Chapter Ten



Mon Mothma stared at the white walls of the medical centre's hallway. The unbroken white expanse was starting to hurt her eyes, so she looked down instead, and saw that she was literally wringing her hands. And I thought people only did that in novels, she thought, separating her hands from each other and then wondering what to do with them.

She jumped in surprise as one of the assistant medical droids appeared around a corner, whirring toward her. "Do you require anything?" it asked metallically, for what must be at least the fifth time.

"No," she said, "I just want to wait here. Is Admiral Piett's operation still going on?"

"The operation is continuing. You will be informed when there is any change." The droid paused, and Mon Mothma had the impression that if it had lips, it would be pursing them in disapproval. "You are sure you do not wish to return to your quarters?"

"Yes. I'm sure. I'll wait."

The droid reversed course and departed, and Mon Mothma leaned back against the wall, putting her hands to her face.

She had to call someone. If she didn't talk to someone, she was going to go insane.

She took a deep breath. At least the medics had summoned her when Piett was brought to them. She wasn't sure whether they'd done that because she was officially the highest ranking member of the Alliance and so ought to be kept informed of everything, or because they had already heard the rumours about her and Piett that were sweeping the base. She didn't really care. She would have been furious if she'd only found out about this later. Not that there was anything she could do to help him.

Call someone now, she told herself. It won't do anyone any good if the Head of State turns into a gibbering maniac.

There was a com panel just down the corridor. The question was, who should she call? It was the middle of the night. Who did she know well enough that she could drag them out of their beds to come babysit a terrified Head of State?

Well, Dodonna or Rieekan, of course. But somehow she felt hesitant about calling them. They certainly wouldn't resent it if she did, in fact, they would probably be angry with her when they found out she hadn't called. But she just didn't think she could face their concern right now. They would try too hard. She didn't need that, she needed ... someone who would understand, but who wouldn't make things worse by trying to mother her. If Admiral Ackbar were here, she wouldn't mind talking with him, but he was still with his troops in the Baxtri sector.

There was, she supposed, always the "Admiral Piett fan club". At least with one of them, she wouldn't have to have to explain why she was so distraught over the fate of an accused traitor.

Not General Calrissian. He was a good man, she was sure, but he was just too perpetually cheerful. She had never felt totally comfortable around people who looked that happy.

Not Captain Needa, she didn't know him at all. She knew he was a friend of PiettÕs, Piett had told her they were at the Academy together and served for a while on the same star destroyer. But she didnÕt know him and couldnÕt bring herself to turn up on his doorstep in tears.

Certainly not General Veers. Somehow he did not give the impression that he liked having co-workers cry on his shoulders.

That left Wedge Antilles.

She was at the com panel, looking up the code for his quarters, before she had time to change her mind. In Piett's cell, Antilles had said that he would do whatever he could to help. Maybe this wasn't what he'd had in mind, but she definitely needed help now.

When Antilles answered, he didn't sound like he had been asleep. Two minutes later, the x-wing commander was hurrying down the hallway toward her. She vaguely noticed that he was wearing a short-sleeved reddish tunic and khaki trousers, and she thought that she had never seen him dressed so informally. But then, why should she? When they encountered each other, they were either in meetings and he was in uniform, or he was about to go into battle, and wearing the standard orange flightsuit.

Orange, she thought, whose stupid idea was that for a uniform colour? And then she wondered, why am I thinking about this?

Antilles, after an instant's hesitation, took her hands, and it was only when he did so that she realised her hands were shaking.

"How is he?" the Commander asked.

"They're operating on him now," she told him, startled at how faint her voice sounded. "Dr. Tomczyk says he should make a full recovery, but if it had taken any longer to reach him -- if he hadn't managed to summon help before he blacked out -- it could have killed him."

"Did they tell you what's wrong with him?"

She nodded. "It's a perforated duodenal ulcer," she said slowly. "They say he's probably had the ulcer for years, but tonight it must have broken through the outside wall of his stomach ... I mean, his duodenum ... and it's spilling stomach acids into the rest of his -- his abdominal cavity..." Her voice broke off, and she put her hands up to her mouth until she could regain some kind of calm. She had only barely stopped herself from bursting into tears.

She brought her hands down, crossed her arms in front of her, and said with an unhappy little smile, "I must be a bad luck curse. Someone sleeps with me, and he gets accused of treason and perforates his ulcer."

Wedge Antilles smiled back encouragingly. "I'm sure he'll forgive you," said the Commander. "What's a duodenum?"

"I think they said it's the -- the bit that connects your stomach to your intestines." She looked away, a guilty realisation once again threatening to make her tears start. "Oh, Heavenly Light," she murmured, "I should have known. He's complained about his digestion, I should have made him see a doctor about it --"

"Hey," said Wedge, "you couldn't know. You're not a doctor. If Piett didn't realise how serious it was, how could you?"

After a moment, she nodded. Before she could say anything else, she heard the sound of footsteps behind her. She turned. Dr. Tomczyk was walking toward them. There was a broad smile on the doctor's face, and his scaled skin was a heartening shade of rust, not the pale amber it would be if he were worried.

"Doctor -- " Mon Mothma began.

"The operation's finished," Tomczyk told her. "He should be fine. We've got the ulcer closed up, and the acids out of him. We'll need to put him on a course of antibiotics, but after that there's every chance that the ulcer won't recur."

"Can we -- can we see him?"

"It'll be better if you wait, till he can know you're here. We'll keep him under for the first day, and he'll need plenty of sleep for several days after that. He's going to be in a lot of pain for the first few days, as well. We'll probably keep him here for at least five days." Dr. Tomczyk saw the hesitation on Mon Mothma's face, and he said, "I promise, we'll call you as soon as he's awake."

"All right," Mon Mothma sighed. She suddenly felt even more useless than before. At least while the operation was going on, she could worry about him. Now, she couldn't do anything but wait.

"You should get some rest too," said Dr. Tomczyk.

Go back to my room and listen to the rain? Not bloody likely.

"Why don't you come back to my place?" suggested Commander Antilles. "It's not very luxuriant, but it does have two chairs. You'd be welcome."

"I don't want to be any bother -- " she began.

"You're not. Let's go."

The Commander's room was two levels above the medical centre. Mon Mothma sat perched on the edge of his desk chair, identical to every other chair in the base, and ruefully thought that her reputation was really going to go to hell if anyone had seen them walk in here together. Two nights in a row, she had made visits to the quarters of two different male colleagues. Well, let them gossip. She thought, if Madine dares to make any snide comments, I'll rip out his vocal cords and strangle him with them.

