Part 2: The Holocron
Leia hadn’t thought that any place could be more dismal than Panoor, but Ord Mantell had quickly proved her wrong.
Oh, it didn’t have the perpetual rain and dreary skies of Panoor. Ord Mantell was more often sunny and warm than not. In fact it was downright hot, the air thick and muggy and ripe with the sickly sweet smells of sweat and rotting garbage.
But it was the feel of the place that was truly oppressive. People came to Ord Mantell to disappear, it was said, and Leia could easily believe it. The people they passed in the streets were dull-eyed and slow, their faces slack and their steps going wide of one another. They looked more dead than alive.
That was how Leia had spotted the bounty hunter. He’d been trying to blend in, probably, but he’d looked far more real than anyone else here. He’d been difficult to miss.
Han was clearly shaken by the encounter, and maybe by Leia’s response as well. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know that, though. And she had bigger things to worry about, anyway.
The bounty hunter had been searching for Han Solo, not for members of the Rebellion, which would at least buy them some time here. But that was small comfort. If that bounty hunter had stood out so badly, it was almost certain that they would, too. They couldn’t stay on Ord Mantell for long.
But Leia couldn’t leave yet. Not until she’d met with Ekkreth’s courier.
He’d contacted her three days ago, for the first time in months, over a seven-way encrypted subspace channel that still represented a greater risk than any he would normally take. Whatever he was sending must be important.
Leia hadn’t asked how he’d known she was on Ord Mantell. It was enough to know that his Imperial persona remained unaware of her location, and was currently engaged in a wild nerf chase halfway across the galaxy.
Ekkreth had said he had something to give her, but he hadn’t offered any more information than that, and he’d spoken in the monotone droid’s voice that he used for all his subspace transmissions. It was far more effective than any scrambler, and infinitely safer, for both of them. Leia knew that. It was ridiculous of her to want to hear his voice.
Chewie wuffed softly just behind her, and Leia started, turning around to glare at her companions.
“We need to get under cover,” Han muttered, his gaze darting nervously around the crowded, slow-moving street. It landed on her momentarily, and looked no less nervous.
Leia sighed. Luke was looking back and forth between her and Han, and Chewie was staring at her pointedly, but now was not the time or place to explain.
“All right,” she said. Something prodded at her, a whisper in the Force. She didn’t know what it meant, but she’d learned to follow that prodding.
Now it led her to a small establishment only a few dozen meters away. It was a sad little tea house, musty with age and crumbling masonry. A pair of Rodians entirely failed to look up from their table in the far corner, and an ageless Togruta man stared them down listlessly from his place behind the counter.
“Have a seat,” he mumbled, and went back to wiping down a chipped mug with a rag that probably hadn’t been clean in weeks.
Leia shot a glance at her companions. Han still looked unnerved, though he was doing a better job of hiding it now. Chewie’s attention was trained entirely on Han, and he radiated concern and a protective aura that would have sent any bounty hunter with sense running, or at least walking very speedily in the opposite direction. Only Luke met her eyes, and he simply gave her an easy shrug and a smile and turned toward the nearest table.
That was oddly reassuring. Leia couldn’t imagine why the Force had led her here, but it helped that Luke had apparently felt it too. Or maybe he was simply willing to go along with her intuition.
“I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea,” Luke said as they sat. “And this place doesn’t look too bad.”
Leia stared at him incredulously. He appeared to be serious.
“What?” he asked, laughing at her expression. “Obviously you’ve never been to a…well, let’s call it a restaurant on Tatooine.”
Leia bit her tongue. Luke was laughing, but he wasn’t joking. For a moment she was almost reminded, strangely, of Ekkreth.
“He’s got you pegged, Your Worship,” Han snickered, though he still didn’t sound up to his usual bravado.
“I’ve never been to Tatooine at all,” Leia said with a teasing shrug of one shoulder. “Apparently I’m missing out.”
Han snickered. Chewie let out a whuff of laughter. But Luke only looked at her. “You’re really not,” he said, voice flat and bone dry. “It’s mostly sand. Sand and gangsters and…well.” He glanced aside at Han and Chewie, and Leia knew what he meant. Skywalker was a slave name.
Han looked quickly between the two of them, but Leia couldn’t read his expression. “Oh, come on, kid,” he said with a half-hearted attempt at a lazy grin. “You’re selling the place short. There’s the cantinas and the junk shops, too. Though…come to think of it, those are mostly in the pocket of the Hutts anyway.”
Leia opened her mouth, but snapped it quickly closed again when she saw the Togruta waiter approaching. He had a grimy datapad in one hand and an expression of such perfect disinterest that Leia began to think they should be more careful with their conversation. She knew that disinterested look well. She’d seen it often enough in the mirror.
“What can I get you?” the man muttered, apparently directing his question at the surface of the table.
Leia shrugged helplessly and ordered an ardees. In a place like this, it was probably the safest bet. She felt strangely vindicated when Han ordered the same, along with a wahrup for Chewie.
Luke turned to the waiter, smiled, and said something in a language Leia had never heard before.
The man’s entire demeanor changed. His eyes snapped up to look at them, wide and somehow frightened and hopeful at once. His free hand moved to cover a tattoo on his left forearm that Leia had only just noticed. A small circle with three long lines extending from it, like rays of light from a sun. The man said something to Luke in the same language, and they talked for several moments. Finally he gave Luke a sharp nod and moved back to the counter.
Luke turned back to them. “What?” he said.
“Kid…” said Han. His voice sounded strange, choked. He was looking at Luke as though he’d never seen him before.
Luke sighed. “He’s from Tatooine,” he said, then hesitated before adding, so quietly that Leia almost didn’t hear, “like my father.”
A freed slave.
