Instead of bed, where she usually awoke from her dreams, Leia found herself slumped forward in her crash webbing, ears hissing with static and eyes aching from the glare of two G-class suns. Han and Chewbacca were still busy at their stations, Han plotting approach vectors and Chewbacca setting sensor filters. The planet Tatooine was just drifting into view, its yellow sodium-rich sands glowing so brightly it resembled a small sibling star in orbit around the big twins.
A metallic hand tapped Leia’s shoulder. She turned to see C-3PO’s photoreceptors shining at her from the adjacent passen- ger seat.
“Pardon me for asking, Princess Leia, but are you well?”
“Don’t I look well?”
“Oh dear,” C-3PO replied, a diplomatic subroutine activating in response to her tone of voice. “Why yes, you do look as splendid as ever, but it seemed for a moment as though you might have overloaded your primary circuits.”
“My circuits are fine.”
“I’ll need to confirm that later.” Han twisted around and glanced over his seat with the same crooked smile that had alternately charmed and worried Leia since their first meeting on the Death Star. “Princess.”
“Oh, really?” Leia straightened herself in her chair without fully realizing she was doing it. With his tough-guy good looks and eyes sparkling with trouble, Han still made her sit up and take notice. “And you think you can read my schematics?”
“Sweetheart, I know your schematics by heart.” Han’s smile faded, and his expression grew concerned. “Threepio’s right. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Something like that. A bad dream.”
Han looked doubtful. “I’ve sat in that chair. That chair isn’t comfortable enough for dreams–good or bad.”
“It’s been a long trip,” Leia said, perhaps a little too quickly. “I must have nodded off.”
Han regarded her a moment longer, then shrugged. “Well, see if you can stay awake.” He looked forward again, to where the twin suns were slowly being eclipsed by Tatooine’s steadily swelling disk. “Until the sensors come up, we need to keep an eye out for other traffic.”
Leia gazed out the canopy and began to search for the rapidly swelling silhouette of blocked starlight that would mean an approaching vessel. Her thoughts remained focused on the strange dream. It had a similar feel to the Force-vision she had experienced nearly five years earlier at Bakura, when her father had sent an apparition begging for the forgiveness she would never–could never–grant. But that had been his doing, not hers.
Han’s hand rose into view between the pilot and copilot’s seats, pointing toward a blocky silhouette floating some distance to one side of Tatooine’s yellow disk. The twin suns were now completely hidden behind the planet, and Leia could see that the tiny silhouette was growing larger as they approached. It seemed to be staying in the same place relative to Tatooine, deliberately hanging in the shadow of the planet.
“That’s too square to be a moon,” Han said.
“And it’s no asteroid, not hanging in one place like that,” Leia added. “But at least it doesn’t seem to be coming our way.”
“Yet,” Han replied. “How about those filters, Chewie?”
An impatient rumble suggested that the Wookiee was still struggling with the filters. Anyone else might have been frightened, but Leia found the groan reassuring, a touch of the familiar in a time of shifting alliances and random annihilation. When she had married Han six months ago, she had known Chewbacca would be an honorary member of their family, and that was fine with her. Over the years she had come to think of the Wookiee as something of a furry big brother, always loyal to Han and protective of her, and now she could not hear him growl without feeling that she lived in a safer place, that with Chewbacca and Luke and Han–when he was in the mood–and millions of others like them, the New Republic would beat back the Empire’s latest onslaught and one day bring peace to the galaxy.
That, and she liked how Wookiee fur always smelled of tril- lium soap.
The comm hiss finally fell silent as Chewbacca found the right combination of filters. He brought the sensors up, fiddled a moment longer, then let out a startled ruumph.
“The mass calibration is off,” Han said. “That reads like a Star Destroyer.”
Chewbacca oowralled indignantly, then sent the data read- out to the auxiliary display beside Leia’s seat and glanced back for her affirmation. She had to look only a second to see that he was correct.
