Trust Fund

By Barbara Anderson
amanor@worldnet.att.net

Art by Wanda Lybarger
ladymousew@bellsouth.net

 

see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
for applicable legal statements and disclaimers

Part 5

Home | Back to Author List | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

(Originally appear in Flip of a Coin #15, 1992)


 

Events were heating up on the frigate with all parties unknowingly headed for a multiple collision. In the shuttle bay, Lando was in the pilot's seat of the shuttlecraft, making a final check on the ship's systems. "Flight Control," he spoke to the panel grid, "Clear laung bay. Red group," he addressed their squadron escort, "Stand by." Appropriate warning alarms sounded through the bay and strobe lights flashed over the exit doors.

Outside the craft, Luke and Sara looked around, then wistfully at each other. She was leaning agains the hull, all anger at Skywalker gone. The brief moment of shared danger had bonded them together in a way months of courtship couldn't accomplish. It was as if he now knew her heart, knew what she was feeling, and it no longer bothered her to be so transparent. Nor did it bother her that his hand was again holding hers, that his face was bending closer.

"Ahem..." Lando stuck his head out the shuttle door. Luke and Sara looked up guiltily, Luke backing away in an embarrassed flush. In retrospect, he couldn't remember why he felt guilty or embarrassed, but he did. "I hate to close down the circuit...," Lando tried to look apologetic, "...but we've got a shuttle full of antsy pilots."

With great reluctance, Luke backed away a step, his intentions again stymied and unfulfilled. He was beginning to understand how frustrated Han and Leia felt. "I'll be back soon," he said. "This won't...ulp!"

Not about to have her intentions unfulfilled, Spacer reached out and grabbed him by his jacket, and with considerable force given her petite frame, swung him around until their positions were reversed. Holding him with his back against the shuttle hull, she planted a hard, active, wet kiss on his lips. With his eyes wide and arms flung in two different directions, Luke was too stunned to respond. She let him go as suddenly as she had grabbed him. Her eyes were bright, her breathing short. "Be careful," was all she said before sprinting towards the nearest flashing exit.

The Jedi Knight couldn't move for a second, never mind summoning anything remotely resembling an all-encompassing energy field. Mechanically, he made his uncertain way into the shuttle.

Lando chuckled. "Looks like you've going to have your hands full." He smacked the hatch lock, closing the shuttle behind Luke, who still looked Spacer-ed out. "Maybe you better let me fly."

"Yeah...sure," replied Luke as if in a daze. "Okay...whatever."

 


The Millennium Falcon touched down on the tarmac, as gentle as a kiss on a baby's cheek. Her captain felt like kissing the freighter itself, so proud he was of the way she was performing; he opted instead for patting the control panel. "Like a dream," he said to the ship, accentuating each word with a satisfied pat.

Leaning over to Chewbacca, he rested a gloved hand on the Wookiee's shoulder. "This is it, Chewie. I've got to go." His copilot held up a hand in a 'wait' gesture. "I don't have the time. Give me the tape. I'll make the drop while you keep working on the code in the computers. As soon as you break it, call me on the comlink."

This time, Chewie looked up, startlement shown on the furred face. "Let you go alone? That is not how we work."

"I know, I know," stated Han angrily, shutting his eyes to avoid seeing the Wookiee's hurt, disbelieving expression. "Walking into the Crater's Edge—Sith—into that section, with no backup is not one of my smarter ideas."

"There's an understatement," countered Chewbacca.

Han ignored the sarcasm. He held up the plaque that he snatched from the console. "I have to know what's on this before I deliver it into unfriendly hands."

Chewie glared at him. "It's suicidal stupidity."

"No, it's not!" Han replied defensively, bristling with indignation. But then his shoulders slumped. "Yes, it is." His shields crumbled under the Wookiee's knowing gaze. "Aw, Chewie..." Han sighed, placing his hands on the console and bracing his body with his arms. His eyes were lost with a helpless expression that only the Wookiee had the trust to see. "It's desperation, fuzzball. I don't want to lose this connection. I want...I want this finished! I'm tired of hurting people I've come to care for. I'm tired of hurting her!"

Chewie's counsel was a soft rebuke. "Getting yourself killed won't make her feel any better."

