Saga Homecoming

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by nickamano, May 19, 2013.

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  1. nickamano Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2009
    Star Wars: Homecoming.
    From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker.
    By Nickamano
    This story takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back - following Luke's trip to Ord Mantell and prior to the Rebel's setting up their base on Hoth:
    1.
    The passage of time is all but meaningless in space. There are no visible signs of it, ignoring the fixed chronometers inside star ships, no natural light changes, no seasons or changes in temperature. Besides, those same fixed chronometers change to planet-time automatically when entering orbit. You could leave a planet at dawn, travel for an hour and arrive on another world in the middle of the night, or at sunset, or an hour before dawn, making you feel you had lost a day, or countless days, or even travelled backward in time. And Hyperspace travel is measured in the passage of hours or days and recorded as a measure of distance. It was something that Luke Skywalker was still trying to get used to.
    Prior to his introductory trip on board the Millennium Falcon, the trip that started him off on his life changing journey, he hadn't really travelled off-world before.
    The other thing he was finding the need to get used to was the cold. Even with the interior ship's heaters active he felt it. Because of coming from a hot desert planet he supposed.
    He tried to dress warmly choosing from the handful of Biggs’ posthumously donated belongings.
    Over a sky blue shirt and multi-pocketed, clay coloured utility trousers, he wore a thickly padded and insulated tan and clay jacket, similar in design to the one he'd worn for the post Death Star battle award ceremony and it had the same kind of cut and sleeve ribbing. He had it fastened up to his throat and he was still cold, barely shaking off a wintry shiver. Not that he would really know what a wintry shiver felt like, coming from Tatooine.
    Sitting low in the well padded pilot’s seat, he was hunched forward, arms crossed around his slender torso, hands trapped under his armpits to warm them.
    Luke had been given a ship of his own. Not a one man snub fighter like the T-65 he had piloted against the Death Star, this was a passenger freighter, similar in class and size to Han's Heap-of-Junk.
    This one, also of Corellian construction, was a YT-1500 a linear model variation on the YT-1300 that Han’s ship had started out as. This transport also carried the rather strange designation: Serpion Helletic.
    The linear design was at the same time comforting - as it was easy to find your way around, and dull - there was none of the mystique developed by the Falcon's almost maze-like interior layout.
    The Serpion Helletic was a straight line. A single central corridor provided access to all portions of the ship, the chambers located to starboard and port of the central main hold, like ribs from a sternum. An engineering and medical bay were situated aft, just forward of the sublight engines, followed by a bisecting cross corridor, encompassing the starboard and port docking rings and the egress ramp. Then the main corridor continued the length of the ship, dividing the four central cargo holds, two on each side, before opening out into the main hold.
    Two of the four cargo holds had been converted to passenger accommodation and a head, while the other two carried consumables, supplies and spare parts.
    The dual turbo laser turret access ladder was fore of the main hold, as it narrowed back into the central corridor and finally terminated at the cockpit, which was just about identical to the Falcon's, though with a fresher finish and devoid of a lot of the extra features Han had implanted into his own ship.
    Artoo Detoo was positioned just behind the rear left passenger seat, plugged into the Helletic’s navigational computer, checking through software routines and, on Luke's instruction, seeing where possible improvements could be made.
    The assigned co-pilot, Livelle Oren, was a thirty-something, slightly grizzled Alderaanian auxiliary and light freighter pilot. He had recently lost his wife during a meaningless skirmish against an Imperial patrol on one of the core worlds and therefore was in no mood to do anything but sit and brood after loosing every member of his family and almost all of his friends when Alderaan had been destroyed.
    It was understandable of course, he was grieving, but Luke was excited about the mission and his youthful exuberance had been rubbing Oren up the wrong way since he'd taken his seat in the cockpit.
    Now he was complaining about the ambient temperature Luke had set, and then suddenly, in an obvious huff, said he was going to check on things aft. He abruptly left his seat and immediately afterward, the cockpit. Almost knocking Artoo flying in the flurry of his hasty, bad tempered departure and leaving the co-pilot's seat practically spinning on it's axis in his wake.
    Luke found himself alone with his thoughts. He did feel guilty about how he'd not been able to make the soldier feel any better, but realistically he knew there wouldn't be anything that could, and that it wasn't Luke he was angry with in the first place.
    At the same time, however, Luke had always been good at accidentally rubbing people up the wrong way.
    It had been the case with most of his friends back home.
    Looking back on things as he recollected, Biggs had been the only one who seemed to understand him. Understand his passions, his excitement over things the others found mundane. Biggs had displayed a level of patience toward Luke the others never had, had allowed Luke to shoot his mouth off, and dance around with details before he finally got around to the crux of the matter. None of the others seemed to have shared that ability or patience with Luke.
    Tank had shown more patience than most, but that was more due to his respect for Luke's ability in a Skyhopper than anything deeper.
    Secretly Luke had always yearned for the sort of respect Biggs had shown him developing in Camie but in reality she was often the worst of the lot. And Fixer, acutely aware (though thankfully silent) of Luke's obvious feelings for Camie, had always been slightly suspicious of him and all too often took pleasure in verbally degrading him too.
    Luke wondered for a while how he had always thought so highly of that bunch. In reality it was only Biggs who had given him much more than the time of day.
    And now Biggs was gone. And he enjoyed more regard and respect from Leia, Han and Chewcacca and newer friends like Wedge Antillies and Toryn Farr, than he had ever been afforded by his so called friends on Tatooine.
    He was missing Toryn since he'd returned to the fleet from Ord Mantell. Half it's strength had split away to make the possibility of tracking more difficult and Toryn had been assigned to the organisational command staff on the departed half of the fleet. They would meet up again on the new base, of course, but who knew what would happen then. Things in his life were moving so fast these days and so unpredictably that planning for a possible future was nothing more than a dream. The same sort of dreams he'd wasted his time on, standing on those sand dunes at sun's-set at his old homestead.

    Luke found himself with a sudden realisation - that he actually missed his home and he felt a sudden momentary need to feel a connection to the place again. To see the garage, or his sleeping quarters. Even feel the hot air blasting his skin, the dry patter of sand showers. And that often dreamed of view of those two setting suns bathing in the dancing heat haze of the horizon. There was nothing there for him any longer and he knew it, but it had been the only place he'd known and felt comfortable in before the Empire had changed the course of his life.
    He turned to the navigational charts and flicked through the on screen display, picking out quadrants, systems and planets at random, selecting systems he had heard of and trying to familiarise himself with them more fully. He was quickly surprised at how close the Gesuun system to which they were headed, was to that of his home world and then that nostalgic yearning had him looking more closely at the chart entry for Tatooine, the twin binary stars and their surrounding planets and moons.
    Gesuun was another of those insignificant systems about halfway between Tatooine and Rothana. Very little of interest there and only one inhabitable location. The third moon of the planet Murkas was three quarters oceanic, the rest was tundra. There was nothing significant, other than the natives, who were generally farmers by trade. The oceans had a high salt content so the only drinkable water came from rainfall and any streams fuelled by rainfall.
    According to the navigational history text, early on settlers had tried to form a business in partnership with Tatooine, trying to harvest the water and transport it to the desert world for cultivation. But a reaction between the natural heat of one world and the salt content of the other caused the water to turn toxic and the business fell through so settlers' interest in the potential wealth of both Outer rim worlds dried up quickly. Only a few settlers, probably those too poor to leave, remained behind to farm along with the Humanoid natives.
    Luke found himself reading the texts of both Murkas 3 and Tatooine over and over. Even their respective Hyperspace coordinates settled into his brain. He supposed the idea of being so close to home was probably influencing his subconscious in some way.
    He thought about the last time he'd seen Biggs on their home world, and realised abruptly that it had been the start of it all. That outer orbit space battle that he had later learned had been Princess Leia failing to reach Ben Kenobi on Tatooine. Instead she'd been captured and taken to the Death Star, leaving behind her droids to incidentally ensnare both Ben and then Luke into the Rebellion war.
    Luke had been on one of the moisture fields repairing a vaporator when he'd seen the battle through his macrobinoculars. He had gone shooting over to Anchorhead to tell his friends about it.
    At the time he had mostly wanted to impress Camie, he remembered thinking about her on the trip across the dunes to their little Toche Station hang-out on the outskirts of Anchorhead, picturing her relaxing back on one of the sales office recliners, his imagination rolling exquisitely across her sultry curves and pronounced beauty.
    But once he'd got to the station and he had spotted Biggs, all thoughts of Camie had been whipped out of his mind by the new excitement - of the surprise return of his best friend. Then followed the disappointment at the prospect of it being the last time he would see his friend and worrying thoughts of Biggs trying to jump ship and join the Rebel Alliance.
    But he had done exactly that. And a day or two later, thanks to Artoo and Threepio, Luke had done the same thing.
    And now here he was captaining his own ship and employed as a Rebel General's pilot and bodyguard.
    <><><>
    The final mission briefing took place on the chime of the hour in the dimly illuminated main hold.
    Artoo Detoo remained in the cockpit, monitoring the autopilot and the Navigational computers, while the four Humans occupied the main hold, forming a loose circle.
    General Dodonna and his aide sat on the padded semicircular couch beside the ubiquitous Dejarik game board that, at this time, played host to a holo-emitter and their beverages.
    Oren, the Alderaanian co-pilot, took possession of one of the fold-down seats bolted to the starboard bulkhead, opposite the General. Luke took the swivelling seat that was bolted down in front of the main hold's engineering station, alongside the General and aide.
    An expectant silence fell once everyone was seated, only broken by the natural metabolic sounds and guttural vibrations of a star ship in hyperspace.
    All eyes were on the General, as always, whenever he entered a room or opened his mouth to speak but at the moment he was exchanging subdued words with his aide.
    “…Very well then,” The General said, his gravelly voice rising in volume to encompass Luke and Oren, announcing the conclusion of the private exchange. “Let’s begin.”
    “This should be a simple low risk operation, but with the Empire we always need to take precautions. That’s why you, Commander Skywalker and you, Lieutenant Oren, have been assigned to me as well.”
    Luke glanced across at Oren, who was field stripping his DH-17 service sidearm.
    He was dressed in, from what Luke had gathered, was standard Alderaan Defence Force uniform - grey utility trousers, blue high-collar shirt, black waistcoat, brown utility belt and black boots. There was a long grey coat folded in his lap with another blaster laid across it, which seemed to be next in line for cleaning and checking. His eyes lifted to the General’s when his name was voiced but the field strip and check went on without pause.
    “We do not anticipate any problems, but it’s best to be prepared. As you know your destination is a hamlet town on Murkas 3, I’m meeting up with an old acquaintance named Blissex. The plan is to sit at a café table and chat. And then go our separate ways. And that’s all.”
    “So you’re just worried about being identified as a member of the Alliance?” Luke put in. And was immediately taken over by Oren’s addendum.
    “Or recognised by spies, sympathisers, Bounty Hunters, criminals, Black Sun, locals wanting to bolster their finances…”
    Luke’s gaze snapped over at the older Human who shrugged and lifted up the other blaster. It was a larger carbine, fat and bulky with a wide pulse adaptor cowl over the barrel and a folding stock. Though inexperienced with small arms, Luke used to have a data pad catalogue passed to him from Biggs that contained specs and diagrams of most contemporary civilian and military weaponry and he recognised the design as an old Merr-Sonn L1A.
    “There is an Imperial base not far away…” The Aide put in.
    He was aged somewhere between Oren and Dodonna, greying hair and a pale, lined face. He was dressed in a long sleeveless blue robe, open fronted, which revealed a simple pale blue shirt and immaculately cut cerulean trousers and black boots. He was unarmed and carried a large data pad style tablet cradled in one arm.
    The General, himself wearing tan and cream garments with over robes and brown boots, nodded at his aide’s comment but gave it little more in the way of attention.
    “The main concern is the man I’m meeting. He is technically employed by the Empire. I trust him but if he’s followed or his plan to meet me found out beforehand, we could all be walking into a trap.” Dodonna elaborated gravely.
    “In that case, we spring the trap and shoot our way out!” Oren grunted matter-of-factly.
    Then he slapped the large power pack into the matt black carbine and flicked the activation switch, as if to prove the validity of his assurance.
    General Dodonna grunted but said nothing. Luke thought the noise seemed slightly disapproving.
    <><><>
    They were still an hour from orbit and there was little else to do in that time but everyone attempted to busy themselves nonetheless.
    Luke wandered around his ship proudly, it was almost familiar to him, due to the similarity with the Millennium Falcon, he supposed.
    That same dim illumination that created a sense that you were in metallic cave. That spicy under-scent of engine oil and plasteel. That slightly grimy texture under foot, like a light mixture of grease and dust. The conditioned heat trying and failing, at least for him, to hold back the omnipresent cold of space. The recycled air that was almost but not quite stale.
    Holds three and four were full of assorted sized crates of what was probably none descript stuff. Spare parts, sealed containers that could contain just about anything imaginable but was more than likely boring everyday junk.
    Though to the rear of hold four, near the cargo doors that opened directly to the docking ring cross-corridor, was a small thirty year old FC-20 speeder bike.
    At first glance Luke noticed the bike had been fitted with an additional sensor cluster and an improved, more modern, repulsor drive.
    One of the ship’s ceiling lights was above the speeder and cast it’s beam across the semi circular chassis, dust motes dancing in the artificial gravity. The transport was old with a dull finish but seemed relatively well maintained.
    Luke turned away and stepped through the sliding door that brought him to the rear of the ship, right next to the sealed boarding ramp, the entrance to the engineering and medical bays was to his right along the opposite bulkhead.
    The main hold was behind him and he could just about hear the muted conversation of the General and his aide over the thrumming vibration and noise of the engines to the rear.
    Luke turned his back on the engineering room and headed toward the front of the ship, taking the third starboard door into the pilot’s quarters.
    He half expected Oren to be inside but the co-pilot wasn’t. Maybe he was in the cockpit. The pilot’s quarters was a small square chamber with two bunks that formed an 'L' shape against the left and far wall with closet and cupboard space built into the bunk surround.
    And, as captain, Luke also had an extra floor to ceiling closet at the foot of his bunk.
    Not that he needed that much room, his own meagre belongings barely took up half of the closet space available to him.
    He sat on his padded bunk with it’s neatly tucked in covers and pulled open a drawer beside his booted feet. Inside was the blaster rig that Biggs had left him posthumously. Holstered in it was the DL-44 that Han had donated not long after.
    Luke leaned with his back against the wall of his bunk and drew the BlasTech pistol. He checked the power pack and the gas chamber were to capacity and powered up and then re-holstered the heavy weapon. Before belting the rig securely to his hip.
    The lightsaber was kept separate to his other belongings, his most prized possession, a gift from his friend and mentor and the only direct connection to his deceased Father.
    According to Ben, Anakin Skywalker had held, carried and fought with this weapon, maintained it and cared for it. His fingerprints would have been on it’s surface, his essence imbibed into it’s chrome and plasteel. When he held the cold and heavy device, sometimes he could swear he could almost feel his father’s presence, the way a familiar taste or smell can conjure a long forgotten memory.
    There was a wide horizontal pocket in the back of his utility jacket, probably designed to house tools, and it was the perfect fit for the lightsaber. He pushed open the flap in the inside of the lining and sheathed the eleven inch hilt, it fit snugly into the concave curve of the small of his back, well concealed and comfortable.
    After dropping some food capsules into one utility belt pouch and a comlink into another, he resurfaced into the main hold and then headed for the cockpit to join his co-pilot for the hyperspace descent into the Gesuun system.
    <><><>
    Manual piloting of a starship was essentially the same as flying an airspeeder and Luke had taken to the skills like a natural.
    Engines provided thrust, repulsors and thrusters provided manoeuvrability and the basic cockpit controls were more or less the same.
    More complicated flight like Hyperspace travel was all but controlled by automated navigational computers anyway, all the pilot had to do was punch in the co-ordinates.
    As for landing, the only differences lay in the use of manoeuvring thrusters in place of less powerful repulsors, timing and details like the lowering of the landing gear. The difficulties like micro-meteors and gravitational influences on course were all controlled automatically.
    Almost all space fairing craft were vertical take off and landing and any uncertainty in position over a landing platform or docking bay only required a deep breath, patience and a light touch on the control yoke.
    Luke activated the sensor computer to complete the Orbital Assessment to acquire a safe orbital trajectory pass through the Gesuun system to an orbital descent of Murkas’ third moon.
    He flew the Serpion Helletic without incident through the upper atmosphere and emerged from the high, white on grey, cloud bank.
    Rain droplets were heavy within the blue dawn between upper and lower cloud layers, casting chaotic rainbows of colour in all directions across the viewport.
    A shadow abruptly passed across the lower blanket of the all concealing grey white cloud, it was vaguely rectangular in shape and seemed to be shrinking in size while growing in density.
    Luke felt a tingle pass through his body, he watched numbly as the shadow darkened then burst free of the cloud right into his path of descent.
    It was a passenger transport, a privately owned and obviously souped up Aavman 11 series Yacht, some rich playboy’s pride and joy taken out for a joy ride. It was already opening up with it‘s sub-light‘s and was maintaining a dangerous and very illegal departure course, it‘s trajectory certain to collide with Luke‘s freighter.
    And by the time Luke realised he would have to take evasive action to avoid a certainly fatal crash, it was already too late.
    Fortunately, the tingle in his hands had done the job for him, or more accurately, the Force had given him a heads up.
    Subconsciously, while his eyes were absorbing light through the viewport and his brain interpreting the meaning behind what he was seeing, The Force had taken over his body and smoothly drawn the control yoke about, veering the Helletic around and down so it dipped below and away from the speeding Yacht.
    Luke’s eyes caught up sometime later when the Corellian freighter was burrowing through the lower bank of cloud in Murkas’ lower atmosphere.
    He silently marvelled at what had happened. This kind of thing - preemptively reacting to something that was about to happen, had occurred a number of times over the years - leaving him wondering, impressed and slightly afraid. At least now, following Ben’s revelations about the Force and his natural affinity with it, he understood what was happening and why.
    A second later and the lower cloud blanket dissipated from the viewport and the main continent on the Murkas’ moon was revealed, laid out before him, bathed in the brilliant sun’s light and he was once again the conscious pilot, looking over readings, feeling the inherent motion of the transport and plotting the entry trajectory to the docking facility below, waiting for the shore-to-ship communication to request an identification registry and to be issued landing permission and an available docking bay.
    The view was an incessant green, a lush, deep green not unlike that of Yavin’s moon. The whole area within view was thick, heavy jungle, only a single ribbon of dazzling blue-green cut in an almost straight line through the terrain to a high cliff edge that formed the boundary of the jungle.
    However, swathes of jungle had been cut away five thousand metres from the cliff edge in a loose semi circle and the space-port and walled-in town of Curitt had been built into the space the felled tress had conceded.
    The landing facility on the edge of the space port came into view as the Serpion Helletic descended smoothly.
    It was only a small minor space port, seeming to be used as a stop off on the way to a larger Port closer to one of the cities beyond the cliff, somewhere down in the valley.
    Luke had no interest in anything beyond Curitt though. His instructions were clear and the meeting itself was to take place inside the wall-enclosed town.
    His used the computer display chart of the port to pick out the correct docking bay, one of the usual roofless circular subterranean bays that were a universal design across the Empire, and then piloted the ship down and into the docking bay’s space. He switched to thrusters and then once the landing gear unfolded, to repulsor engines to ease the touch down. Which was quite as smooth as any before or since.
    Easing his way out of the pilot seat and then the cockpit, Luke joined the others in the main hold. He headed toward the engineering station against the port bulkhead but General Dodonna interceded the standard engine cool down procedure.
    “Leave the engines on stand by, Commander. We shouldn’t be staying long.” He said.
    Luke nodded in reply and then followed his lead aft to the already cycling boarding ramp, pausing a moment to address his pursuing Astromech.
    “Stay in the ship Artoo. Be ready to prep for take off when we get back.”
    The small droid hooted a reply and watched the four Humans descend the ramp.
    <><><>
    In was still early morning on Murkas 3, and almost immediately, Luke noticed that there was a strange weather pattern going on over his head.
    Above the docking facility and down the high walled pedestrian tunnel that led toward the town it was clear sky’s and bright, though not baking, sunshine. As the walkway ramped upward to ground level, the walls shrinking to pavement kerbs, and Curitt came into view, the weather turned dull grey and, on cue, the rain started to pelt down.
    Luke still found rain marvellous, especially after twenty years experiencing the continual dry burning heat of his homeworld.
    The protective surrounding wall of Curitt was white washed a dull shade of rain-cloud colour and the actual clouds themselves added an extra layer of grey to it’s ten metre height.
    The entrance was a huge solid wooden gate, also painted white. The gate was opened from daybreak to nightfall. And locked and barred and ceremonially guarded during the sundown hours.
    It was a strange tradition, Luke thought to himself as they passed unhindered through the threshold, the town was open to anyone in a ship or airspeeder. A ten metre wall wouldn’t keep modern day enemies at bay. He wondered what kind of natural enemies had, at one time, attacked from the surrounding jungle.
    Through the gate, Luke was shocked and dismayed by the number of people in and around Curitt. This was a busy town as far as he was concerned. He’d grown up on Tatooine where a group of a dozen was thought of as a large gathering.
    From there he’d moved on to the Yavin base. Of course, it had been busy and crowded but there hadn’t been the time to really look around and come to terms with the differences. It had been land on Yavin, a quick rest for food and sleep then onto the briefings, into a T-65 and up and away.
    The same had applied to Ord Mantell. Where they had been based had been a small, poor area, not one of the busiest by a long shot.
    This relatively peaceful mission, with only potential not actual danger, allowed him to look around and gauge things with a new perspective, see the galaxy with a new insight.
    There were people everywhere. And there were as many none Humans as Humans walking up and down the streets, passing by in landspeeders, flying overhead in airspeeders, travelling on the backs of strange animals and foreign beasts of burden.
    <><><>
    It seemed to Luke as though the travelling time to the rendezvous had been perfectly planned as the Rebel group, led by the General, took a leisurely walk from the space port into Curitt, across the radius of the circular town until the central main square was visible, which had a large leafless tree as it’s centre point. It’s bark was near gold in colour with tears of mossy green and brown spattering the main trunk’s thickest portion. A wide perfect circle of well tended grass formed a surrounding frame for the centre piece.
    Dodonna led them around the edge of the circular expanse for about ninety degrees and then back into the myriad narrow winding streets.
    Even in the narrow confines of labyrinthine side streets, the rain still pelted down on them.
    The others and the Curitt patrons seemed to hunker down against the elements, but Luke, his jacket waterproof, his mood high and, unlike the rest of them, his adoration of water was not in the least dampened.
    He threw his head back with exhilaration and smiled up into the cool refreshing liquid sparking against his sun-baked skin. His hair was soon plastered to his skull and he felt the beginnings of a chill. But he didn’t care.
    “Hey kid!”
    The sharp gritty voice caught Luke’s attention. It spoke in electrically interpreted Basic, like the vocoder of a protocol droid but with a certain organic flavour that robotic behaviour synthesisers simply couldn’t recreate.
    To the youth’s right, at the mouth of a covered alleyway between a farming produce emporium and an commercial office building stood a ruby-red skinned Zeltron girl, younger than Luke by the looks of her.
    Behind the girl with a hand clutching tight to her slender shoulder was a middle aged Snivvian male. It was the male who had spoken.
    “Wanna buy some time with this Zeltron beauty. You know Zeltron’s kid, guaranteed satisfaction!” The Snivvian offered through what Luke recognised as a collar mounted translator unit.
    In spite of himself and knowing he was getting drawn away from the others, Luke stepped into the mouth of the alley and took a closer look at the girl. He thought there had been something odd about the light play on her skin.
    “She’s not even Zeltron! Just some poor Human girl with body paint and hair dye!” Luke said, aghast by his own realisation.
    “Fine then, what about Death Sticks? You into Death Sticks?”
    Luke pulled a face, shook his head.
    He wondered if there was a way he could separate the girl from her pimp somehow, but then a sudden worry - that he might have lost the General, drew him hurriedly away from the alley and back up the street to regain his position at the rear of the group.
    The Snivvian shouted something aggressive sounding back at him but Luke didn’t catch it. Nor did he want to.
    The Rebels found themselves at the rustic designed fascia of a street corner cantina or tavern or eating den.
    This, according to the General was the prearranged meeting place. It was one of those family tavern diners that catered food and beverages for all races and all ages.
    Unlike the few taverns and cantina’s Luke had frequented in the recent past, this one looked clean and well lit with large arched windows, a wide double door entrance and seemed to be warmly decorated and homely, much like a lot of the mercantile in Curitt.
    However, there was a five strong squad of Imperial Stormtroopers at the corner, right in front of the entrance and they didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
    The Squad leader with his orange ranking pauldron was stopping passers-by at random and checking identifications. At the moment he was harassing a shaken couple of aged and wrinkled Ithorians.
    Even from this distance it was obvious that the Rebels would need a diversion in order to get into the eating den without risking exposure.
    The General was watching the scene with professional suspicion while his aide and Oren were quietly arguing about the best course of action.
    “Lead ‘em down that alley at the side of the tavern. I’ll be waiting to mow them down. Problem solved.” Oren said, tapping the illegal blaster carbine which he had concealed in a drawstring sack slung across his shoulders.
    He obviously appeared to prefer the kill-and-hide-the-bodies strategy. Luke saw it as nothing more than the Alderaanian’s desire to spill Imperial blood for sheer revenge.
    “That’s insane! It’s too risky, too noisy, too dangerous. We don’t know any of these people or where their loyalties lie. All it would take was one Imperial sympathiser to see something suspicious and we could have a whole garrison on our backs!” The Aide denounced, rightly in Luke’s opinion.
    General Dodonna said nothing. He was looking surreptitiously up and down the street, while appearing to be analysing the contents of a store front display.
    A thought came to Luke, it’s genesis having been the word ‘alley’ from the midst of Oren’s idea.
    With an odd, uncharacteristic sense of certainty, he strode past the other three, crossed the bend in the road, the crux of which was the site of the tavern diner and caught the attention of the Imperial Squad leader, just as the latter waved the Ithorians on.
    “Excuse me, sir.” Luke said with polite confidence. “But I thought you should know, there’s a Snivvian over there selling Death Sticks, I think the nasty kind, from Sullust.”
    It all came rolling off his tongue and Luke had absolutely no idea where it all came from. He knew next to nothing about illegal narcotics and wouldn’t know the difference between Sullustan and Corellian varieties or if there was a nasty kind of Death Stick from either world. They were little more than planet names to him.
    However, his confidence remained strong and the usual kind of concern regarding being caught out telling lies just didn’t surface at all.
    “Do I look like Law Enforcement to you?” The white armoured officer responded in coldly pronounced electronic Basic. “We’re Soldiers of the Emperor’s Galactic Navy, not back world L.E.O’s”
    “I’m sorry, I just thought…” Luke stammered, but still his certainty didn’t wane, it felt like part of the act.
    “Never mind, citizen. Your intentions were honourable. I guess we can look into it.” The officer gestured to his men and all five of them crossed the street and disappeared out of sight.
    Luke waited until the Imperials were around the bend then caught the General’s eye. There was a glint there of amusement and possibly pride.
    “Good work.” The General issued the compliment quietly as he swept by the young Rebel with a half smile and led them straight into the tavern diner. Luke’s heart momentarily swelled as he followed the others inside.
    Last edited by nickamano, May 21, 2013
  2. nickamano Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2009
    They had discussed seating and covering arrangements beforehand so the four of them took their places straight away.
    Oren walked over to the counter, pulling his long coat tighter around him, took a barstool, slid the drawstring bag to the floor between his feet and ordered a drink from the waiting Bith bartender.
    Luke took a stool by a wall mounted table-shelf near the door, ordering blue milk with a wheel footed droid waitress, while the aide and General took a table in a booth on the back wall, facing the entrance as had been prearranged with their contact.
    Another droid waitress came over and took orders while they waited for the contact to show. They didn’t have long to wait.
    Luke watched the room while he sipped at the sweet frothy crown of his beverage. Besides the Rebels, there were almost a dozen other patrons.
    A family of four Calamari were enjoying a wet looking meal from deep clear bowls, sitting around a large table near the centre of the room.
    Three humans, two men and a woman, were sitting at the counter drinking and chatting together in subdued voices.
    A Sullustan freighter pilot, jowl faced, age-lined and head loosely bandaged, sat alone in a corner drinking what looked like smoking star ship fuel.
    Some kind of non human couple with pale blue grey skin, Sullustan-like eyes and long limbs and necks stood near the door opposite Luke, smoking something that looked alive through hookah’s. And sitting not far from the Sullustan, on the table next to General Dodonna’s, was a short, possibly infant, female Aqualish. She seemed to be drinking a thick blood coloured beverage from a carafe through a straw, that Luke found unaccountably distasteful.
    He turned his gaze away from the infant’s red spattered facial tusks in time to see a middle aged human man walk into the diner. He was olive skinned, thin, almost scrawny, with deep lines to his pinched face. His dark curled hair was peppered with grey at his temples. He was wearing a grey and tan outfit that looked almost like a uniform, it had a high collar and a neat fit and looked pressed and pristine, though slightly worn at the cuffs, knees and elbows. The high calf boots were polished black but the polish was dulled by a day or two without care.
    He strolled idly to the counter, threw a glance over the seated woman while he waited for attention from the waiter, and then ordered a steaming hot drink. He paid quickly and then walked purposely over to the General’s table and took the third seat without hesitation.
    They were accomplished whisperers, the General and his middle aged contact and their conversation didn’t pass beyond their own table but they didn’t look like they were whispering, just two old friends discussing interesting subjects over a light afternoon meal.
    Luke and Oren could do nothing but sit and drink and try to be subtly watchful.
    Within minutes the conversation seemed to grow more animated and intense and it wasn't long before the two men started to oddly model with their food. The newcomer slid the General’s plate of processed meat and vegetable slabs and small fruit orbs and fashioned it into a triangle with two fruit orbs to the rear and a third bisected half on the top.
    It looked to Luke a little like a flattened T-47. Though it could just as easily have been a Star Destroyer. A food model wasn’t a great purveyor of scale.
    All the while they chattered to each other like excited youths, sometimes adding little hand gestures to illustrate whatever they were discussing.
    Luke didn’t know what made him turn his head and glance out of the window. He felt a shiver and then his head turned and his eyes focussed through the clear glasteel to the street outside. He saw a woman. She was Human, neither young nor old, maybe twice Luke’s age. Though the years seemed to have been kind. She had an attractive intelligent face though the arch of her brows and pouting of her full lips, gave her a slightly cruel look. She was pale skinned with dark red hair, braided and plaited between a golden crown cap of chain links and tiny connecting plates. She wore the grey uniform of an Imperial Engineer under a hooded robe of paler grey that might have been meant to conceal her state of allegiance.
    However, with her, marching in her wake, was a ten strong squad of Imperial Stormtroopers armed with E-11’s, DLT-19’s and T-21’s. Heavy firepower for a standard squad Luke thought, at least in his meagre experience.
    He quickly turned his gaze toward the General and managed to catch his eye in mid sentence. The young Rebel nodded his head to the entrance and tapped his blaster holster, then circled an index finger above the table top that housed the bubbly dregs of his drink.
    The General seemed to pick up on Luke’s indications. He nodded and then leaned towards the newcomer.
    They were still chatting hurriedly when the Imperials came into the diner. Luke caught one last look at the woman through the window. She was pointing through the doorway towards the General’s table. Then the Stormtroopers filed into the diner, two by two, before spreading out in a loose fan facing the General’s table, apparently indicating either Dodonna, or the contact, or both, as their target.
    At once the landlord appeared in the midst of them from around the side of the counter.
    “Wait! Officer, I… I don’t want any trouble in here. All my customers are good law abiding citizens of the Empire, and…” But his bustling conciliatory was interrupted by the sharp turning of a stark Imperial helmet, that was simultaneously partnered by the raising and levelling of a fat blaster rifle barrel.
    “This is not your concern citizen. This is official business and I’m instructing you to return to the far side of your bar. At once.” The electronically tinged response came in a clipped, stern voice. No nonsense, no tolerance.
    Luke noticed that Oren had already taken advantage of the momentary distraction to deftly reach into the opened drawstring bag, probably grabbing the large carbine by it’s pistol grip, ready to lift and fire if and when he decided it was necessary.
    In the moment that followed, a young girl, as Human as the fear quaking landlord and looking like a young feminine version of him, ran into the room from around the far side of the counter which was above her head in height. Luke cast a quick appraisal over her as she came into her father’s protective arms. She was certainly not yet into her teens but was on the way there. Older than ten, probably.
    Luke felt the same almost nauseous wave of dread that the girl’s father apparently did, who held her tight in his arms and drew her back towards the polished counter as the black-lens eyes of the Stormtrooper’s helmets were cast her way, quickly snatched up blasters waving instinctively in her general direction.
    Finally after a timeless moment of air-thickening tension, the Imperial officer and his men turned their collective attention back to General Dodonna’s table.
    “Sir, we’ve been looking for you. We’re under orders to take you back…” The Imperial officer began, seemingly speaking to the newcomer. Much to Luke’s initial and hesitant relief.
    “You know you aren’t supposed to go wandering off, Sir.” Another of the pauldron shouldered troopers said.
    “The shuttle’s waiting sir. Say goodbye to your friends…” The officer added. Luke almost blew out a relieved sigh. They didn’t seem interested in the General at all, just in his contact.
    Blissex stood up easily, though he looked a little deflated, and started for the entrance. The troopers moved in to flank him and escort him outside.
    However, Oren didn’t give them the opportunity.
    With a sudden delinquent yell he spun around, throwing himself off his stool and to his feet, dragging the huge blaster carbine into sight from the drawstring sack. He levelled the muzzle and let rip at anything that was wearing black and white armour.
