Leia Organa knew the symbol - the ebony palm-print that was on the woman's pin. It was oddly unfamiliar and tiresomely familiar at the same time, and she was still unsure of what the organization exactly did, but they had declared themselves trustworthy enough to warrant a visit. Their guide seemed pleasantly innocent: a schoolteacher who was not quite unwilling to expound upon why she was caught up in such a thing.
"...Although it's true much of Prince Xizor's fortune was donated to the Black Hand, to say that we are an extension of the Black Sun is untrue," she explained patiently in a way that was simultaneously completely unhelpful and helpful at the same time. "We have worked towards a singular goal since our creation, one in perfect accordance with the Rebel Alliance's. Whatever friction is unfortunate but expected..."
Leia said nothing, but she glanced over as one of the bodyguards leaned over to whisper to another. "What she means is, this Black Whatever is the thing that's been stealing all the money out from under us." His grumbling was cut off as she glared at him, but she couldn't help the small sigh escaping from her nose.
It had been a hellish few months, and really, the Rebel Alliance's regular benefactors pulling their money out to divert it to the Black Hand was very nearly the last straw. What was supposed to be a glorious victory and Endor turned into a nightmare. Luke had been agitated the night before, mumbling something about not being able to find someone, distracted in a way that unnerved her; truthfully Leia had pushed his last words out of her mind, as there were too many other things to panic about than her parentage. The battle was still a technical victory, as they had destroyed the half-built Death Star, even if the Emperor was able to get away safely on the Executor as they scrambled to salvage the situation. That was recoverable. Luke being dragged out in front of the next Imperial rally was not.
She had to tell himself that the smile on Luke's face was forced, and the rumors about him being coerced into such a situation were true. But it was such bad news that the odd lack of a usual player on the cosmic stage was hardly realized, even though it had been months, up until this point.
Leia shook her head a little, her intricate braids hitting the back of her neck as she looked back to the Togruta leading them on. The tall woman was still talking as if the entire group were listening devotedly, and it made Leia sympathize a little with the children in her classroom. "It was a very complex arrangement, but fortunately a few weapons dealers groups were sympathetic - the ones that design for you - so as you can see, here is the ion cannon I was telling you about..." Leia rolled her eyes slightly as they stepped into a large hangar bay. It was one that was familiar, one she knew; outside the trees of Yavin were still thick and seedlings had started to sprout on where they had cleared. The dust was new, though, as was the massive tractor beam mount and the ion cannon that seemed terribly out of place - the scorch marks on the wall from the cannon blast, however, seemed to make sense... and she couldn't quite make it out - there was an outline...
"As you can see, we are sorry for the inconvenience that came with clogging the channels with rumors of Skywalker coming back here, but it worked well enough. The tractor beam is industrial grade, and was used to drag his fighter in here after it was disabled by the ion cannon blast, then another made capturing him possible. The ion cannon is salvaged from the one installed on Hoth. I am sure the Rebel Alliance does not mind the Black Hand borrowing it, as it were, and we will be happy to return it." the schoolteacher said, continuing to talk. Leia listened quietly, eyebrows furrowing.
Clearing her throat a little, she looked back over to the tall, serene-looking Togruta woman. "Excuse me. Miss... what was your name, again?"
She smiled gently. "Tano. Miss Tano."
"Right, right." The outline looked too familiar, she couldn't stop staring at it, and there was something deeply unnerving about it, but the Togruta's serene smile pushed whatever agitation out of her mind somewhat. "You still haven't told us exactly who all of this effort was to capture."
"Oh, I thought it would be obvious," the Togruta said with a slow blink. "This operation was against Darth Vader."
For a moment Leia, and her personal guard of soldiers, stood perfectly still. "...Vader," she repeated hollowly, eyeing the outline on the wall in the scorch marks the ion cannon blast had made.
"Yes. The costs were phenomenal, and roughly fifty-three died in the battle, another three hundred or so injured," she said calmly before she grinned in a way that made the hairs on the back of Leia's neck stand up - an almost sadistic expression, triumphant in a way she had only seen a few times before. "The operation was, I believe they said, a huge success."
And the next few months were followed by the same sort of eerie calm. The Empire would not admit it, but it became knowledge nonetheless. It was a boost to morale that almost made up for the Rebel's favourite son, Skywalker, apparently turning to the arms of the Emperor, but Luke's stutteringly smiling face coupled with lack of words and lack of true action was a pale substitute for what had been before.
