“Hang on back there!”
Hera’s voice crackled over the commlink dangling from Kanan’s belt — even more evidence of damage they’d taken from that last hit.
He hadn’t even made it to the gun turret before the ship turned in a deep arc, pressing him down hard into the floor. A moment later, the ship pulled out of it so quickly that the grav generators barely had time to compensate. Kanan’s feet left the floor for a full second.
“Jumping to hyperspace in three.”
Kanan swore softly and dropped to his hands and knees. Two seconds later, the floor moved out from under him. He flattened himself and managed to twist so that he hit the wall feet-first. He waited out the sickening pull in his stomach and then pushed to his feet again. No need for the guns now.
An alarm pierced the air: smoke was rising from the compartment just to his right.
“The computer is reporting a fire in the main electronics compartment.”
“I’m on it,” he shouted, not even bothering to use the commlink.
He pulled a cannister of fire retardant from the wall station and yanked open the door of the main electronics compartment. Smoke drifted upward from one panel, but fortunately, nothing appeared to actually be on fire. He crawled inside for a better look.
“Damage report?” Hera’s voice was accompanied by quite a bit of static.
“Internal comm took some damage, from the sound of it.” He pried off the scorched panel and coughed as a cloud of acrid smoke flowed out. He waved it away and peered closer. A gundark’s nest of twisted wiring had melted together, and right behind it — frak it all. He shifted his weight to a more comfortable position and raised the commlink to his mouth. “Part of the atmospheric controls are burnt out.”
“Great.” He could hear the annoyance in her tone. “Any chance of fixing it?”
“Not without a replacement heat unit.” He poked at the twisted mass of metal he’d have to pry out of a tangle of wiring.
“Can we cannibalize something from the Phantom?”
“I’d prefer to keep it intact, in case we need it.” Even better would be if they could just route the atmospheric controls through the small shuttle’s electronics, but that sort of operation required a hell of a lot more expertise than either of them had. They really ought to pick up an astromech at some point. “We’re going to have to make a supply stop. And until we do, it’s going to get frosty in here.”
“At least the hyperdrive still works.”
That it did, and only because Hera’s piloting skills enabled them to avoid the most direct hits. Those smugglers had turned downright unfriendly when he’d brought up the subject of their connection to the mysterious Maltho. And they’d had far more sophisticated weaponry than he and Hera had expected.
He wrestled the mangled heat unit out of the compartment, somehow managing not to do any further damage in the process. By the time he cleaned up and made his way to the cockpit, the temperature had dropped noticeably.
“It’s going to be an hour and a half before we reach the closest system.” Hera turned to face him as he sat in the copilot’s chair. “Ever been in an unheated ship in hyperspace that long?”
“No.” He decided not to tell her that he’d heard stories of what happened to others who had. “We’d better bundle up.”
Their cold-planet gear was stowed in the supply room, purchased that time they’d checked out an abandoned Clone Wars-era base on Bryndar. Hera went to dig hers out while Kanan sat in the cockpit, making a last futile attempt to convince the computer to re-route heat from the ship’s hyperdrive exhaust past the ventilation ducts. Several minutes later, she reappeared wearing a thick white snowsuit, gloves, and boots.
“Much better,” she said as she tucked her lekku into the specially-designed hood. “Aren’t you cold yet? I can see my breath in here.”
“Getting there,” Kanan replied. He leaned back in the pilot seat and grinned at her.
“What?” She tried to cross her arms over her chest, but the bulky snowsuit got in the way. She put her hands on her hips instead.
“You look like a stuffed jakrab.”
She raised one hand in what seemed to be an attempt at an obscene gesture, but only managed a strange little wave with the thick gloves encasing her fingers.
He feigned confusion. “Sorry, didn’t catch that.”
She scowled, and looked even more like a fluffy bunny as she did. “We’ve got an hour until we reach the nearest system. At the rate the temperature is dropping…” She paused, apparently calculating in her head. “It’s going to get dangerously cold in here very soon.” She looked up at him, her expression more worried than he’d seen in quite a while.