    Surprisingly to Luke, who seemed to be seeing everything in slow motion, the Imperials troops moved forward to put themselves between Blissex and their officers and Oren, while they returned fire and relying on their armour to protect their own lives.
    "Rebels!" One of the officers redundantly shouted.
    Shouts and yells filled the air along with the electronic whine of blaster fire.
    Less surprisingly, the officers pushed Blissex forward and shuffled him hurriedly towards the safety of the outside using their men as a protective wall. And they were making good progress too, though their attention was wholly squared on Oren.
    The troopers were fairing less well. Their Plastoid-composite armour was designed to absorb and deflect blaster bolts from standard Tibanna fuelled weaponry on the market. However, most of the Rebel’s carried either more powerful stolen military arms or civilian grade weapons that had been illegally augmented to increase power and penetration. Oren’s carbine sent wrist-thick bolts of plasma into armoured plate, which melted and shattered in a microsecond. Each of the plasma bolts took solid and liquefied fragments with them, through the body glove, through flesh, sinew, bone and whatever vital organs were in it’s path.
    Luke watched, momentarily frozen by the fierce blaster fight, watched Oren lay down a suppressive barrage, watched and understood what was happening with Blissex and the Imperial officers then the Alderananian Rebel seeming to make a fast decision and diving head first out of the nearest front window.
    Even as he watched Oren’s escape, Luke found himself going for his DL-44, as the officers and their hostage reached the entrance. Everything seemed to be slowing down, the smashing of the window and the blurring shape of Oren throwing himself outside. Luke's eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped as one of the escaping Officers reached to the rear of his utility belt, grasped the plasteel cylinder secured at the small of his back, detached it and then tossed it into the middle of the room, a small standard issue thermal detonator.
    Luke watched, realising though with sheer disbelief, that these Imperials were so hell bent on getting Blissex that they were willing not only to kill their own men to make their escape but over a dozen innocent civilians, including the manager’s child as well.
    In the next instant, without any conscious decision, Luke gave up on the blaster and threw himself through the air toward the child. His conscious mind came to the realisation that he was going to protect her but then he felt himself swiping out open palmed in mid air. He caught the white cylinder in the downward arc of its trajectory and slapped it clear over the counter.
    As he hit the ground, his other hand had somehow encircled the shoulders of the child and pulled her to the floor beside him, rolling to put his own back between the child and the counter. A split second later and the redirected thermal bomb detonated.
    It was sheer blind luck that saved the main area of the diner. The counter looked to be made from some reinforced material, possibly dermacrete based, and it absorbed a good portion of the blast, something like half the explosive power of the thermal detonator. But the remaining shockwave and shrapnel was strong enough to force it’s way out over the top of the bar and rain down dust, fragmented stock and furniture shrapnel over the interior of the chamber like the worst Tatooine sandstorm.
    The other half of the shockwave was directed vertically, funnelled by the reinforced bar area, it struck the ceiling and brought much of the roof down on top of the public space beneath. It was like standing next to a departing Capital ship, Luke thought to himself as the deafening cacophony engulfed and enveloped him.
    Through the follow-up dust cloud he momentarily caught sight of the General and his aide escaping through a shattered window to the rear of the diner, into what must be an alley behind the diner on the far side of the debris.
    Luke didn’t have time to check for survivors or the injured. The girl was coughing and shaking dust from her pale face but she seemed unharmed.
    He tried to shake off the shock, dizziness and the ringing in his ears as he scrabbled over broken furniture and Stormtrooper corpses for the front door, which was still blessedly unblocked and relatively clear of debris.
    Outside, the street was a mess of thick putrid smoke, choking dust and a veritable carpet of glass fragments. People, stricken by the explosions, were standing all over in the aftermath, looking aghast, dazed and shocked. Unfortunately the rain had stopped. It could have flattened the dust cloud more quickly had it continued.
    Luke’s eyes darted about. He was better equipped for searching through dust and debris clouds after growing up having to deal with Tatooine’s sandstorms and he soon spotted the white armour shapes of the Imperial officers up the street at the corner, toward the facia of the farming emporium.
    The two officers were flanking Blissex and keeping him down on the ground as they blasted away at Oren, suppressing him and stopping him from any accurate attempt at returning fire.
    Luke drew his blaster and aimed for the little horizontal slice of black between helmet and torso armour that covered the officer's neck.
    A momentary blanch of conscience took him, of shooting a man in the back and of deliberately aiming to kill, but he remembered all too well that the Officer’s had been happy to kill innocents and their own men back in the tavern. He fired and then quickly re-aimed at the second officer and fired again.
    The first shot sizzled as it passed through the dust cloud between them and then struck the man and all but took his helmeted head off. The second blast caught the other armoured officer as he paused and started to turn.
    The shot skimmed his armour and ricocheted, as the plastoid was designed to do. The bolt rebounded upward and struck the underside of his helmet, scoring a nasty burn up the back, the impact contained all the power of a vibro-hammer strike and toppled the stunned Officer.
    Luke ran forward and as he passed through the dust cloud, which was at last beginning to dissipate, he saw Blissex still standing above the downed Imperials. The older man reached down to scoop up a blaster pistol from one of their bodies and then caught Luke’s approach in his peripheral vision.
    Luke unsnapped the comlink from his utility belt and flicked the activator, at the same time he spotted Oren rise from his cover position and sprint across to Blissex‘s side, swinging the barrel defiantly toward the far end of the street, expecting more Imperials at any moment, the long grey coat making good camouflage in the dusty street. The Alderaanian threw a quick glance and nod to Luke to assure his readiness. Luke turned his attention to the comlink and patched through to Artoo as he made his way up the street.
    “Artoo come in.”
    A thin echoing chirrip sounded through the transceiver device as the droid voiced it’s response.
    It was hard chatting to the Astromech from afar, but he was only relaying instructions at this time.
    “We’ve got trouble, again.” Luke announced dryly. “Get the ship off the ground and fly her over here quick. Home in on my location, and fly low. Copy?”
    The droid whistled it’s acknowledgement and Luke then swapped the comlink for another palm sized cylinder on his utility belt.
    A droid caller was designed as a rudimentary remote control for droid use issuing basic stop, come and basic orders commands, though many models had a small interior memory cells that could house specific extra functions.
    Luke’s had a tracking beacon fitted to allow the come command to work over a large distance, drawing the droid to him, even if it had to obtain and pilot a transport in which to complete it’s task, of course it would only work with droids programmed with the capability to pilot transports and problem solving skills to match, with which Artoo was blessed. In fact, the Astromech had an almost sentient ability to solve problems and get people out of trouble.
    Luke and Oren caught up with Blissex. Oren kept an eye and the fat muzzle of his carbine on the street ahead while he kept and ear on the hurried conversation. Blissex apparently had everything in hand.
    “Your General and I had a plan in case we were separated like this. We’re to swap ships. He’ll cut across the town and take my personal transport back to your base. You’re to get me off planet on your ship and drop me off at any major spaceport where I can get back to my safe house.”
    “But, Sir. Shouldn’t we…?” Luke started.
    “No discussions and no arguments. Let’s move.” Blissex interjected with a snappy tone that Luke jumped to instinctively. Like Dodonna, like his Uncle.
    “I’ll take point. Skywalker, watch our rear.” Oren put in and then got to his feet and headed off down the dusty and all but deserted street. He kept the carbine pressed to his shoulder, the barrel levelled, and his eye line taking in the image through the gun-sight’s viewfinder.
    Luke kept his blaster in his right hand and his father’s lightsaber in his left, the blade sheathed, though his thumb was against the raised stud of the forward activator button. Light contact. No pressure.
    His eyes were everywhere at once, looking down shadowy alleys, into the glassteel fronts of the stores and the emporiums that lined the narrow street.
    Blissex remained in the centre, moving easily as fast as the younger men but he was direting their passage, motioning Oren to an alleyway, then left to another, then along it’s length to another narrow side street, this one thick with shoppers and pedestrians.
    On the way, Luke's continual rightward looks revealed glimpses of the town square with the turf disc and the tree centre point. However, this time there was an Imperial Sentinel landing craft standing dormant on the opposite edge of the grass. And from it’s innards, squads of Stormtroopers disembarked, marching in columns.
    Armoured in white, armed in black, there were at least three squads and Luke thought he glimpsed another twin column of troops descending the transport’s boarding ramp, as it passed out of his line of sight. That suggested anything up to a full platoon was mobilising in the square. Whoever this Blissex was the Imperials wanted him pretty badly.
    Another glance gave him another angle, this time showing two fabric uniformed officers standing at the flank of the woman from earlier, who was dressed in Engineer's garb, her long dark hair flitting in the wind.
    They pressed on, following Blissex’s directions down narrow streets and narrower alleys. This area was more packed with people, they more than likely had heard the explosion and seen the cloud of smoke rising over the buildings, but it didn’t seem to effect their mood all that much, at least as far as Luke's observations went.
    He found himself wondering about illicit Imperial methods of crowd control, underhand suggestions, spread propaganda to maintain normality in the midst of Rebellion. There’s nothing to worry about, the Empire will deal with it, whatever the problem. There might be as much misinformation cancelling out the victories of the Rebellion as there was about the Rebellion itself. Or, as the Imperial Propaganda machine put out. Terrorist activities of a tiny minority of treasonous usurpers and warmongers.
    He passed another alley and caught another glimpse of white armour, glanced behind him and saw more, framed in a barely open doorway.
    Then the first shot was fired, hurried and inaccurate, it screamed past and struck the corner of a building to Luke’s right, raining duracrete and glasteel down on Rebels and shoppers alike.
    People screamed and ran in all directions, as more blaster fire began to erupt down the length of the narrow street as Troopers flowed out of hiding places, forming a line behind the Rebels, blocking the way back. And all Hell broke loose.
    Not many of the super heated plasma bolts made it as far as Luke’s position, as most struck other living and inanimate obstacles before they made it as far as him. Objects from store fronts to unfortunate droids were caught, exploding showers of hot debris and acrid smoke. The smell of burning wire and scorched droid parts filled the air. Volatile power cells popped noisily as they were incidentally scoured by Imperial blaster fire.
    Life forms of all shapes and sizes started to fall, taking blaster hits, shrapnel, inhaling toxic fumes, caught under a shattered glasteel display, caught by an exploding droid, itself struck down by a blaster bolt.
    They ran, Oren leading the way, using his strength and momentum as well as threats from his heavy carbine to clear a path, Blissex keeping up easily inspite of his advancing years, Luke taking up the rear, glad of the carnage behind and the thickening smoke, even though he daren‘t fire back.
    The Empire might not care about it‘s subjects but the Rebels certainly did. That was why they had rebelled in the first place.
    Blissex led them into a none alcoholic type tavern, mostly serving hot spiced beverages, coloured milks from various worlds and iced fruit drinks like the ones that had been a valued once-a-season treat back on Tatooine. Usually served by Aunt Beru or sometimes by Camie’s mother following the hard work of the harvest season.
    The smell of that cooled and mushed fruit alone was enough to make Luke‘s heart momentarily ache for home and all kinds of nostalgic images danced around in his mind.
    Oren quickly concealed the big carbine rifle underneath his long coat and followed Blissex through the crowd. There were as many sentients standing as seated at tables. The three Rebel’s formed a kind of short bodied snake flowing through the throngs of drinkers filling the interior of the tavern.
    Luke kept an eye on Blissex, as much to observe the older man’s skills and constant awareness as to guard him. His eyes were constantly moving but his head more or less remained steady, and he seemed to be using whatever he could to observe his sides and behind him without ever appearing to, using reflective surfaces and the expressions of people around him.
    It was Luke watching Blissex that alerted him to the Stormtrooper squad walking into the tavern to their rear. He saw Blissex notice a Gran’s three-eye expression change suddenly to suspicion and fear. That, followed by a quickly spotted reflection of white armour pressing it’s way through the crowds gathered around the entrance of the tavern, gave Luke all the warning he needed.
    Blissex had slowed his pace down on entering the tavern, to better blend in with the throngs of people inside it. But it wasn’t long before the Stormtroopers were somehow aware of them and were shouting and shoving their way through the crowds. Luke wondered if it had been helmet scanners or maybe a tip off from someone in the low ceilinged room that had alerted them but then he was running again, following his quick moving companions through the crowds, hoping that he wouldn’t loose them himself.
    He saw a reflected trooper pause and level his rifle. Luke ducked low and fired quickly up at the ceiling. Banking on the noise and luminance of the blaster bolt to cause a panic and scatter the innocent drinkers, and hopefully put more obstacles between him and the Imperials.
    Screams and curses in a dozen languages filled the air, along with acrid smoke from Luke’s blaster. The trooper didn't get his shot off.
    Luke kept low and ran, dodging between panicked shoppers, using his slender frame to his advantage, moving between people and through gaps that seemed too narrow to pass through, certainly too narrow for armoured Imperials.
    There was a music playing-chest at the back of the tavern, angled to form a little triangle in the corner of the room and he slid behind it momentarily, to avoid being spotted by Stormtrooper helmet scanners, then slipped out again and skirted around the back wall to the rear exit, catching up with Oren and Blissex who were headed for the same way out.
    Through the door was a narrow rear corridor that led to a covered alley and they ran down it’s length as quickly as they could, afraid of the bottleneck and being caught in it by blaster wielding troops.
    Oren, at the end of the bottleneck ducked into a side doorway, pausing and kneeling while he aimed at the tavern’s rear exit.
    He wordlessly waved Blissex and Luke past and they obediently carried on their escape run down the narrow alley and on into an even narrower sliver of space between two buildings where the covered alley took a ninety degree turn.
    Blissex and Luke were slender enough to worry their way between the two close set buildings, but there was no way the broader and bulkier Oren would have been able to fit.
    There were a few seconds of silence before Luke heard the whine of blaster bolts. He even felt a surge of heat just above his head.
    And then there came the deeper, electric, barking howl of Oren’s carbine opening up. It reminded Luke a little of Chewbacca’s bowcaster.
    The young Rebel paused for a second, a desire to go back and help the Alderaanian Rebel strong in his guts, but he knew better. Keeping his ears trained on the blaster exchange, he turned away and struggled forward down the sliver of space to catch up with Blissex. He knew he was leaving Oren behind and he knew it was probably for good.
    The electric whine-howl exchange continued in the background until Luke and Blissex emerged from the narrow space into another area of Curitt’s shopping district. It was an outdoor market crescent, the stalls laid out on wide shallow duracrete steps.
    The tumult of shoppers, bartering exchanges and shouted advertisements as well as the gusting wind blowing between the stalls blocked out the blaster fire behind them and Luke and Blissex slowed for a while, trusting in the surrounding crowds to conceal them, at least for now.
    “The port is at the far end of this market.” Blissex murmured to Luke. “We’re nearly home free.”
    It was at that precise moment that Artoo Detoo decided to drop in. The droid, piloting the Serpion Helletic, descended onto the open air market from some low cloud cover above them.
    Luke saw the problem they were going to have immediately. There was nowhere to land and Blissex couldn’t exactly be expected to leap up onto the boarding ramp or catch hold of a lowered rope or something. They needed a high point, a platform that Artoo could hover over and lower the boarding ramp down to.
    The droid’s flight and navigation capability should be up to the task.
    Luke paused momentarily, think of Oren and if they should wait for him. But the older Rebel would no doubt insist that Blissex’s safety was paramount, so Luke looked around quickly and almost at once spotted the best possibility. Forming the outer edge of the open market was a rough square building, off white walls in some kind of natural duracrete, with a narrow exterior staircase that led to a flat roof. The building and those adjoining it, resembled the kinds of low domed buildings found in the slave quarters on the outskirts of Mos Eisley that Luke had spotted a couple of times on his trips there.
    From that roof there seemed to be a narrow walkway leading to another flat roofed building next door which was half as tall again. That would be the best bet. He caught his companions’ eye and quickly gestured to the building with it’s exterior staircase.
    Blissex nodded and led the way across and through the market, using it’s bustling popularity as cover for their progress.
    "Artoo, we're on our way." Luke shouted into his fist clenched comlink. "Bring the ship down lower over the flat roofed building about twenty metres to starboard. Then lower the boarding ramp." He listened for the droid's singing acknowledgement and then thrust the comlink back onto his belt clip.
    The hovering Serpion Helletic was certainly conspicuous but hopefully it should only be a few short minutes before they were onto the rooftops and ascending the boarding ramp.
    A harsh, low, electric reverberation cut into the general tumult of noise in the market crescent. The heavy, electric rumble came from the repulsor drive of another one of those Extended Imperial Reconnaissance Troop Transports that Luke had come across on Ord Mantell recently.
    A squat and wide block of pure power. It was a heavily armoured landspeeder, finished in dull Imperial grey, with two fore and aft top mounted turbolaser turrets and featured side mounted rectangular pods that doubled as armoured firing positions or hatchways for a quick release of the troopers inside.
    Blissex was halfway up the stairs when the RTT/E carrier appeared out of nowhere and smashed straight through the market place. The carrier flattened market stalls and ploughed shoppers out of it’s path with a mixture of brute force and skirt-mounted repulsor fields.
    This particular model had enough internal capacity to carry two full squads of troops plus pilot and co-pilot seating up front in the curve nosed cockpit.
    Luke shoved Blissex on up the stairs and then turned, unthinking, working from pure instinct and hurled himself down to the side of the bulky Troop carrier. His lightsaber came into his hand and he was drawing the luminescent blade before he even realised what he was doing.
    The weapon lifted high, he stabbed horizontally into the thick armour plate at head height. Then ran forward, slicing the blade right through the side of the powerful transport, the metre long blade all but embedded up to the hilt.
    There was almost no resistance as the weapon cleaved straight through hull armour and internal components and probably half of the Imperial troops within.
    At the rear end of the carrier, Luke whipped upward with the blade and severed the fat, short barrels of the rear turbolaser battery, then wheeled the blade clear, leaving behind a long horizontal gouge from the cockpit to the rear hatch, the gouge glowed red within the blackened wound of the layered plastoid-alloy.. Thick smoke careened out of the charred wound like the life blood of the transport. The rear hatch dropped with a loud hard clang, spilling three Imperial corpses, one almost bisected across the shoulders, one completely severed through the same place and one without a head.
    Two survivors stumbled out behind them, one’s helmet a charred mess, the pristine white armour scorched and blackened by heat and smoke. Luke cut him down with a quick, vicious, diagonal cut, then he reversed the stroke’s direction to cut down a second who knelt on the rear hatch/ramp with his blaster levelled, even though he was already missing his left arm.
    A high powered blaster bolt erupted out of nowhere, from above and somewhere to Luke’s left.
    It missed him by a hair’s breadth and disappeared into the smoke filled blackness of the interior of the Transport.
    The next thing he knew, he was flying through the air and the Troop Transport was suddenly a busted open canister with a fireball erupting outwards from it’s exploded casing. Afterward, Luke realised that the bolt must have ignited leaking Tibanna gas from the damaged rear turbolaser battery.
    It was that same after-the-fact moment that Luke determined what it was that must have saved him - Stormtrooper corpses between him and the core of the explosion - their armoured bodies had been caught up at the same time as the young Rebel and they had been thrown together by the shock wave.
    Their plastoid armour corpses was enough to protect Luke from the igniting plasma but he was slammed backward through a store window and knocked unconscious.
    He awoke, some unaccounted time later, lying underneath a charred Stormtrooper’s smoking body with blood coming from his nose and ears, Sun-bright afterimages assaulted his vision and a high pitched ringing affected his hearing.
    The first thing he was able to focus on, was his lightsaber. It was out of his grasp but within reach an arm's length from his face. Unfortunately, it was very obviously damaged.
    Some of the vertical black rib-grips were missing or half melted, one of the adjustment knobs had been sheered off and the activation matrix was twisted and had burst open like an over-pressurised container, its enigmatic internal components smashed, loose or simply no longer present.
    Luke half consciously snatched up his father's weapon, pushed it securely into his jacket's pouch and then struggled up into a kneeling position and looked around him. All the while he fought the dizziness, gut-deep nausea and the flashing afterimages that darted across his vision.
    He saw the Serpion Helletic, still hovering over the rooftop on the opposite side of the market crescent and saw a man he recognised, but couldn’t name, crouched on the lowered boarding ramp, aiming a blaster rifle and firing across the market place at another rooftop somewhere above and to the left of Luke.
    The young Rebel remembered enough to know that he should make his way to the boarding ramp. He staggered to his feet and stumbled out into the marketplace again, threw a glance over the charred and smoking remains of the RTT/E. It’s repulsor drive seemed to have been damaged as it was sitting unevenly on the damaged ground. The front hatch leading to the cockpit had been popped open and the pilot and co-pilot seats were empty. The main hull was spread wide, split apart and folded back on itself by what must have been a powerful explosion from within.
    Luke darted quickly, though without his usual surefootedness, across the shattered space that moments earlier had been a bustling outdoor market and launched himself up the staircase of the building below the hovering transport, across the narrow walkway to the high building next door and then took a flying uncoordinated jump for the lip of the lowered boarding ramp of his ship.
    He was still hampered by the incessant ringing in his ears, his head throbbing more then ever and his vision was now blurred by what he thought must be trickles of blood running into his eyes.
    He had a sudden though detracted realisation that his journey from the market floor up to the ramp of the transport had been rather fool hardy and it must have been blind luck that got him there in one piece. He was vaguely aware that there was at least one Imperial sniper on another rooftop firing toward the Serpion Helletic, there could well have been a dozen more trying to pick him off.
    He looked up, seeing in little more than blurs of light and shadow and movement. Although when he actually tried to focus it seemed as if everything was moving all at once. He saw the vague lump of shadow that the back of his mind assured him was Blissex, above him still apparently kneeling on the boarding ramp.
    A sudden bright flash obliterated his meagre vision for a moment. He felt intense heat and a wave of pressure as something bright, hot and powerful slammed through the air past him. He saw the blurred lump tumble backwards on the ramp, slide down a little in some indefinable fashion, maybe Blissex rolled over or something. And then the blurred shape didn’t move any more.
    Again, something in Luke’s dizzy, muddy head told him what to do. He could feel his body, aching and weak, obeying instructions from a part of his brain that his senses didn’t seem to be attached to. His vision told him little, there were afterimages of the blinding pressure whatever-it-was that all but made his sight completely useless. His ears were still ringing.
    However, he could smell intensely. Myriad aromas were strangely more powerful than ever. Engine burn, engine oil, the static scent of repulsors, the ozone of blaster weapon fire. And beyond it the smell of the air, the wind, the freshness of water vapour in the momentary pause of the day’s rainfall. From beneath him, all the confused scents of the market stalls, foodstuffs, oils and perfumes, the scent of burning debris, exhaust fumes, scorched flesh. Death.
    He felt a dry weave fabric texture gripped in his right hand suddenly. Cold, smooth, hard plasteel against his flattened left palm and against his bent knee.
    Luke momentarily enjoyed a third-person kind of clarity as all the scents and the feelings from his nerve endings painted a scene - of himself kneeling heavily, wounded and bleeding on the boarding ramp. He was gripping the collar of a wounded and unconscious Blissex and dragging him awkwardly up the ramp toward the interior of the Serpion Helletic, while blaster bolts zipped around him, some shooting past at almost horizontal angles, others fired from above, striking the thick armour of his transport with no visible effect but a little dusting of carbon scoring against the off white hull plates.
    As though watching a hologram of himself, Luke observed his own progress toward the safety of the ship’s interior until his senses were overwhelmed and the fuzzy, blurry, sickening, dizziness overtook his universe and his senses faded as if he had found himself in the eye of one of Tatooine’s famous and deadly sandstorms...
    …At least it took away that horrible incessant ringing in his ears…
    Luke awoke on the floor of the Serpion Helletic. The ringing in his ears was going, his head throbbed less. He was looking up at the bank of ceiling hull lights. A line of four banked horizontally across his vision. He turned his head slowly, after a sudden realisation that faster movement brought back the harsh throbbing that affected his vision. More lights stabbed at his eyes about half way down the side wall, he recognised them by the combination and order of their colours. It was the control bank for the boarding ramp's hydraulic cycle. It confirmed to Luke exactly where he was.
    He slowly, tentatively, sat up, willing his eyes to focus, willing his head to quit that sickening throbbing sensation. He gathered his wits, looking around painfully, absorbing the sights and sounds. The engines were throbbing in the background, the slightly dimmed illumination told him they were at sub-light velocity, which meant they weren’t still hovering over the marketplace.
    There were two doors before him and a third to his left all in the facing wall. They must be the starboard and port cargo doors to holds three and four. The narrower door between them was a partition door for the main central corridor.
    Then he saw the still and unconscious form of Blissex beside him. His chest was rising and falling at a steady pace but his uniform looked singed and part of it across his left side ribs was burned away, blackened edges of tattered fabric revealing blackened and blistered bare skin. It was a blaster burn and a bad one. It looked like it had skimmed across his ribs as opposed to penetrating him, but still, it wouldn’t take much for infection to set in and then he’d be just as dead as if he’d taken a direct hit.
    Luke’s still off-sparking brain threw up random images in response to the problem at hand, reminding him that if he was at the docking access corridor, if he was facing forward then the entrance to the medical bay was at his back, into engineering and turn right.
    He knelt beside the old man and tried to lift him but the throbbing in his skull and the man’s weight forestalled his effort to carry him. Instead, fighting the intense throbbing Luke hooked his forearms under the man’s armpits and dragged him backward through the automated door behind him, around the maintenance and tool cabinets in the corner of the room and through a secondary sliding door into the medical bay.
    Luke had to stop and rest on the floor of the small rectangular bay. He called out to activate the cabinet stored medical droid. And at once a sliding door in a human sized cabinet opened and a tripodal multi-limbed droid blinked into life. It wheeled itself into position, took a very quick scanner analysis of its two patients and then, using powerful padded manipulator appendages, carefully lifted Blissex onto the single medical bunk and got to work on stabilising his condition.
    Luke assumed, or rather hoped, as he had never really trusted medical droids before, that his own injury was not as severe and therefore he was in no direct danger. He forced himself to relax a little and rested his eyes …
    …He opened his eyes directly into the irradiance of twin yellow suns and hurriedly averted them, lest (as had been drummed in since his earliest days) the dual brilliance of the stars burned out his sight.
    It was strange though. The sky, the twin suns, the smells and the feel of the place screamed to him of his homeworld, but beneath the glowing azure haze-dancing horizon, there wasn’t sand but lush green/brown sea of grasses, the like of which Luke had never seen before, except on holographic images.
    Vast rolling mesas of brown seed-headed stems waved lazily in a mild wind as far as Luke’s gaze could make out. Dotted around, seemingly at random, were dull grey plasteel wind turbines. They reminded Luke of the moisture vaporators on his Uncle’s Farm at home, but these seemed to provide power from the winds instead of collecting water from the atmosphere.
    The closest of the turbines stood only a few hundred metres away and as the grasses swayed lethargically, they parted once in a while to reveal a grey dome roofed building.
    Luke merely shrugged and started to walk in that direction. He wondered who or what lived there. And what sort of welcome he might receive when he got there…
    …He awoke on his nominated bunk in the Crew quarters. His vision, though clearer and more stable than before, was obscured by a dark blur and his head swam with a rather lovely cool unfocussed sensation.
    The sensation which emanated from the dark blur also provided an additional gentle tickle, like soft fingers brushing his brow, or the snuggling nose-kiss of an infant Eopie. It was only when Luke put together the two sensations that he realised what the dark blur was. A bacta patch.
    He sat up, again taking his time. The medical droid was nowhere to be found. He glanced down at himself. He also had bacta patches secured to his right forearm, stomach and left thigh and after a tentative touch another on his lower back. He must have been more severely wounded than he had thought. His clothing was gone, he just wore a simple white medical smock.
    He slowly reached down with one hand and opened the bunk storage locker beneath him, felt the cold metal and smooth leather of his utility belt and damaged lightsaber safely stowed.
    He lay back and listened to the telltale reassurance of thrumming vibrations of an operational sublight drive, recognised that they were more then likely out of the Gesuun system and at a low sub-light velocity somewhere out in space. He had to get to the cockpit and have Artoo take them somewhere out of range of the Imperial pursuit forces on the Murkas moon while he had time, if he had time.
    He advanced, slowly but steadily forward along the main corridor, which was essentially the main hold narrowing again just beyond the starboard and port ladders to the manual Turbolaser batteries, passed through the first and second doors and found himself in the dimly illuminated cockpit. He had to bite back the desire to run, he was still woozy and dizzy and running wouldn't help him get to the cockpit any faster.
    Even so, the short journey took a lot out of him and he was forced to drop himself into the rear starboard seat, across from Artoo Detoo who was plugged into the navicomputer.
    “Good… Work, Artoo...” Luke wheezed, the throbbing in his head was back.
    He had obviously overexerted himself, even with the care he'd taken.
    “Now… Where… Are we?”
    Artoo beeped a response which flashed across a small readout screen in text basic. Apparently the droid had taken them out of Murkas' atmosphere and accelerated to the top Sublight velocity to the edge of the star system where there was a small cloud of cosmic dust and radiation that hampered active scanners.
    Then, without further instructions to follow, the droid had slowed right down so that they were just drifting through the cloud at little more than a bantha’s pace.
    “Good, now… We need…” Luke was finding it hard to concentrate.
    A wave of weakness took him followed by a wave of nausea and he had to slump down in his seat, head between his knees and just breathe, sucking in deep lungfuls of recycled air until the nausea and dizziness dissipated…
    …A beautiful, small, peaceful world of lush grasslands and farming communities. Sounded like Dantooine. Did it have Twin Suns? Luke couldn’t remember. Looking down he could see the shimmer of golden sand beneath the tall and barely penetrable grasses, instead of the tamped down soil that was there only moments earlier.
    The dome shaped homestead with the wind turbine was just ahead now. As his booted feet deposited themselves on the bark chip pathway to the entrance Luke saw a series of nostalgic images that had attached themselves to the homestead.
    Wood smoke drifted lazily from the plasteel cylinder that was employed as a chimney. Parked outside was a heart warming, old battered X-34 Landspeeder. It was painted up in dull green and deep brown flame patterns or maybe it was some kind of an odd camouflage. Luke found himself laughing. What good would a camouflage paintjob do with all the noise those old speeders belched out? A red and white R2 agromech droid wheeled into view from around the side of the building and at once Luke found himself remembering the battered malfunctioning R5 Unit he’d mistaken for an R2 Agromech the morning Artoo Detoo and See Threepio had come into his possession.
    And then all thoughts of droids, hot sandy worlds and land speeders were blasted out of his mind as a human girl appeared. She couldn’t have been older than Luke had been the day he left his homeworld. She was a lovely young woman, long dark flowing hair, smooth alabaster skin without mark or blemish. Her shapely frame was cinched tight inside a animal hide garment, that was off the shoulder, cinched at the slim waist with a metal link belt with storage pouches hugging her narrow her hips. The length fell past her knees but was only sown up the sides to mid thigh. Beyond that it was slit wide open, showing an eye popping length of slender naked legs. Her delicate feet were encased in laced up ankle length flat soled boots.
    The front of her dress was fashionably augmented. A rectangular panel had been cut out from the low neckline down to the waist and replaced with a translucent silken fabric atop of which was a decorative panel, short lengths of animal bone interwoven with brightly coloured beads. In a spiralling pattern. More brightly coloured beads adorned the girl’s throat and earlobes and a little band of beads crowned her delicate brow.
    She caught Luke’s eye and smiled brightly, as if he was no stranger to her world or her homestead.
    She seemed so familiar that Luke found himself trying to remember her name. But then the twin suns emerged from thick grey clouds to shine directly into his vision and the whole place was obliterated by their blinding light…
    …Luke opened his eyes again, the afterimage of twin suns sharpening to form the illuminated data screens of the Navigational computer.
    Artoo’s domed head swivelled and regarded Luke. The droid whistled a mournful concerned tune and Luke was intrigued to see there was no translation displayed on the console screen. Could it be the droid expressing a kind of equivalent of none verbal communication through sound? And the interpreter didn’t know how to translate the tune into a word or sentence? It was something he should ask Threepio about sometime.
    “I'm okay, I just need to rest.” Luke murmured with a weak smile at the droid.
    With only a half conscious thought he reached forward with weakly trembling hands and typed coordinates into the Navicomputer's interface. He wasn’t even sure what they were, just coordinates that were dancing around in his mind. As long as they were away from here they’d be fine.
    “Make the jump as soon as we’re clear of the dust cloud, Artoo.” Luke murmured, hardly able to form the words. “I need to rest…”
    He forced himself unsteadily to his feet and stumbled over to the cockpit door.
    “Artoo. Stay here and... Monitor... The Navicom. When we’re... Safely underway... Go and recharge yourself. Keep an... Eye... On things... Will you?”
    The trusty Astromech bleeped a confident affirmative. Luke nodded, turned away and, using the bulkhead to support him, shuffled aft, back to his bunk.
    He knew he needed to rest and recuperate, to allow the bacta to work it’s magic. He also knew he should check up on Blissex’s condition but there was nothing he would be able to do to help and interrupting the medical droid before it came to report any prognosis would be a waste of time.
    He lay gently back on the comfortable bunk, closed his eyes and breathed deep and steady, allowing the fatigue to take him down into the soothing depth of recuperative sleep.
  3. nickamano Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2009
    “I’m sorry, Sir. There is nothing more I can do. There is not enough bacta in stores to heal the patient’s injuries, which have become infected. He requires prolonged treatment in an immersion tank. I’m sorry, Sir.”
    The Medical droid spoke with a soft reassuring voice as close to Human as possible, if it hadn’t been for the telltale electronic undertone vibration it would have been perfect.
