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Old November 19 2009, 11:05 PM   #102
CaptainSarine
Commander
 
Location: Lyon, France
Re: SW AU - A Glimmer of Hope

Chapter 12
*
Leia hated politics.
*
As she stood, her back against the wall of the Palace’s vast reception room, she stifled a yawn. All of this talking, posturing and haggling - give her a flightstick or a lightsabre any day. Why couldn't people just stop wasting time with fancy speeches and flowery words and just make a decision?
*
Today seemed even worse than the past few days had been, though. Tarkin had not shown up, claiming that he had a last minute meeting with the Emperor to attend. None of the minions he had sent in his stead were able to make a decision, so the negotiations seemed to be going round and round in circles. More than they usually did, anyway.
*
She fought back another yawn. Three days the talks had been dragging on. Three days of bald-faced lies and false promises - and that was just on the Alliance side. As much fun as it had been at times to watch that Corellian snipe at Tarkin, most of it had been boring, tedious details. Who should receive the mining rights on this asteroid? What planet should be given up if we are to gain this one? How many ships of each side should be allowed to remain near the Corellian Line? By the Force, sometimes she wanted to scream.
*
Of course, her nightly activities didn't help her mood.
*
Her search for Tantiss and the Emperor’s apprentice were hardly any more exciting. Biggs had accompanied her to an unending series of rundown bars and ill-frequented tapcaffs, looking for information brokers willing to barter Imperial secrets. Surprisingly, there were very few of them willing to deal.
*
One tiny break had come the night before. Leia had got back to her quarters after another fruitless series of visits and checked the anonymous message service she had rented in the lower levels. A female Hutt they had contacted on the first night had left her a message. According to the Hutt, she had found an obscure reference to Tantiss in an old galactic almanac, referring to a mountain on the planet Wayland out on the Rim.
*
Leia had credited the Hutt’s account and passed the information on to Mace, asking him to check the reference against Jedi Archives. Still, she didn't hold out much hope.
*
Wedge Antilles, the Rogue she had assigned to protection duty today, nudged her. She glanced at him, then followed his eyeline. Her mother had turned around and was waving for Leia to come closer. Leia noticed that many of the delegates had stood, stretching beside their chairs or pouring drinks at the table off to one side. How did I miss them calling a recess? She shook her head. Concentrate!
*
"Keep your eyes open," she ordered Wedge, then walked over to the table.
*
Dropping into a crouch at her mother's side, she leaned in so that her mother could whisper in her ear.
*
"Can you sense anything from the Imperial delegation?"
*
Leia glanced over at the three Moffs and two generals. Emptying her mind, she reached out with the Force, trying to get a read on them.
*
"They seem... Tense. As if they're waiting for something. Tarkin probably."
*
"Maybe. Without him here, none of them are willing to talk. Anything else?"
*
Again, Leia reached out. "One of the Moffs seems worried, but both of the generals feel... Confident."
*
"That can’t be good."
*
Leia turned her head so she could look at Padme. "What's wrong, mother?"
*
Her mother shook her head. "Nothing I can put my finger on. Something seems wrong. They seem too... Reasonable."
*
"And that's a bad thing?"
*
Padme smiled. "In this kind of negotiation? Always."
*
“What about the Corellian?”
*
“Prince Solo?” Both women glanced at the Corellian diplomat, who was carrying on an animated conversation with one of the generals. Padme shook her head before speaking. “He is having trouble staying concentrated. His eyes keep on drifting to the general he’s been talking to.”
*
“Why?”
*
“He’s worried about the Corellian communications’ blackout.”
*
“The what?”
*
Padme glanced at her daughter. “The day before the talks began, the military took over the Imperial Communications’ Ministry. Ever since, no one has been able to reach any planet along the Corellia Line.”
*
“How didn’t I know about that?”
*
“Well, maybe if you had spent less time bar-crawling with your pilot friend, you might have been awake for your morning briefings.”
*
Leia felt her cheeks burn. How does she do that? Padme Amidala’s spy network was legendary, but Leia hadn’t expected it to reach as far as Imperial Centre.
