Member of the Guild
By Kate Birkel
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
The Guild Hall of the Corellian Independent Traders was a low, rambling edifice situated on the edge of the main starport of Corell's capital city. Once, it had been a small freighter hanger, but over the years, offices and warehouses had been tacked on the original structure in a haphazard fashion as need dictated and finances permitted. Sporadically, it was suggested that the Guild was now able to afford a more dignified Hall in keeping with its present stature, but somehow, nothing had ever been done about it, and Guild business continued to be conducted in cramped, spartan rooms, with goods packed into every nook and cranny.
Brynn Greya strode into the Guildmaster's office, an irritated frown on her attractive face. She stood in front of the Guildmaster's desk and tapped one booted foot.
The Guildmaster held his hand up to indicate he would attend to her in a moment.
"Ryo, I want to speak to you now," Brynn said.
The Guildmaster looked up from the sheaf of computer flimsies he was studying to smile cheerfully at his wife. "Sorry, Brynn. I didn't realize it was you. Can't it wait another two minutes? I'm almost done."
"I've been waiting for you to call ever since Rono left," Brynn stated. "That was two hours ago."
The Guildmaster looked apologetic. "I've really been busy. You know I'm blasting off for Gule Rannon tomorrow, and I don't want to leave any loose ends behind if I can help it."
"You could have taken three minutes to call me." Brynn was not placated.
"You're right," the Guildmaster agreed contritely. "I could have taken a couple of minutes before I got involved with this other stuff."
Brynn sighed as she sat down on a corner of the Guildmaster's desk. She eyed the stack of flimsies with distaste. "You need a vacation, Ryo. Weneed a vacation. For seventy years, we have lived, eaten, and slept the Guild." Her expressive grey eyes clouded over. "Maybe you should start looking for another successor."
Ryo stood up and stretched. "I don't think that'll be necessary, Brynn. Give the boy another couple of years. He's still working the kinks out of his system."
Brynn's sadness vanished and she leaned forward eagerly. "Rono knew something?"
"Just the same old story," the Guildmaster replied with a shrug.
"Rono was on Ord Mantell a few weeks back. A port roustabout told him that the Falconhad been there not too long ago, doing something for the Rebel Alliance. The man remembered because he got into an argument with the pilot because he'd made a remark about how run-down the ship was." Brynn laughed. "That's him, all right. And you always complain how touchy I am about my Raizel Tour."
"At least the Raizel Tourdoesn't always look as if it were just in a dogfight with half the Imperial Fleet."
"It darn well better not," Brynn said, severely. Her face became wistful. "It would be nice to be able to take her out again rather than being stuck here pushing paper all the time."
Ryo walked around the desk and put his arms around Brynn's shoulders. "I know, love. I'd take you with me to Gule Rannon except I want someone here I can trust to keep her head if something happens. This rebellion's causing all sorts of problems right now. I don't think the Imperials actively distrust us, but it's impossible to say what the Emperor'll do next. He's always been a little paranoid, and I hear it's been getting worse over the past couple of years or so."
"Where is the Rebel Alliance's main base now?"
"I don't think they have one. Last I heard, their entire fleet was skulking around somewhere in the Harrawan sector."
"It's not too far out of your way," Brynn suggested.
"No, Brynn," the Guildmaster said sharply. "It would be an inexcusable breach of conduct. I would be saying to the boy that I don't trust him to handle his own affairs. He'll soon reach his majority, and I don't want to alienate him any further by implying he's still on leading strings."
Brynn took a step backward and put her fists on her hips. "Ryo, it's been over two years since Han taped, and ever longer since I've seen him. He's all the family either of us has left." She paused for a moment. "You're the Guildmaster. Han's still a journeyman. It's your responsibility to oversee Guild journeymen."
"Technically, the boy is no longer a member of the Guild. He's defaulted on his dues two years running, after being nearly a year late with the previous year's dues."
"Ryo," Brynn said dangerously, her mouth set. "My only child is dead. I refuse to also lose my only grandchild because the two of you are stubborn, arrogant fools. I still have my master's papers and the Raizel Tourhas one more flight in her."
The threat made the Guildmaster immediately capitulate. "You always did play dirty, Brynn," he grumbled.
"Of course," she agreed. "That's why you married me, remember? You said you couldn't afford to lose such a hard bargainer."
