THE HANDMAIDEN'S STORY by Linda T


He could smell her close by, hear her breathing, wisp softly in his ears through the teeming rain. He could hear her voice telling him that she loved him, that she always would no matter what may choose to separate them. He could hear the sadness in her voice, the distance in every word she spoke, almost as if she were being pulled away from him even while he lay here in his own blood. Through the droplets of cold moisture wetting his skin, he felt the warm salty caress of a teardrop falling onto his cheek. He could feel her sorrow as he tried to open his eyes and felt as if the strength of the universe was keeping him from that one small task.

"I miss you so much," he heard her say. "Adam cries for his daddy, I hold him to me in the darkness. This is a dark place Chris, dark and cold. We can't leave. We can't go on."

Chris opened his mouth and felt the taste of cold rain on his tongue, He swallowed the droplet greedily but he could not feel it in his throat for all the blood. He knew that what he had tried to drink was forced out by the gushes of blood from his mouth and forced the words to remain unspoken in his throat. He tried to move but the pain paralyzed him and left him floundering like the fish on a deck of a boat. He wanted to ask her so many things, especially why she and Adam were trapped in a dark place where there appeared to be no escape. They should be someplace better, someplace where nothing could hurt them any more.

"Why?" he finally managed to croak, sputtering blood in a light spray as he forced himself to be heard. Chris shifted his head just slightly and one eye blinked open. Sarah was kneeling next to him, her hand on his cheek, tears in her eyes as she looked down on him with concern.

"Because you keep us here my love," she whispered. "You won't let us go."

"I have to" He cried out desperately. "If I do, I don't have anything else!" There were tears in his eyes as he managed that monumental effort and knew that he was almost finished, that soon his energy would drain completely and he would die.

"Yes you do Chris," Sarah answered, "you have more than you know."

"I don't want anything without you," he begged. "I want to go with you now. I want to be with you and Adam."

"I want that Chris, I want that more than anything but it's not going to happen," she answered weeping, tears running down her cheeks as she said that, strands of dark hair plastered against her cheek and her clothes hung off her in wet sheets. "It's not your time."

"I don't care!" he pleaded. "I can't go on without you, I don't have it inside me to keep going without you!"

"Yes you do Chris, you've always had it inside you. You have to be strong for the years ahead because they will be hard and they will also be filled with great joy but you must do one thing for me Chris, you must." Her eyes softened in that imploring way he had never been able to resist.

"Anything," he whispered, knowing he could never deny her any request.

"You have to let us go."

"Not that!" Chris shook his head in anguish. "I can't do that."

"Then you condemn us Chris, you condemn us to stay in the dark place. You keep us here Chris and we need to go. We need to go!" sarah implored him, sobbing as the words left her.

"No," he insisted. "I can't! I CAN'T!"

"CHRIS!" Vin Tanner's voice exploded through his consciousness and Chris opened his eyes to find himself staring up at the bounty hunter who was standing over him with an expression of concern on his face.

"You okay?" Vin asked once he was certain that Chris was conscious.

It took a split second for Chris to remember where he was. After a few moments, the disorientation bled away and he remembered that he was on board the Rogue, presently on route towards Bespin, carrying himself, Vin Tanner, JD Dunne, Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez with Buck Wilmington in the cockpit. The journey had been almost a day in length and they had taken turns in the sleeping compartments so they would be refreshed when they reached Cloud City. Chris had intended to lapse into a meditative state but the lack of sleep because of his earlier nightmares had made him sluggish and sensibly he had opted to catch up on his slumber before their arrival on Bespin.

"Yeah," Chris nodded somewhat mutely as he rose to his feet. "I'm okay. Just a bad dream," he muttered, brushing the images of Sarah away before they started to overwhelm him in the waking world as well as the dreamscape. He ran his fingers through his blond hair and rub the grainy feeling from his eyes as he shook the slack feeling from his limbs.

"It looked it," Vin retorted, well believing it if what he saw was any indication. As Chris started to move out of the compartment, Vin took the opportunity to speak before they joined the others. "Want to talk about it?'

Chris paused a moment and looked over his shoulder at the bounty hunter. He almost took the man up on his offer but found that when the moment came, he was not up to disclosure just yet. It was still too hard for him to talk about Sarah and Adam to anyone just yet, even to Buck who had been there on the day they died. "Perhaps one day," he answered with a hint of gratitude at the asking.