To say he was mourned would be inaccurate. It was more a collective sigh of relief, even within the Empire itself. Few planets outright celebrated, but none of them truly mourned.
And Vader's name was moved from list to list, from the missing that were expected home to the missing who were possibly still breathing to the missing that were merely euphemistic about death. It was a slow and subtle rot, but it nonetheless did a steady trickle of damage - without Vader, it was all too easy to see the Empire as a toothless old dog, tethered to Coruscant and howling at the Outer Rim..
"Oh, you're awake."
Light. Bright light, so bright it made his eyes water. He hadn't seen light like this in years - how many years? So bright - where was he, and who was that voice -
Some alien silhouette, he couldn't see which one - the light was too bright, burning into his eyelids - a choked splutter -
"Don't try to talk, I haven't connected your larynx up yet with the rest. Better than the best gag, right?" The voice was hoarse with age, and a small tinge of recognition twitched at the back of his mind - perhaps it was familiar, his head was swimming too badly. "And don't try anything else. That cage up there? Three ysalamiri. They make pretty good pets, actually. I think one's about to have pups or something, too." The alien's voice was oddly soothing, but not enough that he didn't try to wiggle out of the restraints.
Abruptly, his arm - or the piece of machinery he had identified as 'his arm' for the last several years - waved in his face as the alien wagged it at him like an old housewife. "What did I tell you about moving? Don't move! I don't want to give you more sedative yet. You're tricky to dose, you know?" He blinked slowly at this. "Don't give me that look. You've only died three times."
He blinked a little more slowly as that phrase just climbed the charts on his mental lists of Things I Never Want To Hear, Ever.
"First time it was just because of the ion cannon blast, second time was a tiny mistake with the dosing of the sedative because she didn't actually get I was joking with my little 'as much as a krayt dragon' comment, and then the third doesn't really count at all because it was just taking you off one life support system to another." A wrinkled hand gestured at all of the softly beeping bits of machinery around him, and as he gave up struggling against the bonds to fall limp against the table again, he felt distinctly nervous even with the haze from the drug clogging his mind.
The alien shook his mechanical arm in the air again, apparently content to talk to him even as she was cloaked in shadows. "See this? Terrible craftsmanship. Shoddy work! Just terrible! Probably a rush job, but technology has made such leaps and bounds." She set the black armored thing down to pick up what at first glance could easily be a real human arm, only instead of blood spilling out there was a tangle of wires. "We're going to have things done right around here. Yes." As if she had forgotten about him momentarily, she ducked down out of his hazy range of vision, humming something incredibly off-tune.
"This. This is what you have to remember." She held a small vial of clear liquid aloft. "Taken you months to get it out of your system. I wonder if you remember the files for it?" He blinked slowly, straining, and she laughed. "No, no, of course not. Don't want you to know your own poison. But you don't have the Emperor in your head anymore, do you?" She bopped the vial against his forehead, and he blinked instinctively as his eyebrows knitted in frustrated worry. "Mind control serum. The jewel of the old Republic, pulled through just in time to try and control the Jedi menace... hah! Jedi menace. But then Order 66 took care of that, didn't it?" She shook the small vial around with a snort, her wrinkled paws only somewhat visible in the contrast of harsh light and deep shadow. "Took care of every Jedi but one." He winced a little as she bopped him on the head again before she started to laugh.
The meaning went past him then, but it trickled down into his thoughts as he occasionally bobbed towards consciousness before being dragged down again. Where had he spent the last years? Reason answered the Empire or specifically the Executor but his gut instinct yelled in captivity...
And he felt as if he should care, because he was aware of a battle that raged within him, Light against Dark. But all he could seem to do was sit back and watch with glassy eyes, like a spectator in the stands of a game that had gone on too long. If his subconscious could have ordered another box of oversalty fried food to stuff its proverbial face with, he was pretty sure that would have been the outcome, but the ball went back and forth between the two players in such mesmerizing spirals. He was too tired to act - to cheer for either team - he could just watch...
Thoughts drifted in and out among the black, but that was the only time he saw his captors - at least, for any extended period of time. There was, he remembered, another haze of over-bright light, and a broad smile. "Success," the old alien cackled to herself, and then the shadow dragged him back down again, and instead of struggling against it he submitted passively to the riptide.