Lando Calrissian pulled the bottle of sparkling wine out of the chiller, and began to strip off the foil and wire that covered the cork.
It was twenty years to the day since he had made Mara Jade a permanent fixture in his life, and that was definitely something to celebrate.
He shook his head. Twenty years. It didn’t seem possible.
I guess things move fast when you’re enjoying yourself.
And Mara, of course, had lost none of her beauty over the decades, none of her charm. Perhaps that was part of it. She was a constant in his life, an unchanging reminder of the day she first touched down on his landing-pad.
She had been a smuggler of sorts back then, working with the Alliance for a New Order. He’d never probed to discover how deep her allegiance to the Rebellion had really been, or what her motivations had been, and he told himself it wasn’t important. All that mattered was that she’d been the pilot who showed up at Cloud City with Prince Luke that day, trying to get him to safety after the crushing defeat at Hoth.
They had thought that Cloud City would be a sanctuary, somewhere to hide from the pursuing fleet – but even as they walked down the freighter’s ramp to meet him, Lando had already been ushering them into a trap.
Whoever that girl is, I hope she forgives me, he had thought.
Master Windu had arrived with the Executor less than an hour earlier, guided to Bespin by Lando’s old bounty-hunter buddy, Han Solo. The Grand Master had wanted the Prince to set a trap for Leia Skywalker, and with the Republic’s most powerful Star Destroyer in orbit, Lando found he had no option except to comply.
It hadn’t been that hard, really – the safety of Cloud City was his first order of business, and the Alderaanian princeling was a whiney brat, a traitor to his father’s memory. Like most people, Lando retained a quiet respect for the ideals of the Republic, no matter how much strain the war had put everything under.
Mace Windu was a hero, however grim and stern and driven he could be.
Luke Organa ... wasn’t.
But Mara had been a different matter. Her combination of deadly grace and practical capability had captivated him from the moment she ducked out of the Hawk-Bat’s hatch. She’d rebuffed his opening flattery with a wicked grin and a scathing comeback – and from that moment on, her fate had been sealed.
He had bargained with Master Windu to keep her – another life saved, his price for his cooperation.
The Jedi had been silent for a moment, then nodded slowly, and agreed.
He still remembered Mara’s outrage at the betrayal – the widening of her green eyes, the shocked, silent ‘o’ of her mouth, and the storm of fury that had followed. He wondered if some echo of that anger still simmered deep inside her.
He wondered if he liked that idea or not.
For a few days, while she raged in her makeshift cell, he had toyed with the idea of cyborging her, stripping her mind bare and slaving her to Cloud City’s central computers. Even now, after twenty years, there was still a certain charm in the idea – a Mara Jade with the cool manners and quick eyes of a cyborg, her body sheathed in a pale, sleek jumpsuit, a droid interface wrapped around the back of her gleaming bald scalp.
That Mara would have been pliant and obedient, he supposed – but no, it just wouldn’t have been the same.
No, the long-term rewards had been far more satisfying this way. He had made her his, and kept her safe from the Republic – kept her beautiful.
Lando Calrissian, Republic Senator for the Twin Nebulae Sectors, smiled to himself, and popped the cork.
He plucked down a single glass from the rack, and turned it over between his fingers. For a moment, a far-away look came to his eyes, but he shook it away.
Shame she doesn’t drink, he thought to himself. But all in all, Mara had proved to be a very low-maintenance acquisition, considering the enduring pleasure she had brought him.
Smiling again, Lando strolled back out into the atrium of his suite, and looked across at where she was waiting for him. His grin grew broad and bright, as his gaze travelled appreciatively across the familiar contours of her face and body – twenty years had given him an intimate familiarity with every smooth centimetre of her skin, an ever-deepening appreciation of her unchanging beauty.
With a brilliant smile, Lando lifted his glass to his favourite trophy.
“Happy Anniversary, beautiful,” he grinned.
Mara, of course, could offer no answer – nothing except a silence that amounted to helpless assent, and the perfect beauty that justified everything he had done to her.
The carbon-freezing process had captured not just her physical beauty, but all her inner fire as well – a supple twist to her ballet-dancer’s body, a cry on her parted lips. Her slim hands were raised in a last gesture of panic, as if she could ward off the jets of supercooled chemicals that had transformed her into a living sculpture, encasing her forever in a slab of black diamond ice.
The expensive display-lighting in the alcove made the icy bronze sheen of the mineral surface gleam with life, and even the monitoring display set into the side of the carbonite slab added to the effect, a subtle dance of red and green lights confirming that she was still alive, in perfect hibernation – still Mara Jade.
Lando set himself down on the couch opposite her, sipping slowly on his sparkling wine, while his eyes continued their proprietary inspection of her perfect form.
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