Time Out of Mind

By Martie O'Brien

Art by Laura
laura@freezecmi.com

 

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"I  want to do it," said the Lady Shanree. She was lovely. Her hair was long, light colored and intricately twisted in a fashionable frame about her face. Subtlety painted lips pouted and her chin rose with nascent challenge. "I want to do it," she repeated, "and I don't see why you're being so silly about it, Leia."

"Yes, Leia, loosen up," the Lady Perswa chimed in. She tossed her head of short red curls and aligned herself, as always, with her cousin, the daughter of Duke Tallis Yamar.

Princess Leia Organa drew a deep and, she hoped, calming breath. "I'm not being 'silly,' as you put it, Shanree. 'Silly' is how Perswa here behaves around her father's head speeder mechanic, when she doesn't think anyone's looking," she said, going on the offensive.

The redheaded girl looked scandalized for a moment, gathering the dignity of her noble status around her, then broke into a giggle. "But he's adorable, Leia," she insisted.

"No, he's not. He's a cretin with a smart mouth and an attitude bigger than Braghton Province."

"So you've noticed him, too, huh?"

The princess, now on the defensive, her brown eyes narrowing, said, "Certainly not in the way you mean."

"You poor little virgin," Perswa drawled.

Leia took another deep breath, not a calming one at all, but an abrupt and intensive one, fueling the assault she was about to launch against her companion. What sort of assault she wasn't sure, only that her patience had been piqued beyond the point of recall. That she and her companions were at the moment in the close quarters of the rear seat of Lady Shanree's personal air limo did nothing to mitigate the possibility of coming to blows; when her forbearance ran out, Princess Leia was not above a bit of hair-pulling.

"If by virgin," she began with delicate menace which quickly escalated into controlled rage, "you mean a woman who values her personal probity enough to refrain from dallying with every dirty-minded scoundrel who..."

"Leia!" Shanree spoke sharply, surprised at the venomous quality of her friend's response. "Leia, calm down." She looked from the diminutive princess to her cousin Perswa. "There's no need to come to blows, you two." She frowned. "I just wanted to go see an Ithodavrai; it'd be fun and I'm bored with shopping, but I'm not trying to start a galactic war or something."

There was a tense moment filled with thrumming female vibrations, then Leia, with some difficulty, forced a smile of sorts, and nodded once in Perswa's direction. "I do beg your pardon," she said. "Please excuse my outburst; I think it must be the heat. I find it quite warm today." A stubborn young woman, the princess, but years of inculcation on the use of noblesse oblige as a tactic of diplomatic infighting paid off as she appeared to acquiesce to an antagonist she clearly outranked, thus leaving the Lady Perswa fuming all on her own.

Perswa dithered. "Well, Leia, I didn't mean..."

Leia put up a serenely dismissive hand. "Of course you didn't. No offense taken." She turned to her other companion. "Now, Shanree, do you still insist we waste our time visiting soothsayers?"

The young noblewoman, who had watched the princess' political adroitness with admiration, was more determined than ever. Putting Leia off balance was a challenge she enjoyed rising to; in the little chicaneries, intrigues and power shifts that made up court life on Alderaan, Shanree recognized her future calling. Going to an Ithodavrai seeress was just the sort of adventure that Leia would find uncomfortable and was thus, from Shanree's point of view, absolutely indispensable to her enjoyment of the day.

"Of course I still want to go," she said. "Come on, Leia, it'll do you good to do something fanciful for a change; you're too serious. Right, Perswa?"

The Lady Perswa, still slightly stung, agreed out of habit.

"Then that's settled. Pilot?" Shanree bleeped the chauffeur with her handset. "Find us an Ithodavrai, please." She settled back, grinning happily at her companions.





The air limo banked gently then hovered and, finally, descended to street level. Leia looked suspiciously at the allocrete wall facing them. Except for a metal-bound wooden gate, it was featureless, sand colored in the bright sun. There might have been a garden beyond, for she could see the tops of low trees, their leaves moving in the slight breeze. The princess sighed inwardly, steeling herself for what she perceived would be an ordeal of at least boredom, if not something more annoying. Shanree and Perswa were giggling together. Why don't I ever giggle,she wondered, perhaps for the first time. Shanree was right; I am serious. But, then, I have to be. I don't giggle, or laugh much at all. And I don't cry. Ever...She watched as the armed guards that always accompanied those of her rank jumped smartly from their stations on the limo's periphery and took up position along the wall. Shanree's pilot inquired at the gate, then stepped back to the limo and ushered the young women out onto the pavement and into the courtyard.