"Alright," Vin replied, not about to push knowing in that instant what the nightmare had been about and was not about to pry where not wanted. Still he had sensed a great deal of conflict from his seat in the front of the ship and had been drawn to wake Chris from his nightmare by that very same feeling. If Chris did not wish to talk about its content, Vin had no difficulty abiding with that desire but there was something he had to ask.

"Chris, I need you to teach me."

Chris had started walking again when the question was put forward but froze in mid step. Not turning around, Chris asked quietly. "Teach you what?"

"I don't want to be a Jedi," Vin said quickly, so that there would be no misunderstanding. "I'm not ready for that. I'm not sure I'll ever be ready but the fact of the matter is you said that you could read me easily. I don't mind it if you can but I'm not happy about any other Jedi I came across being able to do that. What if it's Vader? He'll be able to see straight through me."

He had a point, Chris had to admit and a rather good one at that. Vin had no idea how to keep someone from probing his mind and if he should come across Darth Vader, there was information in his keeping that was simply too valuable for Vin to reveal to the Sith Lord. The fate of the galaxy depended on Vin keeping his secrets but Chris was not a Jedi Master and after what had happened to Anakin Skywalker, the potential for disaster in an apprentice trained badly was too much to ignore. Chris had padwan learners under his care before but he had never actually trained Jedi and he was not ready to do so now.

"Alright," Chris conceded that much turning around to face Vin after a brief reflection regarding his decision. "If you want to learn something, I'll take to you someone who can teach you," he said firmly.

Vin seemed somewhat taken back by the response, expecting a flat out refusal or that very least, an explanation why it was wise that he not be trained. He knew that much of Chris hesitation had to do with his safety, as long as he was not trained, the Emperor would have one less Jedi to hunt and kill. However, that surprise was soon overshadowed by the knowledge that Chris would not be in charge of his instruction. He only knew Chris and did not feel comfortable about anyone else teaching him. "Why can't you do it?" he asked, a little hurt that Chris was not carrying out the undertaking himself. Vin had thought they were friends.

"I'm not a teacher," Chris explained quickly, sensing what was in Vin's mind at the time. "I've never done it and learning to use the Force is a tricky thing. It needs to be taught by someone who has been a proven teacher, someone who is also a Jedi Master. I'm neither of those things. Trust me when I say that this is the best thing for you."

Vin did not understand but then that was hardly surprising when it came to dealing with Jedis. They was all so confusing and there were so many rules that his head swam with the riddles that one had to overcome to comprehend what it was to become one. "So when do we go?"

"When we've concluded our business on Bespin, we'll take a trip to the Dagobah system," Chris replied.

The name sounded familiar but only because he had remembered seeing star charts that noted its existence. "The Dagobah system?" Vin looked at Chris with open confusion. "Isn't that an uninhabited system on the outer edge of the Minos Cluster?"

"That's the one," Chris nodded and resumed walking out of the compartment to join the others.

"Why there?" Vin asked, wondering if there was some Jedi rule that required training to be undertaken in some primitive corner of space.

"Because that's where he lives," Chris responded with a tone in his voice that sounded like he might have answering the endless questions of a bored child.

"Who?" Vin asked, deciding that part of the Jedi trait was to be damn vague all the time.

"Yoda."

When Chris and Vin emerged into the cockpit of the Rogue where the rest of their companions were presently situated, the ship had already entered Bespin space. They were immediately confronted with the image of amber skies and large streams of clouds that seemed to run forever into the horizon. One of the richest sources of Tibanna gas in the entire galaxy, the actual surface of Bespin was uninhabitable because the gas was lethal to most life forms. The surface conditions of Bespin was also as extreme and thus it remained devoid of life forms with most of the population residing in cities suspended high amongst the clouds of the planet. Chief among these cities was Cloud City; a self-contained facility that had been constructed by the first profiteers who came to Bespin seeking their fortunes.

Buck was continuing his tutelage of JD's flight training abilities. While the youth had been sitting in on a few of the classes offered to new pilots at the Rebellion base, Buck had felt that there was no better teacher than experience and for once Chris could not disagree. Buck was the best pilot that Chris had ever seen. The man could do things with a ship that he was certain defied logic at times but it was skill that had saved lives, his included, on more than one occasion so Chris was not averse to his passing on his knowledge. Besides, JD had a great deal of natural ability although the young man seemed to prefer smaller one man fighters to large freighters but nonetheless he was an avid pupil when Buck was teaching.