Han looked up sharply. "I have no intention of sacrificing myself. That's not part of the plan. But I can't live with the knowledge that someone could get hurt or killed because of what's on this tape. Not if I can prevent it. And that's where you come in." Han met the fierce blue eyes. "Call me as soon as the Falcon has cracked that code." He picked up his blaster rig, snapping it around his hips, sliding and adjusting the fit before securing the tie-down to his thigh. "I'll keep an open link," assured the Corellian. "And, Chewie, if anything does happen...but it won't."

"I will tell her. I will tell everyone."

Han's mouth twisted with black irony. "Yeah. But will they believe you?" With a last firm grip on his friend's arm, Han left, leaving Chewbacca to drum his fingers on the computer screen.

The Wookiee gave a weighty sigh of his broad shoulders for he had a very bad feeling about this. With much the same emotional motivation as Han, he did not want to be responsible for any deaths or injuries if vital information was contained on the data plaque. But he was also responsible for Han Solo and wouldn't be able to live with himself if anything happened to his captain and friend because of inaction. The Wookiee grinned. It wouldn't be the first time he had disobeyed Solo—and it wouldn't be the last.

 


In the council chambers on the headquarters frigate, it was etiquette and protocol as Mon Mothma prepared to push the computer button that would transfer the Alliance credits to the Minrados account and seal the purchase of two hundred new X-wing fighters. "In the spirit of trust and mutual respect between the New Republic and Minrados IV," spoke the rebel leader, "may this be the start of friendship and cooperation between us."

Off to the side stood Jerash, an odd smile on his face. Ackbar and General Madine were also there, holding their breaths in eager anticipation of the fighters. Her speech finished, Mon Mothma turned to smile at the ambassador. He was once more in good, if still pompous, humor; Leia and Threepio were not far from his side, placating and heading off potential problems.

On the table were trays of food and drink with bowls of green pellets that were a delicacy to the planet's inhabitants. With all her diplomatic skill, perhaps a touch of the Force, and plain willpower, Leia managed not to look ill as the ambassador sucked up handfuls, for she remembered what the pellets were supposedly made of; the word 'regurgitated' was foremost in her mind.

The stately rebel leader turned back to the computer and firmly depressed the button, breathing an inner sigh of relief that it was done. The screen began flashing a series of numbers and signals.

"What?!" The exclamation came from Mon Mothma.

Leia jumped, as did most everyone in the room. Tweelzu looked questioningly at Threepio for a translation, who looked to Leia for instructions, who looked to the rebel leaders for an explanation. She started to walk over but Mim quickly recovered her composure. "It's nothing...nothing." She gestured, waving her hand to indicate Leia was to stay with their visitor. "Just a temporary malfuction. My apologies for the outburst." She did not turn around, however, afraid her expression and shaking hands would betray the real explanation.

Ackbar leaned over her shoulder. "Mim?" he asked.

"Look at this," she murmured without turning to look at him.

If Ackbar had eyebrows, they would have risen. The Calamarian stared at the read-out, his limpid eyes registering confusion, then shock, and finally anger at the large discrepancy in the Alliance account. "A mistake perhaps..." he lamely offered, fervently hoping his suspicions were wrong for at least one person's sake; he stole a quick glance at the princess.

Mon Mothma lifted her head from the screen. "Solo!" she whispered in vehement denial of Ackbar's explanation. Her face flushed with reddened fury. "I will deal with this," she continued under her breath, "but Leia mustn't find out, not right now at any rate."

"Solo's left the ship," he reminded her.

"Yes, but I know where!" Then Mon Mothma, too, risked a look at the princess.

This time, Leia caught the glance and felt an almost imperceptible ripple of Force energy course through her. The aftereffect though, was anything but imperceptible as the ripple acted like an adrenalin rush, but left behind no hint of the metallic taste one encountered with the body's flight-or-fight reaction to danger. And it was danger she was feeling. Despite Mim's explanation and reassurance, Leia knew something was wrong.

Mon Mothma rose and walked over to the ambassador, addressing the official. "Would you excuse me, honored sir? There is an urgent problem I must attend to, one that requires my presence. I'm sure, in your position, you can understand these matters do occur without respect for one's activities or honored company."

Quickly translating, Threepio struggled with his protocol circuits and programs, wondering if he should mention to the rebel leader that she could deeply offend the Minradite; the transaction hadn't yet been completed. Inexperienced and oblivious to the diplomatic faux pas, Tweelzu just nodded, waved a pincer, and happily popped green pellets.

Mim acknowledged his response with a nod and one to Leia, "Your Highness..." before leaving in deafening silence, signaling Jerash to accompany her.

