The House on Vader Hill
by MJ Mink
The squealing and bickering was a sure sign that the twins were excited about something. The question was: Did he want to find out what, or would ignorance be bliss? Han stood in the hall for several seconds, listening to their chattering and exclamations, contemplating his next move. The real question he had to ask himself was: Do I feel lucky? Sometimes just being near the twins was an invitation to danger, and when they were in this sort of squabbling mood --
Ah, hell, his cowardice was a discredit to brave Corellians everywhere. He pushed open the door and entered, booming: "What's goin' on in here?"
"I got -- "
"He got -- "
The twins stopped and stared at each other. "It's my inheritance," Luke said.
"Only because Vader didn't know about me until it was too late to change his will," Leia responded in a fast rush of words. She looked appealingly at Han. "Don't you agree that Luke should share?"
"Not necessarily. What are you talking about?"
"This!" Luke thrust a datapad into his hand. "Father left me his estate," he explained, too impatient to wait for Han to read it. "A house, land -- practically an entire town on Abyssmaul. I'm a landowner! I have a fife!"
"Fief," Han corrected absently as he studied the information.
"And it's half mine." Leia folded her arms. "We could start a colony. It would be the perfect location for New Alderaan."
"The current inhabitants might object to being colonized." Luke mimicked Leia's stance, and they glared at each other.
"It says," Han read, "that to accept your inheritance, you have to go to the estate within one standard week of receiving this notice and stay there overnight."
"Will you come with us?" Leia asked.
Luke frowned at her. "I didn't say you could come."
"Try and stop me, flyboy."
"We'll all go," Han interjected quickly. "You'd probably kill each other if I let you go without me." Truth be told, watching their tiffs was more entertaining than hanging around Alliance HQ pushing datapens and groveling for supplies. "Pack your bags and we'll leave in the morning."
nodded obediently, and he left, rolling his eyes. If he ever had
kids, he sure hoped they wouldn't be twins. These two were enough of
a handful for any man.
The Falcon streaked around the moon, and their first glimpse of Abyssmaul came as it lay in shadow, dark and forbidding as a Sith Lord's cloak. As they curved around the planet to the light side, Han could see that its atmosphere was splashed with thick gray clouds, and water covered much of the surface.
"Landing coordinates locked in," Luke murmured, pointlessly pushing switches and turning knobs.
"Then stop fiddling."
Luke snatched his hands away from the controls.
"Are we there yet?" Leia asked for the hundredth time, entering the cockpit.
"Yeah. Go strap yourself in unless you want your royal tush landing on the floor."
"That's no way to court her," Luke counseled after Leia had stomped back to the passenger area.
"Who said I'm courting her?" Han focused on the landing pad in the distance. It was glistening under a steady downpour of rain.
"I'm a Jedi; I know these things."
"Uh-huh. Well, your Jediness, stop distracting me or we'll flip over like a flapjack."
Luke sighed. "It looks wet out there," he observed helpfully. "I wonder if this is a rainy place."
"It is today, Junior." He settled into the serious task of docking his precious ship without scratching it. His passengers could take care of themselves.
"These people are sorta ... strange."
"Now, Han," Leia scolded, "a man in your position should have more respect for cultural differences. Just because they're a little..."
"Strange," Luke inserted.
"Unique," she corrected, pulling herself straighter in response to the stares.
"Strange," Han confirmed under his breath. They were surrounded by a group of humanoid adults who gazed unblinkingly at them. Or maybe their manner of clothing was the focus of the intense interest. Evidently fashion had never come to Abyssmaul, for these people were dressed in dark, oversized dresses that were belted around their uniformly plump midsections and hung to the ground where they dragged in the mud. Males and females alike wore large black scarves around their heads, fastened in huge knots under their chins.
"Do you speak Standard?" Luke asked the group brightly.
No one answered, though several people exchanged furtive glances and looked worried.
Luke kept smiling. "We're looking for the Vader estate. Can you point us in the right direction?"
There was a shocked group inhalation. In unison, every pair of eyes widened and they all made unfamiliar symbolic gestures with their hands: a ring that incorporated two dots and an arc. Then they turned and fled, with the sole exception of an elderly woman who pointed her shaking hand toward a steep hill at the far end of the village. There was a path leading upward that no vehicle could travel, and the track disappeared into the clouds. Before Han could thank her, she scuttled off. Doors slammed on every cottage, leaving them alone and soggy.
"That was strange," Leia observed.
Han sent her an exasperated glance. "I told you."
"I don't think it's anything to worry about now," Luke said optimistically. "Let's just go see my inheritance."
"Our inheritance." Leia smiled sweetly. "What was that gesture they made? It seems familiar. Perhaps it's some sort of religious symbol."
"I know it," Han said grimly as they cautiously picked their steps through the muck toward the path. "A Corellian legend says it came from a galaxy far, far away, long, long ago. Supposedly it's a protection against Evil. It's called the 'Visage of Transcendent Bliss', and it can appear anywhere, anytime, whenever Evil is present. It looks like this." He stopped and picked up a short stick, drawing a crude representation in the mud.
"It can change on its own," he added gloomily. "I've seen it looking surprised, sad, even angry. I think we should consider it a strong warning."
"It's a Smiley Face," Leia said tiredly.
"A 'smiley face'?" Luke echoed. "That doesn't sound like a warning."
"That depends on why it's smiling." Han frowned. "Like I said, it's an old legend. Maybe it's not a protection against Evil, but is Evil itself."