Wedge Antilles had located his kettle, filled it with water from the bathroom sink, and was now rummaging on a shelf which held several food packets as well as some promising-looking bottles. "Sorry," he said, "I don't have any coffee. Or anything with caffeine, actually. I've got some berry tea, if that's all right. Or, there's some kahy."

Her first thought was, I really shouldn't touch any alcohol tonight, and her second thought was, to hell with that. She said fervently, "the kahy would be wonderful."

"Right." Wedge found two glasses, went back to the sink to rinse them out, then poured into each of them a sizeable measure of the glowing, reddish liquor. "Cheers," he said, handing her one of the glasses.

Mon Mothma smiled, took a sip from her glass, and reflected that she had definitely picked the right shoulder to cry on. She put the glass down on the desk, next to a small fluffy toy which, she saw on closer inspection, was a quizzical-looking dewback with a stormtrooper riding on its back. Stormtroopers, she decided, didn't look all that intimidating when their armour was made of fur.

"Ah," said Wedge, with an embarrassed grin, "that's Dewey the Dewback and Steve the Stormtrooper. A friend of mine sent them to me, she thought it'd be funny for a member of the Rebellion to have a stuffed stormtrooper." Wedge sat down on the edge of his bed and took a swig of his kahy.

"Ah," echoed Mon Mothma, picking up her glass again and taking another drink. She looked seriously at Antilles, all thoughts of fluffy stormtroopers vanishing from her mind. "Commander," she began, "do you really believe Admiral Piett is innocent?"

"Yes," he said, without hesitation.


Wedge frowned slightly. "I've worked with him on the Executor. We've been in combat together. I think he's a decent man. And an honest one. Anyway, he works with Lord Vader. If he'd been a traitor, he couldn't have kept it secret. Vader would have known."

"Unless you believe that Vader is a traitor too."

"No. That's crap. He's fought too hard for the Rebellion. And Luke means too much to him, he wouldn't do anything to hurt Luke."

Mon Mothma sighed. "How can we know that?"

Wedge shrugged. He said, "as a pilot you learn to, well, trust your instincts. Maybe we trust them too much sometimes. I guess that's what makes us pilots, not politicians." He looked at her challengingly. "Do you believe Piett's innocent?"

"Yes," she said quietly.

"On instinct?"

"Yes." She took another gulp of kahy, a larger one than she'd intended. She put the glass down and gazed for a moment at Dewey the Dewback and Steve the Stormtrooper. "Did you mean what you said," she asked, "about wanting to investigate?"

Wedge nodded. "I don't know how much good it'll do, I'm not a detective. But we can't just leave it like this."

"No," she said, "we can't." She shook her head. "If Vader hasn't betrayed us, then the traitor probably isn't anyone who's worked closely with him, or Vader would have sensed them. Not that that narrows it down much. Do you have any ideas?"

"Well ... we should find out whether there've been any similar power drains before that message. Maybe this isn't the first time our traitor's struck. Maybe they used some computer other than Piett's, or sent a message when Piett couldn't have sent it. I guess it won't get us much of anywhere trying to find out who could have gotten his code, just about anyone could have."

"If it was through the security cameras as he suggested, though, it sounds like it was one of the ex-Imperials ...?"

"Don't count on it," said Wedge. "We've been working together for a year. The crews of the Star Destroyers are pretty thoroughly integrated. Anyone could have found out about the cameras, and I bet it wouldn't be that hard to get access to them. I don't think the ex-Imps' security's so tight anymore, now they don't have to worry about being sent to the spice mines, or strangled."

"Great," sighed Mon Mothma. "So it could be anyone who's stationed on the Executor or would have had a reason to be there. Assuming that's even how they got the code."

"Yep," said Wedge. "So that gives us an initial selection of 37,000 suspects. Or so." He eyed her empty glass. "Want another drink?"

Mon Mothma said, with feeling, "oh, yes."



The rosy, blond-haired doctor beamed at Leia, and said, "it's been lovely meeting you, Your Highness. If you have any questions or concerns before your next appointment, please call me at any time."

Leia nodded, forcing a thin smile onto her face and thinking that Dr. Mala Vindini was pushing her bedside manner a bit too far. No one should look that cheery when they worked in the Imperial Palace. Or when they were facing the prospect of eventually delivering the babies of a Traitor to the Empire. Though, Leia admitted, it would probably be as much as Dr. Vindini's life was worth not to be nice to Leia, since Palpatine himself had escorted her to the doctor's office and ostentatiously announced that the pregnant princess was under his special protection.

Great, Leia thought, this woman probably thinks Palpatine's the father. I'm going to be sick.

With great effort, Leia stopped herself from asking again whether her babies were all right. Dr. Vindini had already insisted several times that there was absolutely no sign of anything being wrong, and Palpatine had assured her, in his odious avuncular way, that his "future apprentices" had come through his attack on them unscathed. Leia didn't know what to think. Had Palpatine even attacked them at all, or had it all been a bluff, to make her think the babies were at risk, and stop her from fighting him? If they had suffered damage -- and oxygen deprivation certainly couldn't be good for them -- could Palpatine have already healed them? And if it was their brains that had been hurt, would she even know it until after they were born? Was there any way Dr. Vindini and her machines would be able to tell?

For that matter, if the babies were "strong in the Force", it probably wasn't good for them to have their mother committing murder during pregnancy, either.

Wonderful. Stay away from alcohol, have just the right vitamin intake, exercise regularly and practice your breathing, and don't use the Force to tear people's limbs off with.

Leia thanked Dr. Vindini as civilly as she could manage, and left the doctor's office, to be met outside the door by the two soldiers who'd been detailed to escort her back to the guest quarters. Their faces were carefully blank. Leia supposed they had probably seen weirder things in their time than Emperor Palpatine escorting an outlawed princess to the obstetrician's. Palpatine hadn't stuck around while Leia had her appointment, and she wondered whether that was him respecting her privacy, or whether pregnancy just wasn't among his favourite topics of conversation. She wouldn't have been at all surprised if he'd wanted to be around for every step of this process. Her babies, after all, were his future apprentices.

Dream on, Palpatine. They are not your apprentices, and if you think you're going to be anywhere near me while I'm giving birth, you can just bloody well think again.

In the lift on the way back up to the top floor of the palace, with the two soldiers standing like statues on either side of her, Leia forced her thoughts away from her unborn children. If Palpatine had hurt them, there wasn't anything she could do about it now. She had other members of her family to worry about.

