THE HANDMAIDEN'S STORY by Linda T


Rayne had not planned on contacting the Alliance prior to her arrival on Cordoba but she had no choice.

Fleeing form Alderaan, she and her young charge had made it as far as Rodia before the Imperial agents in pursuit began to catch up with her. On Rodia, where the population was either for sale or already bought, it was only a matter of time before someone informed the authorities that a young girl matching Princess Leia's description was in the company of an older woman attempting to make way to Cordoba. Despite her attempts to travel incognito, Rayne had no choice but to seek passage off world by means other than that of commercial carriers. Unfortunately, those who usually sought travel in this way were often those who had something to hide and for individuals, who lived by selling information, it was only a matter of time before someone took a closer look at her.

Trapped in their quarters in a rather dingy hostel in the human sector of the main Rodian city, Rayne knew she could not remain here indefinitely. While she had secured passage off world, that departure would not take place for another few hours. Unfortunately, a few hours was time she did not have. While she was uncertain of when they would be coming, Rayne was fairly certain that they were already on the way. She moved through the room as Leia played with her doll on the large bed, putting all their belongings into the travel case because Rayne had decided that she was not waiting here for the Empire to come take Leia.

She heard sounds coming from the street below and immediately went to the window. Peering through the blinds, her worst fears were confirmed as she saw a group of storm troopers gathered in the busy street below. Their white armor was a stark contrast against the backdrop of Rodians, humans and other aliens species going about their business. The hostel she and Leia had been occupying sat on the corner of an intersecting street and the surrounding area was occupied by two stories buildings set closely together. Rayne estimated she had less than ten minutes or so before they came barging in here and that was not a lot of time to stay ahead of a squad of Imperial stormtroopers. Examining the surrounding skyline, a partial plan formed in her head and though she had never attempted it with an infant in her arms, Rayne did not have much choice.

She had promised to keep Padme's child safe at all costs, she would die trying.

Having gathered all their things, Rayne wasted no time scooping Leia in her arms and exiting the room into the dirty corridor outside. The stench of liquor, nicotaine and other substances, she would rather not put name to assaulted her senses. Fortunately, the corridor was empty even though the sounds of habitation could be heard from the voices behind the doors that ran down each side of its length. Instead of taking the steps that led down, Rayne instead hurried towards the maintenance levels of the building. As expected, the door leading to that upper level was sealed and the control panel along side of it made sure it remained restricted to everyone but the proprietors of the establishment. However, Rayne was more than familiar with the security system in place and knew that it was something she could easily circumvent.

Setting Leia down on the floor, she slammed her elbow into the face of the panel, shattering it completely with a loud crack. She barely noticed the stinging pain but was nonetheless grateful that the material of her jump suit kept her from being cut. Once she cleared away the debris, she delved into the mass of wires and circuits and tampered with the system briefly before the door slid open partway before stopping. The aperture created was wide enough for her to enter and she picked up Leia who was watching what she was doing with interest. Slipping through the narrow passageway, Rayne entered the small custodial room that was euphemistically called the maintenance centre in order to elevate it to more than what it was. Whatever the title, she was more interested in the customary ladder at the corner of the room that would lead to the roof.

"Hold on tight, little one," she instructed Leia who instinctively tightened the grip of her small arms around Rayne's neck as the bodyguard started climbing up the ladder towards the small hatch on the ceiling. Despite the added weight, Rayne managed to scale the lenght of it easily and was about to slip through the hatch when she heard a loud voice in the distance, demanding entrance. She paused to listen for a fraction of a second before continuing through the hatch, aware that they would soon break into the room and found that they were gone. When that happened, they would spread out and start combing the immediate area for them.

She had to be well away from here before that happened.

Upon reaching the roof, Rayne let her eyes sweep across the skyline once again, searching for her intended target. She found it soon enough. It was a fair jump but she was sure that she could safely traverse the distance with Leia in her arms. By now the child was more than aware that something was going on and had gone very silent. Leia was like that a lot. She seemed to know when there was danger and behave accordingly. Rayne shuddered when she considered where that aspects of the child's ability had come. Making a running start, she took a deep breath as she raced across the roof and leapt high when she reached the edge of it. It was no more than a few meters but with Leia in her hands, it may as well been a mile if she failed. Fortunately, she landed well, rolling around and bundling the infant in her arms to protect from the impact.