    Luke was up and dressed. He had found some left behind clothes in a storage locker in the pilot’s quarters, a simple collarless white shirt, tan utility pants, brown hide boots and a tan multi-pocketed waistcoat. He had stopped off in the engine room to use it’s re-sizer to shrink, refresh and re-seam the old garments and then dressed quickly before going over to the medical bay to check on Blissex’s progress.
    “Isn’t there anything you can do to stabilise him, or slow down the spread of the infection?” Luke asked.
    “I can administer treatments to slow his metabolism and aid the mechanics of his respiratory systems, it will keep him alive and hinder the infections’ virulence. But without a bacta tank he will die, Sir.”
    “Do what you can. I’ll try and find somewhere with a medical centre, that isn’t under Imperial control.” Luke instructed with a heavy sigh.
    He knew without having to check that the chances of finding such a place would be very slender. Bacta was perpetually in short supply and Imperial controls were strict in the supply of the miracle substance.
    He stood in the doorway of the Serpion Helletic’s cramped medical bay, looking past the medical droid to the pale and sunken form of Blissex on the bunk against the left bulkhead. Facing him on the opposite wall were rows of computer screens showing sensor readouts, vital signs and diagnosis reports, scrolling readouts of galactic medical encyclopaedia’s and other coded information he didn’t recognise.
    Blissex was in a coma. Like Luke’s own wounds, the blaster damage that had scarred the old man’s flesh were mostly healed by Bacta patches and some subcutaneous injections of the most severe areas of damaged tissue. The wounds themselves would heal. His advance years might possibly leave a little tissue scarring but he should be alright. If the infection hadn’t set in quick and with a pronounced virulence that is. If Luke didn’t get this man to a bacta tank he was certain to die.
    He knew little of Blissex, other than what the mission reports had told him. All Luke knew was that he was important enough not only to have General Dodonna risking his own safety out in the field to meet with him, but for the Imperials to put forward at least a full platoon of troops to get him back. It was enough for Luke to be assured of his importance and therefore the importance of keeping him alive and delivering him healthy to the return rendezvous.
    <><><>
    The young Rebel sat in the cockpit’s pilot seat, with Artoo Detoo once again plugged into the Navicom behind him. He worried. Worried about the General, that he had made it to another transport and that he had been able to get to safety himself. He worried about Oren, who had all but sacrificed himself, staying behind to slow down their pursuit in order to get Blissex off world. But he also knew that there was nothing he could do about either of them. The General was either free or not. And Oren was either dead or a prisoner. Even if he had escaped the Imperials and was still at large, the chances of him being able to get a transport off Curitt were astronomical.
    No doubt Threepio would have been able to provide an accurate estimation. Luke thought to himself, risking a smile.
    A familiar alert chime, an identical tone to the Millennium Falcon’s, cut through the near silence, alerting Luke that the Hyperspace coordinates had been reached.
    Luke’s brow creased with his confusion. He hardly remembered inputting coordinates. He certainly didn’t have any awareness of the location he had chosen.
    A half remembered, fuzzy recollection, of him punching unfocussed keys into the navicom flashed through his mind. And then he was suddenly intrigued and a little concerned about where those coordinates had taken them.
    He leaned forward over the information screen on the console board to the panel beyond the steering yoke and scanned the information that was coming up.
    Tatooine. Of course. Where else could he have chosen? That particular forsaken rock was only place he knew and it had been playing on his mind recently. And in any weakened state the familiar was what the brain must lock onto. Tatooine. As dangerous as it was lawless.
    Although the Imperial presence was only concentrated on large settlements and the occasional wide ranging patrols among the larger farming estates.

    Okay. That was a start. He had a location. Familiar and not too heavily populated. Which gave him an advantage. Now he just had to formulate a plan.
    Staying with the cockpit’s navicom screens, he drew up a chart of the Tatooine surface, singled out the section he knew best, the wide finger of land between the Northern and Western Dune Seas, which included the capital city Bestine, Mos’s Espa and Eisley and his home area around Anchorhead and the Chott Salt Flats.
    The chart threw up any number of landing locations, all of which were too obvious and would encourage difficult questions and more than likely expensive landing fees and possibly bribes, none of which he had the funds to cover. The other possibilities were dangerous for other reasons, namely native scavengers taking the Serpion Helletic apart while it sat unprotected. Tusken Raiders or Jawas could probably strip a small transport of this class down in a day.
    Then Luke remembered Ben’s hovel.
    It was out on the protected and acute edges of the Hubba Height on the edge of the Jundland Wastes, hard to get too on foot, unless you knew the Womp Rat paths that Ben had used. Also as a bonus, Jawas and Tuskens were afraid of the area. Luke zoomed in on the aerial scan, starting with the tiny spec that he knew to be Ben’s hovel even though it was utterly unrecognisable, and looked carefully around it.
    That edge of the Hubba Height was awash with wind blasted bluffs. The sandstone flattened by the harsh winds in a dozen places, most of them large enough for Luke’s ship and most of them unattainable from ground level. He could put down easily enough and there were plenty of craggy vertical promontories to conceal the ship from the land.
    He looked over for one that was close to Ben’s place that he could use a speeder to get to and from. The old FC-20 bike in number four hold would be good enough for that purpose.
    Luke switched off the data screen and turned his attention to the pilot’s control yoke, and the sub-light accelerators.
    They had emerged just outside of the Tatooine system and Artoo had piloted them over to the dark side of one of Tatooine’s three moons.
    It should only be a short fifteen minute flight down to the surface from where they were.
    <><><>
    Ben’s hovel was almost buried under wind swept desert sands but the plasteel door was on the partially protected western side and there was only a half meter of sand-drift blocking the entryway.
    Luke had parked the fast little FC-20 against the south wall, beside the still functioning moisture vaporator which was set into the bedrock beside the mountain cliff itself.
    The north and east walls of the small hovel were the most exposed. The west and south were moderately cooler, shadowed by sheer cliffs rising above and behind.
    The Serpion Helletic was almost directly above, landed and well concealed within a flat based claw of wind blasted rock at the edge of the Hubba Height mountain range.
    Artoo, who had used its limb thrusters to follow Luke down to the hovel, used a high powered lubricant applicator appendage to blow pressurised air at the drift-sand to clear the entrance to the hovel.
    Then the droid checked the power level of the door activator. As per usual on Tatooine, every electronic device was solar powered and the dual suns provided more than enough solar energy. The problems, more often that not, came from the sand itself getting into the workings, sealing up and jamming components. Fortunately, Artoo tested the activator and then cycled it’s programme with instant success.
    The door swished open with a slightly grating hiss, and low powered door-frame mounted blowers exhaled built up sand deposits from inside the door jam. Luke, used to all of this, shielded his eyes momentarily and then stepped inside.
    The interior was surprisingly unmolested and furnished just as Luke remembered during his last visit. Apparently the Sand People and Jawas had remained afraid of the “Jundland Wizard” and must have maintained a discreet distance from his lair.
    There were miniscule piles of drift sand in the corners but tiny solar powered interior fans kept them to the corners and away from the furnishings. It was nicely bright inside, just as Luke remembered, as there were far more windows than there appeared to be on the outside.
    The window glasteel was designed to let light in but not heat or sand. The panes were as thick as the walls and essentially pyramid shaped, tiny rectangular palm sized exteriors widened into head sized interior surfaces and were textured inside like prisms to bounce and intensify the available light like a telescope or old-style laser focussing crystals.
    It created lots of ambient light without the need for large window panes weakening the overall structure of the walls, or allowing inquisitive observers from outside seeing in.
    Artoo coasted into the small, cool, interior of the stone walled house. It’s domed head turning left and right and the droid giving little subdued hoots and beeps as it looked around.
    Without instruction it’s scanning cluster popped up from a dome hatch and started to swing around, searching for life or danger signs. Luke threw a few silent inquisitive glances the droid’s way, waiting until the sensor device sank back into the Astromech’s head before he voiced his inquiry.
    "Nothing?"
    Artoo responded with a confidently negative beep.
    “Good. Have a search around for medical supplies. We might just get lucky.”
    Artoo wheeled forward, passing by the bed/settee area that was padded with animal skins and hand made cushions. Luke had sat there the last time he had been here, busying himself with repairing Threepio’s arm. That in itself seemed like a lifetime ago, now that he thought back on it.

    The priority of Blissex’s medical status gnawed at him. But the medical droid had said that with the deliberately lowered metabolism he would remain stable for ten standard hours before the infection really started to take effect, so at least he had a little time.
    The planet-side chronometer, which told time by reading the angle of the Tatoo 1 sun between it’s zenith and the horizons, indicated it was still early morning. Which gave him until around suns-set to get Blissex better treatment.
    He knew of four possible options. Primarily, he had hoped against hope that Obi-Wan might have kept a bacta tank himself somewhere hidden in his home. It was a long shot but one he could discern easily enough.
    The second option was his Uncle’s farm. They had a small bacta shower which had used the small standard water/sonic shower to double as a bacta shower when more serious injuries or over exposure to the suns needed more extensive treatment than medical kits could provide. Though Luke knew his second option was going to be even more of a long shot than Ben’s hovel and he fully expected his old farmstead to be torn to pieces, devoid of all of its useable technology. If the Jawas and Sand People hadn’t got there first then the other moisture farmers would certainly have recycled whatever they could use.
    And then there was the thought of going back to that place. He wasn’t sure if he could stand to see the place he’d grown up as nothing more than a ripped out shell. A blackened pockmark on the landscape.
    A sudden memory of his last glimpse of his Aunt and Uncle stabbed back into his thoughts and Luke angrily slapped it aside, trying to replace it with the living breathing Human’s who had raised him, not the two blackened, burned skeletons his memory tortured him with.
    He took a deep calming breath and brought up thoughts of Leia and Han and Chewbacca. Change the subject. Don’t dwell on things you can’t change. And don’t blame yourself for their deaths…
    The third option were the other homesteads on the Chott Salt Flats. None of the families of his old friends had any particular love for the Empire and surely one of them must have an adequate and properly functioning bacta tank. Or would adaptable showers have sufficed for their farms to?
    The forth option, the most certain and obvious, as well as the most dangerous, would be to go to a professional medical practitioner in one of the larger towns. He knew Anchorhead had a multi-species physician, though he was from Ojom, and had a lisp that had always made his Basic hard to understand.
    There was also, of course, the two Mos’s to try and Arnthout and Bestine. He hoped he wouldn’t have to try any of them, for all he knew he was wanted on Tatooine and having to go around any of the large towns with a comatose Imperial ship designer, who for all Luke knew was famous and easily recognisable in Imperial circles, wasn’t a prospect he was looking forward to.
    So, first this place, then a quick glance at his Uncle’s, then onto the Darklighter farmstead or maybe Camie's...
    He allowed himself to admit that there was an undeniable yearning to see Camie again, at least to see what had become of her since his sudden departure. He thought that the desire to see her again had always been there in the background, from the moment he had agreed to go with Ben Kenobi to Alderaan. "...There's nothing here for me now." He had said, and yet subconsciously, he had never quite agreed with his own words. Camie was always there in the background. But in his mind she was always standing beside Fixer and he had always had one possessive arm around her waist. That arm and the seeming strength of their relationship had allowed Luke to leave with the intention of never coming back, but he had never quite swallowed his own resoluteness. There was that desire to know she was okay, to find out if she'd missed him, to reconfirm exactly the extent of his feelings for her. And maybe, to hope against hope, that she felt something for him?
    He pushed back his thoughts of all those possible futures he had imagined for himself - a pilot in the navy, or living out some ill conceived happy existence in the bustling core worlds with Camie at his side.
    One of those futures was already half reality. His joining the Rebellion against the Empire. He had always envisioned it to be with Biggs Darklighter as his best friend and wingman and Camie there as well, waiting for his safe return so they could celebrate yet another victory against Imperial terror. Now he was indeed part of the Alliance but he was without Biggs. Could he maybe persuade Camie to join him? Would she take the risk? Would she happily leave Fixer if it meant being able to leave Tatooine? How would the officers feel about him bringing waifs and strays into the secret bases in these dark and untrustworthy times? How would Leia feel?
    He pushed his thoughts back a second time, cursing his mind for it's constant divertiveness and got on with the task at hand.
    The hovel was about six metres from front to back, with half that length taken up by a living and sleeping area with a small dining table and a single chair against the north wall. Opposite the dining table was the semicircular alcove which made up the sleeping area and couch. In front of that was a cylindrical table with another small chair, where Artoo had displayed the Princess' holographic plea for aid.
    There was another table in the southwest corner beside the entrance and Luke could see half a dozen rectangular slots cut into the interior walls all round the building forming shelf space. There was also the big old wooden chest which had apparently been the resting place for the lightsaber which hung, now damaged, from his utility belt.
    Two steps in the centre of the floor led to two other chambers to the rear, each partitioned from the others by plaster and porestone walls. Both stretched the full width of the building, first one then the other beyond it.
    The kitchen came first with a small cooking stove and a room heater for when the twin suns gave way to the harsh icy cold of night. There was also a standard ventilation unit, and a secondary entrance in the north wall. At the rear of the building was a cooled pantry and a bathroom with an alcove for a small shower, a sink and water closet.
    Although at first glance everything seemed to be exotic and random, all was placed and ordered logically. There was a well stocked medical kit in the southwest table in a small wooden box, situated near to the main entrance and within easy reach. There were a few bacta patches inside but not enough to help Blissex.
    There was plenty more of the hovel to search through, however if there was a bacta facility it would have been linked to the shower area in the small bathroom.
    He would have to go out in the FC-20 and check out his old homestead next.
    Luke thought back and worked out that it had taken him a good couple of hours to catch up with Artoo the last time he’d taken the trip from his homestead to the Jundland Wastes. But that had been in his old X-34 and supposedly, this particular FC-20, judging by the computer specs and engine layout, could do almost twice the speed of his old 34.
    So he should reach his Uncle's moisture farm within an hour. Less in reality, as the bike could reach a 15 meter altitude, Luke could no doubt hop over a few of the obstacles that in his 34 he’d had to skirt around.
    “Artoo, wait here. I won’t be gone long. Keep a look out will you?” He said. Artoo whistled an affirmative.
    The FC-20 was a comfortable if hair-raising ride. In the tiny storage compartment built into the seat Luke had found some Ziko 1125 Macrobinoculars. They strapped to the head like goggles and protected him from blowing sand as well as providing range, elevation and azimuth readings.
    There was also an old wrap-around face scarf, with a sown in nose and mouth filter. All very handy for travelling at speed on Tatooine without any kind of windscreen protection.
    Luke donned the facial coverings, took a flask of water which he hooked to his utility belt and then headed for the door.
    He told Artoo to lock the door behind him and then pulled himself onto the waiting speeder bike and shot off at a hundred kilometres an hour down the slopes of Hubba Height, heading southeast into the Jundland wastes.
    The land was barren and rocky, with a perpetually moving top sand. It was utterly featureless apart from one or two interestingly shaped rocks, outcroppings and sink holes, these landmarks were know to the locals even if they remained unnamed.
    Luke’s only obstacle was at a point along the high ground of a steep rocky bluff, southwest of the old Rimrunner wreck. In his old landspeeder a ten kilometre detour was required to a sloping descent that allowed a smooth shallow drop to the lowland beyond.
    With the FC-20 he simply dropped off of the vertical edge of the bluff, leaving his stomach somewhere above him, but the bike took the drop smoothly and kept him upright and controlled, picking up the ground again with it’s high powered repulsors and accelerated away along the flatland valley that would take him straight to the Lars Homestead.
    The first signs of his home were trashed vaporators, half destroyed by the elements, and with no longer having any one to keep up with the daily maintenance that had previously filled Luke’s daylight hours.
    There was also careless and obvious damage by scavengers and thieves, be they Sand people, Jawas or other farmers wanting free replacement parts.
    Then the flat shimmering horizon began to reveal the pourstone dome and the shallow grey cone structure that were the visible surface elements of his Uncle’s old moisture farm.
    Luke was home.
    Another broken vaporator stood like a pale petrified tree with more of its smashed and over-turned brethren in the visible distance.
    Luke slowed the throttle of the speeder bike and came to a smooth halt at the side of the pourstone domed building that served as the entryway to the underground homestead.
    Beyond it was the grey cylinder of raised duracrete, rising like a slatted shallow cone with its point cut off. That was the roof to the garage where Luke had spent most of his spare time.
    Between the dome and the garage roof was the open pit that had been home to his T-16, the family’s Hover-Ute and V-35 Landspeeder.
    Luke felt his stomach churning. A lump in his throat. His hand went reassuringly to the heavy blaster slung tight to his right thigh. He couldn’t bare to look down into that garage pit, or the wider garden pit to his right, where the main living areas were situated, he couldn‘t look down and see all the carnage, that was sure to be there, in one go. It would be too much.
    He turned to the domed entryway and pushed at the slow to react door, trying not to think of the fact that where he was standing was where those blackened bones had lain.
    He forced the door far enough open to allow him access and then went inside. It was dark in the entryway and Luke took a shaky moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the relative gloom. It was also noticeably cooler within, the natural pourstone reflecting the twin sun’s heat very well.
    The entrance dome had always been used as a makeshift storage shed for bits and pieces that were yet to be taken down to the homestead proper or had yet to have room made for them. There had always been boxes and crates and lengths of rope and wire dumped around the place. Now there were only broken pieces left behind.
    The stairs led down one floor then took a sharp left turn to the entryway that came out around the back of Luke’s room. There was a door to the left that led to the garage pit with a gangplank leading across the pit to the garage itself. The corridor followed the back of Luke room and then turned right before it descended via another short flight of stairs to the ground level garden pit.
    From there, another short flight of steps ran parallel to the main staircase and provided access to Luke old bedroom. Out of sheer subconscious repetition Luke’s feet led him straight there and he found himself in his room before he even realised that that was where he had been headed.
    There wasn’t much left. The centre of the room where his rug had been was a pile of burnt smashed debris, fragments of the same rug, smashed portions of his bed frame, unrecognisable pieces of destroyed furniture. The walls were blackened by fire.
    However, there was evidence remaining of Luke’s previous life, little pictures he’d drawn in his first decade in this room were once again revealed low on the plaster walls where later furniture had been placed in front. The furniture was gone but the pictures remained. Doodles of droids, vaporators, alien creatures, star-fighters, which were invariably sleek and pin-cushioned with weapons
    But there was nothing else of interest here. With a heavy heart and a head jumbled and confused by conflicting emotions, Luke headed back to the garden pit.
    Looking around at the detritus and carnage which was all that was left of his only home was starting to make Luke feel nauseous. He picked up the pace, wanting to tick off the box in his head of the search for bacta and get out of this nightmare memory that had once been the place he grew up in.
    He crossed the space that had been the garden pit. The few plants that had once flourished in the shady areas were now burned residue or ripped out completely, sun shrivelled roots the only remaining evidence.
    He remembered, sudden and sharp, that he used to play tag with a Wed 15 droid in the garden pit, laughing hysterically as the slow moving, slow to react Treadwell was never able to catch him, even from half a meter away.
    The main vaporator cluster was over-turned and Luke had to jump over the bent collector vanes to get to the opposite side. He noticed binary brain units had been laser-cut free. The subterranean water cistern had been exposed to the air, the contents taken either by thieves or the suns rays. It was now sun baked and doused in blown sand. As parched as the rest of this forsaken planet.
    A quick glance through the open doorway into the storage area showed a similar state to the way Luke’s room had been left. The few crates that remained were smashed open shells. Everything of value long since taken away.
    He avoided going into the large hydroponics bay, it had been the centre of their livelihood, providing nearly all of their food, and sellable goods.
    He went on to the dining area with its arched ceiling, the painted mosaic patterning, still visible, but marked by fire damage and deep brutal gouges in the plaster and pourstone, revealing the magnetic ore packed earth beneath.
    The dining table and two of the chairs were missing. A third chair was a smashed remnant, in pieces piled into a corner. Someone had tried to burn it but the fire hadn’t taken. There were melted parts, but little more. They seemed to have resorted to smashing it with heavy blunt instruments instead, making it just as useless.
    The kitchen was beyond the dining area. Momentarily, Luke could almost see his Aunt standing there, preparing breakfast, could almost smell the mouth-watering scent of her cooking. But then a tiny gust of sandy air blew in from behind and his nostrils were filled with the thick charcoal smell of burning, reminding him of the present, even as it snatched away his past.
    The kitchen was as bad as the rest. Only storage cupboards remained but they were mostly smashed ruins, burned, destroyed, obliterated. Anything of value ripped or cut hurriedly free.
    If there had been bacta supplies they would have still been in the overhead cupboards on the right. And they weren't there any more.
    Fighting back tears and rising anger, Luke backed out and headed further left to look at the state of the bathroom, just long enough to see that everything was ripped out. They had even taken the Compost-recycler. The shower unit and it’s bacta shower attachment was certainly gone.
    He about turned and took off across the garden pit for the entryway, taking the flight of stairs two at a time.
    He paused at the busted in door along the corridor that ran behind his old bedroom. The door led to the garage. He should see it too. He’d seen everything else. He may as well.
    He shoulder barged the dented door until he could squeeze through and then looked down onto the blackened wreckage of his T-16 with an abruptly renewed sense of grief.
    Someone had destroyed it, apparently having detonated the fuelling rig and creating a chain reaction. There was little left just a split open, barely recognisable shell, as if the airspeeder had exploded from the inside. Everything was fire blackened, nothing seemed to have been salvageable following the explosion. He could make out the twisted carcasses of just about everything he remembered being there. The Hover-Ute, it’s load carrier, a number of droids, crates and barrels of supplies and fuel. Even the metal gangplank was nothing more than a twisted sculpture of blackened ruin.
    The enclosed garage beyond looked like it was in much the same state. Someone had somehow set fire to the oil bath and then set off the power supply to the instrumentation panels, possibly a result of the intense heat from the Skyhopper’s demise. He couldn’t see much beyond the mouth of the garage, as the fire blackened walls combining with the brilliant sun light from above blinded him to further details.
    Luke shivered and leaned back against the wall behind him as he felt his legs giving way. He tried to bite back the tears but they came anyway. And he let himself slide down the wall to a protective crouch and he cried. Elbows on knees, forearms supporting his head as he trembled and wept with silent grief.
    It was only a few minutes before he regained his composure and looked up again across the pit. And then he spotted a familiar shape on the vanquished ground of the garage. Stepping down, Luke gingerly worked his way around the dormant carnage, noticing as if for the first time that much of the damage on closer inspection was actually covered in a thin layer of blown sand.
    In another year or two, much less if any major sandstorms hit the area, all of this would be lost to the desert again.
    He knelt and picked up the object that almost brought on another bout of hysterical grief. It was his old model Skyhopper. It had been a birthday present from Biggs. It was, of course, damaged with half the chassis melted slag, the big laser cannon under the chassis and two of the airfoils snapped off, while the third was twisted and shrunken by heat.
    Luke angrily tossed the broken model to the ground and turned on his heel. Then he stopped and retrieved the charred remains of the nostalgic old toy, before clambering out of the pit and heading back for the surface.
    The FC-20’s seat compartment was big enough to hold the remains of the T-16 model and within seconds Luke was back on the bike and angling it southeast. The Darklighter Homestead was northeast and further east still was Anchorhead, with his favourite old haunt Tosche station on its near outskirts. Camie’s place was south of the Darklighter’s.
    From his place, and flat out on the speeder bike, it would take mere moments to get to the Darklighter Moisture Farm, a few more to get to Camie’s farm beyond, but still only moments. Luke gunned the throttle and then accelerated.
    He noticed that, even without realising it, his hands gripping the bike’s control yoke were drawing him toward Camie's homestead, though the decision hadn’t been half consciously made, as though his mind was elsewhere and he was working on autopilot.
    Camie’s parent’s place wasn’t a moisture farm, it was a mid sized hydroponics garden. Half a dozen subterranean glasshouses used brought in water and the sun of Tatooines twin stars to grow vegetable crops which were sold in Anchorhead and beyond. The family had always tended to buy in their water supplies from the surrounding moisture farms, though much of the commerce ran in the way of trade, water for vegetable crops.
    The main surface feature of Camie’s place was the hedgerow. A fence of real shrubs that were obsessively cared for by Camie’s father as a kind of pet project. The hedgerow led from the entrance dome of the homestead for about ten metres north to south along the edge of the visible duraplex roofs of the submerged glasshouse complex.
    The hydroponics garden took the form of two parallel rectangles. The western section was the garden itself. Four glasshouses in a vertical line each with it’s pyramid shaped roof which was made of duraplex panels able to orientate themselves to collect and redirect the suns’ rays at all times and intensities of daylight. Temperature and humidity was strictly controlled for optimal conditions to whatever crop was being grown at the time.
    The lush green hedgerow lay along the boundary between the two rectangles. The eastern shape formed the pourstone roofs of the living, eating and sleeping areas of the homestead. South of the subterranean homestead was a large storage warehouse. It featured an access pit at its southern most point with a secondary entrance as well as freight access and storage of the family repulsorlift vehicles.
    Luke slowed as the streak of radiant green flew into his vision and he weaved wide around the western side of the glasshouses, coming to a smooth gliding halt twenty or so metres from the entry dome. He pulled into the light consuming shadows of a low cliff edge that pointed like a finger towards the farms entryway. Aided by the quiet thrumming whir of the speeder bike’s idling engine, low, soft and hard to detect, Luke was almost invisible in the deep shadows, even though he was only metres from the entrance.
    Something made him think of his lightsaber. It was useless at the moment. He daren’t try to activate it. He wasn’t sure what would happen. If he did it could blow up and by the rating of the power cell it would be as harmful was a thermal detonator going off in his hand.
    Still, it hung there in plain sight, hooked via the hilt’s D-ring onto his hide belt, bumping against his thigh. Somehow he didn’t like the idea of it being there in plain sight. And he felt a sudden desire to keep it concealed, keep it safe and secret. He looked down over his clothes, thinking of the long tool pouch he used to have on his old utility belt, it would have taken the weight of the bulky lightsaber hilt easily. But all that was suitable with the clothes he was wearing was one of the deep thigh pockets in his tan coloured trousers. He unhooked the weapon and pushed it carefully out of sight into the left side trouser pocket. He was still fastening the pocket flap when something had him looking up at the dome entrance opposite.
    As he looked at the pourstone entryway with it’s black shadowed door, Luke saw, with a spine-chilling and sudden familiarity, a red and white agromech droid wheel into view from the far side of the hedge toward the entry dome. The weird familiar sense continued as a human girl emerged from the entryway’s shadow out into the baking sunlight.
    She had neither changed nor aged a bit since Luke had last set eyes on her. And she was just as lovely as ever, huge expressive golden brown eyes. Mind numbingly beautiful, lush gleaming straight brown hair.
    Then the moment of heart fluttering clarity was slashed, as a second figure burst into view from the pourstone doorway behind the girl. Laze Loneozner, known to everyone as Fixer, stomped onto the Tatooine surface behind his long time girlfriend.
    They appeared to be in mid argument, though Luke found that impossible to take in for the first few moments. He stared at them, it was like seeing his old life through a holograph projector, he’d witnessed this countless times. Them arguing. Camie passionate and snappy, Fixer grumpy and stubborn, resolute that what he was doing, whatever it had been at the time, was for the best.
    Luke knew them both well enough to see through the words and interpret the meaning. It had always been the same. Fixer simultaneously lazy and intent on making the best of what they had, always the realist but always focussing on what was best for Camie and himself. His intention was always to put Camie first, but only within the realms of the here and now, with what they had or what they could reasonably expect of the future.
    Camie, on the other hand had always been a dreamer, much like Luke, though the content of the dreams differed somewhat. She had always deplored the fact that she had been born on Tatooine in the outer edge of the outer Rim and had always maintained, and resented the fact, that she should have been born on Alderaan or Coruscant or Fresia, or any other rich and glamorous Core World. She wanted excitement, glamour and riches, to be swept off her feet. She was a romantic who had been cruelly fated to live out a poor and harsh life in a dirty farming world in the middle of nowhere.
    The result was arguments, constant bickering, that was only made bearable by making up afterward.
    And it had always given Luke a dose of false hope - that one of these days the constant fighting would go too far and result in the couple breaking up for good, and that would give Luke a chance to step in and take Fixer’s place. Underneath, he had known it to have been a false hope just as much as he had denied the fact to himself, and spent many a lonely hour pining for the unattainable.
    Fixer, not looking any different, either in appearance or clothing, than any other time Luke had seen him, kicked at a wind gathered sand pile at the edge of the dome, his face a frustration contorted snarl.
    Camie turned on him, a slight flush of colour on her angry cheeks. Her voice carried.
    “…But don’t you count on me still being here when you get back!”
    “Oh really! Where exactly are you going to go? Eisley? Get a job as a waitress? You wouldn’t last a day!”
    “I’ll have you know… I’ve had offers!”
    “From who?” Fixer spat, obviously disbelieving.
    “Jem Raltair’s said he’d take me away! Anywhere I’d like to go! And who knows, I might just take him up on it! Get off of this sand-ball once and for all!”
    “Ha!” Fixer barked his singular laugh, as amused by the mention of Jem Raltair, as he was annoyed by the suggestion of his girlfriend running off with him. Luke understood the amusement. Raltair was a known rogue and drunken lowlife. And twice Camie’s age. He talked big and acted like a braggart, but he was essentially harmless, as long as you didn’t take him seriously.
    His desire for Camie was well known and remarked upon in and around Anchorhead, where spent most time frequenting various drinking dens when he wasn’t doing his alleged job as assistant engineer on some old Baltarian spice freighter.
    “You with that slimy Sullustan vagrant?! I’ll believe it when I see it!”
    Camie was momentarily, and rarely, lost for words. Anger was making her beautiful face flush a deep shade of pink as Fixer carried on.
    “He’d more than likely sell you to some gangster on Ord Mantell two days after getting his hands on you! But, if you want to go off with him be my damned guest, Cam!” He growled, already turning away and heading for the souped up six engine landspeeder that was parked up beyond the entry dome.
    “I don’t want to go with him you sand-brained, bantha smelling slug! I want to be with you! But I want to be with you anywhere but here! Try and get it through your sun addled brain, you damned ignorant peasant!”
    Whatever Fixer threw back at her as he stormed off toward his speeder, Luke was unable to catch.
    Camie stomped on the ground in frustration, her skirt flipping out with her passion.
    “I’ve been hanging around this wind scoured sand pit for too many years waiting for you to propose!” She yelled back at him, but Fixer was already leaping into the open cockpit of the jury-rigged old XJ-3 Narglatch speeder.
    “I am not going to end up some wrinkled old farmers, wife... Or an old maid! …Laze!!”
    The sand-dust of his angry and hurried departure clouded him and almost clouded Camie too.
    She stood there watching the dust settle, shielding her eyes with a hand for a long time before she turned away her slender shoulders slumping visibly.
    With the distraction of Fixer out of the way, Luke took a long longing look at Camie, savouring her timeless beauty in the familiar sun baked landscape of their homeworld.
    A breeze lifted and took hold of her sweeping mahogany locks, whipping up its length, fanning and spiralling her long lush hair. There were two plaited lengths that came down from behind her delicate ears, looped loosely around the back of her head and were knotted together into single braid with a sliver of forged silver twists.
    Her smooth, light golden skin, that looked flawless and gleamed with radiance even under the harsh Tatooine sun, was more on display than Luke had been used to. Her slender torso was inside a white cut-off and wraparound wide sleeved top, similar to the standard Tatooine attire that Luke himself used to wear, but Camie’s was cut off at the midriff and the sleeves only reached her elbows. There was also a wide deep hood but it was thrown back off her shoulders.
    Her knee length wraparound skirt was made of softest bantha hide, treated and acid thinned to soften the usually tough leather. It flitted and danced in the breeze almost like silk. It was split up the front-left side right up to the thin utility belt she wore with the two small pouches hanging against her narrow hips.
    She wore bantha hide boots, thicker and a duller brown than the skirt, more useful for protection from the elements. They reached just over her knees and were adorned with little silver bells at the knee and ankle straps.
    She stood still for a moment her face uplifted, still unaware of Luke, almost basking in a rare refreshing breeze before she spotted the visitor sitting astride the speeder-bike in the cliff’s shade staring at her. His face was still covered and she obviously wouldn’t recognise him.
    She gave a sudden jolt, fear and defensiveness battling, resulting in uncertainty, her lush brown eyes widening. At last she seemed to realise the danger and quickly reached around behind her back.
    Luke saw the blaster in her hand, a little M-193 holdout. He felt his own hand heading for his hip holster and he realised he was ahead of himself, his DL-44 was out of it’s leather and halfway to levelled, before Camie’s was even in free air. He stopped, sudden and deliberate, then put his gun back slowly, trusting Camie not to panic fire, allowing her to point the muzzle at his chest.
    And then, without a word shared between them, he slowly pulled off the macro goggles and unwrapped the cloth from his lower face. He was grinning and the grin widened into a full and friendly smile as he saw the recognition spreading across her lovely face. The blaster all but fell out of her hand as her arms dropped to her sides. Reacting to the sudden unreal realisation.
    “Skywalker?!” She gasped. “It is you isn’t it?”
    Luke felt a wonderful shiver at the sound of her voice. That soft tremulous sound with a breathy sweetness he’d almost forgotten about. Even in the Tatooine heat he could feel the flush rising from his throat and colouring his cheeks. He nodded, not yet finding his voice.
    “Damn it Wormie! You really scared me!” There was anger but Luke had known her all their lives and he could see the happiness behind it.
    “Hello, Camie.” He said, ignoring her use of the derogatory nickname.
    “What are you doing here? Where’ve you been? We all thought you’d been killed along with your Aunt and Uncle, what happened? I haven’t seen you since Biggs left for his posting.”
    It all tumbled out of her in a vocal flurry, aghast and barely believing.