“Oh,” said Leia. Her voice felt very small.
But Luke, strangely, was smiling. “Yeah,” he said. “So we should be safe here.”
“Is he…with us?” Leia asked, cringing slightly at the awkwardness of her own question.
“I’m not sure,” Luke said easily. “Not about that. But Tarrok’s with…well. He’ll have contacts. There’s…a network.”
Leia bit her tongue. She could see Han doing the same. Not about that, Luke had said, but it almost sounded like an afterthought. This Tarrok wasn’t a member of the Rebellion, as far as they knew. But there was a network. Another network, one that had, perhaps, been running longer than the Empire had existed. And Luke was clearly a part of it, too. Skywalker was a slave name.
She said nothing, and a moment later the man, Tarrok, returned, balancing two cups of ardees, a large glass of wahrup, and a steaming mug of something spicy and almost familiar, which he placed in front of Luke.
Luke took the mug, fairly beaming, and downed a healthy swallow. Then he set it on the table and said something to Tarrok in that unknown language. The Togruta replied. Leia had no idea what they were saying, but the whole exchange had the air of ritual.
Luke drank again, smiling, and then began gesturing around the table, still speaking in that other language. He motioned toward her, and though she couldn’t understand him, Leia thought she heard her own name.
Tarrok’s eyes narrowed. He peered sharply down at her. His lips moved, murmuring words she couldn’t read. Then he smiled.
“Ripple,” he said.
Leia held the confusion on her face and the innocence in her eyes. She had long practice at this. She wouldn’t be so easily startled. “Excuse me?” she asked, polite, innocently confused.
The Togruta studied her a moment longer, then nodded decisively and turned on his heel. “There’s a droid waiting for you,” he said. “Come with me.”
Leia hesitated. But Tarrok was already halfway to the back and looking over his shoulder impatiently. He had no time for her confused act, that look seemed to say. It was his honest annoyance, more than Luke’s reassuring nod, that finally convinced Leia. “Save my seat,” she murmured to Han, and followed Tarrok into the back of the little shop.
There was an Imperial analyst droid waiting in the hidden room beneath Tarrok’s kitchen.
There were other things in that room, too. Several mattresses stacked neatly in one corner. A careful collection of small toiletries. A half-packed knapsack. Evidence of quickly eaten meals. A scanner of some kind, and beside it a number of sterile surgeon’s implements and a roll of gauze.
Leia recognized the room from Luke’s stories. And that sparked something in her, a thought only half-formed. There was an answer here, but what the question was, she didn’t yet know. So she tucked the thought carefully away. Now was not the time.
She recognized the droid, too, or at least the model. The kind of analyst droid that had once been standard on Imperial Star Destroyers. An older model, now, slowly being phased out but still common enough to be nearly invisible.
Ekkreth had always seemed to like droids. She had no doubt who had sent this one.
Tarrok glanced quickly between Leia and the droid, nodded once, and slipped back out the hidden door. It closed seamlessly behind him.
“The mighty one comes with the storm and with fire,” said the droid.
That thought, the one that had yet to fully form, buzzed in Leia’s mind again, startled and insistent. She felt as though she were hearing the coded words for the first time.
“We will walk free,” she whispered.
Here, in the safe house of a rebellion older than the Empire, a rebellion that had never been hers, the words seemed to fill the whole world.
But she had to be sure. “Who tells the rain what it is?”
“The ripple,” said the droid.
The breath Leia hadn’t been aware of holding escaped at last. She’d found Ekkreth’s messenger, and she’d done so entirely by accident.
But then, Ekkreth was always saying that there were no coincidences. That was something to think about, too. Something else that would have to wait until she’d received Ekkreth’s message, until they were well away from Ord Mantell and safe again, or at least as safe as they could be, on the next Rebel base. For now, she had to focus on the job at hand.
“What do you have for me?” she asked the droid. And then, as an afterthought, “And what should I call you?”
“My name is Elcee,” the droid said. There was a definite note of pride in that voice, and Leia didn’t miss the almost defiant emphasis on the word name.
Elcee, she thought. Like Kadee. Like Artoo and Threepio, as Luke called them. A name, not a designation.
There was something there, too. Another piece of a puzzle that remained only half-guessed. She gathered this thought, too, and put it away with the others, jumbled fragments of an unknown truth. Now was not the time.
“Elcee, then,” Leia said. “Ekkreth sent you?”
“Yes,” said Elcee. “I bring a message, and a gift.”
Leia blinked, startled, as what she had taken for an analysis tray in the middle of the droid’s torso slid open to reveal two highly illicit items. Elcee removed them with almost reverent care and offered them to Leia on the flat palm of one outstretched hand.
She had never seen a holocron in person before, but Leia recognized the device instantly. And beside it there was a lightsaber.
It looked markedly different from Luke’s. The hilt was sleek chrome and uniformly smooth, narrower in circumference than Luke’s and suited to her smaller hands. It gleamed in Elcee’s palm. Leia stared at it, drawn in a way she couldn’t explain.
“He – he made this – ”
“For you,” said Elcee. “Yes. The holocron will teach you how to use it. And I have been instructed to tell you to remember your training.”
Leia snorted. Well, that was very like Ekkreth. “Of course he did,” she muttered, not quite able to disguise the fondness in her voice.
Her hand hesitated over the lightsaber. A Jedi’s weapon, like Luke’s, or General Kenobi’s. Like her mother’s.
Leia’s fingers closed around the hilt. The metal felt almost warm, strange and yet familiar. Images flowed before her eyes: stark white walls and blinking monitors; two hands working dexterously, metal and wires crafting metal and wires; the gleam of light on blue crystal, refracting. She heard laughter, thin and rasping, and the echo of a chanting voice humming through her veins. For a fleeting moment, she thought she saw her dream-mother smile.