Leia let out a slight squeal of fright but fussed no more than that.

"Are you alright?" Rayne asked quickly as she rolled to her feet.

Leia nodded slowly, even though her tiny features were displaying her fear. She was a brave one, Rayne thought silently to herself, just like her mother.

"I promise I won't let anything happen to you little one," Rayne assured her with a smile. "Not ever."

And with that, she began running again.

Rayne did not know how much of a margin of time she had on their pursuers but she managed to elude them far enough to arrive at the spaceport. Her eyes kept watch for Imperial troops as she moved through the large complex, trying to decide what was the fastest way off world. At this point, she did not even care where they would go as long as they were very far away from here. There were simply too many informants and Rodia for her and Leia to remain space. They needed to be somewhere the Empire did not have complete control and that was hard considering there was not many worlds that Palpatine had not put under the hammer lately. She had to get in contact with Bail Organa if she were to have any hope of reaching the Alliance before the Empire closed their net. As confident as she was in her abilities, she knew she could not evade them forever and if the Emperor or Vader discovered her identity, then Bail Organa's complicity in this supposed kidnapping would be exposed.

That could not be allowed to happen.

Rayne was wandering through the hallways, trying not to remain in one place long enough to be noticed when suddenly she overheard two men arguing rather heatedly. She had not meant to listen but their conversation was loud enough to be heard even by the casual passer by. The two protagonists appeared to be an Ithorian and a Rodian and thought they spoke in their native languages, Rayne's translator was doing a commendable job of interpreting their speech into something she could understand.

"It is of no business of mine that you have good to reach Zhar. The price was agreed upon yesterday," the Ithorian, commonly know as Hammerheads, spoke with surprising vehemence. Ithorians were normally spiritual types who seldom got agitated. It had something to do with their body chemistry and slow metabolic rate she was led to believe.

"You must take me there," the Rodian insisted, his snout puling back and forth anxiously as he pleaded his case. "My funds have not been transferred and I can offer you most of the payment. You will be compensated when you arrive on Zhar, you have my assurance."

"Your assurance will not pay for the fuel my ship will expend to get to Zhar if you should happen to renege. If you do not have the money then I will ask you to unload your goods from my ship."

"Please!" the Rodian started to get desperate. "I have a shipment of Nala-Tree frogs for Jabba the Hutt. He is presently on Zhar, if I do not deliver the shipment, you know how he can be..."

"That is not my concern," the Ithorian responded, not about to be swayed.

"Gentlemen," Rayne suddenly interrupted. "Forgive me for eavesdropping but I believe I can resolve this situation."

The sentients stared at the woman and it was the Ithorian who spoke first. "How so human?"

"My charge and I need to be on Zhar as soon as possible," Rayne answered coolly, revealing no signs of haste or impatience on her part. "The child's father is ill and we need to be on Zhar as soon as possible before he expires. It is his last wish that he sees his daughter. I am willing to underwrite whatever remaining costs you require to reach Zhar to deliver your Nala-Tree frogs as well as extra recompense for two passengers."

"Why this works out most satisfactorily!" the Rodian exclaimed, eager to take up the offer seeing that he had no choice if he did not want his future existence to be seriously curtailed by a Hutt's vengeance. "Does it not Worthu?"

The Ithorian named Worthu studied the human female and the child with her closely, deciding that there was more to this then met the eye. However, the lure of money, not to mention the amiable settlement of his current predicament was welcomed so he did not give it too much thought. "Yes it does. I assume you would wish to leave immediately?"

"Yes," Rayne nodded, certain that the Ithorian was suspicious but not enough for him to throw a way a good deal of money she suspected. "I would appreciate it. Time is of the essence."

With her kind, it almost always was.

"So where did you learn to shoot like that?" Vin Tanner asked JD Dunne after they had jumped into hyperspace and were returning home from Bespin without the fear of pursuit. It would take several hours before they reached the rebel enclave in the Territory and until then, there was little to do on board the Rogue but wait. While Buck was busy flying the ship, Casey and Josiah had gone to the Rogue's medical bay to see how Nathan's ministrations towards the injured Nettie were progressing. Vin had noticed JD being somewhat preoccupied and joined the young man in the main passenger lounge to see if he was okay. Vin had a feeling that even JD was rather stunned by his performance in the gunnery turret and probably needed to talk about it even though he seemed quiet and introspective.

