Chapter 15 Her mother haunted Leia’s nightmares. Like a shade out of some ancient Jedi fairytale, Padme Amidala Skywalker Kenobi followed Leia through corridor after corridor, passing through doors and solid walls, her hands spread out in front of her as if she wanted to take Leia into her arms. Fire burned her mother’s body, turning her into a walking pyre. And all Leia could do was run and scream. The screams followed her up out of sleep. Sitting up in a rush, the chains wrapped around her arms drew taut and dragged her back down to the hard slab that served her as a bed. Another scream ripped from her lips as her scarred back touched the cool metal. Pain sent spasms through her body, her legs jacking as if they had a mind of their own. It took all of Leia’s Jedi concentration to force her body to relax. Once the pain had faded to a constant, dull ache, Leia managed to pull herself together enough to look around. Everything was darkness and shadow. How long has it been? she wondered. Her mind seemed to spin, everything that had happened since the events in the negotiation room blurring together. Time seemed to have become maleable - as far as Leia knew she could have been in here for days or even weeks. The only things that had interrupted the monotony had been her meals and her visits from Palpatine. Those visits that had left the scars on her back. And which would have killed her by now if it hadn’t been for the fact that Palpatine had healed her using the Force after every session. She lay there in the darkness, trying to get her bearings through the pain. Not for the first time, she reached out for the Force. Pushing through the pain, she tried to find her calm centre, pushing everything else, her physical envelope, to one side and concentrating on her mind. She reached out, towards the bright light she could sense just on the other side of a thin veil. She reached and reached... But she couldn't touch it. After a few moments of straining, she gave up, her body shaking from the effort. She knew that if she could just have touched the Force, she would have been able to make more sense of what was happening to her, but those creatures that Tarkin had used to capture her were still here somewhere. Every time one of the guards came in to give her her meal, he or she had one of those things wrapped around his shoulders. How does Palpatine overcome that blockage? He didn't seem to have any problems using the Force when he came to see her, and yet she could never touch it. Being without the Force was taking its own toll on her. She felt blind without it. If only she could overcome the block... She tensed as she heard steps in the corridor outside. She opened her eyes in time to see light stream into the dark room through the open door. "Hello, my dear." Him. Palpatine. Stood in the doorway. She found that she couldn't move. It was as though she had a series of weights pressing down on her chest, forbidding her any kind of movement. Palpatine laughed. "Still struggling, my dear? Still trying to escape?" His laugh became a vile snort. "Do you still persist in thinking there is any way out of this, Jedi?" She could picture the sneer on his face. She felt sick. "There is no getting out of this. The only release is to join me, or to die." She managed to gather enough strength to spit. The little ball of spittle splattered on her own cheek. "Die," she croaked, though she wasn't sure if she was asking him to kill her or threatening to kill him. He laughed. "You think that now, my dear. But I am not done with you yet. By the time I am, you will beg for me to allow you to join me." No, she wanted to scream. "First, though," Palpatine went on, "there are things I want to know. Such as the location of your little Jedi temple." "Never," she whispered. A single tear left her eye and drifted down her cheek. She knew that as soon as he mentioned the temple, pain was never far behind. "Never is a dangerous word to use, Jedi. A dangerous word indeed." She heard movement from behind her as more men entered the room. Shadows appeared around her, then hands clenched over her arms. She screamed. They turned her over onto her front, the scraps of clothing that covered her lower half ripping even further. Her naked breasts pressed down against the cold slab of metal, pain ricocheting through her body as the scar tissue on her front stretched taut. "Where is it?" Palpatine asked, his voice closer now. She screamed as his finger pressed against her back. "Tell me." "No!" she screamed. He pressed harder. She started to scream uncontrollably and her body began to shake. "Tell me." "My - name - is - Leia - Skywalker. I - am - a - Jedi - Knight. My – name – is --" Palpatine snarled. The room around her lit up with flickering, terrible light as lightning darted from his fingertips, ravaging her skin, burning, tearing, biting, clawing... The pain rose and rose, until she was howling. Then, suddenly, it was over. Her whole body continued to convulse long seconds after the attack had stopped. Leia gasped for air, every breath piercing her raw throat with darts of pain. "You know how much I can hurt you," Palpatine whispered in a soothing tone. "I don't want to hurt you, my dear. Really, I don't. There are much more agreable ways of turning a Jedi to the Dark Side." She felt his hand against her sore back, this time accompanied by the soothing healing of the Force. Pleasure penetrated her