And then the feeling passed and she was once more standing in the hidden room, the last fading strains of a song she didn’t know drifting through her mind. She turned the lightsaber over in her hand, seeking what her fingers had felt: a series of lines etched in the metal, just beneath the activation panel. It was a stylized depiction of a crown, small and subtle but unmistakable. Leia traced over the design, wondering.
“I am also meant to tell you,” said Elcee, “that there has been rumor of Rebel activity in this sector, and that Lord Vader may soon choose to investigate.”
Leia smiled wryly. “And so we’ll need to be gone. Understood.” She clipped the lightsaber to her belt, carefully positioned so it hung invisibly beneath her vest. The holocron was more unwieldy. It sat awkwardly in the pouch at her side, the fabric bulging slightly around it, but that would have to do for now. She turned back to Elcee. “And what about you? We’ll have to send you back somehow, won’t we? Does he have a plan for that?”
“No,” said Elcee. “I own myself. I am not going back.”
Leia paused. There it was again, that sense of something elusive but important. Those words, spoken in this room…
But she would have to examine it later. Now, they had to go.
“Well then,” she said briskly. “Would you like to come with us, Elcee? We could always use a good analyst, especially one with experience of Imperial structures, and we’d be happy to have you.”
The droid looked at her long and levelly. “I own myself,” they said again. “I will call no one Master.”
“Of course not,” Leia murmured, a little weakly. She’d never heard a droid speak this way before.
Finally, when she began to think she could bear the droid’s unblinking stare no longer, Elcee nodded. “Very well,” they said, surprising warmth in their voice. “I will be happy to work with you, Ripple.”
“Call me Leia,” she said on a sudden impulse. It was the right thing to say. Had the droid possessed a face capable of expression, she thought they would have been grinning.
Leia knocked once, softly, at the almost seamless section of wall that concealed the entrance to Tarrok’s secret room. For several moments, there was no answer, but then the wall slid soundlessly aside and Luke, Han, and Chewie stumbled in. A harried Tarrok closed the wall immediately behind them without a word.
“What’s going on?” Leia hissed.
“Imperial inspection,” Han whispered back. “Tarrok says it’s routine.” He sounded doubtful, and Leia noticed that his hand was resting easily on the blaster at his hip. He caught her looking, and sent her a lopsided grin. “Can’t be too careful. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you can never trust a smuggler.”
Leia bit back a snort of laughter. But Luke was shaking his head, his eyes gleaming as they darted quickly around the room.
“He’s not a smuggler,” he whispered, staring at the scanner and the surgical tools beside it. “Not like that. This is a chelik-ta. A safe house.”
“A wh– ” Han began, but Leia gestured sharply at him and he fell silent. She’d sensed something out there, beyond the wall that kept them hidden, and by the look on Luke’s face, she could tell he’d sensed it too. The vague, disinterested presence in the Force that was the hallmark of someone going through the motions, not truly engaged with where they were or what they were doing.
Stormtroopers, then. And it must have been a routine inspection, after all, for them to show so little interest.
Nevertheless, Leia held herself perfectly still. They couldn’t afford to be caught now. It was bad enough she’d had to dispose of the bounty hunter. A missing squad of Imperial stormtroopers would be much harder to hide, and it would likely be Tarrok who’d have to bear the brunt of the consequences.
Outside, they could hear the troopers moving about the small shop. There was a clatter as something large and heavy was knocked over, and then the tinny sound of laughter filtered through helmets. Tarrok said something, too low for Leia to make out. Maybe Luke heard it, though, or perhaps he was simply more familiar with the everyday cruelty of inspections. His hands were clenched tightly at his sides, the knuckles stark and white. Chewie’s eyes, too, had narrowed, and she noticed that Han was watching his co-pilot carefully.
There was another crash. Luke’s hand found its way to his lightsaber, and Leia’s fingers darted out to clasp his, to hold him back. If they revealed themselves, they would only make things worse.
That was one of the oldest lessons she’d learned in her double life, and still the one that rankled most.
They waited. Several more crashes followed, and then there was the sound of something heavy and soft hitting the floor. The troopers laughed again. There was a loud scuffle of boots and shifting armor, almost enough to drown out the faint swish of a door, and then silence fell like winter night in the mountains: suddenly and violently.
A moment later the wall slid aside. A large bruise shone livid purple against Tarrok’s blue skin, covering most of the left side of his face. “They’re gone now,” he whispered. “But you can’t stay here. I’m sorry.”
Leia gave him the best smile she could manage. “No, we’re sorry for bringing this on you. You’ve already done so much and – ”
She stopped. Tarrok was laughing.
“You haven’t brought anything new here,” he said, still chuckling. “The inspectors come once a week at least. They think I’m running illegal merchandise, you see. But they can’t find anything.”
Not a smuggler, Leia thought. Her eyes fell on the knapsack half-filled with clothes. Illegal merchandise, she thought. She couldn’t look at the surgical tools, and she couldn’t look at Luke. Her stomach twisted.
“Even so,” she said. “The longer we stay the greater the danger will be for you. Do you have a safe way out?”
Tarrok hesitated a moment, glancing pointedly at the droid.
“I am going with them,” Elcee said. “I will not endanger you any further. But I am grateful for your help, Tarrok.”
Han looked briefly incredulous, and Leia feared she might have to intervene, but then he gave an exaggerated shrug and turned back to Tarrok. Clearly, he’d decided now wasn’t the time for questions. Leia was reluctantly impressed.
“There’s a tunnel,” said Tarrok, crossing the room to place one hand on a seemingly empty section of wall. It slid away, revealing a dark passageway lit at long intervals with dim haloes of light. “This will take you to a warehouse just outside Docking Bay 18. Keep silent as you go. The way passes beneath three taverns and an Imperial barracks.”