"I don't know," JD answered honestly, still somewhat perplexed at what he had managed to accomplish. Prior to the battle, he had made the same mental preparations he had whenever he was set to race a pod, he did not dream that the results could be so dramatic. "I just told myself to stop thinking of it as shooting and start remembering how it felt to race my pod and the next thing I knew....."

"You were displaying the best gunnery skills I have ever seen," Chris commended as he walked in to the room and it was no idle comment coming from the Jedi who had fought in the Clone Wars.

"Thanks," JD shrugged, not knowing whether such a comment was to be taken as a compliment or not. "I don't know how I did it."

"You've got a lot of natural ability," Chris remarked sitting across JD with a hot cup of cider. "That helps and it helps that you know that there were people in those ships. I know you are feeling a little stunned by what you did and how you deal with taking their lives is up to you but know what you did was in self defense. They would have delivered us to be killed just as surely as if they were pulling the trigger. What you did saved our lives," the Jedi assured him.

"I hope so," JD answered with a nod before rising to his feet, needing to be by himself as he sorted out the mixed emotions running through him at the moment. Chris and Vin watched him leave the lounge and descend into the turret that had allowed him to display such astonishing reflexes.

"You think he'll be okay?" Vin asked still staring after JD.

"Yeah," Chris nodded. "I think so. He's learning the reality of taking up a cause like this. It's a path none of us can help him with."

"I know," Vin agreed, having gone through similar feelings himself the first time he had to make a kill as bounty hunter. The taking of life was never an easy decision for those with conscience enough to regret it, no matter how necessary it might seem at the time. "It's been a long for me since I went through something like that and it still bothers me at times. Does it bother you?"

"Death always bothers me," Chris responded, not wanting to add that of late, it was his demise that preoccupied his thoughts the most. He was certain what he had dreamed was no figment of his mind but rather a portent of things to come. Would he die by Darth Vader's hand? Was that his destiny? He was afraid of neither death nor destiny if that was what was meant to be but he did think about Sarah's words to him in the dreamscape.

We cannot move on.

Was he trapping them here? Was he by his own grief, keeping his wife and child from going onto something better?

Chris' thoughts on the subject were interrupted when Buck Wilmington stepped into the room from the cockpit. He could tell immediately that something else had transpired just by the serious look on the pilots' face. Chris immediately sat up as straight Buck paused before them.

"I've just had a call from the Alliance," Buck announced.

"What's up?" Vin asked, noting the same expression that had made Chris pay such attention.

"I just got a transmission from Mary," Buck explained, knowing that Chris would pass it on the others when he was done. "We've got a situation brewing. Apparently, Ezra just contacted the Alliance with information that a super star destroyer is parked in orbit around Cordoba carrying no less than Darth Vader."

Chris did not react to the name even though he knew he should. After what he had been dreaming of late, it was impossible that he should remain so detached but forced himself to be calm. After all, just because Vader was at Cordoba was no reason to believe that his premonition about Vader killing him in a light saber duel was going to happen now. The future was hard to predict there were always so many emotions involved. "Does Ezra say what he's doing on Cordoba?"

"Well this is where it gets strange," Buck responded trying to remember exactly how Mary had communicated the situation to him. "It seems that in two days, the vote goes before the Senate regarding the segregation policy banning non-humans from Imperial positions and Bail is the leading voice against it. A few days ago, the Alliance got wind that the Emperor and Vader were intending on holding his daughter Leia to ransom to force him to vote their way. Naturally, the first thing he did was to get her off the planet. He told everyone that she's been kidnapped when in truth, he was trying to get the kid to the Alliance. Unfortunately Vader's offered to help find her but Bail thinks it's just a trick to get his hands on the kid so that he can use her against him."

"How old is she?" Vin asked, unable to fathom the callousness that would use a child as a political pawn. Then again, nothing the Empire did was capable of surprising him any more. It seems that every outrage they seemed to hear about these days was just a stepping stone to another new Imperial atrocity.

"She's two," Chris said firmly. His mind was racing. Vader was after Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. This was a nightmare.