Leia's body fairly tingled with Force energy, but the danger wasn't directed at her; of that much she was sure. If not her, she intensely, internally questioned, then who? Damn, she cursed the fact that she couldn't leave the ambassador and find out what was going on; cursed the fact that she still had so little conscious control of her Force ability—all it had given her so far was nothing but problems—and cursed everything else on a matter of principle.

 


At that moment, despite the fact that Minrados IV was a hot, humid, tropical world, Han Solo shivered, feeling an unexplained sense of dread. He shook it off, concentrating on Chewbacca's words over the comlink as the Wookiee relayed the decoded message on the Imperial data plaque.

"Luke and the fighters?" repeated Han from the relative safety of the bar's side alley. Though in the shade, sweat trickled down the side of his face and his shirt clung damply to his back. While walking through the streets, Han had actually entertained a thought about the air conditioning comforts of a vio-suit, but had instantly squashed the idea. Vio-suits had a nasty habit of causing one to itch in places one couldn't scratch once sealed inside.

He wiped off the sweat and held the comlink close to his mouth, keeping his voice low, as well as his profile. The safety strap was unhooked from the blaster and Han's right hand hovered over the weapon. "Sith!!" He checked his wrist chronometer, recalling Luke's schedule. "He's already en route. You sure about this?"

Even as he asked, Han knew Chewie hadn't misinterpreted the message. Luke's shuttle with the rebellion fighter pilots was going to be attacked. The plaque hadn't said as much in so few words; it was mostly statistics, troop numbers, and fighter capabilities. But one sentence had alerted Chewbacca: 'The expected loss of two hundred pilots will bring the total...'

Han was now figuring out the rest. "There's nothing on this tape that required an in-person delivery. It's got to be a test and that Sithin' two-hour deadline was only to get me out of the way." There was silence on the link for a moment as Han ran all the variables through his mind. "You're going to have to warn him, Chewie," he decided. The little cylinder in Han's hand crackled, spit static, and almost jumped out of his hand with the volatility of Chewie's response. "I don't know how!" Han shot back, at a disadvantage as Chewie could yell his head off to add emphasis to what he thought, but Han had to whisper. "Take the Falcon and intercept him if you have to...anything!" He took a deep breath. "I'll try and reach him, too...somehow. Leia will definitely kill me if I let anything happen to Luke."

"And what," Chewbacca roared back, "will she do to me if I let anything happen to you?!"

"Look, fuzzface," Han reasoned. "There's nothing important on this tape. Somebody just wants to see if I'll go through with this. I don't think I'm in any danger." The link sputtered and twitched. "That was different!" Han countered. "Chewie, there's no other way! You hear me?"

Han heard his copilot and friend's quiet sigh and a reluctant, "Yes," but the Wookiee was clearly not a happy camper. "You will owe me on this, little one," Chewie threateningly promised.

"I sincerely hope so," Han ominously agreed. "Now, go!!"

 


In the shuttle, Lando was having a great time teasing a very uncomfortable Luke Skywalker. "So," he asked innocently. "You've been holding out on us, Luke. How long have you and Spacer been...uh...?" His hand gestured for want of a delicate phrase.

Luke glared at him. "We haven't been anything!" he snapped indignantly. Then, grinning like a ten-year-old, he mumbled, "Not yet, anyway." Lando half-expected him to shuffle his feet. Almost in apology, he continued, "We only..." Abruptly he stopped in mid-sentence, his eyes shutting in furrowed brow concentration.

"Luke?" asked Lando. The Jedi Knight opened his eyes to see the dark baron watching him with a concerned, inquiring expression. "Are you all right?"

"I don't know," Luke honestly replied. "Something... I just got a sudden bad feeling about this." Lando wasn't as skeptical as Han when it came to the Force, but he nonetheless gave the youthful commander an odd look as Luke seemed to stare off into nothing, then half-whispered, "Han..."

Lando pounced. "What about Han?" he prodded, hoping to get some answers to explain Solo's recent erratic behavior.

The change from smitten adolescent to confident rebel soldier was like day into night as Luke suddenly became alert and focused. "Lando," he said decisively, "Get us some extra backup from the fleet. Hold here and see what's available in the way of ground support."

As he complied, Lando asked, "Are we expecting trouble?"

"I think so. I just don't have specifics."

"Oh, good," came the sarcastic rejoinder. "I love surprises."