    “I’ve fallen in with a new group, off worlders.” He gushed excitedly. “Remember Ben, that old hermit? Lived out by the Dune sea? He saved me, got me off world.”
    “Let’s go inside. Got to look after my skin y’know?” She said, with a glancing glare up at the suns. “I’m not being all dried up and wrinkled at twenty five.”
    “Yeah, yeah, I know.” Luke replied with a touch of exasperation.
    Camie had been saying that since she was ten years old. The creams and lotions she applied daily must have cost her parents a fortune But he would happily concede that they were worth it.
    He followed her into the entry dome and down a flight of steep carved stone steps.
    “Where are your parents?” He asked conversationally.
    “It’s just after harvest, Wormie!” She gave him a sidelong glance, and a look that said where’ve you been? “Father’s doing the round’s Mos Eisley, Arnthout. Mother’s helping out at the Deak’s for a couple of days.”
    They went into the dining room and Luke sat at the small circular dining table, while Camie automatically stepped over to a cooling unit and produced a container of blue milk and two glasses.
    “So what happened? Where’re you been all these months?” Camie asked, him her beautiful crystalline eyes sparkling in the refractally cooled sunlight that illuminated the subterranean rooms of the homestead.
    “Old Ben…?” Luke caught the recognition of the man’s name in her eyes and continued. “He helped me out, I wasn’t at home when my Aunt and Uncle were killed. Ben got me off-world but he was killed not long after and I’ve…” He paused again. Something was telling him not to tell Camie too much. Maybe it was just a general sense of caution he had picked up being around Alliance members so much, maybe it was that he was accustomed to his Tatooine friend’s disbelieving his tall tales, he thought they wouldn’t believe him having joined the Rebellion.
    “…Well I’ve been staying with some friends of his ever since.”
    Tall tales. Luke had used to make things up to try and get his friends to like him more, to impress them but they had always seen though them. Now he was doing just the opposite, he mused, smiling inwardly at the irony, now he was keeping an exciting and life changing truth from them deliberately.
    A few months ago he would have been overloading the thrust turbines on his landspeeder to get over to Toche station to tell them all as quickly as he could, that he had joined in the fight against the Empire.
    “Which brings me to why I came back.” He said. This part he would have to broach carefully.
    “Oh? It wasn’t just to see your old friends then?” Camie said, her thin, well tended eyebrows lifting inquisitively.
    Luke knew she was teasing him. Or half teasing, half fishing for compliments that he had so often tried to throw her way in the past, usually when Fixer wasn’t in earshot. Childish, clumsy and pointless.
    He felt himself flush with embarrassment as memories of such actions and a new recognition of how silly and childish he must have looked to Camie doing all that. Silly and transparent. A polar opposite to Fixer, and his cool, laid back non-concern. Surely she couldn’t like someone who was so much the opposite to the kind of man her boyfriend was? He quickly shook himself free of the thought process and danced around Camie’s probing question.
    “I have a sick friend who needs time in a bacta tank.”
    “So? Go to the physician in Anchorhead.”
    “The thing is he’s… I’m trying to keep it quiet. There are people looking for him and, to be honest, I don’t know who to trust.”
    Her eyes lit up, and Luke could swear he could see her mind working. Partly a rising interest in the added intrigue and partly preparing to mock Luke if she was about to catch him out in another one of his made up stories.
    “Oooo!” She sang, a little sarcasm a little excitement. “Wormie’s got himself in trouble!”
    “Stop calling me that! This is important! If the Empire finds out where he is…” He stopped himself from going further but knew the damage was done.
    “Wait a minute. He’s a sympathiser? Are you mad?! Dammit, Luke you could get us all killed!”
    “Only if you open your mouth!” He replied indignantly.
    “Everyone’s heard about Alderaan. It was all over the Holonet. The central world of the Rebellion has been destroyed! The Alliance is doomed now! The best everyone can do is distance themselves from known sympathisers and keep out of trouble.”
    “Just a damn minute, Camie! Yeah, Alderaan is gone but so is the space station that destroyed it! A handful of Alliance fighters went up against the most powerful Imperial weapon and destroyed it!”
    Luke was up out of his seat, the cheap dining chair almost overturned on the cooling tiles beneath him, his voice rising with each passing sentence.
    “…And Alderaan wasn’t the Rebel’s main base and it wasn’t the core of the Alliance. It was one of many worlds, the Alliance is galaxy wide and stronger than ever right now! We’re consolidating our position, searching for a new base, planning our next move. The Alliance is much bigger and more powerful than any Imperial controlled news broadcasts are going to admit. We’re out there Camie, fighting to rid every world from Imperial tyranny and it’s up to everyone who hates the Empire to help out in any way they can. Even if that’s only helping an old man recover in a bacta tank on this good-for-nothing planet. Now are you going to help out or just sit there pouting?!”
    Luke’s passion and verbal venom surprised himself as much as Camie. And her shock was etched all over her lovely face.
    “Luke, I…” She obviously didn’t know what to say.
    Luke calmed himself and added a flush cheeked and subdued addendum.
    “No matter how pretty you look when you pout.”
    She smiled slightly, going a little red herself.
    “Look, we’re so far out of the core we never know what to believe. There were rumours of a Rebel victory floating around Anchorhead, but there are always rumours which have turned out to be false. Remember that so called crack team who were heading for Imperial centre? Said they had a chart of the Palace and could get into the Emperor’s sanctum? And what did they turn out to be?”
    “Their leader was just trying to impress you. I told you that at the time.”
    “Full of Bantha dung, I was going to say.” She replied rather indignantly. “The point is we’ve all learned not to listen to rumours out here. Official news is all we have to go on. What was it Biggs was always saying? 'You have to read between the lines.'”
    Luke visibly baulked at the mention of Biggs’ name. He tried to cover it with finishing his drink.
    “Have you seen Biggs?" Camie asked. "Heard anything from him? Rand Eliptic’s been back in Mos Eisley twice since he left. One of the officers I talked to said he jumped ship during his first trip out.”
    “He joined the Alliance, told me just before he left... He was part of the force that took on that Imperial space station… We both were... Biggs didn't make it back.” Luke said quietly, unable to look the young beauty in the eye.
    “Never made it…?” Camie looked aghast. “He’s dead?!”
    “He was shot down protecting me on my attack run. Another friend the Empire’s taken away from us.”
    He leaned back in his chair and caught Camie’s eye, even through his own brimming tears he could see her face was wet with tears of her own.
    “My Aunt and Uncle, Ben, Biggs… That’s why I need to save this other person… He was meeting with one of the top Alliance General’s when we were ambushed. He’s important to the cause Camie! I have to save him! So, what about it? Can you help?”
    Camie sat still and silent for a long minute and Luke couldn’t help studying her face.
    He didn’t think he’d spent this much time alone with her. Not just the two of them, Fixer had always been close by every other time. It felt good to be this close, this intimate.
    “You’ve changed Luke, grown up. You’re not the little annoying Wormie that used to hang around us trying to impress us with your childish stories.” She said, laughing slightly, trying to show the insults were meant in a complimentary way, however impossible that sounded to Luke.
    “Trying to impress me…” She added quietly.
    Luke blushed but said nothing. Waiting for her response.
    “And it turns out all you’ve had to do was be yourself.” She mused, as if muttering to herself. “I am actually impressed Luke. You’ve grown up the last few months. And, of course I’ll help you. There’s a boy I know up in Arnthout, about our age, his adopted Uncle’s a physician. I’m sure I can talk him into treating your friend on the quiet.” She said with a slight blush.
    Luke grinned, wondering what that particular blush was about. All in all there had been a lot of blushing going on it had been a strange and awkward conversation, but they were finally getting somewhere.
    “You get your patient to Tosche Station. I’ll speed over to see the guy and square it with him and then meet you. Erm, don’t let Fixer know, if you stumble across him. He has a new job and I don‘t know where his loyalties are these days.…”
    Luke raised his eyebrows in a question. Camie just shrugged.
    “Never mind, it’s not important. I‘ll meet you back here in about an hour.”
    <><><>
    Getting Blissex's comatose body out of the hidden Serpion Helletic wasn’t all that simple. Neither was transporting it over to Tosche Station. He didn’t dare fly there. He preferred the ship hidden and himself using Ben’s hovel as his own base of operations.
    He thought about staying on the ship himself but he soon realised that to stay on Tatooine and indeed to come across as a resident, he needed to stay acclimatised to the environment, which Ben’s old home helped him immeasurably.
    He could have borrowed a two-seater speeder from Camie but it never occurred to him until he was confronted by the dilemma itself. The Helletic’s cargo bay provided the answer.
    Attached to the rear bulkhead of number three hold was a repulsor platform for easy cargo loading. Luke disconnected the platform and checked it’s status, then pushed it aft across the docking cross-corridor and into the medical bay, where he carefully lifted and placed Blissex onto it’s flat surface and strapped him securely in place.
    There was a connecting hook assembly to attach it to other platforms or a repulsor sled for cargo transportation. Luke found a connector in the number three hold’s equipment lockers and fixed the platform to the rear of the speeder bike.

    Artoo Detoo was still dutifully waiting inside Ben’s hovel but had spent the time doing investigative scans. And it seemed to Luke that the squat little droid had found something. The Astromech pointed out its discovery with excited whistles and hoots that without the ships translator or Threepio to interpret Luke found himself unable to fathom, until the droid physically led him into the narrow hallway to the house’s rear entrance. Under a threadbare rug, just before the doorway was a small concealed trapdoor, leading to a small subterranean space, that seemed to be a cellar or basement formed from a natural cave. A short steep flight of steps carved from bedrock led down to a small low ceilinged room, the floor and walls worked into smooth horizontal and vertical surfaces, all but for a few cracks and crevices where the natural form of the stone was still apparent.
    The discovery interested Luke greatly and he vowed to come back for a better look, but Blissex’s health and Luke’s rendezvous with Camie was paramount. The cellar would have to wait.
    After a quick break for refreshment, using Ben’s still functioning kitchen furniture and some foodstuffs from the Serpion Helletic’s stores, Luke boarded the speeder bike with it’s secured and carefully covered cargo and sped off across the Tatooine landscape again.
    He reached Tosche station on the outskirts of Anchorhead without issue and parked the speeder bike and it’s cargo platform in the corner of the shaded garage at the rear of the reactor control shack. The rear wall of the garage area was a series of frosted duraplex panels beyond which was the worn and well used computer pool table game. The entrance was on the other side of the building.
    It didn’t occur to Luke until he was around the far side of the station and walking into the sales office, that Deak and Windy were usually hanging around here. And the fact that neither of them, or Fixer, were present at the station was abnormal behaviour as far as they were concerned. If it hadn’t been for Camie reminding him that it was harvest season, he would have been suspicious by their absence.
    The sales office was tidier than he was used to. The desk was more or less clear of clutter, Luke was used to seeing it covered corner to corner with tools and broken pieces of machinery or equipment halfway through tune up, oily rags, cleaning tools, smears of lubricants and half drained beverage containers.
    To the right of the door were tool cabinets and unopened boxes of spares. It occurred to him, looking at the tools and supply cupboards that waiting for Camie might give him the opportunity to at least get a better assessment of his lightsaber’s damage.
    He opened up one tool cabinet that was as tall as he was and twice as wide and rummaged through the drawers and slide-out tubs until he found a set of micro tools. They probably weren’t small enough for what he needed but they would at least suffice for a simple assessment of the damage.
    He sat down in the recliner behind the sales desk, adjusted the perpetually active desk lamp and then pulled the damaged lightsaber out of his trouser pocket.
    The scorching on the synthetic grip ribs wouldn’t be a problem, it seemed like a pretty standard grade of material, it would just be a case of picking out replacement strips and finding some kind of effective bonding material, probably molecular adhesive.
    The forward activator stud was hanging on by a thread of blackened metal and there was carbon scoring around it’s joint and inside the rim of the activator housing.
    A closer examination with a handy portable scanner, that someone had left discarded on the sales desk, showed evidence of a feedback charge through wiring along the inside of the hilt and into the activation matrix assembly, which appeared to have blown one or two of the components inside the block. Luke looked more closely after switching off the scanner. It would explain the damage to the matrix panel with it’s strange translucent bubble strip which had been split down the centre, blackened by more carbon damage. If the feedback charge had been insulated, then it might just mean a few minor replacement parts and some rewiring. Pretty standard stuff. If he could find the parts and the tools.
    He went back to the tool cabinet but found nothing. No useable tools and certainly no replacement parts. Even the lengths of wire that Tosche Station stocked were too large, according to the internal scan of the lightsaber’s workings.
    Luke spent another half hour looking around the station’s rooms and supplies before he finally gave in with a huff and snatched up some refreshment instead.
    He had barely sat down with a pitcher of water in the sales office’s recliner when he heard the unique trilling rumble of Camie’s old but fancy JG-8 land speeder and he went out into the hot sun to meet her.
    Camie’s speeder was expensive, fast and comfortable. It’s repulsors and thrust engines had been souped up by Fixer and its exterior design was simply marvellous, built around a standard land speeder chassis, however it’s body was a mass of sweeping multi-facetted curves like stylised fire surrounding a duraplex dome canopy. It’s cargo storage area was a long but shallow rectangular slot underneath the arrangement of thrust engines to the rear.
    Luke took a quick look at the cargo space, decided there was just about enough room for Blissex and his stasis platform and carefully loaded him inside before he hopped into the speeders passenger seat and slid the clear duraplex dome shut above them.
    Inside the speeder was as close to environmental bliss as possible on Tatooine. The sealed duraplex canopy kept out the worst of the Twin sun’s heat and environmental conditioners blasted cool air all around the comfortable plush interior.
    The passenger seat was padded and contoured perfectly automatically adjusting to it’s occupant’s frame and weight. It had plenty of leg room and the interior dashboard was a stylish and sleek layout with all the controls located in easy and intuitive positions.
    “So who’s the patient?” Camie asked conversationally as she wheeled the speeder back to the north and took off across the flat expanse of sand and stone that formed a rock framed channel between Archorhead to the southeast and the Xelric Draw to the northwest. The journey to Arnthout shouldn’t take more than a quarter of an hour.
    “I don’t really know. He was meeting with one of our leaders when the Empire appeared and tried to take him back with them. Things got a little hairy but I think most of us got out.”
    “So, he was wounded in the escape?”
    “Yeah. We both were, but the doc was able to fix me up.”
    “Glad to hear it.” Camie murmured. “You’re looking good Luke. All this freedom fighting seems to be having a good effect on you.”
    “Thanks, you haven’t changed a bit. Just as beautiful as ever… If you don’t mind me saying.” He added under his breath.
    “Don’t let Fixer hear you say that. He’s so possessive! I used to think it was nice. But now it’s just annoying. I think he'd keep me locked away at home if he thought he could get away with it.”
    “He’s always been like that hasn’t he?” Luke commented.
    “I suppose. But lately, in the last year really…” She faded away leaving a silence that quickly grew oppressive.
    “What’s this about Fixer and a new job?” Luke asked wanting to fill the void.
    “Oh, nothing really. A rich family from Tepasi has been buying up farmsteads around here. Fixer got himself employed as a caretaker and liaison. The only problem is that the family has Imperial ties… That’s what I meant about his loyalties. He‘s so intent on getting enough credit for us...”
    “Isn’t that commendable though? All he’s trying to do is give you as good a life as he can."
    “It’s why he’s doing it though. Lately I’ve had the impression he thinks he has to keep me in some kind of luxurious lifestyle, but it feels like he’s trying to buy my love, or something. That he’s just doing it to keep me. As if he doesn’t trust me to stay with him.”
    “Don’t get mad Camie but the argument this morning… You can understand why he thinks that way…”
    “You heard all that!?” She snapped, then let it go with a shoulder slumping sigh. “I know. But he’s just so annoying! I guess I just find myself pushing his buttons without thinking about it. I just don’t want to live the rest of my life in this dump. But Fixer can’t look past Tatooine. Hell, he can’t look past Anchorhead… This job with TaggeCo. He could have just taken their offer to buy up his place. Merl has practically given the station over to him as it is. We could have sold that and his farmstead and we’d have had enough to get off this rock and buy a place closer to the core. Maybe not Coruscant, but Corellia or Reecee. Somewhere closer to the centre of things….” She sighed. “But no, he turned that offer down and took the caretakers job instead…”
    “Oh…” Luke said. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
    They sat in silence again for a while, Luke watching the passing scenery with a strange sense of nostalgia that was flavoured with memories of his previous life, speeding along this mesa and all the others just like it, wishing for a better life.
    “You could still go. Couldn’t you?” He said hesitantly. Not sure if he was making a mistake or not.
    Ever since he’d talked with Ben he had started to realise that anything and everything had consequences and you could never guess the outcome, if it would be for better or worse. If he had been a good farm boy, followed the rules, kept his head down, like his Uncle, not taken off Artoo Detoo’s restraining bolt - then he would be dead now. The droids and the Death Star plans would be in the hands of the Empire. Princess Leia would be dead too. The remainder of the Alliance in tatters. And the Death Star would be travelling around the galaxy inflicting it’s brand of terror-based control on an already subjugated galaxy and the Empire would hold full sway once and for all.
    More than likely the Imperial technicians would have poured over the recovered plans, discovered the design flaw and dealt with it somehow, making any Rebel attack bound to fail. If he’d decided not to follow Obi-Wan’s ‘damned idealistic crusade’ and be a law abiding good farmer.
    “On my own?” Camie said with an air of incredulity.
    “You could… You could come with me. I have a ship.”
    “You. You have a ship. Of your own… Come on, Wormie…” She had that familiar nostalgic disbelieving intonation again.
    “Stop calling me that.” He snapped. Of course this wasn’t going to go the way he had hoped. Why would it?! “How else do you think I got here.”
    “Any number of ways. There are plenty of ships that come in and out of here every day.”
    “What about our passenger? Are you saying you don’t believe what I’ve told you?”
    “You’ve spun so many tall tales over the years I’ve known you, I always disbelieve until I see some proof for myself. Sure he’s sick and needs medical attention but he could be anyone. You’re too trusting, that’s your problem. Too gullible. You’ll believe anything anyone tells you.”
    “That’s not true. But you believe what you want to. Like you always have.”
    They sat in disgruntled silence for the rest of the journey into Arnthout.
  4. nickamano Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2009
    The city of Arnthout was just the same as all the other towns and cities on Tatooine. A ragtag mix of pourstone, Plasteel and duracrete buildings jumbled together in an organic random pattern, with narrow streets and narrower alleys.
    Each had their own personal features, like Mos Eisley’s garrison base, Espa’s heavy pod race leanings and Bestine’s pretence at grandeur in it’s architecture and more formulated layout. Other than that you could wake up in any one of the major settlements and not have much of an idea which one you were in.
    Arnthout was very much the younger brother of Bestine as there was only a short distance between them. If Bestine proved too expensive, upmarket or moral, your next stop would be Arnthout.
    The city was almost in the shadow of the crest of the Bildor Plateau, though its shade only covered the city for a few hours of the evening, the cooling winds rushing down the cliffs did take the edge of the harsh temperatures.
    The southern quarter was the most inexpensive and considered the hive for the least honest of it’s inhabitants. It was also a nexus for non-human’s. The snobbish human populous, all aspiring to make enough to relocate to the capital, took up much of the northern quarter.
    Apparently Camie’s physician friend-of-a-friend worked in the south-eastern portion. He had a modest practice just outside a rectangular courtyard, formed around a scrap pile that had become a burrow for the local Jawas.
    The western side of the courtyard was a livestock market, with Eopies and Dewbacks being the most popular domesticated stock on display.
    The northern face was all gambling dens and drinking places. A cheap hotel formed the northwest corner, probably cheap due to its proximity to the aromatic livestock market. The eastern side was made up of a variety of covered market stalls, selling everything imaginable. The southern wall was formed by the rear of another row of stores that backed onto the courtyard. The stores had advertising displays and signs that read ‘entrance on other side’ in a plethora of written languages.
    The remainder of the wall space seemed to be made up of adverts, wanted placards, council announcements and Imperial decrees.
    The physicians’ place was to the east, just beyond the market. It shared a building that sold air speeders, landspeeders, spare parts and Pod Racer chassis, with a short flight of pourstone steps leaning to an upper storey suite of rooms that housed the surgery.
    “Don’t worry, he has lift access from the underground garages. We can bring your friend up from there where no one will see.” Camie said.
    She then turned and followed a ramp underneath the side of the speeder sellers.
    The shadows were deep and the few, small, wall mounted, glow lamps barely gave up enough illumination to see by. However the girl seemed to know where she was going.
    She parked against a wall between two pourstone pillars and got out.
    “That’s the lift. Press for Ody, it’s listed under salvage, on the readout. He’s a Fluggrian, just so you know. I have to go and settle a debt with his nephew, I'll be back in a couple of hours.” Camie said, and then turned on her heel and left Luke to it.
    He called out "Thank you!" After the girl but didn't know if she had heard him or not.
    He unhitched the repulsor sled from the landspeeder’s cargo space and then pushed it over to the lift. Pressed the button Camie had indicated and then took the lift up the two floors to the surgery.
    A dull grey plated Cybot Galactica protocol droid met him at the entrance.
    “Hello sir. Please bring your patient this way.” The droid said simply.
    Luke, hand momentarily resting on the broom handle grip of his DL-44, took a hasty look around the room beyond, but he didn’t see anyone, didn’t sense any kind of trap, didn’t think there was any obvious sign of danger. He pushed the sled forward into a rectangular chamber laid out like a waiting room. A standard reception console was set into the wall by the entrance door. Along the right hand wall were numerous seats, mostly for Humanoid use but a number were designed for other none bipedal species. There were a few holographic entertainment tablets here and there on low tables and a larger holonet display screen on the left hand wall. Much of the rest of the wall space was covered in pinups giving medical advice, offers, treatments, and the latest in purchasable medical equipment, from simple belt kits to Capital class starship grade medical facilities.
    Luke followed the droid that was a dusty coloured, dull finished version of See Threepio, except with a softer, lighter tone of voice, but that same awkward semblance of Humanity in its walk and aspect. The droid led Luke and Blissex to another door, the only other door beside the entrance and lift doors, knocked twice and then led the way inside.
    The physician was standing beside a desk against the right hand wall, the room was small but high ceilinged with a large translucent glasteel window taking up almost all of the facing wall. There was a small sofa in the near right corner with a small refresher unit. Along the left wall were an observation bunk, an old but well maintained FX-7 medical droid, and a large two metre tall cylindrical bacta tank, in the far left corner by the window.
    The Physician tuned to Luke and warbled a greeting, which the protocol droid quickly translated into basic.
    “My master wishes you a good day, sir. And he requests you place your patient onto the bunk for an examination.”
    Luke nodded, muttered an uncertain ‘thank you’ and went about unharnessing Blissex from the repulsor sled.
    The protocol droid came over to assist Luke at once. They gently laid the limp middle aged man onto the bunk and stepped back as the green-yellow skinned physician with his white medical smock, face mask and skull cap waddled over and started to flick switches and twists dials adjusting the bunks sensor systems for the patients physiology.
    “He was caught in an explosion. My ship’s droid stabilised him but said his wound had become infected.” Luke put in helpfully, doing his best to stay out of the alien doctors way.
    The physician didn’t reply to Luke beyond what looked like a slight nod. After a minute of silence it looked up and started warbling. The protocol droid took over again.
    “My master says your medical droid is well programmed. Twenty hours in the bacta tank is all that is required for an immediate recovery. It will cost five hundred, which can be paid in advance or once the patient is recovered. How ever you prefer, sir.”
    “I er… Need to keep this quiet. He’s of interest to certain parties and…”
    The warbling started up again and Luke turned to the droid for the translation.
    “My master says that this has been explained to him.”
    “How much extra…?” Luke asked hesitantly.
    He tried to sound apologetic, hoping the offer of more money wouldn’t be taken badly. The warble turned into a twitter that, after a second or two, Luke realised was probably a laugh, or at least the equivalent of a laugh.
    “My master says he is enemy to the Empire. No further reparation is required of him. The patient will be safe here and you should come back in twenty hours to collect him.”
    “Thank you.” Luke said, addressing the Physician and giving a little solemn bow.
    The droid translated the doctor’s eloquent response and then led Luke back to the lift again.
    After loading up the empty sled, Luke waited for Camie in her speeder, dozing in the underground warmth with the passenger seat retracted as far as it would go. When she reappeared she looked slightly dishevelled, her hair mussed, cheeks flushed, clothing a bit unkempt, as if a sandstorm had caught her on the way back to the underground parking bay.
    Luke avoided making inquiries as to the state of her and instead reported the twenty hour waiting time. Camie said little in response and drove him back to Tosche station in almost complete silence.
    They parted company with a quick embrace and a promise to meet up again soon.
    Luke hooked the sled back to his speeder bike in Tosche stations garage, all the time watching Camie as she walked away, bathed in the afternoon sunlight, back towards the cooling protection of the sales office. He found himself unable to take his eyes off her, only able to hook up the sled and speeder once she had walked out of sight.
    With a definite but somehow indistinct longing pulling at his heart and a confused mass of emotions clouding his mind, Luke hauled himself onto the narrow seat of the FC-20, gunned the powerful thrust engines and then shot off northwest back towards Ben’s hovel where Artoo was waiting for him.
    <><><>
    Luke had forgotten just how fatigued the Tatooine heat made him and after a light meal he lay down on Obi-Wan’s bantha hide bed for an hour or two and dozed, recovering his strength and allowing the colder air in the dwelling to cool him down.
    He dreamed of wandering the polished grey and black durasteel corridors of the Death Star, trying to find his way back to docking bay 94, then remembering he needed to shut off the controls to the tractor beams but he couldn’t remember what section that had been. AA-23? 3187? 326827? Numbers and codes danced around in his mind but nothing made sense. He ducked back into an alcove as two Stormtroopers walked past, chatting about top gassing and a new Aratech 74-Z speederbike. Then he saw the black cloaked and armoured figure who had killed Ben Kenobi. He passed across Luke's vision along a cross corridor, looking away from him toward another black garbed and hooded figure who had the slumped over gait of a weak old man. He even carried a gleaming black walking cane.
    Ben was suddenly standing next to him. “That’s Vader.” He whispered to Luke pointing at the taller of the two figures in black. "He destroyed your father."
    “And now he's killed you too.” Luke growled, angry but quiet.
    “Do I look dead to you?” Ben asked a sly smirk on his wiry bearded face.
    “Ben…” Luke started to say.
    “What’s the name your droid knows me by?” He replied cryptically and then disappeared into the shadows.
    He awoke with an echo of Ben’s warm laughter in his head and an image of the smiling old man tugging thoughtfully on his beard, but it went away as quickly as the dream from which it had come.
    He got up. Night had fallen and the hovel was dark apart from a meagre glow from the stove near his feet. He rose and touched a few of the wall mounted glow lamps beside the sleeping alcove.
    Artoo was standing dormant in the opposite corner, powered down while it recharged.
    Luke shivered again and looked around for a source of warmth. He noticed a spare hooded robe hanging on a wall on the rear wall beside the old Tusken weapons.
    He unhooked it and threw it on, feeling immediately warmed and comforted, he could almost imagine the faint comforting scent of old Ben himself within the folds of the soft, aged fabric.
    He started to wander again, rooting around, intrigued by the trinkets and objects on the tables and shelves, some of them recognisable objects, little pourstone sculptures, others alien to him.
    He found himself in the rear part of the tiny dwelling by the refresher station with a collection of coiled ropes hanging from hooks in the rear wall. And then he remembered the trap door that Artoo had discovered earlier.
    Luke rolled back the threadbare rug and lifted the hatch. There was just enough light from the glow lamps to make his way down the carved steps into the low ceilinged cellar. Inside there were oval shaped luminescent stones set into the walls that provided an oddly natural, though scant, illumination. It was warm and homely in the cellar, a kind of safe sanctum and at once Luke knew it would be filled with Ben’s most treasured belongings and maybe one or two secrets.
    The cellar was essentially a low ceilinged narrow rectangle. There was a water cistern and a collection of dried fruits and vegetables hanging and stored on a set of low shelves against the right hand wall. The centre of the floor was covered in another hand woven earthen hued rug that had similar patterns to the mural that used to adorn the arched ceiling of his Uncle’s dining area.
    The corner opposite the steps was taken up with a workbench and chair, with a few tools, a high quality glow lamp, An old hide backpack sat underneath it and an old pair of electro binoculars hung from a hook in the wall above.
    Beside the desk, taking up the space on the right hand wall was a sizeable power generator and some kind of key-pad strong box that instantly caught Luke’s imagination and drew him to it’s sealed latch. The key-pad was a long and narrow hexagonal shaft with what looked like hand carved stone dials baring the embossed Aurebesh script. It was obviously some kind of written combination key.
    Each surface of each hexagonal segment showed a single letter in Aurebesh. Though after a very close examination Luke noticed one minor point of interest in the forth hexagon. There was a pictogram that could have been either the letter resh or a hyphen mark. It was the only piece of the intricately cared key-pad that showed either an error or slip. Luke wondered if it was a clue of some kind. And then, born out of the ether of a half remembered dream, a memory popped into Luke’s mind - of him sitting on a rock in the Jundland Wastes not too long ago talking to Ben and referring to Artoo Detoo.
    “He claims to be the property of an Obi-Wan Kenobi. Is he a relative of yours? Do you know who he’s talking about?”
    Obi-Wan. There was the dash where the forth letter was. Luke tried entering the name onto the combination pad, turning each dial until the Aurebesh letters lined up.
    As he turned the last letter into place there was a dry click. The key-pad came apart in Luke’s hand, the rod that passed through the centre of the combination dials slid out of its housing and the clasp of the box lid.
    With a hammering heart Luke put the lock down on the cellar floor and lifted the lid of the box.
    The topmost layer was folded earthen coloured fabric, more hooded robes by the look of it. Spare clothes maybe? Beneath the robe was an old hide utility belt kept in relatively good condition but it had certainly been handled before and on closer inspection there were a few burned marks here and there blackening the leather, as well as the usual scratches and worn edges reminiscent of daily use. Placed in the centre of the loop of belt was an old hide-bound journal, hand cut paper leaves bound in hardened leather. Luke flipped through the yellowed pages and saw reams of neat careful handwriting, sketched diagrams, notes, possibly poems or lists of rules. That particular item would require a lot more time and consideration.
    Beneath the book was a more modern data pad with a little case of memory chits. And then a box containing an expensive assortment of micro tools.
    Finally, at the bottom of the container, beneath a further assortment of bits and pieces, trinkets and items of unfamiliar equipment, was another wooden box. This one sported a little enigmatic message burned into the dark wood of the lid in a neat Aurebesh hand written script that read Recovered from the Kaleesh. To Luke’s untrained eye it looked like the same handwriting as in the paper journal.
    This wooden box contained four quite possibly complete lightsabers. They were carefully presented on a square of an expensive feeling crimson fabric that had been fashioned into a sort of cushion. Beneath the cushion Luke discovered a clutter of other assorted lightsaber components and spare parts. From complete though empty hilts to buttons, dials, flange assemblies, power and micro cells, activator components, internal mechanism parts that were a complete mystery, right down to belt attachments that doubled as charging ports and simple D-rings like the one on Luke’s own heirloom.
    It looked, from a quick look as though everything he needed for the repair, spare parts and tools were all waiting for him right here in this box. All that was missing was the knowledge or instruction of how to go about it.
    Replacing the rib grips would be simple enough, possibly replacing the forward activator stud he would be able to muddle through, with his experience on droid and vehicle repairs. But the activator matrix was beyond him. He thought that the journal from the box was more than likely the best place to start from.
    He took the journal, micro tools and the spares box over to the desk in the corner, flicked on the high intensity glow lamp and sat down with the journal.
    Most of the journal was actually written in a script Luke didn’t recognise, Coruscanti possibly, or just an older version of Aurebesh.
    There were other parts he could read but the concept or meaning went over his head. Parts of the code that ruled the Order of the Knights of the Jedi, from what he could work out.
    Notes on the history of the Order that were more like annotations to go with the history which was itself missing. But a third of the way in Luke found a chapter on the weapon of the Jedi Order, some of it’s history, it’s use, rules regarding use and design, How it was carried, maintenance and a dozen other subtexts.
    Finally, there were detailed schematics on a particular lightsaber that looked like the one Luke had seen Ben use and carry. There were lists of parts, specifications and blueprints on construction and things to watch for and remember.
    Luke read and then reread the particular chapter, taking great care to absorb the construction elements as much as he could.
    Then he turned to his own lightsaber, selected the required spare parts from the box and laid out the necessary micro tools on the desk top.
    He replaced the rib grips first, taking off each of the seven ribs, melting away the residue molecular adhesive before attaching the replacements and adding additional self sealing rivets to the lower quarter of each grip.
    Next came the replacement forward activator stud. The damaged piece came away easily and he used one of the tools to remove the scoring damage before selecting a replacement button. There wasn’t an exact duplicate but a thicker stud that matched the one of the rear section of the lightsaber proved to be an adequate replacement. He snapped it into place tightened it manually, used a tool to seal the connection and then another to calibrate it’s function.
    Then came the rectangular block locked to the side of the hilt. The damaged activation matrix.
    The matrix was too badly damaged, the split through bubble strip came away with some careful prying to reveal the internal mechanisms all of which were burned black, melted together and fused.
    Luke decided he had no choice but to simply remove the matrix and build a new one from scratch.
    He used his tools to loosen the block and it’s gripping ring and prise them away from the hilt, filed away the carbon scoring and fused material and then fixed on a new gripping ring. But he found the matrix block would have to be fitted to the opposite side to that of its predecessor.
    He looked back over the journal’s instructions one last time, identifying each of the visible components and reminding himself how they interacted and functioned.
