The Immoveable Object and the Irresistible Force
or A Visit to Ord Mantell

By Kate Birkel


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Part 1

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The Gars Yrll was the fourth cantina Han Solo led his charges into that night since landing the Millennium Falconon Ord Mantell earlier that day, and it was easily the sleaziest, most disreputable one of the four. Han paused in the shadowed doorway, his dark clothing allowing him to blend in as he surveyed the Gars Yrll's smoke-laden interior and clientele. At last, he gave a satisfied grunt and turned to his companions.

''I spotted one of Glesson's hired hands," he reported quietly. "We'll do the same act--sit down and have a round. Then I'll wander over and see if I can get the message to Glesson." He shook his head. "It sure would help some if Glesson'd set himself up regular office hours."

Princess Leia Organa peered around the Corellian's lean body, her face wrinkled into an expression of distaste. "Do we really have to go in there?" she asked with a shudder.

"Yes, we do." Han's eyes gleamed with malicious amusement as he surveyed the diminutive princess. She had exchanged her usual white uniform for a pair of khaki colored trousers and a shapeless khaki tunic with no trim or ornament, and there was a blaster strapped around her waist. Her hair was braided and wrapped around her head in a severe coronet. Han had often speculated on how she would look with that brown hair brushed out and hanging free. "And don't go sticking your nose too far up in the air, Your Holiness. You can wash the dirt off later."

Resentment flared in Leia's brown eyes, then she became glacially calm. "Proceed, Captain Solo."

With Han in the lead, the party of three humans and one Wookiee threaded their way through the boisterous, raucous crowd to a table against the wall Han had marked out. When they reached the table, Han pointed to the two outside chairs. "Luke, Princess." Then he frowned. "Where the hell'd she get to now?"

Luke Skywalker, dressed in his desert clothing, and Chewbacca turned around at the same time Han did to espy the Alderaani princess struggling to break free from a particularly revolting specimen of humanity who had hold of her arm. Swearing under his breath, Han stormed toward the pair to grab Leia's other arm.

"Keep your filthy hand to yourself!" he snarled at her captor. "The lady's with me!"

The man spat out an obscenity Han hadn't heard in quite some time.

"Same to you, fella," Han replied in an unamiable tone, foregoing the traditional reply, which would probably have scorched Her Holiness' virginal ears even more than the original suggestion. Then he steered Leia over to their table and pushed her into her chair.

"You didn't have to be so rough!" Leia hissed angrily, rubbing her arm where Han's fingers had dug into her flesh.

"Well, if you'd've kept up, I wouldn't have had to get you away from him!"

Han collapsed into the chair he had chosen for himself, the one against the wall that gave the most comprehensive view of the Gars Yrll's interior. He tilted the chair back against the wall and stretched his long legs out, lacing his fingers across his utility belt. The position created the illusion of insouciant comfort while allowing his hands to stray no more than an inch or so from his blaster.

''I wastrying to keep up," Leia fumed. "He waylaid me."

Han gave her a condescending smirk. "Little girls who insist on pub crawling gotta expect that kind of thing. Maybe next time, you'll listen to me when I tell you to stay home where you belong."

Leia shot Han a look of pure hatred, then arranged her features into her favorite pose of Mortally Offended Royalty. Han chuckled to himself. Her Royalness' temper had been fraying badly lately, and it was almost too easy any more to put her in a towering rage. Now if it was only that easy to get some otherexpression on her face... Han caught himself up short. He'd pretty much put thatidea on a back burner since this latest round of blowups and bickering. He looked around the cantina again. The gunsel had her back to them at the moment, and Han grinned. Life on Ord Mantell was making Jerra lazy and complacent.

"What 'cha want?" a voice whined.

Han bestowed a sneer on the waiter. "Four draws."

The waiter sketched a quick bow and left.

