"Lando, she's not going to go for this," Han Solo told his "friend", Lando Calrissian.
"Of course she will. Trust me," Calrissian replied, eagerly working the Millennium Falcon's food processors. "I've shown her how generous I am, and now I'll show her that I can cook, too."
"Sure, great cook. The Falcon's doing all the work. You're just picking the courses."
"You laugh, but a fancy meal will impress any lady, no matter who does the actual cooking."
"I'm not so sure about THIS lady, Lando."
"We'll just see about that. I'll bet she'll be snuggling next to me within an hour."
"Lando, you're really serious about this, aren't you?"
"Of course I am. Do you think I would have given the Falcon back to you if I wasn't?"
"This has gone far enough. Lando, you just leave Mara alone. She's not interested in you. Besides, I thought you didn't trust her."
"Han, can't a man change his mind? Anyway, why should you care if I'm trying to impress Mara? I mean, you and Leia are happy..."
"Don't even THINK about that. But there IS something about Mara that you ought to know..."
"Don't worry, I know all about her. The good stuff, I like, the bad stuff, well, I can live with."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that."
"Oh, come on, what could possibly hinder our future relationship?"
Just before he answered, Han stopped short, and realized what he was doing. Who am I trying to protect? he asked himself. Mara? She's more than capable of taking care of herself. Lando would definitely get nowhere with her. Lando? Why should I protect Lando? In fact, it might be fun to watch...
"Never mind. Sorry I mentioned it. You'll just have to find out for yourself," Han said with satisfaction. It would be great to see the look on Lando's face when he found out on his own, when and if he did.
"Han, I don't know what you're up to, but all I ask is that you leave us alone. Just stay out. Lock yourself in the cockpit or something."
"Hey, the Falcon is MY ship. You just gave her back to me. I'll go wherever I please on her."
"Well, all right. I won't bug you. You just behave yourself, okay?"
"Of course I will," Lando said with a sly grin, as he carried several platters of assorted delicacies to the table he had set.
"Don't say I didn't warn you. I'll be in the cockpit if you need me."
It was certainly a nicely planned meal. Possibly even impressive. But Mara Jade was not one to be won over by such things. Talon Karrde had tried it once, and it didn't work then, either. Lando, of course, had no way of knowing this. Little by little through the course of the meal, he had slid around the circular cushioning that surrounded the Falcon's holographic game table, now covered with plates of delicious and exotic food. Mara had noticed it, but didn't say anything until Lando slid his hand onto her thigh.
"Calrissian, take your hand off of my leg," she said in a strangely calm voice.
"Why? I'm just being friendly," said the gambler with a smile.
"Take it off, or I'll cut it off," Mara replied, her voice still calm, but with a hint of a threat in it.
"Oh, come on - I won't hurt you..."
The sudden appearance of Mara's blue-white lightsaber blade stopped Lando cold. "No, but I might have to hurt you."
"All right, all right!" Lando said, quickly moving back to the far side of the table.
Mara held up the lightsaber for a while, staring at it, and giving Lando the impression she wanted him to have. She then shut it down and said, as if nothing had happened. "So, you were talking about a possible business future for the two of us..."
Lando, thrown a little off guard, managed to clumsily reply. "Uh, yeah. I have this idea that we - that is, you and I - would be perfect partners for running the Kessel spice mines. It would be very profitable, but it will take a lot of hard work, and we'll have to put in long hours, just the two of us, to get it running properly. Hey, with us running the mines, I'm sure they would make more money than we could possibly count. So, what do you think?"
"I think that you have the brains of a Bantha if you think I would even consider going into business with you. I guess no one has told you that you happen to be a bad business risk."
"Says every smuggler in the Smuggler's Alliance. Your businesses are seen as Imperial bait. Need I remind you about Bespin and Nkklon?"
"It wasn't my fault! Besides that, I didn't have a partner. Together, we could go places. Wait a minute..."
Lando got up, looking like he had just remembered something important. He quickly walked over to the sealed hatch of the room, and pressed the button to open it, revealing Han Solo.
"Uh... just stopped by to pick up some hydrospanners. I think I left them in here."
"Sure you did."
"I did! They're right over there. I'll get them and leave."
Han walked across the room to pick up his tools. As he picked up the box, he and Mara exchanged subtle gestures and facial expressions ridiculing Lando. They understood each other perfectly well, and were subtle enough that Lando never even noticed.
"Looks like they're all here. See you later, Lando."
"You stay away from that door. And no intercoms! I'll be checking!"
Han left with a sly grin of his own. This was fun.
"Han would be a much better business partner for you," Mara said, after Han had left. "After all, the two of you go way back. Unless, of course, you have more than merely business in mind."
"Why, whatever do you mean?"
"Give it up, Calrissian. I know all about your ulterior motives. Did you honestly think you could fool me? This ridiculously fancy meal? That stunt you pulled with the Falcon?"
