GENRE: Action, Family, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort. SETTING: 21 ABY-27 ABY. SUMMARY: After the kidnapping of his fiancée and her little girl, Luke Skywalker and his sixteen year old nephew Ben Solo set off to find them. In the process, things are set in motion that change the Skywalker family- and the galaxy -forever. WARNINGS: Depictions of emotional/physical abuse, violence, and tragedy involving children/teenagers. Part 1 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Chapter 1 Nothing was colder than space. It was the first thing space-bound parents taught their children. If a small, wandering child grew too curious about an airlock, it could spell disaster for the entire ship. Safety features were put in place, of course, but the nature of toddlers dictated that there was no such thing as too much prevention. Every child who had spent any amount of time traveling in deep space knew and could repeat this rule before they could read. Growing up on a battered freighter, Celleen Garvrisom had this fact memorized by the time she had learned how to speak. Habit had made her teach it to her daughter...though she had doubted there would ever be a chance for it to be applied. Celleen and Areila were anything but cold. The cargo hold into which they had been unceremoniously dumped was packed full with living, breathing people, all generating a stifling amount of body heat. There had to be at least thirty, all human, ranging in age from toddler to senior. Most seemed to be between twelve and eighteen. All were bound at the ankles. The more stubborn were additionally bound at the wrists and had to rely on the kindness of a stranger for basic necessities. The rest had been too badly beaten to fight back...or they had just given up. Celleen had fought with everything she had, kicking, punching, using teeth and nails to beat her captors back, all the while screaming for her daughter to run. A sudden blow to the head had knocked her out. When she woke she was lying in this cramped compartment with Areila weeping at her side. One of the others told her what had happened. After her mother had gone unconscious, Areila had given an earsplitting scream while various objects in the room bombarded the pirates. The little girl was later caught and dragged aboard, sobbing. A red mark across her cheek meant someone must have hit her. The very idea enraged Celleen, but there was little she could do while bound hand and foot and lying in a pile of wretched humanity. All she could do was hold her daughter as close as the bindings would allow and ask questions. Why were they there? Who were these brutal monsters that held them captive? What was going to happen to them? Few knew the answer to this question and even fewer volunteered to give it. Only one- the older woman somewhere between fifty and sixty who had spoken before -offered anything. These men were pirates, all former slaves of the Empire, who hated all humans and wanted revenge. They best way they knew to get it was to hurt or enslave as many as possible. One by one they would be taken to various worlds in the Outer Rim and sold to the highest bidder. Horrified at this revelation, Celleen vowed that no such thing would happen to her and especially not her daughter. Of course she knew that they couldn’t escape alone. They would need help to put this hell behind them. Luckily mother and daughter knew just the man for the job...Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Celleen had no doubts that her fiancée would move any mountains necessary to find them and bring them home. The only problem was how to send word to the man. Communications were closely monitored, as was the cargo bay door. Sending a traditional distress call was out of the question unless the prisoners managed to hijack the vessel. That was highly unlikely. The only way Celleen knew of to get ahold of Luke was something most people would scoff at. They had to use the Force. That meant it was up to Areila. Unfortunately the little girl was in no mood to try. At the moment she sat huddled against her mother, still in tears from the traumatic events of the last few hours. Most of the others in the hold were sleeping or staring listlessly at nothing. “Areila,” tried Celleen, resting her chin on her daughter’s head. “Rei-rei, look at me.” Areila sniffled, wiped her eyes on her shoulder, and turned to her mother. Celleen looked her six year old in the eye. “Areila, can I ask you a question?” Areila sniffled again and nodded. “You know about the Force, right? You remember what Master Luke has been teaching you?” Again, a silent nod. “Well, remember when he said sometimes people who feel the Force can use it to talk to other people?” Areila nodded