She left the soldiers at the door to the guest quarters, and went straight to Luke's room. For form's sake, she pressed the entry bell, but as she'd expected, she did not get any response. The droid, which had been standing switched off by the dining table, revived itself and announced in what seemed to be a more subdued voice than usual, "Mistress Leia, Master Luke is in his room. The medical droid departed approximately fourteen and one half minutes ago, and left these pills for you to administer. They are sedatives and a fever-reducer."

"Thank you," Leia said warily, accepting the packets of pills that the droid was proffering and wondering whether she dared give Luke anything that had been left by Palpatine's medical droid. Although it was probably too late to worry about that now, since another of the Emperor's doctors had already administered one sedative to Luke shortly after Palpatine's attack.

Leia opened the door and walked into Luke's room. Luke was huddled on the bed. He wasn't under the covers, but at least being on the bed was a step in the right direction. Before the sedative, he had been crouched on the floor instead, trying to hide behind the bed. He hadn't said anything, but the fear on his face, Leia thought, had been more disturbing than any fevered ranting.

Leia put the pills down on one marble bedside table, and clambered onto the huge bed to sit beside Luke. He was facing away from her, and when she tentatively put her hand on his shoulder, he winced further away, putting one arm up to shield his face.

"Luke," she said quietly. "It's me. It's Leia. It's all right, Luke, I'm here."

He whimpered, "don't."

"Don't what?" she asked, cautiously taking her hand away again.

His muffled voice replied, "don't sound like her."

She was thoroughly confused now, but she tried again. "I just want to help -- "

He moved, sitting up abruptly and crawling over the pillows to get away from her. When he'd reached the head of the bed and couldn't go any farther, he turned back like a trapped animal and yelled at her, "you're not my sister!"

Leia stared at him. Slowly she held out her hands, palms up, but the gesture wasn't non-threatening enough for Luke. The instant she started to move, he grabbed one of the pillows and clutched it in front of his body like a shield. Then he moaned again, "don't, donÕt ..."

"I won't hurt you," Leia began. She didn't try moving any closer to him. His fear was rolling out of him into her, and it took all her strength not to give in to it.

What had Palpatine done to him? What was he seeing, instead of her?

"Luke," she asked patiently, "if I'm not your sister, who am I?"

He shook his head, and his face crumpled like a little child's as he started to cry. "You're not here," he said, clutching the pillow tighter. "You're not real."

"Luke, I am real. I'm Leia."

"No," he insisted, hugging the pillow as if it was the last real thing in the universe. "Leia's gone."



He couldn't move.

No, I take that back. I can just about manage to turn my head.

That was it, though. He was flat on his back and lying on some hard surface, and if he was interpreting the sensations accurately, his wrists and his ankles must be fastened to whatever he was lying on. Maybe more than just the ankles and wrists, there were probably restraints at several points on his arms and legs as well. His arms were raised above his head. The image came to him that he was pinned here like some collector's specimen, a rare Carmellian spacefly proudly put on display.

Display. Yes, he realised, that was exactly what he was. He could see now that there was some sort of transparent partition above him, and on either side. Probably it was at his head and feet as well, but he couldn't see. He squinted, trying to make out the details beyond the partition, but whatever was out there seemed to be darker than where he was. Were there lights in here with him? Not above him, at least. Maybe they were on the same surface he was on, and he couldn't see them. There was something weird about his eyesight, anyway. What --


The realisation rushed in at him, with a shock, that his eyesight was weird because it was just his eyes. He wasn't wearing his mask. Or the rest of his helmet. He suddenly noted that he could feel the surface he was lying on, smooth against his skin, against the back of his head. He hadn't noticed before, because the temperature was the same as it usually was inside his helmet.

For a second, he started to panic, thinking that if his mask and helmet were gone, the breathing mask must be too.

No. Calm down. It was still there. When he looked down, he could see the dark angular mass of it, beyond the out-of-focus blur that was his nose. No, he was breathing normally. Something else felt strange, though, wrong, but he couldn't quite grasp what it was.

Palpatine, he thought, you predictable little bastard.

He'd been expecting something like this. If he got caught -- and he'd known there was a good channce that he would -- Palpatine would never kill him straight off. The Emperor liked exploiting people's worst nightmares. Having captured an old friend who had phobias about paralysis and hospital beds, naturally Palpatine would have him immobilised and trapped on his back.

Only, Palpatine would know that Vader could just use the Force to break loose --

No. He couldn't.

That was what was wrong.

Wonderingly, he prodded at the sensations in his mind, trying to pick up some hint of the Force. His mind ought to be open to everything. He ought to be able to sense if there were any living beings nearby, even feel hints of their emotions. He ought to be able to see in his mind the restraints that were holding him, and he ought to be able to open them.

Instead, his mind felt closed, and stiflingly small.

He thought, it feels like having a cold.

Well, he was pretty sure that it felt like that, anyway. It had been twenty-five years since he'd had a cold, so he couldn't quite remember. It must have been about like this, though. The same closed-off feeling, the same heavy thickness of everything around him, the same sense that he was cut off from reality.

How the hell -- ?

A voice broke through the wall around him, although he wasn't sure if it was coming through his hearing or his mind. It said, "are you feeling better, Anakin?"

For that moment the voice seemed free of all mockery. But it wasn't a voice from twenty-five years ago. Too much had changed.

Vader closed his eyes, and said, "I'm not Anakin."

"Oh, I beg your pardon," and suddenly the voice belonged to Emperor Palpatine again. "Lord Vader."

Vader didn't open his eyes. It was a pointless gesture, he knew, since Palpatine could make Vader's eyes open any time he wanted to. But just now the Emperor seemed content to let them stay closed. Palpatine's voice seemed to be coming closer, as he asked in a casual tone, "what do you think of my new Force-suppressant drug? Much better than the first one, don't you think? I've been working on it, in preparation for your return. Getting rid of the nasty side-effects. We wouldn't want you to have any problems, while you're on display. You have to look your best for the tourists."

Vader wondered how long he could manage to ignore Palpatine's babbling. Even if he didn't have access to the Force, he still ought to be able to meditate. He started to turn his senses inward again.

"Oh, no, Anakin," laughed Palpatine, "I can't let you do that. You're not going away."

Everything lurched, and Vader felt as if his soul had been wrenched out of him and was sitting now in Palpatine's hand. His eyes snapped open. He had the feeling that Palpatine was stroking him, as if he was a small, furry pet.

Vader gritted his teeth, and tried to still the shudders that were rolling through him.

"We are going to have fun," Palpatine told him. "For one week. And then, alas, I will have to let you go. Because, of course, nothing lasts forever. Except eternity, and you will be joining it soon. I will give you a fine state execution, my friend. No expense spared." He laughed, sounding immensely pleased with himself. "Maybe your eternity will be spent in the company of Obi Wan Kenobi. Won't that be nice? Eternity of debating morality, and cutting off each others' hands."