"You mean you weren't impressed?"
"I'll admit, I was surprised when you gave it back to him after winning it, but then I easily figured out exactly what you were planning."
"Was I that obvious?"
"Even if you weren't, I could sense it."
Lando realized his mistake. Of course he couldn't put one over Mara so easily. Her Jedi skills allow her to read intentions, and his were so lightly shielded, they might as well have been a neon billboard.
"Oh, and on the topic of sensing... I'm afraid I'll have to inform Han about your little scam."
"What scam? What are you talking about?"
"That Sabacc game was fixed, and you did it."
"How can you say such a thing? I have a good reputation! Well, sure, I'm a gambler, and occasionally I'll con someone, but I never cheat in a Sabacc match."
"You should have thought of that before you cheated."
He couldn't argue with her. He could just plead.
"Don't tell Han! Please! He'll ruin me! Please don't let him ... or anyone ... Know!"
"Well, I am a Jedi in training, and a Jedi is supposed to be a guardian of justice and all that..."
"Okay. Since you gave it back to him, I guess there's no permanent harm done..."
"Thank you! You're a life saver! In fact, I could kiss you..."
"Don't start that again. Now, there is the matter of your intentions. I know that you planned to cheat and give it back: first of all to try to impress me, and secondly, to clear your conscience. But using Han like this ... he deserves an apology."
"But I CAN'T apologize to him! He would spread it all over the galaxy to get even."
"Which you deserve. Well, if you won't apologize yourself, I guess he'll just have to be told by someone else."
"But you said you wouldn't tell!"
"You tell, or I will."
"Can't we work a deal? If you keep quiet, I'll give you fifty percent of the Kessel spice profits, and you won't have to put in any work at all. That okay?"
"Sounds like you're trying to bribe me. Imagine - Lando Calrissian, the great con man, reduced to bribery. I don't know whether to feel proud or offended. I've told you before, I don't want any part in one of your ventures. Profitable as the spice mines may be, you'll lose them and your profits in no time at all. Of course, it's NEVER your fault. Anyway, this is quite an unusual position we're in. I think I will make a deal with you. If you tell Han, or do me a favor that I will designate, I won't say anything. Otherwise, I drop the hammer on you. Is it a deal?"
"Wait a minute. You accuse me of bribery, yet you go and try to blackmail me. Not a very Jedi-like thing, I'm sure. I'll have to bring this up with Luke when I see him again," said Lando, seeing his opportunity to turn the tables on Mara.
Mara was unfazed. "It's not blackmail, precisely. I won't ask for anything illegal, just a bit - distasteful. Besides, I'm teaching you a lesson in honesty. On top of that, all you have to do is apologize to Han, and you owe me nothing. Think about it."
Lando was considering how to respond to this, but stopped suddenly when he noticed an abrupt change in Mara. She seemed distant, almost as if she wasn't really there.
"Mara, what's wrong?"
She didn't reply. Instead, she stood up, very weakly, and headed toward the hatch.
"Where are you going?"
Mara still didn't reply. She went through the hatch and into the Falcon's cockpit.
"Had enough of Lando, huh?" Han asked as she slowly sat in the copilot seat.
"Han," she said, her voice weak and strained. "Turn around. We have to go back."
"What? Why?" shouted Lando, who had just arrived.
"Something terrible has happened. Luke is hurt. I have to go to him."
"I understand," Han said as he began working on turning the Falcon around.
"I don't," said Lando. "I thought you had to meet with Karrde."
"Karrde can wait. I have to get back to Luke. I hope I'm not too late."
Lando was cut off by the signal of an incoming emergency message. If a message was sent to them in hyperspace, it must be important. Han knew who it was before he answered it.
"Han, are you still on Yavin 4?" came Leia's voice.
"No. But we're heading there."
"Good. Something terrible has happened to Luke. He's hurt, and probably dying."
"I know. That's why we're heading back."
"You know? But how? Is Mara with you?"
"Yes. I'm right here."
"Mara, you're closer to Luke than I am. Do you still sense him?"
"No. I felt his pain, and then he seemed to disappear."
"You have to find him! If he's still alive, he's going to need you. Han, take Mara straight to Yavin. I'll have the first ship available bring me to meet you there. Please hurry."
The message ended without Leia's typical good-bye to Han. But considering the circumstances, Han couldn't fault her for that.
"Hurry, Han," Mara said.
"Okay, I'm pushing her to the limit. Lando, go back and keep an eye on the hyperdrive motivators. Let me know if they start acting up. My gauges up here don't go high enough. The Falcon should be able to make a speed run, but I want to know if anything starts going wrong."
"Yeah, all right," said Lando as he left the cockpit. Well, my fling with Mara is over before it began, he thought to himself. He got the odd feeling that he'd missed something important about her concern for Luke, but he couldn't quite figure out what it was. Or, perhaps, he didn't want to figure it out.