“Guess I’d better suit up, then.” He found his own snow gear in the back of the storage locker, neatly folded as he’d left it several months before. He shook it out and decided to remove the armor plates he wore on his shoulders before pulling the stiff coveralls on. He’d forgotten how uncomfortable it was, but it was best to put it on now and start building up heat inside the suit. He put his utility belt on over the outside of the suit, letting it out several notches. The boots were a whole size too big for him, which was annoying. The shop hadn’t had his size, and he’d opted for too large instead of too small. If he could manage not to trip over his own feet this time, he’d be fine.
Hera was shivering in her seat when he returned to the cockpit, which now felt like a walk-in freezer.
“It’s frakking cold up here.”
“You think?” Her sarcasm had lost a bit of its usual edge.
“There’s no reason for us to sit here. Set the alarm and come on. We’ll hole up in the Phantom. The heat still works there.”
It sort of worked, anyway. The shuttle’s systems weren’t designed to function while attached to the Ghost, and they seemed reluctant to run at full power. Worse, the shuttle’s single air vent was positioned right in the back by the doorway that connected to the main ship, and so the paltry heated air dissipated as quickly as it was released. They huddled under the vent anyway, staring up at it as if urging it on.
“Whoever designed this ship didn’t have much imagination for what could go wrong, did they?” Kanan quipped.
“They probably figured that if it got that bad, we’d use the Phantom as an escape pod.”
“That might still happen.”
“Hopefully we can get within a parsec of an inhabited system first. Otherwise it’ll be a very long ride.”
Kanan sighed. “Right.”
“It’s well below the freezing point already,” Hera said, looking up at him with genuine concern. “If it gets much colder, we’re going to have to pull out of hyperspace. I don’t want to abandon ship, but we might have to. We could stock up as much food as we can in the Phantom and put out a distress call.”
“Or we could stick it out for another hour.”
Hera shook her head. “Unless we find another way to warm up, we’re not going to be alive in an hour.”
Kanan exhaled, slowly. She was right. They needed another plan.
“This would be a nice time for a camp fire, wouldn’t it?” Hera’s tone was light, but there was real tension underneath it. She raised her gloved hands to her cheeks and exhaled against them to warm her face.
“It would,” Kanan replied. A fire on a ship like this was obviously out of the question, but perhaps he could rig up another heat source — ah. Of course. He headed down the corridor to his small room. “One camp fire, coming right up.”
“I was joking!” Hera called after him. “You’re not allowed to set fires on my ship!”
He smiled tightly and didn’t reply. Inside his room, he pressed a button below his bunk, and a drawer slid smoothly open. He reached in and pulled out the single object he’d kept with him for the last fifteen years of his life: his lightsaber. He hefted the hilt in his hands for a long moment. He hadn’t activated it in years. Hell, he hadn’t shown it to anyone else in more than a decade. He’d never even shown it to Hera in the year he’d known her, but they were desperate. It might as well serve some purpose, after all this time. He clipped it to his utility belt.
A few minutes later he set the remains of the Ghost’s heat unit on a piece of plasteel in the middle of the floor of the main cargo hold. Hera stood in the doorway, arms wrapped around herself, her breath visible puffs of vapor in the cold air.
“Your camp fire,” Kanan said, with a smile he hoped hid his nervousness. This was probably a terrible idea. It might not even work.
He unclipped the lightsaber from his belt and ignited it. The blue blade’s hum was deeply satisfying, comforting in a way he’d forgotten. The slight vibration of the hilt was barely perceptible through the insulation of the gloves, but he allowed himself a moment to feel it again, transported back to the day years ago when he’d built it and first switched it on. The thrill of seeing it come to life beneath his hands, of knowing he’d passed that particular test, had been one of the best moments of his life.
But that was a different life than the one he lived now. He carefully avoided looking at Hera as he adjusted the length of the blade down to just a few decimeters. He crouched in front of the twisted remains of the heat unit and plunged the shortened tip of the lightsaber into the center. The metal glowed orange in a slowly-expanding circle around the blue plasma blade, shifting around as it began to liquefy. He worked the metal carefully for nearly a minute before switching off the blade. Heat rose pleasantly from the half-melted mass.
“Sort of a campfire, anyway.” He turned to look at Hera.
She stared back at him with an expression of awe. “You have a lightsaber.”
“Yeah.” He looked down again. “Come sit. This is actually working.”