 


Han was hoping for no more surprises as he stood in front of the Crater's Edge. The door had been changed since he'd been there last, replaced with an elaborately carved, wooded one. Really too classy for the place inside, he thought upon pushing it open. The 'place inside' was familiar territory, though, and not too different from most bars Han Solo had visited; dark corners, holo-tables, and low lighting. The latter was a blessing as he had developed a brutal headache, the result of mentally trying to contact Luke about the attack. If Han knew, somehow, that the Jedi had received the warning, the headache would be worth it; but without the positive knowledge, the pain was just annoying.

He didn't spend much time at the entrance, only enough to give the correct impression that he knew his way around. Winding through the tables, Han noted the level of clientele was about the same, though the local inhabitants weren't as predominant as on most worlds. The half-dozen patrons who were there were male humans, hard-looking, quiet, and strangely similar in appearance. It took only another second to recognize them as off-duty storm troopers. Not good.

Reaching the end of the bar where he could sit with his back to the wall, Han rested his forearms on the scratched formex top and ordered an ebla beer. From the numerous wet rings on the surface, he deduced that business must be good.

But business at the Crater's Edge consisted of more than liquid refreshments. For an apparent hole-in-the-wall, it offered a wide variety of sexual entertainment, obtaining its diversity from the proximity of the spaceport. Most of the customers were probably upstairs with the 'employees,' but there were a few 'ladies' working the floor as well. Han saw only two at the moment, with a third apparently having a good time in one of the private side booths. He couldn't see, but he could hear the wet sucking sounds and a man's groans. Two mottled purple tentacles suddenly wiggled and twitched out under the hanging cloth but were immediately yanked back in by a rough human hand.

Yep, same old Crater's Edge. Rarely had he been a customer, but there was usually a high-stakes sabaac game being played in the back room that he liked to join.

On a chair to his right, a tuft of orange and blue fur giggled and sensuously unwound itself into a long, undulating Terpestrite, complete with glittery lacquer of all of her fifty rippling feet. Han shuddered; even he drew the line at some point.

But it was a willowy Sanjanaran, ghostly, golden pale, seemingly as insubstantial as a sunbeam, who decided Han was worth a try. One couldn't blame her. From the tousled dark hair in disarray, to the strong, handsome face, to the neat cut of the short jacket he wore, the blaster rig riding low on a lean hip, hard muscles defined under the tight pants, right down to the spacer boot resting on the bar's foot rest, Han made an impressive figure in profile and the lady was impressively interested.

With exceptional peripheral vision, he had her spotted, warily watching as she began weaving between the tables, ignoring the reaches of other customers and moving in his direction as if pulled by an invisible tractor beam. Her body flowed with the wraith-like grace that was a mark of her species. Tall, slender, with an extremely flexible spine, there wasn't a position they couldn't assume and it was possible to quite literally get wrapped up in one. This particular individual wasn't wrapped up in much at the moment, just a sequin here and there. He couldn't help but compare her with Leia, the image of the princess filling his mind; consequently, despite the opportunity and circumstances, only his resolve hardened and the alien beauty was regarded as just a nuisance.

Luckily his drink came, moisture already condensing on the outside of the container, so Han was careful to wrap his left hand around it, keeping his gun hand dry. He leaned over the bar slightly toward the tender.

"Something else I can get for you, Corellian?" came the carefully worded question.

"Could be," replied Han evenly. The Sanjanaran moved closer, cooing sounds coming from her throat and her triple ear flaps fluttering in anticipation. "I need an hour with QueeQuee."

The cooing turned into a "Freeep!", several chairs shuffled, all noise stopped in the booth, and the predatory prostitute did a hasty about-face, deciding to try her luck elsewhere.

The man behind the bar looked at him under hooded lids. "QueeQuee? Spacer, you sure you know who and what you're asking for?"

Han emptied the beer glass and stared back, fixing the hazel eyes in deadly seriousness. "I said it once..."

The bartender put up a hand, clearly not wanting trouble and after reaching under the counter, directed Han toward a wooden back door that opened, revealing double doors of high-tech durosteel. New, reflected Han, and expensive. It screamed of Imperial front money. Those doors opened to a repulsor field lift tube that led down as well as up and now Han was really worried. The renovations and improvements seemed to have gone way beyond just a new front door. So much for the back room sabaac game.

Feeling very vulnerable and very alone, Han went in and up, arriving in a stark, cold room of metal, glass, and natural stone; there wasn't a rounded, softened edge to be seen. Not one of my smarter ideas, he mentally reiterated, especially on noting the four-point rings in the wall, the platform bed, and the waist-high stone slab with energy restraints. Definitely not a room for romantic passion. More like pleasure and pain; QueeQuee's pleasure, his pain.