It was cooler here, in the dappled shade of trees. Leia heard the unmistakable sounds of a fountain playing nearby and a breeze carried on it the whispering tintinnabulation of wind chimes. For a moment, the princess relaxed. Perhaps Shanree and Perswa would giggle and posture their way through an interview with the soothsayer and just leave her alone to enjoy the calm and simple beauty of the garden. That would be nice.

Perswa tugged on the sleeve of her dress. "Wake up, Leia!" she scolded. "Come meet this Ithodavrai."

Reluctantly, Leia let herself be lead further into the trees, along a winding path that took them to a small house surrounded by beds of brightly colored flowers. Ithodavrai,she recalled, gifted with an oracular prescience and, like oracles, given to double meanings and obscure pronouncements. A complete and utter waste of time.Looking ahead, she could see a woman waiting in the doorway and suddenly and strangely felt her misgivings lessen, for there was nothing occultish about this person, no drama, no intrigue. She seemed to be simply present and attractive, a woman of average height and slight build, standing straight and formally correct as she watched them approach.

The princess moved to the front of the small group, the position of spokesperson dictated by her royal status. "I take it you're the seeress?" she said, bluntly and no-nonsense, to avoid giving the impression that she was in any way awed by the thought of clairvoyance.

The Ithodavrai bowed her head briefly to Leia, smiled. "I am honored, Princess, by your visit. Will you and your friends please come inside?"

Still wondering when the theatrics would begin, Leia acknowledged the greeting. "Thank you for your hospitality. However, it is my companions who want...to avail themselves of your, ah, expertise," she said carefully and a touch dryly.

"You are young to be so cynical, Princess."

The Ithodavrai had spoken gently, but Leia felt her cheeks flush as though she had been rebuked. She stiffened, fumbling mentally for a scathing retort, but the Ithodavrai's expression was so obviously one of compassion, rather than critique that Leia found herself momentarily confounded. She settled for a dignified and, she hoped, adult reply. "It is not cynicism, Seeress. I am merely uninterested in exploring theoretical possibilities."

"Of course, your Highness. I apologize for my presumption." The Ithodavrai turned her attention to the other two, and Leia was left with her defenses half-raised against nothing, feeling not unlike Perswa must have an hour before. She reflected that wielding the subtle weapon of noblesse obligewasn't necessarily a stratagem used by the noble-born alone.

"I'll just go sit over here by the window," the princess said to no one in particular, as her two kinswomen gathered eagerly around the Ithodavrai.

"We want to know about men,"Shanree declared, "men, suitors, future husbands!"

"Lovers!" said Perswa with relish.

The two girls babbled on for a moment, then quieted when the seeress began to speak to them, though there were occasional little tittering outbursts. Leia withdrew not only from participation in their activity, but from giving the impression that she wished to be a spectator; she turned away, looking determinedly out the round window, first at the pathway and the flowers, then at the trees and finally up, through their limbs and leaves, at what she could see of the sky. I wish I were out there,she thought, a very, very great distance from all this earthbound foolishness and prattling on about men and lovers.Her thoughts felt light and detached, drifting. They're still children, Shanree and Perswa, and I'm like their old maiden aunt, though I'm a year younger than either of them. Was I ever really a child?she wondered. The princess closed her eyes and searched her memory. Did I ever romp and shriek and roll on the grass with pups?All that she could recall was a small, grave girl, obediently silent at ceremonial occasions; a child dutifully learning from her tutors; a young woman with a gravity far beyond her years whose only emotional expression was anger--an anger that seemed to grow out of frustration. I want to DO something, she thought, to accomplish, to create. I want a cause to champion, a...

"Leia!" Shanree's voice intruded. "Leia, come away from that window. You have gotto hear the fortune she read me!"

Reluctantly the princess rejoined the little group and took a seat. I am mortally bored, yes, but I oughtn't to be rude. Besides,she thought wryly, this is probably going on my tab anyway.She put what she hoped was an expression of mild interest on her face. "And what does this wonderful future hold for you, Shanree?" she asked.

"She says I'm to be royally wed!" Shanree crowed. "Royally! You don't happen to have a brother hidden away somewhere, do you, Leia? Because if you don't, that means my husband will be from off-planet. I'm going on to bigger and better things, ladies!"

The court-wise and ambitious young noblewoman seemed prettier than ever, her eyes sparkling with excitement and the anticipation of her coming good fortune, and Leia, who was not effusive by nature though hardly mean-spirited, wished her kinswoman happiness; wished, indeed, that Shanree might enjoy all the superficial, materialistic delights that she herself found so empty. "I hope he's handsome as well as royal," she said.

"And rich," Perswa added.

"That goes with the territory," the princess turned to the redhead. "Did you hear something to your benefit?"

The girl frowned slightly. "It's odd." She looked to the Ithodavrai, who sat quietly, observing her guests with polite interest. "It's odd, because she did say I would marry, young and for love, but that it wouldn't last. Isn't that what you said?" she addressed the seeress.