"Where is she now?" Chris demanded, with more than just a little concern in his voice. Vin's eyes shifted to him, noting the intensity of his question. Worry did not even come close to describing what Chris was feeling at this moment. Vader had no idea about Leia and though the child might not be able to reveal the truth about her origins to her father that was not to say Vader might not sense the connection between them. In any case, the further Vader stayed away from Leia the better. It was far too dangerous for the Sith Lord to start taking an unhealthy interest in the child, especially when he and his Emperor had such dark intentions towards her.

"Well Mary says they're on their way to Zhar," Buck answered, even he had noticed Chris' interest. "That's why she contacted us. We're to head directly to Zhar to get them. Cordoba's too dangerous with Vader waiting for them to arrive."

"No kidding," Vin replied having seen a super star destroyer when he was travelling through the core worlds. Even the Purgatory with all its modifications did not stand a chance against a ship of that size. "I wouldn't want to run into a super star destroyer. Have you seen one of those things?" The bounty let out a low whistle.

"I've never seen one but I've heard about them," Buck commented. "I'm with you on not wanting to run into one of them. It's like facing a battle station in space."

"Buck how long until we get there?" Chris asked abruptly, not caring about super star destroyers or the inconvenience of facing one.

"A few hours," Buck responded, looking at Chris curiously now. The Jedi was way too tense for his liking and Chris only got anxious if something very bad was coming their way. What could worry a Jedi ought to worry all of them. "Chris, what is it?"

"Are we at full speed?" The Jedi stared at him, ignoring the question.

"Not quite," Buck retorted, becoming very uneasy now.

"Get us to full speed," he stated firmly and his tone indicated that he did not want to be questioned about the request.

"Why....," Buck started to ask, not quite content with obeying blindly. If something was coming at them, he wanted to know what it was.

"Do it Buck," Chris said firmly, with enough of an edge to his voice to tell Buck that he meant what he said. "We have to get to her before he does."

"That goes without saying," Buck nodded in agreement but he was not about to let the matter rest without some kind of explanation. Sure the situation was tense but Chris' worry was for something else that seemed a great deal more urgent then the present crisis. Buck knew that Jedis seldom told you everything. The nature of what they were demanded secrecy some times and though Buck knew that Chris would never intentionally let anyone of them be harmed, he would may choose to keep knowledge from them especially if he believed they would be endangered by the knowing. "But why is it so important to you?" Buck asked staring at Chris intently.

Chris paused a moment as if trying to decide what was the best thing to say at this point. He did not want to lie to his friend but telling him the truth about Leia Organa's relationship to Darth Vader was simply not an option. He had told Vin because he had no choice, his own weaknesses had allowed the information to slip. Chris did not wish to endanger Buck the way that Vin was now at risk should Vader ever learn what he knew . "Buck I can't tell you and it's not because I don't want to but because I promised someone I wouldn't betray the confidence and honestly, it's safer that you don't know."

For along moment, both men stared at each other and Vin wondered if Buck would accept that explanation. For his part he could sense the apprehension in Chris and it was far deeper than his manner may outwardly indicate. Chris was worried to all hell and Vin shuddered to think what could cause the Jedi such concern.

"Alright Chris," Buck conceded defeat, recognizing that Chris was not deliberately keeping vital information from him because of any lack of trust but rather fear for his life and safety. "I'll get us there on maximum burn."

"Thanks Buck," Chris patted his friend on the shoulder and they both exchanged a moment of deep warmth before the pilot withdrew into the cockpit once more, leaving him and Vin alone.

Once he was gone, Vin turned to Chris. "Mind telling me what that was all about?"

There was no point hiding it from Vin since the bounty hunter already knew enough to get him killed a dozen times over. Besides, Vin knew that when it came to Vader, there was a great deal more at stake then simply circumventing the dark lord's present plans Everything to do with Vader had far reaching implications in the future.

Chris took a deep breath "Leia is Luke's twin."

"What?" Vin exclaimed with nothing less than astonishment. "How is that possible? I thought she was Organa's daughter."

"She is by adoption," Chris explained quickly. "When they were born, it was decided that Leia should go with her mother, Queen Amidala of the Naboo. She married Bail Organa and he adopted Leia. It was decided that Anakin Skywalker should be allowed to believe that he has only one child, not two."

"Oh hell," Vin grimaced, understanding the urgency now that Chris clarified things for. "Vader is going after his own daughter and he doesn't even know it.'

"And we can't let him find out," Chris stated and then added a second later. "No matter what the cost."

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