"Oh, for Sith's sake!" Leia exclaimed, ignoring Luke's hurt "ouch" in response to the curse that had become personally significant to him. "When I was a girl, we used it to dot our 'i's. It's not evil. Honestly, Han, I don't know where you get these ideas. Oh, wait -- yes, I do, from Corellia. What an illogical race of people!"
"Hey!" he protested. "Logic is highly overrated."
"Only by Corellians." She marched forward, her daintily-booted feet sliding from under her as they started up the steep path. She tumbled to her knees and rested there only a split-second before her twin's Force-enhanced lightning-fast reflexes instinctively went into action. Luke grabbed her arm and hauled her up. "Sith!"
"Leia! That's our dad you're talking about!"
"He's your father, not mine!"
"Then it's my inheritance, not yours!"
"Children!" Han chastised. "Play nicely. We're here for a purpose, and it's not so you kids can argue."
"You sound like my father."
"You sound like my uncle."
"There's the house," he lied, hoping to distract them.
"Where?" Luke whirled, sliding on the slippery caked mud before his lightning-fast reflexes re-balanced him. "I don't see it."
"I don't either. Hurry up!" Leia moved into the wet grass at the edge of the path, and they followed her example. Better traction gave them speed, and before long the house came into clear view. They came to an abrupt halt.
The manse towered above them, its sharp spires reaching upward as if trying to touch the pendulous clouds that marched across the ever-darkening sky. Han counted three stories, all with tall, narrow windows that were heavily draped against the unfriendly weather, and a peaked roof. A porch that badly needed repair stretched around the front, and he thought it could be charming in the summer -- if this planet had a summer -- but now it looked windswept and uninviting. The whole place looked uninviting, he thought glumly. Leave it to Vader to have a home like this.
"So... this is your inheritance." He glanced at Luke, expecting to see disappointment.
The kid's face was shining. "Isn't it terrific? So big! I'll bet that on a clear day, you can see forever."
He frowned. "Are you thinking about living here permanently?"
The Jedi shrugged. "Maybe. At least part of the time. It would be good to have a home again."
"That's what the Alderaanis would say," Leia grumbled as they finished their hike at the bottom of very steep stairs. "Come on."
Han caught her arm. "Let Luke go first."
She shook free and picked up her long skirt, hastily following her brother.
At the top, Luke stepped onto the porch. A loose board swung up and hit him in the face, knocking him backward. He rolled halfway down the steps before catching himself and leaping to his feet.
"I told you to let him go first," Han whispered to the princess.
"Thanks," she muttered, and they shared a quick smile.
"Guess the old homestead needs a little repair," Han said loudly. "Guess there's no caretaker."
"That's all right," Luke said, wobbling and looking distinctly dizzy. "With my Jedi powers, I can fix it up in no time. Uh... where are you?"
"Up here. Follow the sound of my voice... this way... that's right." He and Leia caught Luke between them and held him steady. "Let's be careful out here."
"Right," Luke slurred. He shook his head, then looked from right to left. "I'm fine."
"Good," Han said gruffly. "All right, let's check out the place."
They moved gingerly across the porch and stood at the front door. "Is that one of those... Visages?" Luke asked, squinting at the door.
"Nah, it's a knocker. I like knockers," Han added, leering at Leia. Predictably, she scowled at him. "Go ahead and knock, kid. And hope nobody answers."
Uncertainly, Luke wrapped his fingers around the metal crescent and rapped three times. "Oww! Ouch! Ow!"
"Okay," Han said in exasperation, "first thing -- don't pound on your fingers. Hold it like this." He demonstrated, tapping the knocker extension against the plate while mumbling under his breath, "How many Jedi does it take to open a door? No wonder you guys are extinct."
The sound of the knocker was audible inside the house. Out of politeness, they waited, but no one answered the summons. "Well... let's go in." Guardedly, Luke cracked opened the door. "Han, do you want to go first?"
"Nah, it's your house," he deferred graciously. Corellians were brave, not stupid.
The door swung open.
They stepped into a large foyer that faced a narrow staircase. Under their feet, worn carpeting disguised its pattern under layers of accumulated dirt. Luke waved his hand, and above their heads, a prism chandelier came alight with bulbs dimmed by heavy dust. "You're right," the Jedi said, "there's no caretaker. Oh, well, we can clean it up."
"We?" Leia repeated. "It's your place, not mine!"
"Remember that next time you try to bring up 'New Alderaan'."
Han peeked into the room on their left. "Some sort of parlor. Sith, there's a dead parrot in that cage."
"Don't say 'Sith'." Luke walked blithely into the dark room and waved his hand again at the wall sconces that obligingly sprang to flickering life. "See? He's not dead, he's just sleeping." He slid one finger through the bars of the cage and poked the bird.
"Luke, the thing is dead."
"It's not a thing, it's an exotic parrot of some sort." Luke stroked its feathers. "And it's sleeping."
Leia copied her twin and poked the bird. "I think it's sleeping, too."
They were maddening. "Listen," Han stated firmly, "it's in a cage in a house that obviously no one has entered for years. It's dead!"
"It's sleeping!" they chorused.
"Stand back." Han drew his blaster and shot the bird, which fell over, stiff as a board, without a squawk. "It's dead." He looked around the room. "Now it's time for something completely different. Let's go across the hall."
The subdued twins followed him into the dining room. A gray sheet covered what was presumably a long table and set of chairs.
"This is filthy," Leia declared, peering at the sheet and folding her arms as she stepped back. "I don't want to touch it. And it's so dark in here."