    Then he looked closely at the weapon’s internals, and the parts that attached to the internals within the matrix box, focussing his attention. Everything outside of his vision faded away, all but ceasing to exist.
    Even as his hands took up the tools and started to work on the intricate connections and calibrations, he felt himself slowly sliding down into the lightsaber. A smooth descent along the reflective light patterns defining the chrome hilt, the blacks and uncountable greys and silvers drawing him downward like a smooth flowing river, slipping along like melted hyperdrive coolant, a slow lubricated flow. Into the Force. It’s hand guiding his.
    Luke’s attention snapped back and he looked around. There was a tumultuous noise beyond him, he could sense people beside and behind him.
    He was inside an ancient high vaulted stone building, a temple of some kind. Everything was granite grey but there wasn’t any kind of oppressiveness to the atmosphere. A brilliant low morning sun glittered it’s rays of light through the foliage that was just barely visible outside. The sun beams, a pale creamy yellow, tickled the stone floor with a dappling sparkling pattern that was in itself a little magical and with a closer look Luke noticed the reason. There were millions of tiny translucent precious stones, that caught the sunlight and refracted it into myriad hues of every visible colour.
    Everywhere Luke looked creepers with emerald green leaves writhed across surfaces, blanketing the corners of the floor, replacing whatever shadows should have been there, spiralling up and down pillars and walls.
    He was standing halfway up a short flight of shallow steps towards a raised dais. The main space of the temple laid out before him was awash with humans an aliens, all in flight suits, infantry uniforms, engineering coveralls, other high ranking military uniforms. None of them Imperial in design or signature.
    Han Solo stood beside him, chatting joyfully to an animated Chewbacca, the both of them looking over golden medallions that hung suspended from dark copper coloured ribbons.
    Behind him at the top of the staircase were a gaggle of dignitaries and top ranking Alliance Officers, the majority of whom Luke recognised but didn’t know by name.
    He saw Artoo Detoo standing between two pillars at the back of the raised dais looking out on the open vista. See Threepio, gleaming brightly polished gold, was standing beside Princess Leia as she chatted with Generals Dodonna and Willard.
    To the right were a number of other dignitaries that Luke didn’t recognise, middle aged men in plain grey uniforms and peaked caps.
    A couple of them were addressing another middle aged, grizzled looking Human who had just appeared from a side door. He nodded to a helmeted guard who gave a salute in return, then caught the attention of another of the officers who engaged him in a rapid and serious conversation before General Willard spotted the newcomer and wandered over to the edge of the dias to address him.
    Whatever the subject of their initiated conversation, it seemed to be serious and important and not in keeping with the celebratory mood throughout the rest of the temple.
    Luke sidled closer, interested in what was being said. He started to catch snippets, supplies, missions, evacuation plans. Willard seemed to refer to the newcomer by the name Carlist.
    And then, in a mistimed but nevertheless welcome interruption, Luke was grabbed by the shoulder and spun around to find himself staring into the young grinning face of his Corellian wingman Wedge Antilles.
    As they embraced and started to chatter with mutual youthful excitement over the recently victorious Battle of Yavin, the pale sunlight streaming through the open mouth of the temple, beyond the raised dais, grew brighter and more intense, bleaching out contrast and colour until there was only a luminescent haze filling Luke vision, which then faded to reveal the bright spotlight of the desktop glow-lamp in the cellar of Ben’s home on Tatooine.
    It was like a moment of time had escaped him. As if he had fallen asleep at the desk but continued working all the while. The reconstruction of the lightsaber’s activation matrix was almost finished and Luke had almost no idea of what he had done or how he had done it.
    He decided the Force must have taken over his physical actions at the same time as immersing him in the strange false memory of the Yavin temple Ceremony.
    He remembered being there, remembered Wedge coming over to congratulate him for the bravery award, remembered himself saying that Wedge should have got one too. But he didn’t remember seeing that middle aged ‘Carlist’ Alliance officer appearing. He didn’t even remember looking back at Dodonna or Willard or any of the other dignitaries at that time. He had chatted to Han and Chewbacca and then had been grabbed by Wedge.
    He shook the memory away and refocused on the replaced inner workings of the matrix. The intricacy of the mechanism, the coils of thin wire, the overlapping placement of power resistors and calibrating nodes was too intricate for him to have mastered with any kind of conscious ability. He could never have done it. Could it have been the Force then? Ben said it could partially control actions. Could it have somehow known his intent and allowed him the care and knowledge to complete such an operation? Apparently so, there was no other possibility was there?
    Luke finished the closing and sealing of the matrix, sliding shut the replacement aurodium laminate sleeve cover of the short stocky box, watched the tiny led light flash green from within the matrix and then he put the lightsaber hilt down on the edge of the desk, the emitter pointing out into unobstructed space. He looked around until he found a long thin metal rod from among the dried fruits behind him and then, keeping as much distance as he could manage, he used the metal rod to touch the upper most activator stud. Instantly the blade snap-hissed to life exactly as it should. The meter long blade glowed blue-white and maintained its gyroscopic humming smoothness as perfect in condition as it ever had been.
    Luke left it there, blade alight, the cyclic power recharging the internal cells as it was designed to, for an hour before he had satisfied himself it wasn’t going to blow up and then he sheathed the blade and slung the repaired weapon in its rightful place, onto the hook on the left hand side of his utility belt.
    <><><>
    Luke slept the remainder of the twenty hours away in Ben’s old bed. He rose at the meridian of the Tatoo 1 sun and then made breakfast with the stove and supplies in Ben’s house, dressed in a white shirt, tan trousers and one of Ben’s brown hooded robes. He reused the macro-goggles and scarf mask and took the FC-20 from Ben’s place southwest, skirting the high ground finger of the Jundland Wastes and passing Bestine to reach Arnthout in a half hour’s fast travel.
    He weaved through the myriad narrow and winding streets, avoiding the few shoppers who were risking the blinding noon suns’ heat, until he found the square he recognised and then skirted around its edge toward the surgery where he'd left Blissex.
    He parked in the underground bay and took the lift up to the surgery as he had on his previous visit, although this time the waiting room was already occupied.
    He saw a tall and hugely muscular Gamorrean boar sitting uncomfortably in a chair too narrow for his muscular buttocks. Luke had seen one or two Gamorreans but they were usually short, fat and stocky, though still powerful. This one was built like a Dantari, tall, hugely muscular without a hint of fat, barrel chested and half as tall again as the average boar.
    He wore a kind of open fronted poncho and thick bantha hide boots. There was a massive vibro-blade resting against the wall beside his chair. A small ME-9 translator droid was fastened to a bandolier across his chest and an old DC-15s blaster was slung like a pistol in a holster on his right leg.
    However, the main weapons the boar hefted were mounted on shoulder armatures, two huge T-21’s lying dormant while slung vertically down his back. They wheeled upwards under his arms to lock into place, one for each huge hand. The pair of massive barrelled weapons looked like they had been rigged for specific use for the boar, the trigger guards having been snapped off and the triggers extended to match the proportionate length of the similarly enlarged handles.
    Luke also noticed a small cybernetic skull unit, a dark grey metallic headband that was fixed low across the boar’s thickly furrowed brow. Luke wondered what it was for. The Alliance officer called Carlist introduced to Luke in the dream/vision the previous night was sitting beside the Gamorrean. He sat quiet and serene, regarding Luke with a detached interest. Luke did a mental double take. It was definitely him. The man from the memory vision of the Massassi temple award ceremony. He looked exactly has he had in the vision though instead of grey Alliance officer’s uniform he wore Alderaan style civilian clothes, loose fitting and billowy in a mixture of white, tan and cream. There were a pair of DH-17 carbines holstered on his thighs. Luke was aghast at the sight of this enigmatic Human, even so, the physical appearance of the third of their group distracted him momentarily.
    He was Shistavanen, but he was by far the most vicious and feral looking Shistavanen Luke had ever set eyes on. There was very little sentience recognisable in his features. The eyes were inky black with dirty golden pupils and a red glow from behind the deep stark colour. The skin, where the thick black and brown fur didn’t cover, was a dark murky grey, furrowed with cruel creases around the muzzle and brows, giving it a permanent expression of deepest malice. Thin black lips were permanently drawn back from a wide muzzle filled with huge, nasty looking teeth. The upper and lower canines were so large they were almost tusks, curving up and down the outside curves of his short muzzle. The uncovered claws on the tips of his feet and hands were wickedly curved and as long as Luke's thumb.
    He was dressed in oiled bantha hide. Cropped trousers that reached his knees, a half sleeved open-fronted jacket with three horizontal straps connecting the front panels. Thick hide gauntlets covered his forearms.
    An illegally double charged Blackscale carbine was slung high up across his chest, a DLT-20 rifle strapped across his back.
    “So, you’re young Skywalker. Rescuer of my homeworld’s beloved Princess and one of the survivors of the Battle of Yavin?” The Human, Carlist said.
    He had a faintly Corellian accent though apparently he came from Alderaan like Leia. His voice was slightly rough textured though his manner was clipped and his diction clear. He certainly had a commanding air about him, not unlike Willard and Dodonna.
    “Don’t worry, you’re among friends.” Carlist added quickly. Luke found himself nodding, however he still had to check on Blissex.
    “I’m here to check up on an ill friend.” Luke said politely.
    The middle aged human regarded Luke in silence for a moment. He had very cold blue, almost crystalline, eyes, slightly bushy brows that held as much grey as black. His hair, side swept across his forehead in a kind of coiffure, the sides curling around but not covering his ears, was almost completely grey but there were some remaining flecks of the tawny colour of his youth beneath.
    The commanding presence simultaneously relaxed Luke and stood him to attention. Even without the Force’s prior introduction, Luke thought he would probably have trusted this man and followed him into battle without a second thought.
    “By all means.” Carlist said, waving with a vague motion at the door to the physician’s office.
    The physician was sitting at his desk writing up notes. He glanced up at Luke, chattered something, tilted his head at the far side of the room and then drew his attention back to his notes all in a quick heartbeat.
    The Interpreter droid took over as Luke went over to the observation bunk against the wall beside the vacant bacta tank.
    “My master says that the patient is fully recovered after the immersion treatment. He is currently sedated, but it is only to allow the body to complete recovery for itself and he will be up and about in another hour or two. He needs further rest but a complete recovery is now certain. You may collect him at suns-set.”
    “Thank you very much for your expertise.” Luke said clumsily.
    He wanted to say a lot more but couldn’t find the words. He settled for adding a slightly embarrassed bow.
    The physician didn’t even look up to acknowledge him, just gave a slight nod in response. His eyes dancing across his notes.
    “I believe your friends are waiting for you, sir.” The droid added, an air of awkwardness apparent in it’s electronic coloured voice.
    Luke went back through to the waiting room, where the trio still waited for him.
    “We’ll talk elsewhere.” Carlist said, the moment he caught Luke’s eye. “We can trust your physician friend, but Imperial listening devices come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Follow me.”
    Luke followed. Once they were in the lift, Carlist glanced around, listened to the low resonant hum in the background, nodded with satisfaction and then started to fill Luke in.
    “These are two local agents assigned to me for the time being. Sort of bodyguards-stroke-Lieutenants.” He swept a vague hand between the two aliens flanking him.
    “Gupp.” He said, inclining his head in the direction of the Gamorrean. “He’s more intelligent that most boars and he understands basic just fine, but needs the interpreter droid for two way conversation. Don’t think him stupid or underestimate him or you’ll regret it.” Carlist let a little grin play across his lined, clean shaved face.
    “Same applies to Lesh here. He looks like something straight out of hell doesn’t he!” Carlist laughed a deep throaty dry crackle that reminded Luke of his Uncle, not that he had laughed very often.
    “A few years ago Lesh was the kindest, most gentle creature you could imagine. He was a pacifist and a poet. When the Republic was renamed as Palpatine’s Empire, he made the mistake of voicing dissent. It was repeated in the senate. The senator, a relative of Lesh's, was arrested for treason, like so many others and Lesh’s family was taken away, he escaped and fled off world.”
    The Shistavanen took over. His speech, as brutal sounding as he looked, came out as a series of spine chilling guttural growls, to Luke’s ear it was almost an animalistic approximation of the language of the Sand People. The Gamorrean’s droid interpreter automatically took over.
    “I was in the Peace and Diplomatic corps, my pack sister was in the Order of the Knights of the Jedi before the Clone Wars. I supported peace and the Republic all my life. Look at it now…”
    Luke nodded dumbly.
    Lesh went on through the droid's clipped, precise electronic translation.
    “Gupp’s mother spilled a drink on an Imperial officer, who promptly arrested her. She was given the lash, humiliated. She died at her own hand hours later. Gupp swore vengeance on the whole of the Empire.
    “Our foolhardy, single-handed attempts at rebellion were noticed by Alliance agents and we were recruited, our efforts since have been honed and directed with a more thoughtful precision.”
    “Which is why we’re here talking to you.” Carlist said, taking over again.
    The lift came to a halt and the doors opened onto the underground parking bay again.
    Carlist led them over to a bulky dark coloured closed canopy landspeeder in the corner of the bay.
    “Take a seat, Skywalker.” Carlist said as he and Lesh climbed in and took the front seats, Luke and Gupp climbed in to the back.
    Lesh flicked a dashboard switch and the front seats swung around to face the rear, creating a tiny meeting room within the speeder.
    Luke flipped back the hood of his robe and relaxed back on the comfortable padded bench seat, waiting for the middle aged Human to continue.
    Carlist looked over at Lesh momentarily, before turning his attention back to Luke, his tone was hushed and grizzled but clear and concise.
    “One of the biggest problems the Alliance has, is the lack of weaponry and equipment. Capital ships and fighter wings we’re okay on and we have plenty of loyal personnel, combat and support. But we don’t have the kind of weapons and equipment we need to supply them with. Legally obtainable low-power blasters and un-armoured T-16’s won’t do much against Imperial might.”
    Luke nodded his head, knowing when to keep quiet and listen. The Force might have allowed him to know Carlist as a Rebel and to trust him, but he still didn’t know what he wanted.
    Again, Lesh took up Carlist’s briefing through Gupp’s droid interpreter. Disconcerting though the native Shistavanen tongue sounded to Human ears, Luke was pleasantly surprised by the peaceful and kind tone that made it through the translation, making Luke understand and believe Carlist’s descriptive paradox to the alien’s appearance.
    “Imperial commercial regulations and trade route searches makes procurement of these kinds of supplies on the black market extremely difficult and treacherous, not to mention expensive, especially in the large numbers the Alliance requires. But there is a plentiful supply of all the kinds of hardware we need all over the place, on just about any world you care to name, potentially easy pickings...”
    The Shistavanen paused and Luke could almost make out a raising of the eyebrows as he waited for Luke’s responding guess.
    “Taking it from the enemy?” Luke offered.
    “Got it in one.” Carlist said with a grunt and a grin. “The Mos Eisley Garrison Base is small, not too well defended and it’s well stocked.”
    “There’s a half company of Infantry and a platoon of Armour and transport. About a hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty men in total.” Lesh added.
    “Against how many of us? Twenty?” Luke estimated.
    “Less.”
    “Obviously you have a plan…”
    Again Carlist smiled and nodded, he leaned back in his chair.
    “I’ve got a weapon.” He announced. “Two weapons actually, that should even the odds. An ion-pulse bomb will knock out all sensors and observation devices, from targeting computers to Stormtrooper helmet sensors. It’s essentially an ion cannon in bomb form.”
    “What’s to stop the troops just taking their helmets off?”
    “I’m banking on them doing just that ‘cause I’ll follow it up with a nerve-toxin. Drop the lot of them in one go.”
    “Nerve gas!?”
    “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s none fatal and the effects are temporary. They‘ll be down for the count till sunset and in the infirmaries for a few days later but that’s about all.”
    “Okay, so what do we do?”
    “Simple looting mission, go in over the wall and steal everything we can get into our ships, in the time window. There are already three Omega-class freighters inside the base, plus I can have a CR90 and two Action IV’s in orbit ready and all we have to do is send the signal and they’ll drop down on us like one of your sandstorms. We load up everything we can and get off world before the Empire knows anything has happened.
    “My spies have told me there’s a shipment of 12 armoured T-47’s coming in. Probably for extended Armour patrols. They’ll make a great addition to our own perimeter defence, whenever the new base gets put together. We’ll wait until they arrive and then we‘ll go in and steal them. Steal the whole garrison. Everything we can get our hands on from blaster magazines to landing craft.”
    <><><>
    Luke sat at the small dining table in Ben’s hovel, eating absentmindedly, while Artoo whistled away in the background.
    He sipped the refreshing water as he chewed, going over recent events.
    He had found bringing Blissex’s, healed but still sedated, form back to the Serpion Helletic’s medical bay a simple but frustrating arrangement. The physician had lent him a speeder that was able to accommodate himself and Blissex.
    But once Blissex was back in the ship and sleeping peacefully in the medical bunk, Luke had had to go back out again to return the landspeeder and then come back himself with his own FC-20.
    In the afternoon heat of the sun and the mild irritation of having to speed back and forth, Luke had found himself exhausted, heat-tired and slightly dehydrated.
    He had taken a quick sonic shower on his ship, changed out of his sweaty clothes. He had decided that the natural homeliness of Ben’s place was preferable to the colder, more industrial feel of his starship quarters and had gone back down to the little hovel to rest and eat.
    He went over the situation has he saw it while he ate. The medical droid had reinforced the opinion of the Arnthout physician, that Blissex was now fully healed and should be allowed to rest and awaken under his own steam. The medical bay’s monitors would keep an eye on his vitals but it was best just to leave him alone to rest.
    That was easy and a relief. He was safe and secure in the concealed ship and Artoo would be able to receive any changes to his status from the ship’s computers, which the droid had been instructed to monitor from Bens hovel.
    Luke felt as though he had successfully completed that part of his mission, to protect and secure the escape of the dignitary. Even if the dignitary was not the same one he had been guarding in the beginning, he had still done his job as bodyguard.
    He had sent an encoded communication from the Serpion Helletic to General Willard, updating him of the situation and a couple of hours later Artoo had informed him that a response had been received.
    Willard confirmed that Dodonna was back with them, safe and sound. And he congratulated Luke on the safe status of Blissex, gave him new return coordinates and then, almost as an afterthought, put Luke squarely under the command of General Carlist Rieekan for the remainder of his stay on Tatooine.
    As he had left Luke in the underground speeder bay, Carlist had lent him a coded comlink so he could be informed of the when and how of the Garrison attack.
    The communicator was lying on the edge of the small dining table along with the rolled up bundle that was his blaster belt and lightsaber.
    As well as monitoring communications, Artoo was also maintaining periodic sweeping scans of the surrounding area and would inform Luke if anything got too close to the hidden hovel and starship.
    Luke finished his meal and relaxed back on the comfortable sleeping area, piling up cushions to support his back, a low powered glow lamp cast a pale white light from above, giving enough illumination to read by. The young human had picked up Ben’s journal again and was flicking through pages at random.
    Much of it was fascinating though formless rambling, as though he had taken to jotting down thoughts, observations and questions as they occurred to him. All very random and order-less, much of it interesting, however enigmatic.
    There were vague notes on Jedi history, questions he intended to put to someone called Jocasta, almost comical observations of people who’s names he didn’t recognise.
    Luke poured over these sections searching for any clues to his father. But there was nothing. At least nothing that named him specifically, toward the back just before a number of rather talented charcoal sketches of Tatooine landmarks and fauna, there were formless notes on unnamed people or possibly person, all the notes could have been made about a single individual. Someone Ben seemed to avoid naming. Someone he seemed to dislike writing about, or even possibly thinking about. There was a definite air of concern.
    There were random mentions of situations and occurrences that brought up questions, both philosophical and practical.
    There were logical thought processes about the side by side evolution of the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic, which seemed to bring up questions for Ben. Questions to put to Jocasta. Whoever that was.
    These were intriguing more than informative, too vague and often too conjectural to be educational to Luke about the Jedi Knights.
    The main supposition seemed to be that the Jedi Order must have predated the Republic by millennia. Force Sensitives, as Ben put it, must have evolved alongside sentience on thousands of worlds even before industrialisation and long before space flight.
    A lot of the enjoyment Luke found in the reading was in the snippets of Ben’s personality that came through his use of language, more precisely his sense of humour, emerging from the pages. It gave Luke glimpses of a younger, livelier, more mischievous man. A man who seemed to revel in a sense of irony he saw suffusing out of the galaxy. As though the Force itself liked to take a hand in the destiny of the galaxy and had it’s own decidedly dry sense of humour.
    Luke felt his eyes had grown heavy, found himself unable to focus on the words in the little hand written journal. He put it down, wished Artoo a goodnight and flicked off the glow lamp.
    He was just drifting off to sleep when he realised there was still the unfinished business with Camie, and the fact that he had no idea of what to do about her.
    He supposed he needed to confess his feelings and see how she felt about him, if she would leave Fixer and come with him, join the fight again the Empire.
    But then sleep took over and tossed him into a foul and putrid garbage shoot with a delightfully wet-clothed Camie, and Laze Loneozner the Human-Dianoga, trying to pull her back into the garbage with him.
    <><><>
    Re-accustomed to Tatooine time, Luke awoke with the dawning of the twin suns. After a quick breakfast he took up his utility belt, Ben’s old robe and piloted the Speederbike south, down onto the rocky edge of the Jundland wastes.
    Camie was always a late riser and he had at least an hour before she’d be up and decent. He was nervous and anxious, half hoping he’d get the comlink chime from Carlist Rieekan to pull him into battle. Even that prospect paled next to the thought of confessing his feelings to Camie. He wanted to take his mind off it and he had an idea, a shallow cave he and Biggs used to play in when they were little. It was safe from predators and Sand People as it was too shallow to provide much cover from the heat.
    He parked the bike in the entrance of the cave. It went inward another three or four meters and then sloped down to a ground made flat by drift sand. At it’s height it was no more than four metres from roof to ground but it was adequate for Luke.
    He took off the robe, goggles and his blaster belt and then hefted the weighty chrome shaft of the lightsaber.
    He started by testing the buttons, both the matrix activation thumb lever and the forward button stud. Both worked perfectly well. Then he tried out the blade intensity and adjust dials, before resetting them and drawing the blade once again, to test it’s cutting ability on the sand, stone and rock that surrounded him.
    First he closed his eyes and relaxed, using the thrumming gyroscopic sensation of the cascading blade as a focussing element. It was almost hypnotic, once the background sounds of scattering sand, wailing winds and a barely audible hiss of sun scorching rock were blocked out. It was like a heartbeat, the flowing blue-white light almost visible behind his eyelids.
    There was a simultaneous feeling of calming reassurance (like having a good blaster at your side) and cold hard danger, almost a fear that one wrong move, one uncontrolled swing, one error in judgement, could mean your own death, or very least the loss of a limb.
    Luke found himself aimlessly wondering about past Jedi who may have died while training with the weapon, a mock duel gone wrong, a sweat slick palm loosing grip, the weapon dropped, the bearer loosing a leg.
    He wondered about difficulties and accidents in the weapon’s evolution, in it’s construction. No one could really know if a weapon's construction had failed or succeeded until the activator was pressed. He wondered how many lightsabers had blown up on their first activation. Were there devices that could check for safety? Did the Jedi have an instinctive feel for success and failure in the construction of their lightsabers?
    He knew he wouldn’t have answers to his questions. The Jedi were all gone. There was only Ben, who had died at Vader’s hand. Vader himself, who Luke only wished to kill, and the Kubaz ex-Knight turned Rebel agent, who Luke might conceivably never meet again.
    He put aside his questions and opened his eyes. He swung the lightsaber carefully at first, slicing the air, listening to the electric whine of the moving, flowing blade. Then he pressed the tip of the blade into the sand carpeted ground slowly, investigating the cutting ability against sand and rock beneath.
    It seem to cut through both grades of solid matter with an equally insignificant effort. Luke wasn’t especially surprised, his few and far between experiences with the lightsaber had provided evidence that the blade seemed to be able to overcome any kind of resistance. Cutting through the Scout Walker’s leg on Ord Mantell had all but proved that.
    He went through a number of exercises, cutting through sand, stone and rock with quick sweeping slashes, swipes and thrusts, all resulting in much the same reaction, easy and none resistant cuts that were only tempered by his own level of accuracy. A hilt deep thrust into solid rock bit into the natural substance with barely any detectable resistance on the blade. There was a tiny bit of resistance against moving the blade while embedded hilt deep in rock but it wasn’t even comparable to moving while submerged in water, much less so in fact.
    Afterward, Luke used a tool in his utility belt pouch to gauge the energy level of the lightsaber’s power cell. He saw that it had hardly lost any power at all.
    He was already aware that the blade was self recharging and only when it met resistance that any energy was lost from the cell. Having the blade drawn recharged the power more quickly than it was drained. It was really the hardware that contained the power in the cell degrading over time that forced eventual replacement of the cell itself.
    And Ben had at least a dozen heat-sealed and carefully stored such cells in his key-pad safe box. Probably amounting to something like half a dozen lifetimes worth of power.
    His curiosity satisfied, Luke switched off the lightsaber and sat down at the rear of the cave with his back to the wall, placed the chrome hilt on the ground at his feet and spent the remaining time practicing reaching for it through the Force, feeling it’s smooth surface and texture, as if the Force was an extension of his own sense of touch. And then he began to attempt to lift the hilt up off the ground and bring it over to him through the Force.
    It took an hour of constant effort before he succeeded in his attempt, however shakily and clumsy it was. The lightsaber rose from the ground and quivering slightly while Luke shivered and grimaced with effort, it hovered at waist height and floated through the parched Tatooine air until it came to rest on his outstretched and upturned palm.
    Luke let out his held-in breath, sighed a deep satisfied sigh and hooked the weapon onto his utility belt before mopping the film of sweat from his brow.
    <><><>
    Camie was working in one of the hothouses in her parent’s hydroponics farm, checking the environmental status of separated batches of vegetables and the conditions, humidity and temperature that were displayed on a miniature bank of computer screens.
    She was wearing a thin white fabric version of a typical Tatooine crossover wide sleeve garment. But her legs and feet were bare and the length of the top barely reached half way down her thighs. Her hair was loose and damp with the misting of the hothouse air. She looked marvellous to Luke who stood in the doorway staring openly.
    “Iego angel…” He muttered to himself absently, thinking back on an old folk tune he used to listen to in one of the old Anchorhead haunts in his previous life. He and Biggs singing along together, before Deak invariably joined in with his tone deafness and managed to spoil it.
    Luke found himself laughing aloud at the sudden intense memory and the sound startled Camie out of her duties.
    “Still spying on me, I see…” She said to him with a lopsided grin and a single cocked eyebrow.
    Luke smiled awkwardly, regretting the impromptu invasion.
    “Sorry, Camie.” He leaned against the doorway, ran a hand through his soft blond hair, looked at her again, seriousness returning. “I wanted to see you. I’ll be leaving again…”
    “So soon?”
    “Yeah, there’s one more thing to do, then I’ll be going and I don’t know if I’ll ever come back.”
    “I envy you. I know there’s nothing left for you on this rock. I guess I'm glad you‘ve found what you wanted.” She said with a half-smile and possibly a touch of sadness in those huge lovely brown eyes
    He took a deep breath, trying to calm the jitters that were playing hell with his insides.
    “I need to say something to you, or I’ll regret it.” He began. But then he paused, momentarily lost for words, staggered by his own feelings of embarrassment and the fear of how she might respond.
    However, he reminded himself that either way he would be leaving soon and this was his last and only chance to find out.
    “I realise you and Fixer have been together forever and you’ve always seemed like you’re stuck together like glue…”
    “We love each other, if that’s what you mean…” Camie interjected seriously, a touch of graveness to her expression.
    “Yeah, well. Like I said, I’ll probably never be coming back here again but I’d always wonder about whether you and me could ever have… What I mean to say is… I guess you’ve always known that I’ve liked you, ever since Biggs introduced us and I was hoping maybe the thought of coming off world with me, joining the Alliance, seeing the galaxy, you know… Maybe that I could convince you to come away with me, leave Fixer….”
    “…Luke…” Camie said, trying to interject.
    However, Luke battled on regardless.
    “I know I can love you every bit as much as him, I’d treat you better. You’d have excitement, doing something good for the galaxy…” Again, Luke stumbled verbally, his rehearsed dialogue lost in his nerve fuddled mind. He had never been any good at this kind of thing, nor had he had much practice. Before Leia and Toryn, it had always been Camie haunting his dreams.
    Camie looked bemused and Luke wondered if she hadn’t known of his feelings for her after all. Then she looked like she was trying not to laugh and Luke felt a sudden flush of anger and yet more embarrassment. If she started to laugh at him he didn’t know what he’d do. But then she seemed to regain composure, her smile faded and a kind of sad empathy passed over her fresh face.
    “I’m sorry, Luke….” She said, gently.
    At once, Luke’s heart gave a faltering tremble. He could feel a shiver pass through his body. He was aware his hands were shaking and his face had drained of colour. He listened dumbly as Camie shot him down in a way no Imperial pilot ever could.
    “Sure, you’ve grown up a lot, you look good, better than ever. But I think you’ll always be ‘Wormie’ that annoying fixated boy - to me. It could never work between us. I love Fixer, I want to marry him, settle down with him, have his children. Maybe my life would be more exciting with you and maybe you could treat me better than him. But I love him, that‘s all that matters. You can’t compete with that. And you never could... I’m sorry.”
    The numbness in Luke gained mass, became a heavy hot ball in the pit of his stomach, he felt like he was going to be sick, but then the hot weight flourished into anger.
    He wanted to shout at her, that she was a fool, that he was better than Fixer and that she was throwing a good life away. That he hoped she’d be a sand-scoured old hag. Or that Tuskens would get her, carry her off.
    But then he bit down that rising anger, shocked at himself at its sudden power.
    He looked away from Camie, took a calming breath as he instinctively snatched hold of the lessons his Uncle had constantly blasted him with, for as long as he could remember. Ways of remaining sedate, deflecting anger and maintaining a calm demeanour under the hot sun, letting go of frustrations, holding onto serenity and tranquillity.
    And, almost for the first time, Luke realised that even though he had never really got along with his Uncle, that he had always seemed harsh and bad tempered, Owen Lars had somehow instilled in Luke a self control and an innate ability to vent frustration and anger easily, peacefully. His temper would flare and then extinguish quickly before it or he did something he would regret. Luke marvelled for a moment at how he had never noticed that before, and that it had been all his Uncle’s doing.
    “Are you okay, Luke?” Camie asked, uncertainly.
    Luke looked at her, wondering if something of his internal turmoil had shown up.
    “I’m sorry, to disappoint you. I have always known you had feelings for me.”
    “I guess subtlety has never been my strong point.” Luke agreed with a little youthful grin, embarrassment colouring his cheeks still.
    “I think I wanted to avoid this moment, to be honest. I just hoped me and Fixer would show you that there wasn’t any chance for you… I’m sorry.”
    “Skywalker!?” Came a gruff though familiar voice from behind him. “Where the hell did you spring from?!” It was Fixer.
    Luke turned, hoping he would see surprise and joy in the older Human’s rough tanned face. But he saw only shock and suspicion. This was going to get even more awkward, Luke realised.
    “We all thought you were dead!” Fixer said, pushing past Luke through the doorway and coming to a stop at Camie’s side. Luke caught the look between them but was unsure of what it meant.
    “I would be if the Empire had it’s way!” He said with a grin, playing it innocent. Being the farm boy he had been in his previous life.
    “Don’t tell me you’re still after joining the Rebellion?!” Fixer snapped back at him, half playing along with a lopsided grin, half suspicious.
    He glanced at Camie again and then threw a decidedly possessive arm around her waist. He pulled her against him, the movement forcing the hem of her white garment to ride up a little more. Luke held Fixer’s gaze with his own, fighting the urge to look at Camie.
    “Luke was just…” The girl began, but Fixer wasn’t having any of it.
    “I’m sure he’s still the excitable chatter-mouth he always was. He can answer for himself.”
    He wasn’t sure how to answer.
    “The Empire killed my Aunt and Uncle over a misunderstanding. I was away at the time, I’ve been off world ever since.” He said.
    “Misunderstanding? Does the Empire make mistakes like that?” His tone was accusatory, as though he didn’t believe Luke.
    “You got a new bunch of friends I hear.” Luke responded, anger gripping him again.
    “Yeah.” Fixer snapped, acutely aware of the dripping sarcasm behind Luke’s words. “I have a job with Imperial connections and I’ve seen a different side to the Empire. A side that doesn’t match up to all that fodder you and Biggs were constantly sprouting.”
    “C’mon, the Empire rules with an iron fist! You used to think that yourself! Now they give you a new position and you're all best buddies?!”
    “You’re naive Luke. You and Biggs! Most of what we heard about the Evil Empire’s just misinformation sent out by the Rebels! Propaganda! This galaxy has got a lot better since Imperial rule has taken over. Crime rates are down right across the galaxy.”
    “Domestic maybe but political crimes have gone through the roof!” Luke countered. “And what happened to the freedoms people used to enjoy that have been taken away? The ability to vote for your system’s representatives! They’ve dissolved the senate! Even you must have heard about that by now! And what about the ability to speak out without fear of reprisals?!”
    “You don’t get it! The Senate was corrupt! Greedy, power hungry! The Empire’s done us a favour getting rid of it! Before our time the Republic was in complete turmoil. There was civil war for crying out loud! Half the systems wanted to leave! If your great Old Republic had been so good why were they all trying to get out?! The Empire’s brought it all back together again, tighter than ever.”
    “Under the threat of violence. That’s never better, Fixer.”
    “This is pointless. You don’t understand the reality of it. You’re gullible and too interested in this Rebellion to see with any real clarity.”
    “And you’re too enamoured with your new Imperial position.” Luke countered angrily.