*
“You should be careful, though, dear. Lance may be understanding up to a point, but he has too much pride to allow himself to be made a fool of.”
*
Leia frowned for a moment, then realised what her mother was saying. “You think I’m sleeping with him?!”
*
A nearby servant glanced over at them. Leia dropped her voice. “I’m not sleeping with Biggs. We’re… We’re on assignment.”
*
Now it was Padme’s turn to frown. “Assignement? What kind of assignement?” She looked into Leia’s eyes, then her frown deepened and her eyes grew cold. “For the Order?”
*
Leia forced herself to hold Padme’s gaze. “Yes. I am a Jedi Knight, mother.”
*
“What have they asked you to do?”
*
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
*
“Commander Skywalker, I am giving you a direct order. You will tell me what orders you have received.”
*
“No.”
*
“Do not try my patience, Leia, or – “
*
The double doors leading into the reception room burst open, cutting Padme’s threats off. They banged against the walls, making everyone jump. Her Jedi reflexes brought Leia to her feet just in time to see a column of white-armoured stormtroopers rush in to the room. She glanced up to see more of the soldiers filling the corridors and arched balconies on the first and second levels.
*
“What is the meaning of this?” Leia turned to see Han marching towards the ‘troopers, his face dark as a stormcloud.
*
“I was about to ask the same thing,” her mother said, getting to her feet. Her anger forgotten, she looked as regal as a Queen and as angry as a Tystorian she-bitch protecting her cubs.
*
The troopers separated in two columns, revealing Grand Moff Tarkin stood in the doorway. Behind him stood two of the Sith priests, draped in robes that hid everything but their eyes. Each one of them had a strange curved pipe wrapped around their chests and shoulders, affixed to which was a fur-scaled salamanderlike creature.
*
“Tarkin! What do you think you’re doing? You do realise that I’ll…’
*
“Oh do shut up, Solo,” Tarkin snapped. “I’ve had more than enough of you over the past few days.”
*
Solo’s eyes bulged. “How dare you? I’m a Prince of Corellia and…”
*
“Actually as of yesterday, Corellia no longer has a prince. It no longer has a King, in fact.”
*
“What are you talking about?”
*
Tarkin didn’t respond in words. Instead, te threw a padd across the room. Solo caught it as if in a daze and turned the screen up so he could read. His face grew whiter and whiter as his eyes flicked across the contents. When he looked up, he seemed to have grown younger, more fragile. For the first time, Leia realised that he probably wasn’t that much older than she was.
*
“This… This is a fake.”
*
“I’m afraid not, Master Solo. As of 1000 hours yesterday, the Corellian system officially joined the Empire.”
*
“That’s a lie. It has to be,” Solo cried out.
*
Tarkin waved a hand. “Oh please don’t make a scene, it won’t change anything.” He seemed to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in humiliating the prince. “As of now, you are a subject of the Empire and you will show me the proper respect.”
*
Solo lowered his eyes and bowed his head. Leia felt a surge of anger rush through her. Why doesn’t he do something? No! I have to stay calm. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, then stepped forward.
*
“He may be, but I am not.”
*
“Ah yes, our young Jedi.” Tarkin looked her up and down, then sneered. “Your ancient religion is dead, Miss Skywalker. As dead as you all will soon be.”
*
“Not if I have anything to do with it.”
*
Leia reached down and unclipped her lightsabre. Reaching out with the Force, she tried to get a sense of what the troopers were going to do – and with a deepening feeling of despair, Leia realized that she couldn’t touch the Force. She couldn’t sense anything. She tried to shove one of the troopers with her abilities, but nothing happened.
*
It was like suddenly becoming deaf, blind and dumb.
*
“As you can see, we have planned this very, very carefully.”
*
“Leia? What is it?”
*
“The Force,” Leia whispered. “I can’t feel it.”
*
xxx
*
Han Solo looked down at the floor. He felt as if his whole world was falling down around him. The padd with his father’s surrender on it still hung loosely in his hand. How could he do this? What did they do to him?
*
“As you can see,” he heard Tarkin say as if from a great distance, “we have planned this very, very carefully.”
