By Patricia D'Orazio
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
"The Death Star plans are in the ship's memory," whispered the tech to the three people leaning anxiously over his station.
Alarms were going off in every part of the ship. Leia, running toward the bridge from the gunnery station, heard the massive sound of the Imperial ship linking up to the Tantive IV'sairlocks. They'd be boarded in minutes.
She skidded to a halt at the sound of her mentor's voice. "Keela, are the plans still in the computer?"
"No, they're here." The ambassador handed Leia a small information disk. "We have to get these off the Tantive IV.We're over Tatooine; you can get out in a life pod, make contact with Kenobi. I'll talk to the Imperial commander, stall him, give you time."
Leia took the disk, knowing the fate of the Rebellion was resting in her palm. "I'll get these plans off the ship. I promise."
Keela's long arms wrapped around her with convulsive strength, then released her. "Go!"
The ambassador ran off in one direction; Leia went in the other. She headed for the escape pods. If correct Imperial procedure was followed, the Tantive IV had been tractored into the belly of the cruiser. But the outer hatch would still be open, to minimize damage to the cruiser if an impounded vessel destroyed itself. As she reached the long line of pods, she saw a man leaping into one of them. Leia almost called out to him, but hesitated. She didn't recognize him; she couldn't trust anyone she didn't know, not now when the stakes were so high.
As she climbed into a pod, she heard the ignition of the other pods' engines. Watching through the round viewport, she saw the escape craft tumble free of the cruiser, falling toward the desert world below. Green light arced through the darkness and the vessel exploded into fragments.
The Imperials were shooting down life pods. It was a complete violation of space law, but so was intercepting a diplomatic vessel. Who was going to complain?
Canceling that plan of action, Leia backed into the corridor. Her hands clenched around the Death Star plans. She couldn't just hide them; she had to get them off the ship. But how?
Leia heard the sound of gunfire; it was inside the ship now. It was only a matter of moments before the scant defense Captain Antilles could muster would fall beneath the stronger force on the cruiser.
Force. Alderaanians believed in the Force. Leia squeezed her eyes shut and begged, "Force, guide me. Help me think of a plan."
An interrogative bleep startled her from her tense concentration. Looking down, she saw an astromech droid. A red sensor peered up at her and it beeped again. Its name code, she remembered, was Artoo Detoo. The little droid belonged to the Royal Palace service and was part of her entourage. Leia put her hand on the little droid's dome. If she could hide the plans in the droid's memory...but no, she had to get them off the ship.
Leia suddenly smiled. "Come with me, little friend. I have a mission for you."
Captain Antilles was dead; the vital, witty man was now a lump of broken flesh growing cold on the deck of his ship. Leia wondered how his nephew, Wedge, would take the news; she doubted if she'd live to find out. Marching toward the Tantive IV'sairlock, surrounded by guards, Leia straightened her back and lifted her chin. She was a Daughter of the Royal House of Alderaan.
Keela was at the airlock, also under guard. Her copper hair was askew; her green eyes had a strange look in them. She smiled as Leia approached. It was not a pleasant smile.
"Your Highness," she greeted Leia with cordial formality.
"Your Excellency." Leia returned the gracious nod. She tried to tell her with her eyes that the plans were safe. She thought Keela understood, but the smile grew even more unpleasant.
The frightening sound of a respirator filled the hallway. It took all of Leia's strength to turn slowly and eye Darth Vader with cold contempt.
"What a pretty pair we have here," Vader rasped as he approached. "The Ambassador and the Senator. A pretty pair of traitors."
"This is a diplomatic vessel," Keela said sharply. "You have no right--"
"This is a dead vessel," Vader countered blandly. "It was caught in a freak meteor shower and destroyed. There were no survivors." A black-gloved hand reached out to cup Leia's chin. "Very soon all of Alderaan will be draped in white, mourning their poor dead princess. And while they are holding funeral services for you, you'll be telling me what I want to know to bury the rebellion forever."