"This is the Corellian freighter Rogue - Registration No. 223. 4, Landing Permit 12454," Buck recited as he continued to communicate with the docking authorities in Cloud City, hoping the new registration papers he had obtained for his ship would be adequate to get them through the officials without fanfare. Since its capture by the Imperials, the Rogue and its captain were wanted for crimes ranging from sedition to high treason. Through their agents on Coruscant, the Rebel Alliance had procured Buck new registration papers for the Rogue, aware of how necessary it was for him to have the freedom to move around if he was to act on their behalf.

"So Josiah," Vin asked taking a seat. "Does your niece know you're coming?"

"No," Josiah shook his head unhappily. "I couldn't get word to her," the Senator eased back into his own seat, visibly concerned by that fact. "We usually communicate on a weekly basis. A cargo runner who comes this way takes messages to her from a third party. It's written in code that Casey worked out when I first had to go into hiding and leave her here."

"Code?" Nathan asked suspiciously. "Maybe that's how the Empire got wind she was here. Someone might have been able to decipher it."

"I seriously doubt that," Josiah said confidently. "My niece has quite the talent as a splicer not to mention more than a passing skill with machinery. I don't know even known where she picked it up but the child has the skill of an astrodroid when it comes to entering restricted systems and repairing sophisticated equipment."

"Really?" Nathan mused, the wheels in his head already turning. "You know we need to establish new codes that the Empire cannot break. Maybe we ought to see what this girl can do."

"Nathan...," Josiah started to protest, not at all liking the idea of Casey joining the Rebel Alliance. She was just a kid and a hot headed tempestuous one at that that. The idea alone would set her imagination running and Josiah did not want it planted into her head under any circumstances.

"It was just a thought." Nathan immediately threw his hands up in a gesture of concession.

"Keep it that way," Josiah growled. "I promised my sister I was going to look after her. That does not include making her a member of the Rebel Alliance besides she's only seventeen."

"That's not so young Josiah," JD remarked, looking over his shoulder. "I'm only eighteen."

"That's different," Josiah returned gruffly, hating to admit that the boy was right, JD was not much older than Casey and that he was now a fully-fledged member of the Alliance. Circumstances had not given JD a choice however, he had followed Buck and Josiah in their attempt to rescue Nathan Jackson from the Doldur installation and been marked as a rebel. After that, there was no going back down the path he had taken in the name of friendship and loyalty.

"Not that much different," Buck retorted as he waited for clearance, trying to take his mind off the damnable wait while the powers that be decided whether or not his registration papers were the genuine article or a forgery. If it was the latter, he would have a matter of minutes to turn his ship around and get the hell out of here before every Imperial ship in fifty lights years were alerted to their presence. "Why don't you see what the girl wants to do. May be that she doesn't have any interest in joining the Rebellion, not many girls her age do. In fact, if you want something to worry about," Buck leaned over the captain's chair and threw Josiah a perfectly evil look. "Worry about the fact of what happens if she gets a whiff of JD. Most teenagers are impressed with young men with an air of danger about them."

"What?" JD shot a look at Buck that was filled with nothing less than shock "What do you mean Buck?" he stammered. The thought had never even occurred to him. After all, there were girls from where he came from but they were never really interested in him and JD was always too shy to talk to them. His upbringing had been isolated and he simply did not have that much to do with the opposite sex other than his ma, to know how to talk to a girl. Josiah's niece by the sounds of it had been everywhere and seen things even though she was younger than him. The notion that she might cast her gaze on him in that manner was quite honestly intimidating.

"See," Nathan grinned at Josiah with a similarly sarcastic expression on his face. "And you thought the only thing you had to worry about was protecting her from the Empire."

JD turned back to Josiah and saw the Senator giving him a deep, frowned stare that made him swallow instinctively. "You touch my niece...."

"Josiah," Chris Larabee spoke up, coming to JD's defense before details about the rending he would received at the burly senator's hand became too explicit. "I'm sure JD will behave himself."

Josiah let out a deep breath and threw JD a smile because he liked the young man and supposed that if Casey did find herself infatuated with him, she could do worse. Besides, JD was honest, forthright and willing to risk his life for a friend, qualities not lost on Josiah and he knew that part of the reason that he was so determined to protect Casey was because he had no other family in this galaxy. Casey's mother, his sister had been killed by the Emperor's purges. Her father had died in the Clone Wars and since the death of her mother, Casey had been residing with her Aunt Nettie, an elderly woman who could no longer protect her once it was discovered that Casey was Josiah's only family. Both had been hiding on Bespin ever since. For his cause, Josiah had placed Casey in danger and knew that he would always be a little less than reasonable when it came to her safety.