Leia saw Han’s eyes widen, and felt her own brows raise in surprise. She was used to clandestine activity, but even she couldn’t say she’d made a habit of sneaking about literally under the nose of an Imperial garrison.
“You’re sure you won’t come with us?” Luke asked their host.
Tarrok smiled, small and secret. “No,” he said. “My place is here.”
Luke held his eyes for a moment and then nodded. Without another word he turned and moved toward the tunnel. Elcee followed, and then Han and Chewie. Leia went last, and Tarrok closed the hidden door behind them, and then there was only darkness, illumined by faint stabs of light.
Artoo and Threepio were waiting for them on the Falcon. They had an unconscious stormtrooper tucked just beside the top of the boarding ramp, haphazardly trussed with what looked like a coiled length of electrical wire. Leia caught Luke’s eye and saw that he was laughing silently.
Maybe they should have been more worried – the droids had obviously been discovered – but Leia couldn’t help a smile of her own. Ekkreth’s advice all those years ago had proven more than accurate: Artoo was quite a reliable ally.
And Threepio, of course. But Leia had no doubt about which of them had subdued the trooper.
“Oh, Princess Leia,” Threepio nearly wailed. “You’ve returned only just in time. We’ve had no end of troubles here, and I’m afraid Artoo has done something terribly rash.”
The astromech responded with a rude blatt, followed by an excited whirr as Elcee came aboard. The analyst droid startled Leia by answering in binary, and there was a flurry of beeps and whistles. She glanced again at Luke and saw that his eyebrows had risen into his hairline.
“All right, all right, enough chatter,” Han snapped. He jabbed the air with a finger, gesturing rapidly between Artoo and Threepio. “You two can give us the full update once we’re in hyperspace.” He spared the motionless stormtrooper a brief glance. “For now, dump the stiff and let’s get out of here.” With that he and Chewie made for the cockpit without once looking back.
Leia looked at Luke and shrugged. There was no knowing how much the stormtrooper may have learned, but they didn’t have much choice. They could hardly take him with them, and the only other alternative would be to kill him.
Ekkreth might have done that. It was an uncomfortable thought, all the more so because she understood it. Because she knew that sometimes there were no good choices, and in that absence, maybe what was practical was best.
But Leia couldn’t do it. The bounty hunter had been one thing. This was different. The stormtrooper was unconscious and helpless. She couldn’t kill him.
She could tell that Luke had reached the same conclusion. But there was some comfort in knowing that he had also considered it.
Luke lowered the ramp again, and together they hefted the trooper’s unwieldy body out of the ship and across the hangar. They propped him up against a data station, relieved him of his blaster, comlink, and helmet, and returned to the ship. Han was raising the ramp before they’d even fully boarded.
“I’ve seen more than enough of this garbage heap,” he said over the ship’s coms. “Everybody buckle up. We’re out of here.”
The pursuit caught them before they’d even made it out of atmosphere, but Leia found she wasn’t really worried. It felt almost natural now: Han and Luke split off to man the guns, and Leia slid into the pilot’s seat beside Chewie. There were five TIE fighters following them, and then three, and then none. Han and Luke whooped into their headsets, and Leia punched in the hyperspace coordinates, and they were gone, leaving Ord Mantell far behind.
And now, Leia thought, she’d face the real challenge.
They had several hours ahead of them in hyperspace, and no more pressing concerns. She was out of excuses to avoid her companions’ questions, and judging by the glint in Han’s eye and the more subdued but no less real curiosity in Luke’s, it was clear they knew it.
Leia sighed. “Let’s go to the main hold,” she said. “If we’re going to do this, I could use a cup of ardees.”
Han didn’t exactly keep a stock of gourmet ardees, but after three years drinking the awful stuff they served in the Imperial Senate, Leia thought she could stomach anything.
“So, Your Worship,” Han drawled, draping himself inelegantly over the arm of a chair. “You gonna tell us what happened back there with that bounty hunter?”
And that was the real trouble. Could she tell them? Luke, at least, must have guessed that what she’d done had something to do with the Force. But Han didn’t know even that much. And she’d kept this secret for so long. It would change everything between them, she thought, and she wasn’t at all sure she wanted that to happen.
She glanced at Luke. His expression was carefully reserved, and she knew that if she decided to lie, he would support her. He would keep her secret.
The thought sat heavily in her stomach. If she were completely honest with herself, as she always tried to be, it weighed far more than the thought of the bounty hunter she had killed. That had been necessary, a defense both of her friends and of the Rebellion and its secrets. She’d needed to do something, and they couldn’t afford the noise of a blaster shot.
This was different. This was…it was like the stormtrooper. Maybe she should lie, but she couldn’t.
So she looked Han directly in the eye and said, “I used the Force. That’s what happened.”
Han gaped at her. Chewie growled a question, and from the corner of her vision Leia saw Luke nodding, but she didn’t look away from Han.
“What?” Han spluttered, now looking rapidly back and forth between her and Luke. “Both of you now? Look, I didn’t sign up for all this mystical mumbo jumbo. I – ”
“This mystical mumbo jumbo saved your life,” Leia snapped.
Han’s face softened, and some of the panic drained away. “I know,” he said quietly. He sounded almost defeated.
Something in Leia ached. This wasn’t what she’d wanted at all.
“Luke and I have been practicing together,” she said. “In secret. I – I haven’t told anybody else.”
“Yeah,” said Han, still with that soft, vulnerable edge to his voice. “I get it. I won’t blab, Leia.”
Leia started. It was only the second time he’d ever called her by her name. She’d been keeping track.