The whoosh of the air chute caught his attention. It took quite a bit of the old Han Solo nonchalance not to react as an apparition from one of his worst jet juice hangovers slowly rose in the lift tube.

First a set of wickely curved and spiraled horns accented with jewels emerged from a wild tuft of white hair. Then a humanoid face that could have been beautiful if not for the pattern of deliberate scarring on the skin; two pairs of mammary glands, though Han couldn't imagine her being anyone's or anything's mother; two arms with hands that possessed retractile claws; two legs; and a lashing, flexible tail that was clearly prehensile; all encased in tight, glossy chromosheath with durosteel accents.

Solo, he told himself, maybe you don't know everything about women yet. Her eyes were a striking pink colo and her skin was covered with a layer of downy white hair that ended just short of the tapered tail, leaving a naked pink tip. Racking his brain for information, Han couldn't place her planet of origin or even guess at her species, and wondered just how much of her was real, augmented, or even illegally gene-spliced. She stood there, looking almost regal. The hands-on-cocked-hips insouciant stance was pure humanoid female, even if not much else was.

"You asked for QueeQuee, Corellian?" The voice was sultry in a raspy sort of way, making Solo's back molars ache. "I'm expensive, you know." She circled around him, taller by at least eleven inches—seven feet of pure sadistic siren. "But unforgettable. I also insist on payment before start." She smiled and Han felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up at the sight of bilateral fangs. "Sometimes my customers don't make it. Do you have what I want?"

Not in a million light years, thought the pilot as he held up the data plaque instead. "Will this do?"

She didn't flicker, bat, or blink an eye, though Han wasn't sure if she was physically capable of any such demonstration of surprise; she did, however, stop looking at him like he was prime government choice. "Perhaps...," came the purred answer. She reached for the translucent wafer, but Han pulled it back just out of her reach.

"Uh-uh. I get paid beforehand, too. Fifteen hundred credits."

This time, the eyes did register emotion, albeit annoyance and anger. "Rather at an impasse, aren't we?" The tome and timbre of that grating voice changed. "You will give the plaque to me," she said evenly.

To Han's shocked realization, unable at first to stop, he found himself doing just that, starting to place it in her outstretched hand, but Luke's lessons in mind control paid off. He shook his head, throwing off the voice manipulation hold; he staggered back a step and went for his blaster. She lunged forward, faster than the strike of a cimmera serpent, and grabbed Solo's wrists, particularly the right one, preventing him from withdrawing the weapon, even though his hand was already wrapped around the grip. She squeezed, forcing him to release both the gun and the plaque, which fell to the floor.

No sound came from his mouth, though Han's face contorted in pain. She continued the forward momentum, half-carrying, half-dragging him along until Han felt himself slammed across the long side of the high slab, bend back until his head and shoulders were flat on the surface, where QueeQuee stretched his arms out to either side, pinning them down with a terrifying strength.

The alien horror loomed over him, close enough that Han could feel the relative warmth of her breath, her weight pressing against his pelvis and his legs spread with her own. He was breathing hard, labored, his heart rate off the diagnostic scale. It was useless to struggle, Han knew. There was no breaking the hold she had on him; a little more pressure and both his wrists would be broken. As odds went...there weren't any. The only thing to do in what was clearly a no-win game was...bluff!

Forcing himself to relax, he looked her straight in the pink eyes. "Your technique needs work," he deadpanned. Nothing happened for a second, then it could have been wishful thinking on his part, but the constricting vise on his wrists seemed to lighten. "Maybe this'll work with the stormtroopers, sweetheart, who are conditioned not to feel, but I prefer something a little more subtle."

This time she definitely let up, shifting most of her weight off, and smiled again, which made Han more nervous than anything else had. Suddenly he stiffened, in more ways than one, as QueeQuee's tail wrapped around his ankle, sinuously curled around his leg, stroked up and down his thigh, and finally pressed hard against his groin. "Subtle enough?" she challenged, plainly enjoying his discomfort and helplessness.

"Could use more practice," Han responded, both verbally and physically; some reactions were automatic and he wasn't dead yet. "If that's what I came here for."

Her tail continued to move in ways that made it extremely difficult for him to concentrate. "What did you come here for?" There was a change of expression, a distinct facial tightening and Han's inner alarms sounded.