“Sixteen hundred meters, six comm bands in use, and a TIE squadron circling on station,” Leia said, feeling a little sick and worried. When the Millennium Falcon came across a Star Destroyer these days, it was usually because one was stalking the other. “I don’t know, Han. The mass calibration looks fine to me.”
As she spoke, the Falcon’s computer found a profile match in its military data banks and displayed the schematic of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer. Below the image appeared the vessel’s name.
“The Chimaera,” Han read. “Isn’t she still in service to the Empire?”
“As of two months ago, she was one of their most efficient Destroyers.” Leia did not need to look up the information. The death of Warlord Zsinj eight months earlier had emboldened the Imperial fleet, and the Provisional Council had been mired in war minutiae ever since. “Admiral Ackbar has been wondering what became of her.”
“Deserters?” Han caught her eye in the canopy reflection. “Another captain wanting to set himself up as a warlord?”
“Please, no! The situation out here is already too confused.” With the New Republic battling the Imperials over the scraps of Zsinj’s empire and the surviving warlords exploiting the war to enlarge their own territories, confused was an understatement. Several times, the New Republic Navy had moved against one enemy to find itself engaging another, and sometimes two or three at once. “And the Chimaera’s commander isn’t the type. By all accounts, Gilad Pellaeon is both loyal and competent.”
“Then what’s he doing at Tatooine?” Han asked. “There isn’t a conflict zone within fifty systems of here.”
Chewbacca groaned the opinion that it was someone else’s job to analyze Imperial objectives, then began to plot hyperspace coordinates. Leia braced herself, more concerned with Han’s reaction than Chewbacca’s when she explained why they still had to risk a run planetside.
She was spared the necessity when Han scowled at the Wookiee’s flying fingers.
“Chewie! I can handle this, no problem.” Han looked vaguely insulted. “It’s only one little Star Destroyer.”
Chewbacca grunted doubtfully, then added a yawl about the folly of tempting fate for a piece of art.
“Killik Twilight means a lot to Leia,” Han said. “It hung in the palace on Alderaan.”
Chewbacca growled a long question that suggested they might be flying into a trap; the painting might not even be real.
“You can’t forge moss-paintings,” Leia answered. “Not anymore. They require strains that don’t spread or reproduce, the cultivation of which was a closely guarded secret even in Aldera. That secret died with the rest of Alderaan.”
“You see?” Han asked. “Besides, if the Imperials were trying to lure Leia to Tatooine, they wouldn’t leave their Star Destroyer out in the open like that.”
Han pointed at the tiny silhouette of the Chimaera, which had started an edgeward drift across the canopy as the Falcon eased past it toward the planet. Chewbacca stubbornly shook his head, reminding them of the syren plant on his native Kashyyyk, which drew victims to certain death with a scent so alluring it could not be resisted.
“Not a certain death,” Han corrected. “Or there wouldn’t be so many Wookiees in the galaxy.”
Never one whose purpose could be deflected by humor, Chewbacca reiterated the questions that had been troubling them all since learning of the auction. Why was such a valuable painting being sold in a seedy spaceport like Mos Espa? Where had it been all these years? Why was it surfacing now?
The answers were a mystery–as much a mystery as the Star Destroyer’s appearance here. At the time of Alderaan’s destruction, Killik Twilight had been returning home from a museum loan on Coruscant. It had dropped out of sight, and Leia had believed the painting destroyed with her home–at least until Lando Calrissian reported that it would soon be offered at auction on Tatooine.
Chewbacca continued to press his case, maintaining that the Chimaera’s presence was no coincidence. With an Imperial Star Destroyer hanging off Tatooine, there would almost certainly be Imperials at the auction. The argument was all too sensible, and–though Chewbacca clearly did not realize this–one that made it all the more imperative that Leia attend the sale herself. She leaned forward and grasped the Wookiee’s shoulder, and his tirade rumbled to an end.
“Chewie, everything you say makes sense. The Star Destroyer worries me, too. If this were just any piece of Alderaanian art, I wouldn’t ask you to take the risk. But for Killik Twilight, I must.”
Chewbacca studied her in the canopy...