"With the Force, I can take care of both those problems," Luke said confidently.
The Jedi moved farther into the room and raised his arms. They watched dubiously as he closed his eyes in concentration, then spun in a slow circle. At first, it appeared that the heavy drapes would part in an orderly display of obedience. Instead, the rods holding them leaped off the walls, sending the fabric cascading to the floor and showering them with dust. Simultaneously the sheet on the table rose high into the air before collapsing across the chairs. They choked in the thick haze, waving their hands in front of their faces and backing into the hallway.
"You're making a mess!" Leia managed to say, patting her hair and creating more clouds of dust.
"Sorry about that," Luke answered between coughing spasms. He leaned into the room and sneezed once. "But it looks much better in the light. What a terrific fireplace!"
Han and Leia exchanged glances. "Yeah, it's a great, kid. Looks like real Corellian marble."
"Corellian marble is fake," Leia pointed out. "A reasonable facsimile of Ytalan marble, but an imitation nonetheless."
"Corellian marble isn't fake," he protested, though it was. His denial had nothing to do with the truth; he simply could not allow her score too many points.
From the look she gave him, he knew she was on to his strategy, but he refused to back down.
"I seriously doubt that my father would have fake marble in his home," Luke said stiffly.
They stared silently at the fireplace. As they watched, a beam of light filtered through the grimy windows, then the sun burst through the dark clouds in sudden glory. Luke sighed happily. "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."
Han rolled his eyes.
Luke saw his skepticism. "You know, Han, there's no place like home. You shouldn't knock it if you haven't tried it."
"I've had a lot of homes, kiddo, but this place... " He hesitated, not wanting to dampen Luke's excitement, but the kid needed a reality check. "There's an old Corellian saying that life is like a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get. You just have to make the best of everything. As long as you live long and prosper, I guess it doesn't matter where you live. Even if it's a place like this," he added.
"Uh... thanks, I think," Luke said doubtfully. He turned to Leia. "What about you, sis? I know it doesn't have much curb appeal, but the interior has a lot of potential, don't you think? I could dress it up, I could dress it down, it's denim-friendly... "
She sighed. "I can see that resistance is futile. If you're determined to live here, it will take a lot of fixing up. We've only just begun to look around. There are two more floors to inspect. Lots of room for Alderaanis," she reminded.
Luke heaved an answering sigh. "Let's keep looking," he muttered, pushing past them.
"Now see what you've done," Han murmured to Leia. "You've hurt his feelings."
"Me? You're the one criticizing the house and spouting those ridiculous Corellian maxims."
"They're tried and true, nothing ridiculous about them," he declared stoutly.
"They're trying, all right, just like you." She stopped suddenly, nearly running into Luke who was poised in a doorway, on tiptoes as if he'd stopped mid-stride. "What is it?"
"The... kitchen. It's a mess. I think there's... um... vermin around."
"Oh, Sith!" Leia exclaimed, and it was an indication of Luke's distress that he didn't object to her curse.
"Kitchen?" Han's spirits lifted. "Lemme see. Maybe there's something to eat. I'm starving."
The twins watched in silent dismay as he opened a cupboard. Inside, each shelf was stacked from top to bottom with small blue tins. He read the unfamiliar label aloud. "Spam." He walked around, opening all the cupboards, and stood back. "Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam. I wonder what that is." Grabbing a tin, he began searching the drawers for an opener.
Behind his back, Leia observed to her brother, "You'll have to hire someone to clean this entire house."
"I can do it myself, using my Jedi skills."
"Really," she commented skeptically. "I had no idea that you were as handy with a broom as you are with a lightsaber."
"The things you don't know about me would fill the Encyclopedia Britannica," Luke boasted.
"The what?" Han asked idly as he pried the lid off his prize.
"Nothing," Leia advised. "Just another of Luke's weird fantasies."
"They're not fantasies!" Luke objected. "I think they're visions of other times, other places -- "
"Whatever," Han interrupted, sniffing to determine if the content was spoiled. Deciding it probably wasn't and that this must be its normal smell, he dug in with his fingers and tasted it. "Not bad. You wanna try some?"
Leia grimaced, taking a step backward. Luke looked at the substance and shook his head. Han pried out another chunk, which unfortunately fell to the floor. "You're making a mess," the Jedi whined.
"Don't have a cow, man," Han growled. "This whole place is a pigsty, a little more won't hurt. Besides, vermin deserve to eat, too." He scooped out the rest of the odd substance and swallowed it. "I can't believe I ate the whole thing. Not much in these little tins." He opened the refrigeration unit. An unpleasant stench blasted out, and he closed it quickly. "Where's the beef? There must be a meat storage unit."
"Don't. Eat. Anything. Else." Leia scowled at him. "If you get food poisoning, I'm not cleaning up after you."
"Well, I'm not planning on doing the cleaning," he answered cheerfully, enjoying his natural ability to rile her. "Hey, where did Luke go?"
"He probably ran screaming back to the Falcon," she grumbled, "and I'm getting ready to join him." Hands on her hips, she glared. "This is another fine mess you've gotten me into. Why did you have to say we'd come with him?"
"Lighten up, Princess. You're the one wanted to share Luke's inheritance, remember?"
"Maybe Luke and I will live here, and you can -- you can go back to Corellia!"
"Go ahead, make my day, see if I care." He glowered back at her.
"Ooooh!" She actually stamped her foot before marching off. "Luke! Luu-uuke!"