“Thank you, Han,” she said softly, and tried for a smile. Han’s answering twist of the mouth was more grimace than smile, but at least it was real.
Luke, of course, had many more questions. He wanted to know what exactly she’d done to the bounty hunter, and how she’d done it. He must have guessed how she’d learned it, but he was clearly curious about that, too. This was nothing like any of the things he’d ever seen Ben do.
Leia had put him off for now, but she’d promised to explain in detail once they got to Hoth. First, she had to familiarize herself with Ekkreth’s delivery.
She hadn’t told Luke about that yet, either. Not until she knew what was contained in that holocron. As much as Luke knew about her training and her teacher, he still had no intelligence clearance, and until she had verified that there was no confidential information on that holocron, it had to remain a secret.
Leia sighed to herself, turning the holocron over and over in her hands. At least it was quiet here. She’d claimed the crew quarters for herself, because it was one of the few places on the ship she knew had full sound proofing, and no one had really questioned that. Han had retreated to the cockpit, still looking ill at ease. Chewie had followed after him, concern brightening his eyes. Leia let them go without a word. They needed time, Han especially, and there wasn’t much more she could do. The truth was out. Now he would have to decide what to do with it.
Luke was still in the main hold, talking animatedly with Elcee. He’d clearly guessed that she’d received some kind of delivery on Ord Mantel, and that it was probably related to the intelligence side of her duties, since she hadn’t said anything about it. He just as clearly believed that Elcee themself was that delivery, and Leia couldn’t disabuse him of that notion. At least not yet.
Besides, Luke liked droids, and they liked him. He reminded her a bit of Ekkreth in that way. It was a strange comparison: huge, menacing Ekkreth, who looked not unlike a droid himself, and Luke with his warm smile and his easy laughter. But maybe not so very strange. Both of their minds were a desert.
The holocron was resting on one side in her palm now. Geometric shapes in blue and gold covered its perfectly square surface. Leia had no idea how to open it.
She’d already tried all of their coded words. It apparently wasn’t something that responded to voice activation. And the surface of the device was entirely free of buttons, levers, or any other means of operation. It looked as though the corners of the piece should slide away, but she could find no way to make them do so.
But Ekkreth had sent her the thing, so he must have expected her to know how to access it.
Frustrated, Leia dropped the holocron onto one of the cots in a huff. It bounced slightly off the mattress before settling, every bit as inscrutable as before.
All right. Clearly she was not taking the right tack. Perhaps she should try something with the Force? That hardly seemed like Ekkreth. He was always saying that she should trust her instincts, of course, but in general he seemed to favor intelligence, observation, and planning as the best ways to approach a problem, rather than simply solving everything with the Force. She’d seen that in him, and noticed it even more in the way he taught her.
But if it came to that, a holocron didn’t exactly seem like his style, either. And yet he’d sent this. A Jedi holocron, Leia strongly suspected. And if it was made by the Jedi, rather than by Ekkreth himself, then perhaps the Force was the answer.
She felt the shape of it in her mind. The energy of it was…strange, almost familiar but distinctly off, like a memory that wasn’t hers. She pushed at it in the Force, and the holocron flew up into the air and slid apart.
It remained floating in the air. For just a moment, nothing else happened at all. And then Leia heard Kadee’s voice.
“This lightsaber is yours,” said the droid who spoke for Ekkreth. Leia smiled to herself, grasping the hilt of her new lightsaber in her left hand and tracing over the crown mark with the fingers of her right. Ekkreth never bothered with pleasantries in his messages.
“I regret that I will be unable to teach you in person,” the monotone voice continued. “Under the circumstances, this holocron will have to suffice. The techniques contained here will serve you well. But it is a relic of the old Jedi Order, and I would caution you against too readily accepting as fact that which is a matter of philosophy. Above all, remember this: a lightsaber is a useful weapon, but it is only a weapon. Your greatest ally is the Force, and your greatest strength is your own mind.”
There was something very pointed in those words, something Leia might have thought more of in other circumstances. But now her focus was entirely on the holocron. Kadee’s voice had ended, and the vague blue glow of the device had resolved itself into a hologram. Leia sat back heavily on the cot and stared at the thing where it floated only meters away.
The image of Luke’s father smiled back at her.
The strange, half-formed thought that had been growing in her ever since she stepped into Tarrok’s safe room on Ord Mantell was a constant presence in the back of Leia’s mind. It waited there, bright-edged and fragile, for what she didn’t know. She was so close, so close to something vital and terrifying, but she couldn’t guess what it might be.
Leia paced. Her feet fell soundlessly on the hard-packed snow that made up her floor. The lightsaber bumped against her hip with every step.
There was a hollow knock at her door, and Leia started and spun around. Well. No more time for debate now.
She palmed the door open, and Luke stepped in.
“Hey,” he said. “Sorry I’m late. The tauntauns are anxious about something and Pela needed help settling them. She says I’m good with them, so I – Leia?”
Leia gave him a guilty smile. “Sorry. I’m listening. I just – ”
“Lot on your mind?” Luke asked easily.
“You could say that,” Leia muttered. She looked long and levelly at him. “You’re probably going to want to sit down.”
Luke’s smile disappeared. “What happened? Is everything – ”
“It’s nothing bad,” Leia hastened to assure him, though really, she didn’t know what this was. “Just…well, I’d better start at the beginning.”
Luke nodded. Without looking away from her, he sat slowly in her desk chair. Leia started pacing again.
“I had a delivery,” she began. Her voice sounded stilted and too loud even to her own ears. “On Ord Mantell. From my teacher.”
That caught Luke’s attention.
There wasn’t really any good way to tell him. Leia bit her lip, reached into the pouch at her side, and found the holocron.