"She doesn't know anything that would be of use to you," Keela said flatly. "I'm the one who knows about the Alliance. And I think the time has come to tell what I know. I have no desire...to be tortured."
The pause in her sentence was as loud as her words. Leia stared at her mentor in bemusement. What was she doing? Trying to flirt with Vader? He was more machine than man. Wasn't he? Leia watched the black gauntlet reach toward the ambassador, running down her throat to the swell of her breasts.
"And what is it that you desire, Your Excellency?"
Keela moved forward, until she was pressed against the respirator. Her voice was soft, husky as she whispered. "I'll show you."
Leia saw the ambassador's white hands reach for Vader's belt, then dart toward his lightsaber. Before her fingers could close over the slim metal shaft, Keela was thrown into the air, striking the far bulkhead with a frightening, thick sound. Yet Vader's hands had never moved.
A stormtrooper bent over the red-haired woman. When he straightened, he announced, "She's dead, sir."
Years of training in the control expected of a Daughter of the Royal House kept Leia from blurting out her feelings. Keela had sold her life very dearly.
"Remove it," Vader snapped with a flick of his gloved hand. As his stormtroopers picked up the dead ambassador, the Dark Lord of the Sith turned to Leia. "You wanted to learn about the Death Star, Your Highness? We shall give you a personal tour. Take her away."
It wasn't a very large cell, yet to Leia it seemed cavernous. She felt like a tiny white speck in the darkness. There were two guards outside the door, not stormtroopers, but Blackshirts, members of the Death Star's internal security squad. They had taken charge of her when she'd been brought aboard the battle station. As they'd conducted her to this cell, they had amused themselves by pawing and fondling her and expressing their future plans for her body in the crudest possible terms. She wondered how long the Blackshirts would stay outside the door.
It was to be expected, of course. Up until now she had never feared such treatment; she was protected by her status as a Daughter of the Royal House of Alderaan, a member of the Imperial Senate, a princess. Now, as far as the rest of the galaxy knew, she was a dead princess. Now, Leia Organa was merely a vessel containing important knowledge, a vessel that would be drained in any manner her captors chose. Rape, violation, humiliation were standard ways of softening up a prisoner before interrogation.
Fear swelled within her, and she beat it down. She would not give in. She was a Daughter of the Royal House of Alderaan. She would face anything with dignity. She would.
If only her hands wouldn't tremble so.
Clenching her fingers, she tried to calm herself. She thought back to the days when she'd been safe and happy, her schoolgirl days of nannies and governesses and all-night talking sessions with her junior ladies-in-waiting. She remembered childhood tales of adventure and romance, where damsels in distress were always rescued by handsome Jedi Knights or dashing Princes of Corellia.
But there were no more Jedi Knights, no Corellian princes. All of them had been slain by the Empire. Well, she amended, all of the princes of Corellia had died. Of the Jedi, there was still General Kenobi and...
The door of the cell hissed open and a black-clad figure entered...Darth Vader.
"And now, Your Highness, we will discuss the location of the hidden Rebel base."
Leia straightened her spine, raised her chin, put a gleam of defiance in her eyes. She was a Daughter of the Royal House; she would face anything with dignity.
Then Vader gestured and the torture droid floated into the room. And Leia felt very small.
As they pushed her back in her cell, they were still talking about raping her. As if she cared what happened to her after what she had witnessed.
Alderaan was gone. Home, friends, family, life.
Everything, all things, snuffed out in an instant.
She lay on her side on her cell bunk. She felt numb. Her mind, her body, her spirit were numb. Dimly, she heard the guards taunting her, telling her they were going to draw lots for the privilege of raping her before she was terminated.
She shut her eyes. She didn't care. She just didn't care.
She was in the garden of the Royal Palace. Home. With her mother and father; her foster parents, but they had never treated her as any less than their flesh and blood.