    Luke felt danger around him, Fixer had obviously changed, he couldn’t be trusted and he wanted to get out.
    “It doesn’t matter anyway. I can see there’s nothing for me here. I’m leaving again.”
    “So long Luke. I hope, someday, you wake up.” Fixer said cooly, tightening his grip on Camie’s waist.
    She had been standing there dumb struck all through the argument. She smiled weakly at Luke.
    Luke ignored Fixer and instead focussed on Camie.
    “I’ll try and say goodbye before I go.” He said to her. Hoping she understood what he was offering her. One last chance to change her mind.
    “Don’t bother yourself. We have a lot of work to do.” Fixer said. But Luke saw an imperceptible nod from the girl.
    He turned on his heel, again using his Uncle’s lessons to release the heavy ball of anger that had returned, and headed back to the surface.
    <><><>
    Luke had been sent a new ship designation, landing permits and reservations for a docking bay close to the Garrison base. He was to put down in the docking bay an hour before sunrise and await Rieekan’s arrival.
    There was nothing more to do now except wait for the word from Rieekan, so Luke headed back to Ben’s hovel for a meal and a change of clothes.
    His heart was heavy over his failure with Camie, but even that had been eclipsed by Fixer’s appearance. Something about their argument had left Luke with a lasting concern.
    Although he had always thought of Fixer as a friend there had always been an under-the-surface resentment toward the older shaggy haired engineer, mostly due to Luke’s jealousy of Fixer’s relationship with Camie. But now he felt there was something more serious, more detrimental that had passed between them.
    Images of Fixer getting a comlink to the Garrison base in Mos Eisley passed through Luke’s mind, warning them of at least one Rebel agent in the vicinity and to be on alert for a possible insurgency.
    Fixer seemed to be putting all his faith for the future in his new job and Luke had a nasty feeling that he might well do just about anything to protect it.
    Luke wondered if he should warn Rieekan about it. But it proved unnecessary. A comlink message was waiting for him through Artoo, stating that the attack had been moved forward and was going to take place at dawn. With nothing else to do except try to sleep, Luke first boarded the Serpion Helletic and checked in on his recuperating guest, only to, with mild surprise, find him wide awake, though weak and barely able to focus.
    "How are you feeling?" Luke asked gently.
    "I feel like someone dropped a wall on me. Then jumped up and down on it. A Wookiee I'd say." The amused reply came out weakly, a hoarse throaty murmuring.
    "Can I ask who you are?"
    "You can ask." The older man grinned then grimaced a little.
    "Are you one of us? Are you with the Alliance?"
    The ageing Human shook his head. A wry smile playing at his lips
    “I’m a sympathizer and supporter of the Rebellion. And I do what I can to help the cause, of course, but only where my abilities lie. I’m definitely not a soldier, and I’m only a fair pilot. I’m a vehicular architect not a warrior. I’m good at scientific problem solving that kind of thing. You see son, it’s easy to sketch out interesting starship designs, you probably spent hours in your childhood doodling hotrod starfighters…”
    Luke nodded with his own nostalgic grin.
    “…But to make them work well and make them financially viable. That’s the real trick. And that's my gift.” It took a long while after that for the man to catch his breath. Luke waited patiently.
    “How did you get into that field?” Luke asked.
    He was gifted with a course throaty laugh that seemed out of proportion with a man of Blissex’s slender frame.
    “By doodling hotrod starfighters.” He replied with a touch of embarrassed amusement. “I’ve always had an eye for detail and an innate curiosity to figure out how things worked. That led me into Engineering. I went through the Republic academy scheme, what’s now the Imperial Academy. Followed the fields of Engineering and Astronavigation and all the sciences. I soon found I had a natural aptitude and excelled in all my classes, I was headhunted almost straight out of the academy." Again he lay back and rested a while before he carried on. He seemed like he wanted to talk but found it tiring.
    “I started out as an Engineer’s assistant, but they soon realised I knew more than most of my superiors, I just needed hands on experience. Which I got plenty of. Then someone noticed my aptitude for thinking about new ways of configuring sublight and hyperdrive engines and I just kind of found myself pulled into the designing side.” This time he let out a groan and a pained expression passed across his sallow, dark lined features.
    "I'm Walex Blissex, Starship Engineer formerly of Kuat Drive yards. A pleasure." He managed with a wheeze, and a slightly apologetic smile, then winced and lay back on the bunk, pale and sweating profusely.
    "Luke Skywalker." Luke replied in an anxious whisper.
    The medical droid stepped in then and administered a sedative. In seconds the middle aged man was soundly and peacefully asleep again. The droid apologised for the interruption to their conversation, Luke said nothing.
    Preferring the thought of Ben's home and the well cushioned bed to the hard cold metal framed bunk of his quarters on the ship, he returned to the small pourstone hovel.
    <><><>
    After a good few hours rest and a light though high-energy breakfast, Luke boarded the Serpion Helletic again while the icy Tatooine night was still in full sway.
    He plugged Artoo into the ship’s computer and had the Astromech chart the navigational computer for the short trip to Mos Eisley while he made his own preparations in his quarters. He first made a quick check on Blissex, who was sound asleep in the medical bunk, he was still being monitored by the medical computer and it only took a cursory glance at the displays to show Blissex as fully healed and sleeping normally. He had been administered another low dose drug to aid in his sleep and natural recuperation and that should keep him sound asleep until well after daybreak. But there was something about this man that seemed to defy the rules. Even as Luke checked out the readouts of his medical status, the patient suddenly spoke.
    "Skywalker, you said?"
    "Luke."
    "I remember from the meeting on Murkas..." He paused and Luke took a spare seat at his bedside and waited, watching him with interest. He had that same calm strength and demeanour as General Dodonna.
    “I’ve been thinking about the ambush…” Blissex went on. “Did everyone else get away okay...?”
    "I know the General did, I've had word of his safe arrival at the fleet." He didn't mention Oren.
    “I think my daughter may have had a hand in it... In the ambush...”
    "I did see a woman standing outside with the Imperials." Luke commented, thinking back. "You're saying that was your daughter?"
    "I think it might have been. I only caught a glimpse of her from a distance.”
    "Why would she...?"
    "Lira and I have... Differing opinions when it comes to politics. When Palpatine declared himself Emperor at the end of the Clone Wars. I quit and went into hiding rather than work for such a man. Lira, once she was old enough, followed in her father's footsteps, becoming a starship designer, the Imperator class is one of hers." He commented with undeniable pride. "She even married an Imperial Dignitary. So, of course, once I'd declared my loyalty to the Alliance, she got it into her head to have me arrested and tried as a traitor. Or forced to go back to work for the Empire's war machine. She even pretended to be on her deathbed once to draw me into a trap. Worked too. I escaped of course. But she's been trying to get her old dad back ever since." He sighed then, long, deep and sad. The sense of loss and betrayal plain behind the unconcerned facade.
    They chatted a little longer, and Luke filled Blissex in on the part of their escape following his injury and where they were now. But as the minutes passed Luke saw more and more fatigue and weakness develop in the older man and before long he was resting his eyes and then sleeping soundly again.
    Luke left his sleeping companion and headed to his own quarters. He flicked through the available clothing and found a set of Alderaan Infantry fatigues that must have belonged to Oren. The armoured helmet, multi-pocketed waistcoat and padded shirt and trousers would be perfect for the battle, Luke would look and feel like he was part of the Rebel attack force and to the enemy he would be just another face in the crowd of attackers and hopefully insignificant, in case he was being searched for specifically.
    The thick weave grey trousers and pale blue shirt were woven an enforced dura-thread that would protect against shrapnel and sharp objects but wouldn’t do much against a blaster bolt. Still, it felt reassuringly tough though soft as a fabric.
    One of the thigh pockets proved deep enough for the lightsaber. Luke felt it was more protected and less obtrusive to his person in a pocket instead of suspended from a belt hook and bashing against his thigh whenever he took a step.
    His own blaster belt and DL-44 was fine as a sidearm, though he also snapped on a left side holster for an E-11 rifle that was one of a handful of procured weapons in the armoury locker. There were also a couple of small thermal detonators and a couple of ion-pulse charges that he stuffed into the pockets of the padded waistcoat.
    Luke used another few moments to help Blissex move to Ben’s hovel, where he should be safer than being taken into battle, Luke left the older Human with funds and a comlink with Camie's frequency, so he could be collected and be able make his way off world if the plan went awry and Luke was unable to take him back.
    Blissex was able to walk, though gingerly, down to the small pourstone domicile and Luke spent a few minutes showing him its amenities. Then they sat on the bed/sitting area sipping cool water from frosted tumblers.
    "I heard you were in the Yavin battle." Blissex said.
    "Yes. We managed to rescue a Princess from Alderaan from the Death Star but it followed us straight back to the Yavin base. We were lucky to have destroyed it in time." Luke replied.
    Blissex just nodded. He was silent for a while looking off into his thoughts.
    "What's your opinion of the T-65?" He asked, breaking the momentary silence.
    "It's a very good ship, I really like it. But to be honest it feels heavy to me, very fast in a straight line but quite slow in turning. Those TIE fighters were much more manoeuvrable and faster. I guess it's because I grew up racing T-16's. Narrow canyons, sharp turns, break-neck speed, high manoeuvrability. Compared to that the X-wing feels heavy and cumbersome." Luke said, adding a redundant shrug.
    "That was Jan's assessment too. Those three TIE's almost completely foiled the attack on the Death Star trench. And that was the reason for the meeting. We're designing a new snub fighter. The RZ-1." Blissex said, his eyes suddenly aflame with a youthful excitement that almost seemed childish.
    "We assumed the Imperials, my daughter and her husband included, would be running analyses and approach the same conclusion. That battle was won by small, fast and highly manoeuvrable snub fighters. Interceptors if you will. The Alliance needs its own version. An update on the older Clone Wars era Delta-7's that I helped design way back when. And the RZ-1 will be it."
    "Do you have a prototype already?" Luke asked.
    "In my head. We're going to put together a proposal for Mon Mothma as soon as I get to my drafting station at my desk. Nothing has been built yet but I already have the specs and the design floating around up here. Can't wait to start!" The middle aged man almost quivered with a childish kind of glee.
    Luke suddenly got a feeling and with a little apologetic look to Blissex, he snapped on the fleet trooper helmet and quickly tuned in the correct comlink frequency, he immediately caught the announcement over the inter-helmet speaker. It was time too gather. Artoo relayed the same message to him from the cockpit almost simultaneously.
  5. nickamano Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2009
    Luke adjusted his plasteel helmet and gazed out from the gloom of the basement level building.
    The floor above them was a mere latticework of duracrete strips, with wide gaps between each, the solid surface having already been removed. Beyond that, a head higher than Luke’s eye line, was the packed down sand floor of Tatooine’s surface. And then, with drift sand forming the lower edges, the wall of the Imperial Garrison base stretched out like a dull grey fog bank. In that five metre high wall was a space, a broken in stretch that was ready to be extended outwards. And that was the weak point the Rebels were ready to exploit.
    The seven strong group were crouched in silence, awaiting the colour-flash signal.
    Luke had to admit to himself that he wasn’t all that sure of what was going on. There had been a briefing in a tavern’s rear storage room a few minutes earlier but much of what had been agreed had gone completely over Luke’s head, details about troop and turbo-laser tower numbers and positions, the power grid and its access points, timing and drop coordinates, and the specific details of Gupp and Lesh’s job, whatever that was.
    One of the middle aged Humans in the group, of which there were quite a few, sketched out the general plan as the meeting was breaking up and where Luke would fit in.
    It was enough to be going along with. Luke had reassured himself.
    He was also told that Rieekan’s plans often proved to be adaptable as circumstances arose, almost to the point of improvisation which, according to the Rebel soldier he was speaking to, was probably the reason for his continual success as a mission planner.
    Luke risked a quick look over his comrades in arms. All but two were humans and most were in their middle age and Luke was certain he was the youngest by quite a number of years. All were dressed as Luke was, in the Alderaan Infantry uniform. The two none humans, a Devaronian and a Dressellian wore personal clothing, padded fabrics with plates of armour either attached to the clothes or sown into them. They all seemed to be armed with a mixture of DH-17’s, E-11’s and a couple of DLT-19’s for good measure.
    At the Garrison wall, filling in the gap, were five Stormtroopers armed with T-21 and holstered E-11’s. They were spread out across the gap in the wall to bolster the defences of the two Turbo-laser towers stationed on either side of and above it.
    Also, facing the gap in the wall about ten metres back were two unmanned E-Web emplacements.
    Luke watched and waited. Nerves making him tingle inside, making him feel almost nauseous. His hands shook slightly. He was thankful for the shade of the subterranean hiding place, even though he was sweating and could feel the wall of heat on his face from the unprotected sunshine outside, the rest of him felt relatively cool.
    For the umpteenth time he fought back the desire to draw and check his blasters. He had done it once and had been satisfied. He told himself to remain calm and to stop second guessing himself. And then it began.
    “Here we go.” The Devaronian said in deep rumbling accented basic.
    Apparently the colour-flash signal had been spotted but Luke had missed it. He felt foolish, out of place and anxious. Especially in the company of an apparently seasoned and experienced Rebel cell.
    Then he spotted Gupp. The big Gamorrean was very drunk and staggering out from an alley, singing loudly in his native porcine tongue. He had a large, two metre plasteel cylindrical container balanced across his shoulders. It looked like it was designed to carry a musical instrument. However, he was staggering, unbalanced and constantly on the verge of loosing his grip on it.
    Across the way Luke spotted Rieekan, walking with a young dark skinned woman. If Luke didn’t know better he would have said they were a courting couple. Rieekan was wearing a beige coloured robe, the hood drawn up to protected his head from the beating sun. The woman was dressed like a Corellian, pale blue shirt with wide sleeves, grey trousers, grey sleeveless waistcoat and black knee high boots. Her long hair was drawn into multiple plaits, each looped back up form a series of rings, a golden panel clipped the rings against the back of her skull. All this was covered by a translucent pale blue hood that covered and protected her head and shoulders.
    Gupp seemed to notice the girl suddenly and he staggered over toward her. Words were exchanged but Gupp seemed to be too drunk and too dense to take notice, he stumbled against the woman, who called for help. Rieekan angrily shoved at Gupp who shoved back, knocking Rieekan to the ground then turned his desires back to the Corellian woman again. By this time the wall guards had seen fit to advance and break up the disturbance.
    Luke hadn’t even seen Lesh’s approach. The Shistavanen species were extraordinarily fast, they were built that way, lean and powerful with hind legs evolved to propel them at velocity. The Wolfman skirted along the edge of the left hand side of the wall, waiting for the right moment.
    It came when Gupp drunkenly dropped his plasteel tube, which popped open revealing the blaster rifles and vibro-axe within. With bulk defying speed the Gamorrean dropped to one knee, all semblance of inebriation gone, grabbed a rifle and shot two of the Stormtroopers.
    At just about the same time, Rieekan wheeled an A295 blaster rifle around from under his robe and killed another of the troopers while his Corellian date killed the forth and fifth with two fast-draw pistol shots from the hip.
    Half a second after the fifth Stormtrooper was dead a Rebel Human and the Dressellian from Luke’s party took careful aim with their DLT-19’s and took out the Turbo-laser operators straight through the observation ports in their turret towers.
    And then Lesh kicked off like a sports sprinter and erupted, almost as a blur, through the gap in the wall and straight across the base’s courtyard. The closer of the automated EWebs tried to track and target Lesh, but he was simply too fast for the gun's programmed tracking routines.
    The power converter assembly was actually to the right of the hole in the wall but Lesh had apparently decided that he would get there faster if he used part of a duracrete block that had been erected in the centre of the courtyard, he kicked off from it reversing direction without loosing much momentum. Luke tried to watch his progress but the lupine alien was almost too quick to follow.
    Outside the wall, Gupp and the Corellian woman were racing to the foot of one of the turbo-laser towers for cover, Gupp drew his second T-21 from his plasteel carrying case while the woman, snatched up one of the T-21’s from a dead Stormtrooper and took up her position. One of the automated E-Web turrets tracked her movement but she was securely in cover before it could fire.
    Rieekan was on his gauntlet comlink spitting orders into it as everyone waited. Across the courtyard grey uniformed Imperial Army troops, the regulars of the Army Corps were starting to move, having heard the shots but unable to detect any large scale attack. A few of them had noticed the lack of a guard at the construction side of the base, and possibly a couple of the white armoured corpses gleaming in the sunlight like illuminating beacons.
    Then Lesh’s planted charges started to detonate. There were deep concussive booms over to the right and then an almighty blast of brilliant electrical carnage, an inferno of smoke and flame shot through with convulsing electrical arc waves.
    The explosions were blinding and deafening and threw the whole site into instant chaos. People ran out into the courtyard from all directions. Some were trained personnel, racing over to deal with the fire, the rest were either reacting in a panic or following their own training. Troopers rushed out in a scatter, some formed ranks or small semi circular groups, their eyes everywhere at once, searching for the form and direction of the attack, if an attack it was. From their perspective it could have simply been a malfunction of some kind.
    Droids appeared as well, a mechanical parody of the humans, some following programming, others not quite knowing what to do.
    Luke heard the humming rumble of thrusters and repulsorlift engines through the tinnitus of the recent explosion. And then it came over his head and flowed smoothly into position above the courtyard. Rieekan, leaning against the outside of the wall’s edge, glancing in with his A295 ready but lowered, was still howling into his comlink.
    The ship was actually an Airspeeder, one of the universal GoCorp’s Robo-Hacks. But it had been rigged as a deployment ship. The side doors had been cut away and interior features removed.
    The speeder came to a hovering halt six metres above the ground, its underside seemed to have been armour plated as any blaster bolts from Imperials on the ground below it were deflected or absorbed without apparent damage.
    From Luke’s vantage point, he could see two Rebels in the passenger section, staying low and trying to keep from becoming targets from the milling Imperials below. They were shoving a plasteel cylinder about the dimensions of an Astromech droid out toward the open side of the vehicle.
    Stormtroopers and Imperial army grunts alike targeted the cylinder as it fell through the air but they were unable to get a bead on the object in the half second it was in freefall. And then it struck the ferrocrete ground with its scattered sand covering, bounced slightly, rolled and then detonated.
    It was an ion weapon, which Luke was familiar with but he had never seen it in the form of an explosive, only as a projectile bolt.
    He noticed too, even as the bomb was pushed out of the airspeeder, that the robo-hack kicked it’s repulsors on full and lifted up into the air to it’s highest altitude.
    The ion bomb detonated, the cylinder reborn as blinding flash, and then in the instant that followed an orb of glowing, crackling, living cyan emerged from the white light and expanded exponentially. The electric blue sphere, itself surrounded and penetrated by arcs and satellites of ion fire, engulfed the courtyard almost to the very walls of the compound and then, like a blackhole, the expanding ions were abruptly sucked back into the source and the orb collapsed in on itself and vanished.
    Everything was as it stood, weapons, men, droids, buildings, transports but everything was permeated by residual arcs of dancing ion plasma. Console lights flickered erratically off and on before fading completely. Armoured men writhed and shouted in shock and fear, their own internal electro-chemicals disrupted a little, causing a momentary queasy sensation, but the effect to their computer augmented armour and helmets was a thousand fold more potent.
    Atmospheric cyclers went into reverse, sucking clean scoured air from Stormtrooper lungs, sonic filters worked in overdrive pummelling trooper ears with walls of sound and electronic feedback, deafening them and knocking their internal balance out of alignment. Vision enhancer goggles and visors danced through the visual spectrum overloading human input and overloading natural sight, causing temporary blindness. Both Stormtroopers and Imperial Army soldiers hurriedly snatched at their helmets, throwing them to the ground and rubbing at their eyes and temples to rid them of residual sensory interference.
    They dropped weapons that were temporarily useless, power pack and collimator circuits shorted out by dancing ion particles, many fell to their knees on the sand carpeted duracrete or writhed in panic and fear.
    Still, the tiny dozen strong Rebel force held back their infantry assault.
    Seconds after the ion bomb, the Rebels in the robo-hack dropped the second cylinder, rolling the two metre nerve agent out of the side of the stolen speeder and into the air above the Imperial base, before the airspeeder darted off into the Tatooine heat haze.
    Luke watched the glittering cylinder falling from the sky, tumbling end over end as if in slow motion until the instant its crimped edge touched the duracrete of the courtyard. Everyone seemed to be frozen at that moment in time, every eye that had been aware of the bomb was drawn irresistibly to that point of contact.
    The bomb hit the ground and split open like a corroded canister, a dozen helmet sized white plasteel orbs burst from the split casing, tiny repulsor jets launched them up and away, spreading out in a loose circle around the courtyard, each hovering a metre above the ground.
    In the next instant, they too exploded, the thin outer casing bursting away and a dull heavy murky-green gas sprayed forth from the honeycombed subsurface, instantly forming a low and all engulfing cloud of noxious nerve agent.
    After twenty seconds of confused yet telling noise, of men coughing and hawking, yelled fearful curses and calls for aid, the nerve bombs sputtered into silence, the green gas no longer being belched forth and moments later the orbs sprayed out the antitoxin as an onyx cloud of soot-like steam which immediately started to counteract the nerve agent. Soon all that remained was a dull grey mist that sank as a dusty ash onto the ground.
    It was time.
    After an exchanged glance and accepting nods the Rebels, Rieekan, the Corellian woman and Gupp all advanced into the Garrison Base at a sprint, blasters on stun to put down any Imperials that were obviously still conscious and active.
    Rieekan was snapping orders into his gauntlet comlink as he ran, the Corellian woman just ahead of him as cover.
    Luke ran forward with the main group, the brilliant glint of Tatooine suns on polished metal dazzling him, even with the helmet casting his eyes in shadow. He hadn’t realised how much protection there had been inside the ruin of the half demolished building.
    He quickly touched a control pad on the box on the left of his helmet and brought down the anti-glare visor, then entered the Garrison base amid the sprinting group, casting concerned, excited glances left and right, expecting resistance at any time and from anywhere.
    He noticed Lesh way off to his right at the base of the main landing platform wearing a re-breather mask and macro-goggles. The Shistavanen, who must have been holding a position outside the range of the Rebel bombs, was kneeling with his blaster rifle levelled, ready for danger and covering his comrades’ advance from their flank.
    The mopping up stage of the operation began at once. Luke and the others, started stunning on the conscious but disoriented Imperial troops, adding to the thickness of the carpet of unconscious bodies.
    However, Luke soon found that stunning Stormtroopers wasn’t easy. Their composite armour was designed to absorb or deflect all but Military grade blaster bolts and stun beams were lower powered than even legal self-defence blasters, so head shots were the only option.
    He glanced around and allowed himself a little sigh of relief. The plan seemed to have worked effectively enough, nearly all of the troops were unconscious already. The few who weren’t and still wore their helmets were stumbling around blind and deaf by the effects of the ion pulse bomb. The Rebels moved in two’s, one snatching off an Imperial helmet from behind while his or her partner took the stunning shot.
    The Imperial Army grunts wore only padded durable cloth fatigues, similar to the Alderaan uniform fabrics that Luke and the majority of the Rebel force wore, and it wasn’t designed to protect against blaster weaponry, even on stun.
    A few had been on the edges of the nerve toxin and had only absorbed a tiny dose, others had been outside its influence but had been temporarily struck down by the ion pulse bomb instead.
    A group of less then a dozen had, with remarkable reaction time, scrabbled into cover around the north side of a stack of plasteel crates and tried to form a resistance. Luke could see them in the distance, a couple of helmet-less white armoured shapes on the outer flanks of the main bundle of men who were dressed in light grey and black. There didn’t seem to be an officer, so they appeared to be hesitant about what to do. Even as Luke watched, the two flanking Stormtroopers mustered the group and started to snap out incoherent orders.
    He watched as a trio of Rebels saw the group and began an advance. Then a blur of movement caught his attention and he turned to watch Lesh sprinting across the courtyard from the right, toward the Imperials.
    By the time the flanking trooper had spotted the Shistavanen's advance, he was only halfway through training his blaster rifle on the blur of fabric and flesh when gleaming, talon-like, claws had torn at his flesh and battered him to the ground, then raked deep across the throat of the second in the group.
    Almost at the same time, the female Corellian dropped to one knee and launched two bolts of blaster fire into the Imperials from the opposite side, the second armoured trooper went down, the hole where his skull had been belching acrid smoke and charred skull fragments as he fell.
    Lesh finished the remaining pocket of resistance with his own BlasTech sidearm, then he and the Corellian bent and started to strip the corpses of any useful items.
    Luke used his E-11’s stun setting like the other rebels, making his way from east to west across the northern section of the courtyard, all the while his eyes darting around, watching what the other Rebels were doing, watching for signs of danger. Something was telling him that this wasn’t over. Whether it was the Force or just logic, he didn’t know.
    He knelt over a helmet-less Stormtrooper who was conscious but coughing horrendously, his eyes and nostrils streaming fluid and half covered in grey sooty residue. Luke grimly placed the muzzle of his blaster an inch from his face and silenced the man's inhuman retching with a blue ring of stunning plasma. His white plastoid form was momentarily enveloped in the electric blue sheen as the bolt overloaded his nervous system but then faded along side the trooper’s consciousness.
    A sudden shiver struck at Luke’s chest and he instinctively looked up at an upper storey window in the Command tower ahead of him and saw a white armoured form in the rectangular frame of the window levelling a long blaster rifle down at the courtyard.
    The young Rebel lifted his blaster, his thumb automatically finding the setting switch and he released a full power blaster bolt through the air, practically a hip-fired shot.
    As he blinked, Luke realised that he wasn’t actually able to see the window with the range and clarity with which he had just seen it but all the same there was a gleam of white that momentarily appeared just in time to be knocked down by the quick-fire kill shot from Luke’s blaster.
    The Rebel quickly sighted through the rangefinder scope on the BlasTech military rifle and saw the crumpled Stormtrooper’s torso hanging out of the open window, the long barrelled blaster rifle propped up at the edge of the frame.
    He marvelled for a moment, thinking back over Ben’s teaching in the Millennium Falcon when he could almost see the location of the training remote, even with the blast shield down, and in the tavern when the Imperial’s had tried to ambush Blissex. Then too, the Force had given Luke a few seconds of premonition that allowed him to act.
    He surreptitiously glanced around to see if anyone had witnessed his shot but everyone was busy stunning and stripping Imperials.
    Rieekan was on his wrist comlink again but he did catch Luke’s eye and cock his head slightly with a hurried commendation.
    Two of the Rebels, guarded by Gupp, ran for the Control tower entrance on the western side and disappeared within. Luke listened out for telltale blaster exchanges from the Control tower but heard nothing.
    He remembered from the briefing that it was their job to slice in a base-wide droid reprogram.
    The program was designed to override standard droid instructions in favour of new orders, orders which had been kept decidedly simple and danger-free, to ensure there would be no rejection.
    Soon enough, droids were emerging from nooks and crannies all over the base and scurrying about the courtyard, stripping the fallen troopers of their uniforms and equipment.
    While, in the base enclosure, droids of all shapes and sizes started to file into storerooms, armouries, barracks, computer and maintenance rooms, to clean out anything and everything of value.
    Luke took a moment to comlink Artoo. He instructed the droid to get the ship back to Ben's home and to stay hidden, away from the fire-fight, where it was safer.
    An airborne rumble cut through the distant speeder and chatter background noise that filled the Tatooine spaceport’s air and caused Luke to glance skyward. He could see dark specs of silhouettes overhead, descending, growing larger. This would be the Alliance starships honing in on the Garrison base from concealed orbits that Rieekan had mentioned in the briefing.
    Luke cast his gaze around, ever watchful for trouble, but the whole place was now a bustle of working Rebel crews and reprogrammed droids.
    In the southwest of the Garrison base, the first of the three Imperial Omega-class freighters that stood ready in the courtyard was already halfway to being filled with supply crates.
    The other two freighters were being loaded up with ten of the twelve newly delivered T-47 Airspeeders.
    On the north courtyard landing platform, a Rebel pilot and a reprogrammed Astromech climbed into the stationary Sentinel-class Assault Shuttle and took it straight up into the atmosphere. At the same time the two Action IV transports descended from the brilliant blue sky to land in the centre courtyard. Moments before stunned Imperial casualties had been dragged over to the edges of the courtyard to make room.
    Back to the north, the large and majestic CR90 set down smoothly on the landing platform and regurgitated another thirty rebel technicians and pilots, who spread out to their pre-appointed tasks.
    Imperial walkers, AT-ST’s and AT-AR’s suddenly powered up and walked into the cargo holds of the Action IV’s along with the last two T-47’s.
    The Omega transports and Action IV’s were just taking off with holds filled to capacity when the Imperial's launched their counter strike.
    The attack came at the Rebels as a staggered two pronged horn. The first Imperial prong emerged from a cluster of buildings to the west side of the base, the second from the north beyond the landing platform. However, and fortunately for the Rebels, they were badly timed and uncoordinated.
    Two squads of Stormtroopers attacked in full armour and an equal sharing of standard E-11 rifles and heavier repeater rifles. DLT-20's by the looks of them, Luke thought, as he ducked away from the opening salvo of crimson plasma bolts.
    The two groups of eight men, pauldron adorned officers leading from the front, advanced and split apart into a forward strike team and a rear support team. The front team spread themselves, moving quickly forward, trying a rush attack in a ragged wide spaced line, while the second squad remained at the front of the building, used for cover and a quick retreat if necessary.
    However, the Rebels were primed and expecting a counter attack, they were waiting for it and it took only seconds for the Imperials to be pinned down by heavy blaster fire and forced to halt their advance on the courtyard. Instead they took cover behind a few stacks of emptied supply crates, while the second squad ducked back into the cover of doorways of the western complex.
    Gupp knelt, bracing the long fat barrels of his paired T-21's across one knee, one barrel crossed over the other, and laid down rapid, loud and smoky suppressing fire while the other Rebel soldiers got into cover or advanced on the Imperial position.
    Half of the foremost Stormtrooper squad came out of cover, relying on their armour to protect them and tried to take down Gupp, but Rieekan himself took them on.
    Standing proud out in the open on the sand blown courtyard with his DH-17 raised and aimed, he carefully and coolly picked off each Stormtrooper with an illegally powered and precisely targeted series of well aimed single bursts of plasma, while counter-fire whipped around him in a violent haze, some shots whizzing a hairsbreadth from his skull. One Imperial blaster bolt even seared a black scorch mark along the fabric covering his chest but he stood steady against the frantic onslaught and took one professional well-aimed killing shot after another, until only two Stormtroopers still stood and they hurriedly ducked back behind their stack of crates.
    The Devaronian soldier, who was to Rieekan's left, kneeling behind an empty crate of his own, drew a small thermal detonator from his waistcoat and tossed it underarm into the air. The bomb arced high and disappeared just on the far side of the crate wall that hid the surviving troopers. It exploded a second later, taking out the crate wall and anything living behind it.
    Luke skirted to the right, heading northwest, one eye tight on Rieekan all the while. The General saw that Luke was positioning himself well on the flank of the second Imperial squad, his small frame keeping him out of the enemy's sight. Catching the young Rebel's eye, Rieekan he drew a palm sized ion detonator from his jacket and tossed it under arm to Luke, who caught it easily and pulled one of his own from his utility vest. He primed them both and then hurled them up and over so they bounced and rolled in amongst the remaining tightly packed Stormtroopers.
    There was a pregnant pause, then a blinding blue-white flash with dancing arcs of ion plasma in amongst the white explosive light. Stormtroopers tumbled, falling over each other, writhing and struggling as their helmets were overloaded and feedback was blasted into every sensory interface.
    The Rebels, a half dozen strong team with Gupp and the Devaronian leading them, rushed into the bombsite, tore off Stormtrooper helmets and quickly stun-blasted the wearers in the face.
    At once, reprogrammed droids darted forward to complete strip and retrieve tasks on the fallen Imperials as the Rebels slowly retreated back to previous jobs.
    Luke found himself standing beside Rieekan, as they idly watched the droids do their work.
    "Not my best plan by any means." The General commented quietly, watching the salvage operation with a detached half-interest. "But it was the best I could come up with, with our resources and manpower." He looked across the courtyard and the scattered casualties. Luke said nothing.
    "Then again, so far things are running smoothly enough." Rieekan frowned and let out a sigh. "I was half expecting more resistance, to be honest."
    Moments later the second prong made itself visible from the north of the Garrison Base. Rieekan was silently watching the last of the supply transports taking off from their docking points in the southwest corner of the base and then his attention switched to the north. He glared into the brightness, trying to focus through the intense twin sunlight above, and then smiled grimly.
    "And there it is... Right on cue." He muttered.
    Luke turned to follow Rieekan's line of sight and spotted the glint of polished white armour out beyond the support struts of the main landing platform.
    It was another two squads of Stormtroopers. Sixteen identical men running in a line toward the square shaped wing of the courtyard that formed a rudimentary shoulder in the northeast corner of the base. Lesh was up there with a two man team of humans and they were already behind cover, trying to pick off the Stormtrooper officers, as the running group kept the Rebels down with frenzied suppression fire.
    Luke turned to Rieekan but he was already snapping orders into his wrist comlink, trying to mass whoever was closest to support Lesh's team. But the whine of their back and forth blaster fire carried on the light Tatooine breeze and Rebels were already running low and fast across the courtyard for the northeast corner.
    Luke headed that way too. He wound around to the eastern wall where they had entered and found himself caught up and flanked by the Corellian woman and another two humans.
    The four of them spotted the Imperial manoeuvre at the same time. The main surrounding wall contained a warren of small maintenance tunnels and crawlspaces, the mouths of which had been exposed by the construction work. And from the largest of the tunnels another team of men emerged, they were dressed in black half-armour. And they were too far away to use blasters on.