Gren walked over to his wall safe, and the door opened at his voice command. Frowning again, Brynn watched as he reached into the very back of the vault.
"Ryo, you're not doing what I think you're doing, are you?" she asked in a quiet tone.
"It's time." Ryo brought a lightsaber out of the safe.
"No, Ryo," Brynn said. "He's all I have left."
Ryo put the weapon down on the corner of his desk, then put his arms around Brynn's shoulders and held her tightly. "Brynn, sooner or later, someone is going to realize the boy is a fully-trained Jedi. He hides it well, but it still shows if a person knows what to look for. If the Emperor or Darth Vader finds out, the boy will need every advantage. I told you earlier: the Emperor is being squeezed. He won't take kindly to a Jedi not under his control. It's been mentioned to me by people who should know what they're talking about that the Emperor suspects there's at least one or two Jedi still loose in addition to the Master. The Emperor's afraid of the Master, but there's no other Jedi who can walk without fear of attack. That Han is still alive is a tribute to his strength and cunning, but it can't last forever."
Brynn shook her head. "I don't like it. If Han wants the lightsaber, he'd come and get it himself. He knows where it is."
Ryo's face lit up with amusement. "I don't think he's ready to admit he wants it. Besides, weren't you the one telling me five minutes ago tointerfere with his life?"
Very seldom did Princess Leia Organa, once senator from the former planet Alderaan, now one of the guiding forces of the Rebel Alliance, permit herself the luxury of ten unscheduled, unstructured minutes. She rationed those ten minutes with the utmost care, knowing that if she allowed herself more, sooner or later her every moment would have been taken up by worry and regret. Alderaan was gone, and with it her family, her past, and her home--blown out of the heavens by the Grand Moff Tarkin right in front of her horrified eyes. Even now, years later, the sight haunted her thoughts and drove her to redouble her efforts to bring down the Empire, the supreme author of her misery and that of countless others spread throughout the universe. But the Empire and its minions had not been satisfied with that; they had also stolen her last crumb of comfort: the Corellian bravo, Han Solo. So now, for those ten minutes each day, Leia sat in her cramped quarters aboard the Rebel Alliance's flagship, reliving those precious days between Hoth and Bespin, and the scant time on Bespin. Never before had she realized the burden she had carried through the years of rebellion...not until Han had become her self-appointed protector, cosseting and spoiling her, watching her with a complacent air, daring anything or anyone to get past him to her. But it was Han who had been lost--proud, gallant Han. Leia remembered the look on Han's face when he had been lowered into the carbon freeze unit.
"I love you."
It could have been arrogance, but Leia chose to believe it wasn't.
Just acceptance of the truth.
The ten minutes were up, and she was due at yet another Force-forsaken meeting. Leia drew a deep breath. Chewbacca was on his way to Tatooine. He would get Han back from Jabba the Hutt. And if Lando Calrissian valued his miserable, self-seeking hide, he would move heaven and earth to help the Wookiee.
The door to Leia's cabin whooshed open unannounced. Leia turned away before whoever it was could see the hurt and fear on her face. It would not do to let the others see tough, competent Leia Organa indulging in her daily bout of despair.
"Mistress Leia, there is a gentleman here to see you."
Sometimes Leia wished she could find the workshop that had produced See Threepio. They must have been true geniuses in their field to give the protocol droid such a flexible 'voice' and an actual personality. First, she would congratulate them on their skill. Then she would level an ion cannon at the place. Thatwould teach them to produce neurotic droids that whined.
"I asked him several times to wait for you in the reception area, but he simply would not listen to me. He insisted on following me--and here he is."
Leia plastered a smile on her face and turned toward the droid and his follower. "Thank you, Threepio. Please inform the committee I will be a few minutes late."
The droid bowed himself out of the doorway and Leia abruptly dropped her smile.
The intruder was a tall, slender, well-muscled man. His face was sharply planed under dark hair liberally streaked with silver. He wore a dark cape, but the clothing under it also seemed familiar. Leia looked closer. No, the white shirt was of infinitely better material than Han had ever aspired to, and the stripe down the side of this man's trousers was gold instead of red. Yet, aside from the clothing, Leia realized that there was enough similarity between the two men that this one resembled what Han could be, given another thirty years.
Leia found herself smiling again. "May I help you, sir?"