The Ithodavrai nodded, her eyes narrowing as though she was recalling the feel of her inner sense at the moment she perceived Perswa's future. "The lady will marry young, and for love," she agreed, "but it will not last. I do not know how this will manifest itself, but I sense it as a truth. That is what we do, you know," she said to Leia. "We sense the truth. In most cases it is present or future truth, though past truths make themselves known to me as well. Time, your Highness, is not a straight line, nor does it move at a uniform rate, but it is an endless, ever-changing pattern of curves, a ribbon on the wind."

"Can you see your own future?" Leia wondered.

"No, never." The Ithodavrai smiled. "Does this surprise you? The gift is for giving. All gifts are for giving."

Moved perhaps by the altruistic simplicity of the Ithodavrai's code, Leia surprised herself by asking suddenly, "Will you do an oracle, or whatever it is, for me?"

Shanree and Perswa looked at her with interest, but Leia ignored them. She gazed directly into the Ithodavrai's clear grey eyes, asking silently for something she needed desperately, but had never acknowledged consciously until this moment: a future, only that there should be something meaningful beyond this terrible hiatus of adolescence. "What can you tell me?" she asked, serious and intent.

The Ithodavrai returned her gaze for a few seconds, then her eyes widened and she spoke clearly. "Do not hold back the expression of a true emotion; to withhold the flow of that which is deeply and truly felt can stop the world. My Lady, there will come a time when you must choose, and upon your choice shall rest the fate of your world."

Leia was shaken. "My world? Do you mean Alderaan?"

"Your world," the seeress repeated and Leia felt time bend and recede. Perswa and Shanree, the Ithodavrai fading colorless and indistinct, rushing away from her, disappearing until there was nothing but the two words echoing in darkness that became shadow and resolved into the dim illumination of a cell.

Bespin,her mind supplied. You were dreaming again.The dream that was not a dream at all but a memory that came in sleep. To remind me,she thought, that I may have been the cause of Alderaan's destruction. Because I cage in my emotions as though they were some vicious beasts that must never be permitted to see the light of day. Did I do it, kill my planet, destroy my world by holding something back? No, please...it was unthinkable.

Perswa, running off with her speeder mechanic, dying when Alderaan died. I didn't do it. It wasn't me...was it?She came fully awake and sat up, her body stiff and thoughts sluggish. She swung her legs over the edge of the severe and uncompromising wall extrusion she had been lying on. Looked around. Han was nearby, unconscious, exhausted, sprawled along the length of a similar extrusion. Her gaze lingered on him, then, to forestall the plague of emotional disquiet, she looked quickly away and forced herself to a slow, careful scrutiny of the details of their cell. Except for the Wookiee slumped in one corner and presumably resting, there was nothing to see but shadows and her attention inevitably returned to her sleeping companion.

Leia eased herself off the extrusion, taking care to be silent, and approached the Corellian. He lay supine, arms angled randomly, one leg bent and hanging, boot toe not quiet touching the floor. His head was back and turned slightly toward her, his throat exposed, vulnerable. For a moment she watched the slow rise and fall of his chest and felt the turmoil of warring emotions begin to build within her own. What is it,she asked herself hopelessly, what is he doing to me?

Asleep, his features lost a measure of the hard cynicism and weary irony that were his waking guise. She wondered if it were the unaccustomed openness, the unguarded look that made her heart feel as though it might shatter at any moment. His face, though far from what she had once thought of as 'perfect,' was compelling; it was, she hesitated over the word but finally capitulated--
beautiful. And yet there had to be more than mere physicality, didn't there? Where is the nobility of character, the compassion, the honor and dignity I was brought up to believe were indispensable in a man?Frustrated, she felt tears threaten, and knew with unavoidable certainty that all those virtues were here before her, embodied by the most unlikely man she had ever met. Not exactly wrapped in the standard packaging, are you?she asked him silently, and managed a brief smile.

There was a sound at the door. Leia quickly put herself between the door and the sleeping man, her eyes hard. Stormtroopers entered. Behind them she could see the bounty hunter and several more troopers and, as much as she loathed the Empire, and Vader, it was toward the anonymous and enigmatic bounty hunter that her most intense hatred was directed. Carrion fowl, feeding off the pain of others,she said to him silently. I would kill you right now if I could..."

He appeared to take no notice, and merely stood aside as the troopers moved past Leia to rouse the Wookiee with the muzzles of their weapons. She put a hand at her back, steadying herself against the extrusion and felt her hand taken in a firm grasp. She returned the pressure, feeling stronger just knowing the Corellian was awake and with her. She both felt and heard him sit up, sensed his closeness as he stood behind her, a warm, solid, masculine presence against which she longed to lean. Even now, beaten, tortured and weaponless, he was still the power in the room. She felt energized by his vital force; his hand, that he now placed on her shoulder, was the flesh and blood link that bound her to its source.