They smiled at her, the handsome, elegant Viceroy and his lovely Consort, standing as she had so often seen them, before a backdrop of dew-wet scarlet flowers. But they were dead and the garden was a scattering of dust in a newly formed asteroid belt.
Don't grieve for us, child, we are safe now from harm.
It was not the voice of her parents she heard, but something more, as if many voices were speaking to her. She cried out to them, "I saw you die, in pain and terror."
Yes, there was a moment of fear, but then there was great joy. It was a realization of all we have ever believed in. We are part of the Force now, all of us. It is as we always believed. We live on, in you, in every living thing. In the Force. We will be with you always. Remember that.
"But I don't want to be alone. I want to be with you..."
Your destiny lies along a different path than ours, child. Follow it. Do not turn away. You are a Daughter of the Royal House of Alderaan.
Leia had been trained since she could first remember that a Daughter of the Royal House never shirked her duty. If her duty were to go on, to keep fighting, to keep living in spite of the pain, she would do it.
The opening of her cell door startled her. She hadn't realized that she'd been asleep. Strangely, she felt better; her trauma-induced lethargy had left her. She was able to peer at the stormtrooper standing in the doorway with something like her usual acerbity. Was this rather puny specimen in an ill-fitting uniform the one they had sent to rape her? To deal her one last humiliation before death?
"Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?" she inquired tartly.
The helmeted head tilted sideways like a curious bird, "Hunh...? Oh, the uniform." An arm lifted, yanking off the helmet. Beneath it was not the scarred face of a combat veteran or the smooth bland features of an Academy draftee turned Imp lifer. It was a young, open face, framed by blond hair and dominated by a pair of bright blue eyes. "I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."
Leia stared at him, then finally found her voice to demand, "You're who?"
"I'm here to rescue you," he insisted. "I've got your Artoo unit. I'm here with Ben Kenobi."
"Ben Kenobi!" That brought Leia to her feet. "Where is he?"
Leia followed the wave of an armored hand. She dashed out into the corridor, remembering childhood stories of knightly rescues. Hope soared within her. Outside her cell there was smoke and noise, gunfire and a strange roaring howl. Figures were rushing down the hall toward her and Luke Skywalker. One was a large, hirsute being. The other, running backward with surprising agility as he pegged shots down the hall, was also clad in stormtrooper armor. He was too young to be the retired Jedi general. Another Kenobi protégé, like the blond youth.
"Can't get out that way," he observed as he nearly backed into her.
Giving him a push, she snapped, "Looks like you managed to cut off our only escape route."
Then she was face to face with one of the Princes of Corellia.
Childhood fairy tales were true. There was one last Prince, alive and well and standing in the Death Star hallway.
"Maybe you'd like it better back in your cell, Your Highness," he sneered.
So much for fairy tales. This wasn't a prince; this was a barbarian!
Laser shots ricocheted off the bay walls. They leapt for cover. Leia found herself against the wall, tucked in behind young Skywalker. She felt strangely comfortable in that position as she peered around his shoulder down the long corridor.
Luke Skywalker tried to talk to his droid over a comlink; the hirsute being, whom she recognized as a Wookiee, howled; the two young men yelled at one another. Leia grabbed the gun out of Luke's hands. Somebody had to save their skins.
This has to be the worst rescue attempt of all time,Leia thought as she barreled down a corridor with stormtrooper fire nipping at her heels. She charged up a ramp, jumped through a door, and slammed to a halt two steps from the edge of a precipice. Luke, moving at a gangly gallop, flew past her. Seeing the peril, he tried to stop and ended up with his feet on the brink, his body off balance and arching forward toward the gaping pit of an airshaft. In the split second of teetering hesitation, Leia grabbed his arm and hauled him toward her.
"I think we took a wrong turn," he gasped as he peered over the edge of the connector-bridge.
Gunfire reminded them of their pursuit. Leia leapt to the controls, sent the door slamming down, but could find no locking device. "There's no lock!"