Vader focused on the clear partition above him, and thought that a more appropriate duo for eternity would be Obi Wan and Palpatine. They'd be perfect for each other. They ought to move into a nice little retirement cottage together. Palpatine could torture Obi Wan, and Obi Wan could lecture Palpatine on how evil he was. And they'd both be as happy as sarlaccs.

He heard Palpatine laugh. He thought, this will be a very long week.



So now what? wondered Leia. Do we sit here all night and stare at each other, while Luke tells me I'm not real?

Luke hadn't budged. He was still huddled there with the pillow clutched up against him. Maybe he thought that if he didn't move, she wouldn't see him.

She glanced over at the pills on the bedside table, then bit her lip and shook her head. Even if she could manage to make Luke take them -- and she probably could, though she might need the help of the droid and the medical droid to hold him down -- she didn't think she wanted to risk it. Who knew what might be in them? Maybe she was being paranoid, but with Palpatine around, paranoia seemed justified. She wasn't going to use drugs supplied by Palpatine to solve a problem that Palpatine had caused.

But she couldn't leave Luke like this. And every attempt she made to calm him, seemed to just frighten him worse.

The Force. Could she send Luke calming feelings? Obi Wan Kenobi would have been able to. Darth probably could. But she? All she had done so far was kill someone. Did she dare try to touch Luke's mind, when for all she knew she might just hurt him more?

Well, she had to try, didn't she? She didn't see what else she could do.

She hoped this was something which came to one instinctively, because she certainly didn't have any idea how to do it.

She thought back to when Palpatine had shown her how to push aside her nausea -- Gods, that was only this morning. In the same way, she tried to move aside her own fear and anger and tension, closing them into a compartment at the back of her mind, where they couldn't touch Luke. Then she focused instead on feelings of warmth and support, and tried to broadcast them to him.

Everything's all right. You're safe. Nothing's going to hurt you. It's safe for you to go to sleep.

At first she thought it wasn't working. Then Luke blinked a few times, and reached up to smudge his tears away with the back of his hand. He let the pillow fall. Luke gulped back a sob, then, to Leia's astonishment, he crawled over to her and hugged her, burying his face against her chest.

"Aunt Beru," he whispered, holding on to her as tightly as he had clutched the pillow. "I thought you'd gone away."

Oh, my Gods. Leia was almost jolted away from her calming thoughts, but she somehow managed to hang on to them, and to keep sending them to Luke. "No, Luke," she told him softly, starting to stroke his hair, "I'm here."

He sniffled, then said, "I dreamed that everybody was gone. And then I woke up -- and I was all alone -- "

"Ssh, Luke, ssh. We're all here. We won't leave you."

He started crying in earnest again, sobbing brokenly against her.

She said, "Luke, baby, we love you. We're not going to leave."

When his sobs finally stopped, he started to hiccup instead. He pulled away a little to look at her, and Leia almost began crying herself when she saw the innocent, trusting look on his face.

"Promise?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "I promise. Go to sleep now, Luke."

Fear leaped back into his eyes. He grabbed her hand. "Don't go!"

"Will you go to sleep if I stay with you?"

He hesitated, then nodded. "Yes."

It wasn't easy tucking him in to bed while he was still holding on to her hand, but she managed. She leaned over and kissed his forehead, then wondered how she was going to get to the light switch without letting go of his hand.

Well, that was what the Force was for, wasn't it? She got into bed beside him, then cast a thought at the lights, and they winked out.

"Goodnight, Aunt Beru," came Luke's whisper out of the darkness. "I love you."

"Goodnight, Luke," she whispered back. "I love you too."



The protocol droid C28L bowed slightly as Moff Nevoy stepped into the front hallway, and said, "good evening, Sir. The General is in the garden room and gave orders that you were to be sent up to him immediately if you visited tonight."

Nevoy nodded his thanks to C28L and marvelled, as usual, at the skill with which General Mulcahy always managed to predict what Nevoy was going to do. If he didn't know better, he'd suspect that the General had a touch of the Force. But of course, the more likely explanation was just that, after one has worked with someone for thirty-seven years, they begin to be predictable. After all, Nevoy reminded himself, it was a good bet that he knew precisely what Mulcahy was doing right now. He would be playing solitaire, with a glass of Thurian mint punch close to hand, and with the door to the terrace wide open so he could make the most of the spring air. And, thought Nevoy, he will offer me a drink, which I will accept, and I will sink into the comfy chair and bitch about work, and he will look wise and make sarcastic remarks. Just like every other time that I've come to visit in the past four years.

Ah, what an exciting life I lead. What a dazzling social whirl.

He followed the familiar path up the marble staircase -- Mulcahy didn't believe in having lifts in one's house, and had frequently stated that if his guests weren't willing to climb to reach him, he didn't want to see them anyway -- and started along the corridor toward the garden room.

His prediction, he saw as he reached the doorway, had been accurate to the letter. General Xavier Mulcahy, who had been scowling down at the gleaming jet pieces of his Chandrilan solitaire set arrayed on the table in front of him, raised his bushy white eyebrows in greeting to Nevoy and said, "there you are. Fix yourself a drink."

Nevoy obeyed. He walked over to the liquor cabinet, which stood flanked by the two potted ssenkra fern trees from Alderaan, and mixed a gin and qavva juice, his usual spring drink. He eyed his usual chair, but decided there was no point in sitting down. Today's events were still boiling inside him, and would just send him to his feet again in a moment, to start pacing. He walked toward the terrace door instead, and looked out at the spires of the city, tinted rose and lavender by the evening light. The moons were just starting to rise. He sighed quietly, wishing he could just enjoy the view and the evening. How long had it been, he wondered, since he'd been able to simply enjoy what he was doing, without anxieties and regrets creeping in?

Don't be melodramatic, he told himself. He shook his head and then took a drink.

He wondered what was going on at the Palace now, what Palpatine was doing. Gloating over his prisoner, probably. Despite himself, Nevoy shuddered. The Dark Lord's treachery notwithstanding, Nevoy hated to think of Vader in Palpatine's clutches. Vader seemed like something eternal, undefeatable, like the Force the Dark Lord still worshipped. The thought of him being tortured and humiliated made Nevoy feel almost ill.

Damn Vader. Why in all the Hells had he come back?

"I should retire," Nevoy muttered.

"Retiring again, are you?" inquired General Mulcahy. "What's the matter this time?"

"He's insane." Nevoy scowled, then took another drink of his gin and qavva juice.