    Luke recognised their void-black appearance from his time inside the Death Star. The realisation struck him abruptly and he shouted the news to the others.
    "TIE pilots!"
    The pilots were already out of the mouth of the tunnel, where the wall ended for the expansion work and were racing away across Mos Eisley streets.
    "They'll be trying for their fighter wing!" The Corellian woman shouted back, veering right and passing the threshold of the Garrison Base. "There're three bays attached to the Garrison, one for Landers, two for fighters."
    "Be careful, we don't want to get cut off from the others!" One of the Human Rebels shouted from behind.
    "We have to stop them getting those fighters off the ground or the transports'll be sitting ducks. They haven't the armament to fend of TIE fighters."
    A blaster bolt came from behind, high powered and fat with galvanised plasma. It whipped between Luke and the Alderaanian's and hit the Corellian woman square in the upper back, knocking the wind out of her lungs with a sizzling audible thump and throwing her forward onto her face, as if her legs had been kicked out from under her. Luke dodged and rolled while one of the Alderaanian's, shouting in horror, dropped to one knee and wheeled around, blaster muzzle leading the way. He got off three wild shots back toward the Garrison Base before he too was cut down by the unseen assailant.
    Luke rolled into the shadow of a close by domed building, casting quick careful glances back toward the Garrison Base but was unable to spot the sniper.
    The other Rebel was in cover on the other side of the street but his attention was directed the other way. Luke followed his gaze toward the smooth ridged circular pit of the nearest docking bay.
    He heard that tell-tale whining roar of a Twin Ion Engine, multiple times over, identical resonances over-lapping each other and then watched the first six of the easily distinguishable starfighters rise vertically from the pit with repulsors and thrust jets, before the main engines took over and they erupted overhead toward the base, leaving behind a long shadow and a swirl of hot dusty sand.
    Luke coughed his lungs clear, watched as his remaining Rebel comrade almost got his head shot off by the elusive Imperial sniper and then snatched up his wrist comlink.
    "General, do you copy?"
    "Go ahead Skywalker."
    "I guess you spotted the TIE fighters already? We're pinned down just outside the east construction site entrance. There's a sniper somewhere covering us. Is there anything you can do from where you are?"
    "Stand by..."
    Luke waited, feeling the eyes of the other Rebel boring into his skull, mirroring his own heart-hammering desperation. Then Rieekan came back on.
    "I'm sending Lesh your way, keep your heads down 'till then. Once you're clear, head over to the Garrison’s landing platform, things are getting a bit tricky all of a sudden. Rieekan out."
    Luke threw a look over at the other Rebel but saw at once that the Alderaanian soldier had heard and understood the plan. He was head down and busy rummaging around in his waistcoat pockets for a replacement powerpack for his DH-17. He fished one out and swapped it for the pack in the receiver’s side-mounted housing. Luke took the other man's lead and did likewise while there was nothing else to do. He also took out a small palm sized flask of pressurised water and took a sip. There was a lot of water contained in the pocket size cylinder, pressurised and held in gaseous form, the siphon used the drinker’s suction to power the transformer that drew up a measure of the contents, liquefied it and then transferred it through a valve to the mouthpiece tube. An ingenious little device for carrying a days worth of water in a jacket pocket, most Tatooine resident's carried two or three of them at all times.
    He didn't see Lesh or the sniper, nor did he witness the Imperial's demise. He just heard an animalistic guttural howl from the Shistavanen to signal they were clear and then he and the other man were running back up the sand packed street for the Garrison Base again.
    There was no time to check on the others who remained still and silent on the sandy ground, blackened burns on their clothing still smoking. There was little chance they were alive and no time to make any assertion, let alone supply medical aid. Not while the battle was still going on.
    Luke and the other Rebel ran on through the break in the wall and then took the sharp angle to the north, keeping low and using the inner wall as partial cover.
    Ahead of them they could see a running fire-fight taking place, loud and smoky with multiple bursts of colour as blasters fired emerald and crimson bolts of super hot plasma back and forth between Rebel and Imperial. Most missed their mark, either through hurried aim or good cover. A few of the plasma lances touched home however and their electric whines were interrupted by human and humanoid screams.
    The sight of the CR90 stopped Luke in his tracks. He had enough sense to automatically duck behind a ferrocrete pillar for cover, but the sight of the Corellian Corvette taking up just about all of the space of the landing pad certainly caught his attention for a second longer than it should have.
    Though on the smaller end of the Capital Ship scale, it still looked huge and powerful with the hammerhead bridge section at the forefront and those eleven giant super powerful engines to the rear. It was like the grandfather of the Serpion Helletic, the same general form just scaled up four fold.
    This particular Corvette had a monochrome paint job, dark grey on light grey. No residual leftover flashes of identifying colour from the day of the Old Republic that would have revealed a past career in diplomatic, corporate or security transportation. Now it was a vessel of war. A weapon. And the Imperials were trying to take control of it.
    There were two bands of combatants. At ground level, the Imperials defending and trying to hold on to control of the turbolift in the centre of the platform's base, while the Rebels attempted to take that position. But there were also other Imperials on the platform proper, at the CR90's boarding ramp, trying to gain access to the Corvette while apparently more Rebels were attempting to hold them back from inside the ship.
    The boarding ramp emerged from between the toes of the rear landing foot which itself descended from the stocky vertical cylinder in line with the docking rings to the rear of the main hull, forward of the engine block, the top of the cylinder crowned by the main deflector array.
    Luke understood the stakes and what had to be done. The ground Rebels had to take the turbolift and then support the others inside the Corvette.
    The Imperial attack on the CR90 was a clever ploy. If they were able to gain control of it they could easily take it into orbit and then pursue the Rebel privateers in one of their own ships. And from the look of the other ships that had been used on the mission, the CR90 was easily the most powerful and most heavily armed.
    Luke had seen other Corvettes on the Yavin base and within the departing fleet afterward. The standard armaments seem to have been Taim and Bak H9's. This ship had Taim and Bak doubles on the ventral hull, two on either side, singles built into the cheeks of the hammerhead bridge section and huge DBY type heavy dual turbolasers in the dorsal and ventral forward cylinder emplacements. The latter batteries looked over-sized and over-powered for a relatively small vessel but the striking appearance and the obvious power of the turrets more than made up for a rather over-the-top aesthetic.
    And then there was also the probability that the Corvette's navigational computers already had the final rendezvous coordinates programmed in and possibly even the location of the Rebel base that Rieekan's cell was connected to. It was obvious how and why that Corvette needed to stay in Rebel hands, beyond the newly stolen supplies and equipment in its cargo holds.
    So, hefting his heavy Imperial blaster, Luke ran ahead to support the Rebels fighting for access to the turbolift.
    The screeching roar of the TIE fighter engines were already long gone, the ships having arced vertically into the upper atmosphere. Luke surmised they were going after the other transports, probably intending to shoot them down before they broke for Hyperspace.
    However if the Rebels managed to keep control of the Corvette, the TIE fighters would more than likely return to the atmosphere and try to stop the last Rebel ship from taking off. There was also the fact that while still on the landing platform it was a sitting duck with only the dorsal guns able to return fire. Therefore it was imperative that the Corvette was able to take off as soon as possible.
    Luke ran over to the closest group of Rebels, hunkered down behind duracrete blocks and throwing snatched blaster bolts over the top of the meter high wall in the general direction of the Imperials, who were pinned down but still in control of the turbolift.
    Gupp seemed to be in command of the six strong team and was grunting out porcine orders that were quickly interpreted by it’s droid translator.
    "Create a diversion, rush them from the left, keep the turbo-shaft housing as cover. I will suppress them, throw in an ion detonator."
    "That'll help with the Stormtroopers Gupp, but what about the regulars?"
    Luke threw a cautious glance around the side of the wall and spotted grey fabric uniforms and open fronted helmets as well as the stark white armour of the Stormtrooper elite.
    "So we need two or three marksmen on the right to take advantage of the distraction of my ion bomb. Any volunteers?"
    Somehow, taken in by the excitement of the battle, Luke found himself volunteering. His Alderaan trooper comrade fell in alongside as well.
    "Use your helmet blast shield, Luke." The Fleet trooper said. "We'll pop out the moment Gupp's grenade goes off."
    "You boys causing the distraction, if you circle right around and come back at them from the rear. So you can finish off any we might miss. But watch out for crossfire." Luke added, trying to control his embarrassment at issuing instructions to older and probably much more experienced men than himself. No one seemed to bat an eyelid though.
    They nodded their understanding, eyes gleaming with the usual equal measures of battlefield excitement and fear.
    "A good plan." Gupp bleated and then pulled an ion detonator from his battle harness.
    He tossed it up and caught it, flicked the activator fuse with a quick crack against one of his facial tusks, let out a guttural sound that was probably a laugh, and then launched it over his shoulder toward the base of the turbolift.
    The group of six making up the rest of Gupp's team darted out left from behind the duracrete wall, two of them were struck by Imperial blaster fire but the other four made it into the blind spot created by the fat cylinder of the turbolift shaft. Luke and the Fleet trooper shuffled to the right hand edge of the low wall, flipping down the dark plasteel blast shield visors on their matching helmets and waited for the flash.
    The whole manoeuvre lasted four seconds and then the ion grenade reached the end of its fuse.
    Luke and the trooper, the former a split second ahead of the latter, darted out, throwing themselves side on to the ground, pointing and firing with their BlasTech rifles as they hit the ground. Luke's E-11 killed two of the Imperial Army regulars and floored a Stormtrooper who had been just outside of the small grenade's blast radius, while the Alderaanian trooper put down another three of the regulars.
    Both Humans drew back behind cover in the second that followed, to avoid the very real risk of crossfire from the four remaining Rebels who had already circled around the far side of the lift shaft and came down on the Imperials still alive or conscious. The army regulars were stunned in the face to avoid damage to uniforms and equipment, while the Stormtroopers hurriedly had their helmets snatched off and put down in the same manner.
    Then the momentary pause was over as every Rebel left standing was running and pushing their way to the turbolift. Gupp was already at the controls, rebooting the system, as it had taken some light ion damage from his grenade. It was pretty well shielded though and the fist sized detonator was a relatively low yield. The door whooshed open and everyone darted inside, Gupp grunting instructions before the doors were even closing.
    "Two lines. Front row kneels, rear row stands. Be ready but watch your targets, our people are already up here and it’s our job to support them." The droid translator’s voice sounded almost silly giving out orders but the Rebels knew the importance behind them ad paid attention.
    And then the doors were opening again and the front row were throwing themselves forward onto the landing platform, unbalanced and ungainly but low enough to avoid incoming fire.
    There was very little cover, just a few scattered durasteel crates that had been dumped to make room for Imperial loot.
    Luke, as part of the rear row, came out a second later, alongside Gupp and his Alderaanian comrade.
    The problem was there was no one to shoot at and the CR90’s boarding ramp was already beginning to retract.
    There were a couple of Imperial army soldier silhouettes visible in the bright light cascading from the Corvette’s interior, kneeling and squatting down while they fired random suppressing bursts, but they were too distant to make easy targets. Unfortunately, they could easily pick off any advancing Rebels as there was no cover between the turbolift entrance and the boarding ramp.
    Luke noticed two things, one, that there had been a change in the Tatooine wind’s direction and two, there were some old fuel barrels stacked off to the left on the edge of the landing platform. And a sudden idea came to him.
    He quickly passed a suggestion along to the other remaining Rebels via his helmet comlink, then followed his own advice by flipping the blast visor down to cover his eyes and lower face again and then sent a short controlled flurry of blaster bolts into the stack of fuel barrels. They went up like a set of thermal detonators, throwing a plume of white oily smoke up into the air which quickly drifted, rising beyond the crowning turbolaser turret array of the CR90.
    As anticipated, the white smoke, the core of which was shot through with flickering blue and orange flame, started to be blown across the length of the landing platform and within a moment had created a thick blanket between the Rebels and the CR90's boarding ramp.
    Luke was up and sprinting in the same moment, relying on his visor's radiation filters to allow him to see through the smoke. He could hear and sense other Rebels running alongside and behind him but he was solely intent on the small wedge shaped rectangle of light that represented the boarding ramp, which by the changing angle, was halfway shut.
    It was fortunate that the Imperial defenders were Army and not Stormtroopers whose helmets would have automatically filtered out the smoke and made easy targets of the sprinting Rebels. Another thought occurred to Luke and as he sprinted, he awkwardly holstered and safety fasted his E11 and then drew his lightsaber from the thigh pocket alongside the long black rifle holster.
    Concerned about the thinning smoke and the iridescent glow of the azure blade, he left the weapon sheathed until the last possible moment.
    The smoke haze drifted and thinned, haggard by the solid mass and residual heat of the Capital Ship and Luke, gauging the proximity of the closing ramp, knew instinctively when to make the jump for it. So, with a grunt that was drowned out by the electric snap-hiss of his drawn lightsaber, he launched himself into the air.
    His momentum launched him clear over the rising lip of the ramp and he ran down the almost vertical surface of it, wheeling the deadly blade left and right in quick whipping sweeps to cleave apart the three startled Imperial soldiers waiting there.
    He came to a halt, whipped the blade one last time to take the arm of the last of the Imperials who had been out of range of his initial flurry and then shifted over to the control panel and re-cycled the ramp mechanism.
    He waited for the others to catch up and the ramp was all the way descended before they caught up and climbed aboard. There were shocked stares and looks of surprise and even a hint of suspicion on a couple of their faces, as they finally caught up.
    "How can you run so damned fast, Skywalker?" One of them panted, aghast, his tone almost accusatory.
    "That was one Hell of a jump too, three metres easily." Gupp muttered. However, all potential emotional colour was lost in the droid's translation. "Our Shistavanen friend could do it but I've never seen a human..."
    Luke just shrugged, pocketing his lightsaber a little self consciously and noticing that, for the first time, he was the only one of their number who wasn't out of breath.
  6. nickamano Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 6, 2009
    There came a sudden loud shout from their rear on the landing platform and men and blasters whirled and focussed, but it was a small team of Rebel techs, pale tan flight-suit type uniforms and simpler versions of the Alderaan fleet trooper helmets. They were running forward from the turbolift access, carrying crates and weapons between them.
    "Wait!" The foremost of them shouted. "Wait!"
    He caught up and boarded the ramp, bringing the other techs with him, panting and half bent, trying to catch his breath. Another of the three, who was apparently fitter, took over with the explanation.
    "Rieekan sent us up after you. We're won't be much help in a fight but if you get us to the engineering section we can lock down the bridge, override systems, lock and unlock doors, practically anything you need."
    "Great. You're a welcome sight. Keep to the rear for now and keep your blasters ready, you might be forced to defend yourselves, we don't know how many of the enemy are on board." Gupp replied.
    The techs nodded and checked their hand guns, a heavy BlasTech, two Power 5's and a cut down DD6, then they moved to the back of the group and waited.
    The Rebels took a careful look around, once the boarding ramp was again closed and sealed. They seemed to be inside an over-large turbolift car, it was a white plasteel cylinder of standard CEC design, just a little taller and a lot fatter than most personal lifts. There were five controls on the interface panel two doors opposite each other and the boarding ramp in between them, making only one quarter of the interior cylinder a solid surface.
    "They'll be heading straight for the bridge and the forward turbolaser batteries. Lesh's team is already on board, somewhere forward I would guess. We need to try and meet up with them, join up and reinforce, as soon as possible." Gupp ordered through his miniature translator droid.
    "I've served on '90's before, Sir." One of the Alderaanian's announced. "The techs can gain control of the propulsion and weapon systems from engineering which is aft of here."
    "Okay, you take three men aft and secure the engineering station, with the tech crew. Call for aid if required."
    "So which deck?" Luke asked, hovering by the control panel.
    "Second. Engineering is directly aft. The rest of us head stern. This is probably going be a running fire-fight along narrow corridors. Split into two man fire teams, spread out starboard and port. Head forward. Keep in contact, we'll use close team support. If one group gets bogged down, call for assistance and then next two closest teams will pull inward to your position."
    The turbolift whooshed to a smooth halt and then the doors slid smoothly and quickly open. The foremost Rebels were knelt, ready with their blaster rifles levelled but the corridor beyond looked deserted. It was a bright glaring white, but cool, clean, tidy. Almost clinical.
    The armed group emerged from the turbolift car, spreading out in a loose fan into the small cross-corridor hallway.
    A single, long, straight passageway stretched away ahead of them toward the bridge. In the distance, there was the audible noise of continuing blaster exchanges. And now that Luke looked more closely, he noticed pock marks on the floor and walls. Blaster ricochets, carbon scored miss-fires and there was the faint hint of residual Tibanna smoke and an ozone scent in the slowly recycling air.
    The cross-corridor stretched away to their left and right, as well as curving around aft, behind the turbolift and toward docking ring access corridors and the huge, powerful engine block behind them.
    The Engineering section strike team darted back into the turbolift and disappeared and then Gupp started pointing and waving the remaining two man teams forwards, designating each to either the port or starboard side corridors that branched from the main central corridor until only he, Luke and two middle aged Alderaanian Fleet Troopers remained.
    Luke and one Alderaanian Human took the starboard side of the central corridor while Gupp and the other took the port side.
    They advanced in a tight, two-man formation, the leading man dropping to a crouch while the rear advanced and then knelt to allow his partner to advance, eyes and blasters raised at all times.
    There were four doors in the starboard bulkhead, widely spaced apart, two and then a long gap and then another two. The door closest to them was another turbolift, which had been powered down and locked. The second was the entryway to a short corridor which led to communal crew dining area. Beyond that was a door to a large officer’s briefing room and then the fourth door led to a forward supplies and storage bay.
    The port bulkhead had seven doorways, close set and locked. There were more supply bays of different types which book-ended five dormitory chambers, each housing stacked bunks for up to nine crew members.
    The four-man Rebel squad advanced up the length of the corridor, checking the doors as each was passed and finding nothing. They moved quickly, as the blaster exchanges were continuing up ahead but they didn't want to expose their rear to a squad of concealed Imperials, so they had to clear each room before moving onward.
    There was no talking at all, just clipped nods of the head to indicate the next door, or that the previous room was cleared and devoid of trouble.
    The first sign of the enemy came as they got to the T-junction at the forward terminus of the central corridor. Ahead of them was a wide half cylindrical bulkhead that housed another turbolift and also a small access door to the main turbolaser batteries. The central corridor split left and right to join the outer corridors that followed the parallel bulkheads of the CR90's octagonal body.
    "Assistance required! Assistance required! Right side corridor! Assistance req..."
    The crackling, echoing, blaster riddled call came in loud and desperate over their comlinks and Luke, glancing over at his commanding officer, didn't bother to wait for the droid to translate Gupp's porcine grunt, he reacted to the commanding hand gesture and tore around the starboard bend of the bown-side intersection.
    What he saw there came in blurred shapes of colour that his mind correctly interpreted even as his eyes were absorbing the light.
    Five Imperial Army grunts in tan cloth uniforms beneath grey polished armour. Open faced helmets, grim human faces, all of which were focussed his way. E-11's and DH-17's already lifting and levelling in line with his torso. In the background, amongst low clinging residual clumps of blaster smoke were the bodies of four men, dressed in Alderaan Fleet Trooper uniforms.
    In the split second he had, Luke reacted by throwing himself at the wall to his left, into a recess that was barely half a meter deep.
    A deafening, blinding flurry of brilliant ionised crimson plasma burst past him, inches away, through the space he had just vacated.
    One of the blaster bolts struck and floored the middle aged Alderaanian Rebel, who had been at Luke's heels, though not quite as quick to react. He crumpled to the deck, his scorched shirt smoking acridly, though he managed to level his own blaster from his grounded position and get off a killing burst of his own before a second round from the Imperial Army stilled any further resistance.
    Luke didn't hesitate any further, he tightened his grip on the short, stocky E-11 rifle and popped out from cover, and then darted straight back into cover again, another barrage of blaster fire missing him by a hair's breadth.
    He took a moment to cast his mind back over what he'd just observed in that fleeting moment. And in that fleeting moment, he'd seen enough to understand the Imperial's tactic, and that he was in trouble.
    One thing Imperial soldiers were renowned for was blind loyalty to the Emperor. Even to the point of willing self sacrifice. It had won them many battles over the past decade or two by all accounts, propaganda or no.
    In this particular case, one of the army grunts had been advancing openly on the left side of the corridor trying to get an angle on Luke's position, the others were fanned out in a loose line across the width of the corridor all aiming their rifles, shoulder stocks extended for improved aim, at Luke's position. Whoever Luke targeted, any of the rear line, or the single advancing trooper, Luke would instantly be cut down by the others, if he stayed where he was in cover the advancing trooper would be sure to get the drop on him and kill or at least wound him. And there was nothing Luke could do about it. At least, nothing he could do with his blaster.
    He wanted to think of a way to use his lightsaber. Maybe cut a quick hole in the bulkhead at his back and slip through into the outer corridor that let to the escape pods, or cut through the floor and drop down to the deck beneath, but he didn't have the room to manoeuvre the weapon without stepping back out of cover. He'd be shot in the back before he'd even drawn the blade. His only option was to use one of the thermal grenades, which had remained a reassuring weight in his utility vest pocket. It might well damage the bulkhead walls, and maybe even the deck or ceiling, but any damage would be repairable and the explosive shouldn't be powerful enough to cause a hull breech. It shouldn't be powerful enough.
    He took a calming breath and scooped the metal sphere from his pocket and hefted it on his free hand. It really was the only way wasn't it?
    It might have been the only way, had Gupp not come to the rescue. Luke felt the movement to his right and then spotted out of the corner of his eye, the big, green, muscle-bound bulk of the Gamorrean, with blaster rifle raised and standing at the junction a boot width out of sight.
    Luke surmised that he might be using his senses of smell and hearing to sketch out the situation, then the rifle swung down from vertical to horizontal against the bulky porcine's shoulder just as he wheeled himself sideways into the mouth of the corridor and let fly with a precise series of a half dozen blaster bolts, which tore down the corridor in a clear arcing line from right to left.
    When the smoke cleared and Gupp let out a little snort of what was either derision or satisfaction, Luke ducked his head out and scanned the scene.
    The Imperial army grunts were all on the deck, crumpled, still, most likely dead or dying.
    "Thank you." Luke said, as he exhaled deeply with relief, to the Gamorrean. The porcine Rebel grunted something that sounded like nonchalance and turned away. Luke slid out of his meagre cover and followed the remaining Rebels toward the forward turbolifts.
    Even before they made it to the forward apex of the branching tunnel, where the three passages converged on a small vestibule before the turbolift doors, they felt a telltale rumble in the deck plates. The rumble grew from vibration into an audible sound, the vibration built to a definite shaking sensation and then there was a sudden lurching twitch as gravity's hold was broken, a split second of gravitational increase, followed by that strange feeling of being pulled in every direction at once, abrupt weightlessness before normal gravity was resumed.
    It was however an artificial gravity, of which experienced space farers always ascertained a subtle and unaccountable difference.
    "We've taken off." Luke said, voicing the obvious.
    "Is that our doing or theirs though?" One of the Alderaanian's muttered rhetorically.
    They advanced on the turbolift doors in two by two teams, left, right and centre, a small group of Rebels having been found and brought into Gupp’s group from the port side corridor. The centre team flicked the activator switch and the turbolift door lifted.
    There were bodies inside the large cylindrical chamber. They counted four Rebel dead and seven Imperials, though two of the Imperial men were techs in light grey cloth uniforms with black peak caps.
    The moment the door opened and revealed the battle’s aftermath, Gupp's wrist comlink sounded. It was Lesh, and Gupp’s translator droid automatically interpreted the bestial snarls that came through the small transceiver.
    "They've taken the bridge and sealed themselves in. We're trying to get inside now. We need people on the dorsal and ventral batteries, we'll be in a storm of TIE fighters the minute we break orbit. Lesh out."
    Gupp turned and quickly addressed the others.
    "These big capital guns take at least two to fire, so we're splitting up. You two take the ventral," He nodded to Luke and another Alderaanian. "We'll take the dorsal. The rest of you head aft and try to see if you can help the techs get the bridge overrides to the weapons and shields off line. Block access while you're at it. There could still be Imperials hiding around here. And everyone keep your comlinks open. I don't like splitting us up like this but there's no other choice."
    There were hurried nods and then everyone split off without another word.
    Luke was teamed up with the Alderaanian who had said he had worked on this class of Capital Ship before, so fortunately the man knew where to go. Luke followed, eyes, ears and E-11 all peeled and ready. The access shaft for the ventral turbolaser battery was via a small corridor to port around the outside of the turbolift shaft assembly. Halfway along the passage, which doubled as an emergency access to the neck of the ship leading to the hammer-head bridge section, there was a small door which opened to a narrow express turbolift. There was one lift for each turret so both could be quickly accessed from any deck and, potentially, from any part of the ship.
    Necessary for a ship something like four times the size of the Millennium Falcon or Serpion Helletic. Short crawlspace ladders wouldn't suffice here. They boarded the express lift and took it down to the lowest point in the ship.
    The turbolift car was actually inside a spherical rotationary apparatus inside the lift-shaft. The ventral turret chamber had inverted gravity and the turbolift car had to pass through the inverted field and roll itself one over hundred and eighty degrees without any danger or discomfort to the occupants, it was a carefully controlled transition that made their stomachs give a momentary lurch but then the car slowed to a smooth halt and the doors parted with a fast swish.
    The Turbolaser battery’s operations room was similar to the gun turrets on the smaller CEC Couriers Luke was familiar with, but it was much larger, more spacious and more complex and more impressive.
    Unlike the bright, pristine, polished white surfaces of the upper decks, this was a dull smoky grey, hard edges and stamped ridged plasteel panels, dim illumination provided by a multihued barrage of blinking lights, console displays and low power glow panels.
    It was a dual chamber, a lower rear section housed targeting, arming, self repair and maintenance computers, the regulation and checking of which was the job of the secondary crewman.
    Forward of that section and up a short ramp, there was a large octagonal reinforced bay window-style viewport, set at a downward facing forty-ish degree angle. On the safe side of the viewport was the control chair for the gunner. There were in fact two other work stations for full crew but the weapons could be fired manually with just two.
    Luke saw that his partner was already heading for the rear most section and the support role, which apparently meant he was going to do the shooting.
    "You're a better shot than me, Skywalker, I've been watching you on and off." He said to answer Luke's unasked question.
    "What's your name?" Luke asked him as he ran up the ramp to the forward section.
    "Kade."
    "I have to warn you, I don't have much experience with these batteries."
    "That's why you're up there. You have the easy job, just point and shoot, Imagine it's your T-65."
    "Right."
    Luke hauled himself up into the weighty and bulky control seat, pulled off his helmet and tossed it to the side, then settled himself in and pulled on the seat connected helmet with it's fixed blast shield comlink and augmented heads up display.
    "Why the TIE's? Are they trying to steal the ship or blow it up?" Luke asked, the thought occurring to him out of the blue.
    "Probably destroy it. The Imperials on the bridge will only be after our own rendezvous coordinates. Once those have been transmitted they'll be expendable."
    "But couldn't they just pilot the ship to another Imperial base or even back to Tatooine? To Bestine or Arnthout, maybe."
    "No. I’d guess they know there aren't enough of them onboard to hold us off for long. They're playing for time. Their best bet is to destroy the ship with us all onboard, as long as they have our fleet’s coordinates from the navi-computer. The TIE's will have to cut through our armour first. It'll be down to the Imperial techs to slice the navi-computer in whatever time they have before the TIEs blow us all to Hell."
    "Nice." Luke grunted. "Sacrifice for the good of Palpatine."
    "That's what the training and indoctrination teaches them." Kade said with a shrug. "Mindless devotion."
    Luke nodded silently and then turned his attention back to the Turbolaser battery.
    Again, it was all familiar, similar to the Falcon's set up, but bigger, five times the size, more robust, more complex, more unnerving.
    His feet locked into the foot rests and there were tactile braces that his forearms slid into, his hands encircled the ergonomic control sticks with index finger triggers and thumb buttons.
    The tactile braces and foot rests were fitted with motion readers that shifted the chair where the operators body directed, a kind of master-slave system.
    "Okay, systems are green, chair's active, weapons are heating up. Test your movement, get a feel for it, then we'll do a quick test fire. If we have time." Kade said through the intercom.
    Once settled in a comfortable, Luke tested the chair movement and when he was satisfied with its ease and reaction speed, he flipped the helmet's blast shield up and gazed out of the large viewport before him. It gave a good clear panoramic view of the scene beyond which, by this time, was little more than skimpy white clouds below them and the rapidly darkening blue of Tatooine's upper atmosphere ahead. Soon the blue would be black and then iridescent stars, spiral galaxies and a score of enemy ships would be all over them.
    Cycling the tactical gunnery chair in a full three hundred and sixty degree turn, Luke took another look around the turbolaser battery chamber. The chair was in the middle of a little bubble, with the vast segmented viewport ahead, an octagonal area tight around the vertical circumference of the chair with alert lights, control consoles, system diagnostic displays and alerts surrounding him. Behind that was the ramp that led to the wider aft section with the auxiliary control bays where Kade worked. The chair wheeled back around to its forward position.
    Above his head, looking huge and scarily powerful, though surprisingly not blocking too much of the viewport, were the overlarge twelve metre turbolaser barrels. Luke guessed he could almost crawl into one of the muzzles, they were so large.
    The visible atmosphere went through a spectral change as the gaseous layers dissipated from view and then they were in orbital space and the TIE fighters, moving specs in the distance, grey against the brilliant white of the stars and the light absorbing black of space, were already on an approach vector.
    "Okay. Weapons check." Luke announced, received an acknowledgement, and then thumbed the activator buttons. There was an audible grumbling, an electronic percussive howl of release and the battery chamber shuddered all around them as the weapons unleashed their powerful build up of galvanised Tibanna plasma into huge long bolts of emerald death.
    Luke fired both barrels a couple of times, satisfying himself with the recharge time and the feel of the weapon and its responsiveness.
    In the moment of dormancy that followed, Luke found himself listening to comlink chatter. There were garbled reports of the progress of the bridge assault and engineering. Engineering seemed to be going better. They were inside, having defeated a small squad of Stormtroopers and Imperial regulars and the combatants were apparently clearing and securing the side rooms and checking for booby traps, while the tech crews were patching into the auxiliary computer interface.
    The bridge assault was a running fire fight, approaching corridors, clearing side rooms and then advancing a few metres. They were having a difficult time. Though by the sounds of it, Lesh's forces were now confident that it would only be a matter of time. And then, for Luke, time had run out.
    Proximity alarms sounded and his targeting HUD flashed up, yellow on red, showing silhouetted TIE fighters on approach vector.
    He quickly glanced over system functions and saw the deflector screens and turret power levels were on full. It was now or never.
    "Here they come." Luke grunted, the comlink had automatically switched to intercom and there was only himself and Kade, though of course other officers or gunners could cut in.
    "Ready kid?" Kade said.
    Luke almost turned around. He had sounded just like Han. Instead, he adjusted his grip on the control stick and started to angle the HUD to try and bring a chosen TIE silhouette into the crosshairs.
    "Why do they always move so fast?!" He grunted.
    "They have to, they're trained that way. TIE's have no deflectors."
    And then Luke was drawn into the moment, everything was pushed out of his attention, apart from his hands on the control sticks and his eyes on the HUD.
    The TIE pilot, the second closest in the approaching formation, was over enthusiastic. His Sienar laser cannons were well out of range of Luke's tracking turret but still he was filling space between then with bursts of green plasma.
    Maybe it was supposed to distract him, or frighten Luke into rushing his return fire. Maybe the TIE pilot was just a rookie. Luke held his fire. Waited.
    While he waited, he considered his follow up move. There was a two second recharge on his turret and two seconds in an interstellar dog-fight was an eternity. However, before Luke had made a conscious choice about his follow-up move, he got that sudden quivering sensation behind his ribs and he rolled the turret seat to starboard, then stabbed down on both thumb activators. The turret spat a barrage of three laser bolts from each muzzle and caught the second TIE fighter as the first shot by the glassteel dome front of Luke's turret, raking the underside hull with laser fire. As the first TIE fighter flew past, its green fire sizzling out of existence against the deflector shields surrounding the CR90, the second fighter flew face first into two of the bolts of Luke's first salvo.
    The pilot actually jigged out of the path of the first two bursts but his altered trajectory drew him straight into the path of the second two. The third bolt through the corona of the flash-dissipating fireball that was all that remained of the second Imperial fighter.
    The two fingers of super heated plasma popped through the far side of the collapsing fireball and struck the wing of another of the TIE fighters on the outer edge of the formation. Its solar fin shattered, the snub fighter wheeled away out of formation, uncontrolled and potentially deadly to its passing comrades. The fourth made the mistake of swerving around his cart wheeling wingman.
    Whether the pilot was trying to rescue or obliterate the damaged fighter became impossible to determine as Luke's two second delay was over. There was a little high pitched beep and a green light on the HUD console and Luke threw his chair around and opened up with the guns again.
    This time he only released a third of the power capacity and two pairs of turbo-bolts erupted from the turret muzzles and instantaneously vaporised the fourth TIE fighter. Burning, melting debris was launched in an expanding sphere along with the explosive cloud that was imploding as quickly as it expanded. Debris and explosive orb touched the other out of control fighter and then it too added its own brilliant death cloud illumination to the blackness of space.
    Luke spotted a second formation of TIE fighters incoming but they swung up over the Corvette’s dorsal surface, avoiding his line of fire.
    And then the front runner of the first formation reappeared, swerving around in a wide arc from starboard, he seemed quite an experienced pilot and was trying to position himself at the very middle of the CR90's vertical deck line, trying to stay out of the angle of the turbolasers. Luke tried to angle his turret, shifting his weight to reposition the chair and working the control sticks to drag the TIE silhouette into the crosshair centre of his HUD.