She knelt beside him and held her gloved hands out. She smiled. “Just need some meat to roast and we’ll be set.” Silence stretched between them for a long moment. She inhaled, exhaled again, and finally spoke. “Why didn’t you show it to me before?”
Kanan’s lips twisted. “You’re the first person I’ve shown in a decade.”
“That’s not what I asked.” There was only kindness in her tone, but it still set him a bit on edge.
“What good would it have done? It’s not like I can use it anywhere. It’s a relic from the past.”
“Then why did you keep it?”
This weapon is your life, Padawan. Keep it safe, and it will return the favor.
He shrugged. “I suppose I could have sold it.” Lightsabers were worth a rather large sum on the illegal weapons market. He’d seen them for sale on multiple worlds, and each time had felt a stab of pain at the thought of what had happened to their owners, to the hands and minds that had so carefully crafted each one. He turned to look at her again.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” she said. Her eyes were dark and wide, and her smile was far warmer than the air around them. She put one gloved hand on his arm and squeezed, then looked back at the rapidly cooling heat unit. “Fire’s going out.”
“I got it.” He switched on the lightsaber again and reheated the metal. “It’s going to start cooling off faster. This may not help much longer.”
They warmed themselves for a few minutes, but the color began to turn from orange to gray more quickly than it had done before. He heated the unit again, and again, but it eventually became clear that it was a futile effort. The cold air was sharp against his skin, and his nose and eyes were beginning to ache. Their breath seemed to hang between them in the frigid air — soon breathing would become genuinely painful. For the first time, Kanan felt a trickle of fear that they might not survive this.
No, that was not a possibility. They had less than an hour to go, after which they would land near the equator of a planet with a lovely temperate climate. They’d be sweating in tropical heat in no time, laughing about how cold they’d just been. Besides, he’d been trained for this type of circumstance. He could slow his heartbeat and bodily functions, bring himself into a state of near-hibernation.
Hera made a small sound next to him, something almost like a whimper, and he was momentarily flooded with panic. He could probably survive no matter how harsh the cold, but she wouldn’t be able to follow. He closed his eyes and forced himself to clear his mind. They needed another plan.
He got up without a word and headed back to the storage room. He rifled through the supplies until he found a thin thermal blanket. It was the only one they had, but it would have to do.
“Hera?” he called, but there was no response. He walked back to the cargo hold to see her huddled miserably on the floor, eyes glazed over. “Hey, come on. Stay with me.” He tugged at her elbow and she climbed to her feet, breathing shallowly. Her face was pale green now, something he’d never seen before. He swallowed down a wave of anxiety and tucked an arm around her waist.
He walked her to his room and sat her on the bunk, then maneuvered behind her on the small bed. He pulled her back against his chest, then tucked the thermal blanket over them both, heads and all. He rubbed at her arms, though he wasn’t sure it was doing much good through the thick coat she wore. Hell, he wasn’t sure if this would help at all, but surely they’d be warmer huddled together, wouldn’t they? Re-breathed air would be slightly warmer, and that should help their lungs.
“Welcome to my bed,” he said, trying to cover his worry with a bit of cheek. “Never thought this day would come.”
She leaned back against him and moaned softly, her eyes closed. He wrapped his arms around her more tightly and listened to the rhythm of her breathing for nearly a minute. It was reassuringly steady, but he needed to get her attention somehow, to keep her awake and alert.
“We really underestimated those smugglers, didn’t we?” he began. “Ships like that don’t usually have that level of firepower. It’s almost as if they were armed for a large-scale attack.” He frowned: had they missed a chance to gain an ally? “But now we know Maltho’s reach extends beyond Imperial interests. That captain didn’t just turn hostile when we mentioned the name. He was almost scared.” In fact, he’d never seen a hardened old one-eyed spacer look quite so terrified. It would have been funny if the man hadn’t then unloaded his forward canons into their shields. “He was definitely unhappy that we’d connected him with Maltho. But why?”
“Sumpf,” Hera mumbled.
“That’s it, talk to me. What was that?”
Hera opened her eyes, but they remained unfocused. Still, it felt like success.
“It never gets this cold on Ryloth, does it? Your species isn’t really built for the cold, I guess.”