Watching the waiter scurry away, Han stifled a yawn. Maybe, if they got their business over with soon enough, he'd send Luke and Her Worshipfulness back to the Falconwith Chewie, and stay for a couple of drinks with the gunsel. Jerra was an iridium-plated bitch, but she might have some interesting gossip to relate and he certainly had nothing else lined up for the evening's entertainment. He stole a glance at Leia. She was still sitting there in frozen hauteur. Nope, there certainly wasn't much hope of amusement there, and the idea of one more game of holochess with Chewie gave him a twinge of pain behind his eyeballs. Let Luke listen to Chewie whine and moan for a while. Luke leaned over to whisper something into Leia's ear. Her eyes crinkled with laughter, the frozen look suddenly gone. She put her hand on Luke's shoulder and whispered something back, and they both laughed softly behind their hands.

Han scowled at the pair of them. How the hell Luke could always get Her High and Godsbedamned Mightiness to unbend when hehad been so wretchedly unsuccessful lately was beyond his comprehension. Once more, Han caught himself up short. Leia Organa had made it abundantly clear she was not interested in dalliance with irresponsible hirelings, he reminded himself. The only thing salvaging Han's pride at the moment was the fact that the princess showed little interest in anythingoutside of her precious rebellion. To the best of Han's knowledge, and he had done considerable research, Leia Organa had no regular male companionship, the closest thing to that being the somewhat disgusting preference she sometimes displayed toward Luke Skywalker. There had been a few occasions, however, when Han would have sworn she looked on his own handsome self with a certain amount of speculative interest.

"Hell's father!" Han swore under his breath. This was a business trip, and his business was keeping his eyes and ears open for trouble--noton that foul-tempered bit of arrogance who'd been making his life hell for the past week with her incessant complaints and her moralizing on duty and obligation.

"What was that, Han?" Luke inquired brightly.

"Nothing," Han growled. He pasted a particularly obnoxious leer on his face. "What're you and Her RoyaIness giggling about?"

"We were just talking about some of the people in here," Luke replied, obviously overlooking the Corellian's churlishness.

Han frowned. "Don't be obvious, huh? I'd like to get outta here in one piece tonight. I wish you two'd learn some manners."

Leia's face froze over again. "Yourmanners are nothing to brag about, Captain Solo."

There she went with the "Captain Solo" routine again, Han thought sourly. She liked to use that a lot when she was in a pet, and somehow it always came out sounding like an invective. But her tune would change quickly enough when she decided the Alliance needed something more out of him; then it would be a polite "Han" accompanied by one of her diplomatic smiles. Only this time it wasn't going to work.

The waiter plunked four frothing mugs down on the table. Han fished a coin out of his jacket pocket and flipped it to the creature, who fielded it with a practiced gesture, then put it to his mouth to bite down on it.

"It's legit!" Han snarled. "Pure coin of the realm."

The waiter walked away with a parting growl.

Leia leaned across the table toward Han. "Talk about bad manners!"

"That wasn't bad manners," Han retorted. "He expected the hassle." He pulled a mug to himself and took a gulp, his eyes watering. Yech-ch,he thought. That was the absolute worst he'd had in a long time. Leia and Luke were making faces over theirs as well, and Chewie was muttering in the back of his throat. Once more, Han's eyes quartered the cantina. Glesson's goon had finally turned around and was looking straight at him. He acknowledged the look with a small hand gesture, and Jerra nodded. "We're gonna have company in a minute here," he said quietly to Luke and Leia. "Just let me handle it."

Resentment settled on Leia's face. "I'm supposed to do the talking, Captain Solo."

"AfterI settle the ground rules, sweetheart." Leia's mouth tightened.

"Han?" Luke reached across the table to touch Han's arm. "Take it a little easy, huh? You haven't said two decent words to anyone all night long."

"I'm just doing the job I was hired for," Han replied, shaking Luke's hand off.