Her brother's voice filtered down the narrow stairs. "Come up to the lab and see what's on the slab. It's amazing!"
Han let Leia go up the down staircase first, just in case Luke had levitated and not tested all the boards. Of course, since he weighed considerably more, he still climbed the steps with exaggerated care. Until he heard Leia exclaim, "Oh, he's gorgeous!" and then he leaped the rest of the distance.
"Who is? Who's gorgeous?"
The twins were staring at a well-built, unconscious young man -- a nude young man, Han noted disapprovingly. A well-built, nude young man. Younger than him. Prone on a slab of Corellian marble, totally naked except for a red cloth draped modestly across his privates.
Leia's hand edged cautiously toward the cloth.
"Careful, you'll scare the horses," Han warned.
She cleared her throat and her hand retreated.
"The note attached to his toe says," Luke lifted it and read, "'Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate'. I don't understand."
"There are more things in heaven and earth than you'll ever understand," Leia stated sagely.
"Another Alderaani maxim?" Han asked innocently.
She gave him a foul look but kept silent.
"He isn't alive," Luke continued, still fascinated with the man. "But he isn't dead either. He must be a clone that isn't sentient. How can that be?" He looked at Han as if expecting an answer.
"Hey, I'm a smuggler, not a doctor!"
"That's not all you are," Leia grumbled.
"I am not a crook," he protested, reading her mind.
"I didn't say you were!"
"You were thinking it!"
"I was not!"
"Children," Luke interrupted mildly, "apparently what you have here is a failure to communicate."
"I can't communicate with him!" Leia nearly shrieked.
"She's always complaining and criticizing me," Han groused. "She asks too many questions. What does she expect?"
"I expect you to answer honestly when I ask you something!"
"Leia," the Jedi intervened peaceably, "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Maybe you need to back off and not be so hard on Han."
She pouted. Han asked, "What's a spanishinquisition?"
Leia shrugged. "Just another one of Luke's weird fantasies."
Luke folded his arms. "The point is, the two of you will never get married if you keep hiding your feelings behind a shield of squabbling."
The blond man nodded, unfazed by their mutual horror. "There can be only one for each of you. You're soulmates. You're each other's lobster. It's inevitable."
Leia turned to Han. "You've been teaching him Corellian maxims, haven't you?"
He shrugged modestly. "You don't have to thank me."
She sent him an incredulous glance, then pointed to the body on the slab. "That's the kind of man I want -- naked and unconscious. One that doesn't talk!"
"You're making a mess!" Luke protested. "Can't you two just be nice to each other?"
Luke threw his hands in the air and stalked around them. "The
tribe has spoken. I'm going to check out the rest of the place. You
two can do what you want. Leia, leave my clone alone."
"Well, it's big, I'll say that for it," Han observed when they'd finish their tour of the mansion.
"And filthy," Leia added, still picking cobwebs out of her buns. "I have a hard time picturing Darth Vader living here."
"He never lived here," an unfamiliar, throaty voice declared in low tones. "This was his laboratory."
They whirled around. Luke ignited his lightsaber. "Get behind me."
"Like we'd stand in front of your lightsaber?" Han muttered.
"Who are you?" Leia demanded.
It was a tall figure that emerged from the gloom of the salon. Tall and shrouded in black, hooded so no face could be seen. It glided noiselessly toward them like a ghost and halted in the eerie glow of Luke's lightsaber. Pale hands turned green as they emerged from the cloak and raised. A touch to the simple clasp released the cape, and it cascaded to the floor, revealing the mysterious stranger.
Han and Luke both gaped in astonishment. It was a woman -- not merely a woman, but a truly womanly woman. Her body was voluptuous and clad in a black dress with an extremely short skirt that revealed long, shapely legs -- legs that ended in delicate feet clad in high-heel pumps -- feet that, if turned upside down, would point the way to an abnormally tiny waist and a full bosom nearly bursting out of the low slash of her neckline. Her face -- Han forced his eyes to raise from the globes -- was exquisite. Sparkling blue eyes, pink cheeks, and full rosy lips that formed a delicious pout. Her golden blonde hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back like a river of sparkling urine.
"Hello," she said in a breathy, baby-doll voice. "I'm Barbee from Abyssmaul Homeowners Insurance. You must be Luke... and this must be your big saber that I've heard so much about."
"Huh? I mean... uh... " Luke replied brilliantly, staring at her breasts.
Han couldn't criticize him, for those were his exact sentiments. And just how short was that skirt anyway? Stealthily he edged the stylus out of his pocket and dropped it to the floor. "Oops." He bent to pick it up.
A white-booted foot stepped on it. "Don't you dare," Leia hissed.
Chagrined, he straightened, foiled only seconds from his goal.
Barbee ignored him, her seductive gaze focused on Luke. "I've come to take care of your personal needs, Luke... your personal property needs. You certainly have big property." Her lashes fluttered. "I may call you Luke, mayn't I?"
"Close your mouth," Han whispered to his friend.
It took a moment before the Jedi blinked and closed it. "Uh... sure... uh... Miss... uh... "
"Barbee," she murmured warmly. Her small hand curled around Luke's arm, and she gazed at him, fluttering her lashes. "You're very handsome. And so strong." The pale fingers squeezed his bicep.
"Ow! I mean, thanks... uh... "
Han flinched on his friend's behalf. "So," he intervened helpfully, "you're in the insurance biz?"
Bright blue eyes focused on him. "You're Han Solo, the famous general," she breathed admiringly. "So tell me, General... are you?"