"Get moving," one of the troopers said and gestured toward the princess and the Corellian with his gun.

Leia turned to look up at Solo almost as if to say, Shall I? Shall I move? You tell me,and saw that the guarded look, so recently erased by sleep, was back.

"They're holding all the high cards, Sweetheart," he replied to her unasked question, though his eyes never left the doorway and the helmeted person who waited beyond. He gave her shoulder a little squeeze and gently set her moving. The three prisoners left the cell and followed the bounty hunter down the corridor; stormtroopers closed in behind.

"Any idea where we're going?" Leia asked. She tried to sound conversational but knew she'd missed the mark when Han clasped her hand comfortingly.

He looked down at her with the trace of a smile. "Want to bet it's not to another little dinner party?"

"Han, I'm scared."

"Me too."

"Shut up, you," demanded one of the troopers, and jammed his lase rifle into Solo's back. The Corellian missed a step then regained his balance. Leia saw the look on his face and wished she hadn't. Here, she knew, was a man on the edge of heartbreak, holding himself aloof and stoic, without protest or plea that would give any pleasure to his enemies. It was a control she admired and, in her heart, she wept for him.

"Hold it right here." It was the bounty hunter. They had reached the end of the corridor and a door. Leia stared at it, a wide door with double panels, thick, industrial looking. Not a door that lead to a room meant for people but a place for machinery, and she knew with certainty that something terrible lay beyond it.

As the troopers held them at gunpoint, the bounty hunter produced a set of binders to secure the Corellian's hands and Leia thought, Either they're going to do something to me and they don't want him to interfere, or they're going to do something...to him,and the thought almost made her cry out; all the fear she had been holding in abeyance by the force of her will assailed her now; her heart raced. Beyond the door was death.

The bounty hunter hit the admittance panel and the door opened. They were herded through it, up a ramp and down steps. It was a monstrous place full of metal and conduit, steams and huge, shadowy shapes that loomed threateningly in a hellish confusion of discordant illumination. Leia forced herself to move through it, doggedly putting one foot down in front of the other until they came to a halt on a gridway surrounding a narrow shaft that dropped away at their feet. Calrissian waited there, his back to them.

Something was going to happen here, something very bad. Fear did not assail her now; it had already won the battle and was simply possessing her, holding her in its cold, teeth-chattering grip as all her hope began to crumble. Beside her, Solo spoke once to Calrissian and then Leia heard the words carbon freezeand knew with terrible certainty why she had felt death beyond the door to this chamber. They will put him into carbon freeze,she thought clearly, and when they do, he will die, and when he dies, I will die. He's my life! This can't be happening...

Sounds, movement, the Wookiee howling, an incomprehensible jumble of meaningless events swirled around the princess and all she could do was record them like some soulless camera until her gaze reached Solo's eyes; then there was sudden silence and she clung to their visual contact as though she were holding him in her arms and he became the only tangible thing in the world of impossible horror. He bent down suddenly and she strained upward for his lips, their kiss desperate, sweet and hopeless.

Armored hands tore them apart, forced Solo backward onto the platform that would lower him to his death. It's ending, it's ending,her mind screamed, I can't go on without him--he's everything...my whole world...my world...and, with an onset that overwhelmed her and pushed even the numbing fear aside, came the comprehension of truth from the past and words rushed out of her, unplanned and never spoken until this moment: "I love you!"

It flowed out of her, then, pure emotion, honest and clear, circled around her beloved and returned in his perfect reply. Time, as she had always understood time, stopped. He descended, she watched, still frozen in the endless stillness of the moment. He disappeared, reappeared in the terrible carbonite encasement and still Princess Leia waited in an unwonted limbo, perfectly suspended between dark and light, the horror before her meaningless while her destiny hung in the balance.

Calrissian knelt beside the monolith. Leia did not breathe, her heart held a beat, stopped.

"Yes, he's alive..." Another beat, and another. The princess drew a breath. She felt the Wookiee's shaggy pelt beneath her hands, felt the moment break into a further moment, felt time's passage return and with it a lessening of the pervasive fear, and the warmth, small and faint but definitely present, of hope.

He's alive; I'm alive,she told herself. He's alive; I can go on. There are things to do...her glance moved to the tall figure, masked and cloaked in black. You haven't won,she told him. There'll be another time. There will be  another time.Princess Leia turned resolutely away from the carbonite monolith. Somehow, though all the stars that burn might lie between them, she would find Solo again. That was not in question. Time was turning. Changes would come. Stormtroopers before her and others behind, she moved out of the darkness and into morning.

 

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