once more. She remembered. Luke hadn’t taught her much about the powers within, but she did remember the Jedi and his students telling her about it. Celleen took a deep breath and brought her daughter close to she could whisper in her ear. “That’s how we’re going to get out of here. You need to call Master Luke with the Force.” The girl's eyes grew large and round in astonishment and she bit her lip. This was a switch. Celleen had never asked her daughter to use her powers on purpose. “I ‘fought you were ‘fraid when I use da Force.” Celleen cringed and closed her eyes. Luke had long warned her that her reactions to Areila’s talents would complicate the girl’s training. “I know, sweetheart, and I’m sorry. I just didn’t understand. But now I do, and it’s okay. So you have my permission.” She offered a smile and took Areila’s chin in her hand. “I won’t get scared this time. I promise.” Areila swallowed hard. “But...but da bad guys said if...if I use it, dey’ll hurt me again,” she said in a tiny voice. Fearful eyes darted toward the door, as if expecting one or more pirates to overhear and come charging in. Celleen fought back her anger at that statement. “They don’t have to know you are...besides, they’re not going to hurt you again.” She held her daughter close. “I won’t let them.” “But I dunno how,” protested Areila. Tears of frustration filled her eyes. “Master Luke didn’t teach me yet!” “Shh,” hushed Celleen, rocking her daughter from side to side. Every moment that passed, she regretted suppressing those special abilities even more. But Areila was right. At Celleen’s request, Luke hadn’t yet taught the little girl anything except how to feel the Force was with her. “I know, Rei-rei. I know. But you can do it. I know you can.” “Really?” sniffled Areila. She lifted her head to study her mother’s face. In it she found sincerity and love. “Really.” Celleen kissed her daughers’ forehead. “Just try.” Areila hiccupped, knitting her brows. “H-how? What do I do?” Celleen chewed her lip. She didn’t know any more about the Force than the average citizen did, except that her daughter and fiancée were strong with it. Desperately she wracked her brain for the things Luke did before using the Force. It didn’t seem to take any effort at all. Think, Celleen! Think! What about his students? What’s the first thing he teaches them? Belatedly the woman realized that she hadn’t been paying much attention. “Well...why don’t you start with what you know?” Areila sniffled yet again. “You...you sure it’s okay?” Poor thing, she’s terrified…all because of the way I reacted. Celleen nodded. “I’m sure, baby. Go ahead.” The little girl shuddered and closed her eyes. At first her breathing was shallow and halting. Then, slowly, it grew deeper and her shudders subsided. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she felt the tentative touch of the Force. Its power was frightening, but still she reached for it, brows knit in concentration. Suddenly the cargo door slid open and two well-armed pirates- a Weequay and a Devaronian -marched in, sneering at the prisoners. “Hey! Wake up, scum!” yelled the Weequay, knocking the butt of his blaster rifle against the wall to get their attention. The chained prisoners all started as if they’d been struck, and scrambled against the back wall, moving as far away from the pirates as possible. The children alternately scowled or shrank away. Areila’s concentration broke and she gasped, hiding in her mother’s shoulder. Celleen held her close while glowering at the pirates. The toddler, a little redheaded boy with freckles, burst into tears while his mother tried to shush him. The Devaron’s smirk faded and he marched up to the pair. “Shaddup, ya little maggot!” he barked. The boy’s mother held him closer, trying desperately to quiet him. “Shh...Sean, it’s okay, it’s okay. Hush, little one. Nobody’s gonna hurt you.” “Hah!” The Devaroninan barked out a harsh laugh as he walked away. “Just you wait’ll you meet your new masters.” “So, how’s our band of bantha fodder, eh?” mocked the Weequay, bending over at the waist to survey the wretched group. “Havin’ a good trip? See what it’s like on the other side ‘a the cred chip? Huh? Huh?” Roughly he nudged the nearest prisoner with his boot, who quickly scooted away. No one dared answer, though a few of the teens looked ready to spit blaster bolts. “Good! I got an announcement for ya’...good news. Cap’n don’t want ya starvin, so we gotta feed ya,” he smirked at his companion. “Get the grub.” Accordingly the Devaronian cracked open a shipping crate and showed a load of ration packs that looked as if they’d survived several wars. “Can’t guarantee how fresh these things are...” The Weequay shrugged. “But food’s food, right?” When no