body, leaving her whimpering. "Especially female Jedi." Leia gritted her teeth against the onslaught of pleasure, trying to keep her mind clear. Biting down on her lip, she began to speak again. "My name is Leia Skywalker. I am a Jedi. My name is Leia Skywalker. I am a Jedi. My name is--" Palpatine's hiss was all the warning she got. Lightning struck her body again and Leia continued to scream. xxx Han set the glass down on the desk, wiping his lips with the sleeve of his shirt. He blearily noticed the numerous stains already decorating the white fabric, then let his hand fall back on the desk. He was drunk. It wasn't a surprise – in fact it had been his purpose all along. The drink was the only thing that could keep the memory of screams quiet. In the two days since he had witnessed the end of the galaxy as he knew it, Han had not left his office. He had returned here straight after fleeing the Palace to find Ly had barricaded herself in. He had sweet talked her into letting him enter, then helped her lock the door again. He frowned suddenly. Where was she? He hadn't seen her in... He couldn't remember. He vaguely remembered her saying she was going to go out and try and get some news on what was happening and then... How long ago had that been? He shook his head, trying to clear it of the buzz of the alcohol, without success. After a moment, he shrugged. She'd be back. She'd be fine. She was Ly' after all. She always knew what to do. He reached over and grabbed the bottle of Alderaani rum and went to pour a new glass. It took him a moment to realise that there was no liquid pouring out. He frowned, lifted the bottle and stared into it. Empty. Damn. Grumbling, he pushed the chair back from the desk and stood on unsteady legs. Wobbling slightly, he took a step towards the drawers on his right hand side, just as the door chime to his office rang. Han paused, the sound loud enough to cut through his drink-induced fog, but not enough for him to actually understand what it was. That took him a good few seconds. When the understanding eventually seeped into his brain, Han hesitated. There was no one he wanted to see. Then he remembered Ly. Could it be her? She would be able to get in on her own, wouldn't she? The door chime rang again. Han was conscious enough to realise that if it was Ly, he couldn't leave her outside. So he stumbled unsteadily across the room and pressed his hand to the plate. The door slid open. It wasn't Ly. Instead, a young human woman, draped in a heavy cloak, stood there. She lifted her face to him as the door opened and Han saw that she had been crying. He did not recognise her. "Prince Solo?" Han laughed. He didn't mean to. The sound just escaped him. Hearing her call him prince after everything that had happened seemed quite a joke. The young woman jumped and wrapped her arms around her middle. For the first time, Han realised that she was holding a little boy to her, hidden deep within the folds of her cloak. She stared at him uncertainly. Han managed - with difficulty - to bring his laughter under control. "I'm Han Solo." "I'm sorry to come here," she said. "But she told me that if anything happened, you could be trusted to help us." She? Us? Han's alcohol imbibed mind was finding it very difficult to make sense of any of it. Finally he blurted out the question that had been bothering him. "Who the hell are you?" The woman frowned. "I am Byriam. Lady Padme's handmaiden." So that was where he had seen her before! He smiled, then had a mental flash of Padme's broken body. He felt a sudden surge of fear in his belly. "You... You shouldn't be here. They're looking for you." "I know that," Byriam cried out. She glanced to the side in fear and when she turned her gaze back to him, her eyes were full of a desperate fear. "I've been running and hiding for two days. I would have given up a long time ago, but I couldn't let them have Kie." Han frowned. She sighed, exasperated, and opened her robe a little, all the while casting furtive glances up and down the corridor. Han stared down at the young boy, who lifted his head and stared up at Han with wide eyes, red with dried tears. It took Han a moment to place him - he had last seen this boy running to his mother's side on the landing pad near the Palace. Padme's son. With that realisation came understanding, understanding of what exactly this woman was doing here. He started to back up, his mind clear for the first time. "No, no, no. No way, sister." "But milady said..." "I don't know what your lady said, and I don't care. This has nothing to do with me. I can't get involved." Byriam glared at him. "Not involved? You're already involved! You became involved the moment your planet was subjugated by the Empire." "We're part of the Empire." "And who made that choice? Corellia is a beacon of freedom to the peoples of this galaxy. Now, a Grand Moff sits on equal footing with your father." "What do you know about my father?" "Haven't you been watching the news?" Han shook his head. Byriam pressed on. "The Empire has been showing off their new conquest for everyone to see. Every Imperial holo-channel has been showing pictures of your father signing the treaty, of the Imperial stormtroopers 'defending' order and justice on the streets of Coronet, of Grand Moff Jizier sitting in the Royal Chamber beside your father." Han felt sick to the stomach. How had he missed all of this? How had it