"My dear friend," said Mulcahy, "will you please promise to give me a couple hours of warning if you ever plan to say something unexpected? Otherwise the shock will kill me."

Nevoy turned to look at the General, who seemed to have all his attention focused on his game of solitaire. "I'm sorry?"

Mulcahy moved one of the jet playing pieces, nodded at it in satisfaction, and then said, "you inform me that our beloved Emperor is insane each time you set foot in my house."

Nevoy's mouth twisted into a reluctant smile. That was probably true.

General Mulcahy abandoned his game for the moment, picking up his glass of mint punch and taking a long drink from it as he leaned back in his chair. He set the glass down again, reached up to make sure that none of the punch had got into his moustache, and began twirling one end of the moustache. He asked, "what new proof of insanity has His Majesty given?"

"You haven't heard?"

The white eyebrows rose in inquiry.

"He's arrested Lord Vader."

"Oh. Yes, I heard about that."

Nevoy stared. "And that's all you have to say?"

"What is there to say? It's not unexpected. Our Emperor doesn't let anyone get away from him."

Nevoy sighed and shook his head again. "I really thought Vader would manage it."

"You hoped he would," said Mulcahy.


Mulcahy went back to his game, still tugging on his moustache as he surveyed the solitaire pieces. "I fail to see what's insane about Palpatine capturing Vader," the General remarked. "He could hardly allow a traitor like that to go free."

"I know. Did you know he's had Vader put on display?"

The General's gaze did not leave the playing pieces. "Has he? Sounds like his usual style."

Nevoy started pacing, his hand tightening around his glass. "He had me supervise Vader's instalment in the Great Hall. And I've had to supervise the press release as well. All loyal citizens are expected to visit the exhibit, employers are encouraged to give their workers paid leave so they can attend, all government employees on the planet are required to visit at least once." He angrily knocked back the remainder of his drink. "Palpatine's ordered his mask and helmet removed, so everyone can gawk at him better. It's a wonder the poor bastard hasn't been stripped naked."

Mulcahy made another move in his game, which he seemed to be winning. He said reasonably, "Vader decimated the fleet, thumbed his nose at the Empire and brought the Rebels within an inch of victory. You didn't expect Palpatine to be nice to him?"

"No. No. But -- " Nevoy stared at his friend, then said quietly, "Xavier, he's ordered Vader's execution."

Mulcahy's hand fell away from the game board. He said, "I see."

Nevoy went on, "a week from tomorrow. It hasn't been announced yet. It's to be announced in three days' time, so it can raise the visitor figures. Palpatine thinks they'll probably be down after the first flurry of interest."

The General snorted. "Our Emperor, ever the master of public relations. I take it he's got something special planned for the execution?"

"Of course. Public holiday. Everyone encouraged to attend. Full coverage on all the networks. All religions required to hold services of thanksgiving. Fireworks. Palace banquet in the evening." Nevoy sank into the comfortable chair, still keeping a death-grip on his glass. "Sweet Gods. It'll be a miracle if I get through the banquet without vomiting."

Mulcahy shook his head, turning a sympathetic gaze on the younger man. "Osheen," he said, "you had to know this would happen. I'll grant you it's tasteless. That's Palpatine for you. But it had to happen. He can't leave Vader alive."

Nevoy stared at the empty glass. "I know. It just -- it just looks bad." He looked up desperately. "Don't you see it? Vader's been the face of the Empire, from the beginning. What's going to happen to our credibility if the whole galaxy's forced to see that he's mortal? Won't they see that the Empire's mortal too?"

Mulcahy smiled wryly. "You shock me. Everyone knows the Empire is eternal." He picked up one of his solitaire pieces, idly tossing it into the air and catching it in his hand. "Like the First Republic. And the Second. And the Third." He put down the game piece again. "I imagine Palpatine thinks a public execution will help forestall any rumours of Vader's survival. There'll always be people claiming he's still alive, using him as a figurehead."

That ought to make sense, Nevoy knew. But his uneasiness wouldn't go away. He knew it was dangerous even to think the thoughts that were forcing their way into his brain, let alone to say them.

He said them anyway. "This is Vader. Killing him is like -- killing the Empire itself."

For once Mulcahy did not give an immediate answer. The two friends held each other's gaze, and Nevoy suddenly thought that the evening felt cold.

He wondered if Mulcahy was thinking what he was thinking. That perhaps the Empire had died when Vader had left it. Or perhaps even before.

Perhaps the Empire had been dead at birth.



Faint heat on his face woke him. His eyes opened automatically, then they squeezed shut again in protest at the light that had poured in at them. More cautiously this time, he tried again, starting with his prosthetic left eye, that was marginally less sensitive than the surviving original eye. Having allowed the prosthetic eye time to grow accustomed to the pale glare, he slowly opened his right eye once more.

Sunlight, he realised. That's what it is. He didn't know how long it had been since he'd looked at sunlight without the mediation of the viewscreens in his mask. And it must also be sunlight, he reasoned, that was warming his face. That fact made a rather ludicrous thought occur to him: if he was positioned so that the sun shone on him for any appreciable length of time, he was going to get sunburned. Oh, wonderful. No, he probably wouldn't, he decided, the windows probably had ultra-violet screening. At least, he hoped they did. Maybe the scar tissue on his face wasn't susceptible to sunburn, it wasn't a question to which he'd ever given any thought. But the grafted skin, and the few remaining areas of normal skin tissue, hadn't been exposed to sunlight for the past twenty-five years. It wouldn't take long for them to be fried. He grimaced. Great, just great. So I'll be spending my last week alive with a peeling, sunburned face.

Perversely, he had slept well. That was a surprise, as it was two decades since he'd attempted to sleep lying down. Perhaps, he thought, he owed his undisturbed sleep to being cut off from the Force. It would certainly be ironic if it was the Force that had kept his nightmares alive all these years. Perhaps Palpatine's famous Force-suppressant drug was doing him a favour. Although if he could regain his links to the Force, he would be more than happy to accept the nightmares.

He wasn't suffering from lack of sustenance, so he must be hooked into some sort of intravenous feeding system that approximated his usual dietary infusions. Probably that was how the drug was maintained at a sufficient level in his body, as well. His limbs felt numb, almost non-existent from lack of movement. For the hell of it, he tried to lift his right hand, and was rewarded by the tug of a restraint on his wrist, which at least assured him that the wrist was still there.

The only sound that reached him was the familiar wheeze of his breathing. He wondered if there was anyone nearby, and was frustrated at his inability to tell. At least Palpatine didn't seem to be around -- not that Vader would necessarily have known if he was, but he couldn't imagine that the Emperor had self control enough to remain nearby without indulging in a bit of gloating.