Even as she asked, he felt the prickling under his scalp, like frenzied ion particles trying to burrow through his skull, and without thinking, his mental shields slammed down against her mind probe. It was not an unknown sensation to Han, having endured several forced and none-too-gentle attempts by Vader and one invited, allowed entry by Luke. QueeQuee was a Force-sensitive and a strong one!

Taken aback by his unexpected and successful resistance, she appraised him anew, upgrading her initial impression, and a moment later, appearing to make a final decision, she released him. "You've got strong barriers, Corellian. Makes me wonder what you're hiding."

What Han was hiding was relief as he slowly rose from the platform, alternately rubbing one wrist and then the other in an effort to return circulation to his numb fingers. "Lots of ugly secrets," he answered, "some of which even you might find distasteful."

Her reply was a snort of denial as she picked up the data plaque and walked away from him. "Do you know what's on this?" she asked over her shoulder. With great interest, Han watched while she activated a wall sensor opening a recessed closet, from which she removed an Imperial command case. Han had seen enough of them to know from experience that it contained a holocomm communicator and combination data processor and recorder.

"No," he said as he ambled over, "and I really don't care. I did run it through my ship's computers but the code is a good one." He shrugged. "Given time I'd have had it. All I'm interested in now is that the rest of my payment, so could we get on with this and enough fun and games?" Though Han didn't want to appear anxious, in the back of his mind was the thought that both Luke and Chewbacca might be in trouble.

 


Chewbacca, at that moment, was still on the tarmac of the spaceport, about to lift off. With a mournful sigh, he stared at the empty seat to his left. True, Han could take better care of himself than most people, but he also had, more than most people, a habit of getting himself into situations that required more than a little help in getting out. Chewie just prayed to the Kashyyyk deities that this wasn't one of those times.

He had set the computers to "talking" to the port controllersr and began preflight procedures when the comm signaled. "Millennium Falcon," state the port controllers. "This is Minrados Control. You have been denied permission to lift."

The Wookiee did a double take; then a triple take at the next message.

"Attention, Millennium Falcon, you are under arrest by order of the Alliance Council. This ship is impounded. Shut down all systems and surrender immediately!"

Chewie stared at the speaker grill, not really believing what he just heard. But the view from the Falcon's cockpit window confirmed that his sense of hearing was working just fine. There were over two dozen heavily armed rebellion soldiers surrounding the ship, with a greater concentration near the entry ramp hatch.

"Attention, Millennium Falcon," repeated the instructions. "Shut down your systems and surrender immediately or we will open fire."

Not on the new hull plates! Chewie mentally panicked. More for the sake of the new plating than his own safety, Chewbacca slapped on the Falcon's ground shields, adjusting the energy deflection barrier to its toughest level. At that setting, the field extended no more than a foot from the Falcon's hull, and created a shimmering effect. Leaving them on would drain power, but he had to buy time while he figured out what to do.

Mentally checking off his options, Chewie knew he couldn't lift ship, not without killing more or all of the rebellion troops. This he couldn't do. Yet, Han Solo had charged him with warning Luke. Skywalker's shuttle was above the communication interference net so Chewie couldn't send a message, and even if he could, the Empire was probably monitoring communications.

Then the Wookiee's blue eyes lit up and he hooted in self-satisfaction. Solo wasn't the only one with a gift for inspiration. First, he had to wait for the shuttle to drop below the net.

"Millennium Falcon, this is your last warning!"

Actually, first he had to hold out against the rebellion siege, and the whole idea was becoming annoying. The more he thought about it, the more ungrateful the Alliance seemed. After all he and Han had done for them. Leaning over to be seen out the cockpit window, Chewbacca curled his huge paws into fists and waved his arms in righteous indignation, then roared back via the comm board. If See-Threepio were there, he could tell them it was not wise to upset a Wookiee.

 


Meanwhile, Han was still in QueeQuee's room, watching as she fed the plaque into the slot of the data processor. "Hold on," she said at Han's impatience, "There might be something for you to take back."

"No, you hold on," Han snapped. "There was nothing said about bringing anything back. The deal was for a one-way ticket."

"You want more money," was her flat, bland assessment.

"Yes...and no," hedged the Corellian. "If I'm going to courier other jobs, I want to meet the head of Operations."

Somewhat insulted, to say the least, QueeQuee's tail swished back and forth in supple arrogant annoyance. "And if I say I'm the head of Operations?"