The man nodded briefly. "Please forgive my intrusion, Your Highness. I am Ryo Gren, Guildmaster of the Corellian Independent Traders. I have come to you for information concerning one of my guild members."
Leia's smile wobbled only a small amount. "I am sorry, Guildmaster, but I don't believe I can help you. There is only one Corellian trader I know personally and he--he's not here right now."
"Your Dock Master told me that the Millennium Falconleft from here two days ago under the command of First Mate Chewbacca and that miserable fool Lando Calrissian." The Guildmaster was not pleased. "Where is Captain Solo? No one would tell me."
"That's because no one knows," Leia said quietly.
Guildmaster Gren's displeasure turned to disgust. "The boy is in trouble again." It was not a question.
"Yes," Leia admitted. "Yes, he is." Resisting the temptation to smile at the Guildmaster's reference to Han as a boy, she schooled her face to cool dignity.
The Guildmaster waited a moment. "Your Highness," he said finally, "as Guildmaster, it is my duty to oversee our journeymen and their activities. Which is why I'm here. Captain Solo has been very remiss in his responsibilities to the Guild of late. I am on my way to negotiate a trade agreement with the merchants of Gule Rannon, but I decided to make a small detour here since I have heard he's been dealing with you lately." Gren shook his head.
Leia's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How did you find us? How did you get on board? The Corellian Independent Traders aren't part of the Alliance. In fact, we know you still do business with the Empire."
Guildmaster Gren smiled in a way that reminded Leia of Han's careless grins. "Guild secrets, Your Highness," he said cheerfully. "Let's just say I have my ways, and Captain Solo has never been particularly secretive about his movements. But this does not answer my question. What trouble has Captain Solo found this time?"
"It's a long story, Guildmaster."
"It usually is, with him."
Leia's smile became genuine. "My cabin is so small. Would you come with me to another room where we can sit comfortably?"
"Of course, Your Highness. But what of your other meetings?"
"The others are aware of my opinion on the present topic of discussion. They will call me if they really need me."
The Guildmaster stepped back from the doorway to let Leia precede him.
The pilot's briefing room was empty. From force of habit, Leia took the chair at the head of the table. She motioned Gren to sit down next to her.
"Just a moment, Guildmaster," she said. She pressed a button on the console, then directed the person who answered to send a tray of refreshments for two to the room. She broke off the communication and settled back in her chair. "How long have you known Captain Solo, Guildmaster?"
"Many years, Your Highness. He is a valued, if erratic, member of the Guild."
"Are you related to him?"
Gren smiled. "Whether or not I am related to Captain Solo is immaterial to the present situation. I am the Guildmaster, and Captain Solo is a member of the Guild."
"I see," Leia said slowly. She stared at Gren for a long moment. You're Han's father, aren't you. You won't admit it, but you are. So, let's see what your game is.She became all business, the princess-as-executive. "When were you last in contact with Captain Solo?"
"Two and a half years ago. He paid his dues--late as usual, I might add--and mentioned trying his luck on the Kessel spice run if he could find a cargo. Since then, he has not paid his dues or made any other contact with the Guild. Then, as I mentioned earlier, it came to my attention that the Millennium Falconhad been flying for the Rebel Alliance."
Leia blinked. Unseen by the Guildmaster, her hands clenched in her lap. Two and a half years?And only nowwas he checking up? In spite of her anger at this callousness, her voice remained even. "Captain Solo did find a cargo on the Kessel run. That's why he's missing now. And you won't get your precious dues out of him either if--when--Chewbacca and Calrissian find him. He's done nothing but lose money these past two years. Rebellion is an expensive hobby."
"The boy is a fool," Gren stated without heat.
The opening of the door to the briefing room saved Leia from blurting out her opinion of Gren's words. See Threepio bustled in with a tray, setting it midway between the two humans. He scanned the tabletop.
"Oh, dear, Your Highness. This table has not been dusted in quite some time. Perhaps I should summon a cleaning droid. I don't know what gets into them. Sometimes they are so dreadfully careless. I shall have to have a word with the chief housekeeping droid. This sort of thing will not do at all. It's a disgrace."
Two ion cannons,Leia thought to herself. "Don't worry about it right now. Thank you."
Still chattering mournfully about the cleaning droid's shortcomings, Threepio exited the briefing room.