one stirred, he glared and pointed his blaster at them. “Right?” The meeker of the prisoners quickly nodded their agreement. Several- those who had been aboard the longest -held out their hands beseechingly. Both pirates snickered at the sight and grabbed a handful each of the vacuum-sealed ration packs. “Catch!” Roughly they tossed them into the crowd. Half of the potential slaves ducked while the other half dove for the food packs. Several fights broke out among the teens as the supplies ran short. Mothers begged for something to feed their children while the elderly did nothing but lick their lips in anticipation. “We’re ten short!” hollered a ragged, bearded man whose age couldn’t be determined. The pirates laughed loudly. “Oh, yeah?” The Devaronian made a show of counting out ten more packs and dangling them in front of the hungry crowd. At the last minute he dropped more than half back in the crate and tossed a mere three to the crowd. “Need anything else?” he sneered. “Water!” shouted an emboldened young woman. She looked somewhere between eighteen and twenty and traveled with her elderly parents. “We need water.” “Water?” laughed the Devaronian. He marched up to the woman, looking her up and down with a leering eye. “I give you more than water, pretty one. I give you the finest wine in the galaxy if you come with me.” He reached out a hand and lifted a lock of her hair, letting it slide through his fingers and bringing it to his nose to sniff. “Why should I?” challenged the woman, pulling away. “I’m a human, remember? Don’t you hate humans?” “I am not blind. I know beauty when I see it,” he said, circling the young woman and looked her up and down. “And I know what I want. You are a pretty one, aren’t you?” He ran a hand down her shoulder. “Come with me, I treat the others better, eh?” “Lara, no!” gasped the woman’s mother in horror. The young woman- Lara -cringed and shrugged him off. “What if I don’t?” The Devaronian shrugged and casually pointed the blaster at her parents. “Old ones are not worth much.” Immediately the hold reacted in different ways. Most cried out and recoiled. Those few noble ones who moved to defend the elderly couple were roughly kicked aside or knocked in the head with the butt of the blaster. Lara quickly got in front of her parents, glaring defiantly. “All of us are as good as dead without water,” she said in a quavering voice. A leering smile returned to the Devaronian’s face and he took Lara’s chin in his hand. “Tell you what. You come...your papa lives...and the rest get water. Deal?” Lara trembled and glanced back at her parents. “How do I know you’ll keep your word?” Again the pirate shrugged. He pulled Lara into a rough kiss, then steered her over to the waiting crate. “Good faith gesture. One kiss, one bulb of water.” He picked one out of the crate and shoved it into her hands. “You pick. Who gets water first?” Lara fought down the churning of her stomach and held her head high as she stumbled back into the hold. Conflict filled her face as twenty nine others regarded the water bulb with envious eyes. Swallowing, she handed the water bulb to the mother of the toddler. “Here.” When the tearful mother had taken the water bulb, the Devaronian whipped Lara around to face him. “Good deal, no? You be hero for other humans...I get what I want. Yes?” Lara made a disgusted face and turned away. When her captor raised his blaster again she gasped. “Wait, don't! I’ll go, all right? I’ll go.” Slowly, with a self-satisfied grin, the Devaronian holstered his weapon and steered Lara back toward the door. He nodded to the Weequay, who leaned on the doorframe with sick amusement. “Let them have water.” The Weequay sneered and dumped an armload of water bulbs on the floor. The prisoners- those not too shocked by the encounter -scrambled for them. Meanwhile woman’s father seethed and leaped to his feet. “You get your hands off my daughter, you filthy-” A brutal rifle butt to his temple knocked him senseless to the floor while his wife shrieked and Lara tried breaking away from the Devaronian. The horned pirate held the woman fast and regarded the elderly couple. “Filthy? Humans are filthy! They take without asking...hunt without cause...slave anyone who suits them, even their own kind! They are the scourge of the galaxy!” He sneered. “You should thank your daughter, old man. She saved your life.” Without another word the pair left. The weequay laughed loudly before following his partner outside. He locked the door behind him. Celleen glared at the retreating pair, hardly aware of the ration pack and water bulb one of the kinder ones pressed into her hands. Areila was far too frightened to try using the Force again...at least for while. Escape would have to wait.