She blinked and her forehead wrinkled.
“When I was a youngling at the Jedi Temple, there was a Twi’lek boy called Barsoc. He used to say ‘colder than a lylek’s garf,’ and I would laugh. Or at least, I did until I met a lylek and saw its garf.” He winced at the memory. “The Jedi always taught us to respect and appreciate life in all its forms but I saw nothing remotely worth appreciating in that.”
Hera turned her body and snuggled her face under the hood. He let himself press dry lips against her forehead and closed his eyes. This wasn’t exactly the way he’d always imagined it would be when he took her to bed and held her in his arms, but he’d take it.
“That was a long time ago,” he said, his voice dropping to nearly a whisper. “A lifetime ago, when I thought I was going to be a Jedi and spend my life fighting for truth and peace and all that kraf. And then it all just…” He trailed off as a strange roil of emotion clawed its way up his throat.
“Just what?” she said, so quietly he’d almost missed it.
He smiled, immensely relieved. “You’re awake.”
“Good.” He pressed his cheek against her forehead. Her skin was still incredibly cold, but the fact that she was alert was a good sign. “I guess its a good thing neither of us ate gaff root today.”
She huffed something almost like a laugh. “Keep talking.”
“What do you want to hear?”
“Right.” He pressed his lips together for a moment. Where to begin? She’d never asked before, and he hadn’t volunteered. He’d always figured that the less she knew about that part of his life, the better. He didn’t want to make her a target unnecessarily. “I was brought to the Temple when I was around two years old. I don’t remember my mother, but I know that she was very poor, and struggling to raise four kids on her own. I’m sure it was hard to give me up, but she probably knew I’d have a better life with the Jedi than I would if I’d stayed.”
“Does she know?”
“That I’m alive?” Kanan shrugged. “It’s best if she doesn’t. Most people believe Empire’s propaganda about the Jedi. I wouldn’t know where to find her anyway.”
“Not everyone believes it.”
“But enough do. I’ve seen the sort of stuff they say, that the Jedi stole children from their families and abused and brainwashed them, but it wasn’t like that. It was… magical. We were treasured, given all the resources we needed to grow and learn. We knew we were special, that we were meant to make a difference in the universe.”
“And you will,” Hera said softly.
He looked down to her upturned face. Her eyes were warm and wide, and much of her color had returned. Her expression was so open, so hopeful, and his heart clenched in his chest.
He should kiss her. He should kiss her now, before he lost his nerve.
A trilling sound rang through the air, slightly muffled under the blanket.
Hera’s eyes lit up. “The alarm! We’re coming out of hyperspace.” She tugged the blanket off and they both winced at the rush of frozen air. She stood up and headed for the door, moving stiffly.
Kanan closed his eyes for a moment and took a steadying breath. His head was spinning a bit, and not just from the cold. Being that close to her, holding her — he didn’t know if he’d have the chance again.
The ship lurched out of hyperspace just as he reached the cockpit. Chokai Four hung in space before them, beckoning them with its green warmth. Hera flew them into the long line of merchant ships awaiting landing clearance.
“Chokai Four Planetary Authority, this is Alpha-Alpha—” She paused to double-check the transponder reading she’d had the ship randomly generate. “—Four-nine-two-Delta-Five, requesting emergency landing clearance for Batakki Spaceport. Our ship’s atmospheric controls are malfunctioning.”
There was nearly a minute of silence, then a burst of static followed by, “Emergency clearance granted. Proceed to the front of the landing queue and await further instructions.”
“Copy that,” Hera replied. She switched off the comm and said, “Thank the Force.” She steered the ship out of the queue and toward the front of the long line of spacecraft.
It was incredibly cold in the cockpit, but it wouldn’t be much longer. Even now, the heat from the system’s star was beginning to warm them through the transparisteel viewscreen. They would soon be planetside, and they’d find a replacement heat unit, maybe stock up on supplies. And, if he could talk her into it, perhaps they could spend a day warming up on one of those nice Batakki beaches he’d heard about and make a plan for what to do next with the new information they had.
“We’re going to be fine,” Hera said, flashing him a confident smile.
“Yeah,” he replied, and swallowed down the persistent longing in his chest
Mostly fine, anyway.