"No way," Han stated, risking further anger. "This is an Imperial set-up and Imperials wouldn't let you in the ranks or run the show...or hadn't you noticed their policies?"

"But why the interest in the first place? The money is the same. What difference does it make?" Her suspicions were clear and again Han felt her trying to wiggle into his mind.

One hand hooked over the blaster belt as he leaned insouciantly on a counter, looking like he hadn't a care in the galaxy. "Good business sense," he replied, projecting mercenary instincts without any difficulty. "I don't like dealing with middlemen. Cuts into the profits."

QueeQuee regarded him for a moment, making Han wish he could Force-probe her mind. "Wait here," she abruptly instructed, and before Han could object, she dropped down the lift tube.

Wait? fumed Han. He had once told a good Trianni friend that Corellians hated waiting worse than anything. It still held true. Waiting gave one time to start thinking and second-guessing. Waiting allowed one to start worrying—like Han was about Chewbacca and Luke.

 


The Jedi Knight and shuttle remained in a stationary orbit around Minrados IV. With extra fighters now added to their escort, he and Lando were feeling better and the mission was once again proceeding. The delay had been negligible.

"Coming under the interference net," Lando stated as the speaker grill on the comm-board erupted with loud, bizarre static before signals and wave lengths were unscrambled by the shuttle's computers. "Hey, Luke, what do you make of this?" On audio, the signals sounded like a series of sharp, irregularly pitched music notes. "Somebody practicing their lutehorn lessons?"

"That's the Falcon's code!" Luke exclaimed. He quickly punched in computer instructions to translate, explaining to Lando, "It's something Han, Chewie, and I worked out one afternoon." He grinned inappropriately. "It's based on "The Asteroid Miner's Daughter."

"While we're on the subject, what is going on with Han?"

The screen flashed with the decoded information, confirming Luke's earlier feeling, and Lando's question was again ignored. "It's from Chewbacca and we're heading right into an Imperial welcome!" He scrambled out of his seat. "I'll go alert the pilots. You alert ground control!"

When Luke came back not a minute later, Lando had a very sobering look on his face. "I've got some good news and bad news for you," the baron said in answer to Luke's questioning expression. "The good news is that there's already a squadron of ground troops on the surface."

"And the bad news?"

"They're attempting to board the Falcon. She's been impounded by order of the Council, and Han and Chewie are under arrest!"

 


QueeQuee was gone only minutes, if that, but to Han it felt like forever. His imagination was running amok and when she reappeared, alone, his disappointment, disgust, and frustration must have been visually as well as mentally audible.

"If you want to be trusted," she answered his unspoken question, "you'll have to earn it. Until then, you deal through me or not at all."

Han twisted his mouth and gestured in indifference, nodding in resignation; not happy but realizing when to compromise. Inside he was raging. How long would he have to continue this charade? How long could he?!

"Good," QueeQuee said, as if Han had successfully performed a learned trick. She held out a data plaque, plus a stack of credits. "There's three thousand there. You'll get the rest when you deliver this."

"Who to?"

"He'll find you—don't worry."

The credits went into the jacket pocket. "I never do."

To his discomfort, she followed him into the lift tube. "I've got business downstairs," was the explanation. "Unless, of course, you'd care to reconsider..." Leaving the intimation open, her tail flicked lightly on the back of his knee.

"Some other time," Han answered diplomatically. "When I remember to bring my nerf spurs with me."

"A pity..." An extended claw ran over his shoulder and down his arm. "Subtle, you say?"

"Try it sometime."

The lift doors opened, then the camouflaged one, and Han walked into a bar crowded with half-a-dozen rebel soldiers and two Minradite peace controllers. At his sudden appearance, they all went for their sidearms.

"Hold it, Solo!" yelled a familiar voice. "Don't move. You're under arrest!" Wedge Antilles was not a happy rebel. As head of Security, he had been ordered to lead this mission, but that didn't mean he had to agree with its objective or purpose; he had openly voiced that disagreement. He knew Han was innocent, knew it with his own life if it came to that, but they wouldn't listen. Arguing long and hard had gotten him nowhere.

For the first time since enlisting in the rebel forces, he found himself questioning the reasoning of his superiors, even questioning the motives of the Alliance. He had also argued against the presence of the Minradian police. But Mon Mothma and Ackbar said it would be good public relations with the planet's leaders. Wedge had disrespectfully told them what they could do with their public relations before he left in disgust. But in the end, here he was...and here they were...people he couldn't trust or predict.