*
He looked up in time to see Padme Amidala take a step towards her daughter. The young woman had her lightsabre in hand, but she looked as lost as he felt.
*
“Leia? What is it?”
*
“The Force.” The horror in her voice sent shivers down Han’s spine. “I can’t feel it.”
*
Solo saw Amidala spin round, her face a mask of fury. “What did you do?”
*
Tarkin smiled. “Me? Nothing.” He didn’t need to look behind at the Sith priests for his meaning to be clear.
*
“Whatever you did, undo it.”
*
“Oh, Padme.” Tarkin tutted. “You really need to be shown your place.”
*
He waved a hand. Five of the stormtroopers surged forward as if sharing a hive mind. They pushed Leia Skywalker out of the way, sending her tumbling to the floor. Two of them covered her with blasters? Why doesn’t she… Of course. From what he understood, without the Force, she was just like any of them. Vulnerable. The Alliance soldiers around the walls had surged forward, but from her position sprawled on the floor, Leia waved for them to stay back. The troopers surrounded both women, then looked at Tarkin, who nodded.
*
The first fist broke Padme’s cheek. The crack echoed through the room, followed by Padme’s scream as she fell to her knees. The next blow caught her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her. Han looked away after that.
*
Once they had finished, Padme lay on the floor, moaning incoherently, covered in blood and spit. The most frightening thing about the whole thing had been the total silence with which the clones had carried out the beating. They stood over her broken body now, looking at Tarkin and waiting for more instructions.
*
Tarkin didn’t look at Padme, or at the troopers. Instead, he stared at the rest of the Alliance delegation. Solo glanced at them out of the corner of his eye – he saw Lance, the Alderaani prince, glaring at the Grand Moff with barely restrained fury.
*
“You won’t get away with this.”
*
Tarkin laughed. “You simple minded little fool. I already have.”
*
He motioned with his hand again. Another group of troopers marched into the room. They split into pairs, one pair surrounding each of the diplomats. With the other troopers’ rifles trained on them, none of them put up more than token resistance, except for Lance who kicked out at his captors until one of the troopers slugged him over the back of the head with the butt of his rifle, knocking him out.
*
“Take them away,” Tarkin ordered.
*
As the prisoners were frog-marched out of the room, Tarkin turned to Han.
*
“You are very lucky, Master Solo.”
*
“Really? You’re dying of a horrible disease?”
*
Tarkin laughed. “How droll. Unfortunately for you, no. However, you are going to be able to tell your grand-children that you witnessed the birth of a new age. The age of a Reborn Empire bringing peace to the whole galaxy.”
*
“I think the other Jedi may have something to say about that.”
*
“The Jedi are the past. The Sith – the Empire – are the future.”
*
“I don’t think I want any part of that future.”
*
Tarkin drew close to him. He looked Han in the eyes, then reared back and slapped him. Pain flared in Han’s cheek and shivered through his teeth. He shook his head and turned back to the Grand Moff as Tarkin leaned in to whisper in his ear.
*
“If you don’t learn proper respect, that could very easily be arranged.”
*
Tarkin stepped back. “Now, it is time that the leaders of the Alliance learned the price that must be paid when they rebel against the rightful rulers of the galaxy.” He nodded his head. “Pick her up.”
*
“No!” Leia stumbled to her feet, still unsteady. She held the lightsabre in her hands. “I don’t need the Force to kill you, Tarkin.”
*
“Maybe not. But you certainly need it to avoid a blaster bolt.”
*
Before anyone could react, he pulled a small blaster from his sleeve. Showing his military training, he lifted, aimed and fired in one smooth motion. A blue circle of energy spread out from the blaster’s muzzle, catching Leia and throwing her back against the wall.
*
“What have you done?” Han breathed. Had he actually killed her?
*
“Don’t be so melodramatic. She is much too valuable to be killed. I set it to stun only.”
*
With Leia out of the way, the stormtroopers had no difficulty in lifting Padme to her feet. Han winced at the sight of her. The pain of her injuries must have been intense, because it forced her up out of her unconscious state with a drawn out scream. Once she was done, she managed to open her eyes.
*
“You… will… never… win,” she said in a croak.