Vader sighed. Not being able to sense his surroundings, and with no sound penetrating the case around him, he was going to have to rely on his eyes.

He blinked, and tried to turn his head so he could focus on something other than the distant sunlight. At first his muscles didn't want to obey, but he managed to get through to them, and his head turned slightly to the left. Just like old times, he thought, sourly amused at the lengths to which Palpatine had gone to approximate the conditions of his hideous months in hospital. Come to think of it, he was surprised that Palpatine hadn't gone farther, and cut off his senses completely, so he actually believed that he was paralysed. Perhaps that would come later. Perhaps, too, the Emperor was planning on entertaining himself by playing with Vader's mind, making Vader believe that he was truly back there, in the hospital on Alma Serena, trying so desperately to die.

His eyes were trying to make sense of the images visible beyond his partition. Pale blue star marble. Pillars. Stairs. A long balcony.

Slowly, the elements resolved themselves into a room he had been in innumerable times before.

The Great Hall. I'm on display in the Great Hall.

The Hall seemed empty for the moment, except, as he saw when he concentrated on the far distance, for the tiny forms of guards standing at either side of the balcony doors. He presumed there were probably guards at the other doors as well, but he was at the wrong angle to see them.

He was quite sure, however, that the Hall would not be empty for long. He had not forgotten Palpatine's comment that he had to "look his best for the tourists". And there wasn't much point in setting up a display if no one was around to see it.

He wondered how long Palpatine had been planning this. Probably since Vader's defection, if not before. The display case with its feeding system, and the drug, must have taken some time to plan. It would, he thought, be just like Palpatine to have been designing this for years, even while Vader was still serving him loyally. Palpatine liked to be prepared.

Vader supposed that the Imperial publicity machine must have been working at light speed since his capture. Darth Vader the Tourist Attraction. See the Traitor Unmasked. Marvel at the Loathsome Features of the Fiend who Betrayed our Beloved Emperor. Vader wondered, does Palpatine actually think this will hurt me? He's a fool, if he does. I've got a few more important things to worry about than the fact that the population of Coruscant is going to be staring at me.

A week. Palpatine had told him he had a week. Of course, that could easily be a lie. His execution could be scheduled for today, or for years from now, depending on what Palpatine thought would prove most entertaining.

But, assuming for the sake of argument that Palpatine hadn't lied ...

A week. One week to figure out how the fuck to get out of this.

Easier thought than done. Hell and damnation, he thought, how was I stupid enough to allow this to happen? Why risk everything on one reckless attempt that was almost certain to fail?

I'm as idiotic as Luke and his friends. Thinking I can just blunder in heroically, rescue everyone, and miraculously get out again. You'd really think I would know better by now.

But, of course, the heroic idiocy of Luke and his friends usually seemed to work. Somehow. Vader was just going to have to convince himself that it would work again this time.

Oh, hell, hell, hell. He wished he could sense his children. He knew they'd been hurt when they tried to fight Palpatine, but he had no idea what the Emperor might have done to them. Surely he wouldn't have damaged them too badly. It would spoil Palpatine's fun if he no longer had them alive and conscious, to toy with. Knowing Palpatine, he probably wanted them as his "young apprentices". It would ruin everything if they were vegetables, or dead.

But Solo and Chewbacca -- what about them? Palpatine had no such reason to keep them alive, except to use them as tools for controlling Leia and Luke. Vader felt cold fury coiling inside him. It would be his fault if Solo and the Wookiee were hurt or killed. He had brought them into danger, and he had failed to protect them.

I will get out of this, he promised himself. So what if it was impossible. He and his family seemed to excel in accomplishing the impossible.

He would get out of this, and somehow, he would have the satisfaction of tearing Palpatine apart.

Movement to the left of his case drew his gaze to that side again.

So, he thought, it's starting. He wondered how the traffic flow would be organised, and how close the tourists would be allowed to get to him. He supposed he'd find out soon enough. He had an unpleasant vision of snotty-nosed kids plastering their faces up against the partitions, and decorating his display case with chewing gum and spit wads.

Instead of the repulsive children he was envisioning, the first people to approach his case were four men in the black uniforms of the palace guards. They positioned themselves at each corner of the case, blaster rifles resting on their arms. Good, thought Vader, at least they should be able to fight off the kids with the chewing gum. He glanced up at the guard standing to the left of his head, and caught the guard's gaze on him before the man was able to look away. The guard, a young man with black hair, a spotty complexion and a thin attempt at a moustache, visibly started when he realised that Vader was looking at him. A guilty blush darkened his face, then he quickly looked away, staring into the distance.

Well, Vader thought, looks like Wispy-moustache isn't much happier to be here than I am. If only he had even a fraction of his usual powers, he'd be able to convince these guards to set him free in moments. He tried again to break through the wall surrounding his mind, but precisely nothing happened.

He couldn't move his head enough to get a good look, but the Hall seemed to be filling with people. The pale blue marble was disappearing behind a sea of uniforms. There were ranks of the palace guards, and beyond them the green of the regular forces, and here and there a splotch of white that must mark the presence of stormtroopers.

Another figure stepped up to Vader, and stood at the foot of the display case. The man had determinedly not looked at Vader as he walked past, but Vader was sure that he recognised the dark red hair and stocky build of Nevoy, the Moff of Coruscant.

Nevoy was almost out of the range of Vader's sight, but he seemed to be speaking, probably addressing the crowd. Vader idly wished that he could hear what the Moff was saying, although he knew he was probably not missing much. No doubt poor Nevoy was being compelled to declaim some hyperbole-laden example of Palpatine's prose.

The Moff stepped away and was lost to Vader's sight. And the procession began. The palace guards had apparently been chosen as the first lucky souls to have a view of the captured arch-traitor. They started filing slowly around his case, circumnavigating it from left to right. A memory came to Vader of a planet he had been to once, where the embalmed corpse of some particularly famous ruler was kept on permanent display, and visitors had trooped around it just as the guards were doing now. Vader tried to remember the ruler's name, but couldn't dredge it up. Queen Someone-or-other, that was as far as he could get. He hoped that Queen Someone-or-other's spirit was happily bopping around eternity somewhere, instead of being stuck in her body as Vader was. Although, being dead, perhaps she would at least be able to hear what people were saying about her. That might serve to slightly lessen the tedium.

Vader knew he would very soon get bored with watching the succession of faces. But for now, it was interesting to watch them, and gauge their reactions.

Weird, he thought, not being able to feel their responses.