"I'm sorry JD," Josiah apologized. "I guess I'm a little too protective of her," he confessed. "She's all that's left of my family."

"It's okay Josiah," JD shrugged it off, feeling a little odd that someone like Josiah ought to be apologizing to him. He still felt somewhat awed by the company he kept lately and could not find it in himself to be mad at Josiah. Besides, he knew what it was like to be the only one left of a family and it was not a feeling he would wish on anyone. "I understand."

"Corellian freighter Rogue," an unfamiliar voice erupted from the com unit in the cockpit, "You have been cleared for landing. You will be escorted to Landing Bay 23."

Buck let out a sigh of relief and knew that the escort was standard procedure for most ships that were requesting docking at Cloud City for the first time. The construction of the city with its high spires, towers and platforms, required careful navigation through the architecture to reach the landing pads. One error in judgement could see an entire tower destroyed with its occupants inside, thus Buck understood the logic in having trained professionals guide visitors into its confines.

"Thank you kindly," Buck said with no traces in his voice at the anxiety he felt awaiting their response.

Upon terminating the channel between them, Buck let out a sigh of relief. "Okay," he glanced at his friends once more. "Let's go do this."

She had not meant to slice into the system. Really she did not.

Aunt Nettie had warned her time and time again, that eventually someone was going to find out what she was doing and pay a little closer attention to her than they should and find out who she was. If that happened, well she was in for a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, this warning though given to her several times already, had not made its full impact upon her awareness until three hours ago, when Imperial agents arrived and took custody of her. It was bad enough that she and Nettie were now placed in a situation where their lives were in danger but now it appeared as if they were using her to set a trap for her Uncle Josiah, which did not sit well with Casey at all. Josiah was doing important things for the Rebel Alliance and she just knew that his capture would mean his death, like it had meant for her mother.

Casey paced the floor of her room for the hundredth time, trying to think of what she could do to aid her situation. She could not just let them come and take Uncle Josiah! If she had not been monitoring the city's private communications channel they would not have traced her slicer routine back to this suite and discovered who she was! Casey felt awful and yet she had no idea what to do about it. She glanced at Aunt Nettie who was staring out the window, looking so tired and worn. The old lady did not have the energy to raise her and they both knew it but Nettie had been determined to try and Casey would always love her for it.

"Casey dear," Nettie glanced her way. "Stop that. You're making me nervous." The old woman looked away from the window where she had been staring at the panoramic vista outside. The advantage about living in a city suspended miles above the surface was that every window afforded a panoramic vista although at this moment, Nettie would prefer being some place where it did not require a ship to leave the city.

"I'm sorry Aunt Nettie." Casey paused in mid step because she had come to a decision. Her skills as a splicer and a tinkerer had brought her to this end and if she were to extricate herself, Aunt Nettie and Uncle Josiah from this situation, she would have to use those very same abilities. The Imperial agents had locked her and Nettie in her bedroom while they waited for Josiah to arrive. Without saying another word to Nettie, Casey padded over to the door that led to the next room where the agents were presently situated, no doubt intending to surprise Josiah the moment her uncle walked through the door. She pressed her ear against the door, uncertain of what she was doing except that she had to do something.

"Casey, what are you doing?" Nettie asked and Casey immediately gestured for her to be quiet.

Nettie felt silent immediately and rose to standing position as Casey continued to listen. After a moment of inactivity as well as silence, Nettie joined her niece at the door. "What is it?" she whispered.

"There's only two of them there now," Casey remarked.

"The others must have gone to get ready for Josiah's arrival," Nettie replied with a frown. "Probably setting a nice little trap for him."

Casey nodded begrudgingly that was not far from the truth in which case she had very little time to act. "We've got to escape Aunt Nettie," she whispered softly upon moving away from the door.

"That's easier said than done," Nettie pointed out. "The doors locked. We can't even get out of the room much less past those two men."

"I know," Casey started to pace once again but this time she did not do so for very long because less than a few minutes had passed when suddenly, she was hurrying to the computer terminal in her room.

"What is it?" Nettie asked, all too familiar with that expression on the girl's face. It usually marked the onset of something inspired and for once Nettie was more than happy to see it at work, especially if it meant that disaster could be averted for Casey, herself and Josiah Sanchez.