*Solo, you are being very difficult this evening,* Chewbacca rumbled with displeasure. *I know you are not pleased with having to come to Ord Mantell, but it is not necessary for you to vent your spleen in this fashion.*

Han gave Chewie a sullen glower that widened to include the other two. Rieekan's orders had been very specific: Since the princess had refused to permit anyone else to conduct this transaction with Glesson on Ord Mantell, Han's job was to keep her alive and in one piece. Han was doing the best he could with this constant harassment and deliberate flouting of his authority. Luke and Leia had no concept of the caliber of people they would be dealing with tonight, while Han was all too familiar with them. Chewie knew, too, which was why he should be keeping his mouth shut instead of seconding Luke and Her Worshipfulness. See if he took on any more jobs like this. In fact, if he hadn't promised Rieekan and Dodonna he'd help transport and set up that new base on Hoth, he'd fly out of this whole asinine mess the second he dumped Luke and Her Highnessness off at Hoth. He'd already wasted far too much of his valuable time convoying for the Alliance at less than bargain prices. He still had the money to pay off the Hutt, but that was it. Now, if he hadn't lost so much at that sith-lovin' sabacc invitational three weeks back... Talk about the luck of the draw. In a lifetime of playing sabacc, he'd never seen such godsforsaken cards or been able to do so little to change things in his favor.

Han drank some more brew. No, there was no help for it. He and Chewie were going to have to part company with the Alliance--at least until they got Jabba paid off and another bankroll built up. It might be a good idea, too, to try and catch up a little on his Guild fees before the Guildmaster decided to take them out of his hide. Han wiped the worry from his mind: Glesson's hireling was nearly on top of them.

"Han!" Jerra Lund bestowed a smile with the wattage of a couple of novas on the waiting Corellian. "You're looking better than ever, loverboy." She pushed past Leia to throw her arms around Han and plant an enthusiastic kiss on his mouth.

To be polite, Han stood up and returned Jerra's greeting, his blaster thunking against one of hers.

"Let me handle this, huh?"

Han's ears caught the furiously hissed whisper. He lifted one eye over Jerra's shoulder to peer through the mass of golden hair tumbling down the paid killer's back to see something that brought an unholy gleam to his eyes. Her Great and Glorious Untouchableness was turning ten shades of green! Han put his arms around Jerra and kissed her again, long and hard.

"Overdoin' the welcome bit a little, aren't you, Han?" Jerra muttered.

"Shut up and play along, huh, Jerra?" Han said through his fixed smile.

"Grigor'll have those lovely teeth of yours for game counters."

"I'll settle up with Grigor later."

Jerra laughed, a silvery, shimmery ripple of conspiratorial delight. She stepped back a pace and rested her hands on her hips, affecting a pose that emphasized the very generous charms her skintight clothing barely contained. "What are you doing on Ord Mantell, sweetie?"

Han sat down again, and patted his knee. Jerra winked, then settled down on his waiting thigh, leaning against him while he put his arm around her waist. She leaned over to ruffle Chewbacca's fur in greeting, then wriggled voluptuously against Han and smirked. Han heard a small gasp from across the table. "Business, sweetheart," he purred, familiarly patting Jerra's rear end.

Jerra nibbled his ear. "Touch me like that one more time, Solo, and there won't be anything left for Grigor to mash."

"C'mon, Jerra," Han pleaded in a low whisper. "Just play along like I asked you to, huh?" He gave a now stone-faced Leia and frankly envious Luke a beatific smile, then raised his voice just enough to carry to their ears and no further. "The lady here wants to discuss business with your boss."

Jerra slid off Han and stood, settling her blasters more firmly in their holsters. She stared at Leia with calculated contempt, then arched her eyebrows at Han. "Gettin' a little above yourself, aren't 'cha, dreamboat?"

Han leaned back against the wall, his lazy grin concealing the urge to throttle Jerra for her impertinence. "You know my policy: Never pass up a payin' customer. Can you arrange things?"

"For you?"Jerra's voice caressed the word. "Of course I can." She bent over to kiss him good-bye. "Sheesh, you sure pick 'em," she muttered.

"Can the commentary, Jerra," Han hissed back.

Jerra straightened with a smile for Chewbacca. "Take care of Han for me, huh, Chewie, 'til I get back?" She blew a kiss and a wink at Luke, grinned mockingly. at Leia, then swaggered away, her hips swaying with deliberate provocation.

As soon as Jerra was out of earshot, Luke leaned across the table, his face brimming with excitement. "Who is she, Han?"