"Am I what?" Her rosy mouth was distracting, and he was having a hard time focusing on her words no matter how hard he stared.
"Yeah, I... oh, I get it! Uh, yeah, I'm solo... single... unencumbered, free as a falcon, willing and able to -- "
"Herd nerfs," Leia muttered, and Han stopped babbling.
Luke cleared his throat. "Miss... Barbee, you said something about Vader's laboratory?"
"Yes." She smiled sunnily at him. "He conducted many experiments here. He was a brilliant scientist as well as... " she sighed warmly, "... everything else."
There was a moment of awed silence as the three visitors silently speculated about Vader's possible relationship with Barbee.
"Oh," Luke eventually said, weakly. Recovering, he added, "Did he work on cloning? There's a male clone on the slab upstairs and I -- "
"What?" Barbee shrieked. Without waiting for an answer, she ran up the stairs, giving Han a good view of exactly what was beneath that little skirt. And it wasn't much, he noted with satisfaction.
"Wait!" the Jedi called, bounding after her. Han followed immediately, not wanting to miss a second of whatever was going to happen. He grabbed Leia's hand and dragged her along.
In the lab, Barbee was bending over the body. "Is that a thong?" Leia asked under her breath. "I've heard of them, but... it doesn't look very practical."
Luke was bouncing around the slab as if he didn't know where to stand. As Han got closer, he saw why: Barbee was putting on quite a show, between the black thong at one end and the bosom bursting out of the other.
"Perhaps we should give her a silver platter to carry them on," Leia suggested coldly.
"Which end?" Han whispered. The princess's lips twitched, and they shared an amused glance.
"Luke," she said clearly. "Oh, brother dear! Remember you're a Jedi."
Her twin froze and stared up toward the ceiling, mumbling under his breath and inhaling and exhaling deeply. "Barbee," he murmured when he was again composed, "do you know something about this... creature?"
"It's Ken!" She lifted her head, eyes shining with tears. "He's supposed to be my partner, but he was never finished. He's Ken the Jedi Prince."
"The what?" Luke hands rested on his hips. "There's no such thing as a 'Jedi Prince'. And if there were," he added petulantly, "I would be him."
Barbee ignored his wounded pronouncement. "Can you finish him? I know something went wrong, but... can you fix him... please? I'd be ever so grateful!"
"I have no idea of what -- I'm a Jedi, not a scientist." Luke shook his head. "Do you know what the problem was?"
"Not exactly." She lifted one hip to rest it on the edge of the slab. Han studied her very long legs and put his imagination to good use. "Lord Vader said Ken was shaken, not stirred. But I don't know what he meant by that." Barbee shifted her weight, and the red cloth that covered Ken's privates slipped to the side.
Leia leaned forward. Han stepped in front to block her view. "Nothin' to see, move along," he muttered.
"I'll be the judge of that," she whispered, peering around him.
Luke came to his rescue. "You're making a mess," he complained to Barbee, straightening the cloth to cover the prone male.
She gave him an odd look, but Han figured Luke was used to that reaction by now. "So, Barbee," he said, rubbing his hands together, "you're in the insurance biz."
The other three stared at Han. "What"!" he demanded defensively. "I'm just sayin'... "
Leia sighed and shook her head. "Miss Barbee, I think it's time to tell us why you're really here. You're not selling insurance, are you?"
The bright blue eyes widened, and the young woman blinked. "It's time?" she repeated. "Time? Oh, my stars!" She leaped off the slab and ran to the window. "The sun is going down! Why didn't you tell me? We have to leave quickly!" She rushed for the staircase, the rest of them following on her very high heels.
"Hey -- wait!"
"Where are you going?"
Luke caught her arm at the door. She struggled to free herself. "Please -- let me go! You must go, too! You can't stay here once it gets dark!"
"What happens after dark?" the Jedi asked, using the Force-persuasion voice that almost made Han want to answer him.
Barbee shuddered. "They come," she whispered, her face pale with fear. "Please, let me go."
It was time for the master to intervene. "Honey," Han began persuasively, "we'll protect you, quit worrying. Besides, Luke has no insurance, absolutely none. He'll buy everything you've got to sell."
She looked at him almost pityingly. "They'll come, and they'll keep coming. You will be assimilated. They'll get you, my pretty, and -- " One slender, shaking finger pointed to Leia. " -- your little dog, too."
"What?" Leia was so angry, she was spluttering.
"I'm sure it's just a native expression." He patted her arm comfortingly.
released his grip on the now-tearful Barbee. She flung open the door
and raced down the steps toward the village. "If you're still
alive tomorrow," she called over her shoulder, "we'll talk
about health and life insurance, too!"
"I have a bad feeling about this."
The twins ignored him, and Han silently acknowledged that perhaps he played the pessimist too often. "Seriously," he persisted. "Who do you think 'They' are?"
"Ghosts?" Leia ventured.
"There's no such thing as ghosts." But he looked quickly over his shoulder, just in case.
"I've seen ghosts," Luke whispered. "I've seen Ben and Yoda and... my father."
"Not Vader!" The Jedi scowled at his sister. "Anakin Skywalker. There's a big difference."
"You're not going to start that thing again, are you, insisting that Vader and Anakin are two separate people? They're -- he's the same person!"
Luke drew himself up to his full height, such as it was. "They look and dress completely differently," he said with dignity. "Are you suggesting that I can't tell the difference between Ghost Vader and Ghost Anakin?"
"There's no such thing as ghosts," Han interjected again.