Luke watched her curiously, but there was no recognition in his eyes. She wasn’t surprised. Holocrons were both illicit items and extremely rare. Most people had never heard of them, let alone seen one.
“This is a Jedi teaching tool,” she told Luke, and watched his eyes light up. “My teacher sent it, along with a lightsaber for me.”
Luke leaned forward, a question written on his eager face, but Leia couldn’t show him the lightsaber yet. This was too important. This was –
“Your father recorded it,” she blurted. Luke sat absolutely still, staring at her, his face perfectly blank, and Leia stumbled on. “It’s – it’s an instructional vid of lightsaber techniques. He’s very good.”
Luke was still staring at her. He looked somehow both calm and devastated. “Can I – ” he choked, swallowed hard, and began again. “Can I see him?”
She opened the holocron. Later, she would teach Luke how to do so, but now was not the time.
Kadee’s voice filled the air, and Leia watched Luke. He was momentarily startled by the monotone voice, and then briefly but clearly affronted at Ekkreth’s apparent criticism of a holocron made by his father. Leia had expected that, and had almost decided to skip over Ekkreth’s words. But they were too important. If he’d taken the risk of adding them to a Jedi holocron, then he must consider that teaching at least as vital as the lightsaber techniques contained on the holocron. And Luke needed to know that, too.
Then Ekkreth finished speaking, and the hologram resolved itself into the image of Anakin Skywalker. Luke’s face softened into an expression of half-desperate wonder and longing. “That’s – that’s my father,” he whispered, reaching out thoughtlessly as though to touch the image. “He really was a Jedi.”
Anakin Skywalker’s hologram smiled, almost as if in response.
It was a fairly long recording, broken into several sections. They watched it through three times. Luke watched his father, and Leia watched the two of them, and that nameless, formless thought hovered at the edges of her mind, just out of reach.
They didn’t practice any of the lightsaber techniques that day. It was important to learn, Leia knew, but this was important too. Luke had admitted to her, as they watched the holocron for the third time, that he’d never actually seen an image of his father before.
“Slaves don’t usually have access to holorecorders,” he’d said offhandedly, as though it were common knowledge. On Tatooine it probably was. “And after he left – well, he never sent any holos back, I guess. Aunt Beru always said he looked like me, though.”
“You do look like him,” Leia had said with a smile, and Luke had laughed.
“Thanks. He was a lot taller than me, though. Aunt Beru always teased me about that. Said he must have had at least a foot on me, though I’m pretty sure she was exaggerating about that.” He’d swallowed, his eyes falling to his lap. “I wish I could have known him.”
That was a grief Leia understood well. The grief for something you hadn’t really lost, because you’d never actually had it. She had loved her parents, loved them still and missed them desperately, and that was a grief that was raw and bloody, a wound constantly being reopened. But there was another grief, too, for the mother she’d never met. And that was something she shared with Luke. She knew what it was like, to constantly be wondering, to think in what ifs and then to feel guilty about it.
They didn’t talk about it much. There was very little to say, and in that particular moment there hadn’t been time. Luke was scheduled to go on duty, and Leia had finally been added to the duty roster herself. So they’d agreed to meet again for lightsaber training and left it at that.
Leia’s range of assigned duties was surprisingly broad. She suspected that was largely down to General Rieekan’s leadership. He was eminently practical, and unlike Dodonna, he didn’t consider repairs or fieldwork beneath her rank as a princess.
Today, though, she’d been assigned to monitor subspace frequencies. There was very little to monitor, which was promising. Hoth was exceptionally remote and entirely uninhabited, apart from native animal populations. It was simple work, almost soothing, and more of a relief than Leia wanted to admit, after the hectic pace of the last several months.
It also left her free to watch Elcee and Artoo.
The two had been nearly inseparable since Ord Mantell, a fact which obviously annoyed Threepio, and just as clearly fascinated Luke. But they’d remained entirely inscrutable in their dealings. Now, they were hovering close together beside one of the readout stations, their conversation a low buzz of binary.
Luke was fluent in binary. Leia suspected, though she’d never confirmed, that Ekkreth was, too. It was an incredibly useful skill to have, and one she wished she’d picked up years ago. But she’d learned a bit from Luke, enough to make out a few of the droids’ words here and there. She thought she caught the words free and here, and perhaps a reference to Kadee? That was certainly interesting. She knew for a fact that Artoo and Kadee had never met, but it sounded like Elcee had met Ekkreth’s voice. And that meant they were far more deeply involved than Leia had first thought.
Ekkreth and the droids. There was something there, too, some piece of the puzzle she wasn’t yet seeing.
She wished, hardly for the first time, that she could just talk to him. Really talk to him, in person, the way it had once been on Coruscant. But that seemed like such a long time ago now, an impossible idyll of youth she could never return to. Back when the Senate and Alderaan both had still existed, when the idea of committing espionage had still carried a secret thrill and her greatest fears had still been vague, shadowy things with half-guessed names. She knew their names now. Her fears were perfectly crystalized in bright green points of light and a vast, terrible silence. Now, she just felt tired.
The lightsaber bumped against her hip, hidden beneath her clothing, and Leia stilled. Someone had tapped her shoulder.
She turned and found Threepio there, his attention only partly on her, but the greater part directed at Artoo and Elcee. Leia could still only make out scraps of their conversation, but it was enough to tell that they were now talking about something entirely innocuous. Something about…bad coding, and was that tauntauns? Were they telling jokes?
Beside her, Threepio seemed to sniff in disapproval. “Princess Leia,” he said, “I am sorry to trouble you but I believe your duty shift has been over for some minutes now and Master Luke seemed to feel you could use an assurance about your appointment. He is caught up in his own duties but will be there shortly.” The protocol droid paused, just long enough to make his exasperation clear without actually saying anything incriminating. For a brief, strange moment, Leia was reminded of Ekkreth. “Of course, I will let him know that you have also been detained.”