happened? How... He suddenly realised that he was getting side-tracked here. He frowned and shook his head. "That doesn't change anything. Whatever you thought to find here, I'm not it, alright? There's nothing I can do to help you." "Nothing you want to do, you mean?" To Han's surprise, the young handmaiden took a step forward and spat at his feet. "Milady Padme was wrong about you. You're nothing but a coward." She wrapped her coat around Padme's son again, who had started to cry softly, and glared at Han. "Come on Kie. We'll have to find help somewhere else." As soon as she was gone, Han pressed his hand to the plate and let the door lock behind her. He found that he was shaking violently. He stumbled back a few steps and fell against the wall. Eyes staring blindly at the closed door, Han allowed himself to slide down until he was sitting with his arms wrapped around his legs. He sat there, his mind whirling wildly with pictures of his father, of Padme, of Leia, of Byriam and Padme's son and Ly and... How had it all deteriorated so badly and so fast? He had been sure that he had everything under control. Now all he wanted was someone to take care of him, to tell him that it was all going to be alright. He felt like, like... Like a young boy. Like Padme's son must be feeling. Suddenly, he flashed back to Padme Amidala Kenobi's final moments. To the insistent look she had given him, telling him to look after her daughter. Except perhaps it had been more than that. Perhaps what she had really been asking him was to take care of her children. He knew what he had to do. Cursing himself for a fool, he scrambled up and ran for the door. He just hoped he wouldn't be too late. xxx Byriam dashed tears from her eyes as she pushed past the two guards stationed at the main entrance to the Corellian Embassy. She hugged Ben to her more tightly and led him out onto the street. Once there, she hesitated, not sure where to go next. Solo had been her only hope. Darkness ruled the depths of Coruscant. The massive buildings created an unnatural twilight in the middle of the day, lit only by the electric lights, which created little circles of illumination every few metres. There were few other pedetrians down here, and those that were seemed as down on their luck as she was. Trying hard to hold back the tears, she began to lead Kie left, towards an elevator she had glimpsed on the way to the Embassy. She had heard that there were hostels in the underlevels where one could find a room for a couple of credits and without needing to show any ID. Of course she did not want to imagine the sort of beings who probably inhabited such places. She would deal with that when she came to it. She would do whatever - whatever - it took to keep her mistress' son safe. Whatever it took. Perhaps if she kept on repeating it, it would come true. She had been keeping her head down up until now, but when she heard the metallic-sounding voices she lifted her head. She dropped it back down immediately when she saw the dreaded white uniforms. Stormtroopers. A pack of them, fanning out across the street, checking papers and studying faces. Byriam felt her heart stop and she came to a stop. Fear clawed at her throat. She turned to go back the other way, but more troopers were coming down the street as well. What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?!! She knew she was panicking, but she couldn't seem to stop it. She looked from one side of the street to another, desperately searching for some way out of this. She almost screamed when the hand fell on her shoulder. She spun round, expecting to see the sight-less white and black mask of a Stormtrooper staring back at her. Instead, she was astonished to see Han Solo. He wasn't looking at her, but rather at the stormtroopers rapidly approaching. "Shhh," he hissed, one finger on his lips. He was standing in an open doorway, some kind of side exit to the embassy. Slowly, eyes peeled, he drew her inside and closed the door. "Are you alright?" Byriam nodded, though her whole body was shaking violently. "I thought you didn't want to get involved." He smiled at her, a lopsided grin that made him strangely attractive. "What can I say? I'm a complicated guy." He dropped down to one knee and studied Kiewan. He reached up tentatively and ruffled the boy's hair. Kiewan tensed slightly, but he didn't back away. "Are you alright, little guy?" Kiewan didn't answer, just stared back at Han with wide-eyes. Han nodded, then stood. "Okay. I'll help you. I'm not sure how, but I'll find some way of getting you off the planet. Until then, we should be safe here. I don't think the Imps will dare invade the embassy." Despite herself, Byriam felt a surge of relief, as a little of the tension she had been feeling fell away. "How are we going to escape?" "Like I said, I don't know. For now... I'm going to take you back up to my office. You'll be safe there until I get back." Fear surged again. "Get back? Where are you going?" "I... I have somebody I have to find. My assistant. She's missing." Although Byriam wanted to beg him not to go, she could see in Solo's eyes that this woman was important to him. She nodded. "I'm sure we'll be fine." Han nodded as well, then turned to lead them both to a service elevator. Byriam looked down at Kiewan and smiled. "See, little Kie. Everything is going to be fine." As she followed Solo, she wondered when it had become so easy to lie.