"I agree." For once Leia supported him. "Maybe 'They' are rodents... or gremlins."
"What's a gremlin?" Luke blinked, mystified.
"My first ship was a Gremlin," Han mused dreamily. "I was young, it was small, not much power... but the back seat folded down... it was a real babe magnet." He sighed, reminiscing. Then opened his eyes when he heard the silence.
Leia's arms were folded. "Not that sort of gremlin," she murmured in a deceptively sweet tone.
"You're in trouble!" Luke teased him gleefully.
"Nah," Han scoffed. "Wait and see. I'll pick up a used Gremlin and make her an offer she can't refuse. Right, hon?"
The lights flickered, threatening a blackout before winking on again.
He looked at Luke. "Did you do that?"
The younger man shook his head. "Don't worry, I've -- "
"Who's worryin'? Not me, I'm not worrying!"
" -- I've got my lightsaber. If the lights go out, we can use it for illumination."
"Yeah, until the batteries wear down." Han prowled the parlor, checking behind the furniture.
"It doesn't use batteries," Luke explained patiently. "It has an energizer, so it keeps going and going and going."
"Just the same," Leia began, "maybe we should think about -- "
The lights went out. All the lights.
The complete and utter silence was broken by nothing.
Until a deep, resounding voice from behind them exclaimed:
"Release the hounds!"
Leia gave a tiny shriek. Han was almost positive that the second shriek did not come from him.
The lightsaber blazed on, highlighting Luke's face like a glowing white skull. He was grinning. "I've been practicing ventriloquism. Pretty good, huh?"
The princess gave her brother the kind of look she usually reserved for Han. "I knew it was you."
"Luke," Han interrupted, "is that dust on your shoulders? It really shows up on that black. In fact, it almost looks like... dandruff."
The Jedi's eyes widened in horror and he twisted to look at his shoulders, the saber wobbling in one hand while the other began to brush frantically. "What a mess!"
"You certainly know how to push his buttons," Leia said under her breath.
"Yeah." He grinned. "Watch this." His voice raised. "Looks like you picked the wrong day to stop using dandruff shampoo."
"It's not dandruff! Jedi don't -- We don't have – We -- !"
"I like it when he gets so upset that he can't talk," Leia added conversationally. "Do you think we should take the lightsaber away from him" We wouldn't want an accid -- "
A ripple of sounds silenced her. Han shivered. It had sounded like... thousands of tiny claws tapping on the floor.
Luke turned off the saber.
"Put the light back on!" Leia hissed.
"It's too loud! We can't hear."
Tiny claws, coming ever closer. Coming from the hallway, racing toward the parlor. Coming for them.
"Crabs!" Leia shrieked.
"I don't have crabs," Han objected.
"No -- coming after us! Crabs! Or worse! Put the light back on!"
"What's worse than crabs," Luke grumbled, "lobsters?"
"Turn the friggin' light on!"
"Quit worrying, I'm a Jedi, I'll protect you." But the saber returned to life, bathing their surroundings in its eerie glow. Luke swung it in a slow arc as he inched toward the hall. "I don't see anything."
"Be careful." Leia's voice came from above, and Han looked at her. She was standing on a chair, her long skirt raised to her knees. Damned if she didn't look as fine as Barbee. Maybe even better.
She looked at him. "This is not the time to be thinking about such things!"
"Babe, there's never a wrong time." He gave her a leer that he was certain she would appreciate.
"Oh-oh," Luke said from the hallway as the sound of claws stopped. He backed slowly into the parlor.
"What is it?"
The Jedi gave them a sickly smile. "Remember what Barbee said about Vader's laboratory?"
"And remember that I wondered if Vader was working with clones?"
"Get to the point."
"Well... I guess he had some DNA samples... "
"Umm... me." Luke grimaced. "And, uh... you and... you."
The tapping noises resumed, closer. Luke backed farther into the room.
Leia was breathing quickly. Han wanted to climb onto another chair, but it would be unmanly. He opted for lounging casually against the edge of the table, then sitting on it, then sliding back until his feet were off the floor.
"But," the Jedi continued, "it looks like he had a... problem."
Neither of them bothered to ask. Han didn't really want to know, and he expected that Leia didn't either. But he had another thought. "Do you really want this old place, Luke? It's pretty run down. Maybe we should just leave, go home, fo'gettaboudit, y'know?"
Even as he spoke the words, he knew it was too late. They were doomed. "We're doomed," he pronounced glumly.
Tiny black things swept into view like a flood of evil, shadowy spiders silhouetted in the dimly lit doorway, then they swarmed around Luke, climbing onto his boots, hauling themselves up his legs.
Leia screamed. Han shuddered. Luke lowered the lightsaber slightly.
"They're little... mini-me's," he said wonderingly. "Look! Itty bitty Lukes."
"I'm going to be sick," Leia declared, closing her eyes and swaying.
Han leaned forward, squinting at the black forms. "They're dressed just like you. Hair's blonder, though."
Another influx of tapping feet was heard. More little... people, Han supposed... were running into the room. Little Leias, little Hans.
"This isn't happening," Leia whispered. "This is a nightmare. Why would Vader commit such an atrocity" Oh, he was even more depraved than anyone knew! What sort of villainous monster would do such a thing? Create life in -- "
"They're kinda cute," Han interrupted, sliding off the table and reaching for a squeaking Leia. She balanced on his palm, smiling flirtatiously and swaying her hips. "Real cute. Hey -- ouch!"