    The fighter jinked and rolled as the dorsal turret opened up. A more inexperienced pilot might have ducked too far south in avoiding the dorsal turret and flown into Luke's sights, but this guy avoided both angles and then came in close and opened up with his own laser cannons.
    The deflector screen held up and stopped any actual damage, but it temporarily blinded Luke and frightened him half to death.
    But in that moment, an idea came to him and once his eye sight was clear he rolled his turret to starboard and targeted a lump of floating TIE wreckage, and then waited. He knew the path of the TIE fighter would take it close to the piece of TIE wreckage his cross hairs were covering and he waited, holding off the urge to fire until the time was right.
    He could almost imagine hearing that telltale ion scream, the TIE fighter's trademark as it flew past and swung around, arcing in an broad ellipse that kept it on that same horizontal course so that it remained safe of the dorsal and ventral turret's firing angles. However, that was exactly where Luke wanted it. He held his breath and put his trust in his instinct. And then fired.
    The huge hyper-powered laser bolt skimmed against the curved hull surface of part of the TIE fighter wreckage, brushing against the edge and sending it into a vertically arcing spin. The super heated plasma caught the wreck’s Tibanna magazine that was visible and exposed to space and the spinning hunk of shrapnel burst into a sudden explosive flower of death that rose straight into the path of the incoming TIE fighter. The pilot was so good he managed to duck under its brilliant path and weave safely out of range of the makeshift plasma bomb, but Luke had anticipated that move already and the instant the fighter swept across his HUD crosshair, he fired again and blew the TIE fighter into another crimson burst of fiery oblivion.
    Immediately, Luke spotted another two formations of TIE fighters, two arrows of five, swooping in from above them. One of them headed across the length of the dorsal hull, raking cannon fire along the deflector shields. The other whipped down to match the movement of the dorsal TIE wing, raking the ventral shields with blaster bolts.
    Luke rolled his turret to the upper most angle and caught the central fighter dead to rights in the centre panel of its octagonal viewport. The TIE fighter came apart, as if from a build up of internal pressure and then the whole thing was engulfed in a cloud of expanding fire. The remainder of the arrow formation split apart to avoid another burst from the turbolaser.
    Luke, trusting the deflectors, stared at the power gauge, counting the two second pause in his head until the HUD gauge flashed from red to green.
    He glanced from the cross hair display to the real world outside of the viewport and spotted an opportunity. There was a TIE fighter swooping up and down in a strange roller coasting wave motion, changing the angle of his laser cannons to hit the ventral deflectors in an elongated line along the lower hull.
    Luke targeted and waited, he knew the fighter pilot was half blinded to Luke by the brilliance of his own laser blasts and he hoped the lack of Luke shooting at him might lead him to feel secure. Many snub fighter pilots brashly claimed not to be concerned about turbolasers, they were too big and too slow and easy to dodge. Though, he should still try his best, Luke told himself.
    He picked his moment and fired a duel burst, the emerald halo surrounding the plasma bolts skimmed the ventral edge of the fighter's cockpit sphere and the pilot rolled in a wild terrified panic, wheeling desperately and rolling out from under the Corvette's hull, darting for clear space. Luke followed the fighter with his chair and turret simultaneously tracking its trajectory. Then he fired again, two quick bursts, swinging upward as he fired. The fighter moved quick enough to go into a fast vertical lift but flew straight into the waiting crosshairs of the Corvette’s dorsal turret and the TIE fighter vanished in a plume of iridescent fire.
    Luke used the two second recharge time to swing his chair and turret around for the next target. He had spotted a fighter that was about to whip past his viewport at pretty close range. He thumbed the activator a split second too early and nothing happened and when he thumbed it again and unleashed the charged plasma bolt, the turbolaser blast almost missed completely. It clipped the rear segment of a solar fin, ripping away a chunk of the panel but the kinetic punch threw the TIE fighter swinging wildly off course, it cart-wheeled, spinning wildly, thrown into an uncontrolled vertical trajectory, before it struck the Corvette’s invisible deflector screen and was thrown even further out. It careened into another fighter from the dorsal formation and they both exploded in a double size silent fireball.
    Destroying the last two ships in the formation didn't go according to plan. The forth dodged Luke's salvo and then whipped up over toward the dorsal hull only to run out of room by getting too close to the surviving fighters of the dorsal formation. It swung wide to avoid a collision and then exploded as it flew straight into the dorsal turbo laser’s crosshairs.
    The fifth seemed like a bit of a coward to Luke. He swung wide, as there was more room to manoeuvre from further away from the CR90, dodging Luke’s shots and then disappeared around the rear.
    Luke swung his chair and turret around to his other side to catch the fighter on his return journey but he didn't appear.
    He frowned for a moment but then drew the turret back to its forward position and waited for the next formation of attackers.
    He could feel low residual shakes as the fighters continued to pummel the Corvette's deflector screens with laser fire, though the majority of the hull shuddering seemed to come from aft now, from behind them.
    Luke watched another two arrows of TIE fighter formations swinging in from far off to starboard, but they were staying away and heading aft in a wide arc. He didn't see the point of taking pot shots at them from that range, not with that particular fighter's ability to simply avoid incoming turbolaser shots. He tracked them in silence until the huge CR90's sublight engines blocked the view of their progress.
    Again, the twin arrow of TIE fighters didn't reappear around the other side of the Corvette and the shuddering, shaking sensation intensified, Luke jerked around in his seat as the whole turret chamber seemed to shake and rattle. It reminded Luke of driving his old landspeeder with the thrust engines out of sync.
    He heard Kade cursing behind him an electronic version patched simultaneously through their intracom.
    "The TIE’s are gone from my scopes.” Luke said, glancing at his older companion.
    "Yeah, I had a feeling they’d try this sooner or later."
    Then the intracom crackled as a third party clicked into their circuit. It was Gupp through his translator droid.
    "They're going after the rear deflector, it's well known as the Corvette's blind spot, if they can overload the deflector and short it out they can pummel the engines and shut them down or overload them too. The Imperials on the bridge have managed to shut down navigation so we're dead in space and no matter how strong our shields are they won’t stay up forever. Engineering has taken control of all other systems but the Imperials have fused the navigation connections. The good news is our techs have managed to sever the connections to the main transceiver array, cutting off external communications and making transmission of the rendezvous coordinates impossible. But I don't want to loose this ship or its cargo. We need to get onto the bridge and get navigation control back!"
    Lesh responded to Gupp. He was barely legible over the comlink, just the usual snapped growls and guttural canine grunts but Gupp's translator droid came to the rescue again.
    "They've sealed themselves in with blast doors and fused them shut. We have explosives but it's dangerous to use them. I'd like to try every other possibility while the rear shields are holding and we still have time."
    "Affirmative." Gupp responded. It was strange listening in. It sounded like a single droid having a two way conversation with itself. "We're doing no good in these turrets, let’s get up to the bridge section and see how we can help. You read me Skywalker and Kade?"
    "We read you, on our way." Luke responded and unbuckled himself from the turret chair.
    <><><>
    The bright white and pristine main corridor was now littered with bodies and scarred by dozens of scorched blaster marks. A layer of dirty white smoke clung to the ceiling, but before long it would be sucked idly away through the air recyclers.
    Something like two thirds of the bodies were Imperial by their uniforms, but there were an uncomfortable number of familiar Rebel corpses as well.
    There were about a dozen Rebel survivors at the end of the corridor in front of a large, wide, multi layered and reinforced blast door. Lesh led the group with a couple of grizzled Alderaanian fleet officers flanking him, the rest were troopers, nearly all of them Human.
    Gupp, the leader of the four strong group of Rebel reserves, glanced back at Luke and Kade and let out a porcine squeal that his droid translated.
    "We might have to run back to the turrets quick, if the Imperial's change their tactic, or reinforcements arrive, be ready."
    "Yes sir." Kade said.
    Luke just nodded. He was looking at the blast door.
    "Sir, I think I have an idea about that door. You mind if I...?" Luke asked, casting his gaze between Lesh and Gupp. Both of them just angled their heads, either at the door or as a nod of assent.
    Luke reached into his left thigh pocket beneath the E-11 holster and took hold of the newly replaced grip ribs of his father's lightsaber. He drew out the hilt, worked it around in his right handed grip until it was comfortable and his thumb nail was resting just under the activation lever. Then he opened up the lever and the metre long humming azure blade smoothly unsheathed itself with that unique electric snap-hiss.
    His eyes locked on the blast doors, ignoring the shocked and impressed looks from the flanking Rebels, Luke strolled purposefully straight to the door and thrust the lightsaber hilt-deep through the door at shoulder height. It sank into the steelcrete like a vibroblade through bantha hide. He started to draw the entire width of the blade, embedded in the blast door, around in a large human sized circle. The whole endeavour took no longer than twenty seconds. There was a tiny amount of resistance noticeable during the circular cut but it was almost negligible. All the while, Rebels murmured to each other as they watched him in action.
    "What is that thing?"
    "A lightsaber I believe."
    "I've heard of them, but I've never seen one before."
    "No one has, not for twenty years."
    "I’d heard rumours that they could cut through anything, but I never really believed it before..."
    "That's amazing."
    "Scary. Imagine what it could do to a man."
    "That should do it." Like muttered as he brought the red glowing and soot blackened circle to a close, linking up with his initial incision.
    It wasn't perfect but it didn't have to be. He sheathed the blade, pocketed the lightsaber and stepped back, drawing his DL-44 and E-11, one in each hand, while the remaining Rebels prepared themselves and their own weapons. Lesh and Gupp stepped to the front. Gupp threw a quick nod in Luke's direction and then pressed a broad powerful shoulder against the thick disc of cut blast door, preparing to use his strength to shove it inward.
    Lesh, at the same time, hunched low and braced himself on his hind legs, building up power and waiting for the freedom to advance as only he could. The other Rebels shuffled around into a loose arc, blasters raised and ready.
    With a great loud porcine squeal of exertion, Gupp drove the cut steelcrete disc inward, using it was a shield as he rammed himself and the blast door through, onto the Corvette's bridge. Lesh followed right behind, erupting through the newly formed hole in a blur of raging fur and bantha hide.
    There was surprisingly little room beyond the blast door, with the exterior size of the hammer-head section, Luke had expected a wide and spacious bridge but it was only about treble the dimension of the Millennium Falcon's cockpit.
    It was a rectangular chamber with three long narrow viewports. Long banks of consoles, well lit and buzzing with information of ship's systems and five station seats set in an inverted pentagonal formation, Pilot and Co-pilot at the front, Auxiliary and Navigation behind and finally the centralised Captain's seat.
    The chamber was already filled with a dozen armoured Imperials and Tech crew. And soon blaster bolts and smoke started to fill the bridge space.
    Lesh whipped into the fray from the left flanking the Imperials and cutting them down with his speed, a small blaster pistol and his ripping claws.
    Gupp flattened two Stormtroopers with the cut out blast door but was hit by a flurry of close range returned fire, Luke and three other Rebels, still outside in the bridge corridor, managed to cut down the Imperials from their positions through the hole in the blast door. Though a man right beside Luke, and even the sleeve of Luke shirt were hit by Imperial blaster bolts. The man killed, the sleeve just singed.
    The Imperial resistance lasted only moments, Lesh's brutality and speed and the sheer weight of numbers pressing into the confines of the main bridge sealed the Imperial's fate, and the chamber, though filled with thick smoke quickly became as silent as a tomb.
    Two men knelt over the stricken Gamorrean, trying to administer medical aid.
    Lesh and some of the more experienced Rebels got behind the consoles to regain control of the ship, while Luke and the others started pulling bodies out of the cramped bridge to dump them out into the corridor beyond.
    It wasn't long before the surviving Rebels were drawn mournfully back to Gupp's side. He was lying on the floor, looking pale. Mucus, tinted with blood, running from his large bulbous nose, eyes blood shot and watery.
    Kade, who had been working with a Rebel engineer on the navigation console, turned and threw a quick nod at Lesh and then at Gupp, though his face turned pale and shocked.
    "We have navigation, sir. Shields are down to forty percent efficiency and continuing to fall. We're switching auxiliary power to the deflectors." He reported.
    Gupp gave a slow achy nod and then looked painfully up at the semi-circle of Rebels kneeling before him, took a ragged breath and grunted out new orders. His porcine voice and accent were so quiet they were below even a whisper but his droid interpreter caught every nuance and raised the volume in its translations.
    "The fighters are still battering the rear of the ship. And they still need to be taken care of. Luke, Kade, Dek and Gren man the turrets. Jiun, get your team on the controls here and give those turrets something to shoot at. We just need enough time to get into hyperspace and we're home free."
    He finished with a weak wave of his hand and the Rebels dispersed to their appointed tasks.
    Luke and Kade raced back to the turbolaser turret and were back at their positions in the ventral chamber within minutes.
    Luke watched the starscape swinging around through the octagonal viewport. The CR90's eleven strong Girodyne sublight engine cluster was an impressive sight but its speed and manoeuvrability were even more so. The stars whirled, to Luke's perception, down and left as the Capital ship wheeled around and upward. It was hard going for those manning the turrets as the TIE fighters darted into view and almost as quickly were swinging back around or retreating. One of them, its pilot slow to react, was struck by the deflector screen of the Corvette as it came about. It was like a huge club striking a diptera. Even the resulting explosion was flattened and dissipated by the fast rolling hull.
    The remainder of the battle was a confusing and dizzying synchronised dance. The Corvette rolling and wheeling, the TIE fighter's swinging around to regain their dominant position at the Corvette's rear, while the Rebel manned turbolasers whirled and swung in all directions, desperately launching emerald fire bolts at anything flying through their cross hairs.
    It seemed to last an age, exhausting the gunners and pilots. The TIE fighters neither gave up nor retreated but eventually, the turbolaser batteries over-heating and on their final power reserves, the last three TIE fighters were finally targeted and destroyed.
    Luke let out a deep breath and eased himself out of the turret seat. His body ached with pent up tension and his knuckles were sore with having been gripping the control sticks so tightly. But the relief, that it was over and that they had won and hadn't lost the ship or their lives, was immense.
    "We'd best report back to the bridge, I guess." Kade said to him, powering down the auxiliary systems and following Luke to the turbolift.

    With each step that took them back toward the bridge Luke was experiencing a sinking feeling of dread that he would step through the ruined blast door and find that Gupp had passed on in the during the last fire-fight.
    However, to his surprise the huge powerful Gamorrean was not only still alive but had been moved over to the Captain's chair at the centre point of the bridge. His wounds were covered in thick patches of bacta and tightly bound, but he still looked deathly pale and weak, slumped awkwardly in the seat. However he was conscious and lucid.
    "Good work you two. I'll be sure to mention your efforts… Everyone's efforts… To the General... If I live long enough to speak to him."
    "So what happens now, sir?" Luke asked.
    "Lesh and the others are checking the ship for left over Imperials. The techs are assessing the damage. Then we're into hyperspace to the rendezvous."
    "I can't join you, sir. I still have a mission to complete." Luke replied after an anxious moment.
    "I remember, Skywalker. Your wounded official." He grunted in sudden pain and winced, fought his way through an agonised coughing fit before regaining his composure.
    "There are no ships to take you back down to the planet, and we can't afford a landing. There are bound to be more Imperials incoming."
    Luke nodded, remained silent.
    "All I can suggest is an escape pod. I hear you’re a good pilot, I’m sure you can guide it near to a civilised settlement."
    "Yes sir, that was my thought too."
    "You're free to go Skywalker, good work today, you outdid yourself. And I'd like to add that it was a personal honour of mine to fight alongside the young man who destroyed the Death Star."
    "Thank you, sir, the honour was mine. And the Death Star was a large scale assault, I can't take credit, I just got the lucky shot in."
    "I'm certain there was more to it than that. But your modesty is noted. Dismissed, son."
    The Gamorrean's snout twisted into a glistening, mucus heavy shape that was probably a smile. Or maybe a grimace. It was hard to tell.
    Luke gave a little nod and then turned and headed for the door. He spotted Kade and took a little detour.
    "Kade. I have to leave, but I wanted to say it was good fighting alongside you and I hope we meet up again some time."
    "Likewise, kid. You're good in a fight, we're lucky to have you." The older man said.
    Luke felt himself blushing but held his gaze and smiled gratefully, thinking of Han and of Red Leader, how Kade reminded him of both of them.
    "Thanks, Kade. See you shortly."
    <><><>
    The CR90's escape pod was a standard E3 lifeboat with bench seating for three Human sized occupants, short range high powered thrusters, manoeuvring jets and repulsors for easy and smooth landing. There were medical supplies as well as enough food, water and air for four weeks.
    As he fell through space, allowing Tatooine's gravity to guide him home, he helped himself to water, rations and a touch of bacta, for a few scorch wounds and scrapes he hadn't noticed receiving in the fire-fights. Then he rested his eyes, allowing the onboard computer to alert him to planet fall.
    Amongst the survival equipment was an old datapad with survival tips for a variety of worlds as well as instructions on the lifeboat's systems and landing procedures. It stuck in Luke's mind as it was an old MicroData Companion pad, just like the one he had had as a child on very the planet beneath him.
    His had carried starships and weapons information, holograms and specifications, all the exciting stuff that had shaped his dreams and fantasies throughout his youth. They had also contained all the usual official galactic star charts and holograms of the most noteworthy worlds in the core and inner rim systems, and even a scattering of the most colourful outer rim worlds.
    The memories were dancing around in Luke's head while he rested his eyes and soon sharper, more clear pictures began to form out of the mists of his relaxed and tired mind.
    He saw caverns of ice, horned animals in thick fur in the shadows or indistinct white against the pale crystalline blues of the ice. There was danger in the recesses of these caverns. Invisible. Hidden. Shadowy. But it was there, menacing and strangely phantasmal.
    He saw dark caverns, thick with a heady mist and a vegetative stench, formed from the interlaced and matted bowl roots of huge twisted trees. Weeds and creepers hung from the root masses like shredded tatters of hanging mottled skin. Small, slimy, scaly animals climbed and clung to the roots and the walls of the caverns. And all around a darkness that was as deep and heavy as the mist that concealed its origin pervaded the place like a doom.
    He saw clouds, thick, heavy, lush clouds, pink and blue and orange, swirling like the surface of a gas giant. Through and beyond were hints of a beautiful crystal blue sky. But where the clouds grew densest the colours meshed and muddied, turning thick, dark and oppressive. A blackness that absorbed the colour as a blackhole absorbs light. That same shadowy pervasive danger was heavy in those dark recesses but there was also an air of temptation, as though there was something seductive there, calling to him, drawing him in, whispering sensual promises that he couldn't quite hear.
    Luke opened his eyes to the gentle chime of the computer alerting him that they were commencing planet-fall. Through the small circular viewport a fiery orange light was flickering against the black and pale gold of space and the planet beneath them. They were starting to pass into the upper atmosphere.
    Luke buckled himself into his chosen bench seat and then reached across to the control interface, accessed the communications bank and keyed in the frequency for Artoo Detoo’s transceiver assembly.
    The droid gave an acknowledging beep and awaited instructions patiently.
    "Artoo? I'm on my way back. I'm going to activate my personal comlink signal in a few minutes. I need you to program my speeder bike to rendezvous with that signal. You got that Artoo?"
    The droid's responding whistle was clear and concise over the frequency.
    "Good. Now I need you to prep the ship for take off. Get our guest and any belongings on board we'll be leaving in a hurry as soon as I'm back. See you shortly. Luke out."
    Luke switched off the communications panel and flicked on the area chart that essentially showed the whole of Tatooine's settled area's in the 'temperate' zone. It stretched in a vague diamond shape, Anchorhead to the south, Beggar's Canyon to the north, Mos Eisley and the B'Omarr flats to the east and Ben's home to the west by the Jundland Wastes. Bestine and Arnthout forming a centre point.
    Luke's escape pod was coming in from the south but he didn't want to shoot over Bestine with its aerial scanners, the Imperial presence in the capital would certainly be on full alert and watching for anything unusual. A Corellian escape pod would certainly fall into that category. So straying too far north was out of the question. The Western Dune Sea was too dangerous, both elementally and because of the Sand People. They would see his landing and be on him in large numbers all too quickly. East brought him back toward Mos Eisley which was obviously out of the question.
    The only option would be to drop down near the moisture farms then get on his speeder bike and skirt the dune sea as fast as he could.
    Luke stretched across, ignoring the safety straps biting into his shoulders and input the desired landing coordinates right in the triangle between his old farmstead, Biggs' and Camie's.
    Camie. Camie….
    Should he see her one last time? He hadn't thought about her much with everything that had been going on since their last conversation. But now she was on his mind again and he realised that he ached to see her again. Longed for her. Needed to give her that one last chance to come with him.
    The thought of having to leave her behind, the thought of never seeing her again, actually made him feel queasy.
    He set down smoothly, popped the egress hatch and clambered out, leaving behind his thick waistcoat, E-11 and its holster. Too much weight or too many layers led to dehydration which was all too dangerous on this planet. He activated the comlink signal for Artoo and his speeder bike, strapped a flask of water to his left hip and started walking, unsure if the Alderaan trooper helmet was good for reflecting the worst of the sun, or bad for keeping a layer of heat caught underneath it but he kept it on for most of the way.
    Camie's place was out of sight of the escape pod's landing zone but it was only a short walk until he could see the lush green hedge and few rounded tops of the domed building structures. Camie was already there, probably having seen the descent of the escape pod.

    "I heard about Mos Eisley. I was worried about you." She said, hooking the hair from across her eyes as a sudden gust was whipped up.
    "Mission successful." Luke replied with a shrug.
    He didn't know what to say or how to act. He felt himself blushing even through the sun tanned flush that was already there. He felt awkward and uncertain. She looked so beautiful, even though she was someone else's.
    "I'll be leaving soon. But I... I just wanted to give you one last chance, to change your mind."
    "I'm sorry Luke. But we've said everything there is to say. It's a kind offer but I love Fixer and no one can come between us."
    Luke just nodded. But inside his heart was breaking all over again. He knew that would be her answer but there had always been that underlying hope that she would change her mind. And now his hope was shattered again.
    "Thank you for thinking of me." She added uncomfortably, offering useless platitudes.
    His broken heart must be plain to see on his face, he thought and deliberately looked away. The silence was suffused with that faintly crackling sound of the sandy breezes that whirled and danced around their knees.
    "So you're leaving again soon?"
    "Yeah. Just waiting on transport to my ship then that's it for this rock." Then forced himself to look at her again. He could barely stand it. "You're sure?"
    Camie just nodded, a little saddened, a little embarrassed.
    "Well. I hope you're happy together." He knew it came out wrong, knew it sounded bitter. And a few seasons ago Luke would have stammered out an apology or an explanation, but this time he let it be.
    "Thank you." She replied but it was little more than an uncomfortable whisper, almost lost in the wind. And another awkward silence followed.
    "So. What now?" She added a new dimension in her voice, changing the subject. Back to old friends revisiting again.
    "I'll drop off my friend and then head for the rendezvous, I guess. Find a base, regroup and come at them again. The Empire's going to fall Camie. Make sure Fixer doesn't get pulled down with them won't you?"
    She smiled at that, a little flush touching her cheeks, a little glint firing in her lush brown eyes.
    "Don't worry, I still have a certain amount of influence. I have ways and means..." She grinned.
    The suggestiveness was obvious, even a little childish and it made Luke suddenly sick and annoyed and jealous. He turned away, glancing around for his speeder bike.
    He heard it before he saw it. It came in fast but came to a smooth halt a metre away from him.
    "Goodbye Camie." He said.
    He wanted to add "May the Force be with you." But he felt like he might loose his temper if she laughed at him or ridiculed him. So instead he turned and swung himself onto the speeder bike's seat.
    "Luke!" She called to him, suddenly.
    He paused and looked up at her. She came over to his side and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. She held his gaze for a moment brown on blue. And his hardening heart melted a little in that moment. She smiled, leaned in and pressed her cool lips softly against his. The kiss lingered a moment and then she drew back.
    "Good luck, Luke. You're kind and brave, you'll find someone." She said.
    Luke broke her gaze and tried to accept what she had said as a compliment and not what he was actually feeling - that it was the worst thing she could have said to him. Instead, he forced a smile, pulled the Alderaan trooper helmet on flipped the black visor down over his face and gave Camie a farewell wave, before he gunned the throttle and tore off heading northwest as fast as the thrust engine would allow.
    <><><>
    Luke forced himself to think about Leia. That was it for Camie. She was nothing more than a memory now. A ghost from the past.
    Leia was very much in the present. She might be a Princess and she might be headstrong but she liked and respected him, saw in him things people like Camie didn't. No, Leia could be the woman for him, at least if Han didn't take her away from him. Then again, would she, a Royal Princess of Alderaan be happy to be seen with a lowly smuggler? Or a farm boy?
    But, at this moment in time they were all Rebels. Members of and warriors for the Alliance. And that gave them all an equal standing.
    He rolled up to the cliff edge of the Hubba Height, spotted the tiny track and steered along it until he came around to the side of Ben's hovel.
    <><><>
    Artoo, Blissex and any handy supplies were already on board the Serpion Helletic when Luke himself rode the FC-20 up the boarding ramp and stowed the speeder bike back in its rear cargo hold.
    "Okay, let's get off this rock." Luke said, settling into the pilot seat with Blissex beside him and Artoo plugged into the navigational computer to the rear of the cockpit.
    Luke climbed through the take off cycle, shifting power through the repulsors, manoeuvring thrusters, steering clear of the bluffs, then he wheeled the Corellian transport around and hit the main engines, angling upward until he was clear of the atmosphere.
    There was no sign of Imperial pursuers, no reinforcements in the form of a Star 19/5/13estroyer or even a TIE fighter wing, nothing more than a handful of private commercial couriers and supply ships coming and going.
    Luke avoided the standard navigation lanes and rolled around to the southern polar region, then he threw the sublight engines to full and left Tatooine and its moons far behind.
    He plotted a sublight course out into interstellar space and then turned to Blissex.
    "So, what's the destination? Where would you like dropping off?"
    “The Ruuria System. There's an asteroid belt around the eighth gas planet. I have a small operation set up there, by our mutual acquaintance. Unknown to all but a small number of aides and engineers."
    "Alright then, the Ruurian system..." Luke swung his seat around and leaned back for the navigational computer interface, brought up the charts for the system coordinates.
    "Right on the far side of the galaxy, I see..."
    Luke input the coordinates into the navigational hyperdrive and then reached forward and drew the activators toward him, just like he'd seen Han do numerous times before.
    The starscape through the viewport warped into a lined tube of doppler-distorted starlight streaks and then the wormhole opened, a grey white swirling mist in the form of a tunnel, and the Serpion Helletic was thrown into it at a reality-altering velocity.

    The tunnel would be the entire universe for the ship over the next forty eight hours. Luke spent his time between monitoring the ship's systems along with Artoo and alone on one of the cargo holds practicing with his lightsaber and reaching out through the Force.
    Blissex spent most of his time in the engineering area tinkering, improving, experimenting, getting his head back into the anatomy of starship propulsion and weapons.
    It was actually a fun and restful couple of days for both of them. No danger, no responsibility beyond making sure the ship was running well. Which, of course, meant the days vanished like rain on Tatooine's sandy ground.
    They came out of Hyperspace a safe distance from the asteroid belt but well within visual range. Luke cut to sublight engines and then steered the Corellian transport into the outer edge of the field.
    "Go toward that big one over to port. The one that looks like a Firespray."
    "A what?" Luke asked, trying not to take his eyes off the scanners and viewport.
    "Erm, a bantha skull." Blissex said with amusement, pointing toward the left of the viewport.
    "Ah. I see it." Luke said with a nod.
    Steering was a little trickier than Luke had expected. The ship was three times the dimensions of his X-Wing, bulkier with more powerful engines, but the deflectors were also much more well defined so he didn't have much of a problem once he was used to the feel of the steering columns.
    He had to avoid an area of small spinning rocks that seemed to be in a gravitational tug-of-war with each other and he slipped through the middle of a strange asteroid that reminded him of the stone needle back in Beggar's Canyon.
    But then the huge asteroid that housed Blissex's base loomed up, filling the view port and the proximity scanners. Luke went in close and then spotted the semi concealed structure of the base. There was a small landing platform but it was taken up by two old looking Subpro JS shuttles. But a little away from the platform, jutting out of the rock with a line of wedge shaped viewports beside it, was a standard docking ring.
    Luke swung the ship around, used the directional thrusters to pull him close to the asteroid's rocky surface and then came to a halt and locked the facility's docking ring to the matching one on the port side of his ship.
    The ring’s lips snapped open and interlocking inflatable cushions expanded, came together and magnetised. Then the plasteel housing locked down over the cushions, sealing the connection secure and airtight. Inside the rings, the air lock doors sealed together in the same way.
    Luke and Blissex got up out of their seats and headed aft to the docking ring cross-corridor.
    "Seems lighter in here." Luke commented as he led Blissex along the main corridor.
    "You had some power leakage, I just redirected it through to a few systems, shields, life support backups, ship conditioning."
    "Thank you."
    "I also tinkered with your laser cannons, sublight engines and shields. Whoever did the last refit on this was shunting pointless extra power into the forward proximity scanners, like it was going to boost the range, the fool. It was just wasting power reserves, so I shunted it where it would prove useful. Otherwise pretty nice little ship you've got here, son. I always liked the Corellian's."
    They found themselves outside the port airlock and Luke activated the control panel and started the airlock pressure cycle.
    Air was pumped through into the depressurised middle porch until the pressure read equal and then the doors slid open, forming a corridor between ship and facility.
    "Do you want me to come in with you?" Luke asked politely.
    "No. I have security droids waiting and my assistants are already inside, I'll be fine." He nodded and stepped through, departing the ship and entered his base. Then he stopped and turned back.
    "Thank you, Skywalker, for everything you've done. You're a credit to the Alliance." Blissex said.
    "Thank you, sir. And good look with your design."
    "I hope we meet again. Goodbye."
    "Goodbye, sir."
    And then he was gone. Luke cycled the airlock and returned to the bridge.
    "Okay Artoo, let's go home."
    <><><>
    The Rebel Alliance Fleet was a sight to see. On a holding pattern in interstellar space beyond the outer rim, the bulk of it was made up of Galofree medium transports, but two Mon Calamari MC80 cruisers made their presence undeniable by their sheer size and a Nebulon-B was noticeable because of its unusual shape. A number of CR90's weaved around the other ships, both larger and smaller. And sweeping around them all like specks of sand were X-wings, Y-wings and B-Wings, flitting around the fleet shooting off ahead to scout out for danger signs.
    A scattering of other older and smaller more unique ships filled in the space around the others, Skipray blastboats, CEC Gunships, other assorted Corellian military craft of both Fighter and Capital class.
    Luke weaved the YT-1500 through the fleet, heading for the MC80's docking bay deck where he and Han and Leia were temporarily based.
    He had to send the coded friend transmission a few times to a number of the surrounding Capital ships but he was expecting no less.
    He flew into the Star Cruiser's docking bay and deposited the Serpion Helletic with a smooth landing on the deck and then left Artoo to shut down the engines and ship systems.
    He hurriedly retrieved his personal belongings from the captain's bunk locker and then headed aft, cycled the boarding ramp and strolled down to the deck and had a look around.
    X-wings, B-wings and Y-wings were dotted about the bay seemingly stuffed into whichever random bit of space was available. To the port side of the bay sat the Millennium Falcon.
    Luke smiled at the sight and felt a sudden swelling of affection for the battered old ship. And then that warm feeling of affection intensified, bringing a soft grin to his face as he spotted Chewbacca crouched on top of the starboard mandible. Using an arc welder and a hand mask to make repairs inside one of the cylindrical access bays.
    As he watched he noticed the boarding ramp was already lowered and a movement on its slatted metallic surface drew Luke's gaze.
    The movement turned out to be Han Solo's shadow, preceding his unpolished boots down the gangplank from the bowels of the ship.
    He got to the bottom of the ramp, wearing his engineer’s gloves and carrying an oily rag. There were oil stains on his face and his hair was unkempt as usual but he was a welcome and happy sight as always.
    Han glanced up at the busy Wookiee, stood there watching him for a while and then, with that tell tale mischievous grin, balled up the oily rag and launched it into their air. It struck the Wookiee on the side of the head and Chewbacca baulked and dropped the safety mask. Han burst into laughter which didn't reach Luke's ears but the Wookiee's responsive roar certainly did. Chewbacca snarled and threw back a piece of equipment from the access bay down at Han who, still laughing, had to duck out of it's trajectory and perform a little hurried evasion skip as it bounced heavily around his booted feet.
    Luke couldn't hold back a little laugh of his own. And then he noticed Leia.
    She was standing amidst a small group of engineers half listening to what looked like a lively debate, but her attention was also locked onto the playful Corellian, still laughing, while trying to placate his Wookiee co-pilot with open palms and platitudes.
    Luke watched Leia watching Han and an ugly and uncomfortable twist of jealousy sprang up at once.
    But then she seemed to sense she was being watched and her head and then eyes, rotated and she spotted Luke. After a split-second the recognition appeared on her beautiful young face and her whole visage lit up with excitement and joy at seeing him safely returned.
    Luke's jealousy waned at once and his heart started to beat faster and harder behind his ribs. He returned the smile as she left the engineers and started across the hangar bay toward him. Luke went ahead to meet her half way.
    Beyond his close friends. The fleet contained a warmth that Luke found undeniable. The warmth of the familiar and the safe, even in the middle of the civil war.
    Rebels surrounded him. Comrades in arms with a 'sense of justice' as the glue that bound them all.
    The warmth of friendships and the dependability of people who would watch his back. People he would willingly die to protect.

    Luke was home.
    And it felt good to be home.

    The End
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