Someone else he usually couldn't predict was Han Solo, but Han's reaction to Wedge's 'Don't move!' was what Lando would have called a sure thing. Han, of course, did just the opposite. Throwing his body back, while drawing his blaster, he bumped QueeQuee through the lift tube doors and shouted, "Run!" Stun fire erupted all around him in criss-crossing bursts of energy and he dove for the bar, finding cover behind the counter.

Everyone dove for cover, fully expecting Solo to return fire. Rebel soldiers and Minradians alike ducked behind columns and scuttled behind table pedestals. The bartender disappeared to parts unknown while the two or three customers quickly made themselves equally as scarce. But nothing happened; there was only silence, save for the sounds of nervous shuffling, rapid breathing, and clicking pincers.

"C'mon, Han!" Wedge tried again. "I don't want this anymore than you! Give us both a break!"

Behind the bar, Han crawled along the floor, away from his original location, and then sat there, thinking of his next move. A little off-balance, he knew the Alliance was going to be upset over the money; he just didn't think they'd be this upset! The situation was absurd; it was never meant to place him in this position against the rebel troops, but he had had the immediate foresight to turn circumstances into opportunity. Saving QueeQuee's ass, or whatever, would certainly add credibility to his professed willingness to work for the Empire and work to his advantage, but only if he could get away. The odds didn't look good; once again a no-win hand.

"Last chance, Han!"

Bluffing was not the answer this time...but perhaps a long-shot gamble was. He suddenly popped up and fired, clipping Wedge across the shoulder. The expilot cried out, more from surprise than anything else, for the energy beam barely tore through the fabric of the security uniform. But in response, his team returned the fire with a vengeance, subjecting the bar and surrounding area to a multiple barrage. Wedge hadn't joined in, his hand over the smoking scratch as if in pain, but the discomfort amounted to only a slight stining sensation. Han didn't miss at the range, he was thinking. Hell, Han didn't miss at any range, which meant he was deliberately trying to miss. That realization only reinforced Wedge's previous convictions, and knew he would report a mission failure to Mon Mothma.

"No, no!! Hold it, hold fire!" he shouted over the din of zinging energy beams. "That's it, Solo, the final warning! Come out now and I promise you'll get a chance!"

With pieces of chipped formex and glass scattered over and around him, Han scrambled to his feet, praying he had interpreted the phrasing correctly. Wedge was going to give him the chance to escape, but it would be at a more opportune moment. "All right," he answered, reaching up to place the blaster on the counter. "I'm coming out." With hands in the air, he appeared a second later. Immediately Wedge winked at him, then let the no-nonsense security expression settled on his face. It almost made Han smile, for there was a definite good feeling attached to Wedge's continued faith and trust, but he, instead, breathed a visible sigh of relief. "Look, buddy, this is all a big mistake." Ever so slightly, he dropped his hands.

'Big mistake' was an understatement, and then some. The Minrados police misinterpreted his slight gesture, overreacted, and simultaneously fired. The stun beams caught Solo square in the chest, violently throwing him against the bar wall, where he slid to the floor in a very unconscious heap.

Wedge looked stricken and vaulted over the counter while the peace controllers clicked and clacked, touched pincers and clapped each other on the carapace in self-congratulations. Kneeling at Han's side, Wedge checked for a pulse and upon finding a weak one, closed his eyes in wordless gratitude to the maker of all things. Han was breathing—barely—with minimal neural responses, but he was breathing. "Sorry, buddy," Wedge whispered as he squeezed Solo's hand.

With the knowledge that Han was all right, anger and outrage replaced the concern—anger and outrage at the peace controllers. The Security commander straightened to storm over to the preening insectoids, grabbing for the wrist of one in order to check the weapon's setting. As feared, the being had it on maximum. Wedge bit back a blistering epithet, raising his hands to choke the now confused alien, but then realized he didn't know where to grab.

There was nothing left to do but the obvious and Antillies simply slumped his shoulders. "Take him," he indicated, but when his men grabbed for various portions of Han's anatomy, he sternly added, "Gently. We're not Imperials." His head shook at the sight of Han's limp body being carried out and he was already feeling sorry for his fellow Corellian. A full stun charge was no fun in its aftermath.

After giving the rest of the bar and the lift tube a cursory inspection, he swept Han's blaster off the counter and followed his team. Again, he doubted the direction in which the Alliance was moving. Things were a lot better and a lot more fun when they were shooting at Imperials and not at each other.

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