A miniature Han had climbed up and sunk his little teeth into Han's thumb. "Okay, okay, I got one my own size, awright? I was just admiring yours. Geez." He shook it off his hand and tried to move away, but more were underfoot. "Hey, I'm walkin' here!"
"Ssssh!" Luke hushed him. "One of them is speaking." He bent low, squinting at the little figures. A tiny Luke waved back at him. Big Luke held out his hand palm up, and the black-clad figure leaped on to it.
Han and Leia crowded closer to listen.
"The Light, the Light!" the figure squeaked, its miniature hand gesturing toward the lightsaber. "But you're not The Maker, you're not the Light Lord!"
"Oh, brother," Han muttered. "Vader, the Light Lord. That'll be the day."
Luke sent him a stern glance, then addressed Little Luke. "Lord Vader has gone to the Light. I am his son, come in his stead." His voice deepened, expanding to fill the room as he added: "I am your Maker now."
Leia rolled her eyes.
A group "ooooh" blew across the room as their small replicas gasped. The one in Luke's hand knelt respectfully on one knee. "We are yours to command, Maker."
Luke's face was impassive as he pondered for a moment, then nodded. "This place is a mess. It needs to be cleaned, and I want it to remain clean. Make it so, Number One."
"Yes, Maker!" Number One Luke did an imperssive Jedi-leap to the floor and waved to the others. "You heard the Maker, let's get to work!"
Han watched with grudging admiration as the tiny people streamed out of the parlor. "Looks like you've got your own Clone Army." He waved his arms. "First Abyssmaul, next the galaxy!"
"Maybe," Luke responded absently, not noticing the sarcasm. "I'm going to see what I can do with Ken."
"I can think of a few things I could do with him," Leia offered brightly. "Want some help?"
Han put his arms around her. "You go ahead," he told the Jedi. "The princess and I will stay down here and find something... nice... to do."
She fluttered her lashes and smiled. "Such as?"
"Such as... I'm starving," he declared. "Let's check out that kitchen again. Say, do you think there's a cantina in this town?"
"Ooooh -- you!" With an aggravated sigh, Leia easily untwisted herself from his embrace and scowled at him before stalking from the room.
I say?" he asked the ceiling before following her.
Han opened one eye and took stock of his surroundings. He opened the other eye and raised his head.
It was still gloomy, but the gloom was lighter. Must be morning. His spine was killing him. Assessing his position, he found he was sprawled on the sofa, balanced dangerously on the edge, with Leia squeezed between him and back cushions. He promptly forgot his pain.
"Not a great position, but workable," he whispered.
Her eyes flew open. "Wha'?"
"You're dreaming, go back to sleep." He wriggled closer.
"Han." Small fists pushed against his shoulders, but without much force. "Not now. Luke is here somewhere... mmm... "
It always amazed him that her lips were so soft. "Forget Luke."
"But he's... mmm... "
"He's not here. But I am, and I'll all a-quiver with antici- "
"But... mmm... "
"Mmmmm... –pation ..."
"I did it!"
Startled, Han jerked and fell off the sofa. "Ow! What? What! Who's there?"
"Me!" Luke appeared in the doorway, beaming, oblivious to their compromising position. "I did it!"
"Well, I didn't." Han shifted in front of Leia as she adjusted her bodice. "What's up, doc?"
"I finished the experiment! I finished Ken! Almost. Come and see!"
It was pitiful, the kind of thing that excited the kid. Just pitiful. He and Leia shared an adult, indulgent look.
"All right, Luke," Leia said patiently. "Let's see what you've done."
The laboratory was dark save for a few candles that did little to banish the gloom. Ken lay motionless on the metal table, resplendent in ivory pants and a matching tunic edged with golden fringe.
"He's dressed." Leia pouted.
Luke nodded. "I found this outfit in the closet."
"I'm surprised you didn't want it for yourself," Han joked.
"It didn't fit." Luke approached the head of the table. "Just one more adjustment and I'll turn him on."
"I could do that," the princess offered.
"Over my dead body," Han muttered.
"Is everyone ready?" Luke was shifting from one foot to the other. Either he was terribly excited or he had to go to the lav in the worst way.
"Go for it," Han instructed.
Luke reached under the clone's neck. There was a click. He stepped back and waited.
"Nothing's happening," Leia pointed out.
"Give it a min -- "
The clone's eyes flew open, then everything happened at once. Ken leaped off the table, his clothes suddenly glittering silver and gleaming, his eyes glowing like iridescent blue moons. He flung open his arms and the house was flooded with light as all the draperies were ripped down. Sun streamed through the windows and as Han looked out, he saw that the heavy clouds had vanished.
"Look!" He pointed outdoors and the twins joined him at the window.
People were running toward the house. They were dressed in brightly colored clothing and most of them had golden hair. In the distance, the village gleamed as though overnight the houses had been freshly painted to reflect the huge yellow orb in the sky. They could hear the sweet, melodious songs of many birds, and small, fluffy woodland creatures were hopping around the yard.
"This sure gives new life to the Corellian saying, 'If you build it, they will come'," Han said admiringly. "Good job, Luke."
But the Jedi was frowning. "I didn't do it. He must have."
They turned to look at the cloned man who smiled at them, revealing blindingly white teeth. "I'm Ken, the Jedi Prince," he announced. "I'm here to rescue you."
"Do we look like we need rescuing?" Leia asked pointedly.
"Oh." He studied them. "Oh. No. Uh... then... I'm here to be your student?" Ken asked uncertainly.