"Does he carry on like that allthe time, Your Highness?" the Guildmaster asked, head tilted in an all too familiar way.
Leia grabbed a steaming cup. "Yes."
With much less haste than Leia had shown, Gren helped himself to the other cup. He relaxed back into his chair and took a swallow of the brew. "Now, Your Highness, would you oblige me by explaining just exactly what it is Captain Solo has managed to get himself into this time?"
"He found a cargo for the Kessel spice run. It was for someone by the name of Jabba. Jabba the Hutt."
Gren closed his eyes with a pained expression. "I don't believe it. Born and bred in the Guild, fifteen years as an apprentice and journeyman, and he stillcarries cargo for Jabba." He expelled a heavy sigh. "Go on."
"I think he was desperate. Captain Solo was broke, and it would have made him a lot of money," Leia explained defensively.
"I'm all too familiar with Captain Solo's financial habits."
"Anyway, he had to dump the cargo because Imperial troopers were getting ready to board and search the Falcon."
Gren straightened in his chair. "Dumped a cargo because of the Imperials?"
"Yes, Guildmaster. Then Jabba the Hutt demanded that Captain Solo pay him back for the lost cargo. When he couldn't do it, Jabba set bounty hunters after him. A week ago he--we--were caught on Bespin, Lando Calrissian's mining colony, by Darth Vader and his stormtroopers."
"Darth Vader?" Gren broke in as if he could not believe what his ears were hearing. "That rogue Jedi?"
"Yes, Guildmaster," Leia confirmed.
A slight grimace appeared on Gren's face. "Vader andthe Hutt. Captain Solo's been very busy lately."
"Yes, Guildmaster," Leia agreed, then picked up the thread of her story again. "On Bespin, they carbon-froze Captain Solo, and Vader gave him to one of the bounty hunters: Boba Fett."
"Of course," Gren murmured philosophically. "Boba Fett. Why not?" He drew a deep breath. "I can assume that Captain Solo survived the carbon-freezing process, Your Highness?"
"Yes, he's still alive," Leia said. "Or at least, he was then. Fett was to take him to Tatooine, to Jabba, to collect the reward. Chewbacca and Calrissian left two days ago for Tatooine to see if they can ransom Captain Solo before Jabba does something nasty to him."
Gren sat wrapped in silent disbelief for a long moment, sipping at his brew in between shakes of his head. Finally, he leaned forward. "I believe there is an explanation for this whole botched-up affair, Your Highness. Also, I think I can assure you that while Captain Solo might get roughed up a little, the Hutt won't do anything drastic. He'll lose all leverage if he kills the boy."
"The Alliance will be glad to hear that," Leia said firmly. "Captain Solo is an excellent pilot and a top commanding officer."
"Of course, Your Highness. I am certain your high command will be delighted." Gren's words were piously said, but there was a wickedly amused twinkle in his eyes.
Leia set her mouth in firm lines and stared back at him.
Gren put his cup down and rose to his feet with the air of a man who had made a decision. "I really find it hard to believe, though," he said musingly, "that the Hutt is stupid enough to think he can pull this off. But, I suppose I had better go to Tatooine myself and straighten this out before things get any worse."
"But what about your trade mission, Guildmaster?"
"This, too, is Guild business. If the Hutt gets away with this, it'll give him ideas. And he's already insufferable."
Awestruck, Leia stared at the Guildmaster. A Corellian,calling someone else insufferable?
Luke Skywalker stared up at the ceiling of his hospital room, studiously ignoring the medi-droid fussing over his prosthetic hand where it joined his wrist. The droid was prattling about releasing Commander Skywalker after the next morning's breakfast and rounds. It wouldn't be a minute too soon for Luke, who thought he had already spent too much time flat on his back while other events moved without him. Then there was the matter of Yoda and his promise to return to the ancient Master's world to complete his training. The Jedi Master had some hard explaining to do about information he and Ben Kenobi had neglected to give Luke.
The door of the room opened, and Leia walked in with a frown on her face. Luke immediately forgot about everything else.
"What's wrong?" he demanded.
"I just talked to the strangest man," Leia said slowly.
Luke jerked his hand away from the medical droid and told it to go away. With a mechanical sniff, the droid rolled out of the room. Luke turned to Leia.
"Tell me," he commanded. Anything was better than lying in bed stewing over his own fears and frustrations and inadequacies. "His name is Ryo Gren, and he's the Guildmaster of the Corellian Independent Traders. Has Han ever said anything to you about him?"