Luke grabbed her hand, pulling her away from the controls. For a moment she was pressed against his body as he shielded her from his point-blank shot into the door controls. Their hands, clasped tightly together, lay against his chest. She could feel the pounding of his heart against the back of her hand.
"That oughta hold them for a while."
"Quick, we've got to get across." Freeing her hand, she gestured toward the opposite side of the airshaft. "Find the controls that extend the bridge."
His handsome young face turned doleful as he admitted, "I think I just blasted it."
Somehow, the news didn't surprise Leia. Then there was laser fire and more troopers, on a level above them, aiming down. The door in back of them quaked as it was assaulted from behind. Luke shoved a heavy gun into her hands. She provided cover fire while he tossed a hook and cable into a crevice above them.
His plan was insane, trusting their lives to the narrow cable, the slender hook. He reached out to her. The door behind them began to rise. His arm folded around her, pulling her close again. She knew she ought to feel terrified. Instead she felt safe, almost cheerful. Leia dropped a kiss on Luke's cheek. Astonishment widened his eyes. He looked as if he'd never been kissed before.
"For luck," she told him, then tucked herself against his shoulder.
They were flying. They were walking the sky. Then they were on the other side of the bridge, running for their lives.
The battered old freighter barely deserved the title of spaceship. As she picked up a heavy, woven poncho, Leia wondered when the full might of the Death Star would be turned on them, when they would breathe their last before turning into a ball of glittering dust.
No, she would not think of that. Alderaan was one with the Force. The way General Kenobi was now.
Luke sat at what appeared to be a game table, tracing patterns on its smooth surface. The droids sat vigil beside him. Carrying the poncho over to the acceleration couch, Leia gently draped it over Luke's shoulders. He looked up at her. She saw the sadness of loss in his eyes. Leia wanted to say that she knew the feeling, understood the pain. She sat down beside him.
"I can't believe he's gone."
"There wasn't anything you could have done," she said softly, to herself as much as to him. She leaned toward him, wanting to kiss him again, to comfort him.
"Come on, buddy."
Looking up, Leia saw Han Solo in the hold entrance. There was a quiet sympathy in his face but a sense of contained energy about his body as he jerked his head toward the corridor of the ship. "We're not out of this yet."
In response, she and Luke rose as one and hurried to their posts.
Duty. Always, duty before comfort and friendship and love. Always duty before everything.
"Your friend is quite a mercenary," Leia snapped as she brushed past Luke in the cockpit door. "I wonder if he really cares about anything. Or anybody."
As she stalked into the hallway she heard Luke's plaintive protest that he cared. She marched halfway down the curving hall, then stopped, taking a deep breath. A Daughter of the Royal House never lost hold of her emotions. What was it about that wretched Corellian that made her feel so out of control?
She continued back to the main hold, moving with the correct amount of sedate dignity. The droids had gone off to help the Wookiee make repairs so the hold was empty. Sitting at the game table, she contemplated her outburst in the cockpit. It had been quite senseless of her to expect that Han would be as anxious about the future of the rebellion as she was. Luke had told her Han was not Kenobi's protégé. In fact, they had met Han only hours before the flight to Alderaan. That information had startled Leia. From the way he and Han behaved together, she had assumed they'd been companions for years.
Leia frowned as she stared at her clasped hands resting on the game table. She'd been making a lot of assumptions lately. Losing your touch, Organa,she chided. And losing your control.
What was it about Han Solo that upset her so much? He was a supremely masculine creature, but she'd never been distracted by that before. He was capable of great bravery and great gentleness. That appealed to her, but other men she'd known at Imperial Center had appealed to her without making her lose the proper control of a Daughter of the Royal House.
Han was so...raw. That, she decided, was the problem. She was used to diplomats and generals, senators and corporate officials. She was used to men who exhibited the same emotional control that she did. They didn't snarl or screech or act like barbarians. On the other hand, they didn't whoop with laughter. Or grin slow, wicked smiles as they stripped off their flying gloves.
The memory sent a strange shiver through her body.