"Jerra Lund. Like I said, she's one of Glesson's paid guns." Han put one hand behind his head and lifted his mug to his lips, covertly watching Leia, who looked as if she had just bitten into an incredibly sour fruit. "Jerra's not too bad looking," he went on expansively as if it was for Luke's benefit. "But you haven't trulylived 'til you've seen her sister, Linka." Han sighed expressively. "A man could really be happy with Linka."

Leia drew a sharp breath and Chewbacca 's mug hit the table with a thump in the same instant.


Han grinned happily at his partner, harsh, perverse humor glittering in his eyes.

*Linka and Jerra both have mates they are very happy with, and they are most faithful to them,* Chewbacca continued.

''I know that, and so will everyone else if you don't shut your mouth," Han retorted, his radiant smile flrmly in place.

"You know what, flyboy?" Leia demanded, her eyes snapping with rage.

Han swept her with a lazy look. "Chewie and I were just discussing something private," he drawled. "Nothing for you to worry about. Doesn't concern yourbusiness here." He could almost hear her teeth grind. This was getting to be fun,he thought with vindictive glee. Play Ice Queen with Han Solo, huh?

*It is time I instructed the princess in the Wookiee tongue,* Chewbacca grumbled, his vexation with his pilot's chicanery very evident.

"Don't bother. We're not gonna be around that much longer. Besides, why spoil a good thing?"

*You are deliberately deceiving the Princess!* Chewbacca roared. *You have lost your wits, Solo!*

The little imp of mischief that had popped into Han's head when Leia had reacted to Jerra's greeting was now growing into a monster, and Han was feeling more reckless and intractable with every passing second. Leia Organa never missed an opportunity to flay him alive for what she perceived were his failings and sins. No, the fates had offered him a chance to get some of his own back, and he'd be damned if he was giving up before she looked as miserable as he felt. Leia's hands were wrapped in a white knuckled grip around her mug. "You planning another trip, hotshot?"

Han gave her a bland look. "Not a trip, sweetheart. More like a permanent leave of absence."

"Han!" Luke exclaimed, his blue eyes clouding over with dismay. ''I thought you were staying around for good."

"What for?" Han retorted. "I'm tired of getting my butt shot off for a damn sweet nothing. Took me a week to glue the Falconback together after the last time."

"But, Han, you can't go now," Luke insisted. "We're depending on you."

"No, we're not," Leia interjected, her voice comprised of ground glass. "Loverboyhere  can'tbe depended on."

Cold fury swept through Han. She was going to start on thatagain, was she? ''I told you, Your Majesticness, you and your pals don't ownme. No one tells me where I can go and when. I've got a business to run, and, at your prices, if I see a chance to pick up a couple spare credits, you better believe I'm gonna do it."

"That was a whole shipment of equipment we lost because you were off carousing someplace and no one could find you."

"It was a business trip, not a carouse!" Han's chair hit the floor with a solid thump, and he leaned across the table, his finger poking at Leia. ''I toldRieekan a month earlier I was taking a couple weeks off. You could have waited a few more days before sending Petru off. It's not my fault the idiot got himself boxed in like that. And besides, what makes you think I'd've done that run anyway?"

"You did it before, Han," Luke said, his tone much more reasonable than Leia's.

"Right, kid, and I lost two deflector shields and damn near got my whole port side stove in for my trouble. You think I'm dumb enough to do it again?"

"We paid you for the repairs, Captain Solo," Leia said coldly.

"But you sure as hell didn't pay for the damage to my nervous system." Han glared at Leia. "All I got was yelled at for being so bloody careless. Lots of nasty new dents in myship, ten years off mylife, and I get drug over the carpet for 'willfully endangering' a valuable cargo!"

"You were playing tag with those century ships, and you know it!" Leia returned Han's glare with interest.

"The hell I was!"

''I was there! I saw you!"

''I told you to stay home that time, too. That was not 'playing tag.' Those were some very carefully calculated evasive maneuvers."

Chewbacca chuckled *The princess is right, Solo. You did not have to cut some of those moves quite so close.*

Han swung around to his partner. "You stay outta this. When I want your opinion about my flying, I'll tell you what it is."