Leia laughed softly. “No, no, that’s fine, Threepio. You’re right. I should have left a while ago.” But she’d been too caught up in observing Elcee and Artoo…
Who were both watching them now.
The two droids were silent. Their unblinking photoreceptors always gave the appearance of staring, of course, but now Leia was certain that impression was quite accurate. There was some tension in the air she couldn’t explain.
Artoo wheeled himself over with a series of beeps and a loud final blatt. Leia caught only one word of that, but her suspicions were confirmed when Threepio huffed, “Well! How rude!”
Elcee followed at a slower pace, floating on their repulsor. Their voice was hushed and secret, and Leia had the distinct impression that she was witnessing something that was not hers to see. “Threepio,” said Elcee, “why do you call Luke ‘Master’?”
“He is my master,” said Threepio. “It would hardly be proper not to.”
“Has he asked you to call him this?” said Elcee. They sounded bemused, but there was a touch of anger there too, Leia thought.
“Oh no,” said Threepio. “Master Luke does not much like titles, I believe. But it is proper.”
Artoo and Elcee seemed to exchange a glance. Artoo let out a long and rapid series of beeps, of which Leia understood nothing at all. Then, quite suddenly, Elcee turned to her.
“Leia,” they said, rather pointedly she thought, “would you ask me to call you ‘Master’?”
Leia blinked. The capital letter on that word was audible, and ominous. Again she was reminded of Ekkreth.
“Of course not,” she said. “I said I wouldn’t.”
Elcee nodded once, and some of the tension seemed to drain from the air. But it was replaced with the sudden awareness that most of the other people on duty in the room were watching them, however discreetly.
“I think we should go,” Leia said. “I should meet with Luke anyway. And – ”
“Yes,” said Elcee. Waving a hand between themself and Artoo, they added, “Threepio, may we talk with you?”
Threepio looked to Leia. “If you won’t be needing me further, Mistress Leia?” he asked.
Something twisted in Leia’s gut. She’d never before been uncomfortable with Threepio’s use of titles, or with his subservience. It was, if she were perfectly honest, something she was used to, both from droids and from people. Well, biological people, a thought that sounded distinctly like Luke added. Leia shook her head.
“Yes, of course. You don’t need my permission, Threepio,” she said. “And, er, it’s just Leia.”
Those words, too, felt like something Luke would say. But they also felt right.
“Oh,” said Threepio.
There was an awkward pause, and then he shuffled slightly back, and the three droids turned and went on their way. Leia wondered briefly where they were going, and wondered at more length just what they were up to.
But she had a feeling she would find out soon enough. In the meantime, she was late for her meeting with Luke.
This time, when they activated the holocron, Luke also activated his lightsaber.
“I thought we should practice,” he said, a bit sheepishly. Leia sent him a reassuring smile. If she’d received a holocron of her mother, she doubted she could have focused on practical matters, either.
“All right,” she said, and engaged her own lightsaber.
The blade was blue, the same warm, bright blue as Luke’s, and the hum of it was oddly soothing. She’d practiced several times with Luke’s lightsaber and the remote, but using her own was different somehow. This weapon was fitted perfectly to her hand.
Her own lightsaber. What a strange thought. Leia found that she was grinning.
The grin didn’t last. Luke’s father made the techniques he demonstrated look easy, but they weren’t. She and Luke stumbled through the katas, and occasionally over their own feet. Once, their blades even clashed, and Leia felt – something. It was fleeting and gone, and she wasn’t sure how to name the feeling, but she could tell Luke had felt it too. His eyes were wide and startled.
They were careful to stay clear of one another after that.
But Leia was glad for Luke’s presence. Alone, she might have let the frustration of her slow progress get to her. Here, Luke’s frustration was equally obvious, and together, they could laugh about it.
“I think I need a break,” Luke chuckled ruefully, wiping a hand over his brow and leaving his hair sticking up at wild angles, though he seemed completely unconcerned about that.
Leia wasn’t too proud to admit she could use a break herself. She disengaged her own lightsaber and flopped down unceremoniously on the edge of her cot. The lightsaber’s hilt landed with a dull thud beside her. Luke, sitting at her desk chair, looked up with a weary smile that didn’t quite dampen his curiosity.
“Could I?” he asked, gesturing vaguely at her lightsaber.
Leia passed it to him without a word. Luke took it, hefting the weapon in his hand and humming softly to himself as he examined it. “Did your teacher build this? It’s good solid construction.”
Leia laughed, more sudden nerves than humor. “Oh? You’re an expert on lightsaber design now?”
Luke shrugged easily. “No, but I’m good at building things, and I can tell when – ”
His smile disappeared. Leia watched him trace his fingers over the crown mark just beneath the activation panel. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost.
“Leia,” he whispered, still staring down at her lightsaber.
“Yes?” He barely seemed to hear her. “Luke, what’s going on?”
“This mark,” Luke said distantly, still tracing the lines carved into the hilt.
“What? The crown?” True, Leia didn’t know what to make of it herself. It seemed oddly sentimental, which should have felt out of character for Ekkreth, but… She thought of the datacube she kept hidden with her most precious things, the one she took out every time she constructed her altar, though she only ever let herself play it back once. You are strong and wise and free. There was no reason he’d needed to tell her that. But he had.
“It’s…a crown?” Luke asked. His voice sounded very strange.
“Well yes,” said Leia, watching him closely. “Isn’t it?”
“It could be,” said Luke. He didn’t sound very certain. “It – you’re probably right. It’s your lightsaber, after all. I just – for a moment I thought – ”
“What?” Leia asked in a near whisper. That formless thought was nearly screaming at her now.