Casey did not look up as her fingers flew over the computer controls but she did answer her aunt with a little smile on her lovely youthful features, "I got an idea."

They did not know how long they would be waiting, only aware that their instructions had been explicit that they were to wait until the Senator showed. While Imperial agent Ely Joh was content to remain in these surroundings indefinitely for the arrival of their quarry, his partner in this endeavor, a young rookie who needed things moving along at a faster pace than this, was growing impatient with each second. Dagmyr was new to the work, fresh out of training, Ely Joh wagered and as customary practice, the youth was paired with a veteran who would complete his on-the-job tutelage of what it was to be a member of Internal Security for the Empire.

Personally, Ely Joh would be surprised if he survived the year.

"Settle down," he instructed the young man for the dozen time, not that he paid much attention. "The Senator will get here when he gets here. Our people are in place, we'll get him," Ely Joh said confidently.

"What if he doesn't take the bait?" Dagmyr asked impatiently.

"We made it very clear that we knew where she is," Ely Joh answered wearily, wondering how many times he was going to have to clarify this with the young man before he was forced to shoot him. "She is the only family he had left, he'll be here."

"I don't know...." The young man seemed skeptical but Ely Joh gave little credence to his disbelief. Men like Josiah Sanchez who were willing to risk everything on principle had the inherent flaw possessed by heroes and martyrs alike, the grandstanding need to prove their overt sentimentality, especially where familial responsibilities were concerned.

"He'll be here," Ely Joh insisted with enough edge in his voice to indicate to his companion that this debate was becoming tiresome and to remember who was in charge here and who had to take the orders.

"Maybe we ought to see what the girl is doing in there." Dagmyr suggested instead.

"Unless she and the old lay can fly, I don't see a problem," the lieutenant said gruffly, wondering how long he would get if he really did shoot this annoying creature.

"She's got a computer terminal in there," he pointed out, not about to relent. "She could be doing all sorts of things from that juncture. I mean we caught her because she was poking around in restricted areas didn't we?"

On that note however, he did have a point and Ely Joh supposed that there was no harm in checking on the girl. He was about to mention that when suddenly, he heard the old lady call out.

"Excuse me?" her voice passed through the door.

An exchange of glances passed between the two agents before Ely Joh nodded at the young man to proceed. He hurried forward even before his superior had given him the signal.

"What is it?" he asked upon reaching the door.

"I need to use the utility," the old woman responded. "It's been hours since you put us in here," she reminded.

Ely Joh saw no harm in that and the old woman was not incorrect about the length of their incarceration. "Go ahead," he nodded, giving his companion permission to continue.

Dagmyr reached for the door panel and activated it when suddenly; something that sounded like a burst of electricity erupted in the air. Ely Joh turned to the noise just in time to see Dagmyr's body spasming so violently, he could not even scream. His hand was still pressed against the door panel and the surge of blue energy running through him had its source from that location. Dagmyr continued to jerk and shudder, appearing like a marionette under the direction of an unskilled puppeteer.

Ely Joh was on his feet in seconds, running towards the young man when the suddenly the energy burst cut short and Dagmyr collapsed to the floor in an abrupt heap, his body still jerking in sharp spasms. Ely Joh dropped to examine his life signs when all of a sudden, the door slide open before him. He tried to aim his gun but the girl moved faster, having anticipated his actions and brought down the heavy sculpture she was holding in her hands, down on his neck. The pain flared though his consciousness as the object crumbled over his skull and he became aware of his gun leaving his hand through the haze.

Casey saw the man go down and immediately retrieved his weapon. With adrenaline pumping through her veins and giving her more courage than she thought herself capable, the young woman did not even have to think twice when she set the weapon for stun and fired while the agent was still reeling from her assault. The blast of energy was brief but when it faded away, he lay just as lifeless as his companion next to him.

"Nettie!" Casey gestured her aunt forward.

Nettie appeared at the door way quickly and was somewhat shocked by what she found there but was not about to argue with the results of Casey's 'idea'. "You did it," she exclaimed with a measure of surprise and pride in her niece's abilities.

"I didn't do anything yet," Casey retorted, keeping her hand on the gun as she and Nettie went to the door. "We still have to get out of Cloud City."

On that note, the two women hurried out of the room, hoping that their luck held until they could contact Josiah Sanchez and tell him about the trap that was awaiting him.

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