consort."

Her eyes cut to him, radiating an amorphous and wild hatred. She addressed the Tas without turning. "I’ll tell him you said so, Cousin. I’m sure he’ll only be too happy to obey your wishes."

His sound impression was that she disdained him fiercely. Usually he could pinpoint the moment he’d done something terribly offensive or inappropriate, but occasionally just being Luke Skywalker was enough to garner ill feeling. He let his senses stretch out toward her, insides growing cold.

For what he felt defied nature as he knew it.

Watching her stand beneath the glare of the Tas, he realized even with her temper blazing -- and he could tell by the flash in her eyes it was -- he sensed nothing in her. Not life, not emotion, not the Force. Paradoxically, at the same time, the Force was converging around her as though she was a centrifugal source sucking it in more powerfully with every turn. It simply didn’t touch her. It was like listening to a heartbeat from deep within the caverns of a chest of a person whose eyes stared vacantly at nothing, like hearing blood pump through their body yet finding their hand ice cold to the touch.

He closed his eyes, reaching out again, blinked, and realized the woman was gone, and the Tas was speaking.

"I said, did you make a sound impression of her?"

Finding his tongue dry, Luke wet his mouth with his wine. "Not so quickly."

"I though Jedi were skilled that way. Perhaps they aren’t. I was hoping you’d read more into her."

Squeezing the flute of his glass tightly, Luke held his silence. By reaching out to Hataj so earnestly through the Force, he’d become freshly conscious of a new emotion, a faint sense without meaning to. There was an aura of deceit present, running between himself and the Tas. Not exactly outright lying, but blindsiding tactics, the withholding of facts when they should be presented, so that everyone’s cards were safe for the time being. There was a reason for the meeting that had just taken place and there was a motive for his going to meet with her. And he didn’t understand what he’d just felt.

The other disturbing thought reoccurred to him. Maybe the motive was simple. Wiping a palm on his thigh, and shaking his head at his adopted shadow, still crouched by his side and begging for attention, Luke said, "I hope I’ve done nothing to mislead you. I’m not here in search of -"

The Tas began laughing. "A mate? A wife? Not at all. But I would like you to tell me what you think of her after your meeting. And you must promise to give me your honest account. In exchange for her uncle’s help. He was employed by the local healers as some type of assistant and if anyone has the information you’re seeking, it would be he."

The information kick-started his brain. Maybe that’s what he had sensed, though why the Tas would have been hiding it from him if he was going to mention it eventually ...

There was no more time to contemplate. The Tas was gesturing to the outside hall, swinging his arm wildly. "Let us go eat."

* * * * *

"I don’t know how you can stand what you do for a living," Luke moaned. The wee hours of morning had arrived before they’d escaped the royal palace. He lay slumped across the couch with his legs dangling over the armrest. His stomach ached from the innumerable courses, and the harsh overhead lights of their common room stung his eyes after their walk back in the dark. No one had quite figured out the controls for it as of yet. He dragged a cushion over his face to block it out.

"Who are you talking to?" Han asked. "Me or her?"

"Her."

"His Grace couldn’t have been that bad," Leia answered, tugging the cushion away. "It was one dinner. I’ve been to so many I lost count years ago. I lost count before I ever met you."

"Then there’s been some sort of terrible mistake. We’re not related after all. You didn’t sit next to him for six hours. That was ... That was the longest dinner of my life. I’d rather ... I’d rather clean the 'freshers in Imperial Palace for a living."

"Congratulations and welcome to my world," Leia laughed, catching herself astutely. "But will he help us?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes." The truth was, once seated at the dinner table, the Tas had been most interested in talking about himself. "We didn’t work out any details -- but I can tell you all about his dozen pet Duuvhals, how much they eat, how well trained they are, the time his favorite one attacked an intruder and saved his life. I can tell you about the dowries of his eleven wives, who got the most jewelry. I can tell you about his eleven weddings --"

Han burst out laughing. "And that wasn’t entertaining? Now I’m glad I never sneaked over to pay my respects."

"You did a fine job of paying your respects," Luke intoned, now that that subject had been broached. "That was exactly what I needed to happen in the first five minutes of meeting the Tas of Yashuvhu."

"You’re very welcome, Ambassador Skywalker. According to his wives it’s happened before so I’m not quite as original as I thought." Han mussed a front-swept wing of hair and flashed his teeth. "But I’m a very popular dinner date now. All the ladies said so."

Luke gave Leia a moment to step in, since usually a comment like that would draw its fair share of ridicule, but it appeared she too, was one of the aforementioned smitten ladies. They were holding hands and huddled close. It was lovely moment for revenge. "I’m sure they did." He narrowed his eyes at Han. "How much exactly is ten times the price of the Millenium Falcon?"

"Who wants to know?"

"That’s the opening bid from the Tas for Lei-"

"You wouldn’t dare!" Leia exclaimed, smacking a fist against his cushion. "Don’t even joke about it."

Luke scrambled for cover. "All right, all right ... Anyway, we’re to have yammansk with his cousin the day after tomorrow. Apparently he wants me to see what I think of her and her uncle used to work for the healers here."

"Yammansk?" she wondered, her fist still raised and waiting.

"I think it’s a fancy sort of tea. Or I hope it is." He rolled off the couch out of her reach and yawned. "But for now, I’m going to bed and when I wake up I pray there’s no more dinner invitations waiting for me. If there are, I want you to rip them up into tiny pieces and dispose of them in the 'fresher. Feed them to the Duuvhals."

"Good night, Luke," Leia called after him.

In the background, Han started saying, "I told you so ..."

He washed his face then decided the heavily salted dinner had left him very thirsty. Deciding to brave the myriad of native beverages in their kitchen, he started back down the hallway wondering how it was that that the Force could be so helplessly focused around one individual. He wondered if it somehow had blocked him from him from sensing more of her. Thinking of auras and Sarin, he tried to imagine what the old healer would have seen, and knew deep down that the uppermost stratum, the troposphere, of whatever puzzle was here had been unveiled.

If he’d been less sleepy, less comatose from too much food, less distracted, he might have noticed that the air was tingling. He might have noticed the whiff of heightened excitement up ahead. Instead he marched straight on into the darkened kitchen and caught his sister and Han lip-locked against the counter in what was at best, a slightly indecent position involving misarranged clothing.

He stuttered, "Oh, oh, oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry," and startled them both. Then, because he was too flustered to turn around or keep going, he clamped his hands over his eyes and froze, just as his brain brought the last image it had captured slowly into focus. "I was just fetching a drink," he mumbled.

Han cleared his throat. "Uh ... you’re welcome to get a drink. That’s what we came in here for."

Only then did he remember to tell them what he’d forgotten to on the walk back to their lodgings. "The New Republic is looking for us."


To Chapter Sixteen | To Chapter Eighteen

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