Almost the worst part of those months after the accident had been having to feel how everyone reacted to him. Before he regained control enough to shut off his senses, he'd been swamped by the horror, pity and disgust of the people surrounding him.

Now, he couldn't feel anything from them. There were only faces.

He could read some disgust, but not as much as he'd expected. He supposed that really, he probably didn't look too disturbing any more. As soldiers, these men should certainly have seen sights worse than one scarred bald man with no ears.

Some of the guards were staring at him with open curiosity. Some seemed afraid, not quite convinced that he couldn't currently incinerate them with a thought. A very few looked amused, although Vader noticed that when one man made some presumably joking comment, the man behind him turned a furious glower on the joker and looked ready to punch him.

The majority of the expressions that met Vader were variations on embarrassment and unease. And perhaps also disappointment.

Vader's mouth curved into a smile, though he realised the smile must be largely hidden by his breathing mask. Good thing, too. If these men saw him smiling, some of them were likely to faint.

I'm sorry, lads, Vader thought. I regret that I don't have a face worthy of my legend.

Of course he was familiar with the rumours which had accumulated around him over the decades. He rather enjoyed them. He was some sort of alien, or a cyborg, or some undead ghoul. He'd been hideously deformed since birth, or his face had been melted off when he was submerged in a pit of lava. How he was supposed to have survived such an experience was anybody's guess, but perhaps that scenario went with the undead theory. Regardless, the theories were inevitably over-the-top. And now here he was, just a middle-aged human being whose hair, ears and eyebrows had been burnt off. What a let-down.

Vader spotted one particularly uncomfortable-looking soldier trooping past, and winked at him. A look of horror washed over the guard's face, and he abruptly pushed his way out of the queue and fled.

Shit, Vader thought. He'd certainly just earned that guard a dressing-down, and probably worse. No doubt the officers had strict instructions that this little party was to go off without a hitch. Mustn't be any disturbances at Palpatine's pet exhibition.

Stop making trouble, Vader ordered himself. It's not their fault you're here. It's yours.

He sighed, and once more gazed through the roof of his case, to the distant ceiling. He let his mind float, imagining that he was drifting through the ceiling, and the sky, to the stars beyond. The sun had moved past the window, or had gone behind a cloud, and his face was no longer warm.



He's awake.

Leia nervously tried to probe the feelings of the man in the room next to her. She realised that she was holding her breath. She couldn't sense the horrible chaos that she'd felt in him last night, before the Aunt Beru incident. There was an undertone of confusion, but mainly his aura was calm. And that, she thought, was probably not a good sign.

What am I going to do? she thought. If I walk into that bedroom and he calls me Aunt Beru, what am I going to do?

She was pacing beside the table, which was currently laden with another lavish and varied breakfast buffet. The droid had kept getting in her way as she paced, until she ordered it to shut itself off, or face being melted down.

She had been up for hours already, as it had only been early evening when she and Luke went to bed. She sighed now, remembering the feeling of his hand clinging on to hers.

Oh, Luke. What's happened to you? What have I done to you?

How am I going to get you back again?

She had just decided that she should go and check on him, when his bedroom door slid opened and Luke appeared.

He was fully dressed, except for his boots, which he held one in each hand. He was wearing a white tunic and beige trousers from the clothing Palpatine had supplied. His hair wasn't brushed, and looked even more haystack-like than usual. With a worried expression on his face, he said plaintively, "why didn't you wake me up? I'm gonna be late for school."

It was all Leia could do not to break down screaming. Oh, Luke, no, she thought, don't do this to me! Somehow she managed to force her voice into the placid tone she imagined Aunt Beru as having, and said, "no, Luke, there's no school today. Remember?"

Luke looked puzzled for a moment, then he said "okay." He dropped his boots on the floor -- Leia wondered if she should nag him to pick them up, but she didn't have the heart -- and walked over to the table, where he sat down, reached for a bowl from the centre of the table, and then for the crystal container holding Astroflakes cereal. As she watched her brother dump a large proportion of the cereal into his bowl, and then pour in milk from a carved jade jug, she thought, only Palpatine would keep Astroflakes in crystal.

This is so weird, she thought, watching Luke. Really, incredibly weird. How does it work? What's he seeing? She supposed he must probably be seeing the house on Tatooine, or something like it. But he was able to interact with his actual surroundings -- his clothes, and the cereal. Maybe he was seeing the Tatooine house and the palace superimposed on each other. She wondered what would happen if he couldn't find something that was supposed to be in his house? Would he imagine that something else was it, or would she have to explain why everything was gone?

Oh, Gods. Should I try to bring him out of this? It's my damn fault.

Or -- is it better to give him more time? At least he seems happy enough. That's more than he was before.

And if she did try bringing him out of it, how did she know what would happen? She'd been trying to help him last night, too, and look where it had got them!

Luke was eating the cereal with his hands, plucking the Astroflakes out of the milk one by one. He was probably playing a game to see how many flakes he could get without his fingers touching the milk. She wondered again if she ought to tell him off, but then, she didn't know what kind of table manners Aunt Beru had allowed when Luke was six, or whatever he thought he was. And maybe cereal was finger food on Tatooine.

Well, he was going to notice if she kept staring at him like he was some sort of monster. So what could she do instead? She imagined that Aunt Beru had spent most of her time doing housework, but there didn't seem to be much of that available here, not with the droid around to keep things spic and span. Awkwardly, Leia sat down across from Luke, and poured herself a cup of tea.

"Where's Uncle Owen?" Luke asked.

"Um, he's gone out already," she improvised. She ought to find out more about what Luke thought he was living. Whether it was his real life, and he'd been thrown back into some actual period from it, or whether it just worked like a dream. She asked brightly, "how's school been lately?"

"Fine," said Luke, looking happy. And that was all she was going to get from him about school, because he went on, in a rush, "Biggs got a remote control AT-AT for his birthday! He brought it in for show-and-tell. He says if I'm really careful he'll let me give it a test-run. It's got lasers and everything! Well," he added, apparently feeling compelled to be truthful, "the laser bits in its mouth light up, anyway."

"That's nice, Luke," Leia said lamely. Terrific. He's going to want me to buy him a remote control AT-AT. Hell, if we asked nicely, dear Uncle Palpatine would probably give him a real one, complete with live stormtroopers! A gloomy vision entered her mind of Luke being stuck like this. Would he grow up all over again, or would he just stay six years old? Oh, Gods, she could eventually send him to school with her own kids. Except that all the other kids would pick on him for being too tall and having to shave. What a nightmare.

Luke finished up his cereal, and asked hopefully, "can I go out and play?"