"Jedi student?" Luke's expression brightened. "Are you my first Jedi student? Can you feel the Force?"
"Oh, I feel it, brother, I feel it!" Ken exclaimed.
"As do we all," an unfamiliar voice intoned.
They turned. Against the far wall, sparkling, transparent figures began to appear. Han recognized Ben Kenobi, then there was some little green thing, and a long-haired young hippie, all of them smiling benignly.
"Dead Jedi," Luke explained. "They show up now and again. Hi, Dad!"
The younger ghost waved. "Dude! I mean, Son," he corrected after the green thing frowned at him.
"Oh, my stars!" Leia murmured. "Tell me that isn't... "
"It sure is, our father!" Luke beamed. "So what's all this, Dad?"
"Well," Anakin Skywalker Darth Vader approached and lowered his voice, "see, I, like, made this girl -- "
"Right. I was going for duplicate of your mom, but -- "
"No, no," the ghost said hastily, "Padme was a babe, but she didn't look like that. I got a little carried away. Anyway, then I had to, like, make her a man because I... well, you know, I figured I'd end up a ghost, so I wouldn't be able to... and anyway, like, there was that whole molten lava thing and it burned off my -- "
"We get the picture," Leia interjected quickly.
Anakin grinned. "Thanks, love. By the way, you're the image of your mother. Anywho, I made Ken, intending to, y'know, like, endow them both with some Force abilities like I did with the Little Ones, but I never got around to finishing. I'm so proud of you, Luke-- I knew you could, like, do it, y'know?"
"You were our last hope," Kenobi added in the background.
"No, no, another there is!" the green guy exclaimed, and was ignored by everyone.
"But what am I supposed to -- "
Luke was interrupted by a commotion in the hall. Barbee burst through the doorway. Her short dress was gone, replaced by a magnificent silver ball gown covered with sequins and laced with gold threads. On her head was a glittering tiara and singing bluebirds perched on her shoulders.
They threw their arms around each other and burst into song, "When we're human again, only human again, when the boy fin'lly sets us all freeeeeee! When we cast off this pall, we'll stand straight, we'll walk tall, when we're all that we were, thanks to him!"
Anakin sighed with satisfaction. "Your first students. It's the Jedi Academy you've dreamed of, Son, with your Jedi Prince and Princess and scores of Little Ones. It's, like, the family you've always wanted."
"It is?" Luke asked doubtfully.
"Yes!" Anakin exclaimed enthusiastically. "Lots of brothers and sisters, lots of chocolates for you to eat, lots of coal making lots of heat!"
Luke sighed. "Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit listening to Broadway musicals."
"What's a broadwaymusical?" Han asked Leia, totally lost.
She shrugged. "Just another one of Luke's weird fantasies."
"Let's all go outside," Anakin said brightly, "and share the love."
It was enough to give Han second thoughts about marrying Leia. The rest of his life would be like this -- singing songs, sharing love, having passels of Jedi hanging around. And if they had kids -- "I'm not raisin' my kids Jedi," he warned Leia under his breath as they followed the group down the stairs, carefully stepping over the Little Ones who were busy sweeping with tiny brooms, whistling while they worked.
"What kids?" She blinked, gazing up at him.
"Well... you know... " he stumbled.
Anakin overheard. "You're getting married!" he exclaimed. "My baby is, like, getting married!"
The front doors swung open to reveal all the beautiful people clustered in the street and on the immaculate white veranda that Han was sure hadn't been that way the night before. "My baby is getting married!" Anakin repeated, weeping happily.
The crowd roared its approval. Overhead, silver birds dropped pink and white flowers on the neatly trimmed lawn. Ken and Barbee stepped onto the porch, waving in regal unison. The dead Jedi joined them, and Han was very afraid that everyone would burst into song.
Anakin put his nearly-invisible arm around his son. "I'm so happy! I feel blessed. After all the terrible things I did in my former life, I'm lucky to have such a wonderful family." He glanced around, then lowered his voice. "But y'know, Dude, the Dark Side isn't all bad, it has some terrific bennies -- ouch! Oww! Okay, don't have a cow, man!"
Arms flailing, Anakin tumbled to the floor, trying to fend off a mean stick that the green guy was beating him with. "Awright, awright! Help, I've Fallen and I can't get up!"
"Yoda," Luke remonstrated with a sigh. "You're makin' a mess. Stop."
"Bah! Bad Jedi is he! Naughty, needs discipline! Spank him I must!"
Luke reached down and pulled his father up. Anakin looked distinctly miffed and stalked over to Kenobi, where he began whining and pointing to Yoda. Han sidled next to Luke. "How're you going to handle all this? It's not too late to sneak away."
"I can't leave! This is my father's legacy to me."
Han crossed his arms. "It looks like a big job."
"It looks like a job for Superman." Luke smiled confidently as Leia joined them. "I can handle it. So -- when's the wedding? We'll have it here. I'll officiate."
Han sighed. Leia tucked her arm around his. "Like everything else, I'm certain that weddings were invented by Corellians, isn't that right, dear?"
He was at his best when he was outnumbered; he was the winner of just about every hopeless battle. But even a Corellian knew when to surrender.
"That's right, sweetheart," he answered bravely. "A wedding it is. As long as we can get Ken and Barbie's tailor to make our outfits."
There. He felt better already.
Solo, Jedi Consort. The title had a certain flare -- or, as Luke
would say in the throes of one of his weird fantasies, a certain je
ne sais quoit -- that he knew would suit him.