"No. Not that I can think of. But Han never talked about anything except what a hot pilot he was, how great the Falconis, and what a great lover he was." The instant that last was out, Luke realized he had made a mistake. Leia's face fell and her chin trembled. "Hey, I'm sorry, Leia. I didn't mean to upset you." He paused for a breath, then asked the question he had been avoiding ever since the Falconhad plucked him from Bespin's undercarriage. "Something happened between you and Han after we all left Hoth and you two reached Bespin, didn't it?"
Leia stared down at Luke for a long time. Once upon a time, there had been a farmboy from the backwater planet of Tatooine who had seen a holo of a princess in distress and who had chased through a galaxy to rescue her from the evil clutches of her enemies. But the fairy tale had not ended happily for the farmboy because the princess had not fallen in love with him. Instead, the princess had lost her heart to the farmboy's paid pilot, a mercenary braggart who had sworn he was incapable of altruism or compassion. "Yes, something happened between Hoth and Bespin. I'm sorry, Luke, really I am," she finished miserably.
Luke looked away. "Don't be sorry, Leia," he said gruffly. "I guess I always knew there was no way I could compete with Han."
"It's not a matter of competing, Luke," Leia protested. "There's nothing wrong with you. You're a nice person; steady, reliable. I just...I just..."
"Needed someone else," Luke finished up for her. On one level, he felt bitter and betrayed. But on a deeper level, he was forced to acknowledge that it was probably all for the best. Between completing the training necessary to become a Jedi Knight, and Darth Vader's stunning revelation of his relationship with Luke, the younger man did not really need another complication, another commitment he might not be able to fulfill. And Han was strong enough to stand up to Leia where Luke might have given way. Han was not impressed with Leia's title and position while Luke admitted to himself that she still awed him.
Luke forced himself to smile cheerfully. "So, finish telling me about this Ryo Gren."
Leia gave him a grateful look. "I'm pretty certain he's Han's father."
Leia went on to tell Luke all about the interview with the Guildmaster, ending with: "I really believe he can get Han out of there alive."
"Apparently, this Guildmaster knows Jabba the Hutt," Luke commented.
"He seems to think Han's being used as a pawn, that either the Guild or the Guildmaster has something Jabba wants, and the spice was only an excuse."
Luke thought this over for a few seconds before rejecting it. "No, I don't think so. The Corellian Independent Traders aren't that big or that strong that Jabba would need something they have. Jabba's got an enormous operation and has had for years. I can't imagine why he would need anything to use against the Corellians."
Leia shook her head. "There's more to the Corellian Independent Traders than you know, Luke. There's only a couple of them working in our present sector, but in their home sector they've been growing at a tremendous rate the past few years. At least that's what the intelligence reports say. And they've been nibbling away at Tatooine for the last seven or eight years. Nobody, except maybe the Corellians themselves, know just how many people belong to the Guild."
"I still can't believe they're any match for Jabba and his bunch," Luke insisted. "Don't forget; I grew up on Tatooine."
"And I've been reading intelligence reports for the past ten years," Leia retorted. She wrinkled her brow. "Funny, though. He didn't look like he's almost a hundred and ten years old."
"A hundred and ten years old?" Luke was skeptical.
"I got the intelligence file out on him," Leia explained. "I was interested. According to the file, Gren's the first Guildmaster of the Corellian Independent Traders. He and some friends of his started the Guild a little over seventy years ago. But now that I think about it, I read somewhere that the Corellians tend to have longer than average life spans."
Luke grinned. "No particular reason why you where reading about Corellians, is there?"
Leia's cheeks became lightly stained with blush and she did not reply to Luke's teasing. "Now, if Han is the Guildmaster's son, and if he does get out of there, then maybe he can convince the Corellians to join the Rebellion."
Luke groaned. "No! That's all we need--a couple hundred more hotshot pilots mouthing off and demanding a reckoning of every lousy quarter credit."
Leia smiled mischievously. "Yes, but don't forget how Han saved your life and the rebellion's by giving you air cover over the Death Star."
"Okay, okay," Luke grinned sheepishly. "But I sometimes wonder if it's really worth putting up with all of Han's mouthiness."
The expression on Leia's face indicated that she thought it was.