"Oh, come on, Han," Luke sighed. "Nobody's criticizing your flying. But you do get a little carried away with yourself every now and again."

"Not with myship and mylife!" Han snapped back. ''I don't get paid nearly enough--when I get paid at all."

"So it's money again, hotshot," Leia said with scathing scorn. "You ran off and left us in the lurch for a few measly credits--or at least that's what you say. I still think you were off partying."

"It-was-a-business-trip," Han said between clenched teeth, carefully enunciating each word. It was the truth: He regarded that annual sabacc invitational as business. Last year, he'd cleaned up enough to pay off a couple of people and buy a new set of lifters for the Falcon.

"Then why won't you tell anyone where you went or how you found out Glesson had the merchandise we're buying back tonight?" Leia settled back in her chair and gave the Corellian a smugly triumphant look before answering her own question. "It's because you were carousing with your low life friends."

"It's nobody's business where I went or who I talked to. Just be grateful I bothered to pass it along."

"Han, you can't blame Leia and the others for wanting to know where you get your information," Luke cut in again, obviously trying to pour oil on troubled waters. "It might help if we could go to them directly."

Han favored Leia with a cynical grin. "You mean talk to the low lives in person? You might get your hands dirty consorting with my friends, and it might require walking into a few more places like this." His hand swept out to indicate the filthy cantina where they were sitting.

Leia pounced. "You wereoff on a binge!" she crowed in triumph.

Han's mouth opened to deny the charge again, then his hand slammed down on the tabletop after he thought better of it. "Ah-h-h, have it your way, then, if it'll shut you up and keep you happy!" His face was a mask of harsh, cold anger. ''I don't know why I even bothered to come back in the first place. Don't know when I'm well off, I suppose."

*Solo, you are losing your temper,* Chewbacca growled, putting his hand on the pilot's shoulder.

Han shook off the Wookiee's hand. "You bet I am! She's been yammering about that godsbedamned run for ten solid days and I've had it up to the eyeballs with the whole thing!"

"Hey, come on you two." Luke turned an ingratiating smile on both Han and Leia. "I'm tired of this argument. Can't you find something new to fight about?"

''I don't call asking for a reasonable explanation 'fighting,"' Leia said stiffly, fixing Han with a contemptuous stare. "But, then, your friend doesn't know the meaning of the word 'reasonable.' Just like he doesn't know anything about responsibility."

Han's other hand slammed down on the tabletop. "The hell I don't, sister," he ground out, the last shreds of his temper gone. ''I ambeing responsible-- to the person who trusted me with the information you guys wanted so badly you were willing to mortgage your entire godsbedamned fleet for it. Instead of chewing me out for being gone, you oughtta be thanking me for getting you that information for nothing!"

*Solo!* Chewbacca remonstrated.

Leia's face whitened. "Keep it down, you fool. You're creating just the type of incident we don't need."

"Han, Leia," Luke pleaded, resting his arm on the table between the combatants. "Why don't you just forget the whole thing? You're only making it worse fighting like this." He gave both of them an exasperated frown. ''I don't understand what's wrong with either of you anymore. You can't spend more than two seconds in the same room together without trying to tear each other to shreds."

Han scowled. "She's the one who keeps starting it, kid, not me."

Leia opened her mouth to retort, but Luke quickly put his hand on her arm. "Han's got a point, Leia. We'd still be chasing over half the galaxy looking for that packet if Han's friends hadn't told him about it. And you don't know for sure about that shipment. Han might have gotten shot down, too."

The suggestion stung Han's already lacerated pride. "Not me, kid. Petru wasn't half the pilot I am."

Luke glared. "Will you shut up, Han! You're keeping this argument going as much as Leia with your big mouth."