*
Tarkin smiled. “Milady, I already have.” He turned to face the whole audience of stormtroopers, Imperial delegates and Alliance soldiers. “Know this. The days when the Empire sat and talked with terrorists and rebels is at an end. From now on, any member of the so-called Galactic Alliance will be hunted down and killed.”
*
He *turned back to Padme. “Padme Amidala Skywalker Kenobi. You have been found guilty of treason to the Galactic Empire, of conspiracy to murder the Emperor, and of collusion with the Jedi, from now on branded enemies of the Empire. The only sentence is death.”
*
“No, my lord, you can’t,” Han said, taking a step forward.
*
Tarkin spun to face him. “You would like to join her? To suffer her fate? Say the word, Master Solo and I will gladly see you at her side.” He waited for a moment as Han glared at him, then stood closer, his voice drawn out with fury. “Well? I am losing patience, Master Solo. It is time you chose a side.”
*
Han just stood there. He opened his mouth, looked at Padme, then back at Tarkin. He closed his mouth. Finally, he lowered his head.
*
“No,” Tarkin drawled. “I didn’t think so.”
*
Turning smartly back to Padme, he smiled. “As I was saying, the only sentence is death. Let all know that the Empire does not offer clemency to those who betray it.”
*
Motioning for the stormtroopers to stand back, he called another group forward. Han lifted his head and looked at Padme. She stood precariously on her feet, swaying slightly from side to side. Despite her injuries, she somehow found the strength to smile.
*
“The harder you tighten your grip, the faster the Alliance will take all of this away from you.”
*
“Do you really want those to be your last words, Padme Amidala?”
*
“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction of saying anything else.”
*
Tarkin bowed his head. “Nor did I expect you to. Very well. Men, at arms!”
*
Han saw her eyes lift and spear into his soul. He found he couldn’t look away.
*
“Ready!”
*
She seemed to be pleading with him through her eyes, begging him to do something. He wanted to look away, knowing that he couldn’t help her.
*
“Aim!”
*
Her eyes darted to the side. He followed them and realised she was looking at Leia. The girl? She wants me to save the girl? But I - -
*
Before he could take the thought any further, Tarkin screamed, “Fire!”
*
Red fire flickered in her eyes for an instant and then was gone. Padme crumpled to the floor, blood already soaking through her white dress.
*
She was gone.
*
A moan went up from the gathered Alliance pilots and soldiers. One rushed forward, but a trooper in the gallery above picked him off instantly. The rest settled back, murmuring softly.
*
Tarkin looked at them. “This is the Empire’s justice. If any of you would care join us and help spread that justice to the rest of the galaxy, step forward now.”
*
No one moved. Tarkin allowed them a moment, then he smiled. “Good. I would have been disappointed if any of you had.”
*
Turning, he swept across the floor. The imperial delegation scurried after him, both generals smiling, the three Moffs casting terrified glances at the dead body lying on the floor. As Tarkin walked away, troopers moved in, gathering Leia Skywalker’s limp body and hefting her onto their shoulders. Han just stood there, staring at the bloody corpse that moment before had been Padme Amidala. She never gave me that game of sabaac, he thought numbly.
*
“Master Solo!”
*
Han turned and saw Tarkin waiting in the doorway. “You are a subject of the Empire now, according to your father’s surrender. Your place is not here.”
*
Despite himself, Han felt a surge of relief. Part of his mind screamed out for him to do something, but he quieted it much too easily. Glancing at the soldiers gathered around Padme’s body, he fought back a sudden upsurge of tears. She’s gone. She’s really gone. Turning away, he kept his eyes on the floor as he hurried out of the room. As he passed Tarkin, he heard him give an order to the commander of the troopers.
*
“Wait a moment, then kill them all.”
*
Han lifted his head to say something, but when he saw Tarkin’s raised eyebrow, he dropped his head again. He hurried away, wanting to put as much distance between the reception room and himself.
*
He had almost reached the door outside when the sound of blaster fire and the screams of dying soldiers echoed down the corridor. Trying to ignore the sound, Han hurried from the Palace and into the Coruscant daylight.
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