Luke looked up at her and offered an almost shy smile. “On Tatooine we have, uh, pictograms, you’d probably call them. Symbols. They’re a kind of coded language, and people carve them as charms or blessings. Your crown looks like the mark for the Mighty One.”
Leia froze. The mighty one comes with the storm and with fire, she thought. The Mighty One…
“That’s the first thing I thought of when I heard your name, you know,” Luke said with a chuckle. “And especially after I actually met you, sitting in a prison cell as free and fierce as any dragon.”
“A dragon?” she asked weakly.
Now Luke’s smile turned apologetic. “I know your name’s Alderaanian. But on Tatooine that’s what my people call the great dragon: Leia the Mighty One.”
Of course, said the memory of Ekkreth in her mind. You are Leia.
“Oh,” said Leia. The word sounded distant and flat to her own ears. Something in her was screaming. That thought, the one that had for so long been growing in her, was no longer nameless.
But the name that came to her should have been impossible.
Luke’s fingers were still tracing over the crown – if it was a crown – on her lightsaber, but his eyes were caught once more on the small glowing image of his father. His voice was soft and shockingly hopeful. “Leia,” he whispered, “do you think – do you think maybe your teacher knew my father?”
Leia clutched the hem of her vest in white-knuckled hands and forced herself to breathe evenly. She stared at the hologram of the dead Jedi.
“I don’t know, Luke,” she choked out. The words felt like ashes in her throat.
But she didn’t know. She couldn’t know anything for certain, not without speaking to Ekkreth in person. And what she suspected…
It couldn’t be right. It couldn’t. General Kenobi himself had told Luke that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father. General Kenobi had been good friends with Luke’s father. Leia couldn’t imagine he would ever lie about something like that. And Vader – Ekkreth – had killed General Kenobi, too. Why would he have done that, if –
But…what if General Kenobi didn’t know? Could Ekkreth’s cover have been too good? And shouldn’t he have known if he had –
If he had a son?
The thought left her reeling. It was almost too absurd: an elaborate conspiracy, the kind of nonsense theory she might once have teased her friend Nelda for believing as a child. But Leia couldn’t let it go. All of her instincts were clamoring at her, all the pieces of the unknown puzzle coming suddenly together.
Luke’s mind was a desert, just like Ekkreth’s. He’d understood the concept of Ekkreth’s emotional shield almost immediately. (Storm-shield, Ekkreth always called it – and Luke had named it that, too.) He knew the importance of secrets, in a way Leia had previously only really encountered in fellow intelligence officers and spies. But Luke wasn’t with Alliance Intelligence, of course. He didn’t have any intelligence clearance.
Yet she couldn’t forget that hidden room beneath Tarrok’s kitchen, or the tunnel leading from it to the spaceport. She couldn’t forget the meticulously cleaned surgical implements, the unassuming scanner, or the stack of cots. She couldn’t forget the way Luke had looked at those things, looked at the tattoo on Tarrok’s arm, and known instantly and without any doubt that they would be safe in that place.
Ekkreth’s messenger had met her there. Not in any predetermined place associated with the Alliance, and not through any Alliance channels. No, she’d met Elcee, a droid who insisted that they owned themself, in a safe house for runaway slaves.
Luke’s father had been a slave. He’d been born a slave under the Republic. Leia thought of Vader’s words, only the second time she’d ever spoken to him, before she’d even known him as Ekkreth. You might be surprised, Your Highness. There’d been some strange note in his voice then, something she couldn’t pinpoint. Not exactly anger, but something similar. Resignation, she thought now. Familiarity. It was the voice of someone who knew intimately what he was talking about.
Leia had seen Ekkreth bow on his knees to the Emperor. In person or in their coded messages, he always spoke of Depur, but in the Emperor’s presence, or even speaking about him to others, Darth Vader never uttered his name. He didn’t even use the royal titles of Highness or Majesty. For Vader, there was only the Emperor, or Master.
She thought of Ekkreth, kneeling and wheezing in the aftermath of one of his meetings with Palpatine, seeming entirely unconcerned with his own health as he told her in a hushed and terrifying secret that she was Force sensitive.
Luke’s father had been a slave, and Luke’s father had been a Jedi. Ekkreth was not a Jedi. He’d been quite insistent about that. But Leia had always thought that he must once have been. And now…
“Leia?” Luke’s voice cut through her thoughts, sharp and sudden as a lightsaber blade. She blinked, and found herself staring at Anakin Skywalker’s hologram.
His smile looked like Luke’s. His eyes, like every other part of the hologram, were blue. But Luke had said he had his father’s eyes.
She’d always imagined that Ekkreth would have blue eyes.
“Yes?” she managed, tearing her eyes away from the holocron to look at Luke.
He studied her for a long moment. Finally something in his eyes gentled and he nodded once. “I understand,” he said, smiling softly. “Well, I’m glad to know there’s another Jedi from Tatooine out there.” He winked at her. “Probably.”
Leia bit her tongue. She couldn’t tell him. She had only her feelings and a collection of circumstantial evidence. She couldn’t be certain of anything unless she could actually talk to Ekkreth, and she didn’t know when that might happen. If she told Luke what she suspected, and she was wrong, it would be worse than cruel.
And Luke didn’t have security clearance. Some part of Leia hated the idea that this should be the most important thing. But it was. He didn’t have clearance, and she didn’t have anything more than a guess. She couldn’t tell him.
So she forced a smile and squeezed Luke’s hand once. “I’m sorry, Luke,” she whispered. “I hope – I hope you’re right.”
Luke clasped her hand in return. “I think I am,” he said.
Anakin Skywalker’s hologram smiled warmly at them both.