No. She pushed the feelings away. She liked nice men.
The speeder stopped in the bowels of the great temple. Spotting a familiar white-bearded figure, Leia leapt off her perch. General Willard rushed up and enfolded her in his arms. It felt like coming home. And she knew it was the closest she would ever come to home again.
"You're safe!" Willard cried. "When we heard about Alderaan, we feared the worst."
"We have no time for our sorrows, Commander," Leia said crisply. From the corner of her eye she saw Han and Luke getting off the speeder. Han, moving with insolent grace; Luke, managing to look curious and shy at the same time. Leia began walking by Willard's side; there was so much to do. "The battle station has surely tracked us here." She ignored Han's snort. "It's the only explanation for the ease of our escape." She ignored Han's scowl of disgust. "You must use the information in this Artoo unit to plan our attack. It's our only hope."
Willard moved off quickly, ordering techs to take charge of the little droid. Threepio followed as Artoo was solemnly carried off. Luke seemed about to follow them, but Leia called to him. When he came to her side, she took his hand, smiled at him, and enjoyed his brilliant grin in return. Holding his hand, she led him toward Willard; she would introduce General Kenobi's protégé in a manner befitting his new status in the Alliance.
Rude, mercenary Corellians could go jump in a swamp for all she cared.
"Do you really think we have a chance?" Leia asked softly as she and General Dodonna crossed through the busy landing bay amid preparations for the attack on the Death Star.
"We have a chance. Maybe a better chance with a Jedi knight among us."
"Luke isn't a knight," Leia warned. "He's barely an apprentice."
"He's all we have at the moment. Thank the Force he qualified for flying an X-wing on this mission. He's a symbol of the Rebellion, Leia. As you are. The two of you, together, inspire our troops."
Leia arched an eyebrow. Days ago her role in the Rebellion had been sweet young flesh to lure an old hermit out of the desert; now she was a living icon, symbol of freedom. She wasn't sure she liked that.
Ducking under the wing of a fighter, she saw Luke crossing the landing bay. With a gesture she signaled for Dodonna to wait while she spoke to the Alliance's newest recruit. His handsome young face was twisted into a frown, his blue eyes so preoccupied he didn't see her until she planted herself in his path.
He looked up, as if surprised to see her. "Oh, it's Han. I don't know. I really thought he'd change his mind."
Leia sighed. It distressed her to see Luke so upset. And over what? A mercenary Corellian smuggler whom he'd only known for a short time. But it did seem strange to think that Han would abandon Luke. Abandon the rebels; abandon a smart-mouthed princess, yes. But Luke, no.
Looking up at the young man, Leia once again felt an overwhelming urge to comfort him. She repeated advice her father had given her when a favorite suitor of hers had refused to join the Alliance. "He's got to follow his own path. No one can choose it for him."
Luke gave a wistful little shrug. "I only wish Ben were here."
Leia got the strangest feeling that Luke wanted Ben there not to help save the Alliance, but to help talk Han into staying. Smiling, she kissed his cheek and moved off to join Dodonna.
"You're all clear, kid. Now let's blow this thing and go home."
Leia's heart leapt at the voice coming over the comlink. Han was back. Han and his Falconwere soaring over the Death Star, protecting Luke, sheltering the last hope of the Alliance to restore the Republic.
Her thoughts went out to Luke; she felt as if she could give him strength just by thinking about him.
Now, Luke, now.
She heard an excited buzz through the command center, then the ominous band of light showing the approach of the Death Star disappeared from the facsimile screen. Howls of joy and disbelief rang through the rebel control room.
They were safe. They would live. They would live to fight again.
Happily, she hugged anyone who came within reach. Dodonna enfolded her in his arms and gave her a proprietary kiss on her brow.
"And now, little Leia, we can think about the future again."
Leia smiled absently. At the moment she wasn't thinking any further ahead than running down to the landing bay and waiting for the incoming ships to land so she could hug the stuffing out of a farm boy and a smuggler.