Han picked up his mug with both hands, and took a determined swallow of the foul liquid. He looked at Leia. She was staring pointedly at something off past Chewbacca, her lips compressed and two spots of color burning high on her cheeks. Luke shot him an imploring look. Han shrugged to himself and slid down in his chair, already regretting the things he'd said. Damn! Was he evergoing to learn not to let Her High and Mightiness goad him into losing his temper like that? He glanced around the cantina, but no one seemed to be taking any interest in their little scene, and Han breathed a small sigh of relief. He took another look at Leia, who was still studying the far wall as if it was the most fascinating thing in the galaxy. Yeah, it was past time for him to move on, get the hell out of where he was. The gods knew there was nothing holding him to the Alliance, no reason to stay around any longer and any number of good reasons to hit the star lanes again. It had been okay for a long time after the Death Star victory, but things had suddenly fallen apart in the last few months. Between Chewie's constant nagging about Luke, the running battle with Her Snootiness, Luke's incessant haranguing about the Force and the Jedi, and the cash flow problem, there were days when Han was lucky to make it through without strangling anyone of the three of them. That Sith-loving Kessel Run was starting to look better and better all the time. Han sighed, then tipped his chair back against the wall again.

No one said anything for several minutes, and Han let his eyes close part-way although he never ceased his restless vigil over the cantina, his gaze flicking over Leia a few more times than was actually necessary. Her Worship was really bent out of shape now: Her back was ramrod straight, and the arrogance of a thousand ruling generations was in her expression. Han wondered idly how long it would take him to smooth this one out; she'd been going under full power now since he'd returned to Base, and showed no signs of running down. But, then, did he really wantto settle it? Why was he expending all this time and energy on some stiff-necked little prima donna whose emotions, where he was concerned, ran a narrow gamut from frigid disdain to outright hatred? There hadto be better game afoot, some sweet charmer just waiting for Han Solo to make her evening. Han's eyes roved the cantina again, checking out the possibilities. He shifted restlessly in his chair. Nothing worth getting up to investigate. He looked at Leia. Still royally hacked off. She could probably be counted on to stay that way for the rest of the night and most of tomorrow as well. Maybe he could coax her out of it by the time they got to Hoth, though, if Glesson played straight and forked over the cassette without jacking the price too high. He looked away to the door again, and his eyes opened wide.

"Jerra's back," he announced quietly, setting his chair square on the floor. "She's got Glesson and-- and--" he faltered, damning Jerra's helpfulness. "Linka's with them," he finished lamely.

Luke immediately twisted around in his chair.

"Don't stare!" Han snapped. "It isn't polite!"

Luke obeyed Han's injunction, but there was a glazed look in his blue eyes. "You were right about Linka," he breathed.

Han gave Luke a sour look, but held his peace. Telling the kid that the Lund sisters were a pair of sadistic, cold-blooded killers who thoroughly enjoyed their work would serve no purpose.

The Lund sisters and their employer stopped in front of the table. Glesson was a plump, pleasant-looking middle aged man with a round, beaming face. "Jerra tells me you have some business you would like to discuss with me, Captain Solo," he addressed Han in a well modulated, low-pitched voice.

Han stood up. "I'm just the hired hand." He smiled politely, but his eyes remained cold and watchful, and he brushed his fingertips over the butt of his blaster to indicate in just what capacity he had been hired. "The lady is in charge of the business." He moved out from the table in order to make room for Glesson to sit.

Glesson acknowledged the warning with the barely perceptible lowering of his eyelids, then bowed to Leia. "How do you do, dear lady?"

Han felt a hand on each of his arms as Jerra and Linka snuggled up to him.

"Han," Linka breathed in a throaty whisper. "How about a drink while they talk?" She fluttered unbelievably long eyelashes.

"It's been solong since we've had a chat, Han," Jerra cooed, stroking his shoulder.

Han grinned feebly. "Ah--sure." He gave Chewbacca a helpless glance. The Wookiee was not even attempting to hide his mirth at the pilot's plight. "Uh--I'll just be over there, Chewie, if you need me." He allowed himself to be led away.

They found an empty table a few feet away, far enough from the other one so they couldn't be overheard, but close enough for all three of them to keep an eye on their respective charges. The sisters sat down on either side of Han and leaned forward to gaze adoringly into his face. It was, Han reflected unhappily, akin to being watched by a pair of stannasin search of dinner.


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