Out where? Into the hallway? Somehow she didn't think that would make a very convincing Tatooine moisture farm. "Uh, no, Luke, I don't want you going outside today," she said, rapidly trying to invent some plausible reason. "There's supposed to be a sandstorm coming, so you just stay in here with me, okay?"

"Okay," he said, smiling at her. "Can I go back to my room?"

Oh, shit. What if he does go back, and finds out his toys are missing? Or will he just play with invisible toys?

Stalling, Leia said, "in a minute. Will you wash the dishes first?"

Amiably enough, Luke picked up his bowl, her tea mug and the plate from which she'd eaten a muffin and some talfa berries earlier, and walked off with them toward the bathroom. Of course, all he was going to find there to wash them with was hand soap, shampoo and bath lotion, but Leia wasn't going to quibble. At least this meant, again, that he had some contact with his real surroundings, as he was heading for the only sink in their quarters. Determined to have a fall-back position, in case Luke did indeed discover that his toys were gone, she strode over to the droid and flicked its re-activation switch. The droid lit up immediately, and Leia questioned, "is there anywhere one can purchase toys in the palace?"

"Yes, Mistress Leia. There is a toyshop in the Imperial Arcade."

"Good. I want you to bring us -- a set of building blocks, three different colouring books, a selection of crayons -- the biggest selection they've got -- and, um, a model ship. An x-wing, if they've got one." No, that was stupid, of course the toyshop in the Imperial Arcade wouldn't be selling model x-wings. Not unless they came packaged with TIE-fighters, and the x-wings blew up. "Or, a skyhopper," she amended, "something like that." She added maliciously, hoping this would work, "put it on His Imperial Majesty's bill."

"Of course, Mistress Leia. Right away."

As the droid departed, Leia could hear clattering from the bathroom sink, and she wondered if Luke was breaking the crockery. Not that it mattered much, she was sure that Palpatine could spare a few table-settings.

Even as she was thinking this, the door to their quarters whooshed open again, and Palpatine himself appeared.

Leia tensed, grabbing the back of one of the dining room chairs for support. The Emperor seemed his usual cheerful self, and said mildly, "good morning, my dear. May I come in?"

She answered him with an icy nod -- well, there wasn't any point in refusing, was there? -- and hoped that Luke would stay in the bathroom.

There came another crashing sound from the direction of the sink, and Palpatine asked, "how is your dear brother this morning?"

"Fine," Leia lied. She stepped away from the chair, toward Palpatine, and demanded, "where is our father? What have you done with him?"

"He's quite safe, Leia. For now."

"I want to see him."

"Later," said Palpatine, and Leia thought that the smile with which he accompanied the word was even more peculiar than usual.

Since the Emperor could probably read her mind anyway, Leia supposed she might as well put all her cards on the table. What few cards she had. She asked, "Palpatine, what do you want from me? What do I have to do to stop you from hurting my family?"

"Ah, my dear, that's just what I wanted to talk with you about."

Before Palpatine could elaborate, they were interrupted by Luke. He was standing by the bathroom door, staring suspiciously at the Emperor. "Who's that man?" Luke asked in a hostile tone. "I don't like him."

"Everything's all right, Luke," Leia said, her voice obviously giving her the lie. "Stay over there."

Luke did just the opposite, stomping over to them and taking a stand next to Leia. He glowered at Palpatine. Although he was the same height as always, Leia almost thought she could see him as the little boy he imagined himself to be. His stance at the moment was just how he would stand if he were indeed a six-year-old, scowling up at an adult he didn't trust. "Go away," said Luke. "I don't like you. You smell funny."

Well, he may be six years old, but he isn't stupid.

"Good morning, Luke," said Palpatine. "I've brought something for you." He held out his hand, palm up, and an instant later a brightly-painted model x-wing appeared in it.

Leia grabbed Luke's arm. "Don't take it," she ordered him.

Luke didn't seem inclined to take it. He was eyeing the x-wing as if he expected it to bite. Then he turned to Leia, asking belligerently, "what's he doing here?"

"This is Mr. Palpatine," Leia said, trying to sound as if everything was fine. "He's ... a business partner of your uncle's. He's come to talk about the farm." Oh, bad choice of lies, Leia realised. Now, with her luck, Luke was going to be worried that "Mr. Palpatine" would buy up the moisture farm from under them and kick them out.

To her relief, at this moment the droid re-entered the guest quarters, one of its retractable arms extended and a shopping bag hanging from it. Palpatine stepped aside and watched in amusement as the droid trundled up to them. "Here you are, Mistress Leia," it reported.

"Thank you," she said. She took the bag, then shoved it at Luke. "Here are your toys, Luke," she said. "Why don't you go to your room and play now? Mr. Palpatine and I have to talk."

Luke clutched the shopping bag to his chest, still looking warily at Palpatine.

"It's all right, Luke, I promise," Leia urged. "Go play."

Finally Luke nodded, and trailed off to his room with the bag of toys, several times looking back. Palpatine watched Luke's departure, then he turned back to Leia. He was idly stroking the x-wing in his hand.

"Children," said the Emperor, smiling at Leia. "It's so difficult to know how to make the right decisions for them. Do you tell them the truth, or do you lie to protect them?"

"Luke's not a child," Leia snapped.

"Isn't he?"

Leia's anger was rising in her. Clenching her fists, she hissed, "what did you do to him?"

"Oh, my dear, I think it's you who did this."

"All right. I did this. But you hurt him. You -- "

"Very well, if you really wish to know. Luke attacked me. In his attack he used all the anger he had. I merely threw it back at him. I'm afraid it was too much for him, and it ... short-circuited his brain. So you see, dear, in fact he did this to himself." Palpatine chuckled. "It seems that Obi Wan Kenobi was right after all. One's anger can be one's destruction."

Leia forced herself not to scream at the evil old bastard. She insisted coldly, "I'm going to help him. And you're going to show me how."

"Of course I will, my dear girl. I'm very fond of you and your sweet little brother." He gazed at the model x-wing, and it disappeared. "Leia," said the Emperor, "I have a proposition for you."

Oh, shit, Leia thought. If he's going to try and make me marry him ...

"Oh, no, my dear, nothing like that. I don't think that would be terribly appropriate."

Appropriate? Since when has Palpatine been worried about what's appropriate?

"Not that you are not very charming. But no, that isn't what I had in mind. You see, Leia, I feel so close to you and your brother. I feel there is already an understanding, let us say a ... family feeling, between us. I merely wish to make it official."

She was starting to get a bad feeling about this. She asked him, "how?"

The Emperor said, "I am going to adopt you and Luke. Leia, I want you to be my heir."


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